Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book January 2023 Entry

Training: The Winter Training Environment 

Winter is the perfect time to train for next fall’s hunting season. Depending on the hunts you’re planning, you won’t see winter-like conditions again until you step into the field late next year. Sure it may be a bit colder or have more snow on the ground, but it’s important to train in tougher conditions than you expect to encounter on your hunts.

Winter camping exposes any weaknesses in gear, techniques, and ourselves. Camping in the cold demands discipline and builds self-confidence that crosses over to all seasons when living is much more manageable. During winter, you’ll need to dial in your tent routine, efficiently dry your gear and manage unique challenges like keeping boots and water from freezing at night. 

I remember planning my first winter camping trip to the Adirondack mountains. The thought of being unable to escape the cold and dealing with all the darkness was intimidating. I carried too much gear and fumbled through it, but the confidence I gained was invaluable. Almost 30 years later, I’ve built my routine, dialed my kit, and now prefer winter camping to all others.

Take advantage of your training area to build and hone winter skills that you lack or need to practice. Test the cold-weather performance of a new sleeping bag, ground pad, puffy jacket, or stove. The short daylight and long nights also test a new partnership and your mental resiliency.

Winter can provide insight into animal movements, revealing pinch points, treestand sites, and areas of concentration. The reduced foliage and snow also make it easier to see the lay of the terrain and how best to exploit it. For this reason, I’ve found winter is conducive to learning and practicing terrain navigation.

Winter is a great time to strap on snowshoes or skis and have an adventure. You’ll encounter few people, get a great workout, and build confidence to handle inclement weather. Establishing your winter skill sets expands your opportunities and makes you a more well-rounded Student of the Game.

Gear Locker

Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Trekking Pole

Feeling like a turtle on its back, I fought to gain the position as I sped down the frozen mountain, hitting rocks and catching air over small rolls in the terrain. My bow, strapped to my pack, took the brunt of the abuse but protected my spine from direct hits. I can distinctly remember hearing the arrows break in my quiver, hoping that a broadhead wouldn’t stab me in all the mayhem.

Finally rolling into the hill, I aggressively forced the pick of the Whippet self-arrest trekking pole into the bulletproof ground. The frozen armor fought my best efforts, but fear of flying off the cliffs below helped me pierce the ice and begin slowing my sled ride into the abyss. 

Coming to a stop on a flat section of ground, I was elated to be alive. A quick self-assessment revealed no immediate injuries from my 300′ rocket ride. I laid my forehead on the ice, thankful I was battered but not broken, knowing my winter Mountain Goat hunt was over. 

Hunting, skiing, and hiking in steep, icy, and snow-covered terrain can be hazardous. Having the proper gear and knowing how to use it helps mitigate some of the risks involved with moving around this hazardous environment. Over the last few decades, the Black Diamond Whippet self-arrest trekking poles have saved me multiple times, stopping a slip, stumble or fall from becoming a tragedy. 

The Whippet pole is not a replacement for a shorter full-strength ice axe, where you’d regularly expect to hang all of your body weight from it. Although the Whippet is not a replacement for an ice axe, it offers better versatility, combining a solid trekking pole with the added protection of an ice axe pick. 

The Whippet isn’t just good for snow and ice, either. In dry conditions, it’s excellent to anchor a shelter, secure a pack to a steep slope, and dig out a place in the dirt to sit for glassing. Anymore, the Whippet is my default trekking pole, no matter the season. Use the larger powder baskets during winter to keep poles from plunging deep into the snowpack, then switch to the smaller 38 mm trekking basket during dry conditions. 

The Whippet is offered in Aluminum and Carbon models. I’ve used both with great success but have gotten better durability with the carbon fiber lower sections, especially when hiking with a heavy pack off-trail. 

Moving thru steep terrain has its risks, especially in winter. The Whippet self-arrest trekking pole can provide the security and confidence required to traverse sketchy terrain and return home safely. 

Black Diamond Whippet Trekking Pole – Aluminum $149.95/ Carbon $189.95

The Closet

Understanding Down Insulation

Down insulation in technical clothing is soft, compressible, and has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s a good choice for the backcountry traveler where weight and bulk are at a premium, but because down is a natural product, its volume, quality, and price can fluctuate significantly from year to year. This makes down products substantially more expensive than products manufactured with synthetic insulation. Down insulation originates from the small feathers on the breasts of ducks and geese and is harvested during butchering. Although goose down performs slightly better than duck down, either is adequate for technical applications.

The two most important characteristics to understand about down insulation when making a purchasing decision or selecting which down-insulated product to take into the backcountry are “fill power” and “fill weight.”

Fill power is the “power” of the down to “fill” a given space. Fill power can be considered the quality rating or loft score of the down. As the fill power number increases, the down quality increases proportionately. Fill power is determined by placing one ounce of down into a large cylinder and measuring the volume it occupies in cubic inches. Fill power is an incredibly important characteristic to consider because, down’s insulating qualities are a direct consequence of its ability to trap body heat in the loft (volume) of its structure.

Fill weight is more intuitive. It is the actual weight, or quantity, of the down insulation used in manufacturing a given product, usually measured in grams or ounces.  Fill power and fill weight are inversely proportional, meaning the higher the fill power (quality), the less weight (quantity) you need to achieve the same volume or warmth rating. 

This statement may seem counterintuitive, but the higher the fill power, the larger the down clusters. The larger the down clusters, the fewer you need to fill a given space. For example, twice as much fill weight of 500-fill power down is required to fill the same container as 1000-fill power. The down volumes being equal, the increased loft created by higher-quality down creates room for body heat to be trapped inside, making the garment warmer than one with less loft.

Manufacturers must consider all this when building a down product, comparing cost, warmth, weight, and intended use. These same factors are what the discerning consumer must evaluate when purchasing a new piece of down gear. You can’t simply look at the fill power or weight in isolation and make the best decision. 

When warmth, weight, and compressibility are the priority, look for the highest fill power you can afford. If your budget is a limiting factor, compromises in weight and compressibility can be made without negatively impacting overall warmth. For instance, a puffy jacket with 900 fill, down insulation intended for frigid conditions will be very lofty, light, and compressible but also expensive. Achieving the same warmth with 600-fill power down will cost less per ounce and usually also for the finished garment but requires more ounces of fill weight, making the jacket heavier and less compressible.

To guard against buyer’s remorse, purchase your down-insulated products from a premium brand and understand the product’s intent. Hopefully, the developers  have done their due diligence and figured out the best balance of fill power, fill weight, baffle size, and construction methods for the garments end use to serve your requirements best.


Huntin Land Podcast Ep. 137

Listen Now

Joe, Butch, Clint and I discuss layering for cold weather adventures, what each layer does within a technical system and how to create an effective clothing system to stay warm outside.

Harvest Holliday Podcast – Down the Rabbit Hole

Listen Now

Jason Holliday and I discuss our fall hunting seasons, how best to stay warm in a Whitetail stand during the late-season and review some of our Lessons Learned.

Outdoor Class Course – Coming Soon

Outdoor Class and I are getting close to releasing my first online course. This course has been a ten-year goal, and I couldn’t be more proud of how it’s turned out. The course is 16 chapters long and draws from my 30+ years of experience in the mountains. Its focus is on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and becoming a more knowledgeable Student of the Game.

Use promo code BARKLOW20 for 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership.


The Word

2022 Lessons Learned

I felt well prepared for my hunts last fall and executed to my expectations most of the time. I capitalized on my shot opportunities but certainly wish I’d had more. Although well-trained and experienced, I still have plenty of room to improve. Last year, I made some mistakes, learned some new things but also had to re-learn some of my previous lessons. Here are my top 5 Lessons Learned from the 2022 big game hunting season. 

  • Sport-Specific Training 

The way you get good at something is to do it a lot. While this statement sounds obvious, it’s sometimes lost on me. The more I hiked with a pack, the more fluid and efficient I became as the season evolved. Crazy as it may sound, there are more efficient ways to hike through the mountains than others, that can only come from a bit of coaching and lots of mileage. (I plan to do a video on this topic in the spring) While I intermittently performed Kettlebell workouts and sandbag routines throughout the season, I focused primarily on staying ready to efficiently moving through the backcountry and maintaining a solid shot routine. 

I’ve been a fan of cross-functional workouts during past seasons, but as I age, I need to be cautious that I don’t overtrain during the season. This past year, I chose to stick with more sport-specific workouts during the season to reduce the chance of injury and soreness, keeping me ready at all times to head into the mountains. 

  • New Gear

I keep most of my gear the same from year to year because I’ve learned what works and gained trust in it. In the moment of truth, when executing a shot, this confidence can be the difference between success and failure. But let’s be honest, we are all looking for an advantage and love trying new equipment. In the past couple years, in-line archery rests and sights have gained in popularity and streamlined our bows, helping weight and balance. Last year I outfitted my bow with these accessories to see if I could find an advantage but ended up with mixed results. 

I found the in-line accessories I selected limited or negated my ability to torque-tune my bow. Because of this reduced tunability, I struggled with forgiveness in my set-up that I’ve enjoyed in past seasons. I seek the most forgiveness in my bowhunting set-ups to assist with those technical shots in difficult conditions that happen every season. This winter, I’ll be exploring other options to find that forgiveness again and may land back using some of my tried and true equipment.

  • Trust Your Instincts

I heard antlers crash, but the sound quickly dissipated on the wind. Then I thought I heard a faint estrus mew. As I processed these sounds, I suddenly realized what a dumbass I was for standing around and not acting immediately. Giving into my instincts and not overthinking each move, I cut the distance to the elk. Within 10 minutes, I was within 25 yards of a great bull, a few cows, and one beat-up raghorn. 

While that scenario did not play out in my favor, it reinforced that good things happen when I act on instinct and don’t overthink my decisions. I find this ability to act on gut instinct difficult to damn near impossible without the right partner. But alone, it’s often easier to channel my inner caveman DNA. Either way, each season, it takes me a few encounters to get into the groove, break the shackles of modern society, and hunt instinctively.

  • Hunting Partners

Hunting partners can be a force multiplier making the team better together than they are as individuals. But change is required when this truth proves false, even after our best efforts. Cutting away a partner this past season was the best decision for both of us. We didn’t trust each other and, in hindsight, probably never did. We were using each other to advance our individual agendas and not working as a cohesive team. 

After the decision, a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I enjoyed time alone in the mountains. Great hunting partners are rare and take time, effort, and some luck to find. If you find one, consider yourself lucky and put in the work to strengthen it. In the end, great partners make our hunts safer and more rewarding.

  • No-Comms Plan 

I wasn’t lost, nor was my partner, but we didn’t know where each other was. While not a crisis, it took time and attention away from the hunt. Having a no-comms plan should have been obvious, especially after several decades of briefing them during military operations. But my partner and I didn’t discuss it before separating on the stalk. This same scenario happened several times last season and has risen to the top of the lessons I’ve had to Re-Learn.

Don’t assume you’ll have cell service in the mountains because often you won’t. A No-Comms Plan is simple and takes little time. Before separating for any reason, be it a stalk, filling water bladders, or checking something out on the other side of a ridge, discuss where and when the team will rally if you do not make communications again. This simple process adds safety and efficiency to a hunt and doesn’t waste precious time wondering where the other person is.