Archive for the ‘Mountaineering’ Category

Marine Corps Wants New Military Ski Systems with Universal Bindings

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

Marines and Sailors with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 18.1 ski toward their next objective during a winter warfare training exercise at Haltdalen Training Center, Norway, April 12. The Marine Corps is searching for a new ski system with universal bindings. Marine Corps Systems Command will release a Request for Information to formally conduct market research and inform the contracting strategy. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook)


The Marine Corps is searching for a new ski system that can withstand harsh conditions during training and cold weather missions.

The goal is to acquire a system with ski sets that are compatible with the Corps’ Extreme Cold Weather Vapor Barrier Boots and the Intermediate Cold Weather Boots, eliminating the need to purchase new specific ski boots. The sets will include the skis, poles and universal bindings.

In order to deliver an over-the-snow capability before the end of fiscal year 2019, Marine Corps Systems Command will release a Request for Information to formally conduct market research and inform the contracting strategy. MCSC will then establish a 5-year Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract with an initial order of 1,500 military ski systems with universal bindings.

Currently, the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier is also evaluating skis with universal bindings, and the Army’s 10th Mountain Division has procured and used similar systems with favorable results.

“When we went to contract the NATO ski system last year, there were delays in procurement,” said Christopher Woodburn, Capabilities Development director of the Deputy Maneuver Branch at Combat Development and Integration. “Because of the Army’s exploration with cold weather equipment, we know there are other sources for a ski system that will satisfy the Marine Corps requirement and offer the capability more rapidly.”

MCSC gathered feedback from Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center to ensure the future ski system chosen will meet mission requirements and improve existing cold weather equipment. Marines want a lighter, low-maintenance and easy-to-use system that is also easy to learn for new or intermediate skiers.

“We’ve been talking to Marines at MWTC to make sure the current equipment they have is still viable, and we also made a few updates to the Marine Corps Cold Weather Infantry Kit,” said Capt. Ryan Moore, project officer in Infantry Combat Equipment at MCSC.

The Marine Corps Cold Weather Infantry Kit is comprised of multiple components, including avalanche probes, hatchets, shovels, snow saws, cook sets, thermoses, a tent and anything else Marines need to survive in a cold weather environment. Each kit serves four people and is pulled on a sled by Marines on skis.

The RFI will help MCSC assess possibilities and find a solution to field the ski system to scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines and select infantrymen.

“We are trying to do our due diligence with tax payers’ money to make sure we get the best value, while also pushing out capabilities as quickly as we can to Marines,” said Woodburn.

Infantry Combat Equipment is part of the Ground Combat Element Systems program at MCSC.

By Kaitlin Kelly, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication | Marine Corps Systems Command

The Lost Arrow Project by Patagonia – Military Alpine Recce System : Production Partnership with Peckham Vocational Industries

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Yesterday, I introduced readers to the Military Alpine Recce System design. Now, I’ll focus on manufacturing this innovative system. This is no small feat. The design relies on world-class materials and manufacturing.

Finding The Right Production Partner


Like most clothing companies in the 21st century, Patagonia relies on a global supply and manufacturing chain to produce their wares. To support the US military, Patagonia been directed by DOD to work with with several domestic manufacturers over the course of their involvement in USSOCOM’s clothing programs. Some relationships have been better than others. In the case of Peckham Vocational Industries, Patagonia was able to make their own decision, and has found a true partner. Patagonia takes quality and social responsibility seriously and in Peckham, those values align.

What Peckham Is All About


Founded in 1976, Peckham Vocational Industries is named after former State of Michigan Rehabilitation Services Director, Ralf A. Peckham. Some SSD readers will recognize the name from the labels in your government issue clothing. In industry, it’s well known as a non-profit clothing manufacturer which supports US military contracts.

Although Peckham boasts five business units, there are 650 clients/team members in their manufacturing line, spread across sewing, spread, cut and bundle operations. But there’s more going on than just making clothing. Peckham doesn’t look at its workforce as employees. Instead, they are clients or team members. Their mission is to help those with barriers to employment succeed as individuals and as contributors to the larger community. The clothing manufacturing facility contributes to this mission by providing paid job training opportunities to people with disabilities.

There is an additional 80 member administrative staff which includes human services specialists (made up of vocational counselors, rehab services, intake specialists, and others).

The Facility


The modern and spacious Lansing facility is situated right next to the airport. It boasts 115,000 sq ft of manufacturing space and another 100,000 sq ft of warehouse space.

There is an additional 35,000 sq ft at a nearby facility where 50 team members work.

Everything is clean and well maintained. Although well organized, the design integrates curves over straight lines whenever possible, to be more soothing to team members with special needs. An entire corner of the production floor features windows to let in natural light. Next to this, a major portion of the wall showcases artwork.


Due to the restrictions of some of its team members, Peckham has also invested in automation when possible, or developed innovative tooling to assist those with physical limitations.

A Holistic Approach to Employment


While most companies want their employees to focus on their current job, Peckham takes pride in preparing team members to move on to other jobs, even if that means with other companies. To help make this a reality, vocational counselors work with team members, coordinating training.

Team members are allocated training hours during the week. In addition to vocational training, these can be used for life skills seminars, where they learn how to file taxes, avoid predatory lending and interview for jobs. There is an studio on site where team members can participate in art therapy. Their artwork is featured in annual show with team members splitting the proceeds of their work with the Peckham Community Partnership Foundation which provides grants to enhance services for team members.

Vice President Of Manufacturing, Ed Terris explained, “Peckham Vocational Industries stands for the principal that every human being has great worth, can contribute to society, and should be given the opportunity to do so.  The people that our mission serves, the ones who make up our workforce, deliver amazing results in support of our war fighters every single day.  They are among the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I have ever worked with.”

Terris should know. No matter where we were, all throughout the day, I heard team member after team member call out, “Hi Ed!” He answered each and every one, by name. More than any other thing I saw at Peckham that struck me at how dedicated that organization is to its goal.

Patagonia Gives Back


Patagonia has recreated their advanced R&D center “the Forge” at Peckham. It includes lamination, sonic line bonding, laser cutting, and soon 3D clothing design to rapidly conceptualize and replicate to production scale. Additionally, Subject Matter Experts travel to Peckham regularly to provide mentoring to those in the production floor. They also learn from Peckham, a company which prides itself on innovative solutions to allow physically challenged team members to participate in the manufacturing process.

What Peckham brings is their openness to new ideas, as well as automation knowledge that supports their mission and workforce. Together this creates a perfect partnership of shared values and creative problem solving.

George Alonso, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, spoke to me about the relationship, “Peckham is very proud of our partnership with Patagonia.  Our mission has benefited tremendously from the effort they have put into the relationship.  They have continually challenged us to grow our innovation capabilities and manufacturing techniques.”

Training Team Peckham


Peckham’s team has jumped in with both feet. During my visit, Patagonia’s Cyndi Davis and Casey Shaw were on hand to provide instruction to lead sewers on various construction techniques, including sonic line bonding. The Peckham team worked right along side, discussing ways to improve their process.

Peckham’s George Alonso expanded upon what I had seen, relating, “They have always approached this partnership with a spirit of cooperation and genuine support for the community that Peckham’s mission serves.  It isn’t every day that you find a company or partner with that kind of ethos, matched by the fortitude to see it through.  I think it has paid off with the creation of a revolutionary new system that delivers truly elite levels of performance for our soldiers.”

Teach a Man to Fish

When I look at what is happening here, I think about the old proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This partnership is going to pay off in bigger ways than just MARS. The same processes used to manufacture this system will be available as Berry compliant options for other military programs.

In addition to clothing members of the US military, Peckham serves society in another way. Rather than being dependent on others, the team members at Peckham Vocational Industries earn a wage and benefits, including savings towards retirement. They are contributing members of a larger community and I saw pride on the faces of those that I met.

While Peckham’s measure of success is training and employing its team members, they have to remain viable in the marketplace, providing a good value to their customers. Customer satisfaction is a priority and they’re serious about it. In fact, they’re ISO 9001:2015 certified.

Patagonia benefits from this relationship by having a reliable production partner they can rely on.

The end user gets a great product, made right here in the USA.

This is the third of a four-part series on the Military Alpine Recce System developed by Patagonia’s The Lost Arrow Project. Earlier installments include the history of Patagonia’s SOF support and a system overview. The final story will focus on some of the individuals components. The full system will be on exhibit at SOF Select during SOFIC.

The Lost Arrow Project by Patagonia – Military Alpine Recce System : System Overview

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Yesterday, I discussed Patagonia’s history of supporting SOF with clothing systems. Today, I’ll take a look at how they’ve applied that expertise in design, materials and manufacturing to offer a new concept in protection in extreme environments.


When Patagonia created the original MARS almost 15 years ago, it was called Military Advanced Regulator System because it was based on their Regulator technology. Although Patagonia still produces Regulator fleece garments, many newer materials have come along.


Even during Patagonia’s work on SOCOM’s Protective Combat Uniform program, their military team kept looking at the brand’s commercial garments and fabrics. They spoke of developing “Son of Mars” and finally, about three years ago, they decided the time was right to develop a completely new environmental clothing system, starting completely from scratch.

A couple of factors drove this decision. First, PCU was only making small, evolutionary material and design improvements and second was their mission to innovate. Patagonia is in the business of delivering the best technical outerwear for the most extreme environments and athletes. Guess who operates in the world’s most extreme environments and faces arduous conditions on a daily basis? The SOF Warrior.

They developed a plan: improve performance over the PCU baseline, keep the line tight, and figure out how to reduce risk in production.

According to Eric Neuron, Director of Strategic Product & Military for Patagonia Works, one of the most common critiques of both MARS and PCU is that there are too many garments in the system. MARS Designer Casey Shaw went one step further. He asked himself as he began work on the project, “How do you make one item do the work of six?” One way is materials. The other is design.

Shaw told me that the new Military Alpine Recce System is designed for long duration missions in mountainous environments, but the user won’t wear any more than three layers at a time to get the desired effect. Along with that, it’s important to understand that this is an active insulation system rather than passive. This means that the wearer takes a more active role in pushing moisture out of the clothing. The trick is to manage air permeability. Essentially, the fabrics are treated in different ways to affect how they breath.


The garments range from .5 – 40 CFM. CFM is a measurement of cubic feet per minute to denote air permeability. To put those numbers into perspective, the Army Combat Uniform is made from a 50/50 Nylon/Cotton blend which is 8 CFM. It’s actually not very breathable at all. For MARS the lower CFM is a waterproof breathable suit, while the higher air perm is a 1.5 oz mechanical stretch knit with Durable Water Repellant treatment. The latter cross layer material offers the “put it on, leave it on” approach which can be used across a wide range of conditions, alone or in concert with other garments.

The team also put some thought into the colors. They are offering two which come from their commercial offerings: Fatigue Green and Forge Grey, which is a dark hue. Neuron explained these will satisfy many organizations’ requirement for civilian clothing for low viz operations. Additionally, he added that they’ll offer MultiCam as well, as it is the SOCOM Standard.


Starting three years ago, the design concept was launched, and the material developments kicked off with Patagonia’s Materials Innovation Group, a team of chemists and textile PhD’s. Then by providence, about 18 months ago, a SOF customer identified a requirement for a new environmental clothing system. MARS got a kickstart and they quickly produced the requisite number of full kits for the source selection. It went up against the best in the business, but won the solicitation and publicly unveiled MARS during last year’s SOF Select event. Since then, they’ve formalized The Lost Arrow Project to manage the program and worked to bring it into production in order to meet their customer’s deadlines.

Capitalizing on this success, they’ve decided to offer MARS to government customers as well as distributors who service the tactical market.

The System

There are a few similarities between the original system and the new one. For instance, some of the components have the same name as the original items. That’s because over the years they’ve been updated with new materials and still suit the overall purpose of the clothing system.


The garments range from FR Wool next-to-skin items, windshirts, insulating vest and jackets to waterproof breathable, fully seam taped overgarments. While it was developed as a full system, they don’t consider MARS an all or nothing proposal. They fully expect and encourage users to purchase and use the components best suited to their needs.

Look at it like a takeout menu. You can order the full system or just pick out what fits. Later, you can add on.

The system consists of 20 separate pieces (including balaclava) and features garments for static operations along with the active focused clothing.

MARS Components

Base Layer 1 – Blended US Wool

Base Layer 2 – Blended US Wool

Cross Layer 1 – Woven Air Perm Materials

Cross Layer 2 – Woven Air Perm Materials

Outerwear 1 – Air Perm Softshell Laminate and Double Weave

Outerwear 2 – Air Perm Wind Shell and Rain Suit

Outerwear Static – High Loft Insulation and Hardshell

How It Works

PCU is a seven level system. It’s based on a mountaineering clothing system described by Mark Twight in his book “Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast and High.” SOCOM has been using it for a little over 15 years. Even the US Army’s Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System Gen III is a simplified version of PCU. By this point, most users understand the concept of levels rather than layers and can combine different garments based on activity and environmental conditions.

Eric Neuron explained, “Layering works for surviving the elements, and it’s easy to teach and understand, but it’s not conducive for maximizing your working capability.  MARS works just fine as a traditional layering system, but the vision was to create a toolbox of kit, that if you know your own bio-output and the task at hand, you only to need pull out the appropriate tools.  The guys instinctively know this already, and the world’s top alpinist approach clothing this way, our task is simply to make the best tools.”

MARS is a completely fresh look at the challenge. Everyone will have to familiarize themselves with new garments and how to use them, alone, or in concert with one another. Then they’ll have to figure out which they’ll need to use in different scenarios. I’ve spoke with both Neuron and Shaw about this and they are looking at ways to help the user. One concept is an app which helps the user select the right pieces. Another, which was used with PCU, is offering instruction by SMEs.

Saving Time and Money

There’s a business case to be made for both client and vendor every time a new piece of equipment is purchased by the government. The cost of the system is the sum of all of the different elements from the supply chain as well as assembly of the materials into finished goods. As you’ll see, time is also a factor which must be considered. Some materials take longer than others to source.

Generally, an environmental clothing system relies upon multiple different materials which are combined to garner different effects. Each of those materials has its own part of the supply chain. The vendors who make those raw goods each have minimum order quantities (MOQ). Let’s say a system has five different materials. That’s five different MOQs which must be ordered. Each with their own lead times. Those all have to be synchronized so that they are ready for assembly at the same time. It gets even more complicated when clients want it in multiple paint jobs.

Some wonder why companies don’t want to have clothing systems, or other gear for that matter, sitting on the shelf. That’s because once those materials are assembled into a finished good, it costs money to carry on the shelf, hoping someone will buy it. Imagine a company builds a run of clothing and they manufacture a wide range of sizes. Some of those low demand sizes like extra long and extra short versions, may never be purchased. The capital wrapped up in finished goods isn’t recouped until they are sold and could be used elsewhere in a business such as paying for more raw goods to fulfill other orders.

One of the ways Patagonia has been able to lower their MOQs is by utilizing a common face fabric for most of these garments. That means the raw goods offer more versatility because they can be made into many different garments. Patagonia tweaks the fabric’s performance by applying treatments or laminating it to other materials, resulting in a highly efficient material usage across the system.


With MARS, Patagonia takes a stocking position for raw goods which cuts down on lead times for materials from mills and gives them the flexibility to produce what the customer wants. Granted, it’s not as fast as buying something off the shelf, but it also cuts out the wait for the supply chain to mill fabrics and treat them. Hopefully, it will be a happy medium. Of course, it relies on efficient customer forecasts.

“We believe that for a government contracting business, utilizing a build-to-order uniform business model that allows quick turns and low MOQ will ultimately provide the best value to the customer,” said Neuron, adding, “US manufacturing is expensive, we have worked hard to address that in the business strategy, and with an eye towards automation solutions to produce exceedingly technical domestic products.  I believe this is the key to bolster the US clothing manufacturing base.”

One way to fulfill “we’re leaving tomorrow” requests is to work with distributors willing to take a stocking position on individual components of MARS or entire kits, based on their knowledge of their clients.

But going back to the idea of encouraging customers to buy what they need, minimums have dropped drastically. For instance, what once required a minimum order of 1000 kits has dropped to 200.

Additionally, MARS is completely Berry compliant. They selected materials which could be produced here in the US, yet still provide all of the performance they were looking for. They even went as far as designing a new buckle for the hood of the jacket.


These are technical garments using advanced materials and construction techniques. The most critical factor in the success of a revitalized MARS line is domestic production. Consequently, Patagonia has not only prepared a supply chain for the materials needed but also invested in their production partner, Peckham Vocational Industries. In doing so, they’ve installed machinery capable of modern construction techniques like sonic welding, as well as provided instruction on how to use them. Patagonia Subject Matter Experts have been on hand at Peckham, showing lead sewers tricks of the trade. This investment is going to allow the military to adopt more modern clothing designs and keeps Peckham competitive, even with overseas factories, which generally benefit from regular infusions of new machinery.

When I spoke with Eric Neuron about it, he said, “We are fortunate to be able to cut through the noise, and focus only on the goal of solving problems and bringing innovation to the guys.  In this case, that means investment of time, money and knowledge transfer to the US supply chain.  And we have the best US partners in place to deliver on that goal.”

Both Patagonia and Peckham have assumed some risk here. So far, they’ve got one customer, but by expanding the program they’ve taken the “build it and they will come” approach. There’s nothing like MARS currently in the market. While there are a lot of great individual pieces, from a variety of manufacturers, no one has taken such a bold move to introduce such an ambitious line all at once in quite some time. Even then, there were significant preorders. They’ll have to educate customers on the system, how to use it and how to purchase it.

This is the second of a four-part series on the Military Alpine Recce System developed by Patagonia’s The Lost Arrow Project. Other installments include an the history of Patagonia’s SOF support, a focus on their production partner Peckham Vocational Industries and a deep dive into some of the components. The full system will be on exhibit at SOF Select during SOFIC.

High Angle Solutions – Snigeldesign 90L Backpack System

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Snigeldesign started out by making rucksacks for forestry workers in the woods of Sweden.  Rough terrain and hard work required the most reliable and functional of solutions which naturally attracted the military user.  Since those humble beginnings Snigeldesign has expanded to bring its innovative and functional approach to a large range of load carriage and protective products.

The 90 Litre Backpack is designed for the needs of forward elements and light role forces out in advance of the main body of troops.  It offers a huge range of options and flexible ways to carry all the mission essential equipment.  The back system provides an ultra-comfortable way to carry large loads for long patrols enabling the user to get where they need to be without compromise and fit to fight.

High Angle Solutions is a weekly series of articles focusing on military mountaineering solutions. It’s brought to you by UK-based Brigantes Consulting, in conjunction with several other brands, both here in the US and abroad.

High Angle Solutions – Lundhags Expedition Guide 75

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Designed for the operator out in the frozen North (or South) the Expedition Guide 75 is the latest in a long line of unique boots manufactured by Swedish company Lundhags. A longstanding family brand specialising in making footwear, clothing and equipment they focus on the needs of the hardest users.

The Expedition Guide 75 is replacing its predecessor, the Husky 75, as the in service ski boot with a number of specialist military units, including the Sirius Patrol. The new lighter and more streamlined boot with its monocoque style of construction is being used by the British forces to provide a versatile, light and reliable boot for operations on the Northern Flank.

As focus turns to the ability to operate in sub-zero temperatures this boot provides an excellent balance between skiing and the normal movement required to conduct military operations.

For more information please get in touch with the team at Brigantes on

High Angle Solutions is a weekly series of articles focusing on military mountaineering solutions. It’s brought to you by UK-based Brigantes Consulting, in conjunction with several other brands, both here in the US and abroad.

Warrior West 18 – StabilIcers Hike Macro

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

StabilIcers has launched the new Hike Macro which features a removable 1/2″ stainless steel cleat. When the crampon-like 1/2″ cleats are removed, the Hike Macro still offers their standard cleats.

Offered in 4 sizes to accommodate feet between sizes 4 and 16. A Black variant is coming.

Warrior West 18 – OSM W112-ML

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

The OSM (Over Snow Mobility) from DPS is a new military ski designed for use in conditions where you won’t traverse terrain over a 14 degree grade. It incorporates Fish Scales on the bottom which are as efficient as skins on those smaller hills. Think of it as a more efficient snow shoe.

They also have a binding which accepts Mickey Mouse as well as Mountaineering Boots. The OSM is Made in USA and features a MultiCam Alpine top sheet.

Warrior West 18 – Petzl Lim’ice Ice Screw Sharpener

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Petzl’s Lim’ice is a budget minded Ice Screw Sharpener and takes the guess work out of sharpening. You just screw the business end of the Ice Screw into the Lim’ice and slide it back and forth. Perfect for the individual or small unit.