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

Unboxing: Hestra's Lars Falt Guide Gloves Review

Inside the package was a pair of the legendary Lars Falt Guide Gloves from Hestra. I've wanted a pair for ages as they are widely used by those who 'do' rather than just rated by the armchair heroes of the internet. Hestra started out making gloves for Swedish lumberjacks and progressed by way of military supply to skiers. Lars Falt (aka Lars Sv√§lt) is an absolute legend himself, having taught survival skills to the scandawegen special forces for the last 40+ years, and several of the current generation of survival teachers (Gary Wale, Ray Mears, ect.) learned their chops around his campfire. As for the gloves themselves; think of a pair of unlined motorcycle/work gloves, with removable woollen liners. During our recent cold snap I've warn them every day and yep they are as promised the warmest toughest gloves I've ever seen.

It's worth a mention that if you (like me) fancy making the trek to his campfire, Gary from Nordmarken Canoe is the organiser for the WIESS course (The Wilderness Experience International Survival School, est. 1963) where Lars Falt still teaches. This one isn't for the faint hearted, it's in two parts, ten students at a time, one in the summer and one in the winter. As a clue to what's expected of you, no kit list is provided. Men in one pile, boys in another.

More soon