Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seven take-aways from Cliff Jacobson

I remember meeting Cliff way back when… He was an integral piece of the puzzle we used to call Sunsplash.  That was a weekend event that Piragis Northwoods Company conceived to get in touch with our customers, to get gear into their hands and give them three days to test paddle canoes and kayaks… all for free.  It was a weekend full of customer service and customer connections.  It was fun, it was informative, it was special.  One of the highlights of the weekend were the many mini-seminars that Cliff put together. In the darkness lit only by the slide show or overhead projector he seamlessly spun tales that wove the magic of ingenuity and invention together with the practical.

That hands-on stuff that unfolded like the newness of a butterfly’s first wings outside… into knowledge and application, that was the true magic.  Inevitably, it would be, or much of the weekend would be, storm blown with winds, rain and yes, in early May or even late May, snow.  We always had one bright sunny portion of the weekend, and that was reserved for when we were packing up everything and the show was over.  So… into the rain we’d go and gather round while Cliff showed us HOW TO “Light a one match fire in the rain.”  And from the rain soaked wood, the flames would shine forth, reflecting on our awed faces that peeked out from water-logged hoods even as the rain pounded down on our heads and we smelled the sweet fragrance of North woods smoke.

The key to this exercise and so many others is the thought and preparation that goes into application of the skill.  Keep some dry tinder, keep some dry wood set apart, make some shavings, have a sharp knife or belt hatchet at the ready.  Think about the next steps, where’s the rest of your wood at, what size is it, are you ready for the hungry flames or are you instead prepared only to starve them through your lack of preparation.  What does the forest provide that lights a fire better than liquid fuel?  Birchbark.  Do you have some?  Can you get more?  Are you prepared for the next step?  Do you have firewood at the ready?  Did you bring a good saw that will minimize your energy output?

I’ve seen a lot of campers over the years take brand new gear still in the packaging off into the wilderness.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we sell great stuff here at Piragis and we field test it to make sure it will stand up to the rigors of the Boundary Waters, but if you’re going to use it, you should at least familiarize yourself with it before you hit the trail.  Cliff taught us all that knowing your gear is key to knowing how it can meet your needs in the wild.

For example, your knife needs to be sharp, but it also need to be strong.  Ideally it needs to be tough enough to handle some abuse.  The woods are tough, fallen branches have knots, the ground is full of rocks, in fact, most of the ground out there is rock with a little dirt on top.  You want a knife that can slice through tomatoes and fillet fish if necessary, but you need to have a blade that will survive tough knots of an old cedar branch or a beaver chew and that won’t snap if it slides off your cutting board and hits the granite hard.  If the spine of the blade is thick enough and strong enough you can use another piece of wood to hit your blade and split wood if you need to.  If it is not, you’ll bend your blade and probably hurt yourself in the process.  You need a headlamp that is bright, but also adjustable and adaptable to read with a red light in the tent or outside if your trying to read a map in the dark.  Your rain gear has to maintain your dryness and keep you from getting hypothermia but… it also has to breathe.  You know where the end of the road leads!

You’ve got extra pockets on packs or thwart bags to hold things like a super lightweight wind shirt.  Along with snacks and a camera and compass and your map and an extra pair of reading glasses (if you need them) it should be close and easy to get at.  The weather on the lake when paddling can turn 180 degrees in an instant and if you’ve built up a good sweat, that wind shirt could save your bacon.

I said “seven” takeaways just to get your attention.  I could have said, “twenty-five points” or “50 secrets from a wilderness guide” — all would fit Cliff and there would be no shortage of tips and tricks.  He’s got them, I know, and each one of them is unique and useful.  The point I’m making is that Cliff’s advice is good advice.  It is trustworthy because before he passes it on to you and me, he formulates it, works on it, tries it out, tweaks it and most importantly, Cliff decides if the application of the practical lives up to the magic of invention. Or the other way around.

Good teachers like Cliff make you think.  They inspire you to customize and tweak your own gear.  They demand that you don’t settle for mediocre.  Perhaps most importantly, they show you how much fun it is to get outdoors and learn from your own mistakes.

I remember watching cereal commercials as a kid and begging my Mom to get me a box of the latest greatest sugar coated wonder flavor back when there were prizes inside the boxes.  My Mom was a health-food guru for much of my youth and these pleas usually met with a firm “no.”  Once though, I remember, she got us a box of something new.  The marshmallows were hard little rocks and the whole spoonful tasted like cough medicine.  The kids on the commercial must have strange taste buds… they were not to be trusted in the future.

There was a prize in the box.  Not one I could touch, though I dumped the whole box out looking for one in the end.  The prize was a lesson.  A lesson that Cliff Jacobson would remind me of years later.  Trust plays a huge part in advertising, marketing and most of all advice taken.  Trust is earned through example and application.

#7 = Cliff has proven himself trustworthy.  Thanks Cliff for your reviews and input, without you we might find ourselves up a creek without a paddle. Or at least without a decent paddle.  Thanks for taking the time and having the inspiration to discover what works, what works better and what doesn’t make sense.

Thank you to our customers at Piragis Northwoods Company and the Boundary Waters Catalog.  Our goal is to provide you with quality lightweight gear that will make a difference in the wilderness.  As we continue to meet this goal for paddlers and campers we enjoy making new friends and we look forward to seeing you all around the bend!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

BLOG 72. Most Waterproof Lightweight Rain Coat I've Used

Reliable rain gear ranks high on my “most important item” list. When I first began to paddle wild Canadian rivers, I relied on a heavy bright yellow foul-weather rain suit, like those worn by sailors and fishermen.  Later, I switched to lighter weight Gore-tex, often wearing two ultralight jackets, one over the other with my PFD sandwiched inbetween. But I’ve long been on the prowl for a lightweight rain coat that works as well as my old yellow rain suit—one that keeps out water no matter how hard and how long it rains, and doesn’t become a sauna  when I’m working hard.

I recently field-tested a Bergans Super Lett Raincoat. I was quite impressed. It is very light, reasonably quiet (not too crinkly) and in more than four days of near continuous, hypothermic quality rain, it didn’t leak a drop. This is the first lightweight rain coat I’ve used that is absolutely waterproof in sustained rain over the long haul.
Rainy days make me smile--that is, as long as I'm dry!
The jacket is constructed from three bonded layers of fabrics: polyester, nylon and polyurethane. The inner layer, called Dermizax®, is similar in function to Gore-tex (repels water, eliminates perspiration) but there are no pores that can clog with oil or dirt. The manufacturer defines Dermizax® as a “hydrophilic, non-porous membrane—i.e., a water loving film with no holes in it.  It breathes by absorbing vapor molecules on one side and releasing them on the other side. The claimed advantage is that during high activity, it can reduce condensation on the inside of the garment. When sweat is transported away from your body, it reaches the cold surface of the outer-shell. If the sweat-vapor condenses to water before it gets there, it will stay on the inside and make you wet. At least, that’s the theory.

 The hang-tag reads:
·      Waterproofness and moisture permeability even in extreme cold.
·      Superb moisture permeability for comfort even in warm weather.
·      Minimizes condensation on the fabric’s inner layer, preventing rapid heat loss.
·      Superior flexibility for improved freedom of motion.
·      Durable fabric which stands up to wear from frequent use of backpacks.
Kopka River, Ontario. Near flood water and constant rain. June 2014
It rained 4.5 of the 7 days on a recent (June 13-21) Kopka River canoe trip in northern Ontario. Not normal rain, mind you, but icy, hypothermic rain that continued through the nights.  Day temperatures were in the 40’s and 50’s; night temps in the 30’s. My seven friends all wore Gore-tex rain coats—different brands and weights. By the end of the first day, they were all were wet. I was completely dry in my Super Lett jacket. Really! This scenario was repeated daily.  They were wet; I was dry. I’ve never used a lightweight rain coat that worked so well.  My wife Susie and I have about a dozen different lightweight rain shells—most of them Gore-tex, but all will leak if it rains hard enough and long enough. Even more impressive is that I wasn’t just sitting around on this trip: I was constantly paddling and portaging and sloshing through wet vegetation. No rain touched my skin. It was quite remarkable. To be honest, I still can’t believe it.
Rain...nearly every day!
Time will tell how this Dermizax® jacket will hold up over the long haul. And, I’ll need some warm summer rains coupled with tough portages to see how well it dissipates sweat. Look for a long term review next year.  

And now the bad news. Retail price on this jacket is around $300—a function of the high cost of everything in Norway.  Still, if you’re going in harm’s way and can expect long, icy rains, this jacket is worth the price.  But for warm summer Boundary Waters trips, there are many less expensive jackets which are adequate.  

Cliff Jacobson