Adam Hockey has been known as a "gear junkie" for all of the 16 years that he's worked at REI. Now, after spending years purchasing equipment for the company, he has the chance to put his love of sleek new outdoor gear to use by organizing ways to test REI products in the wilderness. Sometimes, that means he gets to test it himself. "That's one of the supercool parts of my job," he says.
Every day, he figures out the best conditions to test tents, cycling clothes, flashlights and sleeping bags. To find testers, Hockey taps into REI's database of 9500 employees and describes the kind of test he needs.
The gear that goes out has already been through extensive testing in the lab for safety. By the time Hockey sends it, he's looking for information about how users interact with the equipment; for example, how easy it is to reach the right zippers on a tent or access the hydration system on a backpack.
Some gear comes back with more wear and tear than others. One subject lost an entire tent on Wheeler Peak in Nevada, but luckily held onto a sleeping bag, also a piece of test gear, and managed to stay warm during the night. When they're not lost to a harrowing adventure, the tests always turn up some issue that didn't come across in the lab, Hockey says.
He said one thing he's learned about his area of design is that users want versatility. Instead of choosing between, say, accessing their water from the left or right side of a pack, people want the ability to choose. In general, outdoor gear junkies like him, "really want to configure it that they want it."