Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Neglect of Backpacking

Over the past decade backpacking has become a bit of a derogatory term in the world of wilderness skills and adventure. You routinely hear statements about how backpackers just pass through nature while more “enlightened” woodsmen who practice survival skills, bushcraft, or whatever happens to be fashionable at the time have the true wilderness knowledge and skills.

On paper such statements may even seem reasonable. After all, backpacking is the act of going into the woods and spending one or more nights there while carrying all of your gear on your back, at least for some distance in order to reach your camp. Seems kind of basic, right? Bushcraft, survival, etc focus heavily of skills, understanding of nature, and so forth. One can certainly make the argument that these other approaches offer superior understanding of nature and an ability to spend time in the wilderness.


I’ve noticed however that the practical reality in the past decade has been very different. While people have been focusing more and more on survival, bushcraft, etc, backpacking has been relegated to the sidelines and is often ignored. The result has been that while people have been accumulating theoretical knowledge on different exotic wilderness subject, more and more of them have failed to learn the basics required for actually spending time in the woods. Consequently, we’ve ended up with large numbers of people who fancy themselves knowledgeable and have a good assortment of individual skills, but who are incapable of comfortably spending a night in the woods; something that your average backpacker of a decade ago (without any fancy labels) could do without hesitation.

The most recent example of this that comes to mind is survival shows like “Alone”, where you have people who fancy themselves skilled in the ways of the wilderness, who have popular YouTube channels, followers, etc, who when presented with a basic camping scenario (fully equipped with tarps, sleeping bags, pots, cutting tools, clothing, food rations, etc) struggle to spend a handful of days in the woods, and tap out over issue that would be mundane to any average backpacker.  

I fear that by gravitating to more appealing and fashionable subjects, we are gradually forgetting the basics. We are forgetting how to backpack. I remember a time when any backpacker had no issue spending multiple days and nights in the woods. It was fun, it was easy, it didn’t require any fancy skills, and no one gave it a second thought. These days I am seeing more and more people who can demonstrate amazing skills in their back yard, but seem to think of spending a night in the woods as an extreme adventure sport.

In our attempt to gain more skills and deeper understanding of nature, we have forgotten to maintain the basics, and I believe that in many respects we have lost more than we have gained. At the very least, we are in danger of losing it. Backpacking as a skill is in danger. Many chapters of organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club are losing members, while survival and bushcraft schools are popping up like mushrooms, and survival shows rule basic cable. That wouldn’t be an issue if those new schools and organizations along with the TV shows thought the basics of backpacking, but unfortunately those skills are often seen as inferior or unnecessary and are not thought at all.

So, we end up with people who have been thought how to start a fire with steel wool, how to make a friction fire, how to build a shelter from an emergency blanket, and how to identify wild plants, but have no idea how to travel through the woods, set up a tent, fold up a sleeping pad, plan food rations for the trip, or filter water. When those people eventually do undertake an overnight trip, they end up with a head full of exotic knowledge, and a 80L backpack full of “bushcraft” and “survival” gear that the knowledge was supposed to eliminate to begin with. The reason of course is that those people never learned how to live in and move through the woods just with basic gear, the foundation of backpacking. 

In my opinion, what is happening is the equivalent of a whole bunch of people studying about how to be race car drivers without ever learning how to drive a car. As I watch backpacking get relegated to a secondary importance, and the basics are forgotten, more and more people are spending their time learning theory on more exotic subjects like survival and bashcraft.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that those subjects are very important and can greatly expand ones knowledge of the wilderness, but we should be careful not to study those subjects at the expense of the basics. We should be careful to not preside over the death of backpacking while sitting around the barbeque and learning “more advanced” skills. Those “advanced skills” become nothing more than the punch line to a joke without a firm grasp of the fundamentals…the thing we call backpacking.

Yes, it shows a lot more skill, and is a lot more challenging to go out for a five day trip with just a knife in your pocket and the knowledge in your head than it does to do it with a regular assortment of backpacking gear. However, not going on that five day trip at all, does not show more skill, regardless of the amount of theoretical knowledge one possesses. 

My advise, for what it’s worth, for anyone interested in the wilderness is to start by backpacking. Join an organization like the AMC. Learn how to select basic backpacking gear, how to use it properly and efficiently, and spend actual time in the woods. You will find that soon a weekend trip or even a week long trip will become a streamlined process that can be accomplished in comfort and without much effort. When you find yourself in that position, then start expanding your skills into more specific subjects like bushcraft or survival skills, or backcountry fishing and hunting, etc. Don’t skip or ignore the fundamentals. Don’t forget about backpacking. It’s not the fashionable thing; it’s not the cool thing; but it will give you the greatest return when it comes to your ability to spend time in the wilderness.

And of course, this is not true across the board. There are areas where backpacking is going strong, but unfortunately it’s not the case everywhere, especially in buschraft and survival communities.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Medium Size Spin Fishing Kit For Backpacking

So far I have written about my ultralight fishing kits; my Ultralight Spinning Kit and my Ultralight Fly Fishing Kit. Both kits are very minimalistic and are designed to be carried at minimal weight in cases where you are not sure if you will end up fishing, and if you do, it will be in a small body of water you may encounter on your trip. As such, the components are miniaturized, are designed for light work, and are primarily intended to be unnoticeable when carried so that you don’t mind bringing the kit along in situations when you are not sure if you will get any fishing done at all.

When I wrote about my fly fishing kit however, I also wrote what I do to expand the kit if I am actually going out with the purpose of fishing. In that case the tackle, rod and reel remained the same, but I added waders and wading shoes. The kit is still designed to be carried when backpacking, but it allows for a full range of fishing options.

Well, I do the same for my spinning kit. You have already seen my Ultralight Spinning Kit, which came in at 13.6 oz total. Of course, the kit is very basic, using small lures and 4lb test line. However, when I am going out with the main purpose of fishing, I bring a more complete fishing kit. That’s the kit you saw me use on my last trip report here. I didn’t show you a good look at the kit there, so I decided to make this post in case anyone is interested. 


The rod is the same St Croix Triumph TRS60LF4 Travel Spinning Rod from the Ultralight Spinning Kit along with the same DIY case and come in at a combined weight of 4.7 oz (3.2 oz for the rod and 1.5 oz for the case). That is the only overlap between the two kits. 

The first change is the reel. Instead of using the Okuma Ultralight UL-10 spinning reel, which I typically use with 4lb test line, for the larger kit I use a Shimano Sedona SE2500FD reel. I use it with 8lb test line. This allows me to more easily go after larger fish. The Sedona 2500FD weighs 9.8 oz.

I’ve also made an addition to this kit, a 3ft measuring tape, which comes in at 1.1 oz. If I am going out with the purpose of fishing, I am most likely targeting fish beyond perch and sun fish. There are typically regulations when it comes to length of fish you can keep. Having a little measuring tape makes for an easier and safer time when it comes to identifying the keepers.

Lastly, the tackle is completely different. I still have an assortment of small lures like you saw in the Ultralight Spinning Kit, but here it is significantly expanded to include larger lures. This allows me to go after bass, pickerel, etc.



The tackle box has two sides. On one side I keep the small lures along with split shot, hooks, a bobber, etc. I have an assortment of spinners and surface and diving lures. On the other side I have the larger lures. I have a frog, a popper, a diving lure, and an assortment of gummy lures. The gummies are the ones I use the most. Ever since a friend of mine showed them to me, I’ve been very happy with them. They seem to attract a large range of fish, and work well with a weedless set up. When not on a trip, I keep them in the bag I purchased them in. It seems to contain some type of oil which keeps them from drying out. I’ve never had an issue with keeping them out for a number of days, but to be safe I return them to the bag when I get home. The stocked tackle box weighs 8.9 oz.

So, the combined weights of this medium size backpacking kit comes in at 1lb 8.5oz (24.5 oz). It is almost twice the weight of the ultralight kit, and also quite a bit larger, but offers much more capability. Now, I wouldn’t carry this kit if I just thought I might get to do half an hour of fishing along the way on a backpacking trip. However, if my backpacking trip is specifically designed with the end goal of getting to fish, this is the kit that comes with me.

Lastly, as you saw from my last trip report, I can pair this kit with the waders and wading shoes from my fly fishing set up for situations when I need to get into tough to reach water. With my Patagonia Rio Azul waders weighing 2lb 3.2oz (35.2 oz) and my DIY wading shoes weighing 2lb 5.3oz (37.3 oz) the total weight of fishing gear I might end up carrying on a backpacking trip, as I did on my last one, can be 6lb 1.0oz (97.0 oz).

Now, I know that this is still a relatively small kit. Guys who seriously fish for specific species have much, much larger tackle kits. This however is a compromise between portability and functionality. I can fit the kit in a my 40L pack along with all my three season gear. It’s not light, but it allows me to backpack to any location I want and fish there without a problem.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Don’t Be a Wilderness “Expert” Fanboy!

The subject of who should be called a wilderness skills expert, and what that entails has been a favorite topic of discussion/fights in forums for many, many years now, and the debate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In this post however, I want to address a similar, but different issue; the issue of being an expert fanboy.

Generally speaking, the term “fanboy” means “one who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something”. This is by no means exclusive to wilderness skills or buschraft/survival, but I’ve been seeing a lot of it lately with respect to wilderness skills “experts”.


To be more precise, many people reject the term “expert” when it comes to themselves but instead place the label on another person of their choosing and then obsess over that person to the exclusion of all others. The person doing this seems to find some type of identity, community, and authentication by proxy, through ideological association with this “expert”, and will espouse their views without an ounce of critical thinking. We have all seen them on forums; they are the guys who seem incapable of accepting, let alone leveling criticism against their expert of choice, and will fight to the death in their honor, usually while dressed head to toe in the merchandize that “expert” is selling at the time.

What’s wrong with that you ask? Sometimes someone might indeed be the greatest expert ever, right? Why not follow him exclusively? Well, even if that was true, I strongly believe that this type of mentality leads to stagnation of knowledge and ultimately to people learning less about the wilderness. Even if a person is the greatest expert ever, they are still going to be wrong some of the time. Or maybe they are not wrong, but are simply not aware of something better that another person has come up with more recently. Or perhaps their ideology is interfering with the more practical aspects of the craft. By blindly following this “expert” and their teachings, valuable learning opportunities are lost.

Knowledge progresses when we think critically; when we challenge established beliefs. Trying to align yourself with anyone’s camp is contrary to the furthering of knowledge. Of course this is nothing new. We do it with sports teams, celebrities, etc. However, while defending to the death your team that hasn’t won a championship in decades and wearing their colors proudly while screaming at the opposing side is all in good fun, doing the same when it comes to wilderness experts actually has a negative impact on the learning of wilderness skills.

This all culminates in The Clone Wars, where Ray Mears clones fight Dave Canterbury clones while seeking an alliance with the Mors Kochanski clones; all of course happening online. Interestingly, I haven’t seen too many Matt Graham clones. I suppose the loin cloth look is yet to catch on. This approach of “my expert is better than your expert” certainly serves to create identity and community associations, but is quite detrimental to the actual learning of skills.

My advice is to not fall into anyone’s camp. Don’t establish an identity for yourself as someone who enjoys the wilderness through association with another person and their beliefs. Take each skill, each lesson, and think about what you are being told critically. Then listen to a bunch of other people, compare the information, and think about it critically again. Then repeat the same process for the next skill or piece of information. Nobody is right about everything all the time. No matter how much you like and trust a particular expert, part of the time they are not going to have the best advise for you.

Most importantly, don’t think of disagreement as disrespect. It is not the same thing. You can respect an expert and their skills and contributions while still disagreeing with them on specific issues or ideology. Disagreement and debate is how we expand knowledge. Blindly following any one person serves the opposite purpose.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Trip Report: Willowemoc Wild Forest Long Pond 7/18/15 – 7/19/15

I know I haven’t written much the past month or two. I’ve been getting out consistently during that time because the woods are so close to my new place, but I just haven’t had time to write much about anything. Well, this past weekend I got the urge to go fishing, and I figured it’s about time I posted something about it.

I’ve been doing a bunch of fly fishing lately, and it’s been getting a bit tedious, so this weekend I wanted to do some spinning. I also wanted to go up to the Catskills and explore some areas I haven’t visited before. The challenge with that is that there are very few lakes in the Catskills. There are a few good locations, but they are overdeveloped. Access to them is pretty easy because people bring boats to the lakes, which makes them feel less secluded than I like.

So, I took out a map and started looking at bodies of water that were nowhere near any roads. The lake I settled on was a 15 acre body of water called Long Pond located in the Willowemoc Wild Forest in the Catskill Mountains. I knew nothing about it except that it was small, there was no road access anywhere near the area and that I would have to backpack a fair distance to get to it.

When I left in the morning it was raining heavily. I got all my rain gear ready, but by the time I arrived at the trail head, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I headed up the mountain towards the lake.

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I followed a trail most of the way up, cutting across the woods at the very end to reach the lake. The climb was steeper than I had anticipated, but it wasn’t anything challenging. The rain from earlier in the day had brought out some of the animal.



I reached the lake in good time. As I mentioned earlier, I really didn’t know what to expect. It quickly became clear why no one seemed to fish this lake. Not only was there no easy way to get to it, but there was virtually no shore access for easy fishing. The lake is a good size, but at least this time of year is surrounded by a bog with a few marshy areas. All the open greenery you see is not actually soil, it is just plants growing directly out of the water. 


Luckily, I was prepared. I suspected this might be the case, as it is with many of the small bodies on water around here, so I brought along my waders and DIY wading shoes. I also brought a heavier reel and move complete tackle than my usual portable kit because I was specifically coming to the area to fish.



There were a few location along the shore that weren’t overgrown with brush, so I picked the widest one and started making my way through the bog. It’s the most difficult time I’ve ever had getting into a lake, sinking significantly into the bog.



The bubbles you see all around me in the picture above are being released from the bog as I am pushing down on it. Right there my legs are at least a foot deep into the mud.

Anyway, I got the hang of moving around after a while and got to fishing. I was using a gummy weedless set up. I’m assuming it’s because there isn’t much pressure on the fish here, but I started getting hits right the way. They were all pickerel. The first few I caught were too small to keep, about a foot each. Around here they have to be at least 15 inches to keep. After a while I hooked one that was much bigger, and it snapped my line. I was surprised as I was using my bigger reel with 8lb line, but it snapped it.

I reset with the exact same set up and kept going. Eventually I hooked an 18 inch chain pickerel that I managed to get out of the water.



To top it off, I even found some blue berries in the area.


At that point I figured I would call it a day. I cleaned the fish, which was a pain because it is a slimy one, packed up and moved south along the lake.

In the late afternoon I stopped to eat dinner. When I am cooking something like fish that has a strong smell, I like to do it away from where I will be camping during the night. It is almost certain that a bear will come check out the smell, and having to chase away a bear in the middle of the night is not fun. So, I made a small fire and cooked the fish along with some other food I had brought along.



After dinner I moved on for about another half a mile. There were quite a few game trails in the area, so walking was easy. When the sun started going down I pulled out my pad and sleeping bag and went to sleep. The night was very warm.


The next day I packed up and headed home. Originally I was planning on doing some more fishing, but I just didn’t feel like trying to make my way into the lake again.

Following the trail down the mountain, I crossed a small creek, so I took the opportunity to wash up. I wasn’t able to reach the lake water after I took my waders off, so my hands were still covered in fish.


After that it was a short distance out of the forest. And that’s it. A little fishing, a little camping, and all around a good time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dual Survival Canceled by The Discovery Channel

Two days ago TMZ reported that the Discovery Channel had canceled Dual Survival. I first found out about it when it was published on Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. At the time Jason had contacted Discovery, so I figured I would wait for the confirmation before sharing the news. It has now been confirmed that the Discovery Channel has canceled Dual Survival.


It appears that the cancelation occurred at the completion of filming for this upcoming season. I imagine that the season will air, but that will be the end.

For me the interesting part of all this is the potential reason for the show’s cancelation. Shows get canceled all the time, but the circumstances surrounding the cancelation of Dual Survival are potentially very interesting. After all, it certainly wasn’t canceled because of the ratings. The show is a very strong performer for Discovery, and is one of the most popular survival shows on TV.

The reason is clearly something else. The question is “what”? TMZ originally reported that during filming of the last episode co-host Joe Teti injured a dog in an attempt to save a cat. According to Discovery that was not the reason for the cancelation, but that allegedly made the folks at Discovery even more comfortable about the cancelation. 

Dual Survival is no stranger to controversy. Its hosts seem to generate more drama than the Kardashians. For those who can remember back far enough, in 2011, after completion of Season 2, co-host Dave Canterbury was fired for falsifying his military record. Then in 2014, in the middle of Season 4, co-host Cody Lundin was fired due to disagreements with the show’s producers. It looks like Season 6, which I assume will air will be the last one. Neither of the previous cast changes prevented any of the episodes from being aired, so I assume that will be the case with the upcoming Season 6 as well. 

I am sure we will eventually find out what necessitated such a drastic measure on the part of Discovery. It may be related to documents Discovery may have seen during ongoing litigation involving Joe Teti and Mykel Hawke. Litigation is a double edged sword. The discovery process (excuse the pun) can reveal all sorts of information about the litigants. Of course, this is all just speculation at this pint. It could be anything.

I haven’t followed the show in a while. These days it is more of a TV soap opera than a survival show, so I have lost interest, but I would love to know what lead to the cancelation. If you guys have any information, please share it below.