Pierre Allain 1930s bivouac innovation revived

How does Pierre Allain’s bivouac system from the 1930s shape innovation in 2014? Why are past designs still so important for the development of innovative products?

The pied d’elephant (or elephant’s foot) is a short, waist length sleeping bag  and was a classic design for lightweight bivouacs. It was developed by Pierre Allain, in conjunction with his newly designed down jacket, in the 1930s. It was a total bivouac concept, including a knee length, coated silk jacket, which he called in French ‘an awning’. This design of jacket, known by the French word cagoule, dominated the UK market during from the mid 60’s through to the end of 70’s.  The influence still lingers today, amazingly, as British outdoor people still like the longer jacket, partly because it can obviate use of waterproof overtrousers.

OMM dallied with the pied d’elephant design about five years ago, calling it the PA1 in deference to Allain. Then ME tried to follow, but both efforts faded and died. Sometimes new products can only be done by the ‘right’ company.

PHD have announced this week that they are introducing the pied d’elephant or ‘half bag’, after the design had fallen into disuse for many years. Founded by Pete Hutchinson in 1998 PHD has a reputation for quality, functionality and innovative lightweight gear, based on Pete Hutchinson’s lifetime of gear making experience for top climbers. Andy Kirkpatrick sums up PHD :

‘The quality and diversity of good mountaineering equipment is staggering these days, but when it comes to pure specialist equipment for modern alpine style objectives PHD leads the way not only in the UK, but in the world. PHD gear is state of the art, both in design and thinking, with everything built on over give decades of hands on experience, a time line of equipment that has been used on most of the greatest mountain challenges of our time’.Andy Kirkpatrick.

 So why would such an innovative company introduce an almost forgotten design? Isn’t this a step backwards?

The opposite is the case. An awareness of the history of gear innovation gives the company awareness that functionality can depend on relatively simple solutions developed by lead users. The innovation comes, as with the PHD half bags, from combining modern materials often resulting from emerging technologies, with functional ideas from the past.

Click here for full story of Pierre Allain as an innovator

Click here for more on why history matters to innovation

Click here more on PHD Half bags



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