Food planning for 4-10 day outings

This post is for Ali.
IMG_2872Food (red sack, pringles can, orange drybag) for eight days on this trip.

Food planning for backcountry endeavors often goes wrong for folks.  I’ve lost track of the number of noob backpackers I’ve seen trying to rehydrate dried pinto beans in the backcountry, or hungry on day 3 of 5 with 7000 unpalatable calories still in their pack.  Like many things in life there are no secrets to backcountry food planning, just obvious rules which are out in the open but whose proper application takes practice and experience.  The following is my version of those rules, as simple as I can make them.

Why 4-10 days?  3 day or less trips are easy because if you take extra it shouldn’t add too much extra weight, if you take too little performance shouldn’t suffer that much, and in most weather such short trips will allow you to cheat and bring heavy, fresh, everyday food for at least half the outing (e.g. turkey, avocado and cheese bagel sandwiches for first and second day lunches, yum).  Trips more than 10 days I have little experience with, but the folks who do tell us that after a certain point your metabolism changes and that needs to be taken into account.  For trips between 4-10 days I seem to be able to take my “normal” on-trip calorie consumption, multiply it by days out, and go from there.  Which leads into the first rule…

1: Count your calories

When I come home with a pile of food for a week long trip, I sort it into breakfast, dinner, and snack piles which seem like they ought to be enough, then add up the calories present in each.  I do this every time, without fail.  A wise man once wrote that we pack our insecurities, and mine is without question going hungry.  Even to this day I’m much more likely to pack too much.  In the last few years I’ve intentionally confronted this by taking too little food by a small margin on some trips, but that is another matter.  Count your calories with reasonable accuracy, follow the rest of the rules below, and you’ll have enough but not too much food.  Almost guaranteed.

2: Know your needs

Two separate points here: know how many calories you’ll probably need per day, and know what kind of nutrition you’ll find to be palatable and good fuel given the probable conditions.  For me, I bring between 3200 and 3800 calories per day.  I drift towards the high end for strenuous trips in colder weather (or where I’m more likely to be cold more often), and less on warmer, mellower trips.  The only way to get this range dialed is to experiment on shorter trips, which means applying rule 1 to overnights.  Do it, it works.

Bringing the right foods for you is just as important as bringing enough food, if not moreso.  Food which takes extra energy to digest and/or swallow is not fulfilling its potential.  My stomach is fairly un-fussy, so the only guideline I really hue to for this is to bring more fats and chocolate for trips with plenty of temps below 40F, and more salts, simple sugars, and electrolyte stuff for trips with plenty of temps above 70F.  In the middle it doesn’t really matter much.

3: Maximize calorie per ounce

This is the third because even though it’s the easiest to grasp, it is the least important.  It is really easy, for example, to push into higher overall calories/ounce ratios at the expense of food you’ll actually eat.  If it weren’t we’d bring olive oil, pringles, shortbread, and almond butter to the exclusion of everything else.  I’ve yet to assemble a menu which went much over 120 cal/oz while still delivering ideal performance, but honestly I’m far from the most rigorous or precise and could likely do better if I put more time into planning.

4: Take notes

Rarely have I ended a long trip without thoughts on how to improve my food, and likely a few things in the food bag either uneaten or reluctantly saved until the bitter end.  It is very beneficial to record (in a photo) what you took on a trip, and in words what worked, what didn’t, and why.  It is equally beneficial to pay attention to trip partners food, and read online accounts of trips you’d like to do, paying particular attention to the food.  Especially if you’re buying your trip food primarily or exclusively out of a grocery store, food fatigue is a constant issue and new ideas are always welcome.

ak-mountain-wilderness-classic-10My food for the 2011 Wilderness Classic.

The Omnibar

A while ago the folks from Omnibar in Missoula contacted me, both about packrafting beta for the Bob and about trying their product. I said yes, a box of bars showed up in the mail, and I’ve been eating them for the last six weeks. The following are my thoughts.


When buying day food for backcountry trips two factors share primary importance: calories/weight ratio and eatability.  The former is simple; you need a certain number of calories (Kcal) per day to function well, and the less weight needed to accomplish that the better.  Eatability is a more heterogenous topic, and encompasses everything from taste to durability to the proper nutritional makeup.  While backpacking you need snack/lunch items which won’t smush into oblivion, are easy fast and convenient to access, and can be digested by a potentially stressed and disturbed stomach.  This last factor is built equally of the scientific and the psychosomatic, and one cannot be disentangled from the other.

Omnibars are advertised as 65% sweet potatoes, oats, fruits and nuts, and 35% grass-fed beef from Montana cows.  The company writes that they’re “…jerky plus the essential ratio of ingredients the mind and body require for complete satisfaction” which is an accurate description.  Each package contains two long, thin bars which chew like 1/3 quality beef jerky, 2/3 fancy granola bar.  They’re moist, but not too pliable, and don’t require a ton of water to swallow, even when you have a dry mouth.  They come in four flavors, two of which (Roasted Peanut and Cranberry Rosemary) are mellow, and two of which (Chipolte BBQ and Mango Curry) are more emphatic.  I like spicy stuff, which makes the later two my favorites by a considerable margin.  The BBQ has a particularly pleasing zing to it.  I’d vote for all the flavors to be stronger, but the current range and amplitude is probably good for appealing to a wide market.

In summary, the Omnibars are tasty, very easy to eat and digest, and carry well.  They have a nutritional makeup that I like very much, and which seems to sit well.  At 100 calories per ounce they are quite average when it comes to caloric density, and being a premium product from a new, small company they are quite expensive at 2+ dollars a bar.  Do these advantages outweigh the downsides?  Keep reading.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 8.31.04 AM

As backcountry endeavors have become for me routine, be they on bike or foot or raft, purchasing food for them has naturally become frequent and unremarkable.  I keep a drawer of snacks and dinner items handy, but more often than not the next weeks trip sees me in the grocery store two days out buying food off the rack.  Convenience and cost, both prioritized by the frequency of multi-day trips, have seen me eat a lot of Snickers over the years.  Aside from in hot weather, Snickers are very effective, and for the US consumer their calorie to dollar to ounce ratio is unbeatable.  They also have a lot of sugar, which is fast burning and therefore less than ideal backpacking food.  And there is the question of the long term health and dental effects of eating so much candy.

As can be seen above, the nutritional makeup of Omnibars is a bit different than many energy bars, some of which (Larabar) are functionally identical to Snickers, even if they get there with different ingredients.  Omnibars are noteworthy for their lack of sugars, which in all my ignorance of dietary science I’m attributing their long, slow burn to.  Calorie to calorie they’re almost as carb-y as Probars, another tasty and effective if expensive premium food bar.  Omnibars also have a lot of protein per unit of weight compared to their competition, something I find particularly relevant as keeping up protein intake while backpacking without resorting to various powders (which have their own issues) can be challenging.

Having a free box of Omnibars to grab from has given me cause to reevaluate my cheap-as, food-is-food backcountry diet.  Simply put, Omnibars are pretty darn tasty, very easy to eat, and make me feel stronger and better longer than candy.  They’re the bar equivalent of what I try to (and often slip on) eat daily in the frontcountry, which provides for a continuity of gut which seems like a good thing.  My only real complaints are wanting stronger flavors, wanting more calories per ounce (without significantly altering the nutritional makeup), and wanting them to be cheaper (I see them at health food stores around here for north of 2 dollars each; a 12 bar pack direct from Omnibar is 39 bucks).  Will I be willing to spend that much on these bars in the future?  It’s a tough sell, but prior to seeing them in action the answer would have been a hasty hell no, and now it’s a qualified maybe.

The masterful Coal Frena beanie

DSC05603When I head out much beyond the front country I always have two hats along, in addition to the various hoods on windshirts, rain coats, and puffy jackets.  The percentage of warmth hats impart may have been overstated back in my Boy Scout days, but a dry hat remains the simplest and lightest way to bring warmth along in your pack.  My light hat, for moving in all but the coldest weather, is a light synthetic buff, either the UV Buff or one of the many just as good and much cheaper knockoffs.  When it’s cold, I’m in a packraft, in camp, or sleeping the buff becomes a neck gaiter or facemask and my warm hat comes out.  And the Coal Frena is far and away my favorite warm hat too date.

R0010398I’ve tried wool hats: which itch, sag when damp, and take forever to dry.  I’ve tried windstopper hats (what? can’t hear ya!), which are too warm to be versatile outside the arctic.  I’ve tried straight fleece, whose fit generally sucks.  The acrylic Frena dries fast, wicks, and is warm enough but not too much.  Most importantly, it’s stretchy and big.  Big enough to fit me (ie cover my ears totally) when I have a lot of hair and am wearing both a buff and ball cap under it.  All while staying put.  I’ve never been able to say the same about any other hat.  The only disadvantage of this voluminousness is that it doesn’t play well with most helmets.

R0010389The Frena is a bit fragile, and does stretch out with time (compare right, 24 months old, with left, 6 months) and get a bit fuzzy and pilly.  I’m willing to live with those things, especially as you can pick up the more emphatic colors deeply discounted (in comes in solids for you boring folks).

Get a few, and be content.

Stone Glacier Solo bag, and homebuilt frame

The Stone Glacier Solo is a pack which had immediate aesthetic and ideological appeal. The reason is right up front in the product description: “A 3300 cubic inch bag fits all your ultralight 4-season gear and week of food.” 3300 cubes is plenty for a week backpacking in summer, even with a packraft, but the hunting and legit four season gear is bulky. The number of folks who could do a week with either out of 52 liters is fairly small, let alone both. The Solo is an ultralight pack not just because of weight, it’s minimalist design and modest size is built explicitly for the expert user. For a company to make it their flagship product (even if the newer, much larger packs sell much better) is a bold and laudable statement. Contrast the product description with this review, where “When the Solo was used on an overnight scouting trip, even though the shelter and sleeping bag were a bit more than required, an otherwise basic kit filled the bag.”  If you’re the sort of hunter whose overnight kit takes up 40 liters, this is not the pack for you, or rather, it will make a fine daypack.

R0010385Last year I bought a Solo bag used for a good price.  I’ve hunted with it on an encasement for the Paradox frame, which was extremely comfortable but aesthetically lacking (the Solo is 11 inches wide at the base, the Paradox frame 14).  I finally got around to building a frame specifically for the Solo which uses some of my all-time favorite frame concept and suspension components, while being sleek and trim in a way which befits the Solo bag.  Initial trips around the neighborhood have been promising, and I’ll likely hunt out of it next month.

R0010359R0010376The central attribute of the Solo is the load shelf, which allows meat to be carried between the frame and the bag.  This keeps blood off your gear, and allows you to use a smaller pack.  I followed the conceptual details of the Stone Glacier Krux frame, explained in detail here.

Two 26″ by 1″ by 1/5″ 7075-T6 aluminum stays form the backbone.  T6 is the only way to go with stays, and for this application 1/8″ is too flexy, while 1/4″ is too hard to bend.  The Paradox hipbelt is bolted directly to the bottom of each.  A pocket between the stays and the user holds a plastic framesheet and foam pad, which provide lateral structure and prevent pack contents from getting too pokey.

The framesheet/foam combo provides just enough structure, while still allowing the stays to flex and move individually.  In the top photo the stays look like they could be bent more towards my back.  I’ve yet to do so because there’s enough give that tensioning the load lifters bring them forward and creates a very pleasing springy and engaged load carry.

R0010377R0010378The tops of the stays fit into pockets at the top of the bag, and two straps attached to the bag (blue, below) thread into buckles on the frame (3/4″) to hold the stays up into said pockets.  This system is fairly simple, fairly easy to use, and very secure.

Grommets in the frame encasement allow the stays and belt to bolt together.

R0010373R0010372R0010367The Solo bag has a massive mount of compression straps, which for a hunting bag is not overkill.  The two lower side straps in particular are crucial to keeping heavy, slimy meat up high where the weight will carry best.

R0010371The upper two sets of side straps are sewn into the across-the-back straps as shown above.  This arrangement is very effective, it combines the directional compression of designated, sewn-in side straps with the versatility of compression straps which circle the whole bag.  The back straps reinforce the big main zipper, and near complete access can be had by only undoing one buckle.

The small top pocket is separate in volume from the main bag, and can be accessed completely when the compression straps are totally cinched.  Little details like this matter, and are a delight to see done so well.

R0010388I’ve only modified a few things on the Solo bag.  First I cut off the integrated load shelf/flap and relocated the cinch straps which hold the bag down on the frame.  I also swapped the load lifter buckles from 1″ to 3/4″.  I replaced the interior pocket, which closed with a velcro tab and let things fall out, with the green zippered pocket shown above.  Lastly I removed the ice axe loops.  Should I need to carry an axe I’ll put a bit of cord through one of the bottom compression buckle tabs.

My hope is that this pack will serve when I want a load hauler which is a bit sleeker than the Paradox packs I have and use (my load monster is huge, and my Unaweep has become a frequent loaner to friends who want to try it).  The Paradox frame is still my reference point both for effective load carry and for truly minimalist and ultralight design, but it does have at least one limit, the size and bulk.  It cannot for example fit into the cargo fly of my new packraft, which this pack can.

Hopefully I’ll have good, relevant news in a few weeks.

Roasted vegetable venison meatballs

R0010350Note 1: this is a fantastically versatile recipe.  I’ll discuss in detail the stereotypical italian version pictured above, as well as a few other variations.

Note 2: the recipe below is adapted for ultra lean ground wild game meat.  It works equally well with very lean beef (<7% fat).  If you want to use fattier ground beef, or ground pork, cutting the eggs in half and using quite a bit less oil for frying will keep consistency constant.

R0010341The two challenges I’ve found in making meatballs are keeping them from falling apart while cooking, and in making them not bland and boring.  Thankfully, both have solutions which are simple, if time consuming.

The best way to make subtle, complex meatballs (in addition to salting them enough) is to deeply roast vegetables and puree them into the meatballs.  This method works well with the texture and suffuses flavor into every morsel.

For classic italian meatballs I start out with one large sweet onion and 6-8 cloves of garlic per pound of meat.  Smash the garlic cloves, roughly chop the onion, sprinkle with olive oil, and roast on a pan until they’re on their way to being caramelized and are just a hair burnt.  Let cool, then puree.  Mix with the ground meat in a large bowl, and add seasoning.  For the meatballs pictured above, I added lots of oregano (1 heaping TSP per pound) and a bit less sage and thyme.  Plenty of salt too, more than you think you’d need, in this case simple sea salt.  I didn’t use any pepper as my wife and specific dinner guests aren’t spicy food people, but an arrabiata version with plenty of black and cayenne pepper would work well (or a puttanesca-arrabiata blend with all of the above plus kalamata olive and capers).

Now for the binding agents and process.  I add two whipped eggs per pound of meat, then bread crumbs until a moist but not at all liquidy consistency is achieved.  Mixing the meat should by the end take quite a bit of forearm effort.  When hand forming the meatballs should stick together easily, but leave almost no mess on your hands.

Then, form them into meatballs of the desired size, place in a big tupperware (using foil to separate layers if necessary) and freeze.  At least overnight.  You could make these a week ahead if desired.  Just make sure to take them out far enough ahead of cook time so they’ll thaw.

R0010347Heat vegetable oil is a large skillet or pan with a lid.  Brown the meatballs thoroughly on at least two sides.  I prefer an aggressive brown just short of a burn.  Get the oil hot enough before you add the meatballs, and don’t crowd the pan.  This helps keep the balls in one piece and prevents sticking.  After browning, drain off the oil, lower the heat quite a lot, then add back the meatballs with a good covering of sauce.  For italian style, this means a garlic marinara 2/3 of the way to covering.  Simmer gently for 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce has taken on a good vension flavor.

Plate and serve as desired.

For a recent afternoon potlock I made a spicy, slider version of this dish that disappeared from the table very quickly.  In addition to onion and garlic I roasted and pureed red bell, poblano, and jalapeno peppers, and seasoned the meat with paprika and lots of worcestershire sauce.  After frying I steamed the meatballs in a 1:2 mixture of water and light ale, then used the deglaze from the pan to make an light brown aioli.  I put a dab of sauce on a strip of tortilla, and held the whole thing together with a toothpick.

My next variation will be an english-style meatball, with onion and a bit of garlic, oats rather than breadcrumbs, steamed in guinness, with a nice gravy made from the pan drippings.  Served on mashed potatoes, of course.

The steps here are not few, and the whole thing requires planning, but the product is sublime and is great for leftovers, and the reward outstrips the work several fold.


Thompson Creek Fire: What’s burning in Glacier?

IMG_0738Looking down into the Nyack Valley from near Red Eagle Pass.  Thompson Creek is the major drainage entering on the right.

Yet another fire got started in Glacier NP over the weekend, and in the last few days of hot weather and strong winds has blow up exponentially. The Thompson Creek fire is already several times larger than the Reynolds Creek fire, but because it is in one of the least visited areas of the park, rather than right next to Going-to-the-Sun road, it promises less hysteria. Interestingly, this obscure corner was 90 years ago the main way across the park, and the second option in line when a road was built in the 1930s.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 9.22.04 PMThe red dot denotes the probable starting location, and the fire has spread east along the slopes of Nyack Creek into all the immediately associated basins show above.  The Upper Nyack campground and the nearby patrol cabin are most likely toast, along with vast tracts of oldish growth pine forest, subalpine forest, and plenty of slide alder hellholes.

IMG_0724The preceding photo was taken from high on the ridge near Norris Mountain across the upper Nyack valley, and shows the northeast face of Mount Stimson, the most massive peak in the park. Make no mistake, those lighter green patches below the hanging snowfields may look like alpine meadows, but they’re actually alder and Devil’s Club jungles. You won’t find that unique biome much further east anywhere in North America.

IMG_0630This photo was taken from the east shoulder of Razoredge and looks south across the basin towards McClintock.  The Cutbank Pass trail descends the far wall, and later that day we saw a big group of bighorn rams in the meadow just left of center.  All of the forest pictured is presumably on fire.

IMG_0646Here’s the exact opposite view, looking back across the basin towards Razoredge, rams out of sight below.  It may seem sad to have country like this go up in smoke, but these subalpine fingers and the robust, aged hands from which they come had simply reached their time.  Older forests are meant to burn, and during record-settingly hot and dry summers like this one, lots of them do just that.  It is inevitable.

IMG_0730I’ll be curious to see how far up the wet flank of Norris the fire progresses.  As can be seen from the avalanche stripes, alpine forests like these can grow on remarkably steep slopes.  Even if they burn utterly the skeletons will remain well rooted, and stand against the snows of winter for many years.  Flowers and forbes will come back, and quickly, as will the various herbivores.  Pika will still find grass for haystacks, sheep and elk a source of fat for the winter, and a few hikers food for their eyes.  Landscapes are engaging because they live paradox, being both immutable beyond the reach of our thoughts and drastically changeable within the life of one person.  Fire is one of the more regular truly drastic architects of change in the landscape, and thus it’s presence is for the close observer simply exciting.  Like a once in a decade winter storm I can’t wait to see what things will be like on the far side.

Alpacka Yukon Yak: 2010 v. 2015

R0010280Four weeks ago the kid was due the next day, and in the name of seeing our friends and keeping both of us together once we went out of cell range we drove 45 minutes north to Big Creek and the APA Packraft Roundup.  Somewhat unusually I had 20 dollars in my pocket, which I used to buy five raffle tickets.  The raffle was short, but stacked with nothing but great prizes, and while packrafts just keep getting better and better, Mo and Amy knew to save the best for last: an Alpacka Yukon Yak with all the trimmings.

I got lucky, and brought a new boat home.

R0010284I’ve used my red 2010 Yak hard and often, but always maintained it under the assumption that I’d be using it for a decade or more.  Packrafts generally, and Alpackas in particular, have made massive strides.  I’ve seen how much faster the new boats are on flat water, and how much better they do in whitewater, but assumed that given their ever increasing expense my money would be better spent elsewhere.

Turns out I was probably wrong about that.

R0010298I’ve had time to paddle my new boat all of once (Little Bear was 3 weeks old this morning), and those 7 miles on the water were all it took to see just how good a boat Alpacka now makes.

R0010290R0010286The differences between the two boats, chiefly the longer pointed bow and massively longer, pointed and rockered stern are plain to see, but on the water they come together with all the other little details to make for a 2015 boat which paddles in a very new way.  Speed, both cruising along and accelerating from a stop, is much higher.  Despite the greater length the new boat is every bit as agile as the old one, with the only downside a marginally increased difficulty threading through boulders and the extra weight which comes with more material.  I suspect if you stripped out the cargo fly and more complex whitewater deck, the weights would be remarkably similar, and the increased performance is absolutely worth it.  Catching and surfing waves is a dicey, clumsy proposition with the old boats, and a fairly simple one with the new.  Ferrying, pealing out of eddies, punching waves, and everything else which goes along with whitewater is not only faster and easier but much more controlled.  The 2015 Yak combines the best features of a packraft, namely the lateral stability and water skimming flotation, with an incisiveness which is nothing short of kayak-like.

That Alpacka was able to do both without one impinging upon the other is very impressive indeed.  All the stuff I wanted back at the end of 2011 is present in the 2015 boat.

The old raft still has a few advantages (slightly thick floor fabric, double coated main fabric which allows for interior patching, smaller packed size), and it pains me to do so, but it is up for sale [SOLD].  Anyone interested in a dated but still very capable boat at a good price send me an email.  I’ll send some detailed shots of the various battle scars you’ll be buying. I’m hoping for some epic rains to bring our rivers up a bit from their record-setting lows, and some spare mornings to put that water to good use.

Those trophy hunters

Preamble regarding Cecil the lion;

The saddest thing about the whole sordid affair is not a hunter with highly questionable ethics, who reportedly has been on the wrong side of game laws before. It is not an outfitter willing to bend and break the law, nor a method of hunting (baiting) which is in the 21st century of debatable legitimacy. It isn’t the extent to which the conversation has centered on one of the least relevant aspects of a country which has in the last 15 years been a playground for the messiest, nastiest sides of the post-colonial global South.  It isn’t even the ways various businesses and other entities have used the furor to launch publicity campaigns whose contents will make no substantive difference whatsoever.

The saddest thing about Cecil the lion is the way in which it has epitomized the rise of the keyboard vigilante.  People with internet connections and inadequate leisure-time hobbies have taken a sudden and incomplete interest in something, done enough to make a real, negative difference in a few lives, and will shortly disappear without making any lasting or substantive impact.

They should all be ashamed of themselves.

IMG_1326Col Allison as pictured on the back dust jacket of his 1979 “The Trophy Hunters”, an anthology of hunting stories from around the globe.  Blued metal, ebony stock accents, plaid trousers, and porro prisms may have all gone mostly extinct in the 35 years since, but the issues the book (unintentionally) raises are as relevant as ever.

The Cecil incident has been something of a person nuisance in that I was obliged to explain the nuances of trophy hunting to my non-hunting colleagues, who are primarily, and as one would expect at a social services non-profit, liberals in the classical sense (as indeed am I).  Fortunately they are also smart folks and pretty much without exception thoughtful and open to new ideas.  Which is why I was able to explain that while the pure trophy hunter may be a robust stereotype, and one probably founded on a historical example, it would be exceedingly hard to find a living, breathing, perfect example.  Almost every hunter is a trophy hunter, and almost every hunter is a meat hunter.  Insofar as these two amorphous categories can encompass all hunting, every hunt and every particular hunt exists on a continuum between two poles.

IMG_1327The cover of said book, which I fortuitously found at a used book sale for 80 cents.  Interesting that with all the exotics (lion, cape buffalo, tahr, polar bear) discussed within a mule deer made the cover.

To stereotype for the sake of manageabley conversation, a trophy hunter is one who is interested only in a part of the animal killed (typically the head) as a token of the adventure gone past.  A meat hunter is one who wants to fill the freezer with wild game.  Walter Palmer hunting lions is a reasonable facsimile of the former, while the humble midwestern farmer who only hunts her or his own farm and shoots the first legal whitetails who come into range can represent the later.

As with most or all stereotypes, it takes little more than 10 seconds of investigation before the integrity and simplicity of the distinctions begin to break down.  In bowhunting for a lion I assume Mr. Palmer was not only interested in having the lion head, the trophy, itself, but in having the experience of having hunted lions with a bow, which even over bait and at night requires getting close to a large apex predator with a weapon conspicuously lacking in knock down power.  The trophy on the wall would be meaningless without the trophy experience behind it.  In this way a taxidermy-ed head is no different than a summit photo.

The real complicating factor is that I doubt any, any meat hunter is not also a trophy hunter in some way.  Anyone who pursues an activity with passion relishes eventual mastery with no small amount of nostalgia, and wishes to hold on to the hard won intimacy and at the same time bring back the challenge and novelty of the early days by doing the loved pursuit in a new place and in a new way.  So to it is with hunting, and our venison-seeking farmer may begin to pursue rarer (bigger) versions of the same critter, to hunt with a more demanding weapon, and/or pursue new animals in new places.  Even if the animals thus killed are far from the strictly sized-based definition of trophy record books, they are trophies nonetheless because of the central value of the experience and the way it was cultivated.  Again, no different than summit photos (though these photos are in winter, with skis, etc).

IMG_1330My New Zealand trophy wall from this hunt back in January.  Worthy of a central display in our apartment not only because of the dead animals, but because of the way I did the hunt and who was with me.

Allison’s book does provide a good example of the sort of trophy hunting most think of when they condemn the practice, and which might help hunting and hunters use the Cecil affair to make a better future for what Hemingway called one of the only true sports.

Roy Weatherby, famous rifle pioneer, contributed a story of polar bear hunting in Alaska, shortly before the practice was banned in the United States.  Weatherby and his party are guided out ofthe Kotzebue, Alaska area and hunt in late winter out of planes.  They spot bears from the air, land as close as possible, stalk, and shoot.  Weatherby details wounding a bear with a hasty shot, being unable to administer a good followup shot (grease lubricating the power ring on his scope was frozen), and chasing the bear down via multiple plane flights before it is killed.  He intimates, but does not explicitly state, that they left the carcass on the sea ice after taking hide and skull.

IMG_1328A fair, representative passage from Weatherby’s story.

The account is nauseating.  Non-hunters and folks how haven’t gotten too deep into hunting will object to no meat being used, and while there’s still a very good reason for game waste laws and any hunter who doesn’t eat lots of game should be regarded as suspect, I don’t think the “waste” argument holds as much water as it is traditionally given credit for.  To this day Alaska does not require that any meat from either black or Grizzly bears be taken from the field, and I am quite sure that the carcass of Mr. Weatherby’s bear was put to good use by birds, foxes, wolves, and other bears.  Instead, Weatherby was being an unethical hunter because he relied too heavily on technology and did not sufficiently immerse himself in the natural world and thus the hunt itself.

In talking with my non-hunting colleagues at work two curious factors always come up.  First, the moral right to hunt for meat is inviolate and unquestionable.  Second, they do not appreciate the extent to which hunting diverges in fundamental ways from other, “normal” outdoor activities such as hiking and backpacking. The world is shrinking, for a variety of reasons.   I try to say this with as little judgement as possible; hunting has for many people and for a long time not been an immersive pursuit.  And not just because midwestern deer don’t live within five hundred miles of Wilderness; Weatherby had the opportunity to take a trip into one of the deepest wildernesses left on earth to hunt polar bear, but instead choose to hunt in a way which skipped around the edges to the greatest extent possible, only dipping in as much as was absolutely necessary.  I think a lot of the hostility engendered by “trophy hunting” like Palmer’s lion hunt and Weatherby’s bear hunt comes down to the shallow, exploitive approach many people correctly intuit at their core.

If hunters can learn anything from the Cecil affair, it is that they need to hold each other to a higher standard.  Within hunting circles there’s a frequent refrain that criticism against the methods, styles, and choices of other hunters is beyond the pale, that all hunters need to band together due to the extent that hunting as such and the hunting lifestyle is under fire.  I think it would be better to look at the issue exactly backwards.  Hunting and hunters will get stronger and get more respect once house is cleaned.  20 years ago rock climbing did so, and marginalized those who viewed chipping and altering holds on routes as acceptable practice.  Today that debate has long been over, and anyone who is revealed as a chipper is publicly excoriated and marginalized.  A similar process going on today will hopefully result in helicopter accessed backcountry skiing being viewed as not-acceptable in most of the lower 48.  Hunters need to have more overt, explicit discussion of what is acceptable, one which makes only tangential reference to actual game laws and very direct reference to the long term impacts of ethical choices, both to hunters and to non-hunters.

What those conclusions might be is another subject for another time, but the bunker mentality which has grown so quickly in the wake of the Cecil affair is hardly more helpful than the uninformed criticism which led to graffiti on Mr. Palmer’s garage door.

The Gossamer Gear Type 2 daypack

DSC07695Not quite two years ago Gossamer Gear sent me several daypack prototypes for use and feedback.  The largest was a copy of what became the Quiksak, which I really liked.  It was big but not too big, light but not too light, had great shoulder straps, and was just the right shape to hold quite a lot but not be floppy and annoying when barely loaded.  But feedback amounted to “this pack is almost perfect; make it a little taller and add a removable belt and it will be the ideal all purpose day and light overnight pack.”

About a year later the Type 2 came into existence.

DSC07639The main body (light grey) of the Type 2 is 100 denier robic nylon, which has a slick outer face that has, over the past year of use, shrugged off brush and rock impressively well.  The bottom (dark grey) is a slightly thicker nylon of the same general type.  This isn’t a canyon or rock climbing pack, but it can hold up to occasional forays into those realms just fine.

The main body of the Type 2 is tapered and contoured in several dimensions.  The back panel flares out in the lower third, allowing the upper part to stay clear of your arms, and the lower part to keep weight close to the back.  This, combined with the upwardly tapering bottom panel, is why the Type 2 rides well when only 1/4 full.

R0010196Gossamer Gear added a side zippered pocket to the front panel, which I at first thought odd, but have come regard as one of my favorite features.  Except when the main body is absolutely stuffed this pocket is fast and easy to access, and is a nice place to put smaller, heavier things like wallet and phone.  Unlike the lid pocket, the contents do not flop around.

The stretch mesh side pockets err on the side of big, rather than on the side of easily accessed.  I can get bottles in and out with the pack on, but smaller items are more challenging.  Don’t expect this mesh to last forever, but do expect it to provide a service life at least as long as the rest of the pack.

R0010197The hipbelt (see top photo) attaches to one inch buckles, and features a bit of padding and reasonably sized pockets.  I hardly ever use it, but on a pack of this size it’s a good option to have, and one Gossamer Gear executed well.

R0010198The stock shoulder straps are really good, but I couldn’t help but replace them with straps from the old Gorilla.  It is possible to load the Type 2 with enough weight to overwhelm the stock straps, and the 2012-3 Gorilla straps really suit my shoulders.  Lots of folks found them too wide, and I think Gossamer Gear did the right thing in making the stock straps middle of the road for most body types and most probable loads.

The upper circumference of the Type 2 is 29 inches (at the drawstring), the lower circumference (a few inches above the base) is 32.5 inches.  The vertical distance from shoulder straps to the bottom of the backpanel is a hair over 19 inches.  For a pack which comes in one size this is a good middle ground, but very short torsos will probably find it bumping their butt in an annoying manner when totally full.

Inside the Type 2 is a full length pad sleeve with a velcro closure, a water bladder sleeve, and three webbing loops.  The loops are handy for hanging a water bladder, but the not-baffled sleeve causes an awkward bulge with anything but a small water pouch.  It is useful for a laptop, however, or paper files.  Stock the Type 2 comes with a very thing, very flexible foam pad in the sleeve.  I replaced it with a much more rigid pad, which I prefer as it gives the pack structure and keeps lumpy items at bay.

R0010199There are a handful of things I’d change about the Type 2.  First is the lid pocket, which is designed to flip inside out and serve as a stuff sack for the pack.  I’ve never seen the need for such things, and would prefer the lid pocket were built to hold stuff in a more secure manner which is less prone to falling out when unzipped.  Second, the “custom” webbing used for the lid strap is just a hair bigger than the buckle, which means it doesn’t feed smoothly.  I like the purple and grey color scheme, but the buckle and webbing should actually match each other.  Similar things could be said of the stock sternum strap.

Overall, the Type 2 is the most useful daypack I’ve ever owned.  It rides the middle ground and does many, many things well.  It’s big enough, and can carry enough weight tight to the body, for a 12 hour day of backcountry skiing in frigid temperatures.  The side pockets are big enough to fit two grouse each.  It’s slim enough to fit in an overhead bin, and big enough for several days of travel.  It’s “technical” enough to shed snow and rain, while still blending in to civilization.  It’s a pack that I use almost every week for all kinds of stuff, and one I would not want to be without.

Good job Gossamer Gear.

The 2016 Bob Open

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 4.18.54 PM

The 2016 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open will start Saturday May 30th at 0800 mountain time, at the Bean Lake campground near the Dearborn River, southwest of Augusta. Finish will be the Cedar Creek campground on the Swan River roughly equidistant between the towns of Condon and Swan Lake. Course area will be any public lands which drain into either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. The normal guidelines apply.

See you there.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 639 other followers