Monday, March 25, 2013

Quick Update- March 25th 2013

Dear readers,

I will be field testing gear for the next few days, which requires me to camp out in the mountains where I won't have access to the internet. Once I return I will resume posting.

I am also finishing reviews on a couple of new and exciting knives by Gerber and Benchmade, so there will be plenty of fresh material coming your way soon!

Cheers!

Jason

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Made in the USA" Gear Review: Wintergreen Northern Wear Expedition Shell Anorak & Guide Shell Pants






































Wintergreen Northern Wear, located in Ely Minnesota, was originally founded by Paul and Susan Schurke, a husband and wife team with extensive experience exploring the Arctic Circle.

Paul had the notable distinction of being on the famed 1986 Steger International Polar Expedition, the first team in history to reach the North Pole without resupply.

Paul's wife Susan, taking a cue from the garb she'd seen Eskimos wear, designed and crafted the clothing that was used by the Steger team.

This clothing was so well made that it kept the team warm down to an incredible -75 Degrees Fahrenheit. Based on this success, Paul and Susan decided to create the Wintergreen Northern Wear line.

The 1986 Steger International Polar Expedition Team, which includes Paul Schurke, wearing clothing designed by soon-to-be founder of Wintergreen Northern Wear, Susan Schurke (photo credit: Will Steger Foundation)


Susan Schurke, notable dog sledder, wilderness skills instructor, and Arctic explorer.

Expedition Shell Anorak and Guide Shell Pants

Wintergreen's Expedition Shell Anorak and Guide Shell Pants were designed to be extreme cold weather technical outer layers for trekking through arctic and subarctic climates.

Since many parts of the Rocky Mountains are considered subarctic, the Anorak Shell and Guide Pants looked to be excellent candidates for winter bushcrafting when I ran across them during an online search last year. Coincidentally, I also found out that they were made in the USA. So I contacted Wintergreen, asking if they would be interested in having us review them for our "Made in the USA" series. Happily they agreed!

During this inquiry, I found out that Paul and Susan Schurke sold Wintergreen to current owners Curt and Becky Stacey back in 2009, in order to focus more attention on their Dogsled Lodge and Adventures Company.

When specialty companies sell their businesses to new owners, it doesn't always go so well. Luckily for Wintergreen, this hasn't been the case.

Even though the Schurkes are no longer running Wintergreen, quality and customer service has remained high. In fact, having spoken with Becky Stacey several times (Becky manages the day to day operations of Wintergreen), I can tell that she is very committed and enthusiastic about Wintergreen's quality, history, and pride in employing US workers.

(From left to right) Curt Stacey, Becky Stacey, Susan Schurke, Paul Schurke
 

Expedition Shell Anorak


Features/Specifications:

  • Outer shell constructed from treated 3-ply nylon with DWR (Durable Water Repellency), made to shield the body from the wind, also breathable.
  • Shakes off moisture easily and breathes better than Gore-tex under extreme cold conditions
  • Designed for polar expeditions or other extreme cold adventures
  • Ample design for layering to trap air and hold in body heat
  • Silky polyester shelter lining is suspended from the shoulders to prevent moisture traps
  • Adjustable draw-cord waist and hood and inside zip pockets
  • Zip-on Coyote Fur Ruff as an option (ruffs are obtained only from Inuit hunters who harvest them as a sustainable resource in the Canadian Arctic)
  • Two styles available- 1) Partial-Zip pullover style with a single front hand-warmer pocket 2) Full-Zip style with a two-way zipper and two front hand-warmer cargo pockets (The Full-Zip model is the one used in this review)
  • Machine Washable
  • Made in Ely, MN U.S.A
  • Price- $300.00 USD

The Anorak features adjustable draw cords on the waist and hood, as well as an inside zip pocket. The inside of the jacket has a polyester shelter lining, which is suspended from the shoulders to prevent moisture traps. A really nice touch is the hand-warmer cargo pockets, which have a fleece lining on the front (shown in the top left photo below). I found these to be especially handy after working without gloves in frigid weather.

(click to enlarge)


Guide Shell Pants


Features/Specifications:

  • Constructed from 3-ply nylon with DWR (durable water repellency), with wind flaps inside and outside of leg zips and Velcro tabs at cuffs
  • Knees and buttocks are reinforced with heavy, waterproof Cordura nylon for durability and comfort while sitting and kneeling.
  • Shakes off moisture easily and breathes better than Gore-tex under extreme cold conditions
  • Designed for polar expeditions or other extreme cold adventures
  • Zip-fly crotch
  • Two deep side pockets
  • Removable web belt
  • Wear over thermal layer or alone
  • Machine Washable
  • Made in Ely, MN U.S.A
  • Price- $235.00

The knees and buttocks of the Guide Pants are reinforced with heavy waterproof Cordura nylon for durability and comfort while sitting and kneeling. They also come with a removable web belt, a zip fly and two deep side pockets. The legs can be unzipped half way up which makes them easy to put on and take off while on the move.

(click to enlarge)

Field Testing the Anorak Shell and Guide Pants


We originally received the Anorak and Guide Pants for testing last February and since that time, Dave and I have worn them on numerous winter treks and cold weather gear testing trips, including a couple of trips on Longs Peak Trail. Even in windchill temperatures down to -30 F, the Anorak and Guide Pants both performed brilliantly. True to Wintergreen's polar expedition heritage, these items kept us warm and dry, and also proved to be durable even after rolling around on rocks, dirt and mud when setting up remote camps. 

The Anorak and Guide Pants were large enough to wear multiple layers if needed, while also feeling light and not overly bulky. Truly an excellent design.

Dave sporting the Wintergreen Anorak and Guide Pants at the Longs Peak trailhead last February, getting ready to do some hard-core snow-shoeing up the trail!


Yours truly sitting in a puddle of ice water last March, trying to see if the Cordura reinforcement on the buttocks area was really waterproof. After sitting and dealing with Dave's bad jokes for 30 mins, the water still didn't leak through.


I found the reinforced knees on the Guide Pants to be particularly useful while kneeling in wet or snowy conditions:


The pockets on the Guide Pants are simple but worked well in the field. We carried all kinds of stuff in them and never had any issues with things coming out or getting snagged.


Conclusion

If I won the lottery tomorrow, and could afford absolutely any type of winter technical shell for bushcraft and winter trekking, I would still pick the Wintergreen Anorak and Guide Pants. Considering that these clothes would be responsible for keeping me alive and comfortable in dangerously frigid conditions, and would give many years of service, I think the choice is obvious.

Yes, the $300 price tag on the Anorak (and $235 on the Guide Pants) might seem a bit expensive to some, but considering that many big name Chinese-made winter shells cost upwards of $500 a piece, I think the price is definitely reasonable, especially considering the outstanding quality and performance of this dynamic duo.

"Fantastic" is not a word I've used in a review before, but in this case, I'll make the exception. Simply fantastic, and absolutely recommended if you are serious about cold weather adventures.

5 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

For more information, visit Wintergreen's website at www.wintergreennorthernwear.com

UPDATE- Wintergreen set to reopen this winter under original owners


About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Fiskars discontinues X5 Hatchet for 2013


Sadly, Fiskars has decided to discontinue their excellent X5 8" Hatchet for 2013. There is no official word as to the reason why, but I suspect it's because Gerber is releasing the similar-sized Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet next month (Gerber is owned by Fiskars).

The X5 will still be available through existing retailer stocks, but once these are depleted, the X5 will no longer be available. The X5 will continue to be sold in Europe, however. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Longs Peak Trail Winter Backpacking Trip Report

(NOTE: For background information on this trip, check out my "Backpacking Trip up Longs Peak tomorrow" post first)


Well, I made it home in one piece! Unfortunately, I had to cut my trip short at the end of the second day due to extreme conditions at the tree line, which made it impossible to light my MSR stove to melt snow for drinking water.

Blowing snow was so bad up there that it literally covered the stove by the time I took it out of my pack and put it on the ground. Watch the video at the end of this report and you'll see what I'm talking about!

In case you're wondering, I couldn't start a campfire, because campfires aren't allowed on Longs Peak, and there's very little firewood available at the tree line.

In those harsh conditions, which included tropical storm-force wind gusts and windchill temperatures approaching -21 F during the day, I was rapidly dehydrating, and without the ability to melt snow into drinking water, I had no choice but to beat a hasty retreat back down the trail as night fell.

Day One

(click to enlarge)

My first day involved backpacking up to Goblin's Forest, which is the first available place to camp off the trail, roughly a mile from the trailhead. Luckily, the snow on the trail was compacted down enough that I was able to make the trek without snow shoes. It was here that I would spend my first night.

The view of the trail behind me on the approach to Goblin's Forest


Goblin's Forest camping area


Altimeter reading at the camping area:


The area to the left of trail (shown in the photo below) is where backpackers are allowed to camp overnight. Underestimating the depth of the snow, I merrily tromped into this area looking for a camp site. After just a short distance, I wound up in snow up to my waist!

Luckily, I found a level area with only knee-deep snow, where I could set up camp. I had debated about bringing my avalanche shovel, figuring I could use just my snow shoes to clear camp. In the end I decided to bring the shovel even though it was added weight, and I'm glad I did, because it would have been a lot more work without it.


As I was setting up camp, the wind started to howl, and snow began to blow hard enough to obscure my visibility, so I hurriedly dug out an area to pitch my ParaTipi. Once it was set up (and due to my haste, I didn't set it up as well as I normally would), I managed to fire up my MSR XGK EX stove and make a Mountain House dehydrated meal for dinner before night settled in.

Overnight and into the next morning

After night fell, around 6:30pm, it was too cold to do anything but jump into my sleeping bag. It ended up being a good opportunity to catch up on some sleep, because even though I brought a book, it was just too dang cold to try and read!
(click to enlarge)

Luckily, the North Face Inferno -40 F bag that I brought along to test lived up to its name, or I would have been miserable. Overnight temps approached -20 F with the windchill. I had to leave the flap open on the Paratipi to prevent condensation from forming, since it is a single walled nylon tent, so I definitely felt the full effect of the cold as the wind blew into it.

The Inferno bag was actually warm enough in those temperatures that I had to vent it in the middle of the night, so my guess is that the -40 F rating on it is fairly accurate.



I spent nearly 13 hours inside the bag, getting up when the sun cracked the sky at around 7:30 am. My sleep was fairly restful, though I was awakened a few times when clumps of snow fell from high branches and smacked the Paratipi. Luckily, Kifaru builds their tipis to withstand extreme conditions such as these, and the falling snow didn't affect its integrity in any way.

Gear Selection

I thought I would take a moment to mention the gear I used to function in a subarctic environment without a fire:

CLOTHING

Outer-layer- Wintergreen Northern Wear Anorak Shell and Guide Pants
Main insulation layer- a couple of old fleece liner jackets that I pillaged from beat-up thrift store winter jackets
Head protection- Talus Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava, plus a fleece cap found at a thrift store.
Eye Protection- Smith Optics goggles for protection in snowy conditions, or Pivothead Video Sunglasses for drier, sunny conditions and to take video clips.

Gear Used

Backpack- Kelty 2012 RedCloud 90
Backpacking Stove- MSR XGK EX Liquid Fuel Stove
Ground insulation- 2012 Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Pad,  Therm-A-Rest Pro-Lite Plus Self-Inflating Mattress, and a Grabber Space Tarp
Emergency Matches- UCO Stormproof Matches
Cookware- Snow Peak Kettle #1 for melting snow for drinking water and rehydrating Mountain House food
Spork- American Kami's Titanium Survival Spork
Trekking poles- Mountain Smith (don't know which model, got them on clearance at a local outdoors store)
Portable Weather Instrument/Altimeter- Kestrel 3500
Compass- Suunto
Camera- just my old but reliable Canon digital camera, plus a cheap, no-name tripod that ended up breaking before the trip was over.

Day Two- Trek towards the tree line


After spending the night in Goblin's Forest, It took me a couple of hours to break camp before heading out on the second leg of the journey. Breaking camp on winter excursions takes much longer than during warm weather, since you have to pack up twice as much gear, as well as having to melt snow in order to drink or eat.

Since I'm mentioning gear, I thought I'd also mention one of the most unpleasant aspects of winter backpacking- weight! Though I've done this type of trip many times, traveling up mountain trails with nearly 100 pounds of combined gear (on top of snow) sucks. There's no other way to describe it. I always feel like an overloaded pack mule, but it's necessary to ensure survival and comfort on a solo winter trip.

The trek towards the treeline was really quite beautiful:




The flat area beyond the mountains is where the city of Longmont is located



The approach to the tree line:


At the tree line

Once I got to the tree line, I noticed that the trail had disappeared. It was noticeably colder and the wind had picked up quite a bit. There were also chest-high snow drifts everywhere.


With this extreme change in conditions, I decided to err on the side of caution and not go any further that day, as I wanted plenty of time to make camp by digging out a snow shelter. I found an area where snow had drifted behind a Limber Pine tree and dug out a shelter, with the intention of covering it with a tarp.



By the time I got my shelter ready, the sun was low in the sky, and the conditions starting getting noticeably worse. Winds were gusting at high speeds, and the temperature dropped even lower. Wind-driven snow started covering everything, and even sitting down inside the shelter with my back turned against the wind, snow was still blowing into my nostrils. My gear was coated with several inches within minutes.

I managed to brave the elements long enough to put on my Pivothead Video Sunglasses and capture the following video. The windchill recorded with my Kestrel weather instrument was just shy of -21 F. 

(enlarge the video by clicking the Youtube symbol to see the temperature and get the full effect!)

After I took this video, I attempted to hunker down in my shelter and use my MSR stove to melt snow into drinking water, since I was getting pretty dehydrated. The wind then started to blow even harder than what was shown in the video. Snow was blowing so badly that, even behind the shelter, it completely covered my stove by the the time I took it out of my pack, making it impossible to ignite. Snow also started to cover my face and body, to the point where if I had simply relaxed for a few minutes, I would have been coated from head to toe in several inches of snow!

With no ability to make drinking water, dehydration setting in, and nighttime windchill temperatures I estimated would hit -40 to -50 F, it was a virtual death trap.

That's when I made the decision to bail out. 

I have been in some very harsh conditions in the mountains before, but this is the first time I felt my life could be in danger. The best way I can describe it is,  Planet Hoth from "The Empire Strikes Back!"


Despite being a tough trip, I was still able to get some great gear testing done, and as always, you learn something new every time you go out there!

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quick Update

Hey folks,

I am in the process of getting my Red Cross instructor status renewed in addition to working on a bunch of new material, so I'll be a little slow in posting this week. I am hoping to have a full report on my Longs Peak Winter backpacking trip posted by this weekend though, so keep checking back!

Jason

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tips & Tricks: An easy way to apply beeswax to your axe handles


I've experimented with different ways to apply beeswax to an axe handle, including trying suggestions from the internet to use a double boiler or paint thinner to dissolve the wax so it can be applied with a brush. I've found neither of these methods to be particularly useful.

With the double boiler method, the beeswax starts to cool as soon as the brush is withdrawn from the melted solution. This makes it difficult to apply before it hardens, leading to an overly thick, uneven coating on the handle.

Using paint thinner to dissolve beeswax is also difficult, since beeswax resists melting using even the strongest paint thinners, such as Naphtha, Acetone, Turpentine and Mineral Spirits. In fact, I left some small pieces of beeswax inside jars of both Naphtha and Turpentine for over a week, and the beeswax only partially melted!

I've found a method that I believe is easier and more effective.

How to Apply Beeswax to Your Axe Handle

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • A block of beeswax (available online or in hobby/craft stores)
  • Turpentine (available at any hardware store)
  • Rubber Gloves (I am shown in the photos wearing wool gloves, since this was photographed outside in single digit temperatures for demonstration purposes. When you're actually performing this task, make sure to wear protective rubber gloves, since Turpentine is toxic)
  • Clean Rag (made of soft cotton, like a piece of common terry cloth towel found in most households).

Directions

Apply a couple of dabs of Turpentine to a clean rag:


Rub the Turpentine-soaked rag on the surface of the beeswax block a couple of times:


Rub the rag back and forth on your axe handle, covering one small area at a time. You will need to re-wet your rag with a few dabs of Turpentine and beeswax occasionally as you coat the entire handle. 


NOTE: Make sure to apply beeswax AFTER the handle has been treated with Linseed Oil, since Turpentine can dry out the wood without a Linseed Oil barrier to protect it.

Once the Turpentine evaporates from the beeswax, it will leave a thin, waterproof coating, making the handle more resistant to the elements.

SPONSOR NOTE: The Wetterlings Backcountry Axe used in this article was graciously donated to us by SportHansa in Longmont, Colorado. If you enjoyed this write-up, please show your support by visiting Sport Hansa's online store. Thank you!

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Made in the USA" Review: Ontario RD Hawk II


Last summer, Ontario Knives sent Dave and I a couple of RD Hawk II's to try out. Even though the RD is primarily a tactical/breaching tool, they asked us to find out if it might have any legitimate use as a woods or wilderness survival tool.

I was up front in telling Ontario that the tactical-oriented RD might not do so well out in the bush, but Ontario insisted that they were ok with that. They said they wanted to find out how it might function if it were the only tool someone had in a wilderness survival situation. Since this looked like an interesting project, and knowing Ontario's heritage and overall quality, I decided to give it a shot.


RD Hawk Features/Specs

Designed to be a tactical and breaching weapon for soldiers, the RD Hawk II is certainly not a typical looking hatchet or tomahawk.

While one end does have a traditional hatchet bit, the other side, which on most hatchets would be the place for a poll, has instead a sharp spike, used to penetrate the body armor of an enemy combatant. I was curious to see if there was a wilderness use for this spike, as you'll see in the field testing below.

The RD Hawk is constructed from a solid piece of 1/4" 1075 steel, which has a baked on powder coating finish. The steel is a little on the softer side in order to emphasize toughness over absolute edge-holding, coming in at 53-55RC, roughly the same as most Council Tool axes. Overall length is 12.4", with a cutting edge surface of 3.6".

The handle scales are made from Canvas Micarta. The RD Hawk weighs in at 28 ounces without the sheath, 32 ounces with the sheath.


Sheath

The RD Hawk comes with a very nice cordura-nylon sheath, which I found to be both functional and durable. It allows secure belt carry as well as easy withdrawal and replacement.


Comparison Shots

The RD Hawk next to a Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet:


FIELD TESTING


As mentioned at the beginning of this review, our task was to find out if the RD Hawk had any viable uses in a wilderness situation. We decided to try it in the following four categories; 1) Chopping 2) Splitting 3) Fine Carving and 4) Uses for the spike.

Chopping

Due to the steep grind angle and thickness of the edge, which is made to be stronger for breaching purposes, the RD Hawk turned out to be a poor chopper considering its weight. The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, though weighing 7 ounces less (pictured on the left in the photo below), chopped much more efficiently than the heavier RD Hawk (right).

(click to enlarge)

The canvas micarta handle on the RD Hawk was reasonably comfortable during chopping, and felt similar to the handles on Ontario's Randall Adventure Training (RAT) series of knives.

Splitting

I was able to split 3-4" pine logs with the RD Hawk relatively easy.


Success!

Fine Carving Tasks

I was able to rough out a tent stake without too much trouble, but the thickness and grind angle of the edge made other fine tasks more difficult than they were worth. The steel section that runs between the handle and the hatchet head is also very uncomfortable to choke up on, adding to the grim prospect of using the RD to make feather sticks, etc.


Uses for the Spike

Surprisingly, the spike turned out to be more useful than I thought it would. It can used as an ice pick in the winter, as an awl to punch holes in leather or wood, or as a log puller, as shown below:


Conclusion

Due to the steep grind and thickness of the edge, the RD Hawk performed poorly in both chopping and fine carving tasks. The steel handle just below the head is uncomfortable to choke up on, which hinders its ability to make feathersticks or do other fine work.

On the plus side, the RD was able to split wood effectively as well as rough out crude tent stakes. The spike was actually a surprise, in that it could be used as an ice pick, awl and log puller. 

I was curious to see how the RD would perform if I spent some time re-profiling the edge with a belt sander into a thinner convexed edge. After about an hour, I got the edge to look like this:


The difference in chopping ability was immediate and dramatic. During some off-camera chopping tests, the RD actually out-chopped the Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet, throwing large chips in the process.

If you have access to a belt sander and have some skill in profiling axes, this might be an option if you'd like your RD Hawk to perform better in a wilderness environment.


So what's the verdict? Though I can't recommend the RD Hawk as a bushcraft tool, it would function reasonably enough in a survival situation to build a shelter, split kindling or make tent stakes. The spike also comes in handy as an awl or to drag firewood as a log puller, and during winter, can be used as an ice pick. It also features Ontario's typical high quality durable construction, and is made in the good ol' USA.

For more information, visit Ontario Knives at www.ontarioknife.com/catalog/item/231

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)