Flying Possum To The Rescue: A Smarter Tarp Saves Lives

How one small marsupial inspired an omnivorous designer’s glide into international disaster relief.

Greg McEvilly was watching news coverage of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when he got the idea to design the Glider–a rainwater-catching tarp that mimics the sleek form of a sugar glider (a possum) in flight. “People were sleeping on the ground in the disaster relief camps, which meant with all the flooding, people were sleeping on slosh.” More critical than the discomfort, he tells Co.Design, were the health risks. “There was no plumbing, so there were grave sanitation issues.”


McEvilly launched his company, Kammok, soon after, with a much greater mission than making quality outdoor goods for those who camp by choice. His commitment was to counter the onslaught of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, through product design. If people in disaster relief camps had a simple form of alternative bedding, or a place to sleep that elevated them off the ground, he ventured, then disease-bearing arthropods wouldn’t pose a threat.

In his early research, he found that relief efforts were focused on priorities he supports. “The immediate need is for education, nets, and anti-malarial medications,” he explains, which moved him to develop products that would work with the nets, essentially providing preventive health care while people sleep. McEvilly then created the Roo hammock and the Python tree strap–the first two products in what would become Kammok, an outdoor lifestyle brand driven by humanitarian aid concerns. The company maintains a partnership with Malaria No More: Buy a Roo hammock, and Kammok sends a mosquito-treated net to a family in Africa.

“North Face or a larger brand has mountaineering at the core of its business,” McEvilly says. “Our foundation is for global adventurers who want to purpose their lives and time with improving others’ lives.”

Back to the very important possum design, the Glider is an ingenious ultralightweight portable shelter with a streamlined rainwater retention system built in. The shape of the sugar glider stretched out for flight means that the wings act as natural gutters that funnel rainwater into collapsible one-liter water bottles. The ripstop nylon keeps everyone underneath, including the earth, dry, and a silver heat-reflective finish keeps the scorching sun at bay.

At first glance, it’s a piece of camping gear or an easy bit of shade for the beach or tailgating. In practice, it’s a model for uncomplicated products that have the potential to protect people’s health in times of disaster. Kammok’s next rollout is a hydration line, designed for the quotidian urban life–or for the sticks. “The city-to-trail lifestyle is at the center of the plate for our thought and design. The big picture is a brand that can equip people for adventure,” McEvilly says.

The Glider currently costs $175. Check out the Glider and Kammock on Kickstarter.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.