The DY Special: on the water

It is an easy cliche that gear matters less than will when it comes to executing a given outdoor activity, one whose heart is in the right, but ignores many practical details.  We now have eight boats on the premises, but neither the four packrafts nor the whitewater canoe nor the freightor canoe nor the sit on top kids kayak do well in winds and big water.  This past weekend I was anxious, first to get the DY Special on the water before the current storm rolled in, and then, because I was on the water while the storm was 10 miles across the valley marching towards me, and I was taking my first strokes in a beam wind and 2 foot wind swells.  Fortunately the DY Special knifes through such conditions, holds glide in a way uncanny to someone like me who has never paddling anything so fast, and has a sliding seat that adjust trims (and thus neutralizing weathercocking) almost without missing a stroke.  Also fortunately, I wore a drysuit, and was thus only somewhat scared when spearing a powerboat wake splashed straight over the bow.

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I was profundly nervous as the weekend started.  Some mistakes in the past month of composite work had the canoe not quite as I wanted it, at least aesthetically, and hopes for the appearance and a firm end to the project were thoroughly mixed up with my worries that, after so many hours of work, and more importantly, hours of hope, would not work out as I wanted.  Saturday saw a bunch of finish work, sanding and painting, while Sunday morning saw the canoe finally coming home down the hill, the deck plates and seat hurridly installed, and the canoe put back on the roof rack with almost shaking hands.  I had made mistakes, but would any of those impact things when on the water.

The first mistake was mild, and understandable, which was to commit to not pulling off the gunnels at any point in the restoration.  In hindsight, the way to go would have been doing the laminations along the bottom of the hull, and likely wrapping up fairly far on the bow and stern, letting that cure completely before drilling out all the rivets and finishing the upper lamination work and final fill coats of epoxy, while also painting the gunnels and thwarts off the boat.  And I might still do this.  As is, I wasn’t sure the bottom lamination would be enough to maintain the structure, and in the course of running out of epoxy resin tried to work the last bits towards the gunnels.  This caused two issues; the first being drips which ran under the tape, dried on the gunnels, and had to be sanded off, the second being the innegra wicking epoxy into the flaps I didn’t get laminated to the tumblehome.  This cloth, with cured epoxy in it, would be then be glued to the hull, and I had to trim these bits off and sand them down.  The result of all that, and of my deciding to add layers to the bow and stern at the last minute, has the whole thing looking far rougher than I would like.  I tried to hide this, to an extent, by painting the boat above the waterline, but that does not go very far in this cause.

I had plenty of other mistakes, mainly centered around not trimming the innegra cloth and melting the edges to prevent fliers.  Plenty of these bits of evidence, of my novice epoxy work, and preserved for the life of the boat, which is fine.  As mentioned, in the future I may well pull the gunnels, and finish the top half of the boat in a more definitive fashion.  But for the moment, everything is structurally sound, and ready to paddle.

And does it ever paddle.  I’m deeply excited for winter to turn enough that more water will thaw, and I can really get to know the DY Special.  My sense is I’ll be able to push it very far, in many directions.  On the first paddle it was disorienting how far it performs from anything else I’ve known, the seeming fundamental indifference to crosswinds the most prominent factor, and the profound reluctance to turn being the second most.  I’m sure confidence will improve the later, but it seems that 17 feet of hull in the water, no matter how you lean, will only allow for so much.  Most importantly, the DY Special turned an unpaddleable day in any of our other boats into a routine workout, or what will be, when I can further relax.  A good snowpack is a prerequisite for an ideal boating season, but I’m rather anxious for skiing to move along, and the rivers to come up.

Fashion and the delams

Challenge’s Ultraweave fabrics have seen impressively broad acceptance this winter, with companies as diverse as Pa’lante and Stone Glacier using it, and companies like MLD and Seek Outside moving to make it a core part of their pack line ups.  As I found out this past summer, the specs are impressive, and the marketing equally so (the gent who was responsible for much of Dimension-Polyants growth in the pack sector ran the Ultraweave rollout), which explains the remarkably fast market penetration.  I’ve built packs out of Ultra 400 and 800 for myself and for clients, including a 20 liter bag I’ve used almost daily sine August, and thus far everyone has been nothing but happy.

And yet, I wonder if later this year a number of us will end up regretting being early adopters, due to fabric delamination.

This post has been kicking around 3 months, with no good answer so far as I am aware.  Of most concern for me is the 3rd photo, where it seems that delamination along the stitch line is allowing the weft to slide on the warp.  Ultra is a different fabric, 66% spectra and 34% poly, with spectra being notoriously slick and difficult to laminate.  DX40 is another woven which blended spectra and poly, though in a very different proportion, and while DX40 suffered very asymmetrical abrasion as a result, I think the concerns are broadly similar.  More acutely with Ultraweave, the unanswered question is how much dimensional stability the fabric would maintain under consistent load without the non-stretch film on the back.

Film delamination has always been a concern with pack fabrics.  Every two layer laminate (i.e. no interior scrim like the VX line) I’ve put heavy use into has delaminated, at least a tiny bit, generally along seam lines.  Heavy stitch penetration, especially where something is bartacked through the fabric not on a seam line, exacerbates delamination significantly.  Overall this has never bothered me; even something like X33 maintains plenty of dimensional stability even without the film, and the performance gains of laminate fabrics are valuable enough for me, and my lifespan expectations for any pack modest enough.  I do think the “forever waterproof” marketing claims are overwrought, if not outright disingenuous, but at the same time having exaggerated hopes for your 4-600 dollar pack is quite forgiveable.  My concern is the structural concerns, something even deliberate abuse to my daypack has yet to bring to light.

It seems certain that, with the number and range of Ultraweave packs going out into the world these days, we will find out soon.

The DY Special, prelude

In early September last year I was cruising Craigslist for random boats, as one does, and saw something scary.  I kept coming back over the next week, and eventually told myself that were the thing still for sale when I came back from a hunting trip, I would call about it.  There was little doubt the thing would still be, as the thing was a few dodgy pictures and brief description of a composite canoe that had been repaired in a horrific manner, all for sale in a small central Montana town very far from almost everything.  After some negotiation I had the price cut in half, and woke up very early on a bright day in late September to drive 400 miles round trip and bring home a Sawyer DY Special canoe, 1985 vintage.

The gentleman from central Montana was the original owner, who after years of using it in the BWCA and various Montana lakes, ended up taking it down the middle Yaak River with a lady friend on board. I’ve floated the middle Yaak (below town, above the falls) in a packraft, and it isn’t especially rocky nor especially twisty, but I can imagine that a 17 foot canoe with no rocker would on that stretch be hard work. The gentleman intimated that the influence of his companion led to unwise choices, and much boat damage. Long story short, his repairs amounted to 3/4″ redwood planking, inside and out, glued to the hull, screwed through the hull to each other, tapered at the ends and edges, edged with spray foam or gorilla glue, and then glassed over with what appears to have been 4-6 oz glass and vast amounts of auto epoxy. He completed this repair and then put it away in his barn, where it stayed, lent out once, for the past 15 years. That one use was cousins crossing the Missouri just above Fort Peck during hunting season, and my assumption is that it was they who (as the gentleman put it) sat on the middle of the hull when it was upside down, adding some substantial but not full thickness cracks to the widest section of the tumblehome.  I put a paddle and PFD in the car on the retrieval trip, and spent 30 minutes on the way home stretching the arms, and ensuring that the boat mostly held out the water.

Once home I dove into the first big question, which was how much horrid work it would take to get all the crap out of the boat, the end goal and second big question being what it would take to properly restore the Sawyer to a functional composite boat.  In its day the DY Special was a full racing boat, nearly 17 feet long, quite skinny, with no rocker at all.  By current standards it is a good bit wider and more stable than a race boat, suggesting that with a proper rebuild the canoe could be a fast and wind resistant option that could, with effort, be piloted down class II rivers, things like the Blackfoot or North Fork of the Flathead, in addition to making the flatter rivers and many lakes more enjoyable than any other boat we own.

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Getting all the planking and glass off wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, due to the poor epoxy work. The bow end wood was extensively rotted inside, as the glass job was just enough to let a bit of water in, then keep it there. After ~4 hours of cutting, prying, sanding, and a wee bit of swearing, the hull was almost back to the original state, with the addition of a bunch of cracks, 3 dozen screw holes, and a section towards the stern (where I assume his lady friend sat that fateful day) with water intrusion under the outer layers and plenty of puffy/crunchy kevlar fabric.  Extensively heating screw heads with the orbit sander was the key move.  Unfortunately, being sandwiched between those wood layers for so long has crunched up the keel line of the DY Special, with 2/3s of the boat being 1 to 1.5 inches oilcanned below where it ought to be, and in places, rippled.  Fixing this would be the main design constraint.

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The internet came to my rescue, and a week after putting the canoe in the back yard I had computer drawings of the original hull, as a guide to get things back into shape.  Fortunately that solution was simple, in the form of a 14 foot 2×4 beveled along the edge and forced into the boat with vertical blacks against the thwarts.  Doing that sent a crack along the keel line though the middle 2/3s of the hull, but with the whole hull shape now correct, that was a minor concern.  Another 5+ hours of sanding inside and out to get off the resin and globs of crap, and get the stock fabric fuzzed out for a good bond had everything ready for lamination.

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My main concern at this point was that I’d spend a couple hours putting a couple hundred dollars of fabric and epoxy resin on the canoe, only to remove the board and have the hull pop down.  Ensuring this didn’t happen, and adding considerable hull stiffness in the process, had me spending an unreasonable amount on an 8 inch by 20 foot strip of 3k carbon plain weave, which would be the first layer.  With that, in theory the only shortcoming of the canoe would be the many holes in the hull, and my desire to have enhanced abrasion and crash/pin/wrap resistance.  That, and cost considerations, had me looking at Innegra plain weave.  Innegra is, in essence, 100% polyolefin (polypro) fabric, with high impact, abrasion, and deformation resistance, which is ideal, and in addition is affordable, especially compared to carbon, aramid, and their variations.  So I got 10 yards of 3.6 oz/yard innegra plain weave (900 denier! big, light threads) to reinforce the whole hull and the bottom and bow in particular.  All this fabric, along with a gallon of epoxy resin, cost over 300 dollars.  Not a whole lot if the finished product proved as good as I hoped, but a helluva lot if my lamination repair didn’t work.

But at that point, there was no choice apart from embracing the excitement and nerves, and getting it done.  Fortunately, everything appears to have worked well enough, and had I not run out of epoxy, would have the lamination work finished.  In the next update, we’ll have build pics, and provided February doesn’t freeze the lower Mo completely, a boat in the water.

Things from 2021

Astute readers may have noticed that, back in mid spring, photo quality here took a turn.  The previous fall my long standing iPhone 5se took a dive (literally, on main stream in Escalante) and after 4 months of tape holding chunks of the screen in, reliability mandated a new phone.  I’d spent the winter putting that off, pondering if I could really make the leap I wanted to.  A client (in 6th grade) showed me how the rudimentary browser on his flip phone worked, and that put me over the edge.  The next day I headed to work with a bricklike (8 oz!)m brand new ($240!) Kyocera DuraXV Xtreme in my pocket.

From a reasonable perspective, the Kyocera is a joke.  Texting takes forever, just like it did in 2007.  The camera is 5MP and has dodgy autofocus.  The browser works, on most websites, most of the time.  Checking stock at Home Depot doesn’t really work, but I can look at the weather in one button push, and read The Atlantic, 15 words a screen.  After a few articles your thumb will be sore.  A few weeks ago a QR code only menu at a brewery shut me down, and people of all ages roll their eyes on a daily basis.  I enjoy slapping the thing shut, metaphorically and literally.   I enjoy how it is a functional phone, and semi-functional as anything else.  I enjoy, perversely, it being heavy and big enough I will never forget it is in my pocket.

The reason I wanted an inconvenient phone is the same reason I took a break from writing here for the final three months of the year; to make daily life as simple as possible.  And by simple, I mean unadorned, basic, with as few sources of stimuli as possible.  M and I had little more than a year being parents before the national crisis that began with Trump and has continued through covid; I imagine either one would be sufficient to make the atmosphere around my daily life seem quite thin enough.  As is, things have been diffusely, unrecoverably frantic the past two years, and following my gut into the flip phone opened the door for me to prune more emphatically and intentionally.  For that reason, the Kyocera was the most significant item of 2021.

Apart from the pandemic (and Jan 6th which, as cultural phenomena are increasingly difficult to view separately), the most memorable thing about 2021, was the very hot start to the summer.  The first weekend after the Bob Open I took a trip to the Little Belts to stay in a lookout tower and explore more of Tenderfoot Creek.  The car thermometer kissed 100F sweeping south of Great Falls, and I went straight from typical Montana late spring to atypical Montana August in the space of 5 days.  Mercifully actual August gave us a big break, but an almost uninterrrupted two months that was almost too hot to hike in had me logging more river miles than any previous summer.  I bought a canoe, took out the new family packraft almost daily, and even partially learned to row my parents new 13 foot raft.  By Thanksgiving weekend, when Little Bear and I bikerafted Scotty Brown to River Bend and back on the Blackfoot, and I found myself scheming to fit just one more float trip in before everything froze did I realize the hierarchy which had in 2021 emerged.  I’ve often looked around our domain and wondered what out of the several mountains of gear I’d dispense with last.  2021 answered that: it would be the boats.  Which is helpful, because there is always more possibilites than either time or money.

The yard is currently buried in snow and ice, with the stack of canoes crowned with a tarp, that is frosted and frozen generously.  We have our quasi tree house, an 11 by 7 foot platform six feet off the ground, cantilevered off the garage, one other corner a 4 by 4 post atop a concrete wall, the other lag bolted to an englemann spruce, who proliferate in the old parts of town, planted after the ponderosas were cut for fuel and timber back around the time of statehood.  Englemanns grow faster, and do fine in town as they no longer have to contend with fire (if we ever have a Marshall fire situation all those ~110 year old spruces will be a massive liability).  They have a stately sway during windstorms, and if you’re in the garage during gusts above 40 mph you can listen to that tree creak the whole structure ever so slightly.

The kids playhouse has been under the tree house since before the platform existed, and was a hodgepodge of scrap lumber with a window and entrance(s) that required climbing through one of a number of tires.  The kids have taken to forest service cabins so well they wanted one of the their own, so this fall saw a total rennovation.  Now the playhouse has a bed, workbench, and tool rack inside, two big windows, and a kid sized (50″ by 18″) door.  I’m not sure I’ll ever chink the logs, as no one seems to mind that.  My favorite feature is the 5″ microgabel with cosmetic log raftertails over the door and front window, especially the past few weeks, as it has been piled high with snow.

Next to the backyard cabin is the wood pile, next to that the side entrance to the garage, and next to that the wood and tool shed.  The side entrance used to be a full door, before I walled off the back half of the dirt floor garage to be the ski and bike room and workshop.  Now the side entrance has a half door, to keep the deer out of the yard, and to which I had to add a deadbolt, as the gusts concentrate and cycle so strongly through the covered passage they regularly blew open the regular catch.  The garage itself is something of a mystery, with dimensional lumbar and very old pine planking on the sides, and rather newer 2 by 4s in the roof.  The uphill wall is, on the outside, set on concrete footers that are a good 30 inches below grade, demanding that it has been around long enough for the alley to acrue that much dirt.  Digging that out a few years ago to add enough flashing that most of the spring melt no longer seeps through the wall was a horrible job.

On the downhill side of the garage is the shed, a 7 by 12 foot room set on a slab, and into which I’ve crammed as much wood, odd stuff, and tools as will fit in a semi organized fashion.  This last requirement has expanded and evolved rapidly in the last few years, as building things (both for the house and otherwise) has become my primary interest.  I’ve been sewing, mostly backpacks, with a decent degree of seriousness for over a decade, such that my knowledge there has reached the point where problem solving is generally flooded over by execution and refinement.  This last, otherwise known as precision and consistency, has never been a strong suit, something woodworking has revealed in a most uncompromising manor.  So at last I find myself focusing on my stitch lines in preference to the big picture, and spending plenty of time learning to make truly exact cuts.  This fall a new island went into the kitchen, and a built in cabinet finally filled a hole in the wall upstairs.  I found a used miter saw, cheap, and built a bench into the wall of the shed onto which it bolted, and then a roof extension to keep the rain and snow off.  More recently, I found out just how much the blown air from the orbital sander freezes fingers, even with gloves on.  M and I beginning to mull much longer term plans for a garage rebuild that would provide indoor work space.  I have a canoe paddle, my prettiest yet, that will have to wait until March or so to get wet.

What does this mean for this year, 2022?  I have not and will not abandon the blog, though content will likely remain sparse.  I thought I might miss the process of writing weekly, and was surprised when I did not, at all.  I am working on a substantial revision of Packrafting the Crown of the Continent, that will encompass both more territory and the ways my knowledge overall has expanded in the past 4 years.  As always, I hope to sew and sell backpacks, though once I’ve worked through the current backlog custom work will be on hold indefinitely, as priorities have made holding to even the most expansive deadlines impossible, something that is unlikely to change for at least a number of years.  The phone experiment taught me that even with what seemed like a fairly simple life there was much work on that front to be done, that I needed to make some hard choices to do fewer things better.   And on that front, I am quite excited for the snow to keep building up, eventually thaw, and show us how the year will develop.

Bark River Micro Canadian re-scale

For the past four years my Micro Canadian has always been one of my very favorite objects.  It blends practicality and elegance in a way which few other categories of things can.  Restlessness, and extreme specialization (river rescue), are the only real reasons I’ve used anything else.  To address the former I bought a Bark River Ringtail this past winter (the brown handled knife with the ring, above), the idea being the Micro is a bit short on edge length and blade volume where processing game is concerned.  The Ringtail is very good for that, and has reminded me that if the Micro has any shortcoming, it is the blunter angle of the tip, which makes for a cutting bit whose acuity erodes quickly.

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My parents chose a gorgeous stabilized wood burl for the handle (scales) when they bought me the Micro, and over the years the wood has suffered, with many damper outings causing swelling, and after enough cycles, cracking.  A few weeks ago, one of these cracks propagated far enough towards one of the pins, and the front of one scale fell off.  The knife worked fine without it, and a few hours after sending an email to Bark River about a repair the idea to make new scales myself was firmly stuck in my head.  So I pondered that for another few days, then ordered some safety yellow pieces of G10, 1/8″ thick.  To this day, several weeks after sending the email, I still haven’t heard back from Bark River.

G10 was an easy (and cheap, on sale!) choice, being durable and impermeable.  1/8″ is a hair thinner than the wood scales, something I figured would slim down the somewhat blocky/squarish cross section of the handle as stock.  While I was at it, I knew I wanted to make the scales extend ever so slightly further towards the blade, to give my thump a bit more purchase.

After punching the pins out of the blade and cleaning it up, I clamped the blade to the front of the stacked scales and used that as a template to drill the holes.  I sharpied the outline to the scales, rough cut that out with a coping saw (both scales still together, then epoxied the whole thing together.  In spite of being very careful with alignment one of the rear holes was off a bit, and getting the whole mess together required a bit of last minute swearing and elbow grease.

After the epoxy was set finish work was the simple yet tricky matter of lots of sanding.  G10 sands well; I used an orbit sander with 220 grit for the initial stuff, and finished things off with lots of hand sanding.  I used a 1″ dowel as the template for the finger grooves, which worked well.  I am very pleased with how the whole thing came together.

The past four years of fixing things, renovations, and projects have seen home ownership being a huge catalyst for me embracing making stuff as equal parts an end and a means.  Something like this, which I carry virtually everywhere I go, every day, seems set to serve as a reminder of the many rewards that process has shown me.  Next in this series, my adventures making canoe paddles.

A daypack

After being so impressed with Ultraweave I naturally wanted to make several/a number of bags out of it.  My affinity for burlier pack fabrics goes back to the very beginning, both because I know that many of my favored activities shred lighter pack fabrics, and (more relevantly) because I have an aesthetic preference for things, especially things that I build, to have the potential to last a very long time.  For most of the last decade this has been quite hypothetical (that pack from 2010 looks awful in my today eyes), but in the last 3-4 years my knowledge has been such that I regularly make things that stand the test of time.  Making myself a pack from a fabric that could realistically last decades is today not just an ideological activity.

A daypack is not an especially exciting thing, both because day-type activities are less aspirational, and because designing and building a daypack happens on a persnickety scale.  Fit, for example, is an area where in theory a frameless little pack which will rarely carry more than 10 pounds ought to be forgiving.  Many companies making such packs in one size only would certainly suggest as much.  And yet I’ve found little packs to be difficult in this regard, having no frame and especially no belt and load lifters to take the focus off torso length, and strap size, width, and orientation.  Torso length is relevant both to maximize space, and to concentrate the sweet spot for both fit and comfort in the same location.  This pack is 20 inches exactly, an inch or a little more less than I’d make a larger pack (w/ frame, etc).  This maintains total shoulder wrap, with the pack ending just at the lower edge of my lumbar.  This feels most comfortable, most agile, and places the side pockets low enough for good access.  The upper few inches of the side panels tilt toward the user, on both sides, providing a nice shoulder hugging fit, and maintaining a trim yet generous 7 inches of constant depth.  The front panel is 9 inches wide, the back panel 10.5, with 2 inches of upsweep on the bottom panel.  It is easy to make a pack like this too skinny, in either direction, too pudgy, or to overdo the various tapers and create something with less useable space.

For all the seeming contradiction of a forever fabric and a zipper, the classic clamshell is an obvious choice with a pack this small.  It is cleaner through the brush than a rolltop or drawcord, and far faster to access.  Mid panel always seems to work best with a zipper, and this straight run and constant radius curve, along with dual #10 nickle plated sliders, maximizes durability.  Additional internal features amount to a pad sleeve against the back, a small zippered pocket (9″ by 7″), and another sleeve pocket behind the zippered pocket, handy for garbage or for isolating wet raingear from the rest of the contents.  These details, along with the cord sleeves on the side pockets, were old 200ish denier nylon from a sailbag I got free off craigslist.  Orange seemed a good color to halo through the main fabric, and having touseled accents to such a fancy pack seemed logical.

Side pockets in a small pack that legit fit a nalgene aren’t common.  These envelope a standard nalgene, and carry a 48oz cilo well enough that only a big tumble off a log (did it) will knock them free.  These are 14 inches back to front, with a 3 by 3 inch dimensioned gusset against the user side, and the remaining 11 inches fit down to 7 with a big pleat.  The single pleat restricts the pocket size with a single hard object, but expands easily with softer items, ergo a nalgene doesn’t rattle around, but you can wedge a full set of raingear in.

Hopefully five years from now my current state of knowledge doesn’t prove too antiquainted.

Essential Skills: Garment zipper replacement

Replacing a zipper, generally in a full zip jacket, is one of the most common and thus, most essential serious gear repairs you’ll do.  Serious in this case being roughly defined as requiring more than tape or glue to manage.  The zipper on my 4 year old Haglofs Pile hoody recently died, providing a good tutorial on how to effect this repair.

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The first step in any repair is preventative maintenance.  With jacket zippers, the first step here is to buy garments made from good materials.  #5 YKK zips are a good place to start (# refers to size, bigger meaning larger, and the number can generally be found on the back of the slider, bottom stop, or both).  #3 zippers are in full zip jackets a invitation to a short product life.  Zippers fail when the materials wear, so keeping the teeth clean and not yanking too much both go a decent way towards maximizing function.  When separation begins to occur (see above), often a worn slider is at fault.  The metal of the slider wears ever so slightly, enough that it doesn’t fully engage the teeth when pulled up.  Engage the zipper, and bend the two halves together with pliers (this page has good photos).

With my jacket, this did not get the job done.   Wear to the plastic teeth, combined with fraying on the bottom stop, prevented things from seating properly, making total replacement the only option.  As I outline below, this isn’t too difficult or time consuming, but it is also not the most basic repair.  Companies with good warranties and repair policies (e.g Patagonia) will replace zippers, often for free.  Companies with mediocre policies (e.g. OR) will usually send you a new jacket).  Companies with less good policies (e.g. Arc’teryx) will often give you the run around before replacing the garment.  For me repair is both better style and better for the environment.  Knowing I wanted to put a beefier zipper into this specific jacket (packed size and weight not being a concern), I ordered up a #8 YKK coil zip as a replacement, and got out the knife.

Haglofs did a good job making the zipper both well sewn in an fairly easy to remove.  The strip of grosgrain is the key here: remove the little bartack on either end, cut out a few inches of stitching on one end, and at this point the thread is thin enough you can just rip the rest of the stitch line in a good yank.  The zipper itself is sewn directly to the fleece with another line of stitching, similarly slowly cut out a few inches with a knife or seam ripper, then give it a rip.

The only tricky part of sewing the new zipper on is the tendency of fleece to stretch, especially if your machine doesn’t have a walking foot.  Pins aren’t a bad idea to prevent this, or use stitch lines in the garment as reference marks, sewing 3-5 inches at a time and making sure the fabric doesn’t stretch.  If you let the fleece stretch, the zipper will get longer than it should, and the fit will be weird.  Once you’ve stitched the zipper in on either side via a plain seam, and in this case reused the zipper flap, again via a plain seam, flip the garment back right side out (top photo) and top stitch through the folded seam to lock everything in place.

Simple, easy, and now you can fix your own stuff.  Once practiced this is a ~20 minute job.

Seek Outside Flight One trouble shooting

The Seek Outside Flight One is a ~50 liter, reasonably featured ~2.5 pound backpack designed to carry loads over 30 pounds well.  Better load carriage and more coherent features than a Windrider 3400, and a burlier build than a Gossamer Gear Gorilla.  In short, a modern lightweight backpack; an increasingly busy class, with the relevant reference point being the Rogue Pando Zoro, a point to which I’ll return in closing.

Unfortunately the Flight One combines a major design flaw with a major construction/patterning issue, the result being the carriage of the belt and lumbar pad not matching the other parts of the pack.  I modified a Flight bag recently for a friend, following Philip’s mod detailed here, an easy job others may wish to emulate.

The Flight One uses an internal U frame, made from thin, solid aluminum rod, with a top piece of alu tube, that pushes on and makes it into a solid rectangle.  The frame fits into a full internal sleeve, very tightly. This tight fit and the 7000 series alloy rod make the frame solid, springy, with an excellent degree of twisting flex.  It’s a really nice solution to the modern pack problem.  The problem is in the lumbar and belt arrangement.  The belt comes in two halves, and adjusts for width with velcro.  It velcros behind the lumbar pad, a la classic Dana Designs.  Dana packs had a very stiff belt, and ran the main alu stay into the lumbar pad itself, both of which prevented sagging.

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The Flight sags quite a bit, mainly because (as seen in the top photo) the lumbar opening is 3/4″ too large.  As seen in the above photo, when I have 40 pounds in the pack, this slack hinges out immediately, effectively reducing the torso length of the pack by over an inch.  In theory a 24 inch tall frame, the longest Seek offers on the flight, ought to be good for all but the tallest users.  But that is a narrow if, and 22.5 inches is, for a taller but not beyond average person like myself, a fast problem at loads around 30 pounds.

Taking the bottom seam out and sewing the pad tighter would be one way to deal with that issue, but removing and resewing structural seams is a bit dodgy on relatively light fabrics like X21.  Instead, my friend obtained extensions for the frame, and I removed the load lifter buckles and haul strap and sewed them 2 inches taller.  A non-reversible modification, but simple and effective.

It’s illustrative to return here to the Zoro, which has had its issues, and takes a quite different approach to the belt-frame interface, using snaps to connect a hanging belt to the base seam, something quite similar to what Seek (re)introduced to the public with their original packs.  Quite simply, I think this is the best way to go about building a pack, both because the connection methods tend to eliminate the possibility for stretch and sag, and because I don’t think lumbar pads really bring anything to the table in terms of enhancing load carriage (whether the lumbar benefits from different kinds of padding relative to the hips is a separate question).

 

How the Dana Longbed Works

Amongst the few dozen folks worldwide who care about such things, the Dana Designs external frame packs are regarded as the pinnacle of the genre.  I spent a couple hundred field days carrying an Arcflex, and for a number of reasons gladly passed it along a decade ago.  Finding both the load carriage and feature set deficient, I can’t fathom a reason to go back to that tech, but I’m enough of a pack nerd/historian that when a Longbed popped up for cheap enough locally, it was an easy decision to buy it.

First, the numbers.  The early oughts era Dana Designs Longbed is listed as 99 liters, and 7 pounds 13 ounces, stock.  My version, with medium straps and belt, and a regular harness, breaks down as follows:

  • Belt: 14.5 oz
  • Straps: 7.3 oz (pair)
  • Bag: 3 pounds 12.6 oz
  • Harness assemblage: 8.1 oz
  • Magic wands (pair): 7 oz
  • Upper frame 4.9
  • Frame. 1 pound 3.2 oz

121.6 oz, total.  Which is heavy, by any modern standard, and really heavy by most measures.  Modern load haulers are generally 2-3 pounds lighter, in a package with similar capacity, but a more sleek feature set.  The Longbed is not sleek, as evidenced by the bag weight.  Four separate zippers, including a huge #10 U zip to access the main bag, are the main source of the overall weight, along with the huge lumbar pad and hypalon reinforced frame sleeve, which are sewn to and thus included in the main bag weight.  In this respect it is the worst of late 90s pack design, complete with floppy, non-functional mesh sides pockets, and a size that isn’t even that capacious (42 inch top circumference).

These criticisms would be valid for almost any pack of that era, making the more interesting question why this most modern of external frame packs might have something to teach us still.  As mentioned in the posts cited above, making a frame both rigid enough for load hauling and not massively heavy is challenging.  On the one hand the 19 oz Dana frame is porky.  On the other, it is more rigid than something like the Seek Outside Revolution, is at 29 inches taller, and that 19 oz figure includes totally rigid cross bracing.  With a modern belt removing 5-6 ounces, and a less complex overall harness design cutting something close to 2 pounds, the Dana frame might be a more coherent package than it first appears.  

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With the top bar at full extension the Dana frame is a full 36 inches tall, a full ten inches beyond most modern hunting frames.  It is also lighter, shorter, and narrower than something like the Barney’s Freighter frame.  The other argument for external frames, beyond the virtues of tubing over stays, has always the footprint of the frame.  The 26″ by 12″ footprint of modern hunting packs (Stone Glacier, Kifaru, etc) equals, when loaded 10 inches deep, 3120 cubic inches, about half a carefully boned out elk, and more weight than most people will be able to carry over rough terrain.  A load bearing footprint beyond this is handy for loads less easily tamed.  A bison hide is an example with which I have personal experience, or a moose quarter or rack of ribs (which many places in Alaska must come out of the field bone in), which explains Barney’s enduring popularity up north.

For myself, I’ve long wanted to experiment with a larger platform for family load hauling, and the Dana frame makes an ideal platform.  

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Carrying the Longbed in stock form does not make me at all nostalgic for my old ArcFlex.  The external frame is indeed more forgiving of poor packing.  I loaded up a five gallon bucket of iron window weights, resulting in a load too heavy to stand under without rolling over and crawling upright (a boundary I’ve found that for me is right around 100 pounds).  The adhesive properties of the aggressive lumbar pad and thick, soft hipbelt were immediately obvious, as were their longer term impacts, having to cinch things repeatedly as you travel and motion and gravity combine to help things compress.  

The years have taught me that the rough contours of hips require different sorts of padding compared to the less sensitive, and often concave depths of the lumbar.  But I still struggle to see lumbar pads as anything other than a crutch for fit issues.  I’m excited to experiment with the frame.  I’m also excited to put lumbar pads in the bin until something unforeseen comes along.  Dana packs remain the apotheosis of that design, and this pack not suiting me injects confidence into my dismissal.

Evolution of the Tamarisk: Shoulder Straps

First: what the hell is happening with those packs, maan?

A lot.  Unfortunately, almost none of that is helping to get you a pack faster.  While the pandemic hasn’t impacted our family as directly or egregiously as it could, or still might, it has made the world more complicated.  I’ve been and remain on a slightly reduced salary, and our decision in early April for M to go back to work has been wise, in that any financial concerns have been well preempted.  What that has meant day to day is that we juggle our schedules, and that my time has been full enough that choices must be made: kid time, spouse time, meals, work, fun and exercise, yes.  Much else (e.g. cleaning, and sewing), no.

And I am ok with that.

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Hopefully one of the things we, as a society, get out of the pandemic is an easier time admitting that doing it all, especially as parents, is neither possible nor desirable.

One of the benefits of such mandatory emphatic choices, and of the necessity of managing creeping universal anxiety, has been lots of time in the woods, both on my own and with the little people.  The prototype Tamarisk has been used almost daily, even if that is only to transport rafting gear 200 yards from car to lake, or on a pint sized bikerafting trip (top photo, 5 miles on gravel, 10 miles of twisty and fast class I+).  I am more confident than ever in the design and size, and embracing the extended and indefinite timeline to tweak a few things (the belt could be a bit better, improved attachment points for a PFD).

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After 6 months of use I remain exceedingly pleased with the shoulder straps, which in packland present a problem whose answer is difficult to properly balance.  Too much padding is certainly a thing, as is too little, too stiff, and too supple.  My old Dana always chafed a little, and never really broke in enough (even after 200+ days) to conform to clavicle and armpit.  The 2012 Gorilla did almost everything right, with the thin foam being a little too stiff, and certainly far too ready to pack out.  The HPG shoulder harness was a study in how far one could get in patterning and conformity, but the Cordura facing against the user chafed and held sweat, and the thin and relatively supple foam let the webbing strap dig in once the load was big enough to stretch the Cordura.

With these three examples as limit posts, I set out a couple years ago to find something well in between them.  Most combinations of foam and materials have worked decently enough, and there is a case to be made for shoulder straps being an ancillary detail to things like the hipbelt and frame, so long as they are good enough.  But the whole point of the Tamarisk is to not just be good enough, and it is easy to recall trips like this one where anything with the least potential for discomfort will sing out to that effect, and loudly.

My current layup for the Tamarisk shoulder straps is a 5mm layer of fairly stiff EVA foam, 5mm 3D mesh turned inside out, and 500D Cordura, with a length of 3/4″ webbing bartacked every 3 inches the whole length.  The result is quite pliable, due to being well under 1/2 an inch thick, yet rigid, due to the EVA.  The thick 3D mesh makes things feel cushy, and wicks sweat (see above), both of which fight chafing during hot 12+ hour days.  Keeping the mesh inside out eliminates the traditional bane of that material, namely the extent to which it traps pine needles and debris, which build up over time no matter the cleaning efforts, eventually becoming abrasive to both clothing and skin.  The greatest cause for celebration is that testing the inverted mesh over the past two years, and this particular foam since January, has revealed no concerns with longevity whatsoever.  img_0010

The packs will come, eventually, but in this age of uncertainty I’m not making any specific promises.