Behind the scenes: Gear Testing at Kathmandu

Gear testing is a crucial part of our design process. It inspires new ideas, gives us insights into real world performance, and helps shape the final product that goes to store. To kick-off, we choose the right gear testers who look at three important factors.


Gear Testers = Gear Nerds

At the moment we work with a team of 17 gear testers. They represent a diverse range of age, skill and interests, but for us it’s essential they have the following in common:

  • Expertise. They’re experienced in what they do and do it all the time.
  • They’re a gear nerd. They have strong feelings about what works and what doesn’t.
  • They align with us. They love the outdoors, new experiences and resonate with our sustainability values.

But most importantly, our gear testers feel responsible for their part in affecting someone else’s experience in the outdoors. Their advice goes back to the dozens of designers and developers in our Christchurch office to help create a truly awesome bit of kit — and that’s why they’re involved.

Outdoor Guide Anna Brooke puts the XT Series to the test on Murchison Glacier.
Outdoor Guide Anna Brooke puts the XT Series to the test on Murchison Glacier.

What we test for:

There are 3 key areas that all our testers look at.

Fit

Within the product department we aim to perfect design and what we call ‘fit for purpose’. It’s the role of the gear testers to ensure that we stay true to our fit but also match the product to the right activity.

Fit covers both size, but also the range of movement. It differs depending on the product design and composition, while also making sure it matches the intended use.

While functionality is key, we also take other feedback into consideration. For example, on one pair of trail running shorts, one tester requested we make the short a little longer in length so when he stops to walk for a bit he didn’t look like that guy in racing shorts who couldn’t run all the way home!

Senior Designer Patrick Zabel examines the fit of his XT Series gloves.
Senior Designer Patrick Zabel examines the fit of his XT Series gloves.

Wear

The 'wear test' is where the magic happens. Testers are given a product and a brief, and sent out to treat it rough. They record where they go, how it’s worn, the conditions and everything between, to give us a fair representation of how the product will perform under its intended demands and often beyond.

We have testers in the field who use our packs and gear for up to 90 days straight in the harshest environments. When a product comes back from that type of flogging with a glowing review, then we know we're onto something.

A tester also provides real world feedback on the way a garment performs with direct input into changes in design or performance. For example, we went through 13 different samples developing our run vest through vigorous testing. And the latest XT Series fleece was tested on a mountaineering trip in Ecuador with Explorer Tim Jarvis.

Gear Testers Anna and Tim set up camp with the XT Series tent.
Gear Testers Anna and Tim set up camp with the XT Series tent.

First impressions

Love at first sight leads to a long marriage. We could design a jacket with the best range of movement you've ever worn, but does it look like something you’d try on in the first place? We ask for feedback on the overall aesthetic: it's an opportunity to 'wow' and surprise our testers with the design, something we aim to do with every bit of gear.

The first impression also gives us a benchmark from the tester of how they think the product will perform before they test it. This gives us a great comparison of perception to performance.

Our gear testers have high expectations. Their combined experience of years of gear usage means gear testers can provide an incredible breadth of feedback - from how they think it will perform to the type of stitching we've used in the seam.

 


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