Trekking with Dogs Across the Canadian Arctic

Halla recommended Across Canada with Lars Monsen. The serial has been uploaded to YouTube by AdventureEurope in eighteen parts. Although it is a Norwegian production, the uploader took the liberty of hardcoding English subtitles. She found it intriguing because of the dependence on dogs for transportation, the length of the journey and the vast emptiness of the Canadian North.

Lars Monsen is a Sami-Norwegian born in 1963, and spent two years and seven months in the Arctic with a team of eight dogs travelling from Kaktovik to Goose Bay over 8 252 kilometers which ended in 2002. The NRK, or Norwegian Broadcasting Company in English, later pieced together fragments and aired the series in 2005 as six one-hours long episodes. His most recent adventure is living for a full year in Nordkalotten which was made available by the broadcaster via BitTorrent.

Across Canada is an interesting documentary for many reasons. The biggest take-away for me is the harshness of the tundra and the taiga, and how even though bushcraft or woodsmanship was crucial in keeping his consumption to a minimal, they still had to be balanced by making long treks until taking advantage of the last hour and a half of sunlight to set up camp. Even though he tried his best to make use of his resources, both carried and from the land, frequently he had to break due to the harsh spring thaw, or inability to continue while the lake is or river during the autumn freeze; or because he has to interview the locals to obtain knowledge about the landscape and the terrain.

We also see he tried to balance lightweight equipment with long-term durability, and at this point of the film-making, the ultralight cottage industry was just budding. It would not be until 2006 before Ryan Jordan, Roman Dial and Jason Geck would attempt to trek up the Wulk River drainage for 20 days unsupported with lightweight gears; and Andrew Skurka tested the limits of his equipment in 2010 during a 7 368-kilometers long trek which occurred over 176 days and two weeks inbetween resupplies in the wilderness of Alaska and Yukon. It is remarkable Lars managed to traverse the entire Canadian Arctic with dogs, skis, canoe and on foot.

As an owner of a breed extracted from aboriginal landrace of dogs, the documentary is also a stark reminder of how harsh and unforgiving the tundra and the taiga are. Two dogs were lost while pursuing caribou, and probably drowned or eaten by wolves; one died during the night for unknown reason, as the night wasn’t cold enough to kill a dog yet the carcass was frozen; one got frostbitten and fell victim to gangrene; one had to be shot since the dog broken its leg in the pack-ice so severely that it couldn’t be properly set; and another died to the jaw of a fellow pack-member. These kind of testaments are a strong reminder of where Siberian dogs came from, and how strongly natural selection shaped them. The unfortunate events also highlight how trivial discussions are about which trial-, sporting- or hunting-dog is superior when faced with the harsh reality of the wilderness. While we are sipping hot cocoa in front of the television or the computer with our precious dogs kenneled up or taking comfort on the sofa, these kind of dogs fall to such fate every day while living alongside the few remaining trappers and aboriginals who still live off the land. There is a saying in Russian “the taiga gives, and the taiga takes”.

Years of planning went into this expedition, and there were many times things went wrong and having them filmed is valuable to the rest of us. Although the footage do not improve our skills or knowledge, they do tell us how difficult the journey is and how much experience makes the difference between life and death.

By |January 4th, 2015|Editorial|3 Comments|

2015 New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Become more fit

    Being fit does not necessary mean being healthy. There are growing evidences being slightly overweight is actually better for one’s health than to be lean. There are many fit people who burn out early, or die a few years sooner than others. Becoming fit, however, means better performance. There is little point in being a gram-weenie if one cannot cover 50 to 60 kilometers per day with a 25 or 45 pounds pack, or cannot haul an elk-carcass out of the bush over 10 to 15 km.

    It is a bit difficult to determine what fitness means. Some people measure by body measurements with tape and body-fat calipers, but they only offer a glimpse in the picture as sometimes it is beneficial to be a bit more chubby, and sometimes to be extra lean depending on the circumstances. Taking measurement of muscles tell us nothing about strength or endurance. Mountain Athlete of Jackson Hole in Wyoming, who trains outdoors athletes in the southern Rockies, defines fitness as: front squat – 1.5× body-weight; dead lift 2.0× body-weight; and bench-press – 1.5× body-weight. If a pace of 4.3 to 6.2 minutes per kilometer on the trail could be maintained with a steady heart-rate, then one would be a very happy man.

    Many in the backpacking community believes in just loading up the pack Marine-style, contrary to the well-known fact many military veterans suffer from life-long disabilities only after a few years of service due to the all the gears on their personnel. So just strapping on an over-loaded pack and running it in the city is not exactly the best idea.

    But most importantly, people tend to forget to build their aerobic base. They focus too much on interval training which helps them with climbs and descends, but not enough emphasis on endurance. Without building a good base, then one quickly finds himself tired or exhausted. Recently, trail-running became one of life’s pleasures.

    Ideally, the best form of exercise is maximizing the backpacking potentials such as going on backpack-hunts, backcountry-fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, mountain-biking, kayaking, canoeing and packrafting. Ideally, it would be nice to dedicate about 10 to 20 hours a week to these kind of activities. The most important thing on our feet as much as possible as each hour of sitting negate 6 to 8 minutes of training.

    Not all of us can accomplish this with our busy lives. So, some of us combine 45-minutes of strength training a day three times a week with marathon training.

  2. Improve marksmanship

    More important than hunting or packing, is the ability to shoot under all conditions. Far too many hunters just attend the shooting range to calibrate their scope alignment, and not enough practice taking ethical shots. For back-country hunters, it is recommended to head to the hills on public lands and practice shooting 4L milk jugs or water jugs over various distances. The jug is about the same size as an elk heart or a moose heart. Additionally, 1 and 2L pop-bottles can be used to evaluate the rifle’s capacity to take a grouse.

  3. Practice bushcraft

    One of the problem with the term “bushcraft” and “survival” is that it means many different things to different people. So, let us frame the situation.
    In this context, it specifically refers to woodcraft practiced by the early 20th century woodsmen such as E.H. Kreps, Horace Kephart, Nessmuk, Bradford Angier, Townsend Whelen, A. E. Järvinen; and to a lesser extent, Mors Kochanski and Calvin Rutstrum, and Richard Graves. It does not refer to the classic camping endorsed by Steve Watts and Dave Wescott; nor some of the survivalist methods popularized by Ray Mears, Les Stroud, Bear Grylls and Cody Lundin. Mears and Stroud have their place in self-rescue, however there are not very many examples of them of them actually going on expeditions.

    In essence, the bushcraft skills discussed would be used to supplement long-distance trips as observed by outdoorsmen such as Lars Monsen. Steven Rinella, Andrew Skurka, Roman Dial and so on. For some reason, bushcraft and backpacking are seen as mutually exclusive, however they were intertwined since their interception and as we see from the progression of various publication throughout the last century of how authors took advantage of the latest gears if they could afford it. For some reason, in the last decade or two, the two became alienated.

    This does not mean historical reenactments should be disregarded, as they are worthwhile pursuits in looking back into the past. In the real world, there is very little room for romanticism and nostalgia; nor is there anything realistic about the doomsday scenarios.

    Integrating woodcraft skills as part of repository adds to knowledge in-beetween the ears and weighs nothing. They become the crux in which an expedition can either succeed or fail.

  4. More “Make Your Own Gear” projects

    When one becomes more experienced, it becomes obvious not everything could be bought or traded. At some point, one would have to make modifications or sometimes make his own equipment. It is not the most cost-effective way, but it is the least frustrating instead of scourging through stores looking for something specific.

    This year, it would be good to learn how to sew and do a little bit of sheet-fabrication.

  5. Write more trip reports

    One of the problems in blogging is the lack of credentials. This especially applies to hiking, woodsmanship as well as hunting. There are many keyboard warriors who brag about their knowledge or intimacy on the subject, but never actually stepped a foot outside their own homes.

    Unfortunately, these days, with hunting dogs particularly, it is easy to stage photographs and pretend the dog is a mighty hunter. Nowadays, more and more hunting clubs and breed clubs are asking for a piece of paper confirming trial results; or video footage when trials cannot be conducted.

    And the same applies to other hobbies as well. It is easy to write about gears, but not put them to the test. Also, it is easy to write about theory and application, but not demonstrate it. It is easy to demonstrate something, but not actually use those skills in real life. The only way to affirm a person’s credibility is with trip reports detailing the successes and failures. Someone who only focus on the former, and not the latter is not one who has potential to grow and mature.

    While it is not necessary to prove one’s worth, the very nature of being published in print or being well-known within a community verify one’s credibility. Nowadays an anonymous can say anything and taken as the literal truth of God.

  6. Participate in winter-trekking

    Winter-trekking is difficult to define as many different people have different opinions of how it should be addressed. It is the time of the year when many otherwise minimalist backpackers begin preferring mountaineereing bivy or free-standing tents; or go the hot-tenting route with a wood-stove. If one pulls a pulk, then the definition of light, fast travel becomes more ambiguous.

    One of the most important thing is to focus on the sleep system which usually consist of an air-mattress, a closed-cell pad and a sleeping bag or quilt. Many who do winter-camping on a frequent basis has about two sleeping bags: one rated for -17°C and a -32°C. Usually, they also have a -1°C or -7°C quilt or bag for the corner-seasons as well. There is no such thing as a “four-season” set-up.

    Getting a good backpack with large volume without external pockets or mesh is also crucial in winter as the gears are not necessarily heavier, but the clothes and the sleeping bag takes up more space. To make a winter-hike successful, it is a good idea to have a camp parka with a layer or two of insulated pants, a wind-shirt, a hard-shell, a fleece and md- or heavy-weight tights. For protection, some mitten, a pair of sunglasses, balaclava  and ski-goggles are taken. There is not really that much more taken on a winter-packing trip except thicker layers.

    Snowshoeing is a horribly insufficient way of travelling in the winter. The designs make sense as they came from the time period when wide, open fields were few and the woods were thick. Now many of the forests have been clear-cut, and roads are making their way into remote regions, cross-country skiing or Nordic skiing makes more sense. In the open forests, Siberian ski-shoes also makes sense as well. Since the weather-type and conditions vary so much, there are countless of different models and makes out there.

    In general, there are about five different types of snowshoes, and an unknown number of variants of skis. Alexander Zubov, a Russian commercial hunter-trapper, has about 12 different pairs of skis for different type of forest, time of the year, weather, snow condition and terrain. A good light pair of skis such as  Goode Carbon series or Northern Lite snowshoes are certainly popular in the lightweight backpacking community. Skis such as Altai, Karhu and Wilmas are popular with northern hunters in Europe. There are so many variables though it is difficult to be decisive.

    Whether the case, it is best to analyze the weather conditions and the preferred mode of transportation to make any headway.

  7. Listen to the locals

    One of the problem with getting advice from the Internet or retail stores is they don’t always prepare a person for the situation. Salespeople are in the game of feeding into the paranoia of the worst-case scenarios, in which majority of the gears are not used by the locals. Likewise, Internet experts only gets a glimpse of the pictures and recommend tactics which are coutner-productive to a good experience within a particular ecosystem or niche. To make a trip fulfilling, it is best to listen to the locals and take their concerns and suggestions into consideration and combine it with one’s own experience and knowledge.

By |January 1st, 2015|Log|0 Comments|

2014 Post-Season Weight Optimization

While lightweight backpackers are not necessarily seeking to reduce the weight as much as possible once they touched an arbitrary goal, a mountain-hunter is always seeking out advantages since it is cheaper to cut grams from gears than it is from optics and guns.  6-8 kg (13.23 to 17.64 lbs) may not mean much to a hiker, but trying to trim back on a 15-20 kg (33 – 44 lbs) base-weight does matter a quite a bit to a backcountry hunter who is hauling quarters out of the bush. Focusing on the objects which remain in the backpack becomes crucial since compromising the durability of clothes is not an option.

So, once in awhile, it is good to take a look at our options and see how weight can be reduced even more. Sometimes the weight reduction are not always for the better, as noted, while other times there is nothing else to do but replace certain tools.

Once all the big items are reduced, there’s nothing else but to start counting grams. The weights shaved are insignificant on their own, but once tallied up then the accumulative effect becomes known.

There is a saying in the backcountry hunting community: “cheaper to buy gears than to buy guns”. So, let us take a look at the individual items from my gear-list (incomplete) and see what can be done to reduce the weight and compare the cost of the combined equipment to the cost of the firearms. Let’s put the mantra to the test.

ZPacks Flat Tarp

uri_7_9_mIt’s quite difficult to go any lighter than a floorless pyramid tent. To go even further, it would require venturing into the realm of flat tarps and square tarps.

5’x8′ and 7’x9′ are popular amongst solo-hikers. These dimensions have been endorsed by experienced woodsmen such as Horace Kephart as early as 1916. 8’x10′ is the smallest dimension which offers full protection for two people without bivy-sacks.  The only way to go even lighter is to use Polycryo which has durability issues. For the time being, cuben fiber is the lightest durable fabric.

ZPacks offer cuben fibre tarps of weight of .51 oz/yd². There are lighter setups of 0.48 and 0.34 in the Make-Your-Own-Gear sector or by request from the manufacturer. Other competitors such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Mountain Laurel Design tends to offer 0.74 for bombproof durability. The 7’x9′ comes in at 150 g (5.3 oz) and 8.5×10′ comes in at 190 g (6.7 oz). The unorthodox 5’x9′ weighs 125 g (4.4 oz).

The obvious disadvantages to tarping are: the reduced ability to shed wind, and more conductive heat loss without a bivouac sack. With a bivy-sack, it doesn’t make much sense to tarp in the shoulder-season when a pyramid tent weighs less than the combined set up.

In warm weather, tarping is still lighter than bivying with a tarp-tent; and a lighter option during warm bug-free seasons. It doesn’t hurt to have a few sitting in the closet and change out the shelters in accordance to time of the year and predicted weather.

Weight Saving: 140 g (7’x9′)
Cost: $215 USD

petzl-e-lite-headlamp-3Petzl e+Lite

The e+Lite (27 g) is one of the lightest and most widely available head-lamp on the market. The saving is much more significant than the head-lamp as button-cell battery is lighter than AAA.

Its application is limited to summer-time use as the TACTIKKA Plus would have longer battery life and better visibility. The latter is better suited for winter-hiking.

Weight Shaving: 47 g (1.7 oz)
Cost: $29.99 USD

Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact Power Lock

komperdell_c3_compactWhile I could go even lighter with Gossamer Gear LT4 (238 g / 8.4 oz), they do not fold down or becomes more compact. So, Leki and Komperdell are the most viable manufacturers in this niche of collapsible trekking poles. BackpackingLight used to offer excellent poles, but no longer produce them.

The downside of carbon fiber, even though it is lighter and stronger than aluminum, is its vulnerability to lateral stress. To improve on its structure, some manufacturers use spider-like weaves to give more strength. At home, one can wrap the pole in duct-tape to reduce blows. The best way to prolong the lifespan is to build better trekking techniques.

Weight Shaving: 338 g (11.9 oz)
Cost: $139.99 USD

Kestrel Ti Ultrathin Skeleton EDC

SUL_EDC-001Havalon Piranta is the sharpest skinning knife on the market. On the other hand, the scalpel is prone to breaking. At times, it is nicer to have a fixed-blade.

Alternatively, there is the Ultrathin Ultralighter (9.5 g / 0.34 oz). The Skeleton EDC (13 g / 0.46 oz) seems to be more popular with hunters. The knife will seldom require sharping as titanium-carbide coating lasts 300 times longer than steel, and 5 times longer than ceramic. The sheath itself is around 10 g.

Weight Shaving: 100 g (3.5oz)
Cost: $109.99 USD

MSR Mini-Ground Hog

mini_groundThe stakes weighs 10 g (.35 oz) each for a total of 80 g (2.8 oz). The weight-saving comes from shortening the stakes from 9″ to 6″. 9″ has more holding power than 6″, but the type of terrain such as swamps which warrants longer stakes are limited. For most places, shorter ones suffice.

While it is possible go even lighter with a shepherd’s stake at 5.4 g (0.19 oz) each, the utility is limited by geography since skewers perform best in regions with hard grounds. A heavier Y-stake is much more versatile.

Weight shaving: 33 g (1.2 oz)
Cost: $23.93 USD

ZPack Stake Sack

stakes_sWhile it is not necessary to store tent-stakes in a separate bag, it is handy for organization as it is very easy to lose gears in the field. ZPacks produce tent-stake sacks weighing only 2.5 g (0.09 oz) out of 1.43 oz/yd². The weight is so tiny, the scale barely picks it up.

Weight Shaving: 18.5 g (0.65 oz)
Cost: $5.45 USD

ZPack Medium Stuff Sack

grn_mediumplus_lThere are several stuff-sacks from ZPack. There is the Small (3.5 g / 0.13 oz) for 1.7L, Small Plus (4.8 g / 0.17 oz) for 3L, Slim (5.7 g / 0.2 oz) for 4L, Medium (7g / 0.25 oz) for 5.6L, Medium Plus (8.5 g / 0.3 oz) for 8.5L and Large (11 g / 0.4 oz) for 12.3L of space.

Of course, there are a number of other competitors such as Mountain Laurel Designs and Hyperlite Mountain Design. Some of them are lighter, and some are more durable. This particular one is chosen at random from different brands to see how much can be saved.

Weight Shaving: 59.5 g (2.1 oz)  (Medium Plus)
Cost: $16.95 USD

Mountain Laurel Design Pro Bear Bag System

bearbagcuebn1A bear-bag is pretty much the essential must-have in any backpacking community except in Europe. While there are lighter ones like Ursalite bear bag system (56 g without odor-proof liner), the one chosen for this discussion will be slightly heavier for durability.

While bear-proof bags such as Ursack exist, the chances of rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks and mice chewing through the bag is much higher than a bear tearing through a bag.

There are several options available for rodent-proof bags such as FoodSack, Outsask, GrubPack and Ratsack. Man7 users of cuben-fiber bear-bags reported their system are just as efficient of warding off rodents; albeit with slight damages.

Mountain Laurel Design offer one for 76 g (2.7 oz) and ZPack offers another one for 85 g (3.0 oz).

Some argues bear-bagging is not necessary nor effective. Instead, what is being advocated is campaing away from high-traffic areas, using an odor-proof super-duty sealing bag such as LokSak OPSak or LiteTrail NyloPro, sleeping with it or caching it in a hard-to-reach area.

Weight Shaving: 75 g (2.64 oz)
Cost: $55.00 USD

ZPack Cooking Pot Sack

cuben_evernew_lThe choices in after-market stuff-sacks for pots are limited since there are a large variety of pots out there. It is probably easier to make one at home from scratch. For comparison stake, there is one available for Evernew 0.9L which weighs 3.4 g (.12 oz).

Most of the cottage-industry manufacturers online probably will be able to do a custom-made stuff-sack for a service fee of 5-20% extra.

Weight Shaving: 15 g (0.53 oz)
Cost: $10.95 USD

Fire Maple FMS-118

fire-maple-fms-118-gazovaja-gorelka_enlTechnically, the 3-season stove is optimized with a Fancy Feast cat-food can stove, but some data shows otherwise. There is a bit of debate about the weight of fuel versus consumption. Certainly, there are lighter alternatives to the cat-stove for long-distance backpacking once the consumable weights are calculated. Allcohol was ultimately picked for its availability almost everywhere in the world.

For winter-camping down to -20°C, it was recommended to purchase a Kovea Spider (172 g / 6.1 oz). A Chinese company by the name of Fire Maple produces a model called the FMS-118 which is only 146 g (5.2 oz). The downside is the company tends to use more plastic components in their production compared to their competitors, so the performance at low temperature might be affected. The principle is the same, so the performance should be similar.

There’s some uncertainty about the stability of the pot-stand some prefer to go with the Kovea Spider.

Going even lighter would require access to a fabrication shop or paying someone handsomely to fashion one.

Weight shaving: 26 g (0.9 oz)
Cost: $49.99 USD

Mountain Laurel Design 475mL Titanium Mug with Ruta Locura Carbon Fiber Lid

475mlThe default is a 900mL pot which is enough for cooking with in the summer. To reduce weight we can trim it down to 700mL for basic cooking, and down to 500mL if one is only planning on boiling water.

FireLite used to offer the original titanium 475mL mug (47 g) which is an imitation of the trapper’s or cowboy’s mug which were once made of aluminum. Mountain Laureal Design still offer their own version (39 g / 1.3 oz).  Such small volume is sufficient for rehydrating meals.

clids-250x132The lid (6 g / 0.2 oz) will have to be ordered in separately from Ruta Locura which brings the weight of the cooking set to 45 g. While the Foster Can mug is lighter at 20 g with the lid, which can be made at home or ordered from Zelph for $17 USD, the choice of titanium is made because it does not retain heat as long as aluminum.

The downside is taller pots are not as fuel efficient as wider pots. So, the total weight saved on a gear list does not necessary translate to long-term weight-saving once fuel efficiency is calculated. Some of the 500-600 mL wide-bottomed pots come to about 60 to 70 g, which is still 19 to 29 g less than a 900mL pot both without handles. However, taller pots pack more easily.

Weight Shaving: 44 g (1.5 oz)
Cost:
$27.00 USD + $18.00 USD

Gossamer Gear Nightlight

torso-bigTherm-A-Rest are more widely used due to their availability. They are easy to find and easy to replace. The most compact they have is the Z-Lite which once cut down to torso-length weighs 170 g (6 oz). Gossamer Gear sells a similar pad called the Nightlight which is more durable, but not as rigid or stiff. The manufacturer cannot guarantee exact weight, so the specs outline 129  to 139 g (4.55 – 4.90 oz). Once cut down to length, it weighs only about 95 g (3.4 oz).

The  egg-crate pads are not as warm as the RidgeRest. So, that is one thing to consider. The nice thing about them is they fold up more easily and can be used as a rigid frame instead of the burrito-style.

Weight Shaving: 82 g (2.9 oz)
Cost: $24.00

These are not necessary representative of the changes which will be made to the gear-list. Instead it is more about listing possible options to make changes. Not all of these are practical, but a matter of number-crunching.

It is still important to sit down and make these lists so we can think about whether  or not these gears will improve the quality of the hike or the quality of the hunt.

As we can see, spending $726.24 USD is much to trim off 978 g (34.5 oz) is much more affordable than dropping $1 799 USD on a 2.35 kg (5.2 lbs) Benelli Ultralight semi-automatic shotgun in exchange for 2.54 kg (5.6 lbs) 20-gauge Baikal MP18 “Junior” single-shot shotgun; or $2 040 USD for 2.18kg (4.6 lbs) Kimber 84M Mountain Ascent in exchange for a 3 kg (6.8 lbs) Sako L579 Forester.

The downside is some of these gears have limitations, and must be used within those limitations. It is really up to the user if they would spend less  by choosing gears and take greater care with their equipment, or spend three to four times more on a rifle as a long-term solution for all weather and all terrain.

By |December 1st, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|

Hunting Lessons Learned

After an outing, it is always good to self-reflect. Sometimes the reason why our hunts end in failure is due to having the odds shacked against us. Sometimes the unsuccessful hunts are our own fault. Acknowledging the short-comings strengthen our resolve and allows us to become wiser to pass on knowledge to others.

This year, there doesn’t seem to be as many birds as last year. The number of visible evidences of  elk and moose seem to be more present. Instead of blaming the elements or predators, let us take a look at what fell short this year.

1. Expand the arsenal

Hunting laws have become more complicated over the decades. This is largely due to the changes in zoning, urbanization and wiser wildlife management practices.

As the result, there are archery-only seasons as well as designated areas where only short-range armaments such as primitive weapons, bows, muzzle-loaders and shotguns are allowed. Naturally, hunters must adapt to the changing circumstances to maximize their participation in the ecosystem.

Nowadays this means owning at least a shotgun, a rifle and a bow. It would be more apt to prescribe a sling-shot or a Shepherd’s sling; a waterfowling piece; a bow; an upland shotgun or slug-gun; and a rifle. In some jurisdictions, it may be necessary to own both an upland gun and a slug-gun as well as a center-fire and a rim-fire.  These days, one is looking at owning 3 to 8 different projectiles. Anything more is pursuing specialization.

This year, I have encountered more wildlife in “no firearms” zones than I have encountered out in the backwoods. Last year, it was the opposite. If there was more than just a rifle and a shotgun in the line-up, then the transition in changing the style of the hunt would be smoother.

2. Hike smarter

Ross Gillmore hits it squarely on the head when he defined the concept of the modern woodsmen. What he described is basically the lifestyle led by people in the mountain states where they would go lightweight backpacking one week, then camping out in a canvas tent the next week; or go alpine skiing one day, then elk-hunting the next weekend. It’s not very commonly observed in the East, but it is a part of every-day life in the West.

The modern woodsman borrows elements from bushcraft, woodcraft, mountaineering, rock-climbing, lightweight backpacking, long-distance hiking, canoeing, kayaking and packrafting as one integral package to push the limits and venture in rarely-explored territories. Many people would recognize the movement as “lightweight backpacking” or “ultralight backpackinig”, but those terms should be more accurately described as “smarter backpacking”. Ultimately, the modern woodsman is the byproduct of its environment and its best nurtured in the West where wilderness is boundless and population density is low.

These kind of conditions drive innovations. As the result, there are excellent forums such as BackpackingLight as well as books such as Ultralight Backpacking Tips (2011), Trail Life (1998), The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide (2012) and Smarter Backpacking (2012). Most of these texts are really just updated versions of Camping and Woodcraft (1916), Woodcraft (1919), On Your Own in the Wilderness (1958) and the Complete Walker (1968, 1974, 1984, 2002) serial. Other books such as Lighten Up! (2005), Lightweight Backpacking and Camping (2005) and Lightweight Backpacking 101 (2001) are supplementary as they are showing their age. For folks with reading disabilities, there are video series such as The Clever Hiker and Backcountry College which cover the same principles.

This means upgrading gears and becoming more knowledgeable in wilderness skills, survival and first-aid. By hiking smarter, we can push our boundaries and venture into places no one else has been.

3. Take advice from others who face similar challenges

Last year, I learned how to hunt over a dog from Finnish and Norwegian hunters. It was the first time I owned a treeing dog, and needed some mentorship. Tthe biggest mistake was taking advice on what kind of gears to pack.

To understand why, first an explanation of the conditions required. Many of the mentors and authors who touched upon the subject seldom venture far from their vehicles. Most of them view the forests as their own backyards or playgrounds. For them, the routine is wake up before the sunrise and head out for a few hours and come home. On occasions, they might camp for a night or two.

Even in the remote areas of Lapland, roads are never too far. Consequently, the focus is based on comforts of overnighters rather than planning for extended stays. If help is required, a sauna is never too far away.

The type of hunts I am involved in are often an hour or several hours away from the nearest big town. One Scandinavian hunter called the region I am in “end of the road” and drew analogy with Siberia. Frequently, I had to turn to backcountry hunting communities such as Fishnhunt, Rokslide, Long Range Hunting and Alaskan Outdoors Directory to fine-tune my method and set-up. Some of the product-specific forums such as KUIU, Kifaru and Seek Outside were very helpful, but they had an inherit bias of endorsement.

The challenges Scandinavians and East Europeans face are the same challenges as the hunters of Eastern United States and southern Canada face. Similarly, Australia’s hunting style has a lot in common with southern United States’. So, it shouldn’t be surprising the solutions are remarkably similar. Logically, given the limitations of the infrastructure of the North, the solutions put forward by western sportsmen and New Zealanders also applies. Of course, one can always look to Siberia, but Russian is a difficult language to learn.

Similarly, the advice and lessons learned on this blog is useless for someone who live in a region with cultivated forests and labyrinths of access-roads. So, we must take into careful consideration of who to listen to.

I have learned it is a better use of my time to go out in the evening the day before, stay overnight and take advantage of the mornings. When the woods become silent during mid-day, this is the opportunity to scout for better hunting grounds and begin hunting once again in the evening before setting up camp and tucking for the following day. Repeat the routine for several days.

Earlier this year, I paid for a membership to be involved with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization to receive the bimonthly magazines for more advice. There are other organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation who have similar agendas. Western Hunter and Elk Hunter are two privately-owned periodicals which cater to the style of hunt as well. TV shows such as Rinella’s MeatEater are great ways of picking up hints.

4. Block out time for extended outings

The less time one has something dedicated to a particular ambition, the more likely Murphy’s Law applies.  If one is only going out on weekends or single-days hunt, then the chances for bad weather ruining the whole trip increases. This is largely because with more dedicated time, it is easier to ride out the bad days and catch up during the hours with favourable conditions.

Most of us have adult responsibilities to attend to such as advancing our careers, paying off mortgages and bills, maintaining relationships and raising children. If they are not taken care of at home, then the time-blocks for hunting are smaller. If the blocks are shorter or fragmented, the possibility for cancellation increases.

My biggest problem this year is it was filled with single-day outings. On the days I had time to go out, it rained; and on the days where time wasn’t available, it was sunny. Call it crummy luck; but in hindsight, the dedication would be much smoother if I planned on one- to two-weeks excursions.

Also, because the headlights weren’t fixed in time, the advantage of hunting grouses 3 hours after sunrise and 3 hours before sunset was lost since legally by law, one cannot leave the drive-way until a certain brightness in the skies and must head back to town before it’s too dark to drive. In addition to that, there were maintenance to be done such as erecting a shed, redoing the floors and helping relatives move into new places. All of this should had been arranged and taken care of before hunting season began.

5. Winter is coming

While autumn was characterized by washed-out roads which requires at least two-days outings to 2-weeks expeditions to make the most of the bad weather, winter this year was abnormal.

It went from +1 to -23 degrees centigrade overnight without a warning. For the following week, the weather dropped down to -31 and persisted.  None of my winter gears were equipped to handle such drastic overnight change and persistency.

This year, a canister stove was purchased in preparation for winter-camping, but such equipment is useless below -25. A white-gas such as Whisperlite or XGK would be more optimal for these kind of conditions. The downside is they tend to be roarers and more hazardeous to use.

Because of the sudden onset, most of winter clothes are inadequate. Staying warm during the day is not an issue, but it is during rest or stops, one freezes up. A baffled parka and down-filled pants would be useful for camp-duties.

However, it should had been anticipated last year since there was one incident where a day-hunt almost turned into an overnight stay in middle of winter and it would had been useful to have those clothes on hands. It is rather foolish to not order those gears in the spring several month before hunting season began again.

And while the Jarvenbag Extreme is for cold-weather applications, at times, it is a bit too warm and takes up too much space in the pack. An intermediate -17 sleeping bag would be better-suited. At this point, it is not certain if a Wesatern Mountaineering Kodiak or an Enlightened Equipment Revelation with a down-filled hoodie would be ideal.

To accommodate the loft of the sleeping bag, the parka and pants, it would be wise to upgrade to a larger backpack in the range of 50 to 70L. A heavier pack is not required, just more volume.

All of these are just techs. Many woodsmen survived the nights just by learning a few tricks. In this region, learning how to build a gap-fire or rakovalkea could make the difference between a comfortable night or death without the need for shelter or a sleeping bag. Luckily, I live in one of the few places left in North America where building a fire on public land is still allowed.

It still would be ideal to take up the cold-tenting methods due to the Leave No Trace principle. To accomplish this, it does require lavish purchasing.

By |November 30th, 2014|Editorial|1 Comment|

Lightening Up: First Aid, Repair and Toiletry

The first aid and toiletry kit is the easiest one to simplify. It doesn’t cost a lot. So let us take a look at what is done here.

The old list is not very specific. The reason for this is because most of it was grab’n’go and shoved into the pack.

First Aid and Toiletries
First Aid Moleskin, meds, needle, glue, bandaids 203
Disposal Trowel, toilet paper 50
Protection Sunscreen, anti-bister stick 116
Hygiene Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste 109
 Total
478 g
0.478 kg
wpid-c360_2014-11-17-13-15-40-733.jpg

What was accepted as normal.

The first aid kit is actually one acquired from a job fair for people who are working out in the boonies in the oil-fields. Also, the medications are not very specific here as well since it was just a lineup of Benadryl and Costco ibuprofen. Similarly, the sunscreen, anti-blister and hygenics received the same careless thoughts. Also, the trowel was just a generic orange one from Coghlan’s.

The reason why the first-aid wasn’t even more complicated is because it would be unwise to take items which I don’t know how to use or are not very practical in the wilderness. Many of the must-haves on some of the lists are better off being left to field medics or doctors. Tinkering around with with some of the more advanced medical devices can cause irreversible damage.

The other component to wilderness first-aid is to acknowledge which are suitable for substitution. For instance, a splint can be made out of one of the gears and some clothes. With a few modifications, the trekking poles could be transformed into crutches. There are more information on the subject with a simple Google search or simply by purchasing one of the publications which endorse smarter backpacking.

To be honest, this is more of a lesson of learning how to repackage the first-aid and toiletry rather than substituting or purchasing replacements. To see how others simplified their pack, Mike Clelland has two excellent videos on personal care and first aid. For repacking, one can use Zip-Loc bags and purchase containers from laboratory equipment suppliers. If ordering online is problematic, the local pharmacy might be able to order them, or the local university may have them in stock.

So let us see what has changed:

First aid, repair and toiletry
Eyecare Lens cleaner, wipe
Toothbrush Oral B toothbrush (halved) 6
Soap EarthSafe biodegradable hand and body soap (repackaged – 15mL) 14
Sanitizer Purell alcohol-based (repackaged – 15mL) 16
Toothpaste home-made toothpaste dots in baking soda 8
Lip Balm Blistex Ultra Protection 10
Floss Johnson and Johnson dental floss 8
Medications Ibuprofen, acetamiophen, antihistamine, aspirin 25
Wound care Adhesive bandages, stri-strips, exmaination gloves, gauze 5cm x 3.7m, gauze pads 10.1 x 10.1cm (x2) 37
Foot care Generic athletic tape, leukotape, moleskin, Lanacome, Burt’s Bee 60
Repair Nylon rip-stop tape, superglue, silicone glue, duct tape, needle/thread 56
Multitools Victorinox Swiss Army Classic penknife  23
 Total
263 g
0.263 kg
wpid-c360_2014-11-15-12-21-53-807.jpg

Neatly packed up.

The only thing which can really be added to the list are prescriptions or must-haves such as Epi-Pen, insulin, contraceptives or seizure medications. These are very specific and most people do not need to carry them and only people with health complications should carry them.

Also, during hunting season, it might be wise to carry a clotting agent for accidental bullet wounds. It should be in a form of a gauze and not as a powder since the latter is quite controversial in its use. Likewise, 3mL to 6mL of DEET should be good enough for mosquito-season.

wpid-c360_2014-11-15-12-25-48-716.jpg

The toiletry essentials.

As we can see, there are also other items added to the list. Proper footcare is a must to have healthy feet. The last thing anyone wants is to be evacuated for having trench-foot. Also, we see that there is much more careful consideration which first aid items are essential to carry. Additionally, there is much more thought put into how much toothpaste, soap and other hygienic items to take rather than just throwing everything into the pack.

With a bit more experience of how to use tent-stakes or other means of digging a cat-hole, it is not necessary to pack a trowel. In some cases, it might still be wise to carry toilet-paper if natural alternatives are not available.

wpid-c360_2014-11-15-12-22-26-316.jpg

Repair kit.

Of course, not everyone wears glasses, so the weight might actually be closer to 240 g. Also, as we can see, adding the repair kit and multitools actually added more to weight to the list. So, compared to the original, the first aid and toiletry is actually closer to 184 g.

The reason why the multitools is added to the kit is because of the realization there is no need to carry a dedicated knife (listed elsewhere) except for hunting purposes. Making this decision allow me to leave the heavier knife behind and remove it from the list. If precision is required, then a razor blade (2 g) can be added or replace the penknife.

So, let’s make some observation: Hydropel used to be the staple of the backpacking community. The product is no longer being made. As the result, the community left to scramble for other solutions. Some have gone back to using petroleum jelly (eg. Vaseline), while others resorted to beeswax, climber’s salves and foot powders. The choices are not so much recommended, but based on what was available locally.

Similarly, Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile is very common in the States as either hand-soap or as tooth-paste, but not as readily available in Canada. Luckily, Mountain Sky is easier to find. The issue is trying to find an eco-friendly scent which bears are not attracted to.

wpid-c360_2014-11-15-12-24-27-999.jpg

First aid kit.

The list should be good for about two weeks or so. If I need more, a care package could be sent to a resupply point at a post office which could be sent a few weeks before arrival ready for pick-up. In a pinch, these items can easily be repackaged at the local pharmacy and the excess can be given to other backpackers, the elderly, the working poor or even the homeless who need them more.

Nevertheless, we see a weight reduction of 61% if we compare the two lists directly with each others, which exclude eye-care, repair kit and multitools.  With everything else, it’s a weight saving of 55%. While the shaving is not significant, grams add up to ounces, ounces adds up to pounds and pounds add up to kilograms. It’s the accumulative weight of the whole pack which makes the difference and saving off a few grams here and here can translate to something much larger.

Also, by trimming weight, naturally, there is space-reduction. Less space, the smaller pack is required and smaller backpack means less weight. Since the previous post, we see a weight reduction from 16.52 kg to 16.3 kg or 36.41 lbs to 35.95 lbs. It may not seems like much now, but as the weight dwindles, the significance of that hundred grams or two will pay off.

By |November 17th, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|

Modern Horace’s Backcountry Hunting

Horace_Kephart_cooking

Public domain.

In the “Modern Horace Kephart”, we updated a wise woodsman’s summer list from 1916 and modernized it in context of 2014. What we have found is he was not too dissimilar to the so-called “super ultralight” and “ultralight backpackers” of today.

How would he compare to today’s backcountry hunters? He did publish a hunting list on page 145 of Volume II in Camping and Woodcraft. A republished edition of his book can be found from the Internet Archive.

This list is essentially the same as the summer-list, except bulked up to accommodate the shoulder-seasons in the Smokies. Here, he took advantage of hunting season and instead of going one or two days trips, he planned a week excursion in November. As the result, we see a few equipment and additions which are not normally included on short trips. Here, we see more of an effort to be self-reliant.

As usual, the pack weight did not include the items he is already carrying on his person including knives, maps and a compass. Nor it included the weight of the rifle and its ammunition. Also, we assume that he would still be romping around in his old playground.

Like with the previous discussion on the topic, the measurement will be the same as the source material: U.S. imperial.

1916 Weight (oz) 2014 Weight (oz)
Clothes
Rainwear Rubber cape 21 Rainjacket 8
Insulation Mackinaw stag shirt 24 Down-filled parka 8
Spare clothes Spare underwear, one suit 24
Socks Spare socks, 2 pairs 5
Insulating socks German socks 12 Knee-length wool socks 6
Footwear Moccasin 16 Trapper’s moccasin 7
Packing
Backpack Pack sack, with tump strap 44 Hunting backpack 45
Shelter and sleeping
Shelter Tent 64 Royce tent (20.5 yd of 36″ wide cuben, 75′ of 0.5″ tape, 23′ of 0.75″ tape, 40′ of 1/8″ cord), MSR Mini-Groundhog (8x) 22.08
Guyline Twine 2 GLOwire 50′ 2
Sleeping bag Sleeping bag 128 Western Mountaineering Alpinlite 31
Pillow Pillow bag 3 Exped Air Pillow UL, 11.8×18.1×4.7 in 2
Kitechenware
Cooking set Cooking set, dish towel, tin cup 34 Aluminum 8-9″ frying pan, lexan fork, lexan spoon, Fozzils folding bowl, Platypus SoftBottle, Mountain Laurel Design Titanium Mug 475mL 12.45
Filter Cheese cloth 2 Cheese cloth 2
Repair
Repair kit Wallet, fitted 6 Repair kit and fishing kit 3.5
Personal care
Footcare Talcum powder 2 Footcare products 1
Hygeine Toilet articles 6 Toothbrush, repackaged soap 0.8
Toiletry Toilet paper 1 Repackaged toilet paper 0.3
Emergency First aid kit 5 First aid kit 3
Tools
Axe Axe and muzzle 28 Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe 31.75
Woodworking Mill file, 6 in 2 Mill file, 6 in 2
Pliers Pliers 4 Leatherman Squirt 2
Whetstone Whetstone 2 Diamond sharpening stone 2
Firestarting Spare matches in tin 6 Spare matches in plastic bag 0.5
Light Alpina folding latern 8 Fenix LD02 0.6
Light Candles, 1/2 dozen 8 Batteries (x6)  1.6
Sanity
Emergency ration 8
Tobacco in waterproof bag 8
Spare pipe 3
Total
476 194.58
29 lbs 12 oz 12 lbs 3 oz

The book lists the total weight as 28 12 oz, but if one does the tally, the total is closer to 29 lbs 12 oz. This is best explained as the weight without provisions since removing the emergency ration and tobacco would square it at the listed total weight. To level the playing field, let us remove the rations, tobacco and pipe which combined are 19 oz, so the kit is equalized to 457 oz or 28 lbs 9 oz.

Since he utilized the same stag-shirt as summer, we can assume it had the same insulating property, thus we can transfer the same parka from the summer-wear.

We see the inclusion of moccasins at this point, presumably to stalk deer. This is not too dissimilar to professional guides who use trail-runners, or Siberians using dog-skin shoes to sneak up on moose. There was an episode on Field Sports Britain about a German boar-hunter who used only socks to stalk. There are specific points of ensuring the deer-skin is large enough to accommodate a thick woolen sock. What is particular is he did not include the moccasins as part of the carried weight since Siberians wrote about wearing their slippers made of hide on their waist belt.

The weight difference between his clothes and the clothes used by backpackers today is negligible. Most backpackers don’t carry a change of clothes and only pack insulating clothes. If one is being a purist, they can add 29 oz to the pack which would bring it up to 14 lbs.

A large Duluth was recommended or preferably a Whelen. The Whelen was large enough to carry a small deer. The dressed weight of a 100 lbs deer is about 60 lbs yielding about 35 lbs of meat. So, we can assume the carrying load of a backpack should be minimum 60 lbs. Unfortunately, he dd not specify the volume of his pack. He did list the different Duluth packs available, and the 44 oz is 2 ¾ lbs, which makes it the No. 3 with the dimension of 28″ by 30″; giving it a volume of 5 040 cu/in.

It is interesting to note he recommended using a tumpline which transfer the weight from the shoulders and hip to the top of the head which then place it directly on the spine. They are seldom use in the backcountry hunting community today, but still widely used in canoeing for portages. The chances of injuries is very high if the weight is transferred to the forehead. Nowadays with waist-belts, tumplines are seldom utilized except amongst traditionalists.

Now that being said, he probably would appreciate a backpack from KUIU, Paradox, Stone Glacier or Kifaru. For instance, the Stone Glacier Minimalist is only 45 oz and has a carrying capacity of 130 lbs or more. The Paradox Unaweep is also 45 oz with option of either  3 900 cu/in or 4800 cu/in.  Since white-tailed deer is the largest game-animal in his neck of the woods, we can assume a 5 000 to 7 500 cu/in elk-hunting pack  an over-kill. Many today who reap the benefit of lighter and smaller gears considers 3 000 to 4 000 cu/in acceptable for a boned-out deer.

Additionally, Kephart was partial to using cheese-cloth as game-bag and the tradition still continues today as there are no other lighter alternatives.

Here, the woolen blanket was replaced with an even heaver sleeping bag. Primitive as it was, a proper cocoon prevents droughts enabling a person to carry less wool. At the time, Another change in the sleeping arrangement was the absence of a browse-bag. Due to the increased weight of the pack, he suggested using boughs as bedding.

Instead of a sleeping quilt, a full mummy bag is substituted to keep in line with the recommendations of the book. At this time of the year, a 20°F bag is required. With some layering, one can go even colder. Even the bulkiness of a sleeping bag, we can see the effect of being able to invest in high-quality down and nylon.

1330707669_58669

Page 87 in Vol. 1 of Camping and Woodcraft.

According to Kephart, the tent should be a modified pyramid of Royce pattern, but with smaller footprint to stay under 4 lbs. A tarp was said to be too breezy, and one needed to be protected from the elements. To him, it was utmost importance to stand up in and change clothes. The original dimension was 7.5′ by 13′ and 7′ 9″ tall, but he proposed.making it into a half-pyramid with a dimension of 7 ½ x ½ and 7 ¾ feet. He maintained anything smaller would not allow a person to move around freely within the shelter. In his time, these kind of shelters were made of Lonsdale cambric.

Since it is suggested making one’s own and kind enough to include construction plans and a list of materials, we can then assume the same making one of cuben fibre or 30-denier silnylon. The weight-saving is immerse from switching to one of the newer materials.

But is Kephart’s gear-list legal? In many remote areas, yes. Some of them only have fire-bans during the summer. For those who don’t have the permission to cut down wood or start a fire, then at this point poles, mattress and a stove should be added.

For instance, if a pole cannot be fashioned out of its surrounding, then a 15 oz carbon fibre will have to substitute. Depending on the stove, it can be a simple alcohol cat-stove of 3 oz with a 1 oz fuel bottle and 3 to 4 oz of fuel for a week; or remote canister stove of 5 to 6 oz with 8 oz of fuel and container depending on the weather. In addition, a mattress may need to be added in which it can vary anywhere from 6 to 15 oz depending on the person’s ability to tolerate the cold to the temperature of the time of the year. All of these solutions potentially add 7 oz to 2 lbs 12 oz to a person’s pack.  However, with the axe absent from the kit, we would only see anywhere from a weight saving of 2 oz to a net increase of 13 oz depending on our choices. If we adjust the weight of pack, it can be anywhere from 12 lbs 1 oz to 13 lbs; or 13 lbs 14 oz to 14 lbs 13 oz with attires.

Since dehydrated meals did not exist in Kephart’s time, it is probably safe to discard the frying pan and other unnecessary items if he is willing to eat out of the pot, then a whooping 7 oz can be shaven off which can reduce the weight anywhere from 11 lbs 10 oz at the minimum or 14 lbs 6 oz at its heaviest.

So how much would Kephart’s pack weigh during hunting season? Depending on the arrangements, it can vary from 11 lbs 10 oz to 14 lbs 13 oz. As we can see, modern materials have a potential of cutting Kephart’s pack-weight by half or more.

Perhaps the greatest irony is Townsend Whelen often bagged on the woodcraft practitioners before him in On Your Own in the Wilderness about carrying too heavy packs– advocating for 15 lbs rucksacks for hunting. As we can see, with these updates, Kephart’s gears fall way below Whelen”s threshold.

Both of them have very different goals in mind. Kephart was more interested in familiarizing himself with his woods; whereas the colonel was a career soldier running around Canada, the Rockies and the Adirondacks pursuing large game-animals in which he shot 110 heads to his name over a span of 66 years. So, when we look at their gear lists in those context, it is naturally understandable why the two of them have different recommendations.

These days, the modern backcountry hunter’s gear-list is a behemoth compared to Horace’s. Horace did not have the benefit of a spotting scope or a range-finder. GPS and communicative devices were not an option available during his era. Also, the average hunter values comfortable sleeping, fast boiling time, quick cooking and warmth of a hot-stove to boost morale. All of these the old-timers did not have and made do with what they were given.

But to be fair, there were numerous references of Sears and Kephart cutting down whole trees just to fashion furniture for a night of comfort. If everyone followed the conventional wisdom of the late 19th or early 20th century, there would be no forests left. At least modern hunters practice the Leave No Trace principle.

By |November 11th, 2014|Editorial|2 Comments|

The Modern Horace Kephart

Public Domain.

Public Domain.

Horace Kephart (1862 – 1931) was most famous for writing The Southern Highlanders . He later assisted in laying down the route for the Appalachian Trail and the creation of Smoky Mountains National Park. Today, he is revered in the bushcraft community for being one of the earliest writers on the subject. It is through the Camping and Woodcraft, first published in 1906 and revised again in 1916, we gain an insight in what was the norm; and which would later became the foundation of ultralight backpacking, A republished edition of his book can be found from the Internet Archive.

What is significant about his writings is the comprehensiveness and insight of almost everything of the time. He even took great care to record every detail. Although writers like Nessmuk and Townsend Whelen were also crucial to wilderness literature, they did not always list every gears they had. Due to Horace’s meticulous nature, we are able to compare what life was in 1916 to today.

Throughout the books, there are signs of changing time. Kephart was particularly fascinated by the miniature stove and fuel. Also, pioneers of lightweight camping was given a nod such as John Macgregor in 1865 who built the first modern canoe and accomplished thousands of miles. There are examples of Europeans who had 7-pounds wilderness kits and referred to them as being featherweight. In the examples of English kits, we see the rise of aluminum, silk and eider-down. He was, sadly, still stuck in the yesteryear of his processors such as George Washington Sears and E.H. Kerps.  He insisted the New World still required more rugged tools and methods. Ironically, the alcohol and kerosene stoves discussed will also become the standard in American backpacking a decade later.

Some things don’t change much. For instance, he recommended Ivory or Castile soap, which are still the standard of today’s backpacking. He also taught basic skills such as foot-care procedures which are still widely used today such as keeping the nails cut short and using talcum powder or Vaseline (or tallow) to prevents blisters and chafing. At one point, he  claimed the benefit of walking in moccasins instead of boots to “glide”. Also, we see the wisdom of caching or storing food along the path echoing throughout the ages.

On page 105 of Volume II to Camping and Woodcraft, he provided a gear-list. Unfortunately, he did not list the weight of the items on his person such as the clothes and navigational items or knives which he kept in his pockets or on his belt. What was worn these day were woolen undershirt, underwear, socks, chambray or flannel over-shirt, silk neckerchief, khaki trousers, leather belt, suspenders, military shoes, canvas leggings and a felt halt. These items are not normally included in the base-pack of many hikers as well; but rather as “carried weight” or “worn weight”.

There is no reason to believe he would not take advantages of these technology as the early writers spent a fortunate on importing the finest materials from France or Egypt. At the time of his writing, he carried 18 lbs 3 oz on his back. By today’s standard, he was a lightweight backpacker. But what would he be if we updated his gears?

Since the primary source was written in U.S. imperial, let’s keep the measurement in imperial. Sorry, metric users. For the purpose of this thought-experiment, we will keep it within the realm of his stomping ground of the Carolinas and Tennessee.

This was recommended in the summer:

Item 1916 Weight (oz) 2014 Weight (oz)
Clothes
Rainwear Rubber cape 34″ 21 Rain jacket 8
Insulation Stag shirt 24 Down-filled parka 8
Spare clothes 18
Packing
Backpack Deluth pack sack 24″x26″ 36 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack 12.7
Shelter and sleeping
Shelter Water-proof shelter cloth 7’x9′ 36 ZPacks cuben fiber 7’x9′ 5.3
Guyline Strong twine in bag 1 1.2mm Spectra 50′ 0.6
Anchors Nails and tacks 3 MSR Mini-Groundhog (x8) 2.8
Quilt Blanket 66″x84″ 48 Enlightened Equipment Revelation Elite 30°F 15.7
Bug Protection Mosquito net 68″x72″ 4 .7 oz/sqyd mosquito net 63″x72″ 1.4
Mattress Browse bag 32″x78″ 16 Klymit Inertia X-Lite 6.1
Pillow Pillow bag 20″x30″ 3 Exped Air Pillow UL, 11.8×18.1×4.7 in 2
Kitechenware
Cooking set Aluminum frying pan 8 3/8″, plate, forks, dessert spoon, dish towel, in bag 17 Aluminum 8-9″ frying pan, lexan fork, lexan spoon, Fozzils folding bowl 8.75
Hydration 2 aluminum buckets 1 qt, in bag 14 2 Platypus SoftBottle 1L 2.4
Drinking Seamless tin cup, 1 pt 3 Mountain Laurel Design Titanium Mug 475mL 1.3
Filter Cheese cloth, 1 yd 1 Gold Tone Coffee Filter (modified) 0.07
Repair
Repair kit Wallet (small scissors, needles, sail needle, awl point, 2 waxed ends, thread on card, sail twine, buttons, safety pins, horse blanket pins, 2 short rigged fish lines, spare hooks, minnow hooks with half barb filed, sinkers, snare wire, rubber bands, shoe laces) 6 Repair and fishing kit (nylon rip-stop tape, superglue, silicone glue, duct tape, needle, thread, split-shots, 10′ monofilament, hooks, sinkers) 3.5
Personal care
Repellent Fly dope, in pocket oiler 2 DEET repackaged 0.6
Footcare Talcum powder, in waterproof bag 1 Footcare products (salve, moleskin, leukotape), plastic bag 1
Hygeine Comb, toothbrush, tiny mirror, soap in waterproof bag, towel, rubber-band 6 Toothbrush, repackaged soap 0.8
Toiletry Toilet paper 1 Repackaged toilet paper 0.3
Emergency First aid kit 5 First aid kit 3
Tools
Axe Tomahawk, muzzled 12 Gransfors Bruks Outdoors Axe (without handle) 12
Pliers Sidecutting pliers 5″ 4 Leatherman Squirt 2
Whetstone Carborudum 4″x1″x0.5″ 2 Diamond sharpening stone, 4″ 2
Fire-startinga Spare matches in tin-box 2 Spare matches in plastic bag 0.5
Light Electric flasher 5 Fenx LD02 0.6
Total
291 oz 97.92 oz
18 lbs 3 oz 6 lbs 1 oz

There should be a few things illustrated since the book explained the purpose of some of them. Firstly, the “browse bag” serves as a mattress. The bag was just a simple cotton burlap stuffed full of dead leaves and boughs.  The same was done to make a pillow. Also, in those days, it was not uncommon to fashion a pole out of dead trees to erect tarps and tents. Instead of carrying a stove, it was an every-day occurrence to build one’s own fire. Although we use cheese-cloth or bandanna to filter debris from water, back then it was also used to carry fish, hang game or to make tea. Finally, “fly dope” and “electric flasher” refers to insect repellents and flashlights.

His pack at the time would had been 3 744 cu/in. With the reduction in space taken up by canvas and wool,, we can cut the volume by two-third. It is likely he would be touting 1 400 cu/in pack. Let’s allow some leeway and bump the volume up to 1 800 to 2 000 cu/in.

We see a few limitations. Sleeping bags were a relatively new invention with Pryce Pryce-Jones inventing it in 1876. As we can see, traditionalists were still dependent on the woolen blankets and an open-fire. What is interesting to note is that Kephart recommendesd a sleeping bag for autumn when the weather cools down and becomes breezier. It is not like he was unaware of their relevance.

Selecting a sleeping bag is difficult since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park suggests 15 – 30°F sleeping-bags in the summer. However, backpackers have slept with 50°F sleeping bags during the summer with their layers on. For the sake of consistency, feel free to subtract 5 oz from the final weight. Further more, let us take his idea of a blanket for summer and make them into down-filled quilt; after all, down is a much more efficient insulator than wool.

Also, because we moved away from wool and canvas, there is very little need for many of the items in his repair kit. Some glue, a sewing needle, a thread and some adhesives such as duct-tape or nylon tape will suffice.

What is particularly interesting is the gear-list of 1916 is remarkably similar to some of the SUL or “Super Ultralight” gear-lists floating around the Internet. Based on the “SUL Wanderer”, Ryan Jordan is the modern Kephart.

The weight-savings Kephart made were offset by the extra incurred by having a spare set of clothes, and he was in the habit of carrying more socks than necessary. Most backpackers nowadays seldom carry more than the clothes they already wear. At most, they may carry a pair of sleeping socks and a base-layer. Even if we take a full change of suit into consideration, today’s clothes (about 17 to 20 oz) is hardly any different from the clothes worn back then. Taking this into consideration, with fresh set of clothes, Horace’s pack would be closer to 7 lbs 2 oz.

Now that being said, Kephart was able to do things which would be illegal today. In the West, there are fire-bans which forces recreational users to take up stoving and carry some kind of water purification. Similarly, many have to use bivouacs or bring their own poles instead of nature’s resources. Also, some locations require a canister or some kind of bear-deterrent system.

So let us suppose he had to bring his own poles and stove instead of a hatchet. Two set of poles will be about 10 oz. Camping it cow-boy style would require a bivy (14 oz), and realistically the poles and tarp can be left behind since combined they weighs approximately 15 oz. A stove can be had for 3 oz and fuel bottle for a mere once. We only see a 2 oz increase with dropping the tomahawk. Of course, this does not include the consumables which otherwise would include 6.5 oz of fuel for two weeks.

He also did not have the luxury of dehydrated food which would enable him to ditch the frying pan and use a small pot or just a mug. Dropping the pan and eating out of bowl or mug would save him 6 to 7 oz. Doing so would drop his base weight to 4 lbs 15 oz; or with a change of clothes, 6 lbs. Dropping the axe yields a total pack-weight would still only be 5 lbs 13 oz with the poles, stove and fuel bottle or 6 lbs with a week worth of fuel; and with a fresh change of clothes, only 7 lbs 1 oz.

What would he carry today? The guesstimate would vary from as little as 4 lbs 10 oz to as much as 7 lbs 2 oz. This tells woodsmen of old lived very differently from those of today. They faced different challenges caused by the limitations of their times and followed different laws. Anyone who wish to walk in his foot-steps would have a plethora of options. In the right environment and climate, one can even achieve sub-5 lbs.

By |November 11th, 2014|Editorial|9 Comments|

Why the Mainstream Doesn’t Embrace Lightweight

A few weeks ago, there was an interesting blog post entitled “The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum” published on Gossamer Gear. The article sparked a lively discussion in the comments. That being said, the piece comes across as rather evangelical, blaming the retail outlets for not carrying lightweight equipment. It is little wonder why most in the backpacking communities see the ultralight mantra as elitist. In the post, the author asked what they could do to attract more people.

First off, lightweight and ultralight are not new. My parents still have most of their equipment, and inherited some of their parents’ and grandparents’. The gears and packs seldom weighed more than 10- or 15-lbs; always under 20 lbs. When I asked my family what has changed, they replied these days people acquire items which exceed the reasonable conditions of their environment. So, instead of a nice light sleeping bag, people today go out and buy  a -10°C (14°F); or worse, a -40. Or instead of a simple one-walled tent, folks go out and buy expedition-quality Hillebergs. My famly already know since they were children heavy backpacks are uncomfortable, and always packed based on the weather expected. The average person today doesn’t have those memories.

The heavy packs seen on the trails today are hardly what was normal in the ’50s,, ’60s or ’70s. Heavy gears are compensations for the hiker’s inexperience and fear of the unknown. The outdoorsy families were never burdened with too heavy equipment when they were growing up. It is the urbanites who demand these products. The phenomenon is best known as “packing our fears”.

The problem with lightweight backpacking community is the focus on the gears brings up sentiments of class warfare. Many associate lightweight gears  being equivalent to expensive lifestyle. This is not the case. Lightweight backpacking is simply smarter backpacking. It’s about simplicity, skills, knowledge and minimalism.

Case in point:

I first discovered ultralight backpacking through Sam Haroldson’s trip report of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Being a gear-head, I was fascinated by the new equipment on his lists and in his trip-reports. Although the principle of lightweight backpacking back in 2010 was understood, it was vague and arbitrary.

Most which was accomplished on this end was writing out the gear-list. This helped to an extent since the pack-weight in Finland was quite mild and easy to carry and we didn’t carry more than what was required. The gears were the run-of-the-mill selections bought from several outlets. According to the airport, the backpack only weighed 7 kilos (15 lbs). Most of it was military-surplus recycling the same design since 1920s and 1950s.

Somewhere along the line, the weight increased significantly during the trips in southern British Columbia. On one trip, we had to cut it short due to the immerse weight.

10464386_10152486237312088_8630453831225263792_nAlthough in Yukon, it was nice to walk with a day-pack equipped only with a cheap tarp, rain-jacket and fleece. Although my gear-list was 15.43 kg (34.02 lbs) at the beginning of the trip, it was only about 5.4 kg (12 lbs) at the end. So what’s the difference? I felt comfortable in Yukon and Finland.

Finally, when it came to grouse-hunting in the backcountry, the epiphany kicked in: how can one be self-reliant in the wilderness area in a type of hunt which emphasize on walking several hours a day to flush game. It certainly was not going to be doable with a heavy rucksack, especially with a heavy shotgun. So, I started counting grams with a postal scale. The focus on highly-specialized gears made of space-age materials became a mean to an end to offset the added weight caused by the hunting equipment. It was never about hiking as the day-pack suited just fine. The issue was the hunting equipment itself weighed a total of 4 kg (8.8 lbs) and could not be compromised. That extra weight had to be cut somewhere else.

Using the weight classification of light (20 lbs; 9 kg), ultralight (10 lbs; 4..5 kg), super ultralight (5 lbs; 2.3 kg), extreme ultralight (2.5 lbs; 1.1 kg) are the typical fixed classifications touted in the community and heavily utilized.. These may seems ridiculous to some, but they provides a goal to strive for. These labels are only useful for someone who want to venture into realms previously unexplored. In this case, writing out the data in a spreadsheet gives something tangible. Trying to meet the threshold becomes a challenge and a journey to cut out the excess.

These are nothing revolutionary about lightweight backpacking. People often hiked with only 20 lbs of gear on their back for decades, and people always too advantages of lighter and lighter products as referenced by Colin Fletcher in The Complete Walker. In 1984, Fletcher recalled one trip where a pair of hikers completed a trip of just 15 lbs (6.8 kg) full-skin out. Even Horace Kephart at the beginning of the 20th century was’t horridly heavy and documented his gears taking the time to weigh them out for his readers. The philosophy didn’t start with the Ray Way.

What did change is urbanization. As people spent less time on the land, they began compensating more substituting a deficit of skills. It is not so much the gears, but the drive to acquire bomb-proof equipment.

Pushing for sub-10 lbs (4.5 kg) is really meant for the following conditions: well-maintained, established trails; day-time temperature of 10 to 15°C; night-time temperature of 0 to 5°C; possibility of rain every day; no mosquitoes, trips are 10 to 14 days or longer. If anyone is planning to do any kind of bush-whacking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, pack-rafting, bike-packing, winter-hiking, all of these adds to the core weight.

In regard to backpacking, it wasn’t the gears which made my pack lighter. It was the fundamental change in the way of thinking. Before reading Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, I always just packed what I thought I needed and what felt light at the store in my hands without looking at the specs. The reading was a rather mundane which didn’t offer much. However, the literature was still crucial since it got me to decide if whether or not to become a hiker or a camper. His book also pushed me to write pre-planning trip reports. Trip duration, terrain, weather reports, historical meteorological data, wildlife warnings and purpose all became integral to lightening up. It was the preparation process which helped to get lighter.

I could easily done the same if the budget of $200 or several thousands. It wouldn’t matter if it was a 1 kg (2.2 lbs) blue tarp or a 130 g (4.9 oz) cuben fibre tarp. Both options would had lightened up. It wouldn’t matter which outlet store as it would be easy to construct a pack which stays under the base-weight of 9 kg (20 lbs). With a bit of skills and knowledge, it would not be difficult to keep it under 5.5 kg (12 lbs). It has very little to do with technology or innovation.

At best, the latest gzmos help us optimize our weights. One can still be heavy even with all the latest technological advancements if the fear of the unknown still maintains a strong hold. One is not going to be a convert unless they had a bad experience of carrying too much. These days, people are more likely to discover that as twenty-somethings.

Instead, we should be focusing on preserving knowledge and teaching skills. While there are a great number of books on the subject, and workshops offered, backpacking is often thought of a do-it-yourself affair which can be bought from a store. What most don’t realize is t is something the philosophy of hiking with minimal gears and array of survival skills was once taught by our grandparents, and the wilderness is their playground since they were toddlers. Those experiences are no longer being passed on.

So, it hardly should be considered surprising when people insist on being proofed against everything imaginable. No amount of books, YouTube tutorials, blog-posts or forums will change that. What we are seeing is here is several generations of backpackers who lost their roots.

By |November 9th, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|

Ethics of Treeing Bird-Dog

Over the past few years, a few people expressed their disdain for shooting a grouse out of the tree. To them, it is unsporting to shoot a perching bird. Ironically, these same people think it is unethical to shoot a deer or moose on the run.

First off, sporting and ethical are not the same thing. Secondly, sportsmanship takes on many dimensions. Sporting can either mean exciting or thrilling for the enjoyment of one’s own pleasure. On the other hand, it also mean fairness and respect for others. The concept of sportsmanship means different things to different individuals.

Now, my grandfather was an avid bird-watcher and also a sportsman. Hunting and fishing was his drug. However, his love of avians came first. Shooting a bird on the wing was forbidden. Oftentimes he regaled in stories about animals hunters shot, but their dogs failed to find or the wrong species was injured or killed. There was a fair share of red-tailed hawks which were mistaken as pheasants. From the get-go, he was a strong advocate for selective shooting and discouraged indiscriminate method. So, the value of identifying the target and backstop became ingrained.

Let us establish a bit of foundation.

forest

It’s much harder to find a grouse in an aspen or birch forest than on the road; it’s even more difficult to find a bird in a spruce tree.

Now, shooting a bird on a dirt-road is like fishing in a stocked pond.  Both activities are traditional past-times and rites of passage for many who grew up as children. Ideally, as we grow in experience, the goal post is advanced. At one point or another, it is expected to move away from the roads and attempt a much harder pursuit. For some, this transition does not occur as many still participate in ground-slucing as adults when they commute to work via the oil-fields, the mines or the forestry equipment.

Well, one day after shooting the first bird for my first hunting dog (as an adult), a friend of mine encouraged me to shoot a bird in front of this Jeep after I caught a ride with him back to town.  This was after I shot a bird for my dog. The act of pounding a bird on the road didn’t feel right. However, I still flat-decked one just to see if my feelings on the subject has changed. It was then I understood why countries like Finland forbid these kind of hunting. There was no effort to find the game, just a chance encounter.

First off, it is understandable why people participate in road-hunting. To them, chasing grouse is not a game or some kind of sport. It is not about fairness. It is about putting a meal in the pot after a long day of hunting moose or deer. After a chasing an ungulate for a few hours unsuccessfully, wouldn’t it be justice to nab a bird? Assured shot surely must be a just reward.

Not necessarily so. Birds come to the road to ingest gravel to aid them in digesting their meals. Some of them come to the roads to warm up in the sun. Being on gravel roads is the most vulnerable since they are the most exposed.

So let’s take a look at the fair-chase in the field away from the roads.

With shooting on the wing, the birds are fleeing to safety. Chances of wounding is extremely high. Not all dogs are very good at retrieving. Even the best ones still fail to recover on occasions. There has been a few time where a terrier or ferret would had done the job better than a retriever due to the circumstances.

Even if the bird is found, the hardest part is trying to find how low or how high the bird is without scaring it.

Even if the bird is found, the hardest part is trying to find how low or how high the bird is without scaring it.

So why shooting a perching a bird okay? Let us look at the issue from a fair-chase perspective. Firstly, the game has a chance to fly to safety. Secondly, the challenge is to find which tree the bird is in. Thirdly, it is much more difficult to figure out where the bird is in the tree than it is to shoot after a flush. Fourthly, by the time the bird is found from the tree, the possiblity of being flushed from the tree is very high. The bird is keenly aware it might be shot, fear is heightened and wouldn’t hesitate to flee if pressured. The key here is to stalk quietly and slowly as possible so the desired game remains calm without being stressed out. In this context, it would be unethical to shoot a bird which decided not to stay in the tree.

There are countless of times where the dog successfully flushed and treed the bird, but me, the hunter, screwed up on stalking it and spooked the bird from the branches because of a branch cracking or because the profile wasn’t low enough and should had crawled on elbows and knees. Like skeet-shooting, stalking is a unique skill itself.

Successfully recovered.

Successfully recovered.

From a humane-kill viewpoint, finding a fallen bird becomes easier; and with a dog, they are much more easily able to find one. While shotguns are easier and more popular due to its limited range and safer to use in crowded areas, a bow or rifle is much more likely to kill outright. The last thing anyone want to deal with is a wounded runner.  However, it is still popular to shoot a treed bird with a shotgun largely because of legal constraints regulating firearms.

For every three or four birds treed, only oneis successfully stalked and shot.

For every three or four birds treed, only one is successfully stalked and shot.

From an ecological sustainability point of view, letting a bird perch allows for selective harvesting. One can choose to shoot a female or male as well as determine the bird’s age and species. It becomes the hunter’s decision whether or not it is wise to harvest it.  Secondly, unlike indiscriminate practices, the hunter becomes even more aware of his bag-limit. Also, he can determine if he only need one or two birds for dinner that night, oppose to unexpectedly harvesting more than what he needed.

Lastly, from a safety standpoint, there have been more firearm accidents involving shotguns and shooting on the wing or rabbiting than with precision-based armaments such as rifles in Finland. Of course, random accidents still occur from time to time like one incident involving a girl being slain by a stray bullet near Lake Baikal. However, most of the accidents which are not self-inflicted involves being too hasty and making decisions based on movement rather than visual conformation. There are no shortages of news-reports in North America about a hiker being mistaken as a bear; or a hunting partner mistaken as a deer. A proper back-stop and being calm in assessment are two contributing factors in preventing accidents.

So, the next time someone makes the case for why shooting on the wing is better, keep in mind the tradition is based on the British or Continental European sense of sportsmanship which is regarded as the most exciting venture. No one can deny wing-shooting is a noble or regal sport which demands skills of the highest order. However, as we can see, the defense for wing-shooting as the more ethical method does not stand up to the litmus test.

Regardless, this does not mean wing-shooting is inferior or that it should be banned. There are still a great many deal of people who continue to pursue this sport with British or European gun-dogs in almost every country around the world. What matters here is whether or not using a flushing dog or a treeing dog have equal footings. In no way the discussion is contending which method is more ethical, more sporting or more humane.

I have family members who enjoy wing-shooting and they pour in thousands of dollars into honing their skills at the local shooting range. Some of them had been skeet-shooting champions at one point in their lives. They also put countless of hours into perfecting their dogs’ skills in the field, and some of those have went on to finish in trials. Their efforts are commendable. They deserve to reap the rewards of putting in the money and time into getting ready for hunting season.

However, the great debate on which is more ethical or what is more sporting should be put to rest. What matters is the ecological sustainability of the harvest.

References
By |October 28th, 2014|Editorial, Ethics|2 Comments|

Importance of Lists

Some of the readers may have noticed older posts being published. Well, they are not really republishing. What is occurring here is some of the older handwritten notes were found. For chronicling purposes, I decided to publish some of them according to when those notes were made. For the curious, they may check out the wish lists from 20142013, 2012 and 2008.

Of course, they are materialist and are not essential. However, publishing these lists allow one to gain a perceptive of how their values change throughout their life.

List-making is one of the things which provided some kind of base or stability in life. With them, it becomes easier to track of the progress and stay on top of things.

One of the reasons why there were no lists prior to 2008 is because at the time, I went to University of Alberta for three years and spent an additional half-year in Edmonton after leaving school. Additionally, the year 2008 was when I began re-visiting the idea of taking up kayaking as a hobby with fantasies of going on 2-weeks expeditions. The interest waned when a room-mate who was struggling financially couldn’t pay the bills and felt sorry for the animals. At the time, I didn’t like the idea of the room-mate’s pets ending up in rescue societies. So, supporting the critters became a priority. Once the room-mate moved out, I ended up with a dog and became a fur-daddy of the worst variety.

A few years later, I began becoming more involved with the locavore movement and embraced the idea of local carrying capacity. On the grand scale of things, this philosophy is actually a horrible idea since someone once calculated the needs of Vancouver metro actually exceeds the province’s agricultural production. However, what became attractive is the idea of becoming responsible for one’s own food. Taking control of the food-production into one’s own hands also mean acknowledging the limitations of Canadian geography. Hence the interest in hunting, fishing and growing one’s own vegetables.

In 2011, I met someone who had similar interests as me online and later up in Finland in 2012. We began doing a road-trip of the country with some hiking excursions here and there in northern Finland and Lapland. In the process, we became boyfriend and girlfriend during the trip due to similarity in politics, social ideals, shared interests and perceptive on ecology and environment. We started planning hikes and road-trips together. Hopefully one day, we will plan our first multi-day hike; or perhaps a thru-hike.

Why is all of this important? Well, because the lists happen to be reflection of those activities and life events. As the interests change, so does the list. Also, through the lists, one can see several epiphanies being made.

Early on, one can see the influence of living in a coastal community and the recommendations of the paddling community at the time. Once moving further inland, there is a transition to winter.  As time progresses, we see the hunting influence intensified then eventually became switched out for emphasis on smarter use of gears and lightness.

Would I recommend any of the items? Absolutely not. A great number of them are based on insecurities. For instance, there is no need for a -40 bag if layering with a -17 bag can take a person down to extreme temperatures. The -40 is nice to have on a snowmobile or a dog-sled, but not entirely practical for winter-hiking. Similarly, the idea of complete pot and pan cookset is nice, but they cater moreso for campers and military fanatics who don’t trust their own skills than to hikers or expeditioners. Also, a heavier backpack such as Mystery Ranch was chosen over Kifaru due to the lack of trust in the materials and wanting a more sturdier build even though the manufacturer has been established and reputable for many years. Similarly, one can note the ridiculous notion some kind of bear-gun is required when experience tells the appropriate calibre is not even carried during the most dangerous time of the year. However, as experience grows, we see priorities change.

So why are the lists published? So, others can see the growth and how a person evolve and grow over time.

I encourage others to do the same. Write them out. Put them aside. It doesn’t matter if those lists are fulfilled. They don’t have to be. However, a few years later and looking back, one begin to see a change in how they think and how their justifications change.

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By |October 15th, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|