Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting Technical with L.L. Bean

Glove Love: Bean's new Technical Upland Shooting Gloves
It's still months before any of us can fire the first shot of the 2011-2012 upland hunting season, but if you're like me, you're already spending time daydreaming about this fall. I typically spend this time of year organizing my gear and (much to the chagrin of Mrs. Scampwalker) spend more than a little time online scoping out new must-have stuff.I've been impressed with some of the newer gear that's being marketed by L.L. Bean, including their Technical Upland Boots, and I recently posted on that particular product's uncertain status. Despite that setback, the Bean guys are still rolling out some really interesting new technical gear for this fall.

As promised, here's a recap of the email interview I did a week or two ago with Jeff Miller, L.L. Bean's Senior Developer for the Tecnical Upland line.

How did the Technical Upland concept originate at LL Bean?

I had been wearing traditional upland pants for many years and frankly they served me pretty well but when I was hiking, fishing or dog training I was typically wearing some "climbing" pant or similar which gave me a great range of motion with more dynamic fabrics and gusseted knees. They were pretty durable, wicked moisture well and dried quickly. If they would turn briars a little better I'm certain I would have reached for them in the fall. As I thought about it more it seemed relatively silly that the upland market hadn't taken advantage of new fabrics and designs that much of the outdoor market was enjoying. So we designed the Technical Upland Pant using a relatively lightweight polyester fabric with a little stretch and great moisture management as far as wicking and fast drying, great articulation through the nylon reinforced knees and then trimmed the cuffs with a bomb-proof, body armor fabric to keep the cuffs from fraying all apart in a season or two. We had some success and have been building on it ever since.

The Performance Hunter Orange Cap -- not your grandaddy's lid!

Hunters are a pretty traditional lot, and your Technical Upland line features a lot of new fabrics, styles and designs. What kind of feedback have you gotten from bird hunters on them?

Hunters are fairly traditional and Upland Hunters are the most traditional (exception maybe waterfowlers) and wasn't even sure if the market would be ready to accept "technical". Thankfully the were ready and have carved a nice little niche in the upland market - with more and more guys interested every year. We do hear about those that are still reluctant to give up their tried and true favorites but I have heard very few that have tried any of the Technical pieces that didn't absolutely love them. Now we all still have traditional pieces in our "quiver" - I mean it's all about the gear - but I think most are finding themselves reaching less and less for them and are preferring the benefits that some of this new stuff brings to the table. Overwhelmingly the feedback continues to be very positive.
What kind of customer is gravitating to the Technical Upland line? Traditional LL Bean customers, or are you getting new ones? My guess is that they skew a bit younger and more receptive to non-traditional designs... is that off base?

I don't think that is off base at all and I think its those same customers that, like me, have been using more technical pieces for their other outdoor endeavors. So yes, I'd say we have gained some new customers with this technical assortment and we have also engaged many of our traditional customers in it as well.

L.L. Bean is continually improving its popular (and bombproof) Upland Briar Shirt.
Note: Bean realizes that some of us use our LEFT shoulder to mount a gun!
What new Technical Upland goodies will Bean offer for the upcoming hunting season?

Well specifically to the Technical Upland assortment, we have only added a performance hunter orange hat - inspired by running ball caps - with tremendous moisture management/movement and ventilation and a shooting glove - inspired by mechanic/motocross gloves - with great dexterity, protection and a form fit. Now I will also add that we updated our traditional strap vest (Pa'tridge Strap Vest) with a great shoulder harness/lumbar belt system which should make a popular traditional piece even more functional and yet still maintain a traditional look. We didn't classify it in the technical assortment but it's a nice" bridge" piece for the guy looking for updated technology in a traditional design.

L.L. Bean's New Pa'tridge Strap Vest - Note the new lumbar support strap.

Beyond apparel, what other Bean gear is new or unique this year for the upland bird hunter?

Beyond apparel/vests/packs for the upland guy we didn't find or develop much other than a cool little bird and trout knife. It's hard to find gear or even ideas for new hardgoods in this category - short of dog supplies - what's an avid upland guy need (specific to upland)??

Between us, Jeff, we both know it has nothing to do with NEED.  But it sure is nice to get some new kit now and then, and I applaud you for your innovation.  You keep building it, we'll keep buying it!

1 comment:

  1. Great read! I can be counted among those in anticipation of the bird season. I have gotten my electronic ears repaired, fabricated a new dog kennel deck for my ATV (blue grouse secret weapon), have a new kennel on the way from Deer Creek, and am braking in some awesome new boots that show terrific promise. Grouse season is just around the corner. Still need to get to my reloading though. Holy crap! I'm behind the eightball!