3 Must Haves For Fall Gear


The pack that hangs in my garage could be mistaken for a living thing. At first glance it’s just luggage stuffed with an assortment of other inanimate objects. A close observer though will notice that it’s constantly adapting to the demands of the season. Layers disappear and reappear with shifts in the weather. Food goes in, wrappers come out. Gear is added, removed, replenished and exchanged. It even changes shape, cycling through a half dozen different makes and models, as necessary. On any given day it may be wet, dusty or bloody, but through all of the little tweaks, the kit maintains a specific equilibrium. It’s 85% ready to meet whatever adventure the day offers. Barring a completely unexpected opportunity, all it needs is a couple of activity specific items, and we’re out the door.

For most of the year the ongoing changes are subtle – a differently stocked fly-box maybe, or short sleeves replacing long – more evolution than revolution. But a couple of times each year I wipe the slate clean, reevaluate and start fresh.

Each time I do, I subject each prospective pack item to a three-question interrogation. Only the top performers come with me into the field. It can make for some agonizing decisions. But applying a similar rubric could pay off for you too as you gear up for the fall.

Is it Versatile? –October days are pregnant with possibility. On leaving the house pre-dawn, one can’t possibly know how things will play out. Fifteen miles off-trail in rugged country or two? Eighty degrees and sun or 25 and blowing snow? Butchering big game and carrying meat? Twenty yard shot, 200 or none at all? Following a blood trail? Managing an injury? Unexpected encounters with wildlife? An unplanned night in the hills? Each of those cards is in the deck, and countless more.

To be prepared for each potentiality, and still be able to walk under the load, each piece of gear, and clothing, needs to perform multiple functions.

Ask yourself what each item is capable of. Will it be useful in tracking, butchering and building an emergency shelter, or would you only pull it out in one particular situation? If it’s something that’s been in your pack, ask yourself when the last time you used it was, and why? Can you layer over that garment when the weather turns ugly or is it only useful in the heat? Is this doo-dad absolutely necessary or could something else that I’m already carrying, or some combination of things I’m carrying, or something I can reliably find in the woods (a rock, or branch say) do the same job?

If so, something stays home.

How Packable is it? – Ounces make pounds and pounds make pain. Nobody wants to turn back one ridge too soon, because they’re worn out.

Packability can, at times, appear to conflict with the goal of versatility, but it doesn’t need to. Often the simplest things – cordage, a good knife, a down vest, a Bic lighter – are also the most versatile… and lightest. You may not describe these items as “high-performance” or “Full-featured” but they don’t require much space, they hold-up to the rigors of the backcountry, and they get the job done.

Not long ago shaving weight usually meant sacrificing durability. With the materials and manufacturing techniques available today though, that need not be the case.

Was it built for the Mountains or the Showroom? – I’m not a product designer; I don’t really understand how they do what they do, and I’m OK with that. Unfortunately, few designers do what I do. That’s more problematic for me. Luckily for us, there are people with feet in both worlds – passionate core participants whose experiences translate into high quality gear. It’s worth taking the time to figure out which outfits walk the talk, and it’s worth paying a premium once you’ve found them. They’ll keep you from schlepping around the superfluous buckle that the focus group liked, and more importantly they’ll understand why you can’t sacrifice performance.

They’ll understand that your pack is almost like a living thing, and that they have to earn a place in it.


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