Training: Field Testing In the inky pre-dawn, I hoisted a 5-gallon bucket from the bed of my pick-up, pulled dripping wet clothes from it, stripped naked in the parking lot, and began dressing in the wet layers. It was cold, with a brisk breeze sucking down the valley. Anyone observing me would have thought I was insane for many reasons. My clothes looked strange, with the pant legs each a different color and the base layer top split down the center, looking the same. I tried to remain calm with this uncomfortable but practiced ritual. I put on dry socks and buckled my ski boots before throwing on a 30-pound pack to begin skiing up the trail on a 4-hour circuit. I’ve been field-testing gear professionally for decades. I’ve been fortunate to test for the military, hunting, and outdoor industries and have learned how it’s done from some of the best field testers in the business. One unique way I’ve tested products is split garments which are usually generated by the R&D department of a company with the intent to down-select fabrics for a particular use. The advantage of split garments is that the tester can directly compare a fabric’s performance on the same day and environmental conditions. Over the years, I’ve used this method for both clothing and shelters, sometimes with surprising results. Similar testing can be accomplished by wearing one pair of pants during an evolution, then swapping to a different pair mid-day, or testing similar products on different days in similar weather conditions to the same standards. When testing, it’s important to take notes, capturing your thoughts while in the field. For this purpose, I carry a small Wet Notes pad and a mechanical pencil. The intent of field testing is much different than merely wearing or using a product randomly in the field. When testing, you’re trying to prove or disprove a theory, test a performance metric, and have a standard or criteria to measure against. It’s your gear, so there’s no right or wrong. But you can’t test the performance of rain gear in a drizzle, the warmth of a puffy jacket in mild conditions, or the moisture management of a clothing system if you don’t get it wet. You know best what you demand from your kit, but if you don’t test to demanding standards, you do not fully understand the gear’s performance. For example, I’ve tested dozens of sleeping bags over the years and determined the warmth rating is somewhat subjective. There are too many variables, including the ground pad, clothing, shelter, and individual physiology. So you must get out and spend a few nights determining how the bag works for you. One performance metric that’s important to me is how a sleeping bag manages moisture. The sleeping bag is a sanctuary for warmth and can save your life. The bags I choose must perform when I climb inside wearing damp clothing and continue to manage that moisture over several days afield. The only way I know how to test that is to get some clothing damp, like a base layer top and bottom, climb inside a bag, and see how it performs. This is not a standardized test that sleeping bag manufacturers use, but I need to understand the capabilities of my kit in worst-case scenarios. Field testing’s not glamorous and often entails many shitty nights outside. I was once field testing a prototype bivy shelter. It featured a small tent portion that covered your upper body to sit up in, connected to a bivy sack for the legs. Instead of following my standard practice of pitching it beforehand at home, inspecting the seams, and hosing it down to check for leaks, I just jammed it in my ruck and headed out for a four-day training trip. Pitching the shelter quickly in a building storm, I knew within minutes of lying down I’d screwed up. The weight of the damp, heavy snow quickly increased as the storm intensified. After an hour of fidgeting to keep the snow build-up to a minimum, the center seam running the length of the shelter started to leak, soaking my legs and feet with icy water. I was chilled and dealt with cold feet every night on that trip. But ultimately, I needed to test the bivy shelter in wet inclement weather. I wouldn’t have found its design and construction flaws if I’d used the shelter in a more permissive environment. Several years later, I participated in a pack test for the military where each tester was required to carry every pack with the same weight and gear load-out thru a standard four-mile course. The facilitators tried to remove as many variables as possible to achieve an unbiased consensus on comfort and performance. Testers completed a questionnaire after each lap before moving to another pack. It was interesting how my perceptions changed after each circuit. Some packs I thought would carry well didn’t, while others I thought might cripple me performed admirably. At the end of the four days, each field tester had covered 64 miles with 80-pound packs and picked a clear winner. My preconceived notions of which packs were best before starting did not play out as I thought. In remote wilderness, your life hinges on the performance and integrity of your gear. Field testing is a deliberate process, allowing you to understand the performance of the gear in realistic and challenging scenarios. It allows you to discard gear that doesn’t meet your expectations, knowing that the kit you tested will perform if and when the shit hits the fan. Courses: Backcountry Mission Planning Outdoor Class and I have released my first online course. This course has been a ten-year goal, and I couldn’t be more proud. Backcountry Mission Planning is 16 chapters, draws on my 30+ years of experience in the mountains, and focuses on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and becoming a more knowledgeable Student of the Game. Use code BARKOW to receive 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership and get access to all the courses available on the Outdoor Class website. www.outdoorclass.com Seminars: Cold Weather Survival Seminars I’ll be presenting Cold Weather Survival seminars on 13 & 14 April at the 33rd Biennial Pope & Young Convention in Reno, Nevada. Think about attending this awesome convention and come by for an informative and living discussion on backcountry survival. For details, check out www.pope-young.org Gear Locker: MSR HyperFlow MicroFilter The MSR HyperFlow filtration pump is my go-to device for backcountry water treatment. It takes up little room in the pack and, at 7.8 ounces and only 7″x 4″ in size, removes any excuse for leaving it behind, even on big one-day excursions. The HyperFlow removes bacteria and Protozoa from wild water that can make you sick and is suitable for use in the backcountry of North America. The pump’s easy to use, with a manufacturer’s flow rating of 3 liters per minute. I’ve found a more realistic flow rate of about 1 liter a minute, assuming a good water source that’s easy to access and a decent fitness level. The included pre-filter is crucial when filtering water cloudy with sediments like glacial silt, mud, fire ash, and other fine debris. The HyperFlow utilizes a hollow fiber filter that, in my experience, is a bit more durable with a higher flow rate and is easier to maintain and back-flush in the field than a ceramic filter. No matter the type, caution is advised not to let the filter freeze. Frozen filters risk developing micro-cracks when they thaw, potentially letting the contaminants you’re trying to filter out come through, making you sick. The other feature I like about all the MSR pumps is the quick-connect adapter that securely connects the pump’s outflow hose to other MSR bladders and Nalgene bottles for efficiency and less chance of spilling your filtered water. This is a nice feature, especially after kicking over a few bottles of filtered water while stumbling out of a creek. The MSR HyperFlow costs $149.95. With regular maintenance and an occasional filter change, this filtration pump will last for more years than you can count. www.msrgear.com The Closet: DWR – The Unsung Hero Durable Water Repellant treatments, or DWRs, are the unsung hero of technical clothing. These chemical treatments are why water beads up on rain gear, allowing you to shake it dry before climbing into your tent, and your soft-shell pants don’t soak up the morning dew as you stalk a Muley in its bed. Without DWRs, technical clothing would not perform at the levels they do, keeping us warm, dry, and comfortable. But nothing comes for free, and DWRs must be cared for and retreated to stay effective. If your rain jacket is wetting out under pack straps or rain pants are soaking up water on the knees and thighs, it’s time to retreat the DWR. The process for retreatment is straightforward, with many options, from spray-on to wash-in treatments, all performed after cleaning the garments. Generally, this care is required only after a season of very hard use or when the clothing is excessively soiled with mud, blood, or oils. But alas, environmental concerns have brought attention to the harm DWRs bring to the environment, and regulations are mandating a change to their chemistry. These new, eco-friendly DWRs are not as long-lasting as the previous ones, and it’ll take many years for them to catch up to the performance of their predecessors. Being aware of this, you must be more mindful of the performance of the DWRs in your system to continue to reap their rewards. For instance, when a rain jacket’s outer face fabric wets out, the garment won’t breathe like it did when the DWR kept the fabric dry. Saturated clothing can promote cold bridging, where the cold, damp garment acts as a conduit transporting heat away from your body, similar to conductive cooling. Depending on what layers you have underneath, this cooling effect can be quite pronounced and uncomfortable. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when caring for your kit. But for a more in-depth explanation of the care and treatment of technical clothing, check out Laundry Day in the January 2022 issue of the Knowledge from Storm’s Wheel Book. Grangers DWR www.grangers.com Revivex DWR www.gearaid.com Media The Altitude Show podcast, EP. 45 David Brinker and I discuss best practices for a survival situation and the phycology required to successfully manage these unplanned contingencies. Listen Here East Meets West podcast Beau and I talk about some of our lessons learned from backcountry hunts and how my new course, Backcountry Mission Planning, will help reduce some of these mistakes and make you a safer and more successful hunter. Listen Here HuntStand podcast In this podcast, I relate some of my most dangerous hunts and close calls in the backcountry and the lessons I’ve learned. Listen Here Backcountry Rookies podcast Chad and I discuss Backcountry Mission Planning, giving you a great overview of the material I cover in the course to help you become a more efficient backcountry hunter. Listen Here The Word: Short-Term Memory I’d spent the better part of a day climbing up and around the mountain to get the wind in my favor allowing me to come in above the mature Sitka Blacktail buck. The Alder hell I’d bashed through on the way was, let’s just say, character-building. Exhausted and a bit run-down from the bushwack, I re-focused on getting back on the buck before he got up to feed. The climb to the ridge was steep and insecure, but after gaining the summit, I quickly located the buck’s velvet antlers right where I’d left him. Laying the bow across my chest, I began sliding down the open scree field on my backside, working towards a large boulder where I planned to shoot. Baking in the uncommon Alaskan summer heat, I took a minute to gather myself before peaking over the rocks to range the deer. Drawing my bow behind cover, I slowly rose up, acquired the buck, and executed my shot. Upon release, the deer burst from its bed as my arrow blew up in the rocks. Not knowing exactly what happened, I grabbed my binos and tracked the running deer looking for blood. Slowly the realization crept in that I’d whiffed on a good alpine buck after many hours of exertion. I was pissed at my failure and poor performance. I wanted to throw my bow down the mountain, drown in my sorrow and renounce bowhunting forever. The effort it had taken to get into position was for naught. The thought of spending more days in the mountains trying to dig up another good buck seemed daunting. The weather had held to this point but was forecast to deteriorate soon. After a few minutes of self-pity, I got my shit together and began figuring out my next moves. Within 15 minutes, I’d finished reviewing my mistakes, chastising myself, and formulated a game plan, putting the incident behind me. Two hours later, while climbing through a narrow gap in a ridge to access another basin, I spotted a mature buck. Without conscious memory of my earlier incident, my mind removed all distractions, and I executed a good stalk and lethal shot. The miss from earlier in the day became a mere footnote to an otherwise successful hunt in the mountains. If you spend much time running around the wilderness, I’ve found having a short-term memory is good. The pain from the last climb, the fright from a recent river crossing, or a heart-breaking miss can crush a backcountry hunter’s psyche. Having a short-term memory allows me to focus forward and leave those unpleasant experiences behind, even for an hour or two, before being challenged again. I don’t usually dwell on the past, but sometimes I become anxious and overwhelmed thinking about the present. I try and let my mind wander to combat this weakness, getting into a zone to dismiss the pain, hunger, or uncertainty. I’ll repeat a phrase or lyrics from a song in my head, running it on a loop. (Long in Tooth & Soul, Looking for Another Win) Each trip or training day has a different mantra, so to speak, and is often connected with my mindset at the time. This practice usually works, but occasionally, I blow myself up and let fear and self-doubt creep back in. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the unknown, isolation, and low odds of success, feeling insignificant and small in the vastness of the wilderness. It’s best I keep my world small and not think too much about the miles ahead, the upcoming cold bivy, or the lack of animals. Focusing on the basics and small details, like the color of the leaves, a bird chirping, my breathing, or the precise placement of my feet, helps defuse the internal struggle. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, and in my formative years, I self-destructed many times. This is where the foundation of difficult training becomes crucial to success. My mind has already endured long periods of hard effort in training with few external motivations like a cheering crowd or aid stations. The better I’ve trained and built capacity, the easier it is to assimilate into the unforgiving environment of the backcountry. Those who’ve endured long, difficult hardships during military training and arduous expeditions often discuss this sharp, focused mindset. One foot in front of the other will get you to your objective. The confidence you gain from robust planning and preparation cannot be overstated, but in the end, the gift of a short-term memory keeps me coming back for more punishment with a smile on my face.