Mike Cecot-Scherer has been designing outdoor gear professionally for 29 years. He owns and operates thetentlab.com is currently offering a test on Kickstarter and has done design work on 244 tents and counting. With a degree in Physics from UC Berkeley combined with 10 years in retail, 16 years as an in-house designer for Kelty, 11 years as a freelance designer, and an avid skier since 1985, he knows a little about the stuff we outdoor gear junkies love. I had the opportunity to talk with Mike recently to learn what inspires him, what’s it like to be involved in the industry, and what advise he has for anyone looking to make their mark on the industry.

Mike Cecot-Scherer
Mike Cecot-Scherer

Before the interview, I painted this picture in my head of person raised in the Alaskan wilderness, having to make all his own gear, living off the land and his own ingenuity. Well, I was close. Mike grew up in Berkeley, CA. As a child, his mother and father inspired him to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Mike and his pals spent much of their time exploring the trails and offerings of Tilden Park in Berkeley. One of the District’s oldest parks, Tilden has been called the jewel of the system, and its recreational activities have become a happy tradition for generations of East Bay youngsters. Tilden Park covers 2,079 acres and provides shelter for wildlife and a preserve for the natural beauty of the area. Mike’s abilities to develop ideas for gear was further enhanced by his mother teaching him the lost art of the sewing machine. He made most of his own gear and improved on the items he bought.

While attending college, Mike worked for a local outdoor retail store, where he fell in love with mountain climbing. Rumor has it that during those years, pumpkins were found in some very strange and unexpected places. Mike would neither confirm nor deny knowledge of who may have been placing those pumpkins… Maybe they just flew up there… although, he used to joke that he majored in climbing.

Mike is starting a new chapter in his life. He and his partner have a toddler and another baby on the way. He has already developed a tent specifically designed for use with small children. I expect to see many more innovations from Mike, considering his new inspirations.

Mike Cecot-Scherer
Mike Cecot-Scherer

I asked Mike how the industry has changed over the years, especially with the influence of the Internet and everybody offering their personal product reviews online?
The Internet has been somewhat detrimental to the industry. It is becoming more difficult to be as thorough as you would like. Reviews should be carefully worded and they usually aren’t.

What is your crowning achievement?
As a professional designer, the days of pleasing oneself are long gone, however, I’m extremely happy with my latest design, the “Rug Rat”. I designed the tent for young couples with small children. The overall design is a more spacious tent with lots of open airy windows and a slew of technical innovations. This allows the kids room to play while keeping enough distance for mom and dad to be comfortable. Also noteworthy the Kelty Sunshade and the first Jetstream were tents that I worked on. (By the way, the wind tunnel tests are in and the RugRat is a MONSTER. Video posted on Facebook/tentlab and YouTube).

What are the downfalls to working in the industry?
The business is much different now. Products are brought to market to fill a specific role. Much of the decision as to what’s produced is based on a few old timers’ ideas. There’s just not much research or new ideas that make it to the big companies these days. Much of the products today represent what I consider to be more artistic choices rather than sound engineering principals and tradeoffs. If something has sold in the past, add some new colors for spring and send it back out the door. Which, if it’s a solid product, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What advise do you have for someone looking for a career in the industry?
Work on your artistic capabilities. Engineering is still valuable, however, the current job description requires a flair for visualization and presentation rather than engineering correctness.

Parting thoughts?
Tents are getting better, with all the new pole interconnects, fabrics, and materials available today. This is a very exciting time to be involved in the business.

As a freelance designer, Mike is still very much involved in the industry. For more information on Mike and his products, check out thetentlab.com

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