James Morin, co-owner of Portland company Flowfold, leads a group of climbers ascending Mount Kilimanjaro in early March. The group was testing prototypes for a high-tech hiking pack Flowfold intends to manufacture in partnership with L.L. Bean. (Photo by Chris Bennett)

Before making its debut next year at L.L. Bean, a high-tech backpack was tested in one of the world’s harshest laboratories – the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Portland company Flowfold got its start in 2008 making durable wallets from up-cycled sail cloth. Last year, owners Charley Friedman, James Morin and Devin McNeill decided to develop a sturdy hiking pack from composite materials that could withstand severe weather.

[Growing with the Flow: Young Maine company with Lewiston connections scores L.L.Bean contract, sees sales grow]

In late February, a group of three women and six men, including Morin, embarked on a seven-day ascent to the summit of Africa’s highest peak, reaching it on March 5. The summit sits 19,341 feet above sea level.

The trek tested eight prototypes of the pack for durability in rain, freezing temperatures, hail, extreme heat and humidity.

“We wanted to know if it could handle all the weather that Maine could throw at it,” said Morin, who said he fulfilled a lifelong dream by summiting Kilimanjaro. “It was like we used the seven days to test (conditions) that would have taken an entire year otherwise.”

Morin took notes on each pack’s performance and is now working on “Frankensteining” the results into the ideal hiking pack. L.L. Bean, which has been carrying Flowfold wallets and bags, wants to introduce the hiking pack in the spring of 2019. The pack will be the fifth in a line of co-branded products sold at the outdoor gear retailer under a dual logo of Flowfold and L.L. Bean.

“It’s so exciting to be on the logo under L.L. Bean,” said Morin. “For me, it’s like playing ‘horse’ with Michael Jordan or nine holes with Tiger Woods.”

Morin said the packs all performed admirably, noting the real test came a few days into the climb when torrential rain was falling horizontally from the skies. Morin asked the climbers not to put covers on the packs so he could assess how waterproof they were. Each pack was made with a waterproof design, waterproof materials and waterproof zippers.

Hours later, when they stopped for lunch, Morin checked each bag’s contents. All were dry.

“That’s when I relaxed,” he said. ” I knew if they could survive that, they could survive a downpour on a climb up Katahdin.”

The packs will be manufactured at the company’s facility in Scarborough, where six people are employed.


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