I’ve been backpacking and backpack hunting for about 45 years.
I owned a wilderness survival school (Colorado School of Outdoor Living) from 1972 to 1980.
I was a Certified Cross Country Ski Guide from 1974 to 1982.
I founded Mountainsmith Inc. in 1979, designing and manufacturing mostly mountaineering backpacks. Sold the company in mid-nineties.
—Founded Kifaru International in 1997, designing, building and selling direct to the customer mountaineering-grade backpacks for hunters, initially, and now backpackable heated tents and microlite rifles as well. Combined, this gear comprises a complete ensemble of get-there, camp-there,hunt-with gear for the backpack hunter.
Q—Kifaru started out making the first internal frame backpacks for hunters. How did that happen?
A—Well, I was among that band of crazy mountaineering pack builders who developed internal frame packs in the first place. We built internal frame packs that just knocked the sox off external frames. AND I was a big time backcountry hunter at the same time. SO I of course developed very specialized internal frame HUNTING packs for my own personal needs. I could do that. I owned a backpack company. Many years I did this. SO when I cranked up Kifaru in ’97 I brought these Internal Frame Hunting Packs that I’d been working on for basically 18 years onto the scene. The hunting pack world was really sort of in the Dark Ages then and so these packs were recognized instantly by those guys who were already toting mountaineering packs on backcountry hunts (which are a real compromise for many reasons). We have a LOT of those guys wearing our packs now. And the rest are coming over fast-we sell a great many packs to serious backcountry hunters. Probably some of your listeners are Kifaru owners. We advocate backcountry hunting, and we think we have some unique tools to help backcountry hunters.
Q—I hear you’re “out there” a lot?
A—My staff pegs me at 150 nights per year in the field. The backcountry is definitely both my inspiration and my laboratory. I’ve figured out how to create designs out there with a big envelope stapler. I trust this technique. I get instant feedback about designs because I’m in the backcountry doing the things the design is for, and testing it right then, in the real world arena it’s intended for, if you see what I mean here. I really do think this is a better design process than sitting in front of a computer in an office in town. I think it’s a win/win situation. I sure love it. I’m a very fortunate man, Jim.
Q—And you think on-foot backcountry hunting is superior?
A—Well sure it is. The critters aren’t stupid. They’re not gonna be where the motorized crowds are. All it takes is a different kind of effort and the right gear to just head up to where the game is hanging out. I promise that they’re up there. Get off your motorized butt and go join ’em. The big ones are up there. And you’ll feel like Daniel Boone because you will have “made your meat on your own two feet”. It’s the pinnacle of hunting, the best AND the most, well, prestigious. It’s a feather in the cap when your neighbors realize you toted that meat out on your back. I guess most of all you’ll be pleased with yourself.
Q—And that your backpacks assist in that?
A—Oh I guarantee it. These things are custom built to the individual hunter, using measurements we get from him or her. We sell only direct. The packs make a huge difference. Just get in reasonable shape and go do it. The packs will also tote your rifle, keep your hands warm, provide you with a glassing chair and a whole bunch of what I call “solutions to problems” that I worked on for 18 years while fiddling with the ultimate hunting pack. I’m a hunting junkie, it’s what I do.
Q—What about the tipi tents, do they play a role in this backcountry strategy?
A—A big role. They have wood-burning stoves in them. In typical cold weather hunting scenarios, like to the north of you there, Jim, a warm tent environment every nite makes a huge difference in your staying power in the field. The tent and stove combo are still extremely lightweight, more so than typical backpacking equivalents, and yet will cook your food, dry your clothes and give you shirtless warmth every night during a tough hunt. This will keep you strong the whole trip, and keep your mental well being high too, which is very important.
Q—How long have the tipis been “out there”, and where have they been “tested”, so to speak?
A—I built about 300 of them between 1989 and 1991 under the Mountainsmith label. I quit building them in order to build more backpacks. Feedback is that those originals have been everywhere in the world, every continent, every major mountaineering destination, and are all still going strong. The Kifaru versions resumed in ’97 and are just as tough, if not tougher.
Q—How about the packs?
A—Well, the Mountainsmth brand packs have been everywhere for 22 years. The Kifaru packs have been everywhere since ’97. Heaviest load we’re aware of is180 lbs. of elk. Routine loads we hear of are 120-140 lbs. None have broken. There’s nothing to break with an internal frame. External frames typically break at the welds with these kinds of loads.
Q—Your new “microlite” Rambling Rifle is causing quite a stir. What’s that all about?
A—Well, the difference between them and ordinary rifles is that these are the lightest big game rifles ever built. They weigh 3 ¾ lbs. 4 ½ with a compact scope. They’re about half the weight of the typical big game rifle. Yet their radically shaped stock lets them shoot more like a seven-pound rifle. They can easily handle 30-06 class cartridges without a muzzle brake. So, lightest big game rifle ever, and no muzzle brake. Yeah, they seem to be shaking things up a bit.
Q—And I suppose the rifle is part of your overall backcountry-specific “gear list”, so to speak?
A—Yes, indeed. It’s sort of the third link in our gear line up: the packs get you into the backcountry; the heated tents keep you warm and dry and healthy, and our rifles collect your game. All three categories are state of the art in comfort and lightweight, so I figure I’m helping keep old guys in the field and helping young guys move further and faster, I guess you could say.
Q—Is the take-down/switch barrel aspect popular?
A—Yeah, that’s surely part of the stir too. The rifles takedown for carrying in your pack. And they have interchangeable barrels too. So you could shoot a 243, a 308, and a 358 win. on the same action. Makes a pretty impressive all-around battery with the same trigger, stock, scope, etc. Makes you a very good shot.
Q—Will you come back and discuss some details on HOW to backpack hunt, aside from the gear, which you certainly seem to have covered?
A—Yeah, I’d like that Jim. Cover other things to take, maybe cover some foods to pack in, sleeping bags, that sort of thing?