Sea to Summit has always been synonymous with innovative, lightweight gear designed to improve our enjoyment of the outdoors. The company has grown from strength to strength since it’s humble beginnings in 1990. Today Sea to Summit products are sold in over 35 countries & they have won design and business awards in Australia, Europe and America. Despite this success the company headquarters have remained right here in Perth, Australia; incidentally the most isolated capital city on Earth. To gain a deeper insight into what’s behind both the company & it’s continued quest for innovation, Lachlan from Paddy Pallin recently had a chat to product designer, Tim Miller.

Hi Tim, can you tell us a little bit about yourself & your role at Sea to Summit?

Tim: I’ve lived in Fremantle, Perth my whole life. I’m a designer at Sea to Summit, which is a very broad role. The design team ideate and decide on new product, which we follow from initial concept to production. In addition we direct or are involved in packaging and artwork, retail displays, photography, and advertising.

What was your journey to where you are now?

It’s a pretty straightforward story characterised by hard work and pile of luck. From a young age I was building things in the family shed which manifested itself in a love of art and the workshop in grammar school. I went straight to University to study design where my focus shifted from advertising to furniture and finally outdoor gear. Ian Maley of Wilderness Equipment helped me with a tent project in the final year of my degree and I was surprised to learn of the innovative pocket of gear designers in Perth. I was lucky enough to get work experience at Sea to Summit (it’s amazing where you can get if you don’t ask to be paid!). I’ve spent the best part of 5 years with STS loving the opportunities and pretending I know what I’m doing.

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Do you remember your first outdoor experience?

At my grammar school every year 10 must complete a 10-day trek and paddle on the Western Australian south coast. We hiked large sections of the Biblumum track. Highlights included crossing an inlet on an underwater sandbar that turned into holding packs above our heads and walking on the tips of our toes. From beautiful, sunny beaches to braving the miserable weather fronts of the south coast it was a trip that sparked my passion for finding out what’s over the next hill.

Where is your favourite skiing/hiking/travelling/climbing etc. spot?

I loved the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Hiking solo into the Continental Divide was as exhilarating as it was daunting. As a Western Australian I was unaccustomed to the towering peaks and the possibility of bears. The first night in bear country had me on edge but was really half the fun.

Tell us, where is your dream skiing/hiking/travelling/climbing etc. location?

Bryce Canyon in Utah sound awesome. I would head out there in Winter and when the contrast between the white snow and red hoodoos look spectacular.

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Why do you love skiing/hiking/travelling/climbing etc. so much?

Exploring. I love hiking into somewhere new. To make it over the next mountain pass and find out what’s on the other side. And to find a unique campsite. To make a little home where you can relax and truly appreciate the wilderness around you.

Top 3 tips for new skiers/hikers/travellers/climbers etc.?

1) I’ve been caught out a couple of times without enough water. Now I’m happy to carry a couple of extra kilos and hike in confidence.

2) I tend to get too excited and push too hard in the first couple of days of a hike. Take your time and make sure your body is managing well before picking up the pace.

3) Take something comfortable to sit on at the end of the day. The best balance of weight and comfort is a frame that can convert your camp mat into a chair.

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Which design or product are you most proud of?

I think the X-Pot range was the most technically demanding project I have run. The product is a complex mix of materials and manufacturing techniques. I travelled extensively to China to better understand the processes and then find ways to push what was deemed possible. I’m proud that the result is cooking range that offers a solution never seen before while enabling adventures to pack smaller and go further.

How much does the Sea to Summit ‘brand’ enter your design decisions? How different would your designs be if you were designing for yourself rather than for Sea to Summit?

The STS brand is a major factor in all my designs because every decision affects whether a product will be lightweight, compact, high quality, and good looking. That said the design team is given considerable freedom to develop products and aesthetics to the direction they think best. Luckily my design principles match very well with STS so in many ways I get to design what I want and STS will support it.

How does Sea to Summit continue to resist the pull towards almost every other generic outdoor brand?

We don’t like to bring product to the market unless it exhibits genuine innovation that excites users and improves their experience. Cool gear has the tendency to be inspiring so we make sure it has the functionality and technical edge to perform well wherever needed.

Who sets the design briefs? And which customers guide your efforts?

The organic and nimble nature of STS means that the design team doesn’t get briefs. In most cases we just discuss a concept and let the lead designer get to it. It doesn’t always end in the most profitable product but it provides the freedom to pursue crazy ideas and see where it leads.

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Sea to Summit seems to work pretty closely with some top suppliers & makers. Can you tell us a bit about those relationships in the creative process?

We have worked with some factories for well over a decade and are rewarded with committed development from their sample rooms. As our design process isn’t always the straightest route I truly appreciate their willingness to experiment and their technical expertise. Whether it’s refining stitch length on a dry bag or tweaking plastic-injection tools the factories are just as keen to see a successful product.

 Sea to Summit is based in Perth, how does this influence the design & function of the products you produce?

Well, I’ve never made a product for the snow… Probably because the closest ski field is 3000km away.

The biggest influence to design is the shared time zone with China. We have a constant video link with our China office and there is a real sense that they are only a room away. Matching office hours results in fast, efficient communication, which is more difficult for an American or European company producing in Asia. Ultimately we enjoy a fast-tracked development process and get products to market faster due to the improved efficiency.

There is an obvious industry trend towards making lighter weight gear. How do you think this impacts durability & is it possible satisfy both requirements?

Yes, it’s absolutely possible to create ultra light and durable products. But no, the outdoor industry will never be satisfied. The act of designing is to find the perfect balance of countless variables to fulfil a specific purpose. Weight and durability are the classic competing variables in the world of technical outdoor gear. This balancing act inspired me to find innovative new materials for the recently released Sea to Summit Ultralight Hammock. We saw potential in a monofilament Nylon fabric that was intended for inner tent mesh screens. We spent over a year improving the tensile and tear strength and the result is strong hammock made of almost ethereal, see-through mesh. Like any technical product appropriate care must be taken during use but it meets our durability standards while drastically reducing weight.

Cheers Tim, thankyou for your time!

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About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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