Monday, 27 December 2010

Unboxing: Kifaru Long Hunter G2 Review

I’ve needed a new pack in the 70+ litre class for a while now, the last one, a Berghaus,  having lasted well over twenty years, was looking a bit tired and it’s adjusters had succumbed to plastic fatigue and I was being mocked by The Northern Monkey (jealousy init).

In pack design there are two schools of thought; light but flimsy for ultralight hiking and tough-as-old-boots but heavy for hauling. At both extremes there are a couple of manufactures that really have it going on and a host of ‘me too’ outfits some good, some good-ish and loads where you’d have more fun burning the cash and roasting marshmallows over the flames. The fit of your rucksack is so important and no off the shelf pack can fit all people, so adjustability is the difference that makes the difference, but all that adjustability comes at a premium. One that personally I think is worth paying for. After ‘boots and bed’ the pack is the most important thing you’ll buy, for most bushcrafters not as covetousness inducing as another new knife, but a huge influence on your comfort levels and when actually afield a bigger influence on morale than that (now scratched) custom knife.

For the kind of the money the really good ones cost these days, a new pack has to be one that’ll last a long, long time.  I wanted a big-ish pack that would do double duty as a pack frame for manoeuvring heavy loads: be that carrying tanks of butane and water to the hut in the woods, collecting wood, lugging a dead deer across the fields (or even that as yet elusive bow-hunted Elk), or if history were to repeat itself in Italy it would be a lot more use than a stretcher getting someone off the hillside. When buying that last pack as a teenager I'd had a choice between tall and thin or squat and square-er with an extra five litres and if I've learned anything from carrying the same pack all those years it's a pack that's long and narrow not only gets in the way less but it also lets you keep the load closer to your spine making for a much less fatiguing carry.

Which gave me this list of criteria:
Very fit-able
Super long-lasting
Frame and pack separate-able
Tall-Narrow load

Kifaru have an amazing reputation and from what I'd read a credible design philosophy. Handmade in Colorado, Kifaru are the brain child of Patrick Smith (who founded Mountainsmith in the 70's), developing packs made to a standard not a price in very small production runs. My kind of company and the closest thing to a 'bespoke' handmade pack.

Kifaru now do three ranges of pack: lightweight, military and hunting; with the military being the coolest and most expensive, I've never seen lightweight, and hunting being the best value. Be warned, set against a backdrop of cheap Chinese manufacturing, anything handmade will look expensive - with Kifaru that means anything bigger than a day pack and you're at famous-maker custom knife money. I’ve bid on a few second hand Kifaru military packs on ebay but they seem to go for most of (or even more than) the new price.  I had been seriously considered buying just a frame from another maker and cutting the straps off my old pack and lashing it to the new frame. Then the LongHunter came along - I told myself; it was my birthday soon, crimbo too, I could live without food if I really had to, and if it lasted as well as the last pack I’d be nearly seventy by the time it would be due for replacement. The second hand price clinched it.

The last time I bought a big pack, soft packs with semi-frames were the new thing, and while they are lighter, they don’t support the big loads like the framed packs do. The idea is to carry all the weight on your hips, with the shoulder straps just stopping the pack falling over backwards. Kifaru’s aim is to achieve this by darts, and adjustable straps sewn into the pack, shaping it to your spine and directing the weight onto your hips. At 85 litres (5,200 cubic in) the G2 Long Hunter was a bit bigger than I'd been looking for but I've tried travelling with a full pack and it's neither convenient nor comfortable. Briefly transported to a dream world where I find a horde of treasure in the woods or on the beach and am delighted by the extra carrying capacity I pressed 'send' and the new-to-me LongHunter was on it's way.

The LongHunter makes the base of a custom set up you get:
The 5200 c3 pack frame
The sack in 500D Cordura (a lighter grade than the military packs)
The belt with 'power pulls'
The compressible wedged-shaped hood that removes to become a shoulder bag or lumber pouch.

I've also got a couple of extras coming in the post so I'll show you my customisation as and when they arrive.

Stuff that comes with the LongHunter that I didn't get:
Camo/Blaze orange cover - supposed to make the pack quieter
Internal pouch - I would upgrade this to the lined pouch
Gun Bearer - an excellent idea puts the weight of your rifle on your hips not your shoulder
Shoulder strap for the hood/lumber pouch - I'm using one off an old tool bag

In summation:
Very clever design
Handmade in the USA
Lifetime guarantee
Bombproof construction
The cognoscenti’s choice

More to come in part 2
Your pal

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Appy Crimbo Peeps

So another year almost done,the rug rats are tearing round full of suger and me and the Ex have had a row.Just gotta fight our way through a mound of turkey an trimmings and it'll be time for the Xmas Dr Who!

I'd just like to wish you all a very happy Crimbo and thank you for reading and commenting on your humble scribes ramblings. Next year I'll be growing the business and throwing more cash at blogworthy activities, so stay tuned for some hunting stories, many of which will just be the usual record of mishaps, misjudgments and good old incompetence - you never know I may even break the mold and actually end up inviting some of the wildlife to dinner - but on past form I wouldn't hold yer breath. I've been buying and trading for kit over the last few weeks so I'll be doing lots more kit reviews, I've seen a new 'camp' sized knife that I'll be ordering, I'll be catching up with the regular characters that you've already met, some of the regular co-conspirators and I will be returning to Italy  to increase the range of our scouting and maybe, just maybe bow hunt some hawgz and some commenters may even be in danger of a visit.

Thanks again for your input, help and encouragement, the comments and the emails. Through-out the trials and tribulations of this suburban life, it's your  involvement that keeps my dream alive.

All the best
Your pal

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Framed: Old School Pack Design

While we're on the subject of packs, I saw this recreation of the pack frames worn by climbers on the early alpine expeditions in a shop window display. It can't have been too comfortable but it did allow one clever innovation (not included here) where the addition of a drain valve and a fill point (available from any plumbing store) meant that the tubes served double duty as a tank for the liquid fuel of a cooking stove.

More soon

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

For Me!

I had a birthday the other day, and a lovely package arrived. Thanks guys.


'View from my room in India. Big mountain is Kanchen Junga'

Sorry about the dearth of posts the last few days, work is on-top for a crimbo finish.
This morning I received an email from G who is about to go into retreat for six months. Yep that's six months sitting in a room on his own. A very different kind of adventure!

More very soon