Hill People Gear Mountain Serape

The Hill People Gear Mountain Serape. A great piece of gear.

The Mountain Serape is rather like a beefed up poncho liner with a hood and is a tremendously flexible piece of kit. It can be used as blanket, a poncho, various styles of overcoats, and a sleeping bag. Although it is not waterproof, it could also be used like a tarp to shield you from the rain or sun. This versatility lets the Mountain Serape augment other equipment. In mild to cool weather the Serape can actually replace your coat and your sleeping bag. All this reduces both bulk and weight in your pack and when you are loading up your pack to hunt it is hard to keep it light.

These videos give you a good idea of some of the Mountain Serape’s functions:

And the picture to the lower right shows another permutation for those who need to access chest mounted gear.

Mountain Serape chest rig

During my hunt the weather was never cold enough to warrant wearing anything more than my half-zip top while hiking but the Mountain Serape worked marginally well as a sleeping bag in the roughly 35F, damp, humid, dew-filled nights. To stay somewhat comfortable I had to augment with a poncho liner and all my clothes including the M-65 field pant liners I had brought for sleeping in. This is not a criticism. I was not sleeping in a tent and every morning a third to a half of the bag (serape) was wet through but it still insulated pretty well. I don’t know what system would have performed well in such a wet environment without some covering like a tent, tarp, or bivy bag. In the mornings the Serape dried out quickly once it was in the sun. Should I plan on sleeping in similar circumstances I will bring the Mountain Serape as an outer bag and I will have some sort of covering to fight the dew. Using the Mountain Serape as an outer bag will leverage the weight and insulation of my coat in increasing the warmth of my sleeping bag and this means that I can use a lighter and smaller sleeping bag.

The Mountain Serape worked well as an ambush cloak. Worn as a poncho while I sat and watched for game to pass through a choke point, it obliterated my human shape, kept my butt fairly dry while waiting, and kept me warm as I waited for several hours. One deer came within 15 feet and was looking right at me without understanding what it was seeing (I was also wearing a ball cap and a balaclava). I think it might be too loud for bow hunting. The fabric is smooth, slick even, and quite light but it does have a quiet but present rustling sound when moving. I’m not experienced enough to say it with certainty but I felt like moving would have been too loud with the animal inside of 10 yards. That said, it did not interfere with my draw stroke or the bowstring and cables.

In closing I heartily recommend the Mountain Serape. If you think it would be good for something it almost certainly will be. I think it is a good value when comparing it to the price of the kit it replaces and it works well which is the consideration when purchasing and packing gear for the backcountry.

SPOT Gen3 Personal Locator Beacon

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The SPOT Gen3 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). A personal locator beacon of this type is like a combination GPS and satellite phone. It sends the device’s GPS coordinates via the satellite phone network. This purchase was a concession to my sweetie so she would worry about me less while I was out alone in the boonies. The Gen3 has two basic functions: it transmits its present location every 10 minutes and it transmits messages, both via satellite. The messages are sent by pressing one of four message buttons: OK, custom, friends please come help, and direct to SAR help. While it can send messages, it cannot receive them.

The Gen3 can have the satellite signal blocked just like any GPS unit but I did not have any troubles with it. In fact I found it pretty robust even in what was fairly dense tree cover. While I was hiking around all over the hills I left the Gen3 in a pouch at the top of my pack with the logo shown in the picture facing the sky. It rarely showed that the signals were not being sent and when I pulled it out of the pouch and held it flat in my hand the tacking signal went through.

As I mentioned before there are four messages I can send. All except the S.O.S. message can be customized to display any message I please but I have to set them up prior to the trip. It is a pretty simple process for customizing the messages and it is all web based. The first message is the checking in/I’m OK message. The second message is labeled as a speech bubble. The third message is a help message that goes to the emails you designated online while setting the device up but the message does NOT go to emergency services. The last button sends a message to emergency rescue. The button is labeled S.O.S. but it should really be labeled $.O.$. This is the money button. When you press it you are mobilizing resources and somebody has to pay for them and that somebody could be you. You press that button when you don’t care about being on the hook for $10,000-$60,000 and perhaps much more. One of the neat things about the SPOT is that you can buy SAR insurance through them. I paid about $18 for it. For more information on SAR (Search and Reascue) costs check out this article, Who pays for search and rescue operations?

A really cool feature of the Gen3 is the message confirmation. There are eight lights on the Gen3. The top three are power, GPS, and send confirmation. The bottom three are custom message, tracking, and Ok. There are lights on the side for friends come help and S.O.S. Here is how they work. Let’s say we want to send a check-in message. We press that button down for about a three count and the light below it begins to flash. This means that the Gen3 is trying to send that message. You will know it has been successful when the message sent light (at the top right) is also flashing green. If the message sent light is flashing red then you know something didn’t work. If for some reason the PLB does not have a good GPS signal the GPS light will also flash red instead of green.

I paid $150 for the Gen3 at REI. There was a $75 mail-in rebate which is just now processing. Then to buy the insurance and a year’s worth of satellite coverage I paid $170. Other devices offer monthly arrangements but I like the idea of the PLB being good to go at anytime.

Once you get it all setup it is very simple to use. There is a power button on the side. Hold that down until the lights start flashing. This is apparently some sort of self diagnostic. Once this is completed the lights stop flashing and the power light starts flashing slowly. When you want it to begin tracking you press the center bottom button with a boot print on it. The device will send a message via satellite every 10 minutes to the app with your GPS location at that time. It’s sort of like a breadcrumb trail on a GPS. The frequency of breadcrumbs varies based on the plan you get. It was a 10 minute interval for the basic plan I got. This allows those at home to see your progress and to have your last known location should a search and rescue be initiated by them. There are other plans which offer greater tracking frequency and some other features. I imagine there are situations which call for these services but I didn’t need them. With regard to the plan, my sweetie found the level of notification completely satisfactory (Except the first morning when I forgot to hit the check in button when I woke up!).

When looking for a PLB we read about a bunch of different devices. Some have a long antenna while others have two-way texting capacity. With all the technology available it is tempting to not simply want a satellite phone. There were complaints about the texting PLBs not reliably sending or receiving the messages. While I’m sure they were all great devices, it seemed to me that the more the unit could do, the more that could go wrong. After reading online and talking to the guy at REI I decided that the Gen3 had the right balance of features.

This device is for improbable and extreme emergencies. I have found that when dealing with this kind of emergency equipment one starts using fear instead of thinking to make decisions. When you look at these plans don’t get sucked into worrying about all the “what-ifs.” An examples of getting sucked into the “what-ifs” is buy a plan for services that you don’t need. Remember that this is just a machine and no machine will work in all situations. Don’t stress out about finding one that will. Just remember that it will work most of the time and when it does it gives you a huge advantage in an emergency and folks at home piece of mind.

The tracking feature is accessed via the website:

https://login.findmespot.com/

or the SPOT App:

http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=7075

TAD Pursuit Half-Zip

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The TAD Pursuit Half-Zip. This is an awesome layer. I wore it all day as a base layer. There is not much wool in it (75% Polyester/25% Wool) but it never stank and it was tremendously flexible with regards to its insulation. I’ve been noticing that wool in general has a really broad range of comfort. It seems to spread out the comfort range considerably. I can be too warm but not so warm that I need to drop a layer and I can be too cold but the wool takes the edge off. This is doubly so with the Pursuit and the half-zip feature really helps with this too. When zipped up all the way the short collar lays flat and smooth against your neck. I found this to function like a mini neck-gaiter and significantly added to the warmth. This was usually too warm so I would run the zip a little below the collar most of the time. However, there were times when I was exerting myself pretty strenuously and would run the zip all the way down. Since I was wearing the Pursuit as a base layer this exposed a good amount of bare skin and let me cool well. If the weather gets decidedly warm you might want to run just a t-shirt but if the weather gets too cold for just the Pursuit then you can wear a t-shirt underneath and really bump up the insulation. With just those two garments, the Pursuit and a t-shirt, you can work in a very wide range of temperatures.

The Pursuit really does the moisture wicking stuff. I got back to my camp the second night and there were hundreds of little tiny drops glistening on my front in the light of my headlamp. In the woods the thumbholes are fantastic. I wore fingerless knit wool gloves and pulled the sleeve over them locking both the gloves and the sleeves into place with the thumb hole. I did notice a little pilling where the pack rubs after the hike in but I did not notice an increase in the pilling after getting home. Even after wearing it in the woods where I was primarily bushwacking I would still wear it around town. It is a great looking garment.

When I bought this I got a discount but I would buy it again for the full price. The Pursuit is made in the US and just like every other TAD piece of gear I have purchased, it is exceptionally well made. With the prices other folks are charging for clothes from sweatshops in Bangladesh I think this is an extremely good value and recommend it without any reservation.

Hunting

I got back from my first hunting trip a couple weeks ago and have been jotting down my thoughts on the experience and the equipment that I’ve been using. I’ll be sharing these over the next few days. Right now I just want to discuss the objective in general. I went elk hunting but I had purchased tags for deer, bear, and cougar (that’s right, I have a cougar tag). For those that don’t know how it works a hunter buys a license and then tags to hunt any species not covered by the license.

There are many approaches to hunting. One can hire a guide or outfitter (I’m still not clear on what the exact difference is) and that guide can guide you or a group. With a guide you have someone to show you where in the world to go and where game are. They also help you get into a place where you can get a shot. One can go with friends or go solo. These are often referred to as “self-guided” hunts. A self-guided hunt means you have to do that all on your own, just you or the folks you go with. One can hunt with rifles, pistols, shotguns, muzzle-loaders, or archery equipment. All these different weapons have their own seasons and rules. Then there is the kind of land you are hunting on. There is private land and public land. Private land is controlled by the owners and restricts access to only those with permission from the land owner. Public land is just that where, at least theoretically, anyone with a valid license and tags can hunt.

Some folks drive logging roads looking for animals. Other folks drive into areas and use a combination of driving and footwork to locate and get close to game. The more densely covered an area is with roads the easier it is to access and the more hunters will be there. This increases what is called “hunting pressure.” However there are huntable wilderness areas that prohibit vehicles. This significantly reduces pressure because access is more difficult. These areas can be accessed by foot and sometimes by horse/mule/etc. This is often referred to as wilderness hunting.

To me wilderness hunting looked like the most fun by far. So I scouted and then hunted in the Roaring River Wilderness. It was a self-guided solo archery hunt. From a meat acquisition perspective it was not very successful but since it was my first time out there was no way for it to be a failure. The learning and the experience were invaluable and I will definitely be going back.

I’ll be writing more about both the experience and what I learned, as well as the equipment I used. One thing I can share right now; there is no substitute for experience.

Hunting – Finding a Bow

I have been unreasonably busy and had written this up some time ago. I hope to get more out regarding what I have learned in the past few months.

After talking to a friend and looking at the seasons I have decided to go bow hunting rather than rifle hunting. The only problem with this, aside from needing to be a much sneakier hunter to get close enough to make the shot, is that I don’t have a bow.

So I went to Archers Afield and checked out bows. It was a little intimidating. I’m not used to going into something cold like that. The people were very helpful but I think there was a miscommunication on the budget. I had $400 in mind for the bow. The sights, quiver, release, arrows, etc. are all additional purchases. The first guy I talked to was under the impression that I needed to get the whole shooting match for $400. So he was showing me some very budget minded options. This wound up being good though since the first bow I shot was on the low end. I took a few practice shots and then they brought me to the range to actually try the bow out. I was shooting some decent groups right off the bat. It is interesting to see so much of firearms marksmanship translate. It was also interesting to see where they diverged. Fundamentally they are the same. You try to reproduce everything as consistently as possible and adjust the sighting system so the group is centered on your point of aim.

Once I was shooting at the range a new guy started helping me. He had understood what I meant by $400 and he said, “You know, for just $75 more you can get a bow that shoots as well as a $1,000 dollar bow.” I said I was game. He brought back a Hoyt Charger and as I released the first arrow I could feel a tremendous difference. I shot a few more times but I was started to get tired. I had expected my arm and shoulder that drew the arrow would get fatigued but it didn’t, it was the shoulder that stabilized the arm holding the bow that got tired.

On Friday I went to Broken Arrow Archery and tested a Bear in similar price range. It was good but it was not as nice as the Charger. The help at both Broken Arrow and Archers Afield was outstanding.

I have settled on the Hoyt for my first hunting bow.