Pioneer of lightweight tents dies leaving legacy of backpacking positivity.
You may think that lightweight backpacking is a modern invention, but you'd be wrong. Robert Saunders, who died recently, was the man behind the range of tents which bears his name and almost single-handedly pioneered the development of gramme-saving tentage from his Essex base.
Veteran outdoors journalist Peter Lumley, who knew Saunder for many years, comments: 'the products which bore his name helped shape - even change - an industry and the lifestyle of his customers. He did that with the slogan “tents for mountain, moor and meadow” which was so very much the true description of a manufacturing output that burgeoned to significant exports for the nation of which he was always so proud.'
'For years, from the early 70s just about every true innovation in tent design and tent-making came from the Robert Saunders camp,' says Lumley. Many developments we take for granted today originated with Saunders including tents which pitched outer first to protect the inner from rain, the first sloping ridge tent and even the transverse ridge which developed into the uniquitous bended hoop which is almost univerally used in modern tents.
To put it in perspective, as recently as 2007, the Guardian's 'Expert Choice' column was still recommending the Saunders Spacepacker as the number one choice for backpackers: 'The Spacepacker is the iconic backpacking tent' it wrote. 'And its creator, Robert Saunders, is a legend among those serious about the lightweight tent they carry. Sure, there are lighter tents. And tents that boast more features. But, despite being around for decades, the Spacepacker beats them all.'
We're sure that everyone out there who's benefited from Robert Saunders' forward thinking and spent nights in one of his tents - more than likely that seminal Spacepacker - will join us in mourning his passing and thanking him for his work in developing light but durable tents that simply make multi-day backpacking not just possible but enjoyable too. Rest in peace.
Thanks to Peter Lumley for his input. For those who'd like to know more, the full obituary is below:
ROBERT SAUNDERS - R.I.P.
The Man made the difference on mountain, moor and meadow.
His was a towering countenance,a friendly person who reasoned rather than argued and one who put deep thinking to work. When he launched his tent brand it was Britain then Europe and others who envied him for the way he embraced technology with true innovation.
Robert Saunders pioneered lightweight tent development, doing that from a standing start, almost, working in the quiet east of London Essex countryside yet with a connect to even the most challenging of global places, where tents are carried to house people.
Bob Saunders, the man, showed that British ingenuity could very successfully adapt materials and styling with hands-on manufacturing outwith a factory complex, and the products which bore his name helped shape - even change - an industry and the lifestyle of his customers.
He did that with the slogan “tents for mountain, moor and meadow” which was so very much the true description of a manufacturing output that burgeoned to significant exports for the nation of which he was always so proud.
His gear train for the UK user and its retail supply chain arrived at Backpacker Station at a time when the name was barely chalked on a signboard. He was the green flag waving Stationmaster who so impressed everyone who saw his Lite that arrived for the Hike fraternity, bringing them an under-3lb overnight home to pitch.
Years later, in a hill-trekking campers brand- recognition exercise, it was the “Saunders” which was identified as a peer tent brand, one to use and trust. Go on a hike or bike tenting trip today, and the brand is so often still right there, in view, adored for what it brings the user.
Robert Saunders made the distinct difference in a time when UK manufacturing for the outdoors was achieved with raw materials and components from the depths of a UK supply chain. Often his encouragement for suppliers to go the extra mile with their technological advances brought the same innovative advantages he’d strived to gain, right there to the very door of his rivals, too.
There is no doubt that his ingenuity swathed the whole market with the wash of true endeavour, yet there was never a time when he was critical of would-be emulators: Bob Saunders was a leader, not a complainer.
The Robert Saunders who struck out on the path to build tents that were different came from the necessity of a family man to provide for a wife and daughters. His way began right at the home where he was to live out a full sixty years of endeavour. On his journey he involved others who could work in the same way and in a short while he and his team of workers built a wide customer base through the retailers who liked what he made.
Staying in the public eye by being first with his applied science in tent making built a public following that helped grow and influence market demand for the tents that travel.
For years, from the early 70s just about every true innovation in tent design and tent-making came from the Robert Saunders camp. His was the probing mind, the listening ear, and himself the one manufacturer who would interpret ideas to enhance tenting lifestyle.
After the Robert Saunders Lite Hike had shed it’s airy gazebo styled flysheet it became the heart of Backpacker 1 - a solo tent with the deepest tray style groundsheet in the business, an aluminised fabric, solid but light. The massive separation between the inner and the flysheet was a condensation killer, uniquely it pitched outer first, just as with the next Robert Saunders development, the Backpacker S, the tent which became the standard by which other backpacker tents were judged for practicality, suitability and sense.
His was the first sloping ridge style, then the transverse ridge and on to the bended hoop that today is a universal solution to stretching and shaping fabric to make the home from home. Forty or so years ago it needed imagination and ability so think outside the box, one man came on the scene and made the difference: that was Robert Saunders, a true innovator.
Robert Saunders RIP
1-04-1930 to 15-04-2012
Service: Thursday, April 26. 14.45hrs Forest Park Crematorium, Hainault 1G6 3HP The information here from Peter Lumley