Austere Manufacturing: Damn Nice Buckles
Austere Manufacturing specializes in high-performance, US-made hardware. Their flagship product is a CNC-machined cam buckle that’s lightweight, impressively strong, and built to last a lifetime. Find a closer look here, including an interview with Austere’s founder, Uriel Eisen…
High-performance buckles? Although that might seem like a contradiction, Austere Manufacturing doesn’t think so and has set out to change our minds about how we perceive the hardware that much of our gear relies on. Like 99% of the products I discover, I stumbled upon Austere Manufacturing on Instagram just as they were gearing up to produce their first order of cam buckles. But these aren’t your heavy stainless steel or flimsy plastic variety. Austere’s buckles are CNC machined in the USA from solid billet aluminum and are designed to be lighter, stronger, and easier on the eyes than what’s currently out there. Keep reading for a closer look at their 3/4″ cam buckles and utility straps and a Q&A with Austere Manufacturing’s founder, Uriel Eisen.
Austere’s buckles are impressive. The design, feel, and finish are top-notch and it’s clear that Uriel put some serious time into research and development. The serrated teeth and corresponding indents hold onto standard webbing straps tightly and don’t loosen or slip during the day. The spring and buckle action is firm but easy to operate, and the entire buckle seems just the right size: burly but not overkill.
The machining and finish on the buckles are some of the best I’ve seen. Every tiny curve and lip is intentional, making for an aesthetically pleasing piece of hardware that would look great integrated into your favourite saddle or handlebar bag. The matte finish has a candy-like appearance that so far seems to be quite durable.
The buckle itself exudes quality, and I have no complaints to speak of. However, I do think the standard 3/4″ nylon webbing strap (when purchased as a utility strap) seems a little cheap for such a high-quality piece of hardware. Unlike Voile Straps, nylon webbing is slippery and has the tendency to move around on racks and bags a little easier. When using the straps on a rack, I ended up looping the webbing around the rack deck in one spot to make tightening the buckles a little easier. The other reason I like ski straps is their plastic hardware, which I’m never too worried about rubbing on my handlebar or gear. Although I don’t think it’s necessary for all situations, there might be potential for a grippier strap with some integrated buckle protection, much like a canoe or kayak tie-down strap.
Austere is currently offering the cam buckles in 3/4″ and 1″ sizes. They can be purchased as a complete system with a webbing strap, or on their own to integrate into another piece of gear that could use an upgrade. I had plans to use the straps to help secure a packrafting setup, but that gear has been delayed, so I’ve mostly been using them on a rear rack and tossing one into a bag as a backup strap. I could also see them being useful for saddlebags that sag a little too much, for nearly any type of handlebar bag setup, or as a reliable backup strap on longer tours.
Q&A with Uriel Eisen
First off, tell us about yourself and the role of bicycles in your life.
I’m Uriel Eisen, and I’m an inventor and maker. I love building new things, especially projects that have many conflicting constraints. I’ve worked on water filters for disaster relief, lunar landers, backpacks, robotic boats, and spacesuit components for NASA. If I’m not in the shop, you can usually find me on a bike, which is my main form of transportation in daily life and my favorite way to travel and spend time outside. From bikepacking in the Andes on my fat bike to moving dishwashers, couches, and sheets of plywood on the short-tail cargo bike that I welded, I generally feel that most things are better done by bike. And by the way, if you’ve ordered buckles from us, your package was most likely bounced around on some singletrack on the way to the post office.
What led to the launch of Austere Manufacturing?
Austere Manufacturing was born out of my years-long frustration with the hardware available for bag making. I have been designing and sewing backpacks and bikepacking gear for many years but was always a bit disappointed by what I could find. Plastic buckles slip, get brittle in the cold, and break. Metal buckles are heavy and ugly (or both) except stamped aluminum G-hooks, which I’ve bent. The idea of making better hardware had been percolating in my head for years when I took a position in spacesuit development for NASA. The buckles on spacesuits take very high loads and are super lightweight because it’s hugely expensive to launch extra weight into space, and because there is nothing suitable that’s commercially available, spacesuit makers design their own buckles. Motivated by just how light and strong I saw hardware could be, I decided to dust off some designs I had sketched over the years and make buckles designed specifically for backpacks and bikepacking bags.
Why design a CNC’d buckle? What’s wrong with plastic ones?
When you think about all the resources that are put into designing a bag and all of the incredibly high-performance fabrics that are used, it seems a bit crazy that a cheap piece of plastic that costs pennies is tasked with holding the whole thing together. The reason plastic hardware is so prevalent is that it can be injection molded, which makes it incredibly cheap, but this also limits strength and overall performance. We went a different route and looked at what would allow us to produce super strong, lightweight, tenacious hardware that holds up to extreme use, feels great in your hand, and looks good. The only process that can check all these boxes is CNC milling, so we invested in one of the fastest CNC mills available and we’ve been really happy with the results!
How are your buckles made?
Each buckle starts as a block of aluminum, which is clamped into custom fixtures in the CNC mill. The bulk of the material is quickly removed in a first pass with a serrated roughing tool. Subsequent passes with an assortment of finishing tools establish high dimensional accuracy and leave a beautiful surface finish. The parts are then inspected, washed, and move to our finishing area. Here, the buckles are put into a vibratory tumbler for three hours where a light abrasive removes burrs and leaves a uniform surface. Next, the buckles are soaked in a degreaser and sandblasted to remove oils and create a fine texture so that the coating adheres well to the machined aluminum. To ensure all oils are gone the buckles then spend one hour in an oven, which gasses out any last trace contaminants. Once cooled, they are sprayed with Cerakote, a high-performance finish that gives the buckles their unique colors and protects them from the elements. After two and a half hours back in the oven to harden the coating, the buckles head to assembly where the spring is inserted and the titanium pin is pressed in to hold it all together. The buckles are inspected once more for fit and finish before being packed and shipped.
I haven’t had much time to try these beautifully made and oh-so-small cam buckles and straps – just a few overnighters. But I have found them really effective at cinching down my tent below a Jones H-Bar Loop handlebar. In fact, they’re so secure that they’re all I’ve needed – I’ve simply wrapped the tent in a piece of sit map to protect it from errant shifters and cables, and slotted in tent poles too. They’re long enough that at night, I can also run one of them around two bikes to secure them together – more for peace of mind than anything. Despite riding some rough and tumble trails, I’ve no slippage to report at all, plus the whole system is incredibly light. Whilst the webbing doesn’t have the grippiness and ‘stretch’ of a Voile strap that I’d use otherwise, I actually prefer them in this application because they’re so light, minimal, and long – which means I can add in a layer (or bananas) too. Even if I wasn’t running this kind of specific setup, the whole strap packs down so small that I’d be tempted to carry one as a spare – maybe to occasionally secure my bike under a bus, or sometimes cinch a waterproof to a seat pack.
What are your hopes for the buckles and who do you see using them?
These are the last buckles you’ll ever need. They’re designed to be extremely durable and my hope is that people look at them as an investment in long-lasting, quality gear. I hope this helps move the industry away from making disposable gear that will only last a couple of seasons of good use, and toward making gear that is designed to be long-lasting and repairable. There are many manufacturers making bikepacking gear with incredible materials and workmanship who use the same buckles you’d find on a backpack at Walmart. As a result, many bikepackers have buckles that break while out on a trip or find themselves stopping every few minutes on rowdy singletrack descents to tighten their bags. With our hardware, your trip won’t stop because of your buckles – you can focus all of your attention on the trail ahead. And there are so many other use cases!
Our buckles make perfect utility straps that are strong and light. We also love keeping a couple in our frame bags as lightweight, super useful backup straps or to lock down seat post bags so they don’t sway or loosen. Our buckles are perfect for people who want reliable gear for extended human-powered adventure and we’ve been blown away and humbled by the feedback we’ve received.
Any plans for other hardware in the future?
We have many designs that we’re really excited to bring to market. They’ll take some time because we are a small team, but we plan to offer better options for all the buckles, loops, tri-glides, D-rings, and other bits of hardware used in bag making. We also have some totally new and exciting concepts in the works that we’ll post about on our Instagram (@Austere_manufacturing). Stay tuned!
Lastly, favourite local trail or route?
Our shop is very close to the Olympic Peninsula and there are some crazy descents around the Olympic National Forest that are pretty rowdy and just way too much fun. It also provides a great place to prove out our new products!
- Very strong and lightweight
- Beautifully machined with a top-notch finish
- Made in the USA
- Webbing does not slip
- Pricey and somewhat niche item
- Webbing strap can be slippery on bars and racks
- Material: Aluminum + Titanium Pin
- Weight: 8.2 grams (3/4″ buckle)
- Place of Manufacture: Washington, USA
- Price: $22 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: AustereManufacturing.com
I’m a big fan of Uriel’s design philosophy. While I don’t think high-end buckles will be for everyone, I imagine anyone who’s obsessed with Dyneema, titanium, or Swiss-engineered zippers will at the very least be curious to give Austere’s buckles a whirl. They are extremely well-designed and wonderful to handle, they grip webbing straps with a bite that is unheard of compared to plastic alternatives, and the finish is impeccable. They are like little pieces of beautiful candy that also happen to serve an important purpose for bikepackers. I’m very curious to see if bag makers will incorporate the buckles into their designs, as well as what other products we’ll see from Austere Manufacturing moving forward.
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