Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gear I Use: Edged Tools

"Sawtooth's Quartet":  Victorinox Swiss Army Tinker, Randall's Adventure & Training ESEE-3, Cold Steel Trailhawk, Bahco Laplander.

All photos by Randall Haynes.

I have a confession…I love knives.  I love them so much that I have too many.  I have a whole drawer in my gun safe full of knives I don’t use.  However, as much as I love knives, I love truly useful backcountry gear even more.  With that thought in mind, I’ve really whittled down all my gear to those items that really are purpose-driven, and I’ve vowed to part with the rest.  I know it sounds cliché, but less truly is more.  You’ll see that it’s a recurring theme in my “Gear I Use” series.

This post is devoted to those edged tools I use in the backcountry.  All of my tools serve a specific purpose, have been selected after a considerable amount of testing and thought over an extended period of time (in some cases, decades), and none of them will put a big dent in a wallet.  All of them fit hand-in-glove with my version of lightweight backpacking, backcountry tenkara, both small and big game hunting, and light duty bushcraft.  If I were a vegan, camped in a hermetically sealed tent at night, and only burned fossil fuel stoves, I wouldn't need these tools.  However, I do kill and eat game animals and fish in the wilderness, build fires constantly, repair equipment and clothing in the field, chop ice, and fashion tools out of wood or even bone if I have to.  I need capable tools.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers 3rd Annual Rendezvous!

Nearly a year ago I found myself flying to Boise, Idaho, on a trip to attend the second annual BHA rendezvous.  It was my first attendance at this event, and I really didn't know what to expect, other than the information that had been sent my way by BHA officials.  By that time I had been an active member of BHA for a few years.  Last year I was asked to conduct a presentation on backcountry tenkara, and I jumped at the chance.  The rondy last year was a wonderful success by all accounts!

Right after last year's event, plans were made for the 2014 rendezvous.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the Colorado Chapter step up to the plate and agree to host it in Denver!

The third annual rendezvous has a lot to offer!  I will again provide a demonstration of tenkara fly fishing, as well as represent RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service and Tenkara USA.  RIGS has donated a guided tenkara trip for two (with yours truly as the guide), and Tenkara USA has donated rods and other tenkara gear for the auction.  My good friend, Eric Lynn (owner of Mountain Ridge Gear and Original ATV) will conduct a presentation on burro packing.  Patrick Smith and crew from Kifaru (one of BHA's biggest sponsors) will be set up in the vendor room.  We also have a substantial list of seminars and demos during the day, which includes game processing, mule deer hunting techniques, panel discussions on "technology and hunting" and "women and hunting", and state and national conservation issues.

Here's a bit of event info from our executive director, Land Tawney:

"Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), The Sportsmen's Voice for our Wild Public Lands, Waters, and Wildlife, is pleased to announce our 3rd Annual North American Rendezvous, to be held March 21-23, 2013, in downtown Denver, Colorado at the Red Lion Hotel.

After last year's success in Boise, it seems only natural that we follow up with a Rendezvous that is bigger and better.  Over the past two years, the National Rendezvous has attracted passionate backcountry sportsmen and women from across the country.  Attendance has grown by leaps and bounds and we fully expect another year of unprecedented attendance, energy and good times.  Not to mention it's our 10 year anniversary and it's time to celebrate the successes that BHA has had over the past decade.

The centerpiece of our event features a not-to-be-missed dinner with famous outdoor writer and contributor to Field & Stream, Hal Herring as our keynote speaker.  We'll also hear from BHA leaders and local and legislative luminaries.  Our banquet dinner will be complimented by a live and silent auction and music."


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gear I Use: Stoves and Grills

We can thank the Titan Prometheus for stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to we lowly mortals.  He paid dearly for it.  Greek mythology notwithstanding, truth is humans have been warming, protecting, and feeding themselves with it for around 300,000 years.  Controlled fire is an integral and necessary part of  backcountry living, whether you're carrying everything on your back or leading a pack animal down the trail.

With this first installment in my "Gear I Use" series, I'll outline the choices I've made for stoves and grills - the gear I use when harnessing the energy of my backcountry fires.  Lightweight and ultralight gas-powered stoves have come a long way since I started backpacking in the late 1970s.  I remember well my first bona-fide gas backpacking stove, a Coleman 502, purchased by my parents at the Sears department store.  It was heavy, but it worked fine, and as a teenager I managed to keep from blowing anything up with white gas and cooked up many cans of Dinty Moore beef stew.  The first grill I ever remember using was actually one off a small hibachi, small enough to slip down inside my old, rather box-like Kelty backpack.

Here are some different backcountry scenarios I often find myself in, and the stoves and grills I use in each.   I travel as light as possible, and consider myself a "lightweight" backpacker as opposed to "ultralight".  There are some things I'm willing to budge on a bit to make camp life a little more comfortable or more convenient. 

 BACKPACKING (DURING OPEN FIRE BANS)  Fire bans seem to be an annual way of life in the West.  During those times I can't build an outdoor fire, I use an ultralight gas canister stove.  Long ago I stopped using my homemade alcohol-fueled Pepsi can stove.  It just took too long to cook with it.  I've gone through several small, lightweight canister stoves, starting a long time ago with an MSR Pocket Rocket.  I ended up with a Coleman Exponent F1 stove, which received very good marks in this Backpacking Light canister stove review.  I like the F1 because it's very light at 2.7 oz. (9.1 oz. with full 110g fuel canister), and it fits inside my smallest and most-used pot, a Snow Peak Trek 700, along with a 110g fuel canister.  That's something my Pocket Rocket couldn't do.  Unfortunately, Coleman discontinued this model, but they're readily available on eBay and other online sources.

Coleman Exponent F1 ultralight canister stove.
Coleman Exponent F1 stove and 110g fuel canister nested inside
a Snowpeak Trek 700 pot
BACKPACKING (OPEN FIRE COOKING)  Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have an established fire ring at my backcountry campsites, sometimes I'm not so lucky.  I have an option for both.  For those times I have an already-built fire ring (I don't create new ones, ever) I use my Purcell Trench Grill (Streamside Traveler).  I chose the Streamside Traveler because it's the perfect size for one or two campers, and the mesh allows me to grill fish, something I like to do whenever I can while backpacking.  It's the lightest weight cooking device I have, coming in at 5.9 oz.  A huge advantage to using a wood-fueled fire is that you have an unlimited fuel source that you don't have to carry on your back!  Cooking over an open fire does create soot on your pots, but if you use some ultralight pot bags like these from ZPacks, the problem is solved.  Besides, watching a small campfire burn while you grill a couple of brook trout and cook up some miso soup is a real treat!

Purcell Trench Grill (Streamside Traveler model).  Snowpeak Trek 900 pot shown.  My eight-year-old daughter caught these brown trout with my Tenkara USA 12' Iwana rod.

There are other times when I don't have an established fire ring available, and that's when I reach for my Emberlit stove.  These ultralight takedown wood-burning stoves pack down very flat and small, weigh little, and provide a no-nonsense, low-impact wood fire.  The inherent chimney effect of the stove channels the flames and heat straight up onto the bottom of your pot, making for very efficient cooking.  Additionally, the loading port on the side of the stove makes it possible to feed much longer sticks into the stove than with other stoves on the market.  There are lots of other compact wood-burning stoves out there, but I like the way the Emberlit packs flat.  I chose the lightest weight Emberlit, made from titanium (5.45 oz).  You can check out a side-by-side comparison of the Emberlit vs. the Vargo stove I posted a couple of years ago.  I opted for the Emberlit and I've really enjoyed the usefulness of this little stove.

Emberlit titanium stove.  Snowpeak Trek 700 pot shown.

BACKPACKING/WINTER SKI CAMPING/BURRO PACKING  Kifaru wood stoves!  I call my Kifaru wood stoves my "everything stoves".  They truly do it all!  I use the smallest ones for backpacking in cold weather, since they're used for both heating my Kifaru shelters and for cooking.  I use the larger ones for ski camping and burro packing, and for any time I'm with a group (heck, even for car camping).  They pack down small, are lightweight and man-carryable, and are one of those gear innovations that really completely changes how you camp.  I will never be without the option of a heated shelter, and these are the stoves that make it possible.  I have four of the older Kifaru box stoves (para, small, medium, and large), but the company also now produces lighter weight titanium oval stove models as well.  All of them are compatible with Kifaru shelters, or any other shelter that allows for the use of an internal wood stove and stovepipe.    
Kifaru Para Stove (smallest model)-solo bowhunting
Snowpeak Trek 700 pot shown
Kifaru Large Stove-wilderness base camp

WINTER SKI CAMPING/BURRO PACKING  Getting out into the wilderness without a full-sized backpack is a wonderful thing!  It means you can carry more, and heavier gear (beer, too!).  Whether I'm skinning up a snowed-in forest service road while hauling a pulk, or leading a sturdy pack burro up the trail, having a bit heavier stove capable of operating in a bigger base camp and in extreme cold is possible.  For both I like to have a gas stove along with my Kifaru wood-burning stove.  I simply don't like waiting for coffee in the morning, and having both a gas and wood-burning stove makes multitasking possible when I'm cooking for a group.  My long-time favorite gas stove (for times I don't have to carry it on my back) is the MSR Whisperlite.  Since it burns white gas, it performs well in extreme cold (MUCH better than the iso-butane canisters I use in the summer).  Whether it's in a pulk or in a pannier, the weight of my fuel bottles isn't really much of a concern, and I can carry just about much fuel as I need to get by for several days of winter camping or elk hunting.  There are newer gas stoves of this type on the market, but I know how to use my Whisperlite, it's easy to repair if needed, and I've found it to be a dependable and durable appliance.  I could go lighter in weight, but that's the beauty of getting the load off your back…you don't really have to go lighter!

My venerable MSR Whisperlite Internationale

SUMMARY  My stoves and grills are not "one size fits all".  These are some excellent purpose-driven backcountry appliances.  Each one fills a niche, and sometimes those niches overlap.  There are times when I even carry two of the stoves shown here, or a stove and the grill.  All of them have proven themselves over the years, and are pieces of gear I completely trust.  All of them are produced by top-notch companies with loads of experience and testing, as well as excellent customer service.  Are there lots of other options available?  Yes!  These are my top picks.  I hope this gets you thinking about your own gear!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gear I Use: A Series

I don't really make serious New Year's resolutions, but I do set goals for myself off and on throughout each year.  Starting work on a goal on New Year's Day just makes it easy to keep track of.  One goal I have, and a broad one at that, is to put deliberate effort into improving my writing.  Blog posts, magazine articles, book contributions, meaningful content, matters not.  I can make all of it better.

Tenkara Tracks will start to highlight lightweight backpacking, day hiking, and burro packing a little more, and one way that I'll do that is to feature my gear every few weeks in a succession of posts entitled "Gear I Use: A Series".  Pretty creative title, huh?

My understanding and long-suffering wife thinks I have way to much outdoor gear.  I really don't, but what I do have is extremely purpose-driven.  There aren't too many pieces of equipment I own that don't get used, unless you count a couple of my twenty-five-year-old backpacking stoves, or the pair of plastic Lowa mountaineering boots that I got in Germany back in 1984 or so.  Some things you've just got to hang onto.

Packing out my 2013 cow elk with Eric Lynn's burros, many miles from the trailhead.  

So, stay tuned for the first post, which will feature my stoves and grills.  "Gear I Use" posts will come at you as categories, i.e., stoves and grills, and inside each post will be featured the pieces of gear I use the most within that category.  Other categories may include shelters, sleep systems, camp kitchen, lights, footwear, edged tools, clothing…you get the idea.

If I can infuse more backpacking and burro packing into Tenkara Tracks, inform you a bit more about choosing your own gear, or even get ideas from readers on their top gear picks, then one of my goals will have been met.

Next up:  Gear I Use:  Stoves and Grills

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tenkara Magazine is LIVE!

“Slipping my wading boot into the crystal clear, calm water of the pool, I know I am exactly where I want to be.  I have a collapsed twelve-foot tenkara rod in my right hand, a pack on my back, and a day full of possibilities…”

Paul Vertrees
“A Homecoming”
Tenkara Magazine, Volume 1

Although I’m no Kirk Deeter, I do know a good fly fishing magazine when I read one.  Enter Tenkara Magazine, Volume One. 

I know, I know…I’m biased.  Several months ago Tenkara USA founder and magazine creator Daniel Galhardo asked me to write a couple of articles for his then work-in-progress.  After hammering them out, they were sent to Tenkara Magazine editor Anthony Naples, and I began the long wait for the magazine to go to press.

At the time my articles were written, I had no idea who my fellow writers were or what sort of pieces they would submit for publication.  I had some pretty good guesses on who might have been asked to write, but nothing more.

In late November my copy of the magazine arrived!  I was humbled to join the ranks of Daniel Galhardo, Anthony Naples, Dave Dirks, Jason Klass, Rob Worthing, John Vetterli, Kirby Wilson, and others.   I feel very much a rank amateur compared to the rest of these folks. 

Many of the contributing writers and artists are friends and acquaintances, and it was especially good to read their articles and see their craftsmanship.  My magazine arrived on a Wednesday, and I spent the next two days reading it cover to cover.

If you really want to get your finger on the pulse of modern tenkara, get a copy of  Tenkara Magazine!  It covers a wide range of how-to's, tenkara experiences, destinations (both American and beyond), and writing styles.  Many thanks go out to Daniel, Anthony, and the rest of the team who put this project together.  I’m looking forward to what Volume 2 will bring! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Of Bullets and Bleached Elk Hair

I don't have a "man cave".  I have a big bedroom.

I long ago converted my office/man cave to a bedroom for our oldest daughter, who greatly deserved her own space in this world as a budding pre-teen.  I don't regret giving her that four-hundred square feet as her own one bit.  These days, I have a corner in our bedroom that serves as the nuts-and-bolts visceral bullseye of my world on the home front.  The dialed-in epicenter of the epicenter is this finely-crafted piece of furniture - THE BENCH.  Here's it's story…

First, I must tell you about Don Wedow.  Don built The Bench, with his own two hands, nearly a decade ago.  Don is also one of the people I've known the longest in this world.  You see, when I was a skinny little kid riding the school bus, through ten miles of mountain roads, to West Jefferson Elementary School in Conifer, Colorado, Don was one of the "big kids" on the back of the bus.  I was absolutely terrified of him, both because he was one of "The Cowboys" (a bunch of rodeo-ing junior high kids who sat in the back of the bus), and because he was the big brother of one of the most beautiful little red-headed girls in the world, Pattie, with whom I attended school. 

 My friend, the consummate cowboy, Don Wedow.

Nearly 30 years after I last saw him, Don resurfaced in 2004 at a backcountry rendezvous in central Colorado, sponsored by my good friend and sensei, Patrick Smith, founder of Mountainsmith, and present-day owner of Kifaru, International.  Don showed up at the remote campout in fine form, complete with a hypoxic rattlesnake he'd shoved into a huge glass pickle jar for all to see in the center of the huge tipi we'd all gathered in.  Typical Don.

Don is one of a tight knot of friends who have my back 24/7.  He's also someone who would do anything for a friend, and he did just that when he built The Bench for me a number of years ago.  He built it for me, no questions asked.  Once he had it built, we moved it to my dad's barn, 30 miles north, for finishing.

The Bench, unfinished and waiting in my dad's barn.

Once my dad and I had put the stain and varnish on it, I moved it to my "man cave" and eventually to the corner of my bedroom.  It's still here today, ten feet from the foot of my bed, with the antlers of a big 5X5 mulie buck hanging over it, a fly vise on the countertop, my trusty reloading press bolted on, and my Army retirement sculpture on the top shelf. 

The epicenter of the epicenter.

The Bench serves as both my reloading bench and my fly-tying station.  Hundreds of centerfire cartridges and tenkara flies are produced each year from its oak countertop.  Hundreds of maps are stored in the bottom compartment.  Maps that take me to what writer Tom Reed calls "blue lines" - places in the high alpine boonies where I meet up with brookies, browns, and cuts.  Maps that take me to elk, mule deer, and antelope.  Maps that take me to the backcountry.

From bullets to bleached elk hair, The Bench is always there.  Always there for the planning, tying, loading, weighing, scheming, and dreaming.  Without it I would be incomplete.  With it I have the heart and soul of the home front.  

Thanks, Don.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Time Well Spent

Glacier Creek, below Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

 It’s mid-October and I’m spent.  It’s only two months into the school year, yet for some reason the cumulative effect of daily behavior management of 100-plus teenagers, the busy-ness of a rip roaring competitive marksmanship season I’m coaching, and a daily routine that seems way too routine, is catching up with me.  It’s time to rally our family and check out.

That’s exactly what we did last weekend.  We rented a cabin at YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park (a familiar haunt), loaded up our SUV (complete with a cargo platform riding caboose), and headed north.  I could feel the mental baggage falling away as we drove into the fading light.

Along with some long overdue family relaxation at the cabin and some sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was able to sneak out for most of a day of tenkara in the park itself.  In light of the recent government shutdown, we really lucked out.  We had planned this trip for a couple of months, and were worried that we wouldn't be able to visit the park.  However, just in time, the park reopened at noon on the Saturday of our our trip!  This time of year the park isn’t nearly as occupied by people as it is during the summer.  Most folks are there to watch and listen to the elk, and much to my surprise, none of those folks seem to be interested in all in trout.
A snowstorm rolling down onto the upper Big Thompson River in Moraine Park

Because of the recent flooding in the Estes Park area earlier this fall, I was curious as to the fishability of the eastern watersheds of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of both Glacier Creek and the upper Big Thompson River.  I fished both with my 12’ Iwana by Tenkara USA, and had good luck catching browns and greenbacks with my self-tied Killer Kebari, a wonderful pattern from Chris Stewart, aka, the Tenkara Bum.  I was also testing a new product we’ve developed at RIGS Fly Shop, and I was pleased with the results.  I’ll be posting much more information on this later this fall, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what we’ve put together.
It was cold and snowy on Glacier Creek, but the fishing was great!
Big Thompson River, Rocky Mountain National Park
All in all, our family had a wonderful extended weekend.  We got to spend some quality time together as a family, we had time to relax for a change, and I was able to get into the park to enjoy some water that’s absolutely ideal for tenkara.  Catching trout with bull elk bugling over your shoulder in the middle of a wide mountain valley while snow falls gently on your head is something to be treasured!  It’s time well spent!

YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park Center