Monday, March 19, 2012

"Made in the USA!" Late Winter Wilderness Gear Roundup

Dear readers,

Below is a list of winter-specific wilderness gear made entirely in the USA. This list is the winter portion of a massive upcoming article that I am working on that asks one simple question-- Is it possible to equip oneself with all US made outdoor gear? The answer may surprise you.

The upcoming article will include many of these products as well as over 30 additional US made products that were all field tested by Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, along with reviews and location photos. It will encompass everything from knives and multi-tools to clothing, backpacks, sleeping pads, water purifiers, you name it!

Make sure to sign up to receive a notification when this article goes live in the coming weeks. You can also sign up for Twitter updates at our new Twitter and Facebook pages.

The companies in this product list want YOU to know that they still make these products domestically. Buying USA keeps dollars here where they help our economy, so please show them your support!


MSR Lightning Ascent 30 Snowshoes w/ Modular Flotation Tails- MSR designed these snowshoes to deliver "unmatched traction and security on any terrain, in any conditions" according their product literature. They are also meant for maximum flotation when bearing loads up to 300lbs with the attached tails.

To see if they would live up to this description, we each loaded up with over 80 pounds of gear, including boots, backpack, winter clothing and other essentials and hit the four foot deep slopes off of Colorado's famed Longs Peak Trail.

During this test, we also wanted to try out key features like the PosiLock AT Bindings, 360 degree traction frame, pivot crampons and especially the Ergo Televators, which are supposed to increase traction and reduce fatigue when trekking uphill. The photos below illustrate some of these features:

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Lightning Ascent 30 Specifications :
Weight per pair- 4 lbs 8 oz / 2030 g
Weight- 8 in / 20 cm
Length- 30 in / 76 cm
Gait- Unisex/normal width
Footwear size range- 4.5 M - 15 M / 35.5 - 49.5
Load- 150 - 280 lbs / 68 - 127+ kilos
Load w/tails- 180 - 300+ lbs / 82 - 136+ kilos
 Made in Seattle, Washington USA


As mentioned, we loaded up to full multi-day winter backpacking weight and picked an uphill slope with fresh, unbroken snow to test the shoes. Average snow depth was roughly four feet and powdery. We normally use two poles for better balance, but one of our Chinese-made ski poles broke right before testing! (Sorry, American made ski poles were one of the only things we couldn't find for the upcoming article). We figured it would pose an even greater challenge to these snowshoes, so we went ahead with testing anyway.

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Flotation was generally good, though not on the level of wooden snow shoes of course (to be expected from modern technical shoes). However, the Lightning Ascents were much better at handling tight spaces and traction-challenged surfaces than I've experienced with wooden shoes, so it's a worthwhile trade.

The PosiLock AT straps functioned as advertised and were indeed easy to use when taking the shoes on and off. We also never experienced any loosening or slippage during the test. The pivot crampons made the shoes feel secure and comfortable on some of the slicker surfaces as well.

Our favorite feature though was definitely the Ergo Televators. Simply flip up the Televators with the handle of a ski pole (see the photo below) to set them in place and steep slopes suddenly become fun to traverse. Dave and I both raved about how much of a difference these things made! 

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Overall, we really enjoyed these snowshoes and they helped to inspire confidence on the steep slopes and tight spots we encountered during testing. Definitely a great choice if you plan to do any serious winter trekking or backpacking, plus, they're made in the good ol US of A!

For more information, please visit MSR's product page for the Lightning Ascent 30


Voile T-Wood Avalanche Shovel- Voile's T-Wood Avalanche shovel is not only a great safety tool for skiers, it's also an excellent winter wilderness survival tool for bushcrafters. Aside from the obvious benefit of carrying a snow shovel to dig snow shelters, the inclusion of a "Saws-all" blade brings it up to a whole new level. With this saw, you can easily process firewood, cut snow/ice blocks or wooden poles to build shelters.

It features a tempered aluminum shovel, retractable aluminum handle and easily breaks down to fit into most backpacks. The T-handle itself is made of plastic. The saw blade is made of stainless steel and roughly 7" long. When not in use it easily stows away inside the handle (replacement saws are available directly from Voile).

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Weight- 1 lb.10oz./0.74kg
Length- 23.75in/60.3cm
Extended Length- 29.75in/75.6cm
Made in Salt Lake City, Utah USA

The Aluminum used in the shovel is certainly heavier than comparable plastic avalanche shovels, but what it loses in weight advantage it makes up for with increased strength. During our testing, we used the Voile to shovel out several teepee sites in deep snow as well as building snow mounds for insulation around them. We also used it to pick up and move hot rocks around the campfire several times. The Voile didn't even have a chip in the paint after all this, very impressive. 

We also tested the saw extensively. While the saw teeth aren't as efficient as those on a Bahco Laplander Saw (shown in the photo collage above), the ability to use it two-handed on a longer shovel handle increases the efficiency enough to closely match the performance of the Bahco. This longer handle also has the added advantage of being able to reach higher limbs on trees if you need to reach dry wood for kindling or branches for shelter/bedding material. 

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All in all this is an excellent survival tool to keep handy whether you're a skier, bushcrafter or backpacker and its durable construction should give you years of service. Highly recommended. 

To buy this product directly from Voile USA please click here


Talus ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava- No, that's not Darth Vader, it's Dave wearing a Talus Cold Avenger Balaclava! All kidding aside, this balaclava was designed for truly extreme winter weather, so that even if we sent Dave to the frozen planet of Hoth it would still keep him warm and comfortable! 

According to the Talus website, the ColdAvenger was "researched and developed in Northern Rocky Mountain winters and tested in snow and freezing weather......the ColdAvenger keeps your face warm and dry while helping humidify inhaled air and allowing you to breathe freely." Constructed of Polartec Wind Pro, it is windproof and water resistant and also features a ventilated face piece to help protect the lungs from extreme cold air. A nice touch is the face piece being made of medical grade plastic, which is inherently microbial resistant and more flexible under a wide range of temperatures.

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Balaclava Material- Polartec Wind Pro Fleece
Soft medical grade, non-toxic polyurethane ventilator
Designed to fit with goggles and helmets
Adjustable, removable interior valve controls up to 60% of air intake
One size fits most* (see the Talus website for more info)
Made in Missoula, Montana USA

We tested the ColdAvenger on several trips to the mountains in weather as cold as -10 degrees F, and it kept our head and neck nice and warm the whole time. One thing we noticed that was different from most balaclavas though is the lack of a gauntlet style neck. According to Talus, the ColdAvenger was intentionally designed this way to protect against snagging in heavy machinery (i.e. oil rigs, etc) since a large percentage of their customer base are workers in Alaskan oil fields. Though Dave and I both prefer gauntlet style balaclavas for comfort, neither of us felt like it was a deal breaker if wanting to use it for serious high mountain adventures. 

So if you're looking for the ultimate in cold weather protection for your head and neck, check out the ColdAvenger, and as always, may the Force be with you!

To buy this product directly from Talus please click here 


SmartWool Extra Heavy Mountaineering and Extra Heavy Hunting Socks (w/liners)- What can I say? I have been using Smartwool socks for years and they are bar-none the best outdoor socks I've ever used. Durable, comfortable, warm yet breathable. I like them so much I even wear them when I'm not running around in the bush.

To test them, I ventured out for 3 hours into 23 degree F weather with a pair of Extra Heavy Hunting Socks and liners nestled inside my non-insulated Hi-Tec Summer Hiking Boots. Normally, this is a recipe for cold and miserable feet if spending any amount of time outside without insulated boots. After being stationary most of the time while testing out the gear in this article, my feet were still warm and comfortable. Pretty amazing.

Smartwool socks also don't bunch up like many socks do because of the stretchy nylon\wool blend they use. Yes, they are pricier than most socks, but for the added durability, comfort and warmth they provide, you just can't go wrong. 

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Made in Steamboat Springs, Colorado USA

To buy Extra Heavy Mountaineering Socks directly from Smartool please click here

To buy Extra Heavy Hunting Socks & Liners directly from Smartool please click here

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