Dive Into the Deep, Cold End Of Product Design With Meghan Martens
How do you design the best fitting, most effective ice climbing gloves? Work closely with world-class ice climbers, obviously. And—learn to ice climb yourself. That’s how Meghan Martens found herself swinging tools and kicking crampons into the dreamy ice of Hyalite Canyon for the first time.
For Martens, OR’s product manager for gloves, gaiters, shelter and storage, getting into the thick of the sports she designs for is essential for making sure she’s making the absolute best products she can. And it also just happens to be one of the most fun things about the job.
“I really like ice climbing,” she says. “It’s beautiful, seeing the water flow behind frozen falls. It’s cool and it’s scary to me. You have to listen to how the axe sounds when it hits the ice. It’s so different and something I never thought I would do.”
To Martens, that was the only logical way to go about designing gloves. “I wanted to know why you need ice climbing gloves to be tight fitting and super grippy. I wanted to know why you need reinforcement patches along your pinky, etc. All those little details really make the product stand out to actual users.”
And ice climbing was just the beginning. Martens grew up camping and hiking with her family and snowboarding since high school, going on to cut her teeth at The North Face and then learning different aspects of the business at Foursquare. But when she started at OR, overseeing glove production, she realized it was time to dive into all the sports she’d be designing for.
“When I accepted the job at Outdoor Research as product manager for gloves, I thought I’d be bored with only working on gloves, but it has been the opposite,” she says. “There are so many applications for gloves: ski, ice climbing, rock climbing, alpine, running, paddling etc.” That means she’s found herself rock climbing with professional guides and plotting her own multi-day canoeing trip.
The result of this total emersion? A batch of fresh ideas for cutting-edge products to make playing in the outdoors more comfortable, and performing at maximum output even more efficient. “We constantly try new constructions, new patterning techniques and play around with new ideas,” she says.
She’s overseen OR’s production of a crack climbing glove, sun sleeves and heated gloves and mittens—all envelope-pressing products that went through a gauntlet of tests and trials to make sure they’re up to the tasks OR’s pro athletes and demanding customers will ask of them.
“I’m a firm believer in working with and listening to our ambassadors,” she says. “Every season, I have them test product and provide feedback. Since they are the ones pushing and evolving the field they give the best feedback.”
But it doesn’t stop with the athletes. For the ALTIHeat line of heated gloves and mitts—which Martens worked for two years to perfect, sending them out to test in all kinds of conditions—OR even hired a forensic engineer. Usually hired to investigate the cause of house fires, he dunked the gloves and mitts in water, froze them in a cold chamber and dissected them to shreds looking for hot spots, cold spots and any potential issues. The results, with more power output and smaller batteries than other heated gloves on the market, have been well received.
Now Martens—an avid stand-up paddler herself—has her sights set on perfecting waterproof electronics storage pieces so paddlers can use their phones, tablets and other electronics while keeping them safe and watertight.
“You have to keep evolving the category to stay current with the ever-evolving outdoor activities,” she says. And thankfully for OR, Martens is happy to evolve as an outdoor athlete herself, too, unafraid to be a beginner again.
“Having a positive attitude helps in all these areas,” she says. “It doesn’t’ matter if you go out with a big group and some are beginners. If we go out with pros, of course they’re going to kick our asses. You could say, ‘I’m not good enough.’ But really, everyone has to learn something.”