This is a continued look “behind the scenes” at the development of our new-for-2023 K4 Pack Systems. In the first installment of this series we shared a glimpse of the K4 Pack development process from the summer of 2019, through the summer of 2022.
This article will show the continued development and testing of K4, picking up where the last article ended — after our 2022 Death Hike in Alaska.
June 2022 — Having made some changes from earlier “PIKA” Prototypes, we tested the updated frame with numerous guys on the Death Hike. Coming out of the Death Hike, we felt really good about the design and performance of the frame.
Steve and Mark worked to finalize a list of hunters that would test the K4 Prototypes all year. We had been working on this list for months already, trying to select people that we knew would really put the pack to the test. We worked hard to ensure that we selected a wide variety of body shapes/sizes. And we specifically selected guys that had previous experience with Exo packs, as well as people that had never used an Exo before. We also selected people with different hunting styles, that would be hunting different species, and that would also be hunting in a wide variety of locations, conditions, terrain, and situations.
June 2022 — Most of our design efforts since 2019 had been focused on the frame and its performance. Along the way, we had tried many different bag concepts with varying layouts, pocket configurations, etc. For the 150 K4 Prototypes we refined the bag design from what we had learned on earlier prototypes, as well as what we had gotten as feedback from the thousands of K3 customers.
We built the prototypes with different design elements than K3, wanting to get feedback from the 150 testers on what they preferred. A few examples would be, where K3 used side-zip access into the main bag, we built prototypes with center-zip access. Where K3 used top-entry for the full-length side pockets, we built the prototypes with vertical zip access for those pockets. Where the K3 Lid featured zip access on the back side (the frame/head side), we built the prototypes with a zipper on the front (bag) side.
July 2022 — We refined the bags with careful attention to the patterns of each fabric panel, seam locations, zipper lengths and more. Above, we are setting the final buckle locations on a prototype 5000 bag.
July 2022 — A lot of work went into finalizing the dimensions and capacities of the prototype bag sizes. In the photo above Justin is modeling a sample 7200 that we stuffed full.
July 2022 — One cool new feature with the laser-cuttable Squadron fabric is we can now laser-etch a logo right into it. The branded samples show up just in time to start production on the prototype packs.
July 2022 — Above, on the left, is the first 3D printed sample of a custom tri-glide needed for the new bag-to-frame connection and lid webbing. On the right, you see the final version of the custom tri-glide for K4 Packs.
Late July 2022 — Production of the 150 prototype packs running strong, allowing us to ship to the testers throughout August. Above, frame uppers are getting the webbing bar tacs put on.
Early August 2022 — Some of the first K4 3600 and K4 5000 Bags finishing up on the sew floor.
Mid August 2022 — The 150 packs are done and Steve takes a photo of the very first one about to go out the door. This one is headed to Alaska for a Dall Sheep hunt.
August - November
The 150 prototypes we built are put through to the test from August onward. We had guys testing them from Arizona to Alaska, and every Western state in between. They crossed borders into Canada and Alaska, and went across the ocean to other continents.
Here are just some of the hundreds of photos we have from field testing...
More than just photos, we worked directly with everyone testing the packs to get their feedback on all aspects of the pack’s performance. We have pages and pages of notes from our interactions with the testers, as we collected their feedback. We took all of this user feedback into consideration when finalizing the K4 designs.
This extensive testing proved what we already saw in our internal testing — performance and durability of K4 was excellent. We had zero "warranty" type issues — no failures, breaks, squeaks, or other issues. That gave us the green light to know we could start production.
MOVING INTO PRODUCTION
November 2022 — We start full-scale production on K4 hip belts and suspension. In the photo above you see the plastic that goes behind the lumbar pad. We reinforce all of the edges with nylon binding before they get sewn into the hipbelt. This ensures that no plastic edges create any long-term wear through the 500d Cordura fabric.
December 2022 — A shoulder harness in production. The photo above shows the inside of a finished harness. We stitch a heavy-duty binding with four 4 bar-tacs behind the torso adjustment webbing and hardware, which is far stronger than just stitching the torso adjustment through a single layer of 500d Cordura.
A major focus with K4 is long-term durability, and the two examples of construction techniques above are only a glimpse into the countless extra steps we are taking to ensure K4's longevity.
December 2022 — We made some slight changes to the shape of the lumbar pad, creating a better fit for the foam and a cleaner aesthetic of the lumbar pad, but the changes also increased the performance and comfort of the lumbar pad. Since the foam isn’t as compressed into the pocket, it has a softer feel on your back with lighter loads, but still has the needed support and firmness with heavier loads.
You can also see the pile of prototypes all over the floor of Steve’s office. He is always working on something!
December 2022 — As we finalize the bag designs, Mark starts playing with different embroidery designs and placement on the bags. At this point we are right down to the wire getting final bag designs completed to head to Reno in early January for Sheep Show.
January 2023 — Final production samples are complete and we head to Sheep Show in Reno to quietly share K4 publicly for the very first time.
January through March of 2023 — Production is in full-swing, building inventory of K4 Pack Systems before the public launch in late March. At each step of the way, there are numerous quality control checks on all components. We learned a lot of logistical lessons from the K3 launch and the goal is to have a healthy amount of inventory built up and ready to ship for the K4 launch.
March 2023 — The Exo warehouse is filling up with completed components from our sew shop and the Exo team is hard at work building complete packs that will be ready to ship when we launch K4 on March 28, 2023.