Shiftpods are tent-like dome structures that are weather resistant, temperature regulating, and generally badass.
They are made of space-age materials and can reflect excess heat, insulate the warmth during cold nights and keep the cool during hot days, as well as offer plenty of space for 6 people or even a king sized bed.
We sat down with Shiftpod inventor Christian Weber to discuss Burning Man, volcanoes, philanthropy and his team’s various evolutions on the Shiftpod design. Read the full interview below:
How did you come up with the idea for Shiftpods?
The idea really developed organically. I was in Justin Gunns Hexayurt at Burning Man in 2014. It was more of a hexamansion with couches, a separate bedroom, two AC zones, oriental rugs and tapestries on the walls.
It was a great space and I thought, I am done with RVs this is way better. Feet on the ground, comfortable and inviting. I said I am going to do this next year!
Then Justin told me what it takes to build, assemble, strike, and transport all of it. I run a huge camp and do not have time to do all of that. I quickly forgot about it until about 4 months later when I woke up in the middle of the night and thought there has to be a better way.
I began folding papers and sorting out how to make it happen. I researched NASA fabrics and added what I knew of composites from another lifetime ago…and then set out to build a extreme weather, folding yurt. My thought was to build 30 of them for our camp.
What evolutions or iterations has the Shiftpod gone through?
Well version one was a grey colored reflective fabric. We made 300 of them. They performed well but did not reflect enough heat. Structurally, they were great but there was more we could improve on. We created new fabrics and launched the 1.5.
We continued testing, built rain labs, flooded fabrics, beach tested, desert tested, launched the 1.8 with better tie downs and other improvements and then as our volume grew we had to change our manufacturing partners.
We basically reinvented our entire supply chain, invented thread that would not wick water, invented new sealing systems and after testing all of the material and products we are now producing the the SHIFTPODmini, the SHIFTPOD2, the new SHIFTPOD-XL, the RESPONSEPOD for first responders, the SHELTERPOD for survival and the GROWPOD portable greenhouse. Every time we go out into the desert or camping we find new ways to improve or innovate and our ethos from the beginning has been to build a product that we want to use ourselves.
How does the newest shiftpod differ from your first prototype?
It’s really a night and day difference. The sizes are different. The weight is reduced and performance is much better. The new units can be tunnel connected plus the weather and wind resistance is better. It is quite a list of improvements.
What material is the Shiftpod made of?
Patented ultra-sonic welded PE, with proprietary reflective and thermal reactive coatings, fiberglass and aluminum. We have researched using recycled materials and are working on a new material made of plastic water bottles we are very excited about.
Unfortunately most of the recycled or Eco-friendly materials either don’t hold up or are so expensive it’s not worth it. Yet being the key word. We are always looking for better materials and always aim to use the best available materials, not the cheapest, the best.
How has shiftpod contributed to sustainability and/or humanitarian efforts?
Our goal from the beginning was to find a way to party and have fun and also give to those in need. We looked to Tom’s Shoes for inspiration and made a goal of giving one unit to a family in need for every 20 we sell. So far we are way beyond that and we have also have people donate funds to send bulk orders of units to homeless projects and victims of fires and hurricanes. We are very excited to continue and to build on this project and make it even bigger this year.
Burning Man has a guiding principle of decommodification. Nothing there has a price tag (except the ticket, of course). Given that you developed the Shiftpod for Burning Man have you faced any personal or interpersonal challenges in navigating from that culture and into the consumer market?
Yep, tickets, ice, coffee and tea… all of the essentials for life are for sale there! While the concept ultimately came out of Burning Man we have never claimed to be a non profit venture nor do we feel like we have any responsibility to be. In fact, many people were encouraged at a founders meeting to promote and support projects from the playa to the default world. Now we have done this successfully and some short-time burners give us a hassle over it. It’s pretty funny.
One of our supporters put it well on Reddit, they said “There is a direct inverse proportional relationship to how many times you have been to the playa and how much you give a sh#t.” As far as interpersonal challenges about it… 24 years at Burning Man… I am pretty clear on doing good and keeping in balance. We build product for our own use, and because it is our passion, if others want to buy and use it, great. Welcome to the family, let’s have a good time and do good at the same time. Otherwise, do your own thing.
How many festivals now offer Shiftpod in their deluxe camping packages? Can you name a few?
Right now there are five. EDC is the largest for now. They are expanding to 4000+ this year and are really setting the bar for how to do it right. We have two more large festivals coming onboard in 2020 they may well dwarf EDC. Additionally, there are some cool stunt projects and movies that are going to be using SHIFTPODs. And of course we had the Shiftpod Lounge at Lucidity this year!
Are there any new exciting developments you can tell me about?
Well exciting… as you may know we sponsored an expedition down to the volcano in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The record setting team was the first to camp out in a live caldera. Well a few days ago, after 6 weeks trekking in the caldera, there was a massive volcanic implosion that swallowed the entire camp and one of the helicopters. The entire camp is gone. Fortunately, everyone had left on a supply trip and the whole camp was empty! Quite a stroke of luck. They knew it would happen but they didn’t know when. Just really lucky.
Other exciting news, we are launching the new SHIFTPOD XL and it seems people are very excited about this. The new tunnel/vestibules are almost done, and we have some cool new accessories coming soon. Now we have three sizes to fit your needs and we are coming out with a new aircraft aluminum frame strut kit that replaces the fiberglass struts and it will reduce 10 to 25 pounds of weight out of our shelters. We are very excited about this. We are also working on some ways to make the stowed size much smaller.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the Shiftpod venture?
Really, our philanthropy. We don’t talk about it much but it feels good to be a responsible capitalist. We don’t have to give like we do, and doing it without being asked or forced into it always feels better. When you hand someone, who just lost everything in a fire or hurricane, a shelter… a new home… it is really gratifying. It’s not a replacement or a permanent solution but when you don’t have anything or any idea of what to do and someone hands you a shelter, a private place to regroup…it is pretty impactful. This is the most rewarding aspect of the SHIFTPOD.
You’ve just gotten awarded recently, big congrats. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Thank you very much. It was a award of appreciation for our donations and help setting up first responder camps on the East Coast for hurricane response in 2018. We could not have done this without help from our partners at UPS who shipped pallets of good via air freight, and IDRC who handle logistics and communications. It is really incredible to see how many people come together to help others in need. We are very fortunate to be involved and look forward to expanding our role in the years to come.