Saturday, 11 December 2010

UnBoxing: The Duluth Pack Pathfinder Review

A short while back the lovely Molly of the Duluth Pack Co. must have been feverish as she came into her office one morning and thought "I need a plumber - to review one of our packs" the winds of fate and the mighty power of Google led her to my door. Ever a fan of free swag I waited all of a tenth of a second before biting her arm off and accepting her generous offer of a review pack. Hoping against hope that she wouldn't come to her senses and say 'sorry I was trying to email a proper outdoor writer'.

I knew the sum total of not-a-lot about the Duluth Pack Co, but as you may have noticed I have questions about everything. All I knew was that they are a heritage brand (not just marketing BS - they've been trading for over a hundred years - 99 of them from the same premises) and their packs are much favoured by the ‘trad’ bushcrafters.

It turns out that when the company started proofed leather and waxed cotton were the cutting edge of outdoor technology and to be fair, while neither of them is going to win any prizes for lightness, they are still about as good as it gets functionally, and have a user experience and smell that Cordura and Goretex will never match.

A French-Canadian named Camille Poirer, made his way west to Duluth in 1870 with his "little stock of leather and tools", he set up a shoe store and as living in a booming frontier town is hard on the feet, found favour as one of the towns shoemakers

Records show that by December 12, 1882, Camille was sufficiently well-heeled himself [ber-bom] to file a patent for a new type of pack. A canvas sack, closed with a buckled flap, with new-fangled shoulder straps, and the first known use of a then revolutionary sternum strap. Wisely he included an umbrella holder (if you need to ask why - best not stray too far from the car).

In 1911, Camille sold his pack business to the new Duluth Tent and Awning Company. Who opened for business on 1610 West Superior Street. 99 years later that's still where you find the company. The company’s facility with heavy weight canvas made them the natural choice of awning maker for the areas stores. If it could be made from canvas they were making and selling them. In the 20's the company made the 'auto pack' a forerunner of today's rooftop boxes, so gear could be stowed on the outside of the a car and a clip-on tent giving birth to car camping. Companies only get to become heritage brands by making what the punters want for good times and what they need for the hard times, the same stout waxed canvas and leather was deployed to make working clothes and packs for the people who made their living outdoors and needed affordable kit that would stand up to hard use.

Pathfinder Pack
I chose The Pathfinder, a pack designed by TV bushcrafter and survival dude Dave Canterbury of the Pathfinder School.  I wanted a pack that would cart a fair bit of kit around, but not one big enough for The Littlest Bushwacker to ride in. For reasons that will be obvious to any parent of lazy offspring young children

Although the design is new the pack screams old school:

Tough 15-ounce canvas construction.
Very tough, you can have any of nine colours, but I went for the waxed natural canvass edition which is actually a far nicer colour than in my pictures or as depicted on the website. I’m thinking the pack will be ideal for fishing trips to the pebble beaches of the south of England where although not soaking everything that sits on the ground ends up getting damp.

Riveted premium leather flap straps.
Which seem like they’ll out live the first couple of owners, although the sturdy metal buckles do make a bit of noise while walking. It should be pretty easy to make some quieters.  

Two side pockets with buckling flaps.
The pockets are a little over ‘nalgene’ sized,  take a hammock and tarp.

The left side pocket has a slide pocket behind it to slide a knife behind the pocket.
I like the idea of a handy yet unobtrusive way to carry another knife when out in public places.

The right pocket has a slide pocket to hold an axe, which secures with the leather cinch strap above the pocket.
This is actually a great idea, as nothing says ‘dangerous axe-wielding maniac’ to the public like an axe on the outside of your pack, but where else would you want your axe to be? I would have put the cinch strap at an angle so it holds the head of the axe rather than the shaft, but only dirt-time will tell if I’m right about this.
Zippered pocket on the front of pack and underneath pack flap.
Maps, Licences, and bars of chocolate all need to be kept to hand.

Leather drawstring attached to the left side of the pack, as well as on the bottom with D-rings to hold extra gear.
Leather looks totally fitting for the pack, but isn’t really as good for this role as elastic.

Cotton web shoulder straps that are comfortable from day one.
They’re wide, they’re cotton, they’re comfy. Yep.

Made with the Pathfinder Leather Logo and a Duluth Pack tag sewn on the front pocket.
Will be removed as soon as I get round to it – No Logo – it’s the way I roll. Other kit-tarts will already know it’s a Duluth and like most snobs I just don’t care what the uninitiated think :-)
In the interests of a proper test how’s this? 11 litres (2.9 US gallons) per minute, even if only for two minutes or so, is quite some downpour……

I left it on the wet bathroom floor and went to get dry and changed.It did pretty well at keeping stuff dry

 With only a slight bit of wetness on the paper stored in the outside pocket.

Interestingly the only water to get in came through the seem at the bottom, where the pack had sat on the soaking wet floor. Pretty good. If you like 'Trad' style gear you'll like it.

So that's the unboxing, let the dirt time commence.
More soon
Your Pal


Bill said...

I like the looks of that pack and sometimes it's a good thing to have folks think you're an axe wielding maniac. ;) Nice way of taking the testing to the extreme btw. Definitely something worth looking into.

hodgeman said...

I've been a fan of Duluth for years now...I've got 2 packs and my wife favors their small haversacks as a purse.

Free SWAG! Score!

Perkunas said...

I cant believe this man:) !

ive been drooling over Duluth Packs gear in their website for like 4765 times,and watched a few youtube flicks about this same pack that you have. Its ultra-stylish and something to pass on for your kid,since they are supposed to last like for ever,for what i hear.And ofcourse,not sold in Finland ;(....And im a fraid never will be as these hikers here,are mostly into puke-looking multicolour techno-ultralight stuff.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Cheers it was fun to do as well!
I really think it's worth paying the extra for the waxed cotton as i know from experience the cotton packs do become water logged very quickly and seem to take an age to dry out.I'd would be cool if Duluth offered waxed as an option on the coloured packs too. Orange & waxed would be way cool.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Have you seen the gunslip? very nice.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...


The only downside to the pathfinder pack is it could do with a belt for when you're carrying heavier loads, but for a nights worth of stuff it's perfect. I'm very happy with it.

Al Cambronne said...

A lovely pack, and a rigorous testing protocol.

I happen to live about 40 miles from Duluth. Today, you wouldn't need to worry about your pack getting wet in the rain around here. Only buried in the snow.

Their specialized canoe packs are usually used with a heavy-duty plastic liner. Before closing the pack, you can roll the top of the liner bag. This makes things totally waterproof.

But for normal daily use with a smaller pack like the pathfinder, maybe you can skip all that liner stuff. Seemed to do the job just fine, as long as you didn't stay in the shower too long. And if your pack ever gets dirty, just use a little extra shampoo...

Perkunas said...

Yep ive heard that too,that its good for a weekend in the woods and also that about the only missing thing would be the load bearing belt...which would not ruin the classic looks at all.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

thanks for stopping by, I'll be check in in with your blog as an when time permits, in the meantime welcome to the campfire

Jamie Cameron said...

Way to go to the mat for a review. Looks like a heckuva product.

Albert A Rasch said...

You had to wear the hat...

Best Regards,
Albert “Afghanus” Rasch
Albert Rasch In Afghanistan: She had Beautiful Green Eyes…

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


thanks and glad you liked it, I plan to up the ante on user reviews in '11

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Me and my hat are as one.


Anonymous said...

Hat looks like Rogue Floppy? I tried one on and my wife didn't stop laughing for far, far too long......

I really like this pack so once funds allow, I'll get meself one.good stuff. Regarding the belt, I wonder if someone into leather craft or webbing craft could knock one up that clips onto the D rings? (just a thought)


The Suburban Bushwacker said...


I've been thinking about pimping the pack a little, keep me posted I'd love to see what you do.

Oh and don't let anyone dis the hat, the hat is cool, and that's an end to it. :-p

Anonymous said...

Inside was a tightly rolled piece of paper.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.