Twelve Months, Twelve Photos 2016

As in past I have chosen to reflect upon the year behind me by choosing a photo from each month that I feel was a highlight.  It allows me to think on how the year played out and helps to set the stage for the year ahead.  Thanks to Dave C. for the idea of the “Twelve Months, Twelve Photos” concept – – it has become something I truly appreciate.

January: The month started off pretty great although my back – – which I had been suffering through much pain over for the past years – – proved to be nice in that I got out with one of my best backcountry partners for a nice day of pow at a not overly used b.c. zone.

February: The outdoor gear development company that had employed me since 2012 decided to switch it’s focus away from gear design and as such let the majority of it’s R&D staff go in 2016.  This was a pretty huge hit to the way of life that my family and I had begun to build for ourselves but at the same time was a chance for me to design and develop some of my own gear as I said goodbye to that place.  In good news, the person who was part of that company that I most respected has started his own company so go give them a follow.

March: Young Mae began to take her first steps in March.  It’s almost hard to think back on this now that she is running and jumping all over the place.

April: The aforementioned closing of doors of my previous employer has thusfar proved to be an amazing improvement to my livelihood.  I have taken up employment with a local solar electric design and install firm and am exceedingly happy with my new line of work.  Excellent autonomy within the company and a management that truly cares for and understands their workforce.  Not to mention a product that provides legitimate and undeniable value to society.

May: Exceptional, quality camping with good friends from all over the country.  We picked a zone that was relatively close to friends living in Bozeman, Seattle, Helena, and Salt Lake City and we all gathered for the Memorial Day weekend to relax, eat, drink, shoot, ride bikes, and be lazy next to the creek.  Wonderful!

June: June brought more awesome camping with very good friends, albeit this time much closer to home than in May.  A favorite destination just West of Bozeman found us relaxing around the campfire, shooting BB guns, and brapping Mason’s moto around the plentiful BLM land.

July: My wife and daughter made their way out of town so I ventured up to one of our favorite campsites for a night solo with the Land Cruiser.

August: More super, awesome, quality, family camping was had in August as we explored a new zone in Paradise Valley.  I expect to have more adventures here in the future.

September: This month found my hunting partner and I deep in the Absaroka’s for the HD 316 bc hunt.  Although we didn’t harvest anything I did have what has proven to be the most successful stalk of my short hunting career.

October: What an amazing little person Mae is becoming.  Torie photographed her in some beautiful clothes during the autumnal colors of October.  Such a precious child!

November: Our family visited Seattle and Bellingham during November and I snapped this photo of some of our best friend’s “kids”.  Charlotte will soon be Mae’s good buddy.  Ol’ Jax we learned was ailing in health and I knew that when I left him the scratch behind his ear and gruff, but loving words I spoke to him would probably be the last.  He has since passed on and I miss him as a former roommate and punching bag.  RIP, buddy.

December: Neither of us having meat in the freezer, my hunting partner and I headed up to the cold, windy, and barren lands of the Castle Mountains in hope of catching glimpse of a herd of elk on BMA land.  It was a gorgeous, sunny, relatively mild, and quality day, but alas, no elk were spotted.  As such we have pretty much put the period on the end of the sentence of our hunting season and will re-group and begin planning for next September.

2016 was a splendid year and although I didn’t get out on enough backpacking trips I was happy to continually introduce my daughter to the wonders of the great outdoors.  I look forward to a 2017 plentiful with camping excursions and outdoor enjoyment for all.  May you and yours experience the same.  What do you have planned for 2017?  Let me know in the comments.


MYOG: Gazetteer and Atlas Cover

The gazetteer that lives in my truck gets pretty abused. It is stored between the seat and the console and gets used a LOT. My wife and I are both map junkies so she is pretty much always looking up various geographic features when we’re headed to a camping spot or trailhead. As such the edges of our standard Benchmark Montana Road & Recreation Atlas are dog-eared and the pages all show signs of wear.

In order to prolong the life of this handy and oft used book I spent some of my afternoon after I had finished my work for the week sewing a simple non-coated, 1000d Cordura nylon cover. I bound the upper and lower edges, added a 2″x3″ loop panel to the front so I can adorn it with various velcro patches, and attached a length of 550 cord with a bright orange webbing piece affixed to the end to act as a permanently attached bookmark.




Live Just Became a Little More Posh



I’ve been researching camping trailers for the past year and the right one finally came along in my Craigslist perusals this past weekend.  This 1983 Coleman Columbia is in fair to good shape and is camping ready.  I already have a list of updates, fixes, and mods that will help “make it ours”.

This  is going to be a great addition to our camping repertoire – especially once the newest member of our family starts to walk and backpacking becomes a bit more difficult.

MYOG: Winter Splitboarding Day Trip Pack

I've been on a bit of a pack kick lately and sewed up two new ones in the course of about a month. I shared pictures of my "Franken-ruck" recently but what follows was a previous work.

It's a bit more detailed and includes a foam framesheet in a tight-fitting sleeve, a probe/shovel handle/saw pocket, a daisy chain on the front, two rows of PALS on the bottom, simple hip stabilizer belt, and hooking top closure mechanism.

Fabrics employed are 1000d Cordura (both coated and uncoated), 200d Cordura, VX-21, spinnaker, silnylon, and then various bits of webbing and other notions.

I've had this out for one long day in the backcountry with standard avalanche gear, ten essentials, et al and it absolutely swallows everything up. I carried my split in a-frame very comfortably (using ski strap at top tips).

I did not include a small organizer pocket inside nor do a lid for this pack and I could see that being a future update.

Weight is +/- 20 oz.
Volume is 37 liters up to the collar




MYOG: Frameless Franken-ruck

I built a new ski pack a couple weeks ago (haven’t shared photos or written about it yet) and with my pack building motivation running high I decided to move right into a project I’ve had on my bucket list for a long time.

I’ve heavily modified multiple Golite Jam Packs but have always yearned for the utter simplicity of a ruck styled after Jardine’s original design that manifested itself commercially as the Golite Breeze. I borrowed elements pretty heavily from my beloved ULA Conduit and Amp packs, some tidbits from Risk’s JJPack, as well as the inspiration of myriad other MYOG frameless rucks I’ve seen over the years.







My Go To Backpacking Cookset

Nielson Brown Outdoors did a simple write-up about cookpots a few days ago and it got me to thinking I haven’t really written about what I’ve come to call my “go to” cook set up. There’s nothing special about it, and it’s not the most minimal or the lightest kit out there – but it works for me in terms of volume, weight, ease-of-use, and comfort. I do have other setups that I take out with me in exceptional conditions such as winter or when I’m trying to travel SUL but time and time again the setup below is what I use.


  1. Antigravity Gear alcohol fuel bottle
  2. Trail Designs Caldera Cone
  3. MSR aluminum pot gripper
  4. Trail Designs Caldera stove
  5. Snowpeak 900mL (handles removed, DIY lid)
  6. Backpacking Light Short-handled Titanium Spoon
  7. Backpacking Light 475 mL Trapper’s Mug


I’ve come to really appreciate this setup. I roll the Caldera Cone up and place it into the pot. Next the Trapper’s Mug sits inside that with the stove at it’s bottom, the fuel bottle atop that, and the spoon and gripper alongside it.  The lid fits atop all of it and it’s gets perfectly fitted into a silnylon stuff sack I sewed up a few years ago.

It would be very easy to argue that this kit could be minimized from seven items to four but I like having the 475 mL mug for coffee or whisky for sipping on while I’m preparing my meal.  The pot gripper is so sturdy and easy to use that the weight penalty is worth it to me.  And lastly although there are many who use stoves that don’t require a stand of any type I will argue then near-perfection that is the Trail Designs Caldera with great vigor.  It’s speed in heat transfer, nearly untippable nature, and general cleverness are well worth it’s weight in my ruck.

EDC for the Bicycle Commuter

Bicycle commute EDC

I ride my bicycle to work and for many of my errands year round and as such the potential for a mechanical is always in the back of my mind.  Fortunately a few simple tools are all that are necessary for most repairs.  The other key repair element not pictured is a telephone – because 9 out of 10 times you can just call a friend to come pick you up!


  • adjustable wrench
  • tire levers
  • multi-tool
  • tube patch kit
  • tube
  • pump
  • snickers
  • sunglasses
  • flashlight
  • paracord

What items are you carrying that differ from mine?  The gear pictured above differs when I’m on a trail ride, a road ride, or an overnight tour and lighter options of much this kit exist. I find a balance of weight, functionality, cost, and other factors come into play.

SuperUltraHeavy Winter Trip

The United States Forest Service has a series of cabins, fire lookouts, and other shelters available for rental at a nominal cost all over the country. In SW Montana there is a LOT of federal land and therefore there are a LOT of these rental cabins. Navigate your way to to see for yourself.


Spanish Creek Cabin


A couple weekends ago my lady, a friend of hers, and myself put some winter gear into a big ol’ Otter Sled (designed to normally be pulled behind a snow machine) that I hand fashioned into a pulk and set off for a four mile ski to the Spanish Creek Cabin in the Northern Madison Range of the Gallatin National Forest.  I was prototyping a pulk system that I will ultimately build onto my Mad River Rocket sled using a far lighter and better performing system.  I plan to cover this in more detail in a later post.


SuperUltraHeavy Pulk System


As you can see in the above photo weight was of absolutely NO CONCERN whatsoever.  I set three Rubbermaid tubs on the floor in the living room and told the ladies that if it fit into the tub I’d pull it in the pulk.  Water, food, sleeping bags, pillows, books, wine, beer, slippers, warm clothing, you name it – it all went in.  They each wore a small backpack with the day’s water and food in it and I wore a pack that I put my sleeping bag into (simply to give it some shape).  I attached the pulk with a couple carabiners and set off through the sticky snow.


The hike into the cabin is along an asphalt road that is not plowed in winter so the gradient is very mellow.  The area is very windblown however and given the low snow levels of the season there were many portions that contained exposed asphalt.  About a 1/4 mile into the ski I removed my skis, placed them onto the pulk and walked for about two miles over asphalt, hardpacked ice/snow, and through minimal drifts.  At about the two or 2.5 mile mark the snow levels increased and I was able to ski with the load behind me.


The system I was prototyping for the pulk uses a commonly-known method of two five foot lengths of PVC pipe crossed in an “x” pattern and connected to the hipbelt of the pack.  I ran lengths of rope through the PVC pipe for this prototype but the final version will not use rope.  The “x” pattern tracked behind me on uphills and downhills very, very well.  It did roll over on my twice when I was attempting some sidehills that were simply too steep.  I estimate however than in my upcoming design the load will ride much lower (aka no more spacious Rubbermaid tubs) and will therefore allow me to attempt steeper slopes with a lower center of balance.


This was also the first overnighter I took using the Madshus Epoch skis I procured this year.  In the past years all of my backcountry travel has either been on snowshoes or via my splitboard but I have been entertaining the idea of using a set of skis that would allow me to focus on making miles quickly and easily on trips where descending wasn’t the primary focus (as with splitboarding).  I chose the Epochs because they allow for excellent edging and control in offtrail as well as groomed trail situations.  To complement the ski I went with a vintage three-pin Rotefella Telemark binding and the Rossignol BCX11 boot.


Madshus Epoch skis, Rotefella 3-pin binders




Updating a Classic Piece of Gear

One liter hard-sided Nalgene bottle

Now that winter is upon us here in the northern hemisphere those of us who pursue outdoor activities in the cold often turn to a trusty, classic piece of gear for carrying water when the temperatures drop below freezing.  In summer I maintain that a Platypus soft-sided device is hard to beat for weight and durability but in winter the narrow mouth is hard to fill without getting your hands cold and wet and water tends to freeze easily when stored in it.  So in winter I return to my trusty one liter Nalgene bottle.  The bottle above is one of two Nalgene bottles I own, this one was purchased in 2001 and has lived with me in three states, seen countless trail miles, has been thrown, dropped, floated, used, and abused in activities ranging from use at school, work, trail maintenance, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, and probably enough others that I can’t even remember to list.

The lexan material used in the bottle is extremely durable and provides a great surface for stickers to personalize it from all the other Nalgenes out there.  Notice in the photo above that I’ve put stickers nearly all the way around the bottle but I’ve intentionally left a gap running from top to bottom.  This allows you to still see how much fluid you have in the bottle and makes it easier to denote volume when filling.

The lid and lid-retaining strap are less durable on these bottles although still well-designed.  I managed to keep this bottle completely intact until a dog got hold of it in ’06 or ’07 and gnawed the little piece of plastic off that holds the cap on.  Amazingly I managed to not lose the lid and have always wanted to fix it which I did last week.  I drilled a couple holes into the remaining bits of the strap, ran a piece of coated wire through them, looped the wire and closed it off with some little bits of hardware.  Works like a charm.

Do you have a favorite Nalgene that you’ve held onto for all these years regardless of the bad name they seem to get in the ultralight press?

Food for an Overnighter

Overnight Backpacking Food Rations

I’ve been asked about doing a food-related post a number of times in the past and I’ve decided to make an initial foray into this with a post about overnight trips.  I will probably go into more in-depth food planning for longer trips in the future but for now here goes.

I’ve done backpacking trips as short as a 1/2 day out, spend a night, and a 1/2 day back to hikes as long as being out on the trail getting resupplies for a couple months.  When it all comes down to it however most of us are weekend warriors and we get a backpacking fix through a series of one or two night trips throughout the summer and maybe a week or two trip once every year or every two years.  A lot can be learned from the simple “24 hour” trip and the formula used to plan it can easily be multiplied by however many days one will be out on the trail.

The necessary planning that goes into these trips is extremely simple once you’ve done enough of them.  All that is needed is a simple gearlist to check off before venturing out and a small pantry of easy to grab food items.  That’s it.  Pile up your gear, grab some food, fill your water bottle, and hit the trail.

This past weekend three of us set out for an overnighter and I took a picture of the food I was carrying as an example of just how simple it is.  Everything pictured above are items I always have stocked in a box stored in an out of the way cabinet in my kitchen.  In the box are an assortment of bags of granola, packets of coffee, energy bars, chips, and dehydrated dinner choices.  Whatever I feel suits me for the weekend is what I grab.

Ultralight Backpacking Cookset

An hour or so is spent on a Thursday evening piling up my gear followed by 30 minutes or an hour with the pile of food and my scale weighing out what is needed.  I use Mike Clelland’s system for food choice which requires each backpacker bring 1.4 lb (.63 kg) of dry food per person per day.  This means that an overnighter will basically consist of a 1/2 day in, a night, and a 1/2 day out which all-in-all adds up to one full day, or 1.4 lbs of dry food.

My morning routine is almost always granola and coffee for this kind of trip.  On longer, big mile trips I may not heat water in the morning so coffee may wait ’til the late morning or be consumed cold but on a chill trip a relaxing cup of morning joe is pretty much the best way anyone can spend any time and that’s all I have to say about that.  Lunch and snacks for me are a combination of energy bars, chips, summer sausage, and cheese.  A nice balance of sweet food and savory foods is good because you don’t always know what mood you’ll be in and what kind of food you want.  If all you have is choco-minty-sugar-flavor energy bars and all you want to eat is salt-bomb-chip-nom-noms you might be let down.

Dinner is the most artistic and varying bit of my “formula”.  I vary in dinner foods from the super simple (ramen noodles covered in instant sausage gravy) to the gourmet (shrimp tettrazini cooked and dehydrated beforehand at home).  For easy to store pantry stuff I recommend instant mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, instant dry sauce packages, and whatever sort of dehydrated goods are available at your local grocer (corn chowder, split pea soup, dehydrated beans, et al).  Above is a combination of dehydrated corn chowder, beans, and assorted dried veggies, topped off with a beef bouillion cube.  I almost always carry a small plastic bottle full of olive oil (easy, dense, cheap calories) and a bottle of some sort of salt/pepper/Lowry’s/whatever type of seasoning.

The pictured quantity of food is tiny and fits into the bottom 1/3 of a 12.5×20 OPsak odor proof sack which is then put into a stuff sack.  The one photo’ed is a Hyperlite Mountain Gear cuben sack that is about as finely produced a stuff sack as exists on the market today.  The whole thing gets run into a tree on a 2.2mm piece of dyneema cord attached by a mini carabiner and will hang all nice and snug while I slumber away under my tarp a hundred meters away.

Happy nomming!