20 October 2014

The Unexpected Can Be Pleasant

A version of the following was recently published in the fall edition of Backcountry Journal, the official publication of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. A worthy organization.

*****

I left the camp before dawn, a cold November wind rising, carrying ice and snow with it. It was the second to last day of rifle season and visions of bucks had stirred my fitful sleep the night prior. With a fresh tracking snow beneath my boots I felt good about the coming day as I quietly climbed the slope to the ridge top. Leaves rattled ominously in the trees as they clung to the limbs, a battle they would soon lose and be cast upon the wind.

This was our fourth day in deer camp, and my first year hunting alone, finally of age and mind that my Grandfather thought I was ready. My excitement and enthusiasm could not be deterred by weather or mountain, both intensifying the experience.

The rugged Appalachian Mountains spread out all about me, jutting stone, and old growth trees, steep and rugged terrain. This was wilderness and it sang within me as I put one foot in front of the other, climbing upward. Something had happened to me, like a siren's call I couldn't resist the urge to go farther, deeper into the unknown.  My lungs and cheeks burned, one from exertion the other from the bitter wind and frozen precipitation, I couldn't suppress the grin that grew across my face, a sense of freedom swelling in my chest.

The buck track was very large and very clear, the snow made this possible and the snow also told me it was fresh. The edges told me it was mere hours old at most. I scanned ahead, my eyes following the tracks into the Mountain Laurel, I followed quietly. The track dipped down the side of the mountain and then cut to the right, he was following the ridge but below the top, probably scent checking a line I had not seen.

With heart swelling excitement of a young man on his first buck I followed. I lost track of time and space as my imagination took their place. Hours later I caught my first glimpse of him, as he stood looking back in my direction. I saw antlers and little else, more than one hundred yards from me I tried to make out the mass of points and couldn't. His chest was obscured from me and no shot possible, I watched and waited. He moved I moved, heart pounding, adrenalin pumping, still no shot. We played this cat and mouse game for a period of indeterminate time. I wasn't paying attention to direction, weather, or the sun that hid behind steel grey skies. I simply followed, my instincts pitted to his, the razors edge of predator and prey relationship, a story from before written history, nothing existed but him and me.

When I finally came to my senses, in the waning light, I was far from anywhere and I was startled. My mind raced as I realized I had made a multitude of errors. Far from camp which was in an unknown direction, light was failing and snow was falling, I had little to no resources and not a good plan on what to do. It didn't take long for me to forget the buck; I was in a dangerous predicament.

I had a match safe of matches, my rifle, a paper sack with a peanut butter sandwich and an apple in it. As the darkness drew about me I knew I would not walk my way back before night engulfed me. The rate that the snow was falling I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow my own tracks and I'd walked all day long to get to where I was, no, returning to camp wasn't going to happen.

I looked about, spied an old monarch of a spruce tree. I gathered some dry twigs and sticks and managed to get a fire going after several attempts. The warming glow was soothing and the icy grip of fear and uncertainty loosened. I kept adding fuel, the fire growing larger; I warmed and dried out completely. Long into the night I continued to gather more wood until I had a generous pile.  I noticed that I was clumsy, dragging my feet, tired and without energy. I consumed the sandwich and the apple, I ate snow in an attempt to quench my thirst, and I was not successful.

The night wore on, I fought the dark and the cold with fire throughout, fear of being found curled into a frozen ball keeping me awake, the fire twinkled against the dark and the cold…

That was twenty eight years ago this coming winter, in a place very far from where I now make my home. It was a hard learned lesson and one I will never forget, I didn't lose any toes or fingers and while my pride took a heck of a shot I lived through it. Some of the greatest lessons I've learned have come the hard way and this was certainly one of them.

It isn't uncommon these days for me to strike out during hunting season or even during scouting seasons from a base camp with no intention of coming back that day. I've gained some wisdom and found some pieces of kit that make this sort of event far more comfortable, even enjoyable.

Shelter, Fire, Hydration, Energy

Those four things can make the difference between comfortable and miserable and all of them can be addressed in a small kit with nominal weight.

Shelter

Shelter can come in the form of a space blanket, a bivy shelter, or a tarp. I’ve found that a combination of two of these is ideal. An ultra light tarp with a ultra light bivy gives you the best of both worlds, dry and warm as well as protection from insects. In my case I use a UL 10x7 Multicam Tarp from Buschcraft Outfitters over a six ounce bivy with bug screen from Titanium Goat. Between these two products I have a combined weight of approximately eighteen ounces; small in pack size yet delivers seventy square foot of coverage and protection from insects.




Fire

Having multiple ways to start a fire is a good thing, it doesn’t hurt to have the skills to build fires without a lighter or matches but for our purposes we want fire as fast as possible with the most reliable means available. To this end I carry three means, a lighter, matches, and a ferro rod. One of them is going to work.

There are several types of lighters out there; the most common is likely the Bic version. I’ve got these in my kit but I have had them not work. I’ve also dropped and lost a few as well. Matches are great, use a waterproof container to keep them safe, the Hurricane matches are my choice. As far as a ferro rod goes you can purchase them in blanks or as complete and they are available from a multitude of sources. I prefer the blanks and to make my own.


 


Hydration

Likely the single heaviest thing one carries, water simply doesn’t come in an ultra light form, but what you carry it in does. From bladders to canteens and water bottles, there are a number of ways to carry it. I prefer to use a Titanium cup and canteen set up because it also doubles as my cook kit, it gives me the ability to boil water on the spot and not carry other pieces of kit. The 37oz Titanium Canteen and cup is available from Heavy Cover Inc. There are other options available but for me having this all in one capability is the best solution in my case.




Energy

Often over looked or compensated for, we all know we’re not going to starve to death in twenty four or forty eight hours but we often lose sight of the fact that without caloric energy we become sloppy and clumsy, uncoordinated and our cognitive reasoning can be impacted. Our bodies are used to operating on a certain amount of calories, remove them and introduce heavy physical activity and it doesn’t take long to feel and experience the impact. I have a simple rule for energy carried; one ounce must equal one hundred calories. Usually the best way to accomplish this is through the various energy bars that are available. I like Cliff Bars, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, 2.4 ounces and 260 calories.


Much of this stuff can be carried in a cargo pocket. I’ve found however that I much prefer a chest pack for the task. These carry my binoculars as well as these necessities and navigation tools. There are several offerings on the market but the two I have found I like the most are the Kit Bag from Hill People Gear and the Chest Pack from BisonGear. They’re nigh unto perfect for this application.



A 1500 word article simply isn’t the right place to introduce First Aid Kits and general skills related to wilderness survival. I have found an incredible resource in the members and knowledge base at www.bushcraftusa.com, a great community with a wealth of knowledge. If you’re spending the night away from camp either expected or unexpected you can carry at little cost in weight, piece of mind and comfort that will turn the night into an enjoyable experience.






13 October 2014

The Alaios From Kryptek


I spend time in the wild year round, it isn't season specific though choices in gear are often season driven. One of the criteria I have for gear and clothing for field use is a wide span of usability. I want things that will serve me over the longest amount of time in a year, multi-season use as well as general durability for many years of said use when I can get it is a definitive plus. I am cost conscious and don't have money to burn, I do however have a relatively small number of things that I am willing to spend money on, this gives me the ability to spend my hard earned green backs on the best of any given thing that I can find.

Enter top end field clothing often from boutique type hunting clothing companies. While the outdoors clothing companies are many and most produce fantastic products there are not that many whose primary focus is the hunting community. Anytime I find top end quality focused for the hunting community I'm very interested. Among these types of brands there are a few that I consider the upper echelon. Kuiu, First Lite, Kryptek, Sitka, are what I consider the top four. While there are many others this particular group is catering to the cutting edge, durable, technical, lightweight and performance driven segment, this comes at a cost and they certainly have some sticker shock at first glance. I own several pieces from all four of these companies, this thought summary however will focus on Kryptek's Alaios Pants, the Spartan's Cuirass in ancient terms.

Kryptek entered this clothing market several years ago, their big splash was the Highlander pattern early on and they've done nothing but grow ever since. Their background wasn't necessarily hunting though, from Kryptek...

Kryptek History

The concepts that spawn our products are forged in combat. From the mountains of Afghanistan through the desert plains of Iraq and on to places known only by a distinguished few, the employment of Combat Forces has never spanned environments so vast, varied, or punishing. Created from battlefield necessity, innovative technologies, equipment and apparel have emerged. Kryptek Outdoor Group’s concept designers draw their knowledge of what works through actual combat experience. The idea of incorporating proven tactical gear concepts and evolving this technology into the hunting and outdoor adventure markets is the driving force behind what we do.

The concept of Kryptek is driven by passion.
The principals of Kryptek have an overwhelming desire to do what no other organization has done before– provide customized and performance based apparel that is specifically tailored to the environment, meets or exceeds the performance expectations of the user, and consistently delivers required comfort, function, and durability. Through extensive field testing and customer feedback, Kryptek continually adapts and integrates product features that will exceed our customers’ needs for overall performance. The Kryptek Outdoor Group founders retain connections to the military to fuse their combat experience with their love for the outdoors. We believe that combat technology should not be limited to the battlefield.

The military organizations that Kryptek draws feedback from depend on their apparel.
Their clothing systems are the critical component of their combat gear. It can mean the difference between victory or defeat, or sometimes life and death. Kryptek innovations and technologies are derived from people who know the difference between mere clothing and actual gear. These customers ultimately set the bar for performance requirements.

Our nation’s elite warriors are the ultra pro-staff of Kryptek. These heroes drive new concepts and products. These operators are the primary test bed for Kryptek’s research and development. Kryptek’s critical connections to these organizations are the lifeblood of the company, and what separates Kryptek from the competition.


I've been buying products from them since 2011 and to date have not been disappointed in any of it.

The Alaios Pants are their primary hunting pants, they have others in the line up but those are geared towards more specialized circumstances and not necessarily broad spectrum use. The Valhalla pant for example is great for hot/warm use but not so much for cold. The Cadog is a heavier soft shell type of pant better used in cold (late fall/winter for me), they have other versions still for rain gear, extreme cold, and a soft-shell windsheer type in the Dalibor/Einar line.

The Alaios Pant is designed for the utilitarian user. Constructed with robust materials to provide utility, mobility, comfort and performance in all field scenarios. Pockets are plenty and locations are efficient for gadget sorting and ergonomics. This material wicks moisture from the body then dries quickly to protect your comfort and battle readiness. Designed for high exertion in mid range climates.

- Suspender Compatible
- Athletic Fit
- Articulated Knees
- Knee Pad Pockets
- 10 Pockets
- bonded laminate on
the knees
- gusseted crotch
- stretch fabric
- weight 23.0oz


Poly/Spandex=90/10%, 134T*139T/75D/40op, 75D/40op+340D

First drawn by the Highlander pattern which I've found to be great, I was hooked by the quality and the function. 10 pockets is over kill but they are well positioned and roomy. The calf pockets I don't use that often but have used them, the double thigh pockets get used all the time though. Situated in a pocket behind the pocket format one of them is a long vertical zipper while the other is horizontal. The horizontal pocket seen below with a 20oz plastic water bottle and a Sawyer mini water filter, perfect size for this type of hydration carry/capability. The 20oz bottle fits completely in the pocket, the only thing extending above the pocket line is the filter. Quite secure and convenient. Stopping at a creek or pond to refill is easy and no need to carry much of anything else for hydration purposes.



As you'll also see in the above image, there is a vertical zipper. That opens up a pocket that is the same size as the one holding the 20oz bottle. Very roomy, I've stuffed gloves in them, carried cameras, maps, PSKs etc etc. Sturdy stitching and the zipper stays up.

There are two zippered pockets on the back as well and the normal front pants pockets, plus the zippered calf pockets getting you to ten overall.

The pant utilizes a low profile waist adjustment system; this style of system doesn’t interfere with a belt, and allows the user to adjust for a custom fit. I found this a very nice feature indeed. It seems like a small thing but when you routinely have a waist belt cinched tight from a heavy pack it makes things much more comfortable than the typical metal slide found on most other BDU type pants. After several miles with those I found some hot pain points where those metal slides were. With these it's flat and soft, no hard spots, while allowing generous waist adjustments.

Also note in the image below, the belt loops also have a section for affixing suspenders. Something else I've found overtime is I do like to use suspenders. I have a couple sets with the quick attach/detach hardware and they work perfectly with these loops.


Knee Pads

This was another feature that drew me to these pants, a built in knee pad pocket. I can't stand external knee pads, I hate the straps, I hate the slip, I hate the pinch when kneeling. I don't need hard plastic type pads, what I like is soft inserts that protect my knees from rocks and rough edges when kneeling and from freezing when kneeling on ice or snow. I found the Alaios set up perfect for my knees needs!

 As you can see in the image below they simply slide up into the compartment, velcro closes to keep them in place. Kryptek has knee pad adjustment tabs that are built into the pant for snugging the knee pad up against the leg as necessary, minimizing the “roll” effect the knee pad has against the knee. For those that hunt with aftermarket Velcro attached knee pads will quickly appreciate the “no bind, no pinch” at the back of the knee.



The material over the knee pad is also reinforced and has a bonded laminate over the knee pad pockets provide extra abrasion resistance as well as waterproof protection.


When you think about how much time is spent kneeling doing fire prep, cooking, looking for game and all manner of other reasons, knee pads just make sense to me in a field pant and the execution here is the best I have seen.

After a lot of hard use the pants have held up exceptionally well. The stitching is well done, the material is quite robust, so far there's nothing to complain about.

The material isn't listed as DWR but they shed water fairly well, they wick away and dry fast in my experience. They also stretch with me but not too much. I've found them good temperature-wise from high 30s to 70 degrees, warmer and I'd go to the Valhalla pants. With a good merino base layer they're good to high 20s, colder and I'd go to the Cadog pants or similar.

The cut leans towards the athletic, they are not baggy BDU type pants. They fit well and move well, perhaps the most comfortable pants I've owned, tied with Kuiu's Attack & Guide pants easily.

What a person wants in a pair of pants is pretty subjective to the individual, another reason I debated posting this. In the end though, after much use, these pants offer so much in the way of utility, durability, comfort that I wanted to share my thoughts. I understand the price point can be contentious, after all $150 is a lot of coin, at the same time they're proving more durable, more comfortable, with improved function than typical BDUs. I expect I'll see four to five years of use out of them and that's year round bush-bumming. When you break the price down from that perspective it really isn't a bad price at all.

Kryptek Alaios, Backwoods Bum Approved!

11 October 2014

Another Good Day...

Son and I went out to beat the bush for grouse today.

He was using my Savage model 24 .223 over 20ga. It was a good shot, he dropped the bird at about twenty yards as it broke away after the flush.



He headed back to the house and I headed farther out. A warm day, we hit the mid 50s, clear and a bit breezy keeping it from getting too hot. A perfect fall day, and the birds were cooperating.



With a three piece on the bag I headed back myself.


Can't ask for days better than this one.

06 October 2014

Upland Memories and Ghost Dogs on the edges...


Two years ago this November I walked that last longest mile with my bird dog Kota. I have not found it in me to get another yet, so my autumns are now filled with walking the grouse trails alone. Each time I go I find memories and sometimes birds.

Kota was one of 'those' dogs, willful, dedicated, rambunctious and so full of energy it was sometimes impossible to end a day in the field. He was a constant woods companion, a companion in all things and all ways with the greatest heart of any dog I've ever met.

I miss that old dog.

These days I cruise the edges of the pines, aspen and birch stands along the old logging trails. I find grouse where we always did, but now they don't hold because of the dog. If they see me coming they either run off or flush before I am in range. I have to hug the cover, move slower, I have to be within their danger zone before they realize I'm there. Then with thunderous noise they flush, pounding the air to gain altitude, as they climb I bring the gun up and as grouse do they'll break right or left, they don't fly straightaway very often. After the break I've usually got a bead and the old bird hammer detonates, if luck holds there is a wondrous thump and a flapping madness descends to earth. I savor the moment and remember how Kota would work the bird. Now I just walk to it and collect it as the silence returns to the woods.

Sometimes in the silence between the breezes and the falling leaves I hear things just beyond the edges of hearing. I'll stop and hold, listening for what I thought I heard. Sometimes I think I see a flash in the brush, turning here or there but always it seems my eyes are late to the place. My heart will skip a second and then a jay will call or the wind comes again. I walk on, waiting for a bird to rise.






I'm sure my old bird dog is running timber edges too, and flushing birds of his own, a toothy grin after the fact as he waits patiently for me.

26 September 2014

Randall 28 Woodsman / H60 Firesteel Pass-around GAW Challenge Final Conclusions

A little delayed, below is the video that include my final conclusions on the Randall 28 Woodsman and the H60 that are part of the passaround/give away.

Video includes some shots from the camp I built primarily with the knife, some more of the incredible mushroom explosion we've had due to so much rain.



I consider the 28 to be a fine knife though it doesn't meet all of my criteria to establish is as a full time bush knife. I tried to convey the reasoning in the video, including the way I score a knife. That being said I did like the knife, it just doesn't score high enough to make it a full time carry knife for general outdoors activities that I require to put a knife into that full time carry category.