As I have previously mentioned, we get to put some gear through real test, in ways that the average guy may not, and in the process we come to some opinions as to what actually works, and what doesn't. Of course some guys will say "I have no intention of using my gear the way a guide or outfitter would" and this is a legitimate point for most, but some folks want to know what holds up in the long run, so I will attempt to review the occasional item. My opinions are of course just that, and I have no particular benefit in promoting any given item since I am not affiliated with any manufacturers, or sponsors. If you are the proud owner of one of the products that I ridicule you can always rest assured that someone on another website will be applauding the product I am disgusted with, and please don't e-mail me and tell me how great your product really is, since I will have already used it, and my personal condemnation of a product comes from my personal experience. I will use a rating system of 1 to 5 , with being pretty stinking lousy in my opinion, and being great, and something worth using again!
Koflach Degre Synthetic Boots - August 2003
Cabela's Gold Medal Dry-Plus® Stockingfoot Waders - Waist - August-September 2004
Princeton Tec Aurora Hadlamp - August 2003
La Sportiva Nepal Extreme - August-September 2005
La Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX - August 2006-February 2008
Simms G3 Guide Pant (waders) - August 2010-February 2018 all
Petzl Myo XP RXp Headlamp - May 2012-April 2013
Kifaru Longhunter Guide Backpack - August 2003
Camp Time Pack Stool - August 2003
Iridium Satellite Phones (Motorola model 9500 and 9505)
Coleman Apex II Dual Fuel Stove - 2000-2001
The North Face Evolution 45 and Himalayan 47 - August-September 2004
GSI Outdoors Lexan® 32 oz. Fairshare Mug - 2003-2005
Hilleberg Kaitum - August 2006-January 2011
Hilleberg Nammatj 2 - September 2009-April 2013
After using an external frame backpack for years (with occasional use of a small North Face internal frame), I broke down and purchased the highly touted Kifaru pack this summer before sheep season. I always enjoyed the way my smaller North Face internal frame rode, and I like the maneuverability that I had with the internal frame. Derek Harbula (a client that took a Peninsula brown bear with me in 2001 and a 40" ram this August) had purchased the giant 8,500 cubic inch model and he had did some packing with 160 pounds of concrete mix (if I remember correctly), and he had positive comments about the pack. Based upon the rave reviews on the Kifaru site and elsewhere, and Derek's testimony, I came into sheep camp with the 7,200 cubic inch model. I will start by saying I never believed it was 7,200 cubic inches, and no I did not take any measurements to disprove this, but if it is, then my Camp Trails Outfitter pack is close to 10,000 cubic inches. I wore the pack around home with around 40 pounds and I did not like the feel from the start, but I thought I would give it a chance since they also have a 30 day hassle free return policy (I will know in a few days). Packing a load of around 60 pounds 3 miles or so into sheep spike camp felt relatively okay, but I thought the belt was very thin (along with the shoulder straps), and it seemed to ride quite hard on the sides of my pelvic bones. I used the pack for this initial move up into spike camp, then I wore it with around 25 pounds for several days of climbing and stalking rams, and packing 2 rams back into spike camp. The last ram was split between Derek and me, and the 60 pounds or so once again rode quite hard on my outer pelvic bones. Now mind you, I have been in this business for over 8 years, and owned backpacks for a long time before this and I pretty well know the ropes for getting a pack adjusted, and also how to load. I had the Kifaru riding correctly with virtually no weight on my shoulder straps, and all the weight transferred correctly onto my hips, but the belt was simply miserable in my opinion. I kept thinking about how comfortable the old Camp Trails Outfitter pack I have had always been on my hips, but the Kifaru just did not let up. The next day, Derek and I packed our entire spike camp, sheep meat, etc. the 3 odd miles back down the river, and this is where things really got ugly. My pack simply punished my hips severely with what I estimated at 85 to 100 pounds and I easily decided that my old external rode far better than the Kifaru ever would. I decided that my pack would be returned back to Kifaru, since I had only received it in early August, and I would be back home before the end of the month. Unfortunately Derek would not have that option! Derek was packing probably around 25 pounds more than me, and his pack basically disintegrated! The plastic back panel, that was enclosed in some skimpy type fabric had totally ripped free and was protruding upward and onward out of the thin fabric that was apparently meant to retain the panel in place. Derek found the rear padding that rested against the top of his pelvic bone in the rear to be unbearably thin, and of course once the plastic panel that everything attaches to broke free from the material, the pack actually was riding almost sideways on him before we got back to the airstrip. In all honesty, I would have thought my deal was simply a lemon deal, and that maybe my body had some odd shape that didn't fit the pack right, but after Derek had such a miserable time with it, I concluded that it wasn't just me. I fail to see the value of this pack that cost well over $400 now without any additions. I am sure some guys have had a good experience with them, and I certainly will not suggest that anyone is lying about their experiences over on the Kifaru website, but most guys drastically overestimate the weight they are carrying, and wearing a pack through a sheep season in Alaska isn't the same as simply wearing a pack on any old hunt. My pack actually showed signs of wear on the bottom in less than 10 days and the interior separator panel ( a ridiculous little panel that separates the main top compartment from the lower bottom of the pack, with 2 stitched points and 2 velcro loops) had tore loose by the time the 100 pound load made it down river. Of course my pack looked great compared to Derek, and if Derek had had 175 pound load, the pack would made it less than 2 miles I'm sure. To sum up my feelings, I just don't believe that anyone has packed seriously heavy loads (loads of 100 pounds or greater) over seriously rough terrain with these packs, and still have the audacity to compliment them. If they have, then in my opinion they are fortunate. I simply can't believe that one of these packs could survive 40 days of sheep hunting in Alaska, which I have had to pull before as an assistant guide, and I cannot recommend them at all. My little 3500 cubic inch North Face internal frame did a much better job of packing 60 plus pounds before, and if I purchase another internal frame I will try The North Face Stamina 90 with 7,020 cubic inches in their large pack size. All in all, based on the performance of my Kifaru and my clients, I give them a score of 1, which is a little better than a frame-less military duffle bag. Part of this low score is stems from the fact that the pack had no adequate outside pocket for a spotting scope or tripod either, which was very frustrating for a pack supposedly designed with hunters in mind? Having to open the top and get down inside the main bag every time I stop to glass is not a good way to make serious hunters that use spotting scopes happy! After speaking with someone in customer service that apparently knew something about the packs at Kifaru I was told that I needed to adjust the internal stays to accommodate my narrow pelvic area, but even if this had cured the problem of the bad ride, it would not have did away with the fact that I saw material failures in both mine and Derek's pack! Folks I'm sorry, but I just can't find anything to get excited about here!
After trusting the Kifaru company's website offer;
"We realize that buying something like a backpack can be rather difficult when you cannot touch and feel, try on and try out. So, we'll make you this deal. Buy one of our packs, and if you don't like it, just return it within 30 days in good condition for a refund. But we think you'll hang on to it - for life!"
I returned my pack after 6 days of sheep hunting, and they refunded my purchase price, minus $111. To say the least I am totally disgusted with this outfit. I have never had another company deduct anything for a returned product, including boots that I wore for 4 months one winter that were returned to Cabela's for a full refund! So not only did their product fail to meet my expectations, they utterly failed to keep their end of the bargain. Make your own judgments folks, but the pack had a few abrasions on the bottom, and the stitched corner of the compartment divider broke loose, and anyone else between Cabela's to Campmor, or even REI would have refunded my major investment without a hitch, at least that has been my experience.
Tonight I came across a response from Patrick Smith (the owner of Kifaru) on the Alaska Hunting Forum where I had posted a brief message about my thoughts on the Kifaru packs. The following is from Mr. Smith's response to my criticisms:
"Tony-- I received an email from a customer that somebody on this forum had complaints about my gear, so I came to investigate. Yep, looks like you have some complaints. Went to your website and read the whole story there too. We'll get to the "partial" refund in a minute--I'm still trying to sort that out myself (I'm in the field a lot and missed this thing). As for the fit issue, I'm the guy who called you after you sent the pack back to explain our fit service to you. I found out during our conversation that you are one of the 3 or 4 percent of guys who are "hipless", that is, who have very little lumbar region. (It wasn't that you were "too narrow in the pelvic bones"--in fact that is irrelevant.) I told you we could have had you flatten the packs stays for an instant cure. I note you wore it around at home and didn't like the feel. We try to make it clear in our literature that we offer personal fit service--just pick up the phone and dial our 800 number. Virtually all of the rest of the guys without lumbars have done exactly that and we had 'em fitted to perfection and ready to roll in short order. You didn't, and we both lost out. The result is that too much of the weight rested on your hips. The full length of the lumbar pad--which plays a major weight bearing role--was NOT coming in to play. Only a small band right in the middle was involved. This is the way large internal frame packs work, and we missed the chance to make this happen in the case of your special anatomy. This part of your problems had a surefire solution--that misfired. I sure wish you had called. The facts on our fit are these: we are DIFFERENT in our approach, and are completely up front about it. We build for anatomical correctness, not Showroom correctness. Thinner is better when draping a man's anatomy, if you have the angles and the shapes and the distances right. And we do. Far too many of the Guides and hard core hunters of all stripe up your way are using Kifaru packs happily to accept your ill-fated experience as accurate. And camp and a load of sheep parts weighs the same for everybody, so they're not exaggerating the weights they've been carrying for years with my packs. Speaking of years, these men are reporting far better durability with our packs--hammering them for five or more years--assistant guides and all--and they're still ticking--much longer than any other top brand they've ever used. I'm not trying to pull your chain, Tony, I'm really just sorry as hell you didn't phone us for that final nudge in fitting you needed. I think the added tearing loose of that sleeping bag divider corner didn't help your disposition any following the fitting mishap (which perhaps helps explain your double barrel blasting of us in public). That tear has never happened before, which is no excuse it just points out that some minor glitches accrue to even us. And I apologize for it. But I must point out the simple truth that this glitch didn't stop you in your tracks. We have NEVER had a genuine pack failure--anywhere on earth. I'll say again--I sincerely wish you had phoned us before things came to this. As for the abrasion on the bottom--we use double-layer Cordura there, no Kifaru pack has ever come close to wearing through, including the ones used constantly by sheep outfitters, and one should expect some abrasion to be evident after a sheep hunt with any pack. If somehow the bottom of one of our packs does ever manage to wear through just send it in for refurbishing. At the end of your season of course. These packs simply do not fail catastrophically. Ain't gonna happen. Too much field evidence proves that conclusively. And I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree about the best place to store one's spotting scope. I submit that where I designed the pack to carry it is just as fast to get to, and far more protected than on the outside. I would never carry my scope outside the pack on a sheep hunt. Maybe I'm just too clumsy at my age, eh, but I'm quite serious about the inside back being the best place for it, which is why I put the carry pocket there. We have optional outside pouches...carry your scope there at your own risk, my friend. Let's talk about your client's Rendezvous pack, which you reference on your website. First of all, that wasn't a failure either. Derek has not returned his pack. I imagine he figured out what happened and "fixed" it pretty quick. Rarely, a hastily loaded and/or very full bag will get bumped up at one corner or the other where the bag slips over the removable framesheet. Under load the bag can then slip away from the frame at the top somewhat. But it CANNOT actually fall off the frame--the center panel of hypalon (the same stuff they build rafts out of and far from flimsy) keeps the bag from going anywhere. The solution to this slippage is to work the bag back over the framesheet, pull it down snugly and proceed. That's it. And it's rare. Consider the occassion this might possibly happen as a function of the usefulness of our removable frames. Your use of the word "disintegrate" tells me you were really, really pissed about that fit on your pack, Tony. Derek's pack did not disintegrate at all, and he's still using it.
Here’s an offer, man to man: Kifaru is exhibiting at the Alaska Sportsmans Show next April. You come see us and I'll buy the refreshments. AND we'll show you what our packs feel like when they're fitted to that flat-backed body of yours correctly. Deal?
Now for the infamous partial refund. Here is some background: Kifaru is a small outfit, and much less able to absorb a certain type of return abuse. It is evident that SOME hunters are buying our high-end, custom-built packs for that first-time, once-in-a-lifetime backpack hunt, going on the hunt, and then returning the pack as a method for defraying the cost of the hunt. They typically are not true backpack hunters in the first place, and likely won't be in the future. Get the picture? Our policy of returning the gear in resalable condition has been a reluctant attempt to cut down on this abuse. The situation is similar to buying a Prom dress and then returning it after the Prom. Dress shops have been forced to either have a no-return policy, or to issue in-store credits. But we are not a "store", and folks all over the world buy our gear. Hence the try-it-out offer we make, which also asks that it be returned in good condition-to try and weed out the after-the-prom abuse. In point of fact, this policy has never actually been enforced-it's just been acting as a bit of up-front deterrent. Apparently, our Controller decided to enforce it (not knowing of the divider failure – we simply were not notified), and got the wrong guy. I say the wrong guy, because you, Tony, do not fit the profile of the one-hunt fellow at all. Big mistake, and your money is on its way to you now-with our apologies. So. What do we do now? We are having meetings to evaluate all of this. The Kifaru staff, by the way, is a stand-up group-they are deservedly famous for outstanding customer service, but at the same time really chapped when they perceive that they've been abused. It consumes many resources to custom build a one-trip pack, and they resent the unfairness of being more or less tricked. One idea from our staff meetings is to offer rental packs for those folks who don't think they'll use a top notch hunting backpack often enough to justify buying one for keeps. Not a bad idea, eh? So we're evaluating all of this.
It is exceedingly rare, Tony, that anyone has a bad experience with Kifaru. We know because we hear from lots of folks who are happy with both our gear and our service. We wouldn't be here if we didn't treat folks right the vast majority of the time. I invite comment from you folks. Feel free to email us at email@example.com, or heck, just post whatever you think right here. You now understand a troublesome issue we're grappling with, what do YOU think we should do about it? What's fair?
I suspect that a bunch of the readers on this Forum know that we DO stand behind our gear. I think that's about all I have to say. I trust you, Tony, and you readers will take it in good faith. I think we've earned a reputation for that. This is a good hard-core Forum, and I hope to read here again."
Seeing that Mr. Smith has taken the time to respond to my public criticisms with good taste, and has assured me that the partial refund was simply a mistake, I feel that my readers should weigh my review carefully in the balance. Readers should be aware that I am not the final authority on any product, rather I simply relate my experience with a given product, and in this instance I will give Kifaru the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the potential of their pack if properly fitted, and I should have consulted their staff to insure a proper fit after I had my initial problems. As of this writing I am considering testing a Kifaru pack again, and if the pack can be fitted to my body, I will update this whole review again. I am impressed with Kifaru's personal interest in my case, even if it self-serving, since most companies could care less if I blast their product or not, and individuals that have followed this entire review process may end up surprised that a manufacturer actually may have an interest in the actual consumer.
Another chapter in this long review comes down to my offering to try the Kifaru pack once again on the Peninsula during brown bear season. I requested the larger Rendezvous pack and Patrick Smith got it out to me in due time, and after a long time on the speaker phone he got me educated as to the right way to get this pack to fit my body. The process involved marking the point at which the aluminum stays curved away from my back, then bending them in a vise to match the actual contour of my back. This did exactly what Mr. Smith claimed it would, and yes the pack did fit perfectly fine after this. The only heavy load I have packed with it was a very wet 8 ft. brown bear hide which weighed approximately 80 to 90 pounds. the pack handled the load correctly, and the miserable pressure on the sides of my pelvic bones was totally absent. As for the other complaints about the lack of external pouches for items like spotting scopes and tripods, well they do offer these as options, but I still feel they should be standard, but this is just my take on the deal. As for the abrasion on the bottom of my pack I was assured that Kifaru would repair it if it ever wore through, so I can't really complain about this. Derek's problems with his pack were probably related to an improper fit, but I will let everyone know what the outcome of his situation is when we get it resolved. As it stands now, I will be keeping my pack, since I am a fan of internals for their ability to ride smoother with my movements, and their ease in the brush, and I will let everyone know how it handles some loads here in the mountains around my home. Ultimately I still have some testing to do with this pack before I can be really objective in my rating. I should say of course that my former blistering comments were made after the partial refund fiasco on this most expensive pack I had ever purchased, and I probably took things a little too far. I will be continuing the review after the upcoming 2004 season, and hopefully we will be able to report overall good performance.
Final Comments May 2007
When everything was said and done, we put the Kifaru's on eBay. Ultimately I simply could not handle the super thin waist belts that constantly created pain in my outer pelvic area. Heavy loads simply were painful, not only for me, but for others among us as well, and in all honesty, my old $99 Camp Trails Outfitter pack was much more comfortable over the years. As of May of 2006 I have used the Mystery Ranch G7 out of Bozeman, MT and I am witholding a serious review until this busy year of hunting is over with.
After having had a very bad experience with Scarpa Invernos in 2002, I had grown more cautious in regards to synthetic mountaineering boots. Previously I had owned and liked the Koflach Viva Soft model, but this boot was discontinued in the late 90's, so I have not been able to find any after my last pair wore out. This being said, I was reluctant to shell out serious money for a pair of boots that may or may not work with my very flat feet. Yet I have had my experience with leather in sheep country, and I still prefer the tough synthetics when the country turns nasty. The Koflach Degre reviews I read gave me the impression that they basically filled the slot that the Viva Soft's once held so I purchased a brand new pair on eBay for under $200, and I loved them. I thought they were much more comfortable on my flat feet than even the Viva Softs and they gave me no blisters at all, although I did get a few blisters on the bottom ball portion of each foot, and the bottom of each big toe while wearing my Vasque Sojourn leathers for the first couple of days of sheep hunting. The Degres fit my my feet (size 12 and flat) like a glove with the added Sorbothane insole, but they actually felt pretty good without any additional insole, but the extra close fit helped to prevent any blisters for me, and the extra cushion came in handy when packing a heavy load back to the take out point. There is a rubber rand around the toe of the boot that began to peel within a couple of days in the really bad scree, but epoxy can easily fix this and it was more cosmetic than anything. Once again the Koflach's cut into the slope beautifully, where the Vasque leathers had broke loose on me days earlier and sent me sliding furiously downhill, causing me to lose my rifle, and giving me the scare of the year! All in all, the Degres appear soft enough that I received no shin bang, and no blisters, but they were certainly stiff enough to provide great ankle support and protection form sharp rocks, and great control and cutting ability when sidehilling on nasty stuff. I had a short season, so I can't judge them on longevity, like I could if I had hunted for 40 days, but I am looking to pick up another pair as soon as I can get a deal on ebay. They are the best I have had on my feet period, at least for sheep hunting folks! I will rate them a solid 5, with my only complaint being the rubber rand coming loose as I had read in other reviews, and I don't feel this is enough to downgrade them.Back to list
Bret Poulsen brought this stool into camp this August, and I have decided that it is 14 ounces that I should always have in camp. I have been lying around on the ground for over eight years now, and the pleasure of having this simple little chair in camp is simply worth the small amount of weight. I am not sure I would pack it in if I had an absolutely miserable hike to get into a spike camp area, but if the hike isn't too severe, my plans are made. It has a pretty tough coated nylon material that can be replaced when it finally gives out, but it supported me and a number of different hunters quite well. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes these small comforts can really make the difference on a hunt, and this one was appreciated when Bret left it behind. It works, and does the job for which it was intended.Back to list
The Iridium satellite service has altogether changed the way we hunt in Alaska these days, period. When I started in this business in the mid 90's if a client had a real medical emergency on the mountain, then in all likelihood it would have meant a total disaster. Previously we used radios at sporadic base camps, but they were never handy enough to help out in a life threatening situation, and at best they worked around 70 % of the time. Iridium came into my former employer's camp in 1999 and we have been happy to have the sat phones in camp ever since. The model that we use is the original Motorola 9500, and we have never had a problem with either of our two phones. We now use the Iridium pre-paid phone cards in 200 minute increments and find this to be the best route for our purposes. As far as coverage, they are officially the only phone that has global coverage, and I haven't found a place that this isn't true. I do have to walk around some times in sheep country to get a signal, due to the mountains blocking the line of sight from the satellites, but I have always been able to get out, and the pre-paid card also includes free reception of e-mails. I rate the phones a solid 4 , with my only complaint being the fact that it still runs me about $1.49 per minute. By the way, a well charged battery will typically hold up for around 50 minutes of use, and the used 9500 can be purchased from Outfitter Satellite in Nashville, TN for around $500, which is much nicer than the slightly lighter new version that runs $995 used.
We purchased the newest model Iridium from Surveyor's Exchange in Anchorage last August and I must say I do like it quite a bit more, due in large part to the fact that it will fit in the little mini Pelican waterproof case and the whole unit weighs in at 2 pounds. Just a little more compact than the 9500, and we will be looking to purchase more for the upcoming season. Great phone but very expensive new at $1,600 with the case!Back to list
Sadly this is an item that we bought two of when the business was started. Most folks know that Coleman produces decent products for the niche they fill, but this stove is the worst I have ever used. In less than 20 days in the field the first stove malfunctioned and had to have the jet replaced. The second stove hasn't fared much better, and the rate of failure has quickly overcome the usefulness of the product. The stove simply can't compare to the MSR Whisperlight.Back to list
This little headlamp has converted me from the dreadful Mini Maglite forever. It is hard to believe the 3 small LED lamps can produce enough light to amount to anything, but they provide just the type of light that is needed for late night treks back to spike camp. Granted the 5 LED models produce even more light, and the models with the additional halogen spotlight are handy in certain situations, this small light weighs in under 3 ounces and sells for $30 in Campmor, and I think it is simply hard to beat at that price. It also works exceptionally well as a light source within the tent, even on the lowest of the 3 normal settings.Back to list
While the North Face Evolution 45 has been discontinued, I am still recommending it as an excellent 3 man tent for those who need expedition tent quality. The North Face Himalayan 47 is still being produced of course, and is North Face's replacement for the venerable Himalayan Hotel. The availability of the Evolution 45 will obviously be limited, so let me just say that if you can use, or need an excellent expedition tent that will handle 3 men easily at 12 pounds, this is a great tent if you can find one. I bought both of the tents I own off of E Bay for under $325 each brand new. If I had any complaints about these tents, and the same will go for the larger Himalayan 47 it is probably the annoyance of needing to latch all the Velcro closures on the fly to the tent poles, but this does keep the fly where it needs to be. As for weight, the Evolution 45 is heavy for a one man deal! Any idiot can figure this out, but I don't see it as an issue for two guys, and certainly not for three. Both models of tents have excellent ventilation with spacers that keep the fly from contacting the body of the tent proper, and the adjustable guy out lines are a very nice feature, and placed very well. Both tents look similar, but the Evolution 45 actually has a square cut floor with 51 sq. ft. of space, whereas the larger Himalayan is more of a classic dome shape (65 sq. ft.), which does tend to waste some theoretical space. I say theoretical, because if you had a square cut floor, you could easily get six adult men in the tent I am sure, but as it stands we put five adults across the width of the tent with heads toward the rear door, and feet toward the front, and this left close to a 3 ft. space on each side of the outer person which was convenient for storing whatever needed to be inside. Although a 15 pound of tent is way more than what I want to haul in sheep country for 2 men, the same tent for three guys provides comfort that can really be enjoyed in the worst of conditions. This tent is routinely used at Everest base camps, and I find it quite spacious after years of being in much tighter spaces. The overall workmanship on the tents is as good as I have found, poles are top notch, bathtub floor is great, and the number of pockets, and windows is more than adequate. I haven't experienced any severe storms in any of these tents at this time (nothing over 50 mph), so I can't personally say how they would perform in 100 mph winds, but I feel they will stand up to the task with anything else of this shape or size on the market. I purchased the Himalayan 47 from E Bay (in June of 2004) brand new at $566 including shipping, but the normal retail price is $699. Overall I can't really find anything worth complaining about with these two tents, but to be fair, I will say that there are a few things that bug me.
The Velcro attachments to the fly, while useful, are not really something you want to fool with during setup in frigid wind chills on a dark mountainside. North Face sells gear lofts and footprints separately and I thinks this is ridiculous, since they should be included for the price of these tents. Entering and exiting the doorway through the front vestibule is more difficult than what I like, and quite a few of my clients seem to struggle with this, but low profile vestibules tend to suffer in this fashion. We had some condensation build up in vestibule up front, but this is to be expected. apart from these little bugs, I really can't find anything to complain about.
This large mug has found a happy home in my arsenal of equipment since 2003 sheep camp. Bret Poulsen (one of my sheep hunters) donated the cup to me at the end of his hunt, and I have used it on every hunt since then. Why is special, or worthy of review? Well it serves more than one purpose. I can use it as a very adequate cup when having some Gatorade or Tang in camp, but it excels as a semi-cooker. Two packages of Ramen noodles fit easily into the cup, add your boiling water, put the lid on for 3-5 minutes and things are cooked good and proper. I actually was amazed at how the fruit in my instant oatmeal became plumb and lifelike after leaving the lid on the cup for several minutes. Cleans up easily, and it also has the large diameter that helps in preventing spills, especially if I bring it into the tent, as I often do. My only complaint would be the price. I have purchased from Campmor for $7.99 and this still seems high to me for what amounts to a plastic cup, but mind you it isn't just any old plastic cup. I do recommend all of my clients pick one up.Back to list
After a number of years of frustration with normal ankle fit hip boots I decided to try the breathable waders and I can unequivocally say I prefer them over hip boots. This being said, the Cabela's waders shown above were pretty disappointing. The biggest disappointment is the sizing structure which is absolutely absurd, but standard throughout the industry. What I am referring to is the fact that if you wear a size 12 shoe, they assume you will need a wader with a 42 inch waist, therefore you get the equivalent of clown pants. I had to have the excess material around the waist removed by a seamstress before I even traveled to Alaska, and this did nothing to help the excessive size of the legs. The excess material rubbed at the knees while walking and within 20 days in brown bear camp, the material finally wore through, and I consider this a pretty big problem, and my second biggest complaint, after the sizing fiasco. Comfort was great in comparison to hip boots, and they make for a much more comfortable pair of rain pants, rather than the 3/4 length parka and hip boot combo necessary to keep the rain out of the top of the boots. I wore these with a normal pair of Vasque lightweight hikers, one size larger than normal, and I had little to complain about in this area. Simms previously sold a waist high breathable that would have been super, since they would put whatever size stocking foot on it that a person wanted at the factory, but they have discontinued all waist high models, so this isn't an option. I am looking at traveling to Cabela's again to see if I can wear a size smaller stockingfoot than what they recommend, but I can only say for now, the choices are limited, and I will buy these again before I go back to hip boots, but I am not happy with the options.
In early summer of 2010 I discovered that Simms was indeed making a waist high wader once again, the G3 Guide Pant and I quickly enrolled in their guide program and jumped on the band wagon with anticipation. I was not disappointed, and I can only suggest the Cabela's waders to those who simply don't want to put down the cash for the Simms.
Hopefully I will get a review and some photos up before long, but the Simms actually fit like a pair of pants, without the excess material and I went the route of having the custom size neoprene stockingfoot put in because I need a medium wader with a size 12 foot. Anyway they are a world apart from everything else I have worn at this stage!
These boots represented the first step away from synthetic mountaineering boots for me. The great staff at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking (AMH) in Anchorage spent around six hours trying to convert me and they did. The boots were really quite incredible, and for my flat feet they represented little problem, in comparison to the pain inflicted by boots made by Scarpa. I give these boots a rating of *** stars because I think they were simply one of the most impressive pieces of foot-gear I have ever had on, but I must confess that I ditched them on EBay after the one season. My problem came from trying to get the size just right and I went with what is supposed to be the ballpark equivalent of an American size 12, 45.5 European. The result was hammered toe syndrome during a long 2 mile descent of some 3,000 ft. with a heavy load, and within just a couple of days the big toe on my left foot was black. The boot was simply about a 1/4" too short for my left foot, but it was still a great boot. As stiff as the Koflach Degre, but not as hot, and a much better fit in my opinion. The only reason I did not go back to this boot was the discovery of the La Sportiva Trango. Of course I would have went to a 1/2 size larger boot, or at least that would have been logical. Overall the boots are great if you can get the right size, and even in my Trangos I have decided to go up the 1/2 size to the European 46 because I still get some hammering of the toes on steep descents. Realize the Nepal model is a heavy boot for extreme situations, and although I think you would be hard pressed to go wrong with the boot for sheep hunting (especially when it comes time to pack out a big load), I am suggesting people think of going lighter, and in particular I am suggesting folks look at the various Trango models.Back to list
These boots are simply the best thing I have had on my feet over the years, and I can recommend them wholeheartedly to clients looking for a top notch boot for everything from sheep hunting to whitetails in the eastern woods. The Trangos are available in several different variations, but I can only speak for this particular style. The first thing I thought about the boot is "Wow! This is incredibly light, but stiff." I wasn't in love with the lacing initially, and I thought the fabric portion of the upper may not last long, but I haven't had a problem with either. I bought my first pair right off the shelf in REI in Anchorage and proceeded to go straight into the mountains and up a 3,000 ft. climb through nasty alders and into the loose shale of the Chugach Mountains. During the next 8 days I climbed (along with my client) around 7,000 to 8,000 more vertical feet, and descended of course and I never got the first blister in these boots. I wore the blue Superfeet insole (suitable for low arches or flat feet) and Thorlo Light Hiking Socks (Coolmax) and I was hooked. I haven't had to pack an extreme load with these yet (80 lbs. or more), and they are obviously not going to offer the same stiffness and protection of a heavier boot like the Nepal Extreme, but the trade off is worth it in my mind. The light weight, 26.17 ounces reduces a lot of strain on the feet during a sheep hunt, and they are not nearly as hot as some of the heavier boots, which is especially nice during August hunts that can easily hit 70 degrees. Do I have any issues with these boots? They could be as stiff as the Nepal Extreme or Koflach Degre to provide more potential protection, but then you would lose the great agility of the boot. They are very nice in the tights spots on bad terrain, or on a potentially nasty rock face, and the soles have better than average grip in this type of terrain, although they are quite slick in the grass. My only real complaint is the lack of the true locking ball bearing lace on the Nepal and this means I will have to tighten the boot at least once or twice a day. The soles are softer (for better grip) than some heavier versions of the Trango, but mine has seen around 20,000 vertical feet of climbing already so I can't complain.
Overall, great boot at around $285, which is still substantially cheaper than many comparable $400 boots. I figure I will pick up another pair this year.
The Hilleberg Kaitum is the tent that took me away from the North Face line of tents. It was about time, due to the pitiful warranty issues with North Face, and those issues caused me to take a serious look at my first Hilleberg at Barney's in Anchorage. Honestly I should qualify that by saying I did more than look, I paid retail price for a 2 man Kaitum and took it straight into the field on a sheep hunt with a client, and I have never looked back.
The Kaitum is a perfect fit for two guys with enough room for two normal 20" wide Thermarest sleeping pads and there is still about a one foot of length left above or below a 6' man. The width is such that two guys are pretty much shoulder to shoulder, which is perfectly fine, but the extra length gives the individual a little extra room for personal gear that one doesn't want left in the vestibules. The vestibules by the way are fantastic and they are probably my favorite feature. The tent is 31 sq. ft inside, but the vestibule adds 13 sq. ft on each end which is plenty enough room for your entire pack, boots and even enough room to still cook with the Whisperlite if you need to. Mind you, the company warns against cooking in the vestibule, and I do to, especially if you don't really know how to light a mountaineering stove properly...but that's another story altogether.
Tent weight is listed as minimum 5 lbs 5 ozs. and 6 lbs 6 ozs packed. The difference of course is the minimum weight does not include stuff sacks and stakes, etc. You can set the tent up of course without the stakes if you are in the right place and you can tie off, or use stones, but this is not a freestanding tent, so I prefer to carry the stakes.
By now I have spent a heck of a lot of time in my Kaitums and I continue to add to the collection, and I have to say their performance in extreme wind, coupled with the light weight and the roomy vestibules are the reason I have to rate them four stars.
I have rode out 4 days of whiteout conditions on a 3,000 exposed ridge in the Alaska Range in April with sustained wind of 50 mph+ for almost the entire 4 days, and this ordeal culminated with winds pushing 90 mph for the crescendo, and yes we survived. Two Kaitums and a Hilleberg Nallo 3GT got us through, though I did have a zipper come of track on one of my primary doors while I was trying to crawl out in an 80 mph breeze. Hilleberg later repaired the zipper without any problem, and I thought this was possibly my fault by forcing the issue under such extreme conditions.
Over the years the frailty of the zippers and the tendency for these to come off track if abused is the only reason I would not go with a five star rating on these tents, but they are still my tent of choice.
The Simms G3 Guide Pants have solved most of my concerns about keeping my lower body dry in Alaska. I replaced the old Cabela's waist highs after watching Jeffery Tart wearing a 6 year old pair of the Simms while guiding sheep hunters for me in 2009. Jeff had been wearing them for years in the Brooks, even while guiding sheep hunters, and I figured anything that could stand up to the abuse that an old Army Ranger put them through for all of those years, well it had to be worth a try for my brown bear, and moose hunting conditions. Mind you, I still haven't converted over to wearing them in sheep country, but I do live in them on all other hunts, at least any hunt where water is going to be the norm.
A The first great feature about these pants/waders is they actually come in logical sizes. These are not a small/medium/large catch all pant. I wear a 32" waist, and a size 12 shoe, and these pants come in a range of around 10 sizes, and if you call them up they will determine what you need by inseam length, waist size, and if you need a larger stockingfoot, they sew on the correct size (a $50 custom procedure that is not offered by bargain stores). The sizing for me ran a little restrictive on the inseam, so I would probably recommend getting the inseam a little long, but these fit far more like a pair of jeans than the Cabelas I had used in the past, which were more like a pair of clown pants, with the puffy legs and oversized waist to accomodate a size 12 boot fit.
The Guide Pant is absolutely incredible when it comes to busting through the brush, and devil's club, and I have yet to develop a leak on my first pair, and this is after probably 70-90 plus days in the field use, including trapline use here at home. They are not overly heavy and I get by 90% of the time with just Simms Waderwick bottoms underneath these, or my Gore cycling tights when it is cooler. The fit is good enough with mine that I don't have to wear the belt, which I remove because it annoys me when I have a backpack on with a hip belt fastened. Also it may not seem like much, but having the front pockets and zippered fly is very nice.
When it is all said and done, there is no intelligent reason for hipboots any longer, at least not for me. These pants perform all of things I would require of rainpants in bear and moose country, plus you can confidently wade in depths that you would not even think about with hip boots. If you go down, and regain your footing quickly, you are probably only going to have a trickle of water seeping inside, where the old hip boots were notorious for creating havoc if you went over the top of them.
I really have to give them 5 stars, although I do have to say they are expensive for a one time use, but I really can't come up with another legitimate complaint except they have done away with one of the front pockets which is annoying, but I can't hardly downgrade them for this!
I personally use the Simms Guide boot (wading boot) and find it a very efficient choice for climbing up through alder patches, across tundra, and even boulder piles, and it dries much more quickly than a conventional boot, and does not deform, or stretch when wet. I should also comment as of 2016 I actually used the G3's and the G3 Guide Boot to climb over 1,800' while retrieving a ram that a client had dispatched earlier and I have to say the boots were far more comfortable than my old Trangos which have since been discarded for a newer design and larger size.
The Petzl Myo RXP is the newest generation in the Petzl Myo ranks, which I have been using since the spring of 2006. After a comparison of the Princeton Tec Aurora and the Petzl Myo (original) it was evident to me that there was no comparison. The Princeton Tec is fine for a backup, but it simply doesn't have anywhere near the candlepower of the Myo, and the new Myo RXP continues this great line.
I won't post all the technical details of this great little headlamp, but it has around 86 hours of battery life on the lowest setting, and it has around 10 total settings, with a beam that will reach around 250 ft. on high. It has a strobe for emergencies, and the lowest setting is more than adequate for use in the tent at night, and the highest setting puts out 141 lumens, with a boost setting that puts out 205 lumens. Compare this to the Surefire handheld EL2 Outdoorsman that puts out 60 lumen for only 6 hours, and you can imagine this is a pretty impressive little light.
I use the headband without the additional strap that goes over the top, and it rarely seems noticeable at all to me, and honestly with 3 lithium AA batteries, I rarely ever have to change batteries on a 10 day hunt in Alaska, nor do I worry about it getting wet, and the bulb doesn't need to be replaced.
A flip lens cover allows you to go from a diffuse lamp perfect for walking in most terrain in pitch darkness, and flipped down it goes to a very intense focused beam when you really need it.
Overall I give it a four stars only because my original eventually developed a short in the wiring, and it is put together in such a way that I could not get it apart to repair it! Of course it probably needs to be to be weatherproof, so I probably am not being fair. They are not cheap at $90, but I can't complain considering the Surefire model I mentioned retails at $235!
For technical details, please see the Petzl website.
I have not bought any other brand of tent, but Hilleberg, since August 2006, and our first encounter with the Nammatj 2 was on a 25 day stretch in the Revelation Mountains in September 2009. For me, it is still a go-to tent, although I don't love it like I do my Kaitum, it is actually the stronger tent.
The Nammatj belongs to the Black Label class of Hilleberg tents, which is their strongest line, utilizing Kerlon 1800 fabric (outer tent) with a tear strength of 40 lb., and 10 mm poles. These tents are suitable for the most extreme weather, and long duration setups, and compared to the Kaitum with Kerlon 1200 fabric, which has a tear strength of 26.5 lb, and 9 mm poles, they do have the edge. The Kaitum 2, which is my favorite, belongs to the Hilleberg Red Label line, which is next to the Black Labels, and focuses more on light weight, than ultimate strength.
The Nammatj 2 actually has the same floor plan as the Kaitum 2, but the difference (apart from the stouter materials) is evident when you crawl inside. You pretty quickly realize the absence of the vestibule on the back side (as with the Kaitum), and this makes for a more confined feel. The back of the tent slopes rapidly, and ultimately you give up some head space, whereas the Kaitum is the same on both ends. It does need to by staked, and guyed out properly of course, and you will probably want to sleep with your head at the door of this model, rather than at the rear due to the sloping rear.
The Nammatj 2 only has the one door, and one vestibule, and you can add vestibule length by going to the GT model, but this barebones tent weighs in at 5 lb. 1 oz. minimum weight, and the whole packed weight is 6 lb. 9 oz. The weights are always listed with Hilleberg tents in this fashion, in case you don't want to carry the stakes, or bags, etc. The minimum weight is just for the tent itself, and the poles. I should state here that depending on what type of country you are in, you can often leave off packing the stakes, and of course the bags are not really needed if you are shaving pounds. We are often in alpine country where the soil is not conducive to staking, and there is an abundance of boulders, and they are much safer to use, and I like good 20-30 lb. boulders to really secure the guy lines in case the winds get up in that 50 mph and above range.
I don't give the Nammatj 2 a 5 star because I don't really like the sloping rear, at least not from the inside, but it does serve its purpose very well. It is perfectly fine for 2 men, although it will not feel as roomy as the Kaitum that has a door on both ends, and a vestibule on both ends, but it is less costly. The positive side is you can safely ride out anything in this tent, it is a very roomy for one, and certainly adequate for 2 men, and it doesn't require as much of a lengthy spot to pitch in, and that is often an issue for us in sheep country.