The most important backcountry skill

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The above is a screen grab from the latest episode of Meat Eater.  Whats significant here is not the episode itself, which is an excellent one, but what Steve Rinella is doing here.  A few minutes prior he shot a large-antlered, mature mule deer, fulfilling a decades long quest with a perfectly placed 392 yard shot.  After watching to make sure the deer is dead, he packs up and sheds layers for the hike over to the animal, and after taking three steps away from his shooting spot, turns back to examine where he had been, making sure nothing has been left behind.

There is no more important habit to practice, every time, in the woods.

I’ve heard of people leaving behind the usual stuff, like knives, headlamps and water bottles, more times than I can recall.  And for obvious reasons this can be a major bummer, especially as with the exception of water containers and maybe a tiny secondary light you probably don’t have spares.  I’ve also heard of rain jackets, maps, cameras, and even large percentages of remaining food left behind on accident while out backpacking.  This could be an inconvenience, or depending on circumstance could be a good deal more serious.  So in addition to always buying small, frequently used items in bright colors, always look back at the spot you used for a lunch, map, photo, or glassing break.  Make no exceptions, not for 2 hour dayhikes or ten day traverses, and you’ll be well on your way to avoiding problems before they happen.   As Steve shows, even the most exciting moment does not excuse you.

Forest Service cabins of Montana


You should know about the forest service cabins in Montana.  Retired patrol cabins, ranger stations, fire lookouts, and private residences which have gone into public hands, they’re one of the great secrets of public lands recreation in North America.

Why am I writing about these cabins now?  Because the Forest Services takes reservations a half year in advance, and summer is six months away.

Most cabins can be driven to, as can the vast majority of lookouts, making them ideal for rest or preparation at the start or end of a backcountry trip, destination for visiting friends or relatives, and most especially for a relaxed weekend away.  Or has been our case recently, pseudo-camping trips with an infant.  M and I have gone on a number of cabin trips intending to hike vigorously and see much of the surrounding area, but that never seems to work out.

These days I make a point to pack at least one good, thick book and plenty of luxury food, while M prefers to pack a jigsaw puzzle.  Little Bear, who has been to four cabins, has yet to express preferences beyond a few toys/objects for drool.  My favorite cabins and lookouts are therefore ones in cool locations and with pleasant facilities, that provide the correct mix of luxury and immersion in the wild.

Aside from reservations in advance, cabin trips require a modest amount of preparation and planning.  A handful have electricity, and running or at least pump water on site, but as a rule you can expect a pit toilet, and plan on bringing all your own water.  If you’re making, and more importantly doing dishes for, fancy meals I’d suggest a minimum of 2 gallons per person, per day.  If you need some extra containers, plastic kerosene jugs are watertight, fairly cheap, and the appropriate blue color.

Other things to bring on almost any cabin or lookout trip include slippers (especially in winter), plenty of coffee and tea, fresh batteries in your headlamp, a battery or propane powered lantern, and a good skillet.  Most cabins are well stocked with dishes and cutlery, and many have a nice selection of cast iron, but sometimes the skillets are a bit rough.  A saw and hatchet or axe in the vehicle are a good idea.  The later to cut out any deadfall which might try to block the road, the former as a backup.  Only once has the axe at a cabin been missing, but when you were planning on cooking on the woodstove, and can’t split wood, life gets complicated.  On that note, be sure to bring some newspaper for tinder, cabins are often short of this crucial commodity.

All the cabins and lookouts discussed below can be driven to with a passenger car and a reasonably skilled pilot, under summer conditions.  The other three seasons can be a whole different affair.  If in doubt call the local ranger district, and be conservative.  During our solstice visit to Ben Rover the normally well-plowed North Fork road was subject to a holiday lapse, and a half foot of new snow on our last night made the spur from the cabin back to the main road dicey for our little hatchback.  Only 8 psi dropped from the drive tires and decent skill on my part had us not getting stuck (though my parents in the 4×4 behind us would have shoved us out).


If you’re visiting the west side of Glacier National Park, the Ben Rover cabin is highly recommended.  A little less than a mile from the Polebridge entrance station, a similar distance from the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon, and around 100 meters from the North Fork of the Flathead River, the Ben is a great base for hiking, backpacking, boating, fishing, skiing, hunting, or just hanging out.  It has not very good mattresses for eight, a propane stove, oven, and lights, and a nicer kitchen and interior than many houses.  A 50 dollars a night it is in my book a total bargain.  The only reason we’ve only stayed there on two occasions is not that it’s only an hour from our house, it is that the Ben fills up early, year round.


Challenge Cabin is another local favorite.  A winter-only rental, the location may not be prodigiously stunning, but it’s a nice cozy cabin with a moderate ski in that makes for an ideal beginner outing.  The parking area is regularly plowed and right off the highway, and the 7 miles in is all on a road which gets regular snowmachine traffic, and is even occasionally groomed.  The stovepipe was recently replaced, and now getting the cabin sauna-hot is very possible.  A small creek nearby means that in all but the coldest weather it is not necessary to melt snow.


Casey knows a lot more than I do about lookouts in Montana, but my favorite out the few I’ve stayed in is Garver, without question.  By definition lookouts have good views, but the position of Garver Mountain makes these views better than most.  As a bonus, Garver still has its wood stove.  Just don’t try to build your fire in the oven compartment.


If you’re at the Basin Station cabin early enough in the spring you might well see bison in the field out back, before the NPS and state wildlife comes along to haze then back into Yellowstone (the above photo is from the park, I forgot to get one of the cabin).  What Basin Station is, year round, is a charming and affordable (less than 10 dollars more a night than many campgrounds) place to stay a 10 minute drive from the park entrance.  It has bunks, a quality wood stove, and windows on three walls.  It does not get much better.


Cabins and lookouts are a great resource.  They aren’t camping, but as family and Little Bear have shown us in the last year, some times camping is more than you want.  Cabins are a great gateway, and hopefully serve to get folks out in the wood who wouldn’t otherwise venture beyond hotels.  This being the case I hope the Forest Service continues and expands the cabin rental program, especially by adding more facilities beyond summer trailheads.  It would also be nice to the see the Park Service get involved.  Until that happens, get planning, and get your reservations in soon.


The 2015 pack fleet

I’ve been doing the pack thing for a while now.  After owning and especially building so many none of them can retain nostalgia for long, with any and every little detail subject to scrutiny, revision, and destruction.  That said, the novelty of cutting and sewing has also waned significantly in the last year, and it’s my intention in 2016 to only act on my best ideas and hopefully let a few of the packs discussed below live for more than 8 months.

These six are the ones currently in my closet, smallest to largest, good points and bad, along with an estimation of whether I’d buy it again and in the case of home made stuff speculation on commercial alternatives.


HPG Tarahumara.  I’ve had this for a few years, and the elegant simplicity and functionality continues to impress.  The contours of the back and side panels make it both streamlined and large for it’s size, and it’s built of bomber materials to absolutely impeccable standards.


I know just how good the stitching is because earlier this year I tore the top and most of the side panel seams out to add different shoulder straps and buckles which would interface with the Unaweep.  I’ve torn out a lot of seams, factory stuff and my own, and these were far and away the most difficult.  In this case at least the added quality of domestic manufacturing, and the associated surcharge, is no joke.  That said, the stock shoulder harness just didn’t work, especially for cycling, and the Patagonia Endurance pack straps have made it a solid little number for short ski and bike outings.  The back panel is still sweaty and holds moisture for a while, but I can’t yet find this objectionable enough to mess with it.

Overall I like this pack a lot, though I’m not I would buy it again.  The Osprey Talon 11 I used to have is in many respects a more functional option, though not nearly as stout or stylish.


Gossamer Gear Type 2.  A fantastic daypack which has gotten a ton of use this year; the Type 2 is just the right size and has just enough pockets for just about anything.  My shoulder strap replacement is nice, and makes the pack feel custom fit for me, but is far from obligatory.

I’d buy it again without hesitation, and recommend it to others.


610 Diaper pack.  The newest pack in the lineup, and the one with the most and widest variety of iterations behind it.  Based on the last 10 days of hunting and dayhiking, I’m optimistic that I’ve finally got things right.  The side zip works particularly well with the current dimensions, as setting the pack down on the side keeps it stable, gives good access, and keeps the harness out of the mud, all at the same time.  Being able to use or not use the twin aluminum stays is a very nice feature for a pack this size.

It’s hard to think of a good commercial alternative to such a particular pack.  If the zip access were not crucial one of the HMG 2400 series packs would work well, or a Cold Cold World Ozone for less money and more abusive use.  The smaller Black Diamond Speed packs are a good value, and the Speed 30 in large is actually long enough in the torso, something shockingly difficult to find amongst smaller, “technical” packs.


Stone Glacier Solo.  I really enjoyed hunting out of this pack back in September, it was easy to conclude that a pack this size, with a meat shelf and at least partial panel access, is an ideal platform for warmer weather backcountry hunts.  It has enough space, but is small enough to force discipline and to fit through brush well, and spotting scope access is quick.  Unfortunately the Solo suffers from a few features I find unbearable, mainly the several seams at the top of pack which cause it to leak like mad in the rain, and the excessive strappiness.  You don’t want to shortcut compression for a load shelf, but I have a few ideas that should trim thing considerable, which is a way of saying that this is a pack which will be replaced, when the ideas I’ve been tossing around in my head become sufficiently refined.  The frame I made for this pack works well, the only flaw is that I didn’t quite make their bottom spacing wide enough, and this slightly impinges belt wrap across the lumbar.

If I were buying commercially I wouldn’t get a Stone Glacier, they’re far too expensive when a Unaweep 3900 (below) is hundreds of dollars less.


Seek Outside Unaweep.  I haven’t used this pack much this year, but there have been quite a few occasions when I had something else along and wished I could zoom home and instantly swap packs.  Simply put the Unaweep is the reference for how a larger pack should carry and function, and anything I come up with or buy has to equal it in all ways and exceed it in some to be worth keeping.  That is not easy to do.  As detailed in the previous post I cut a few things off my Unaweep, and I’ve continued to monkey with different Talon panels, but having it in the closet as a dependable option for anything beyond a light overnight it always welcome.

I didn’t buy this pack, but if I lost it I’d buy another as soon as possible and rest easy knowing I was getting a stellar deal.  I’d probably go for X50 fabric for better durability than VX42, and step up to the mondo 6300 size for a one pack quiver.


Canyon center-zip. Based on one overnight and one day hunt, I like this pack.  3900 cubic inches is not that big, and the added size will surely come in handy, as will I think the front zipper.  At this point far more testing is need to comment substantively, but given the number of previous packs which fed directly into this one I’m confident this will endure.  But then again I usually am.

The 610 pack, diaper version

R0011620I’ve made this pack, or one to fulfill the same role, 6 or 8 times now.  Most for my own use, a few for friends.  It continually evolves.  The most recent version got axed because the back panel taper got too funky and resulted in a subtle narrowing pinch point in the middle of the pack, which made packing and unpacking a pain.  The top closure was also too complicated, and the hipbelt connection didn’t work properly.

This version is made from scraps and pieces of this pack and this pack, plus some from another pack which never saw the light of the net.  You never get as much material from a cut up project as you think, but I was careful in my cutting and deliberate in my planning, and in this case it worked with no compromises.  Which is rare.  Using the intact backpanel from pack one even expedited construction such that once I got sewing the whole mess took less than three hours.  Which is very rare.  I should note that the death knell for pack one ended up being that damn spreader bar.  Nothing worked to my satisfaction, and an attempt to make a pack with a tapered foam panel that would facilitate similar dimensions did not work out.  So that’s currently an unsolved puzzle.  The tight exterior pad slot with laterally folded blue Walmart works very well, with an ideal balance of support and flexibility for 20 pounds and under, and keeping that feature was a priority.

The other things I wanted in this pack was access, fast, and plenty of it.  Quick and unpredictable diaper changes are a fact of life hiking with an infant, and no pack in the fleet addressed that well enough.  Diameter is 31 inches at the bottom, 35 at the very top.  Backpanel height in 28 inches to the top of the extension collar.  Materials are X33 and X50, with 40D sil/PU for the extension collar, 70D nylon ripstop for the inside of the rear pocket, and WX20 for the pad slot.  All zips are standard #8 YKKs.


The bottom X50 reinforcements on the side panels will be good for longevity, keep the zipper coil from the worst abrasion, and were dictated by the X33 panels I had to work with being a tad too short once squared up and sewn together,  Ideally I’d have been able to skip the seam on the non-zip side, but I can live with that.

The back panel is 9.75 inches wide all the way up.  Side panels are 7 inch, tapering to 8.5 above the shoulder curve.  The front panel is 7 wide at the pocket bottom, with a half inch of taper up to the extension collar.  4-6 inches of gain in diameter from bottom to top seems to be the magic range for packs, with smaller ones ideally being at the smaller end, really big packs at the larger.  Any less and packing is just a little less easy, any more and things seem to end up feeling ungainly.  As is plain in the penultimate photo, the bottom tapers both in (1.3 inchs per side) and up (3 inches total), to keep things sleek.  You loose capacity and a bit of packing ease compared to a square or rectangular base, but gain considerably in climbing ease and in style.  I am not interested in packs with non-tapered bases, generally speaking.

At the end of these projects there is always something you wish you did differently, almost immediately.  Aside from two minor sewing flaws the only thing to make the list is moving the upper lash loops along the side panel down an inch or so.  Which is not a bad list, at all.

As always, questions are welcome.

The five-foot tarp

R0010622A five foot wide tarp is a dead useful thing to have around, for emergency use, hiding from the weather to cook or glass (above), or for a primary solo shelter which will force one to use good site selection and pitching techniques.  It’s also an excellent and relatively cheap and easy MYOG (make ya own geah) project.

Why 5 feet wide?  Most silnylons are between 62 and 58 inches wide per yard.  Subtract between 1 and 2 inches for side seams, selvedge, and cutting the sides parallel and you end up with a tarp about 5 feet wide.  Anything wider requires a lot more material and a large horizontal seam, which if you’re like me you’ll find challenging to keep straight and parallel.  I let the pros make bigger shelters for me.

For a 5 foot by 9 foot tarp you’ll need 3 yards of fabric, plus a little extra.  Why a little extra? Because I highly recommend bonded and then sewn tieouts for these little tarps.  So long as there is not a nick point for a tear to start silnylon is dead strong, and you’ll be amazed at the tension with which you can pitch it.  Needle holes can serve as such a failure point, and one of the only out and out failures from the factory I’ve had in my professional gear testing life was on a silnylon tarp whose tieouts were sewn without any reinforcement panels, and with a too-large needle.  One of the side guy points tore several feet along the stitch line under tension while pitching it in the back yard.

R0011059Bonded reinforcement panels are simple with silnylon.  You’ll need the extra bits of silnylon cut into triangles (I make 6″ by 6″ squares, then cut them in half), 100% silicone, mineral spirits, a brush, plastic grocery bags, and a few heavy flat bottomed objects.  Use this technique on both the main tarp and the reinforcement patch.  Let both dry for a few minutes, then press, weight, and let dry overnight.

I put ten patches on this particular tarp; four in the corners, two centered on the short sides, and two each every three feet along the long edges.  More than this is I think overkill.  Center patches for tieouts can be handy, but aren’t necessary and take more work (they need to seam sealed after sewing).


After the reinforcing patches have cured, sewing the edge seams is next.  I roll the edge once, sew, then roll again and sew.  To keep the tarp as wide as possible these seams are as small as is practical, around 3/8″.  Small needles and fine 100% polyester embroidery thread are more than adequate for this job.

After the seams are finished, bartack on the webbing loops.  I used 5/8″ polypro webbing, which is lighter and absorbs less water than nylon, and is more than strong enough.  The tack on the seam is load bearing, and goes through six layer of fabric for strength.  The secondary lines of stitching are for insurance purposes.  I put linelocs on the corners for ease of use.

It’s worth noting that not all silnylon is created equal.  The good stuff will feel silky and have a substantial coating on both sides.  The less-good stuff will be more crinkly and slicker.  The reinforcements on this tarp were cut from sil I bought from Bear Paw Wilderness Designs, which did not seem to be good stuff.  I reordered from Ripstop by the Roll, which was more satisfactory.

Camping with such a small tarp is quite practical, even in bad weather, but requires the use of good pitching technique and when the wind kicks up, trees for shelter.  I took this one on my sheep hunt last month, and on both evenings had to repitch during the night to get more protection from blown precipitation.  Had I been more conservative from the start that would not have been necessary.  After each repitch I slept well and myself and my gear stayed dry.

The real value of a small tarp like this is as an emergency shelter.  It will not take too many forced nights out (or planning nights without a sleeping bag) to make you realize that the condensation make mylar bivy sacks less than ideal.  Better to have a tarp which can keep the wind off and keep you dry by allowing your clothing to breath.  As such, making your 5 foot tarp out of bright fabric, for signalling purposes, is something worth considering.  This tarp fits into a softball sized stuff sack and is therefore a practical companion for ski tours and other day outings when emergency shelter might make a big difference.

For those who don’t care to build their own, quality options are available from Oware (50 dollars, basic tieouts) and Mountain Laurel Designs (100 dollars, deluxe tieouts).

North Bob Marshall forest fire roundup

As most everyone knows, the mountains of the lower 48 have over the past month produced a fire season which will be discussed for decades. However outstanding, this cannot be a surprise. The mountains of Washington, Idaho, and Montana all had a fairly to egregiously mild winter, and without fail an early spring and a very hot, long summer. Here in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, May happened in early April and August happened in late June. The three forks of the Flathead, which drain almost all of the Crown Ecosystem west of the continental divide, have been setting all-time low flows since mid-July.

Most significantly, in the 105 years the last legendary fire season around here, humans have done just about all that we can to eliminate landscape-scale forest fires. There’s a lot more to discuss than I can get to now, but it needs to be said that the month just past, and more like it, ought to be viewed as nothing more or less than a logical consequence of this repression. And we should expect more of the same until accounts are put back to rights.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.53.41 PMMaps via InciWeb.

The number of fires in the northern half of the Bob has been particularly noteworthy.  The Sheep Creek fire, which threatened the community of Essex and closed Highway 2 a few times, got a lot of press, but for backcountry folks the Trail and Bear Creek fires are the most significant.  They’ll have the longest term effects, and had the broadest impact.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.22.47 PMThese two fires share something will all the major fires on the first map, a start and primary growth in thick, dark pine forest.  Both of these larger fires, especially Bear Creek, generated enough momentum to subsequently burn through some recent previous burns, and up into sub-alpine terrain.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.21.59 PMThe deeper red patches on the eastern margins of the Bear Creek fire are especially noteworthy.  The fire ran all the way up Mid Creek, which was mostly burnt up within the last decade, and spotted through sub-alpine fir into little patches in the head of Silvertip Creek.  It was eventually stopped by cooler weather and terrain like that pictured below.

IMG_0955What will these fires mean for backpackers, packrafters, skiers, and hunters?  Short term early rifle season in the Bob may be complicated for many, though the Forest Service will no doubt work to get as many roads and trails open as possible.  Rain and snow this weekend should help quite a bit.  My 1,2, and 3 options for a hunting trip in a few weeks were all affected by closures, but I’m optimistic that in 12 days I’ll be able to go where I had originally planned.

Longer term a few major trails, like the one along Meadow Creek gorge between the airstrip and Black Bear Creek, will be a lot more open (read: hot).  Big game distribution may be pushed around a bit, as what were burns this summer become great areas for feed next fall.  Most significant might be the impacts of the Bear Creek and Moose Creek fires on packrafters.  Fires, especially hot fires in dense forest, tend to put more wood into rivers in the first few years after they burn, and sections like Black Bear down through Meadow Creek have the potential, with plenty of narrow rock sections, to hold some large and nasty logjams.  Certainly something to keep in mind if you end up floating a potentially affected stretch in spring or early summer next year.

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.

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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.

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.

A dual stay light pack


As good as the Unaweep is, and every time I use any other pack I’m reminded at just how good and how versatile it is, there are inherent limits to the design.  Namely, the size and external presence of the frame.  There are rather few instances in which this is an issue, but problems exist simply to be solved.  Eventually.


I’ve been enamored with the suspension in this pack, with a few significant reservations.  As readers observed, the foam pad is so wide it inhibits ideal hipbelt wrap.  Unexpectedly, the single stay ended up being the limiting factor, as at certain weights it presents a point pressure against the lumbar, even with three layers of padding between it and the user.  This version has two stays, six inches apart, and a foam panel slot 8 inches wide.  As can be seen above, the belt attaches with velcro a la Gossamer Gear, so the pack can be run without the stays.  The shoulder straps attach with 1 inch webbing, which makes attaching them easier and allows me to swap straps.


I’ve become a firm believer in wide and thin packs, so the back on this one is 12 inches wide.  Felled seams throughout.  I did outsmart myself a bit here, as with no structure beyond the 8 inch center panel there is nothing to prevent the 2 inch strips on either side from barreling out and making the pack far fatter.  I improvised and sewed a velcro sleeve inside the full width of the back, which currently holds a 1/4 inch by 12 inch steel rod.  Not an elegant solution, but functional.


Bottom diameter is 32 inches.  Top diameter is 36.  Height is 34.  Standard feature set includes twin daisy chains from 3/8 inch webbing, two side pockets, and an inside zippered pocket.


Main fabric is X33, which remains a favorite.  The bottom is X51, a great heavy use fabric.  Side pockets, inside pocket, and the exterior of the pad sleeve are WX20, which is light and flexible.  I’m using an old Gossamer Gear belt, and Mountain Hardwear shoulder straps.  Stays are 1/8 inch by 1 inch 7075-T6, which is the only way to go.  Blue foam from Walmart.


I’ve only put a limited number of miles into it, but thus far it is promising.  The idea is to have the option to run enough suspension when the pack is totally full of heavy stuff (see top picture, with 2 days of packrafting and fishing stuff), and also run it frameless as well as beltless for smaller trips.  To this end the torso length is a half inch undersized.

I’ll keep ya’ll updated.