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philosophy

The outdoor industry has changed since the early days...
Then, owners worked at the companies they founded and everyone involved was passionate about making the best products possible. Goals were driven by the lust for great gear, solid connections and like-minded people. We have seen many of the companies we once respected for delivering kick-ass gear devolve into less passionate and more finance-driven corporate entities.

SlingFin’s methodology is design and quality driven with the end goal being to bring to market the best-designed, highest-quality outdoor products ever created for the world’s serious users. Utilizing our innovative designs, the best materials available and through extensive research and hands on product testing, we make sure our gear is tested under the harshest conditions to ensure a quality and trustworthy product.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear”. – Masta DB.
“The heaviest tent in the world is a lightweight tent that failed”. – Phil Scott

Tents are tensile structures.
Tensile structures are formed with tension and compression members. The pure form of tensile structures can be seen with tensegrity structures where tension members (wire) and compression members (struts) operate in concert for the structure to hold its shape. Please see www.tensegrity.com. If any single strut or tension member fails the whole structure is weakened or fails completely. Individual parts rely on the whole to maintain strength and stability.

The same is true for tents. Any failure in a tension member (fabric) or compression member (tent pole) results in a weak or failed structure. Liken tents to chains where any weak link may render the whole chain unusable. Designing a tent where all components are equally strong is a tremendous challenge and is the trick to making a tent or structure as strong as possible for the given resources applied to the product.

Many companies attach webbing, with a 500 pound tensile strength, to a tent which has a fabric with a 5 pound tensile strength. This is not a good use of resources. The tent is out of balance and is either heavier than it needs to be or not as strong as it could be given the resources (materials) used to construct the tent. Using ingredients that are proportionately strong will allow you to build the strongest tent for the least weight. Weatherproofness, weight and dozens of other variables come into play when designing tents but that will be saved for another day.

Steff Zurek designed our logo with help from Jonathan Buck and Martin Zemitis.
Steff came up with dozens of design concepts, which we narrowed down to a design that looks very similar to our current logo, however, it had the tips of the fins joined together in the center of the logo. We liked the logo, but it didn’t look finished yet. So, I asked Jonathan for his input and comments. And, after a few minutes, he said "just spread the fins apart so that they are no longer joined at the center". Steff then took the new concept and delivered the final artwork which is now our logo. The design process took place over a 2 week period.
Steff Zurek is an artist and graphic designer who works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where did the name SlingFin come from?
The Short Story
The "Sling" is a climbing sling, and the "Fin" is a fin from a fish or a rock formation. Founder Martin Zemitis was looking for a name which represented gear made for use on land and in the water.

The Long Story (per Martin)
I started purchasing domain names in the late 90's. I would register domain names I liked or thought I would have a use for in the future. I registered the domain names TentDesign.com, TentBlog.com, GeodesicDomes.com, Tensegrity.com, ExpeditionBlog.com, MountainBlog.com and many others over the years. One weekend I spent a few hours looking for climbing related domain names and while searching www.sling.com and climbingsling.com, I stumbled across www.slingfin.com.

I worked at Mountain Hardwear for nearly 15 years before I decided it was time to head out on my own in 2009. I rented a beautiful loft in Richmond, about 200 yards from where Mountain Hardwear was located (4911 Central Avenue) prior to moving to the their current location at the Ford Point building in Richmond, California. I moved my parts library, industrial sewing machines, fabrics, materials, machinery and design tools into the loft. The loft had windows on all sides and a gorgeous wood floor. The property owners (European Sleepworks www.EuropeanSleepWorks.com) were very generous and best of all quiet. I was free to design and work on whatever I wanted to. No product managers, bosses and best of all no interruptions. Few people knew what I was up to and for 6 months I spent all my time designing tents, sleeping bags, clothing and packs. I came up with the WebTruss Design and ExoPak technology during my design time in the loft. I used the name Expedition Technology (www.ExpeditionTechnology.com) for nearly a year, but deep down I knew the name of the company had to be SlingFin.

Meet the Monkeys

Martin Zemitis — Founder/Designer/Gearhead
Widely known as one of the best tent designers in the business. A 30+year industry veteran and gear guru, he developed award-winning products for other well-known industry leaders and was a co-founder of Mountain Hardwear. Now he’s got his very own sandbox with two SlingFin patents and more to come.

Timothy Baka — Founder
Co-founder and “numbers guy” behind Mountain Hardwear. Past lives include investment banker and number cruncher. Put away the suit and tie to start a China-based sourcing and production business specializing in organic cotton.

Richard Ying – Operations Manager
Rich is responsible for the creation of design outlines and the management of information flows between SlingFin’s creative side and our manufacturers in Asia. He is our all-around “get it done” guy.

Kendall De Jong — Marketing, Sales, Public Relations and Social Media
Kendall joined the SlingFin family in 2015 as marketing and public relations manager. While she may be relatively new to SlingFin, she’s been active in the marketing and PR world for the last 10 years. Kendall fits right in at SlingFin with her love for all things outdoors.

Nolan “NoNo” Fritts — Tent and Gear Guru
Affectionately known as “NoNo”, this guy brings a high energy and enthusiasm to SlingFin making him our go-to for in-person dealer relations.

Devon Brown (Devo) – Gear Design, Social Media Interface, Guide & Internet Sales
Mr. Brown is responsible for supporting the gear design process, including raw materials selection, as well as our initial social media outreach efforts. He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to outdoor gear and apparel. He formerly worked with Mountain Hardwear leading their customer repairs and in retail sales – so he really knows what works and what doesn’t. He is also an avid outdoor gear user.

James Zormeir — Apparel Design
JimmyZ brings an avantguard and hip approach to clothing design at SlingFin. We consider him a breath of fresh air to clothing design in the outdoor industry.

Robert Link — Professional Mountaineer/Design Advisor
Robert has been kicking ass and taking names on many of the world’s highest peaks. Putting our ideas to work is his nugget. The design feedback loop from him is one reason we make the best gear out there.

Lhawang Dhondup — Professional Mountaineer/Design Advisor
30+ Himalayan expeditions under his belt. Climbing partner of Robert Link. Also kicks the shit out of our gear to make sure it works.

Devin Swisher — Creative Director
Made Mountain Hardwear look good for a decade. Artist extraordinaire. Idea man. Master of design and things Internet.

Paul Porter and Danny Nguyen – Photographers
Those nice pics. That's all them.

Phil Scott — Legendary Designer/Production Guru
Outdoor industry man since the 1960’s. Never met a computer CAD system he couldn’t beat.

Lauren Herrera (Sky)- Planning and Systems, Project Management

Lauren Alexander - Public Relations, Social Media

#1 SlingFin Start
I started in this industry in 1975 with Cedrik Zemitis (my brother), Bill Sterling and Bonnie Jerome. We rented an industrial sewing machine and I started making patterns and sewing products used by backpackers and cross country skiers. It was easy to come up with new product designs since we were backpacking and cross country skiing every chance we had. We made, used and sold the gear. We started from the ground up and got our hands dirty. I learned to cut, sew, and make sample patterns, production patterns, markers, repair sewing machines and much more. The learning curve was steep but it was fun and rewarding. I loved finding solutions to design problems which led me to becoming a designer, and later, an inventor as well. In the early days, most of the backpacking companies focused on the equipment side of the business such as packs, sleeping bags, accessories and tents. Clothing was in the mix but clothing was looked at as equipment in the early days. Down jackets were not fashion items--they were tools just like down sleeping bags. Both were a necessary part of everyone’s gear list. Companies grew all involved realized there was a much larger market for clothing than for equipment and slowly equipment became an ever decreasing percentage of the business total as compared to clothing. Clothing added a whole new level of complexity to the business so most companies split responsibilities between equipment and clothing. Company owners were still working at the companies they founded and there was pride taken in the quality of their products. As the industry continued to grow and mature the dollars got larger and product managers with pure business backgrounds took over with the mission to grow their businesses. As the money rolled in, the game changed and became more serious. The economies of scale and capital resources allowed the larger companies to produce products offshore which helped them grow even faster. The industry went through several phases of consolidation with many of the smaller brands being assimilated into larger organizations and with brands such as Holubar and others eventually disappearing altogether. The important point here is the shift.. Owners and others who used products and knew how to design and manufacture to product managers with pure business backgrounds hired to manage the design process. Most of these managers know numbers, marketing, product positioning, and sales but may know little of the details that go into making great gear, their focus had solely become to increase sales in means by selling products to a larger market through expanded distribution. Product managers are looking at the Leisure Trend numbers so they know what to tell their design department to create for the next season. For a forward looking designer this is not a creative way to approach a piece of gear. Another trend is a downward quality cycle with companies using lower quality fabrics, raw materials and second rate factories to make products that meet price points compelling to retail store buyers. This “cut-rate” approach leaves serious users confused and disappointed since the products are no longer well made, so they spend more time on the phone dealing with warranty departments. The customer is not happy if the product fails three days into a 17 day Patagonia trekking trip. To meet these ever-lower price points, companies are using less experienced, lower quality factories and raw materials. For example, high end tent brands would never have considered using a nylon 6 fabric 10 years ago. To meet these price points product managers and retail store buyers want nylon 6, instead of nylon 66. Take it one step further and consider that nylon fabrics are more expensive compared to polyester fabrics. Many manufacturers are now making their tents using polyester because these are less expensive than even nylon 6. Using the very lowest quality fabrics will help the product managers meet their price targets but the products will not stand up to the marketing hype put out by the company. 60 days of UV exposure is about the most you can hope for from the average tent these days. We have decided to get off that train and head down a new path which really is the old path that the industry was founded on -- making great gear for backpackers and mountaineers. Making great gear is easy if you have the balls to do it and you know how. You cut out the product manager who does not know how to make anything and solve design problems instead of filling product slots for the retail buyers’ positioning strategies. We started SlingFin to make quality gear for professional users. This means we are positioning ourselves at the top of user pyramid. These are professional users, guides, outfitters, expedition users and gear junkies who crave only the best. We design and build tools which help these users accomplish their objectives. This is a tiny segment of the market and not one that will excite the average retailer. It’s not even a market which is economically viable in the long term but it is the right place to start. It is however, an often overlooked and critical part of the market. The users at the top of the pyramid are the ones that can give the feedback needed to produce great gear. They are the ones that help define what the problems are so the designers can work on solving the problems. I have learned something interesting over the years working with professional guides. If they return a piece of gear, that is in tatters (what most people would consider a trashed piece of gear which should be recycled or discarded) and they want you to fix it, then you know you have succeeded. If you never hear from them again after giving them a product then you know they are not interested in it. It’s a rather dysfunctional means of communication but that has been my observation over the last 35 years in the industry. There are guides and outfitters that are willing to work with you if you are willing to listen and learn from them. That is something I have always done since it’s the long term users who know what works and what does not. I have had the privilege to work with many great mountaineers, Ed Viestures, Eric Simonson, Robert Link, Babu Chiri Sherpa, David Breashears and many more. I feel a great amount of respect for Sherpas since they are many of the best mountaineers in the world. Babu Chirri Sherpa is an example of one of the best and strongest climbers ever. I learned a lot from Babu and his Sherpa friends. They see and use gear from all over the world and they know better than most what works and what does not work in some of the most inhospitable places and conditions on the planet. The way you make quality outdoor gear is the way you make any quality product. You find like minded people who love gear and have a passion for making it. There are factories and raw goods suppliers who are passionate about making quality products as well. The trick is to know who they are and to set the ground rules when you start working with them. Generally, US manufacturers love to improve the quality of their products as the product cycle matures. Companies build their brand and improve their reputation which allows them to charge a premium for their products. The price goes up as more features, improvements and models are introduced. Asian factories, in order to win the contract, bid very low which means they have a very thin margin. The factories are betting they can increase their margin by lowering their costs over time. They do this by squeezing their suppliers and employees. In Asia, from the day you get a price quote, the factory (and all the suppliers) are trying to figure out how to lower their costs and increase their margins. This means that from day one the quality of the products steadily decreases as factories try to reduce costs. You have to either own a manufacturing facility or know how to work with contract factories to understand how to make quality gear. Paying for quality fabrics alone will not get the results you are trying to achieve when it comes to making quality gear. We work with factories that do not play by the Asian pricing strategies. What else makes a great company? People! To make quality gear you need to bring people together who are passionate about gear. Phil Scott, for example, has been in the industry since the 60’s. He has worked for every name brand outdoor company in California. He is one of the few people I know (other than Marty Kaiser and Mark Erickson) that can design clothing, sleeping bags, tents and packs. While Phil is a designer his real specialties are cutting, making production patterns, markers, grading. His sewing is rather crude but he does know how to sew better than most people. He has been designing and making gear for nearly 50 years. He knows what works and is constantly making improvements to his products. He is an old fashioned craftsman who loves gear! Phil has been “banned for life” from participating in any marketing or product naming sessions. His dislike and contempt for marketing is only rivaled by his dislike of poor design, fabrics or craftsmanship. Phil is working in our skunk works on clothing as is Susan Smith, a former design room manager and product engineer for The North Face and other Bay Area outdoor companies over the last 27 years. Tim Baka, SlingFin’s President, is a Harvard MBA and was Mountain Hardwear’s numbers guy until the company’s sale to Columbia in 2003. He put together the business plan for the Hardwear along with Jack Gilbert. While his first jobs were as an investment banker, Tim and his wife Dora have spent the last 6 years in Hong Kong working in organic cotton garment and fabric manufacturing. Tim has visited and worked with more textile mills and sewing factories than anyone I know. His skill set is very unique as the President of SlingFin. While we are working on clothing, sleeping bags and packs.. our initial products are tents. Equipment has historically been the foundation of any authentic brand in the outdoor industry. Tents often separate the creative brands from the others. The world sees your company logo in some of the craziest places on earth. Any company, in the rag trade, can make a garment but only a handful of companies can make a tent that can withstand 8,000 meter conditions with less than 10 pounds of aluminum (or carbon fiber) and fabric. SlingFin has no formal marketing department, other than a keg of beer and a jockey box full of ice (and some very creative minds). We have 18 industrial sewing machines used for sample making, the support of our vendors that we have been working with for over 30 years and people who are passionate about making great gear. What we do is build gear like others in our industry used to but with with people who have more experience than those who did it in the 60’s. Martin Zemitis