Senate Amendment 838

R0001564 Amendment No. 838 (Purpose: To establish a spending-neutral reserve fund relating to the disposal of certain Federal land) At the appropriate place, insert the following: SEC. ___. SPENDING-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO THE DISPOSAL OF CERTAIN FEDERAL LAND.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to initiatives to sell or transfer to, or exchange with, a State or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not raise new revenue and would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.

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At the end of last month the US Senate passed the above, 51-49.  My understanding is that as a budget amendment it holds no force nor compels any action, but given the larger social context the vote has attracted a lot of attention, binding or no.  In the near sense it all started in Utah, with a law voted in over 3 years ago which “provides a framework for transferring public lands into state ownership.”  To keep a long story simple, there is compelling evidence that the Utah law is intended to make those federal lands private, and that the interests behind the Utah effort are those responsible for the continued national prominence of the issue, and the recent senate budget amendment. This concerns me deeply, and to that end I’ve written the Montana congressional delegation, especially junior senator Steve Daines, who voted for said amendment after specifically stating on multiple occasions that he did not support the transfer of federal lands to the states.  In response to two different letters I received the following letter (twice, identical both times), which has been edited for length.

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Dear Mr. Chenault,

Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to a recent amendment to the Senate budget resolution related to federal lands. As a fifth generation Montanan, please know that I do not support the transfer of federal public lands to state ownership or the sale of public lands that would reduce Montana’s access to these lands.

Senate Amendment No. 838, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK), does not sell, transfer, or exchange any federal lands. Such action would require the enactment of separate legislation. With that said, states and local governments and Indian Tribes routinely come to Congress to obtain land transfers or conveyances to be used for economic development or to address checker-boarded estates or split estates, a common problem for communities in Montana… The Murkowski Amendment could help facilitate a solution to that matter and enable other exchanges, sales or transfers with states or local governments. These policies are often used to craft balanced public lands measures that strengthen conservation, facilitate economic development, and empower states, local and tribal governments. In fact, these types of exchanges were vital to enacting the 2014 comprehensive lands package, which included the most significant Montana conservation measures in more than 30 years. The North Fork Watershed Protection Act and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act protected nearly 700,000 acres in Montana-400,000 acres along the Flathead River in addition to about 270,000 acres along the Rocky Mountain Front, including 67,000 acres of new wilderness. The 2014 lands package was a historic agreement for Montana and would not have occurred without other land exchanges being enacted alongside the landmark conservation measures. For Montana, the package included the Northern Cheyenne Lands Act, which transferred over 1,500 federally-controlled acres into trust for that Tribe. Another example of the kind of land exchange that could be facilitated by the Murkowski Amendment includes a land transfer in 1996 used to prevent a gold mine from being constructed outside of Yellowstone National Park near Cooke City in return for the state of Montana receiving Otter Creek coal tracts. It is important to note that budget rules threatened the completion of the 2014 lands package. As a result, the Murkowski amendment is designed to safeguard future transfers or exchanges from budgetary hurdles, and to protect the ability of Congress to enact landmark conservation measures like the North Fork Watershed Protection Act and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, please know I will keep your concerns in mind should the committee consider related legislation and continue to fight to protect public lands in Montana…

Sincerely,

Steve Daines

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I responded to the senator, thanking him for his letter and his work on the North Fork and Rocky Mountain front acts, expressing skepticism about that the amendment would be limited to the actions he outlined, and requesting that he make a greater effort to make his objection to federal land transfers plain to Montanans. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to make of the whole mess.  The Utah effort can be traced quite directly to a debate which has been simmering since the late 1800s and the rush of western statehood; was it constitutional for the federal government to establish management and “ownership” of so much land?  For example, 86% of Nevada is managed by various federal agencies.  There are many practical arguments to be made on every side, but in the end I think the debate comes down to ideology, which explains its remarkable endurance.  I come down on the side of federalism, and think that the history of these lands being owned by the whole citizenry provides more than enough evidence as to why they should remain in federal custody.

In any case, it is not an issue which is going to go away any time soon.

Spring postholing, in style

R0001540 In the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, if you wait for the snow to melt before hiking you will be waiting a long time. Better to deploy some of the following tips, get out early, and enjoy the solitude and occasional excessive challenge which come with postholing through spring snow. R0001546 The first, or Sun Tzu, rule of postholing is to avoid postholing, and the best way to do that short of staying home is to pay very close attention to the various factors which influence snow accumulation, melt off, and consistency. Do this well most of the time, bring the proper equipment and attitude, and spring postholing will not be too much of a burden. As shown above, sun exposure is the most obvious factor. In the northern hemisphere, south facing slopes will melt off much faster than north facing ones. This is particularly relevant in early spring, when sunny days are often not especially warm.  Big variations, like the top photo, are easy to see and accommodate, but smaller ones like that pictured in the second photo can be equally as relevant.  The slope in this photo actually faces south-southeast, probably the ideal aspect for fast melting, but is at a higher elevation and under mature timber cover.  In this case the small gulleys (left side) are a bit cooler and more shaded than the ridges (right), and thus the later melt considerably faster.  Field experience and satellite photographs will give you a good eye for which routes are least likely to hold snow. R0001548 Eventually you will have to walk across snow, at which point the second major rule of postholing comes into play: cheat.  Do everything you can to pick the most solid line available.  In the photo above, this logging road has seen winter snowmachine traffic, the trail being just barely visible.  Compacted snow from machine or human traffic will melt slower than untraveled snow, eventually leaving a raised and more consolidated area upon which travel is usually better.  Balancing along a nordic ski rail is not easy, but it is often better than the alternative. IMG_3674 The corollary to cheating is to have the right equipment,  Trekking poles are essential, and snow baskets often a worthwhile investment.  If you are concerned about really awful snow conditions, night above freezing and rainy, overcast days being a particularly noxious combination, do not hesitate to bring snowshoes.   Of course, the worst postholing is when you have skis or snowshoes and are still breaking in past your knees, as was the case above, when it rained the previous night at 8000′ in Wyoming’s Thorofare and stayed chilly and overcast all day.  When this happens be patient, don’t do anything hasty, and think of how much worse it would be without the ‘shoes. Snowshoes usually are the ticket for spring trips, especially the ones with a fairly aggressive steel crampon.  While the snow may start out mushy, inevitably you’ll get a clear day with a cold night and hard freeze, and you’ll want good grip on steeper slopes.  Some trips under these conditions may require crampons. R0001553 Lastly, pay attention to the snow and try to read its mind, as to what it will do and what is underneath it.  This photo shows a classic mistake on my part, made late on a tiring day.  I neglected to notice the buried sappling, which facilitates air pockets under the uniform surface snow, making perfect foot traps.  I got caught in this one, but it wasn’t too bad.  Bigger ones can easily be ankle breakers. When you’re stuck in a long stretch of postholing, rushing through it is the worst thing short of giving up and waiting for rescue.  Steady, deliberate, sustainable movement is the fastest way.  Remember to eat and drink, make every step the best you can, and laugh at your mistakes.  No matter how slow you go, all such things will eventually come to and end. In addition to snowshoes, a few other gear notes are in order.  I generally do not wear waterproof shoes in spring, because there are generally enough tall stream crossings that getting wet is inevitable.  I’ve written a bunch about my preferred system, with this being the most recent version.  Occasionally my feet get cold, but overall it works well and I have not substantially altered it over the previous four years. There’s a certain satisfaction to being out in miserable conditions and making them work well, but the main reward of spring hiking in the mountains is that you probably won’t see anyone else.  You’ll likely be the first human the animals have seen for months.  Places which are busy come summer are quiet, lonely, and slow.  Adverse travel conditions aside, it’s an exceptionally tranquil time to be out and about.

Small stuff

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There is a benefit to hunting trips, besides all the good exercise hiking to and from trailless places you wouldn’t otherwise visit.

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That would be in the visiting of said places, the seeing of things you probably wouldn’t otherwise see.  Animals like places so rugged and so mundane that hikers do not visit.  Flowers bloom in the middle of old clearcuts, and hawks hold station all day over a field full of grouse and ground squirrels.

Always take the gimme

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If you spend a lot of time in the woods, over a lot of years, it is a law of kharmic comportment that you always take the gimme. IMG_0990

Fun is without question my least favorite word in english, at this moment. In usual conversation it means almost nothing, and like angry or frustrated is a lazy, proxy term for something more specific and revealing. Fun doesn’t really exist outside a deeper narrative, whether it’s about learning, struggle and accomplishment, or simply satisfaction and relaxation. Oddly, this is why it’s important to never refuse the gimme. When talking about a deep engagement with outdoor activities, it has become typical to discuss fun as invariably intermixed with overcoming difficulty. And rightly so, but the problem is that too much intimacy here can lead to disappointment when challenge does not materialize. On some trips the weather will go counter to expectations and be perfect, the snow will be better than expected, or the target of your hunt will wander out into a meadow close to the trailhead. IMG_0977

That is what happened this week. Finding turkeys in the Flathead is easy in April (see top picture), what is more difficult is finding this transplanted species on public land, which tends to be too thickly wooded and without much fresh green ground cover for these big birds to eat. So when I took my gun for a walk after work, I brought tags and kept it loaded, even though I intended nothing but target practice, or maybe a squirrel.  And after 20 minutes of walking, when I came around a house-sized slash pile and saw two toms and a hen right there out in the open, I had 2/3 of a second to freeze see the turks freeze click the safety shoulder the gun aim at the closest toms neck and fire.  Not the classic locate, setup, call, and fire turkey hunting gig, but not something I’m going to turn down.  Especially when you can have turkey jaeger schnitzel for dinner, as I am this evening. If the hiking is pleasant this weekend, with the snow firm and the spring ticks not in evidence, I won’t complain either.  Keep going out, and your time will come.

Southwest wild game cassoulet

Hunting has changed my eating habits. When decades of eating industrial beef and chicken is your frame of reference, wild game can do nothing but challenge that. The flavors and textures are just different, especially when you get away from the more straightforward cuts of venison. Of course, hunting also gives you access to the sort of meat which you simply cannot legally obtain any other way, thanks to the US ban on selling wild game. The rewards are enormous if you can only learn new rules for cooking.

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I’ve had some disasters over the past few years, with the more challenging game meats (ex. squirrel) featuring prominently.  I’m always trying to learn, and so with a party to attend this weekend I saw an excuse to read up and try something new.  A search of the freezer found a nice venison roast, 1/3 of a wild turkey, and half a dozen squirrels tucked away.  With this variety in hand, I decided to try a variation on the traditional french farmhouse dish: cassoulet.

Cassoulet is meant as a excuse to use up leftover bits of meat in a way which accents their flavors in harmony.  You braise the meats with an assortment of vegetables, add a bunch of wine and some partially cooked beans, which then suck in the braising liquid as they finish cooking.  The whole thing is brought together with a crunchy, broiled breadcrumb crust.

I used the following:

  • 2 lbs venison shoulder
  • 1.5 lbs bone-in wild turkey
  • 6 red squirrels (read: really small, 2-3 fat eastern grays would be equivalent)
  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 6 jalapenos
  • 4 onions
  • 2 bulbs garlic
  • 2.5 cups dried red beans
  • 1 bottle cabernet savignon
  • 6 slices sourdough bread
  • brown sugar, bacon grease, butter, salt, cayenne pepper

This recipe takes a lot of time, so plan ahead.  Begin by soaking your beans in water overnight, ~24 hours before you’ll begin everything else.  At the same time, put the squirrels and turkey (and vension, it can’t hurt) in a brine of 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp cayenne, and enough water to cover.

A day later, drain the brine and rinse the meat thoroughly.  Place the squirrels, turkey, and 1/3 of the wine in a small baking dish with a tight-fitting lid, and place in the oven on 275F for 4-6 hours.  The end result should be meat which can be easily stripped from the bone, and a nice potent liquid.

At the same time, begin boiling your beans in plain water, in a pot with a tight fitting lid.  Rough chop the vegetables, cube the venison, rough chop the bacon, and begin cooking the bacon in a skillet.  When the bacon is half cooked, drain most of the grease into a stove-top dutch oven* well warmed, and add the vegetables.  Cook the vegetables until they are well roasted and beginning to get just a little black in spots, for a nice smokey flavor.  Finish the bacon until crisp, add to the vegetables, then brown the venison cubes in the bacon skillet.  Add venison, the partially boiled beans, and the rest of the wine to the dutch oven, cover, and simmer for several hours.  Reduce until you have a thick soup.

When the squirrel and turkey are falling off the bone, carefully debone and add the meat and liquid to the main stew.  Cook until the venison cubes can easily be cut in half with a wooden spoon, and the beans are soft but not falling apart.  Add water if necessary to maintain some liquid content.

To prep the crust, toast the bread until it is partially browned and crisp to the point of shattering.  Break the slices into a large bowl, add a stick of melted butter, a generous dusting of cayenne, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and mix until the bread is pulverized and uniformly moist.  Turn the oven to broil.  Spread the crumb mixture evenly over the top of the stew, and broil the uncovered cassoulet for 10 minutes, or until the sugar is well caramelized and the crust is deeply browned.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

If you don’t have access to wild game, or only to deer meat, there is no reason to not have at it.  As is obvious, this dish is stacked with rich flavors which when combined cannot go wrong.  Any array of meats which present a variety of flavors, colors, and textures will no.  Duck or goose is very traditional, as is some form of sliced link sausage.

As for the reception at the party?  “I can’t believe it’s squirrel” was a frequent refrain, including one friend how had been an unfortunate victim of a previous squirrel experiment of mine.  The squirrel isn’t hidden here, it amalgamates very well with everything else.  It is a great excuse to head to the woods with a shotgun (when squirrels are in season), and to freeze a few away for use before special occasions.

* The Le Creuset dutch ovens are stupid expensive, but exceptionally versatile.  They’re perfect both in the oven and on the range top.  M found one on sale and gave it to me a few years ago, and I use it at least once a week. 

The Cobra buckle

Backpack hipbelt buckles, not something most think about, until one breaks. Which is exactly the point: across the past two decades I’ve broken backpacks in only one of two ways, wearing holes via abrasion, and breaking the prongs on buckles. Usually the later happens when someone steps on it, and while a busted compression strap can be annoying, a busted belt buckle can on a remote trip with a heavy pack be a disaster. One of the only things I add to my emergency and repair kit on a long trip is an extra 1.5″ hipbelt buckles. Back in the day I built one into the top strap to have an integral extra, but that proved clumsy.

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Enter the ITW Cobra buckle. Based off a metal military model, the Cobra is meant to be unbreakable, and based on using one for the last year I’d say that is appropriate. I appreciate that rather than remembering to add an extra buckle to my pack, and have something else to keep track of, I can use a cobra on my big pack and not give the matter any further thought.

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Imagine the cobra buckle as a face.  The ears operate cams within the buckle which grad the protrusion on the bottom of the male side of the buckle.  Move the ears up and the buckle releases.  Simple and effective, even in snow and ice.

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The disadvantage of the cobra are the size, cost, and weight, in that order.  It is bulky, and does poke me in the gut upon occasion.  Even if my diet relied less on beer and frozen pizza than is currently the case, I still think this would be an issue.

The cobra also costs a lot, nearly 9 dollars for both pieces, compared to just over a buck for the sleekest 1.5″ scherer/osprey cinch buckle.  The cobra is also 4-6 times heavier than the smaller 1.5″ buckles.

Is it a necessary piece of equipment?  Absolutely not, but it is one I appreciate for the simplicity and longevity it brings to long trip, heavy load packs.

Snow and scat

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Yesterday I did one of my favorite hikin’ and packraftin’ loops in Glacier National Park. In spite of thus-far unfulfilled intentions to ski it, I’ve never been in there this early. I had snowshoes on my pack as well as the usual rafting gear, which made for good training weight, but the ‘shoes went unused. Most peculiar for the first week of April.

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Late in the morning, I was graced by something which thus far in 2015 has been quite rare: fresh snow.

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The storm did not last, and soon I could enjoy dry-dirt trail cruising without my hood up.

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The North Fork of the Flathead is big, gentle valley at a modest elevation (3-4000′).  With enough width to garner abundant southern exposure, snow never gets that deep (>2 feet in the bottoms is unusual).  This combination of abundant water and predictable sun, almost complete absence of paved roads and a relative (for the 21st century) lack of dirt roads make it a wildlife haven.  Moose, elk, black and grizzly bears are all common.  Wolves naturally began retaking the lower 48 here in the early 1980s.  The only megavertebrate missing is the Woodland Caribou.

Evidence of wolf success was plain throughout the first 8 miles of my walk, in the form of hair and bone filled scats every 300 meters on average.

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There was quite a lot of fresh moose scat and tracks in evidence.  I saw more moose than griz last year, a rarity.  Large and loud though they are, moose are good at avoiding human attention.

The North Fork also contains an impressive, vast population of forest/mountain Whitetail Deer, who in turn form the backbone of the wolf and lion populations.  (Below, middle, a third of the way to the left.)

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I saw four groups of elk on my way back south; two from the raft in river bottoms, and two from the car in fields, along with 30-40 deer in one bottom during the mile walk from the take-out to the truck.  A warm, low-snow winter with a moderate and controlled melt off promises to be kind to all the ungulates, and thus to those who eat them.  Myself included.

Just ramblin’

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The last two times I’ve driven west out of Augusta, the sky has looked like this.

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Saturday was supposed to be fairly warm, but instead it rained, snowed a tiny bit, and howled east at 30 mph all day long.

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The ground looked well into spring, with no snow and the first hints of green grass, while the sky was still close to winter.

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Packrafting was not particularly appealing, even with the rivers at ideal levels.  I motivated to get on the water with a big fire and liters of hot drinks.

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The day dawned clear and grew warmer.  With plenty of time to make the distance, I took a big detour around this hill to do some hunt practice on a herd of bighorn ewes, eventually crawling within 40 yards.

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I brought my toy shotgun along to hunt small game, and ate fried and braised squirrel and onion the first night.  After stalking the sheep I was back up the hill at my pack eating chocolate when a squirrel trilled in the woods.  After some hurrying and some standing and listening I located the little fellow.  Walking over to retrieve the carcass, I found an impressive elk shed.

Which along with the squirrel haul added training weight for the pack out.

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I’ve long struggled with out and backs like this route.  Packrafting helps in that it makes things less repetitive, but I’ve still found more relevance on point-to-point trips where desire and necessity are one and the same.  Recently, this has ceased to be the case, and watching animals, hunting small game, hanging around camp, and rambling through patches off trail have become a focus, with urgency a less-frequent companion.  I see better now, and more than anything want to fill the time and stretch the hours as full as they’ll go.

This was a full 48 hours.  I drove in Friday night and hiked a few miles in by moonlight, to a meadow I’d wanted to camp in for a few years.  The wind the next day was occasionally scary; it seemed that every thirty minutes a tree fell in the distance with the sound of a shelf collapsing in a lumbar room, and once on the river I occasionally had to throw out a brace to keep the tailwind from flipping me.  I floated up within 10 feet of a fat river otter wrestling with a trout before it noticed me and dove, and arrived in a scenic grass camp amongst boulders very wet and cold.  Staying focused and warm all day sucked up a lot of calories and energy, and has left me still tired today.

The next began with a cold and wet final stretch of packrafting, and then the aforementioned diversion to stalk sheep.  It was impressive that my crabwalking downhill in diagonals, never moving too much or going directly towards the herd of 20, I was able to get within bow range fairly quickly.  And then just sit and watch them eat grass, bed down, stand up again, and chew.  And once sheep spook they run off in herd, on each others heels, wheeling as a unit with a precision which defies the human understanding of mammalian communication.  I left the other herds on that hillside alone, and followed elk trails back to the human trail, and then to the car, the road, and a cheeseburger.  It was a good weekend.

 

The ‘mid I’ve been looking for

Disclaimer: Seek Outside gave me the shelter discussed below for free in exchange for feedback.

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It’s illustrative to think back to the first “cottage” shelter I purchased, one of the first MLD Trailstars, in September of 2009. I was still so little initiated in the ultralight world that I emailed Ron Bell about making one of 70D sil, to which he in essence replied “what the hell for?”  That shelter hung around the closet for a long time, eventually going down the road some time in 2011 or 2012, mostly due to the large footprint, awkward pitch, and modest interior space.

The Trailstar made it’s name with an unmatched weight to wind resistance ratio, and it survived what is still the windiest night I’ve ever spent outside remarkably quietly once I had it well staked.  That windproofing doesn’t just come from good construction, though that it a big part of it, but from a low and aerodynamic shape.  The conundrum is how to approach that degree of windproofing while also having good snow shedding abilities, traits which in ‘mids and tarp shelters seem to be at odds, especially when you introduce the further contradictory requirements of having a relatively small footprint and at the same time decent interior living space.  Oh, and it’d be nice to seal out those pesky drafts along the bottom, while still keeping the ability to raise the hem and vent as needed.

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Thankfully, it is now 2015, and Seek Outside managed to balance all of the above in the Beyond Timberline 2 person tipi, more simply known as the BT2.

The BT2 is as simple and stripped down as possible.  Seek Outside calls it “a purpose built ultralight, storm worthy, backpacking  shelter to help you to go lighter and go further in difficult terrain” and this is a good starting point for analysis.  It’s made of 30D silnylon, which has rightfully become the standard modern shelter fabric.  It’s a symmetrical hexagon, 64 inches (162cm) tall at the peak when pitched tight to the ground.  It is 108 inches wide zipper to zipper (or corner to corner), and 96 inches side to side.  It has a double-reinforced apex cone of DX40 (read: massively puncture resistant) with interior and exterior hang loops, dual doors which open via #8 non-waterproof metal YKK zippers (read: the smoothest, strongest zipper made), with sliders at both the top and bottom.  The zipper flap is a piece of 2″ grosgrain webbing with three velcro patches to keep it closed.

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The tieouts on the BT2 are worth mentioning.  They’re basic loops of 1/2″ webbing, sewn into cordura reinforcement patches on both the inside and outside, and you’ll find a loop on both the inside and outside of the tent.  You’ll also find them places 4″ up from the bottom edge of the shelter.

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This feature is significant for two reasons.   If you stake the BT2 down with the exterior loops, as is most natural, and especially if you use all twelve of the loops, the extra 4″ of silnylon will be tucked under into the interior of the shelter, forming a sod cloth or snow flap which is totally effective in sealing out all wind, as well as almost all flying insects.  Every other mid I’ve owned was cursed by massive drafts in cold winds when there was not enough snow on the ground to pile up over the bottom edge.  Seek Outside has solved this problem in a simple fashion which adds almost no weight to the shelter, and almost no complexity (read: $$) to the production process.  If you want ventilation, stake the shelter using the interior loops, and raise the pole a bit.  If you want more ventilation, extent some of the loops with a bit of cord.

Kevin Timm of Seek Outside also told me, a while ago, that the sod cloth feature helped solve another problem with silnylon shelters; sagging when wet.  Because the tie points are not loaded along a sewn and stretch-less seam, a greater degree of elasticity is preserved within the shelter system, and sagging after a night of rain is much reduced.  It is not eliminated, but I’d estimate that it is reduced by around 50%.  After a night of hard rain a further 1/2″ or so of height in the center pole brings the BT2 back up to ideal tautness.

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Pitching the BT2 is not as fast as with a square or rectangular mid, but it is darn close.  The basic hexagonal pitch shown above is the default, and good for any sort of “normal” weather.  Stakes the non-zippered corner points in a rectangle with a hair of slack between each point, insert pole and tension, stakes zipper corners, then bring pole to complete tension, and done.  A ~1 minute solo pitch is easily done after the first few attempts.

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The BT2 has mid-panel stake points throughout, and by using each of theses and pulling them tight after the initial pitching the shape become aggressively conical and the BT2 becomes miniature tipi shelter.  As I wrote a few years ago this lack of vertical corners facilitates windproofing, something the BT2 does exceedingly well.  It equals the MLD Solomid in this area, and comes darn close to the Trailstar, while providing a lot more interior space.  Thus far the winter of 2014-15 has not cooperated and given me a big snowstorm on a trip, but I’m confident the BT2 will do just fine in that area.

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All that said, it’s important to bear in mind that the BT2 is not a large shelter, nor designed to be a palace for playing cards and waiting out weather.  For one comparison, see the above photo and know that I’m 5’11”. For another, consider that the 108″ corner to corner length of the BT2 is equal to the actual width of the BD Megalight (BD still modestly claims 86″, which accurately reflects the useable width), the length of the MLD Solomid, and is just shy of the 103″ length of the old Golite Shangrila 2.  It’s well shy of the 110-140″ length of the Trailstar.  The BT2 is in it’s 96″ functional length shorter than almost all other comparable mids, a feat it accomplishes by keeping the walls steep.  I have plenty of space to avoid the walls with both the head and foot of my sleeping bag, but again I’m 5’11”.  If you are 6’5″ and sleep atop a 3″ air mat you might push the available length pretty close.

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At 25 ounces for the canopy, the BT2 is light enough and small enough to be a reasonable solo shelter in bad weather.  It fits two no problem, though with only modest room to spare.  Seek Outside makes a nice nest for the BT2 in case of serious bug pressure, but with the sod clothes most won’t need it.  A nice side benefit of the nest is that the walls are high enough, and set far enough from the shelter canopy, that you’re protected from condensation.

Condensation deserves a word, as it’s an inevitable fact of life in single wall shelters.  Vent properly, and anticipate conditions, and you should be able to avoid the worst of it.  The camp pictured immediately above was cold and close to a river, ideal moisture conditions.  It was also blowing 30-40 mph and gusting a bit of snow all night, so fully battening down the hatches and just venting the bottom of the down wind door about 8 inches kept it to a minimum.  The night before, pictured further up, was also close to a lot of water, had more modest winds, and a few torrential rain showers in the early morning.  I left both doors 1/3 open for most of the night, which gave me enough shelter when the rain came up and plenty of ventilation.  Proactive, thoughtful technique works much better than built in vents, which unless they’re really big (Shagrila 2, Seek Outside’s LBO) do just about nothing.

The BT2 is a backpackers shelter, not a campers tent.  It prioritizes function and has just enough convenience to not impede useability.  Beyond the foul weather performance, which I’ve found simply exceptional, I find the minimalist aesthetic hugely appealing.  Based on the first four months of use, I’d say that the BT2 is perfect, and haven’t found a single improvement to suggest to Seek Outside.  And that is a rare thing.

The downsides are minimal and inherent: it’s a floorless shelter, which some folks don’t like.  It requires a pole height which is taller than almost all trekking poles, thus requiring a paddle, specialized pole, or two poles lashed together.  It does not offer an excess of space or feel-good features.  It just offers function, and if that is what you like, you’ll probably want a BT2.  For 230 bucks and a bomber, made in the USA shelter, that is a bargain.

Two good gloves

I dislike gloves, and having warm hands I’m often able to get away without them, but that’s not always the case. Skiing, cycling, and hunting are all examples of activities where cold exposure is increased and the demands for dexterity heightened. The following are two examples of gloves which provide maximum weather protection with minimal inhibition of dexterity.

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The Rab Phantom Grip is at left, the Black Diamond Mont Blanc at right.  The gloves pictured are both men’s medium.

The Phantom is 100% Polartec Wind Pro, with silicone dot palm.  The Mont Blanc combines a laminate, windproof synthetic back with a light stretchy palm material.  As is obvious, the Mont Blanc is thinner and much less bulky than the Phantom, which makes it my favorite of the two when I can get away with it.  The genius of the Mont Blanc is that the back is very windproof right where you need it, while the palm and inside of the fingers breath well to fight sweat and fit very closely.  I wore the Mont Blancs every day hunting in October and November because they don’t impede trigger feel or slow down bolt manipulation in the least.  For the same reason, these gloves give a great grip on handbars.

The Mont Blancs get almost all their warmth from windproofing, so when the ambient temperatures are low I switch to the Phantoms.  The Phantoms aren’t as windproof, so when it’s both cold and windy I’ll add a shell mitt of some type.  The less-tight fit of the Phantoms also promotes good blood flow when it’s darn cold.  Wind Pro has a great dry time for the amount of warmth and wind protection it provides, providing a nice counterpoint to the Mont Blanc, whose only issue is the slow drying laminate material.

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Durability is always a concern with gloves, one reason I try to use fairly inexpensive gloves as my mainstay.  At 20 bucks MSRP, the Mont Blanc is an unmatched value.  At 45, the Phantom is much less so.  Both are reasonably, but not exceptionally, durable.  I had low expectations for the Mont Blanc finger and palm material, but aisde from the touch screen material on the index fingers wearing through, both pairs I own have survived the winter with no holes, which is impressive  The Phantoms have fuzzed out quite a bit on the fingers, and one thumb picked up a hole of unknown origin, which is acceptable.

The Mont Blancs I recommend heartily; indeed they’re my favorite gloves of all time, in spite of the poor dry time.  The Phantoms are a bit expensive given their modest durability, but they are well constructed of a great material.  Combine a pair of each with a good shell mitten and you have a versatile system for less than the cost of a single pair of mid-level Arc’teryx gloves.

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