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Finding the right gear makes a big difference

December 22, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

I'm rather careful when it comes to purchasing outdoor equipment. It is not that I'm picky; I simply prefer good quality clothing and gear, as I believe most frequent travelers do.

In fact, I own a fair share of brand name outdoor products, including Orvis flyrods, Kelty backpacks, Eureka! tents, Sea Eagle inflatables and more than a few boats from the likes of Mad River and Old Town Canoe.

I've also field tested a variety equipment from different manufacturers. I tend to be rather rough on equipment; it has to be capable of taking a lot use and, occasionally, some real abuse.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
The Eureka Timberline tent, shown at campsite near Cranberry Lake, is capable of withstanding gale force winds. With enough headroom for a person to stand up, it can easily accommodate six people. It makes an ideal base camp and is an excellent shelter for winter camping.

I once used a Schrade Ol'Timer pocket knife to open cans in camp, after forgetting to pack the can opener. The knife took the abuse, and after a couple of passes on a sharpening stone, it had an edge that filleted bass with ease.

Unfortunately, after a century of producing quality products in New York's Mohawk Valley region, the Schrade Cutlery Company closed it's doors for good in 2004. Fortunately, some of their products can still be found online, including their fabled KABAR combat knives.

I wouldn't have attempted opening cans with most blades, but I would with a Conway knife, which could still provide a clean shave even without sharpening. The Conway Knife Company is based in Saranac Lake and their products are available at Blue Line Sport Shop.

Brand name gear is great, but when it receives regular "industrial strength" use for extended periods of time, it must able to handle the work.

Over the years, I've field tested numerous pieces of outdoor equipment for a variety manufacturers, and I continue to take on assignments for a select few.

I've also dropped the ax on a couple, after the quality of their products diminished over the years.

When it comes to axes, I've discovered the Hudson Bay Camping Axe, manufactured by Snow and Nealley, is one of the most useful and reliable outdoor tools in my arsenal. I still carry the original model that I field tested for the manufacturer way back in 1987, and it still holds a fine edge. Its length is ideal for either paddling or backpacking trips, and yet it has enough weight to either split logs or drive tent stakes easily. It has become an essential piece of camp gear.

Early in my career as a professional guide, I served as a spokesman and field tester for a variety of outdoor equipment manufacturers including the DuPont Corporation, Diawa, Kelty, Dickies, Mad River, Blue Hole and Grumman canoes, as well as Sea Eagle inflatables, which are still produced in New York by Harrison-Hoge Industries.

The products I tested include a wide range of gear including gloves, footwear and thermal undergarments, as well as tents, packs, camp stoves, lanterns, coolers, inflatable rafts, canoes, fishing equipment and plenty of other gizmos and assorted gadgets designed for the outdoor traveler.

On occasion, I was paid quite well for my services, and at other times, especially when products failed to meet expectations, I had to battle for the agreed upon compensation.

Early on, I discovered manufacturers of quality gear really wanted to know how their gear held up. They were generally open to suggestions and welcomed my constructive criticism.

One of the finest products I tested - and later purchased - was Eureka! tents, especially their Timberline models, which proved capable of surviving gale force winds on more than one occasion.

Eureka! is a New York-based manufacturer based in Binghamton. They are now associated with Johnson Outdoors. The company, established in 1895 initially produced store awnings, Conestoga wagon covers, horse blankets and American flags.

Eventually, the company produced military tents for the U.S. Army, as well as tents used on various Mount Everest expeditions, including Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan expedition to Nepal, the first all-American expedition to Everest, as well as the American Women's Himalayan Expedition to Annapurna.

I own several of their two-, four- and six-man Timberline models that I have been using since the early 1980s.

My oldest piece of camping gear is a well-worn, twice refurbished Kelty Tioga backpack. It has been my regular companion on backpacking trips, hunting expeditions or paddling adventures for nearly 40 years, and it remains in regular use.

Like an old nag, I can't keep it off my back for long. It is capable of hauling more gear than most men can comfortably handle and I've exceeded my weight limit more often than I care to mention.

Originally purchased in 1973, I've sent the pack back to the company to have the zippers, as well as the hip belt replaced several times. Each time, my pack was returned good as new, with no fees charged.

Early in my professional career, at the request of DuPont Corporation, I organized a backpacking expedition into the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness for a group of outdoor media representatives.

The purpose of the trip was to introduce the Kelty Woman, which was at the time a radical new frame pack that was designed for female users.

The product, constructed with DuPont Cordura fabric was very well received. Members of the media were impressed with the quality and durability of the product and so was I.

I continued my work with DuPont while assisting Mad River Canoe with the introduction of their LadySlipper model, an extremely lightweight solo canoe constructed with DuPont Kevlar fabric.

Unfortunately, I later severed ties after refusing to endorse their Stren fishing line, which remains one of the lowest quality, highest priced monofilament lines on the market.

I now use ANDE monofilament fishing line, which has been the line of choice for more than 1,800 International Game Fish Association World Record holders.

Last but not least are my Bean boots, which carry a lifetime guarantee and are still manufactured in Freeport, Maine.

The boots are the only piece of equipment I use from the ground up. Their well known warranty offers to repair, resole or replace the boots for the life of the original owner.

LL Bean, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, now offers Bean Boots in their original red rubber sole.

Although mine have lasted many years, I may just place an order for a vintage pair, for a vintage outdoorsman.



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