Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Work Backpacks

While most of the gear on this blog is designed in some way for the backcountry, we all need something to tote our work around in (at least those of us who are not independently wealthy.) I've come across a few good solutions. For years I used, and still have and use, very solid, inexpensive bags from Brooklyn Industries, from right here in the heart of Brooklyn ( They make functional items. My one issue with the one I've had is the lack of structure - not that too many nylon-type bags will stand up on their own - which is a pain when you're working out of the bag. My brother-in-law, the delightful Robert Casper, is always sporting outstanding urban gear so I went to him and he directed me to Rickshaw Bags, from San Francisco ( I got a waterproof version of their largest item, the backpack (they are largely into messenger bags,) and it rocks. It's not light, but you can remove some of the internal organizers and the laptop sleeve, and it's a stand-alone item. It also can hold several day's clothing and if I don't need a suit bag (Patagonia's Burrito design has been resurrected, and is better than ever), it will do for a business trip. Finally, if you're too up market for even Rickshaw's pricey nylon bags, the Saddleback Leather Company ( makes truly indestructible and beautiful items. I got a duffel for my dad recently and a man who gets excited about very little got excited. One of my business partners and I also gave a briefcase / pack to our CEO and he regularly gets compliments on it. They are not cheap, or light, but if you like something you can hand down to the next generation, they're where it's at.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Back to Backpacks

Since this is where it all began, I thought I'd revisit the topic. As mentioned before, I've had a preference for small boutique makers like Cilo Gear ( and Cold Cold World ( having used them with success over the years as dedicated climbing packs. Recently I've been a bit more inclined to use packs which can offer more frame support during the carry part of my outings. While you can always strip it out, it's hard to beat a nice carry on the trail, even if it is more critical that you be able to lead UIAA V or vertical ice at a few key points. For those really technical outings, I suppose I still prefer the venerable Valdez I have from Cold Cold World, or a pre-production 30 L CiloGear Dyneema item I tried in the past few years. But I've been using a larger, if lightweight, pack from Black Diamond (, a 45 L Quantum, and a smaller 35 L one from Deuter ( The former is great, if a bit bottom worn (probably not the right sack for JTree, given the sandpaper granite;) the latter is more recent, but addresses the durability issue. The BD can be stripped clean, which is great when you use it for an overnight and then a climb. The Deuter I've only cragged with, but it has leashless tool holders and good ski slots, both of which I find handy. Ultimately I like them for the carry, which is very comfortable, probably a sign of my middle-aged decadence. However, they are the biz for now. For a perfect leader pack I'd have to point to one of the smaller BD packs, like the bullet or the beebee, the smaller CiloGear packs, and a very slick mini Arc'teryx which Jim Lawyer was sporting at Potter Mountain in the Adirondacks recently. Jim also carrys a pack/haul sack, by Metolius I think, which is probably key if your doing lots of hauling and are a bit indifferent to the carry issue.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Outings - Limited Gear

For our part, my brother and I headed to the ‘upper 40′ of my father’s 100 or so acres in mid-state NY with 2 WW2 canvas army bags, my brand new Timberline A frame and a very suspect canister stove. Only through my brother’s interventions and inventiveness did we get the fire needed due to the useless paperweight I’d brought for a stove, and my ignorance about keeping gas cannisters warm. I have never used one since, and my brother vowed never to winter camp again, but we were only minutes from home and still chose to stay out the night. My mother still tells the tale, and I still appreciate the memory of my brother getting that fire going, just as I do memories of him sharing the last of his food when we were on short rations later and I’d scarfed the last of my food. Him carving up one small English muffin with pb&j into three parts (there was another miscreant aboard), seated cross-legged on a river bed a dozen miles into the southern drainage of Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dynafit TLT Speed Binding

These are an outstanding match for a light ski, fat or thin. I have them on Trabs, but the more serious backwoods crew I take tips from in the Adirondacks likes them on some heavier BD wide skis. There are a few things I noted in terms of differences when skiing on them with an incredibly hospitable Park City guru: they do not have the little channels on the pins which allow the other Dynafit binding pins to clear ice from your toe insets if you step in slightly and then run your foot forward and back (a useful thing to have, as ice often builds in there and we don't all carry roofing nails with us); and (obviously) they do not have ski brakes, so you need to wear straps on piste and/or not lose track of your skis on steep or deep ground. Otherwise they are everything you might need, just less of it. A very light and elegant package.

Ski Trab Stelvio FreeRide Alpine Ski

I know I indicated more packs next time, but since I just managed to put my skis down for the summer, they were on my mind (and yes, that's a long time to wait to wax, sharpen and put away these tools, but what can I say I'm slow.)

When these arrived at my local ski shop, the employees were all stunned. I think the comment was 'sorry they're so wet, we've all been drooling all over them.' The more meaningful indication of their quality was that the 2 skis measured exactly the same in grams: basically unheard of. These are a tremendous ski for the weight, and even without that consideration they are an excellent item.

I used it out of bounds in UT, at Solitude, and in the backwoods of the Adirondacks. Therefore they had a chance to play in 1+ foot power, and on rain hardened ice, and everything in between. They did just dandy on all of that. I went relatively short - I'm 6'2", ski these with a 25-45 lb pack and am 190+ - and the 178 is great. I am not a super aggressive skier, and at higher speeds on groomers there was very little chatter - although the light weight was notable. An excellent item and if on sale a great value. Paired with TLT Speed Turns (first generation) and boots ranging from the old Blue Garmont Super Rides (pretty comfortable) to Dynafit TLT 5s (yellow and mellow) all the way to TLT 7s (light, right, stiffer than peers and super comfortable.). They ski so well I put them on an adjustable heel so they can be skied by many, for years to come. Lack of rocker not a notable lack in terms of powder performance, although it is nicer with rocker if you can float the soft as you choose.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

PackPack overview

My son Tobias has a backpack his mother picked out in Berlin. It's colorful, well made (a Deuter) and he is crazy about it: he's been known to perform all kinds of unlikely activities in his 'pack pack'. Frankly, I was so jealous I had to go out and get a colorful Deuter pack too ( I chose one of the Guide series, partly because I too liked the color, but largely because it addressed a number of issues encountered over the many years and many packs.

I've had more packs than I can remember, starting with early external frame (think old style Kelty's). The big moment was when I received an early internal frame pack (I think it was a Hine Snowbridge, a great old Boulder CO company from the era of Gerry et al.) It spent about a month in the bottom of my father's closet and whenever I could, I would sneak furtive peeks. This pack took me through my teens, a period of very heavy use, and was only sold when more comfortable mass-produced items like Lowe made became available to replace it.

There are still both mass market and small 'boutique' pack makers, and the top offerings come from both ends of that spectrum. For elite climbers and skiers, Graham Williams' company CiloGear makes an exceptionally light and well-made product ( Similarly Randy Rackliff's brand Cold Cold World ( has long been a coveted item, with a no nonsense offering for dedicated Alpine use. These manufacturers and other domestic ones like Mystery Ranch (, created by the Dana Designs founder.) Especially if you care about made in USA, these companies provide exceptional products, good value, and incomparable features for high-end alpine pursuits ranging from climbing to skiing to hunting.

Next post I'll talk about some excellent packs from larger manufacturers including Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware and others. I'll also get into some individual models, pros/cons and personal tastes.

Introduction to Thom's Gear

This blog was inspired by Jan Baracz ( a very talented artist with a sense of humor about many things, not least of which is my ongoing obsession with gear. I remember very clearly a time when I was in my early teens, in the middle of a two week backcountry hiking trip, the wind changed and I heard a conversation about me being conducted in low voices by my companions. I had spread my equipment out to dry and sort it and was modifying, sorting and just generally obsessing. I can't remember the exact commentary, but I think something like 'he's always been like this...' came up at one point. That same trip (to Glacier National Park in Washington State) had started with a group vote about crampons and ice axes. We were going a long ways, and the team was divided on whether or not to bring these: with the right conditions we could have made the summit with only the leader chopping the occasional step, saving the individual members of the group a pound or few over the course of two weeks. The nays had it, we left the gear, and failed to summit, in part due to the extra time the lack of the proper gear. There are plenty of times when less is in fact more too. This blog is all about what we bring to where, why we bring it, and what seems to work best. It's a highly personal examination of the obsession of many an enthusiast: gear.