I was saddened to hear recently of the death of Robert Saunders, one of the pioneers of modern lightweight tent design. Back in the 1970s he was the first British tent maker to design lightweight nylon tents suitable for backpacking. My first proper backpacking tent was a Saunders Backpacker II, a tapered ridge tent with a thin breathable nylon inner and a large porch that weighed around 2kg. It pitched flysheet first and stood up to some wild weather on a Pennine Way walk one April, my first walk longer than a weekend. As the 'II' suggests it was designed for two people. There was a smaller Backpacker I but I've always preferred roomy shelters and the weight of the II was hardly prohibitive for solo use.
The Backpacker tents tapered ridge design has remained a functional one every since and has been given a new lease of life with the popularity of trekking poles, which were unheard of when Bob Saunders came up with it. The tent I used on the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2010, over 30 years after my Pennine Way walk, was nearly identical to my old Backpacker II. Good designs remain good designs.
The Backpacker tents were made with polyurethane coated nylon that eventually stiffened and cracked, meaning tents had a relatively short life (it was far inferior to today's PU coated nylon but all that was available). Dissatisifed with this material Bob Saunders was on the look out for something better. He found it too. At a trade show sometime in the 1980s I remember him showing me some new tent material. "Go on, tear that", he said. I couldn't. He handed me a piece of heavier PU coated nylon. It tore easily. The new fabric was silicone nylon, then unknown to UK backpackers. Soon Bob had a range of tents made from this innovative new material, with the lighter Jetpacker replacing the Backpacker. The Jetpacker was his lightest tent but more popular was his roomy single hoop Spacepacker, the first single hoop design to appear. Silnylon tent fabrics and single hoop designs are common now. Back then they were revolutionary.
Through the 1970s and 80s Saunders was one of the names in lightweight tents. Bob also supported the then new Backpacker's Club, advertising regularly in the club journal and turning up at AGMs with a display of tents. He also founded the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, which I took part in several times in the 1980s and which is still run today.
Robert Saunders Tents ceased trading a few years ago. Now Robert himself has gone, at the grand old age of 82. His name and designs should live on in the history of backpacking and lightweight camping equipment. He really did make a difference.
I am pleased to see other reminiscences and obituaries elsewhere on the web - see My Outdoors, Outdoors Magic, The Outdoor Warehouse.