BisonGear “Lemhi” Multi-Day Hunter’s Pack

BisonGear “Lemhi” Multi-Day Hunter’s Pack

By Bob Butz

It’s hard to deny the data that indicate a declining interest in multi-day backpacking excursions. Statistics from the National Park Service has shown that — while interest in “done-in-a-day” excursion is one the rise — participation in overnight backcountry activities among the general public has steadily fallen since the 1970s. Similar figures aren’t available for USFS and BLM land in North America. But if the market catering to the mountain-hunting subculture of modern backpackers is any indication, one might think the opposite was true.

Never before have hunters had so many options when it comes to backpacks. Up until very recently, the choice was pretty simple: external-frame packs were the only serious consideration for hunters headed into the backcountry. While not as comfortable or safe, external-frame packs were worth every bother when it came to packing out an animal taken in the backcountry.

But times have changed as materials and construction of internal-frame packs has improved. If a hunter is smart and debones their meat in the field, the modern internal-frame packs they increasingly carry are now capable of more comfortably handling more weight than an average person can carry.

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It’s All About The Fit

Before I go into the reasons why The Lemhi from BisonGear is my new favorite pack, I should mention that a standard, stock version of the product was sent to me late last winter, long after any opportunity to test the product in the field had passed.

But a profoundly bad experience years ago taught me that miles from camp on the top of a mountain with no name is actually the worst first-testing ground for a piece gear so integral to your success and survival in the field.

The popular backpack company, whose name I won’t mention here, promised me indestructible construction, unmatched quality and a universal fit. But on Day One of a four-day hunt for free-range aoudad in the mountains of West Texas, I found that the pack that fit so well on neighborhood hikes, rubbed and chaffed and restricted overhead arm movement when the country took a serious a pitch (a major inconvenience when clamoring over Volkswagen-sized boulders and ascending sheer rock faces).

After a three-hour climb to a sunbaked ledge so high I could see into Mexico, the pack’s waist belt left me with angry abrasions more commonly associated with road rash. My shirt and backside of my pants were soaked with what I thought was panic-induced sweat from the climb. But when I went to take a sip of precious water, I discovered that the pack’s internal, state-of-the-art hydration system had sprung a tragic, pinhole-sized leak.

That first day, the failings of the pack sent me back to camp before the sun got any higher and dehydration sent in. A jammed zipper. A ripped stitch. For every day after, the pack became was a constant and irritating burden, one I suffered and obsessed over rather than paying full attention to the hunt.  I still wonder if all the bother cost me a shot at Barbary.

The Lemhi

 When it comes to combining ruggedness, light weight, load support and the almost unheard of option of being able to personally customize any pack in their product line, Montana-based BisonGear has always garnered a high level of praise from serious backcountry bowhunters.

Combine BisonGear’s stellar reputation for quality with the The Lemhi‘s $359 base price and you naturally expect a lot. And you get it, if you understand that the true quality of a pack has nothing to do with talk of space-age fabrics, pockets and dazzling marketing campaigns. When everything is said and done the true quality of a pack is determined by how comfortable it conforms to a body in motion and how it performs under varying load.

Over the winter months and on into spring, I worked on breaking in The Lemhi as one might a new pair of boots. In addition to loading it with a 25-pound bag of wood stove pellets and various odds and ends I carry when checking my winter trapline (a roundabout loop through varying terrain anywhere from three to four miles), I also used the pack in gym as a substitute for a weighted vest.

I’ve never read of many people testing a pack in the gym. But if your workout routine includes functional movements designed to build strength and endurance in the field, it’s just about the best place to give a pack a real thrashing.

My own routine always incorporates trail running and jumping, step-ups and pull-ups, crawling and dragging objects of various weights sometimes interspersed with shooting my bow with an elevated heart rate — activities designed to recreate scenarios encountered in the field.  I wore The Lemhi loaded with around 40 pounds for all these activities and more and in every case the freedom of unencumbered movement was impressive.

As winter turned to spring, I swapped wood pellets for sand bringing the weight inside the pack up to 60 pounds, and once as much as 80, on my regular overland hikes. Wondering just how much the stitching and shoulder straps could handle, I even tried fitting the pack to a pull-up bar and hanging from it (roughly 180-pounds). Not only super-quiet, the “wolfskin” fabric of The Lemhi (along with the stitching) appear to have similar qualities of modern Kevlar.

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Other Hits

A pack should have pockets, but it’s entirely subjective when it comes to the question of how many. The Lemhi’s, two main side pockets could carry gear as large as compact spotting scope and a brace of water bottles; the main compartment has a place for a hydration system, but for aforementioned reasons, I’m not a fan. Pockets on the waist belt were made big enough to carry all the essentials a hunter would want close-to-hand (with the exception of a sidearm holster, one minor miss that can be remedied if you really want to customize the pack to include such a feature).

Lash-straps for a sleeping bag, tent and sleeping pad were all thoughtfully placed. I would have liked built-in a sling for carrying a bow or rifle but, again, this is a customizable option that can be either retrofitted or added when a customer purchases the pack.

Final thoughts: Any pack that can come through the months long torture test I put this one through, and still look and operate pretty much as good as new, is worth every penny. The only failing I experienced came by way of a cracked plastic buckle on one of the lash straps. Easily swapped out for a spare and hardly a deal breaker.

The Lemhi Specs

Standard features of The Lehmi included a 3,200 cubic inches, large, single compartment, EveryWhichWay™ adjustable, contoured shoulder straps, internal aluminum frame, sewn-in sleeve for hydration system, sectional lumbar support with Leno Mesh for breathability, padded hip belt with low-profile pockets, interior zippered pouch, built-in compression straps, four exterior pockets.  Check out www.bisongearonline.com.

Trail Tough: A Basic Plan For Building Backpacking Endurance

 

Talk to enough guides and outfitters and you’ll find their number one complaint is dealing with doughy, out-of-shape clients in the mountains. Money might be able to buy you a ticket to hunting adventure anywhere in the world. But getting close to game in rugged, backcountry terrain almost always means hiking many miles, day after day, under the burden of a heavy pack.

 

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This requires a special kind of fitness you’re not going to find in a gym or in the organic food section of your local grocery store. It requires the kind of stamina you can’t build lifting weights alone or racking up the miles on a weekly running schedule. To be in the best mental and physical shape for backpacking, you really have to strap on pack (preferably the one you’re going to be hunting with) get outside and do some hiking.

A 16-Week Plan

When it comes to the smartest and safest method of training average people to cover long distances carrying everything they need on their back, no one has looked at the problem more closely than the U.S. military.

Air Force PJ (pararescue jumper) and military fitness expert, Nate Morrison, introduced what is now one of the most successful conditioning programs of its kind in 2007 for the Army Times.

In soldier-speak, “ruck marching” is hiking (or marching) with a weighted pack for long distances over varied terrain. Morrison’s program was designed for both raw recruits and experienced soldiers looking to get back on track after a long layoff from rucking. A systematic, 16-week progression, Morrison’s program is simple, well organized and—for anyone planning a backcountry bowhunt this coming year—a perfect fit for the four-month window now remaining before western hunting seasons kick off in the U.S. in September.

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The guidelines are simple:

During the course of routine, you “ruck march” twice per week. This should give your nervous system, bones, tendons and ligaments adequate time to recover if you rest at least two days between sessions and possibly even a third or fourth day if you’re doing any additional running or resistance training.

In the original program, Morrison recommends hiking at specific tempos (e.g. fast/slow, slow/fast), depending on the week. Generally speaking, a good tempo is one where you can still comfortably maintain a conversation; for most people, that will work out to around a 15- to 20-minute-per-mile pace.

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It should go without saying, but since there are no sidewalks or paved roads in the backcountry you should hike on uneven, hilly terrain whenever possible. Use the same boot/sock combination and the same pack that you plan to use on your hunt. Likewise, you shouldn’t even attempt this program if you can’t already walk five miles, unloaded without doubling over with leg and lower-back pain.

The first week of the program starts with a five-mile hike with 20-percent of your body weight loaded in your pack. If you don’t know how to figure out the percent of a number, that’s what Google is for. The 16-week progression looks like this:

 

WEEK       PERCENT OF BODY WEIGHT/LOAD      MILEAGE

1                                  20%                                            5 miles

2                                  20%                                            5 miles

3                                  25%                                            5 miles

4                                  25%                                            5 miles

5                                  30%                                            5 miles

6                                  30%                                            5 miles

7                                  35%                                            5 miles

8                                  35%                                            5 miles

9                                  40%                                            5 miles

10                                40%                                            5 miles

11                                40%                                            6 miles

12                                40%                                            8 miles

13                                40%                                           10 miles

14                                40%                                           12 miles

15                                40%                                           14 miles

16                                40%                                           16 miles

Stone Glacier Ultralight Backpacks

Actually, the market is filled with backpacks and the options are unlimited. Big names, as Kifaru, MisteryRanch, Kuiu, Badlands, Eberlestock, traditional backpacks as Bisongear, quiver-backpacks as RanchoSafari and new ones, as Tenzing or Easton with his own line of hunting backpacks. For me, many of the actual designs are filled with non sense small pockets, zippers and hundreds of Molle type webbing to attach more non sense pouches. If one brand has all my attention this is Stone Glacier, by far less know than the other ones.

About Stone Glacier, very few “ultralight” packs can say this:

From the Stone Glacier webpage:

After three years of design and testing with loads from 70 to 135 pounds without any structural issues, the goal was to test the pack to failure.  Starting with 1 inch steel plates 13” by 25”, I worked my way up to four plates in the pack.  Each plate weighed about 85  pounds, 40 pounds a square foot.  When it was time to add the third and fourth plate, I welded the plates together, lifted them with a crane, wrapped the Solo around the plates, and set it back down on edge of the welding bench where I could get it on my back.  The final load weight on my back was 340 pounds with no damage, failure, or signs of stress.  While the goal of testing to failure was not accomplished, the load test did prove the 130 pounds plus rating structurally conservative.

 

The Solo model, without meat bag and with it, 3.7 pounds, around 1.7 kilos, with a load rating of 130 pounds…

 

And they are solids, not camo, nice !!!

A Guide to Broadhead Sharpening DVD

A new DVD about broadhead sharpenning by Gary and Connie Renfro, populars bowhunters

All the info from 3Rivers Archery

Every hunter is looking for that extra edge for hunting season. This DVD shows you how to get and keep that edge with super sharp broadheads!

Gary and Connie Renfro show you how to get and maintain an extra sharp edge on your broadheads using a variety of modern and time-tested methods. From straight edges to 3-blade broadheads to mechanical broadheads, and everything in between, you’ll learn a variety of methods using a variety of sharpeners and tools.

Over 1 hour and 30 minutes of information, instruction, demonstrations, and insights. A Guide to Broadhead Sharpening is a must-view before getting ready for the hunt!

Includes tips on how to use:

  • Carbide Sharpeners
  • Hand Filling Methods
  • Motorized Methods
  • Angled Sharpeners
  • Knife Style Sharpeners

Learn how to sharpen:

  • Radius Edges
  • Straight Edges
  • Concave Edges
  • Single Bevel
  • Double Bevel
  • 3-Blade Broadheads
  • Mechanical Broadheads

Approximately 90 minutes.

Rain skirt

Yes, the hunters are by general rule, tough guys, rudes and very “machos”. Beards are the rule, maybe tattoos, short hair…you know. To help with this “supermacho” problem, i think that add one skirt to our weardrobe is the perfect solution. I have never seen one hunter using one skirt, not at daylight, but in the backpacking world is something usual.

Pros, are very very lights, volume near zero, very cheaps and with a pair of gaiters you can be dry under heavy rain

Cons, not the best for long walks in the typical hunting terrain with brush, trees and similar and not practical for many hunting situations. Your hunting buddies can be joking about you for your lifetime.

Pics from http://www.zpacks.com/accessories/cloudkilt.shtml Plenty of models in the market, this is only one option.

 

For sure, this is not for everyone but who knows, can be helpful

Vortex Viper HD Binoculars

I often get asked what I think of my Vortex Optics Viper HD binoculars, so thought I’d put together a short write up about them.NIGELIVY_20130529_6124

I bought my first pair of Vortex binoculars, the Viper HDs,  about 18 months ago and have used them on several hunts, with great success. I think they’re a great example of a mid-range bino and are probably some of the best value for money out there.

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Sharpness

I’ve compared them side-by-side against Swarovski. In good light conditions I didn’t notice much difference between the Vortex and Swarovski. Where I’ve found the Viper HDs to lack compared to Swarovski, is in low light conditions. That said, the difference in sharpness was not massive. I think that you would only really realize the difference in sharpness if you used your binos extensively at night.IVY_20120523_4513

Build

The Viper HDs are very well built. I put a pair of BinoBibs over mine for added protection and to keep stuff off the lens when I crawl or push through thick brush. The Viper HDs are not bulky, but are strong enough for someone that will put them through their paces. I don’t abuse mine, but I also don’t baby them and mine have held together very well with no signs of wear. One of the most attractive things about Vortex Optics is their Unlimited Lifetime Warranty.

About the only thing that I don’t like about the Viper HDs is that when you twist out the eye-cups, there is lubricant that is exposed, which I found collects grass seeds and dirt very easily. Fortunately for me, I don’t use them with the eye-cups out, so it doesn’t affect me much, but this is something to bear in mind if you need the eye-lids out.NIGELIVY_20130529_6119

Price

In my opinion, about the most attractive thing about the Viper HDs is their price. When you consider, at the time of writing this blog, that an equivalent model Swarovski runs up at $2,239 and an equivalent model Zeiss runs up at $999, the Viper HDs at $599 is very good value for money for what you get!NIGELIVY_20130529_6134

Summary

In summary, I consider the Viper HDs to be a very strong contender for someone looking for a good pair of binoculars. They tick all the boxes in terms of price, sharpness and build and with an Unlimited Lifetime Warranty, you can’t go wrong.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.