Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mountaintop Mobile Home

After a brief review of my current battery of tents, I discovered I had nothing suitable for a backpack hunt into the DCUA for my upcoming sheep hunt. My tents were either made for base camping in winter, too lightweight to deal with the unpredictable weather at altitude during that time of year or just too heavy to think about lugging 20 miles in and 1.5 mile up.

I started numerous conversations with sheep hunters and mined them for all the data I could find out. My experience with that area is generally looking at it from 40 miles away during moose season and thinking -"I glad I'm not up there right now..." Most of the savvy sheep hands I spoke with reported that a season without a big storm is very unusual and most picked 4 season mountaineering tents accordingly. I even spoke with one hunter who was blown clear out of the Brooks Range and spent two days rolled up in his hopelessly collapsed 3 season ultralight tent- day three and hypothermic, he hit his rescue transponder. His advice- "Your tent is your make or break piece of gear between a hunt turning into an inconvenient adventure or a life threatening event. Choose accordingly."
I looked through a variety of websites and talked to several folks with experience in the mountains and one maker kept popping up- Bibler. A visit to the mountaineering store yielded a selection of Bibler tents and the two man Fitzroy looked the most appropriate for my needs. Weighing 6lb 6oz for the body and poles the vestibule and a handful of aluminum stakes brings it to just under 8 pounds. Very doable for two hunters to split between them Striking a deep discount on an off season deal, I brought my new mobile home back to the cave.

The tent is made of a single layer of "Todd Tex" and follows the current trend of "waterproof and breathable" fabrics. Frankly, I'm deeply suspicious of such claims and if I weren't looking for the lightest bomb shelter I could find I'd have never thought twice about one. The solemn endorsement of a number of experienced mountain hunters counted for a lot as well. The tent is rated for wind speeds that border on ludicrous and snowfalls of 24" at 32F- that's a heavy wet snow that would crush most any tent. I don't think it will be any better in summer than any of dozens of other tents and due to condensation issues inherent with single wall design may even be worse- but all indications are when the weather gets crazy, this is the bunker to be in.

After bringing it home I managed to carve out an evening on the weekend to throw the tent on the pulk and pull it a few miles with some other camp gear for a trial run during winter conditions. Impressive is all I can say. The fabric is textured and taut as a snare drum when pitched. I'm betting that properly staked and guyed out this thing won't even rattle in a stout wind, much less come apart.

The fit is better than some two man mountaineering tents I looked at. Most seemed to accommodate two hunters only if they're willing to spoon and forget about keeping any gear with you. This one will take two hunters without undue familiarity but the gear will have to go into the vestibule.

Here it is prior to staking and bunkering with snow near the summit of Bart Mountain.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cold Hard Cash...Cold Hard Reality.

I got a comment from a reader the other day and while the correspondence is something I so dearly enjoy; this reader took me to task over an apparent connundrum in my personal philosophy regarding finance and outdoor gear. I have made multiple statements on my blog over the past couple of years regarding what I refer to as "my innate thriftiness" or in other words being cheap. I also haven't done much in the way of gear reviews but those that I've done featured items that my reader thought a guy with "innate thriftiness" wouldn't own. Or at least have paid for. While I see his point that a guy that doesn't like spending money probably wouldn't spend $3000 on a single rifle, I believe he's failed to read between the lines on most of my posts to see a couple of (at least to me) very plain things I believe regarding spending one's hard earned cash on outdoor gear.

So I thought I'd write an actual post about it with the disclaimer that this is my opinion only. I'm not your investment counselor for goodness sake, I'm a blogger that lives just this side of Timbuktoo.

So here are four of my thoughts on buying outdoor gear.

1. You can buy quality once, or you can buy crap... a lot of it.

The best advice for outdoorsfolks that I have is to have a very good, very high quality, very basic set of gear. You don't need a mountain of stuff to have fun and be successful in the outdoors. I have friends that have garages that look like the innards of a Bass Pro Shop...and they haven't seen a critter in the field in a long, long time.

That said, the equipment you do buy- go ahead and buy some really decent stuff. One thing I painfully learned is that cheap gear tends to leave you in the lurch when it hurts the worst. Some of the things that you shouldn't skimp on are items related to your survival- tents, sleeping bags, rain gear, stuff that keeps you from developing hypothermia is a really good place to spend money.

As a word of advice- top shelf gear is expensive and generally a slow mover. In the cut-throat world of retail that means slow movers are frequently on sale. My "excessive" rifle was purchased new-in-the-box from the gun shop at something like 50% off MSRP, a staggering number when you consider the MSRP is $3300. It takes the profit off a lot of small sales to make up that kind of loss for a store. Its also a lot of money sitting in inventory if its not moving. Also, time your purchases to coincide with that equipments off season- ie. skis in spring and tents in winter for a better shot at deep discount.

When you're buying the good stuff...never, ever, ever pay retail.
2. 99% of everything in the sporting goods mega mall or mail order clearance house you DO NOT NEED in order to be successful in the field.

Really folks- you don't need a two stroke margarita mixer... you may want one but don't confuse that with need. My biggest beef with the outdoors industry is that they are constantly parading trinkets that have no genuine usefullness other than what they have developed for you, answering questions that you never asked.
I really wish they'd spend their time doing something more useful- like making rain gear that doesn't leak.

3. If you're paying interest on your gear you ought to be hunting more money, not critters.

Nothing stimeys a good time like having the bills follow you home from a great hunting adventure. Given what the average U.S. household pays in credit card interest you can buy a really nice rifle every so often if you were to pay in cash and use that interest money at the hook and bullet store instead of sending it to some huge finance empire. You might try the time proven "Borrow and Barter" method for gear you don't have and really can't afford at the moment- I once got the use of a brand new ATV for a weekend this way. If you use this method, do be a good sport and return your borrowed item in excellent condition. I returned the ATV spotlessly clean, full of gas, and with a fresh caribou quarter given in appreciation to boot. I'll be welcomed if I ever have need to borrow it again.

Online internet forums with other hunters are a great place to swap items you no longer need for things you currently want. Buyer beware but some good old fashoined gear swappin' can really help stretch a hunter's budget. In this tough economy I'm regularly seeing folks bartering and trading goods on the internet forum I frequent and generally its a win-win for all parties involved.

4. With the BIG stuff its usually cheaper to rent.

A coworker of mine was a real halibut angler and was incensed when the price of a full day halibut charter went north of $100 (those were the days!) and decided to beat all the rip off charter companies at their own game.

Signing on the dotted line yielded him the payment book on a 25' Bayliner ($40000) and trailer. What he didn't realize is that new sea going boats are best thought of as a "blank canvas" rather than "finished art" and another $20,000 later he actually had boat he could put in the water and possibly fish from. On his maiden voyage he also ran into another snag- his 1/2 ton pickup gave up pulling a 3/4 ton boat just about the top of Moose Pass leaving much of its transmission behind. A new and appropriately sized 3/4 ton truck ($35,000) fixed that ill.

So my acquaintance was then perilously close to $100,000 in debt for a natty new fishing boat and truck to pull it with. He figures he's paying about $4000 a day to go fishing now and last I talked to him he's working so much overtime to try to keep up with the payment he doesn't have so much time to fish....

So remember this acronym when it comes to boats...


That daily rate might just be a bargain.

Chuitna Mine...time to write a letter to the Governor.

Click Here!