Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book May 2023 Entry

Training: Spring Training

The foundation for the year is built over the cold winter months, toiling day after day, often in solitude. But the internal struggle to wake each morning to hammer out a workout, tune your bow, or test a piece of gear is what slowly stacks the odds in your favor for success in the mountains. No one sees the work; they only see the results. It’s a personal journey that’s hopefully provided more than just superficial fitness. 

But Maintenance season’s over. 

Spring is the time to get outside and establish a baseline of your skills and fitness to measure against as you progress through the remainder of the year. Spring training should focus on areas like shooting accuracy and repeatability in field conditions, physical performance under duress, and mental toughness over multiple days. A time-over-distance approach is what builds capacity, refines skills, and fosters new ones – and the time to crank it up is now. 

I like to measure my progress by using bi-monthly stress tests in the gym and on the range and big training events like minimalist 24-hour pushes into the mountains. These events should be difficult, coupled with brutally honest feedback. Bullshitting yourself does little to prepare you for the untold demands of the backcountry. 

Spring training should be structured to strengthen weaknesses, build resiliency, and thicken mental callouses.

Ensure your training is realistic in preparing you for your stated goals. Setting unrealistic metrics undermines both self-confidence and stoke. Understand where you are in your evolution as an outdoorsman, and have a plan and some patience in reaching those goals. 

Difficult spring training can ding the ego. Good! Better now than in late summer. Take it as a learning experience, and either modify your training or alter your goals for the season. Spring training and self-assessments should be structured to make you the most capable hunter you can be this fall.

Gear Locker: SMR Reactor Stove System

My partner and I sat in front of our tent, melting snow into drinking water as the sun set over the Chugach mountains. We debriefed the day spent navigating large crevasses and traversing narrow snow bridges perched over dark chasms.

We were one of a dozen ski pairs on an advanced military mountaineering course. Aside from the mandatory safety equipment, we could use any gear we felt would help us thrive in this harsh climate. I’ve always appreciated being given options on gear choice, especially with my personal kit.

My partner and I had decided on the MSR Reactor stove as part of our load out as it had proven reliable on many winter excursions. A liquid fuel stove, like the MSR XGK, would have also been a solid choice, but the Reactor is more compact and would serve its purpose for the 3-4 day trips the course prescribed.

The other ski pairs from another branch of service had all decided on a different canister stove. My partner and I questioned their choice, knowing from experience that their chosen stove would not perform nearly as efficiently in the frigid temps where we’d need to melt vast amounts of snow into drinking water.

With 5 Liters of water melted for each of us and stored in bladders, my partner and I sipped on hot drinks and began boiling water for our dehydrated dinners. Our colleagues, however, struggled to coax their stoves to produce even a couple of Liters of water. As the Northern Lights began to flash across the sky, it was obvious that not all canister stoves are created equal. 

Cold is the Achilles heel of a canister stove. As temps drop, the gas pressure inside the canister decreases, rendering most stoves ineffective often leaving unused fuel in the canister. But the internal pressure regulator in the MSR Reactor ensures that it gets the pressure it needs to perform regardless of the canister pressure. The Reactor is the only canister stove I’ve used aside from its little brother, the Windburner, where I can run a canister damn near empty, saving weight and room in the pack. 

Unlike other backpacking stoves, the Reactor features a radiant burner. The radiant stove allows gas to flow through a pressure regulator to two fuel jets that mix with the ambient air pulled into the stove through vents in the burner, creating ignition. The burner itself is also large, matching the circumference of the cooking pot for maximum efficiency. All these features allow the Reactor to boil water quickly, and the water is often ready before I’m done prepping my dehydrated meal.

To further efficiency, the cooking pot has a heat exchanger on the bottom, increasing its surface area and protecting the burner head from external wind. Because air flows through the stove and the cooking pot protects the flame, the Reactor performs exceptionally well in the wind, and I’ve never had it blown out in windy conditions. All this efficiency saves both time and fuel, making life easier and more efficient in the mountains. 

The Reactor is offered with several sizes of cook pots, including a 1L for personal use, a 1.7L for two partners & a 2.5L for two or more people. The stove with a 1 Liter cook pot weighs 15 ounces and can hold a 4-ounce fuel canister, lighter, and the stove. The 1.7 Liter cook pot can hold an 8-ounce canister, lighter, and stove. While lighter stove options are available, The MSR Reactor is the only one I’ve found that consistently performs in the worst conditions.

Ultimately, a backpacking stove is vital to your health, safety, and success in the backcountry. Always train with your chosen cook system, pick the right tool for the job, and ensure it meets your expectations.

The MSR Reactor stove system starts at $270.00, depending on your choice of cook pot. If that price is a bit much, consider the equally impressive but slightly less versatile WindBurner personal stove system at $190.00.

The Closet: Sitka Mountain Evo Jacket

The shrieking of the wind was unsettling, and I tucked my chin, wishing I’d brought my goggles, as snow and dirt blew into my eyes, limiting my vision. My partner and I were halfway through traversing a steep scree slope on the leeward side of a ridge in a raging gale. We were trying to maneuver on a herd of Mountain goats that had bedded on a grassy patch in the wind.

Concentrating on my footing as we hiked across the jumble of rocks, it suddenly felt like someone picked me up by the seat of my pants and threw me across the landscape. Airborne, I crashed into my partner’s pack, not quite understanding what had happened. Surprised, my buddy screamed obscenities at me over the wind as I ensured my bow and I were still intact.

Sitting in the rocks assessing our situation, the best we could figure was that the wind had swirled over the top of the ridge, and an updraft had picked me up and tossed me forward. It was unnerving, especially in rugged terrain. Realizing we were no longer in control, we decided to live to hunt another day and dropped elevation to get out of the jetstream that was hammering the mountains.

Winds in the mountains are unpredictable, as most hunters can attest, and they need to be considered not only when stalking but also when setting up camp, traversing ridgelines, and when building a technical clothing system.

I’m a huge fan of Gore Windstopper and feel it’s a force multiplier within a clothing system. Windstopper garments are near the top of my list of most critical clothing layers understanding that our bodies lose heat quickly to wind through convective heat loss, especially when damp.

The great thing about most Windstopper garments is that they’re quiet, durable, and light enough to wear hunting. They also shed light precipitation and don’t need to be pampered like most rain gear.

When asked what to wear during archery stalks in unsettled weather with spitting rain and intermittent snow, my answer is always Windstopper. Windstopper breathes better than rain gear, is quieter, and can be layered within a clothing system providing versatility to meet the dynamic demands of the backcountry.

The new Sitka Mountain Evo is the Windstopper jacket I’ve always wanted. At 13.6 ounces, it provides lightweight and minimalist protection from the elements for year-round active pursuits in the mountains. For the last two and a half years, I’ve field tested the Mountain Evo jacket while big game hunting, backcountry skiing, and pack training with exceptional results.

The Mountain Evo jacket features an unlined 2-way stretch Windstopper laminate in the body and arms with body-mapped 4-way stretch non-Windstopper panels in high moisture zones. These body-mapped non-Windstoper panels allow greater breathability under the arms while hiking and negate the need for heavy, bulky pit zippers. The highly breathable back panel wears well under a pack and allows your back to dry quickly at rest breaks and in camp under a puffy jacket. 

The jacket features minimal sewing, leveraging ultrasonically welded and taped seams for low bulk, providing weight savings, and sealing out all wind. The low-profile hood utilizes no cord pulls for additional weight savings, is sculpted for peripheral vision, and stays on your head in high winds.

While Black bear hunting last spring, the weather was Schizophrenic, offering everything from cold, clear windy conditions to intermittent cold rain and snow. 

The Mountain Evo layered seamlessly, allowing me to modify my layering to meet the weather demands. I layered the Mountain Evo jacket over top of a Sitka Ambient hoody for protection from light precipitation or under the Ambient when the winds were blowing, and warm afternoon temps warranted me removing the insulation. The Mountain Evo jacket also proved plenty quiet as a friend, and I maneuvered into 50 yards on a calm, quiet evening enabling him to harvest a great Black bear. 

The Mountain Evo jacket replaces the popular Mountain jacket, is offered in Optifade Subalpine, Open Country, and Sitka Black, and retails for $329.00.

Backcountry Mission Planning Course

My first online course with Outdoor Class is now available. 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 BARKLOW to receive 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership and get access to all the courses available on the Outdoor Class website.





Hunt Talk Radio Podcast Ep. 208

Randy Newberg and I discuss my new Outdoor Class course, provide an overview of each chapter, and tell a few hunting stories.

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Hunt Backcountry Podcast Ep. 395

Mark Hueslsing and I go deep into technical layering and how to make the best selections for your unique hunting style and environment.

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Fin & Fire Podcast Ep. 16

Jeff Mishler and I share some wilderness experiences and discuss the psychology of preparedness.

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Josh Smith Podcast Ep. 7

I sit down with Josh Smith, share some stories from my days as a Navy Diver, and dig into how I came to teach in the SEAL Teams. 

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Woodside Podcast Ep. 60

Ben O’Brien and I have a conversation about finding joy in hunting failures and the freedom that comes with being prepared for the backcountry.

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The Word: Momentum

Newton’s second law of motion states that the rate of change of a body’s momentum equals the net force acting on it. Meaning the more effort, the more gain. But momentum is slow to build and quick to lose. For example, pulling a heavy sled requires the most effort in the beginning when trying to get it moving and build inertia, and once stopped takes the same or more effort to get it moving again.

The good news is that we control our momentum and are the net force acting on our daily lives to create and maintain it.

I’ve found it best to keep momentum throughout the year. Come spring, I want to knock the rust off, go on a few hunts, and chart a course toward fall. By mid-August, I want my boots, pack, and weapon to feel like an extension of myself and my momentum to be strong.

Last year, I went into the fall season banged up, having foolishly overtrained, and I lost my momentum. It took me all of September to heal and dig myself out of the hole I’d created while trying to pursue elk through the mountains. I had no one to blame for the agony I endured but myself, allowing my ego and enthusiasm to get in the way. 

Self-inflicted wounds and unforced errors are difficult for me to process when I’ve lacked discipline and created the problem. I have to stop being a dumbass and modify my routines when injuries or hurdles arise, but that’s easier said than done. The mistakes I made last year nearly cost me my elk season. 

I need to leverage my decades of experience better to keep my edge. Having a plan is a good start, but plans are only as good as the discipline you apply to them. But unlike last year, I’ve realized that plans also need to be modified as dynamic conditions mandate.

It’s been a long winter in the West, and I just completed 54 trips around the sun. Keeping the metaphorical sled moving each year gets more difficult, but I’ve tried to stay committed to the process. I understand now that it’s ok if momentum moves at different rates throughout the year, but the momentum must never stop.