Both Melanie and I are planners by virtue of our backgrounds so when we started to list subjects we wanted to tackle for content I wanted to talk about some of the more boutique gear companies out there doing innovative designs with form, function, good QA/QC and guerrilla marketing. One of the older, yet still boutique gear companies out there is San Francisco based Triple Aught Design (aka TAD Gear). The name Triple Aught is a reference to the three zero moniker (000) engineers use to speak in thousandths of an inch, a value of high tolerance and quality control. The company maintains a robust, thoughtful website and two local retail outlets in San Francisco.
During our recent trip to Yosemite, we went to the "Dog Patch" section of San Francisco to one of the stores. We also visited Mrs Doubtfire's house but that is for another blog. The store is located in a converted warehouse that still boasts a steel roll up door and "changing rooms" made from wool blankets hung from a string. Don't get me wrong. The presentation is far from shabby. It was simple, clean and well laid out with a classroom in the rear for their CORE classes (more on that in a moment). The onsite customer service was excellent and I quickly learned they offer a first responder/military/veterans pro deal of 15% off retail.
So lets get to the "Gear" of TAD Gear. They break up their line into Apparel and Equipment, each with a diverse mix of products.
The equipment is broken out into Packs and Pouches, Knives, Lights and Tools. The firm's flagship pack is the FAST Pack EDC, a 1000 denier cordura day pack with a generous beavertail and robust belt system. Like most of the their line, both this pack and the smaller FAST Pack LiteSpeed are offered in their coyote brown and foliage green colors. You will find when you scan the website that both equipment and apparel share a muted palette of autumn colors and black/grey scale. This works from a practical sense (covers dirt/wear) and a tactical sense (big part of their customer base is military and police special operations). The pouch line offers internal and external modularity to the pack series and both packs have leveraged the military Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS) webbing (mistakenly referred to as MOLLE by some) to add proprietary pouches, as well as military issue equipment.
Now I am not a knife guy. That is a whole other world that I have only a glancing understanding of, but by name (Winkler) and appearance the high end and custom line of knives and occasional hatchet are top drawer. I have no experience with their lights and don't know anyone who does (My friends and I have bet our lives on Surefire on more than one occasion) however, like most of their designs they appear slick and lean heavily toward practical functionality.
The company's Tool line is without a doubt the most eclectic mix of cool guy stuff. From their super cool Titanium Short Spork that Melanie and I both coveted to the Skeleton Key, a oddly shaped multi tool w/ the TAD Gear skull festooned on the top. Each piece of hardware is made of quality materials, sleek lines and innovative design. The website provides detailed descriptions and photographs.
My direct experience with Triple Aught stems from the clothing line. As stated, all of their clothes are what can be called tacticool color wise; however, the mix of colors is more aesthetically pleasing compared to the more tactically focused clothing lines of Crye Precision, Patagonia's military line or Arc'teryx LEAF. YKK zippers, double stitching and thoughtful design are all apparent and sizes are true. Their line of hard and soft shells all provide top of the line materials, user focused design and durability. A knock to the company that the salesperson was happy to assure us is soon to change is the lack of design options for ladies. Melanie was in love with their Stealth hoodie, but even the men's XS was not a good fit, so I know when it comes out in a women's version it will almost certainly be added to her extensive collection of jackets. I think the companies strength lies in their insulating layers. In the past, I have owned their Ranger hoodie and a merino wool zip up cardigan with full turtle style neck. With past experience with TNF Denali and Mountain Hardwear windstopper fleece jackets ,TAD's Ranger hoodie is hands down the best fleece jacket I have owned. With a hood that accommodates a helmet, thumb holes, pit zips and windstopper materials, I swore by this jacket during a winter in Eastern Afghanistan. The sweater I owned is no longer part of their line; however, all their merino wool apparel is soft, simply designed and is at home in town and the backcountry.
While in the San Francisco store, I bought their Force 10 cargo pants. The entire line of pants appears well designed w/ ample pockets located in a common sense fashion. The fit is true (maybe a little generous in the waist) supplemented with large belt loops. The different cuts of pant are offered in a variety of materials as well. I have yet to really shake these pants out but with fall upon us, I will begin to wear them on our trips and day hikes, replacing their equivalent from Arc'teryx.
With the thousands of dollars I have spent on gear that falls short, TAD has never let me down. But keep in mind the old axiom, "Buy once, Cry once." They are close in pricing with your higher end companies like Arc Teryx and Patagonia, but if you spend that money you won't have issue w/ quality, fit or support. Another caveat when working with Triple Aught is product availability. They are a small company and with that run a tight inventory control program so outages by design or size is a common occurrence. I followed up with them on an item through Facebook and received an immediate response to item availability questions and for me that goes miles toward return business.
Alongside their gear selection, Triple Aught is offering in the San Francisco area a myriad of classes like Field Forecasting, a course on weather prediction sans technology, wilderness medicine and esoteric skills like their Black Box curriculum, a kidnap and ransom mitigation course. They also offer combative style courses in Extreme Close Quarters Combat (ECQC) and knife fighting; all taught by local law enforcement subject matter experts.
I strongly encourage a visit to the website and Facebook page to really take in all that TAD offers. They have stayed close to their roots, design gear with a unique mix of style and function and continue to support the communities they serve.
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