Annual Mount Rainier climb keeps JanSport rooted in innovation and tradition

Oct 09, 2019 Tags: Brand news
  • Each year JanSport® hosts a group trek up Mount Rainier in Washington, a tradition started in 1972 by co-founder and avid mountaineer Skip Yowell.
  • JanSport Design Manager Ahren Bonnema, as well as retail and industry partners like Big City Mountaineers, Mountainfilm and Paragon Sports, joined this year’s climb in July led by International Mountain Guides (IMG).
  • IMG’s climbing guides carry JanSports Guide Series Tahoma pack on the annual excursion, providing Ahren with real-time feedback about the design.

Ahren Bonnema knew what he was in for when he signed up for JanSports 47th annual group climb on Mount Rainier. Unpredictable weather and altitude sickness pushed him well beyond his comfort zone during the four-day trek to summit the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States.

None of this mattered much to Ahren, a JanSport Design Manager who conquered the 14,409-foot climb once before.

“For most people it is a life-changing experience. It builds strong bonds unlike anything you experience in your day-to-day life,” he said. “Those bonds will always have a special place in my heart on a personal level, but also on a professional level.”

A graduate of the Art Institute of California-San Francisco, Ahren works on improvements to the design of the Guide Series Tahoma pack each year for the Mount Rainier team, which includes JanSport associates and retail partners. Guides with International Mountain Guides (IMG) lead the climb and provide on-the-spot feedback.

JanSport has partnered with IMG for a decade. “These alpha climbers carry our pack and provide real-time feedback used to innovate an even better product,” said Anisah Parks, Manager, Social Media and PR. “They have a network of guides that lead summit trips all around the world — Mount Everest, Denali and others. They wear our Guide Series packs on all of their climbs.”

Over the years such feedback has led to design innovations that have trickled down to other JanSport packs, Ahren said. After redesigning the Tahoma’s back panel to include a removable foam pad for multiple purposes — it can be used to sleep or sit on but also can serve as a splint during a rescue — JanSports design team started looking for other opportunities to create multi-functional components.

“That’s when the Forktastic was born,” Ahren said, referring to the redesigned aluminum support bars in the Tahoma. “We created a fork at one end for roasting food on the fire, a bottle opener in the middle, and wrenches on the other end for on-trail repair. While the tool has little use on the mountain, it made perfect sense for our newest line of entry level multi-day packs, the Good Times Collection, and is featured on the Far Out backpacks coming in January 2020.”

Ahren called the Tahoma his “100 percent passion project.” His goal: to create a product that’s built to last, whether it’s carried on a glaciated peak or a meandering path through the countryside.

“By designing a pack built to withstand an entire season of abuse by a guide in the harshest environments in the world, we are informing our design process to ensure that even our lowest-priced packs are built to endure a lifetime of daily use,” he explained.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have always held to our standards of quality. No matter what the market is doing, we want to make bags for life.”