The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Wilderness Adventure Series: Sparky Stensaas and “Owls to Orchids”

January 10, 2012
Great Grey Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog

Great Gray Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog

Everyone in America knows the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but few people are aware of the other great wilderness areas within a stone’s throw of Lake Superior. This winter’s Wilderness Adventure Series will highlight “Wilderness Adventure Areas within a Day’s Drive of Duluth. Through these free seminars the guest speakers and the experts at the Duluth Pack store will introduce you to wildlife, whitewater, and more.

Kicking off the Wilderness Adventure Series on January 17th will be Mark “Sparky” Stensaas with his presentation Owls to Orchids: Magic in the Sax-Zim Bog. Maybe you heard the mention of the Sax-Zim Bog in the recent Steve Martin/Owen Wilson movie, “The Big Year”  Well guess what, this amazing bog is right in our backyard, only 45 minutes from Duluth. Long known to birders and photographers from around the world and across the country as THE place to find some of our most secretive boreal birds including the mythic Great Gray Owl.

Through Sparky’s HD video and still images we’ll explore these Black Spruce and Tamarack Bogs…without getting our feet wet or frozen! Meet the bird that grows snowshoes, the devious orchid that outsmarts bumblebees, and the death-defying frog. And of course, the stars’ of the show will be some cooperative Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owl families caught on HD video.

Sparky Stensaas is an author, naturalist, photographer, publisher, and writer (i.e. ‘no full-time real job’) based in Wrenshall, Minnesota (over by Jay Cooke State Park). He is a former “Duluth Packer” and the inspiration behind the Sparky Bag. Sparky’s latest venture is Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, a non-profit aimed at educating the public about the natural history of bogs and dedicated to creating a Sax-Zim Birder/Photographer Welcome Center. When not chasing after his two young sons, he may be out taking photos, blogging at or watching All My Children (not in that order!).

Please come to the Duluth Pack store at 365 Canal Park Drive on Tuesday, January 17th at 7:00 PM to enjoy this wonderful story of a wilderness area right in our own backyard. Also add to your calendars Sam Cook’s whitewater adventures on January 24th, and “Hiking the Sioux Hustler Trail” with Martin Kubik on January 31st.

See you then!

The Lowdown

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar Visits Duluth Pack

January 6, 2012
Senator Klobuchar watches work on the sewing floor at Duluth Pack

Senator Klobuchar watches work on the sewing floor at Duluth Pack

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar visited the Duluth Pack factory on January 5, 2012 as part of her “Made in America” tour of Northern Minnesota. Senator Klobuchar stopped in five cities and visited companies as part of a tour that has stopped in more than 20 businesses across the state. The Senator’s tour is designed to showcase successful Minnesota companies and job creation in the state.

First stop on Wednesday was LINDAR in Brainerd/Baxter, a plastics thermoforming company that specializes in stock plastic containers and custom plastic parts. Next was on to Park Rapids for a tour of their downtown and Main Street. Next was a roundtable discussion on tourism and broadband communications at the New Frontier Resort.

Thursday morning saw a stop at the Bemidji City Council Chambers to present the Red Cross “Lifesaving Award of Merit.” Senator Klobuchar presented the award to Kelsey Johnson who saved the life of her stepfather during a seizure. The next stop was a business tour of the Terex Construction Americas facility in Grand Rapids. At that facility Terex manufactures compact construction equipment.

In the afternoon it was here to Duluth Pack! After introductions and a quick stand up interview with the local TV news stations we toured our 100-year-old factory. The Senator was gracious and eager to learn about the past, present, and future of Duluth Pack. She also shared with us childhood memories of her family loading Duluth Packs for their adventures into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Senator Klobuchar took great interest while the watching the process on the sewing floor and in the riveting department. She also paid great attention while examining the numerous fabrics and leathers in the cutting department. Our wool bags appeared to capture special regard from the Senator, and I have a feeling a Hitchcock patterned Shell Bag is in her future.

Great thanks go out from all of us here at Duluth Pack to Senator Amy Klobuchar and everyone from her office that visited us here in Duluth. Best of luck in the future on your  “Innovate America Act.” We hope that sharing our company and manufacturing process with you will help promote innovation and America’s ability to compete in this global economy.

The Lowdown

Minnesota Gray Wolf Removed from the Threatened Species List

December 28, 2011
Gray Wolf photo by MacNeils Lyons; National Park Service

Today, December 28th marks the official removal of the gray wolf in Minnesota from the threatened species list. After a 30-day period the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will return management of the species to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. (DNR) Now, the DNR will follow their own wolf management plan, which was created in 2001, and is designed to manage the wolf population at a healthy, sustained level.

At the present time Minnesota’s wolf population stands at approximately 3,000, which is almost twice the number biologists have stated as a viable, long-term population. When the gray wolf was added to the threatened species list in the 1970’s their numbers in Minnesota had dwindled to as few as 700 individuals. Going forward the DNR will use scientific method and their management plan to monitor and maintain the Minnesota population at or above the stated goal of 1600 animals.

And while the management plan allows for owners of livestock and domesticated animals to have more authority to control wolves, the state will offer predator services. The level of authority and control must still be discussed and settled upon by livestock producers, the DNR, state lawmakers, and agriculture officials. The DNR in conjunction with the state legislature, are in the beginning stages of a plan that could allow for a hunting and trapping season of the gray wolf.

While the gray wolf population in Minnesota represents the largest in the lower 48 states, they have made a strong comeback in other areas as well. Gray wolf numbers continue to grow and stabilize in other Great Lake’s states, and the western mountain states. Biologists across the U.S. are committed to the long-term survival of the species.

To learn more about the gray wolf please go to the Minnesota DNR or visit the website of the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Great New Outdoor Adventure Product for 2012: Slat Grill

December 23, 2011

Here is one of the great new products for your outdoor adventures in 2012. The Slat Grill designed by Chris Weyandt of St. Paul, MN and built in the USA is perfect for camping, hiking, or any other trek into the woods. This grill is simple to set up and use, extremely versatile in heat source and configuration. It is also extremely portable, packing down to just 18” by 5” by 2” in its handy, canvas carry case. When packed it will easily slide into the outer pockets on a #3 Cruiser or the Kitchen Pack.

The Slat Grill debuted at the Midwest Mountaineering Winter Expo in Minneapolis last month. That was the first chance I had to see it, and for me it was an instant hit. Chris had two different stoves going under the grill and was cooking up a storm. The Slat Grill will not only accommodate gas-fired stoves, but charcoal or a wonderful open campfire will serve as heat sources. The half moon cut outs allow for a remote fuel source such as the MSR WindPro and they also serve as vents to let fire breathe as needed.

Set up is amazingly easy and requires no tools. Assemble the expedition grade box, (measures 18″x12″x4″) lay in the slats, or skewers, and use the chains to move it into position over the fire. By configuring the nine slats in any way you like a variety of pots, pans, or griddles can sit on top. Made from hard-anodized, lightweight aluminum the grill will take on a nice patina over time, but it is corrosion resistant, and clean up is easy with a scrubbie and some Bar Keepers Friend. And best of all, it is guaranteed for life.

As you make your plan to head into the Quetico next summer, you must have the Slat Grill on your gear list. Remember there are no fire grates in the Quetico. And, just imagine after a long hard push across the Yum-Yum portage sitting back and watching steaks sizzle on the Slat Grill. Great meals make for great canoe trips.

Keep checking in with the blog during the next couple of weeks as I bring you more great outdoor adventure products for 2012.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

The Lowdown

Growing Up with Duluth Pack

December 22, 2011
Nikolai relaxing in his very first Duluth Pack

Nikolai relaxing in his very first Duluth Pack

Thanks so much to Ben and Katey for sharing these great photos of their son Nikolai with us. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Hi Duluth Pack folks,

As soon as our son was born 14 months ago, my parents ran down to Duluth Pack to buy him his first pack - he was only about 1 day old!

Beginning in the hospital and every few months since, we’ve put him in the pack for a shameless photo-op.

I thought you’d enjoy our “14 months of a first Duluth Pack”.

Have a great holiday season,

Ben & Katey; Duluth, Minnesota

The Lowdown

Biggest Outdoor Adventure Stories of 2011; Part 1

December 12, 2011
Courtesy of the Toledo Blade

The end of 2011 draws closer and the popular thing to do is put out lists summarizing the year previous. Well, here I am sucked into the trend, hand-picking and choosing the stories that stick out in my mind as memorable ones. Please enjoy the first four of my eight biggest, outdoor adventure stories of 2011.

8. Surfing the World’s Tallest Wave • Rumor has it that Garrett McNamara has surfed a 90-foot wave off of Portugal during the ZON North Canyon show of 2011. Buddies surfing with him confirm they all rode waves in the 60+ range. Then McNamara got on a wave that was reported by his surfing partners as 30 feet larger. We will keep you updated as we confirm this amazing ride.

7. Minnesotan Attempts to Solo Climb Denali • In January of 2011 Lonnie Dupre, winner of the Rolex Award for Enterprise attempted a solo summit of Denali. Dupre, from Grand Marais, Minnesota was hoping to be the first to reach the top of Denali solo in January. He reached the height of 17,200 feet before being pinned down for six days by a storm bearing 100 mph winds. In addition to the storm an earthquake of 5.4 magnitude just 30 miles away. Rumor has it that he will try the solo summit again in the January of 2012.

6. 881-Pound Tuna Seized by Federal Authorities • While I realize a very similar story was reported in 2010, these giant fish stories fascinate me. Seems Carlos Rafael and his crew were fishing off Massachusetts and snagged the massive fish in their nets. Only problem is: tuna are only legally caught on rod and reel so the Feds took control of the giant Bluefin, and left Mr. Rafael high and dry.

5. Hudson Bay Bound • Two recent graduates of St. Olaf College are the first women to trace the 2250 mile route made famous by Eric Severeid in the book Canoeing with the Cree. Ann Raiho and Natalie Warren left Fort Snelling on June 2nd and arrived at York Factory on Hudson Bay 85 days later, one week ahead of schedule.

There you have it, part one of the biggest outdoor adventure stories of 2011. What have I missed? What was the biggest story of the year in your memory? Maybe your story will make part two of my list, or leave me a comment below and tell me what you think.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Holiday gift guide from Duluth Pack

December 8, 2011

Wool stocking on the fireplace at the Duluth Pack Store

The “12 Days of Christmas” is upon us. And, while many of my favorite items will be sliding down the chimney of your email inbox soon, there are other wonderful gifts worth telling you about. Please let me share with you some of our most popular gift items for Christmas this year.

1. Wool Christmas Tree Skirts and StockingsBrand new for this holiday season are the Duluth Pack wool tree skirts and fireplace stockings. Both are made in six colors of wool; three plaid patterns and three solids. So keep your tree warm and your little elves on pins and needles as they wait for Santa with nice big stockings hanging over the fireplace.

2. SmartWool Socks• Toes get cold this time of year and the perfect gift to keep them warm are SmartWool socks. Made of Merino wool from New Zealand these socks are as soft as they are warm. To see the biggest selection of SmartWool in the north woods head on down to the Duluth Pack Store in Canal Park and gaze upon our wall.

3. Collared Logo 1/4 Zip Sweatshirt • One of our most popular sweatshirts is fresh this season with two new colors. The 1/4 zip sweatshirt now comes in a black and a navy. Perfect to add as another layer when the fire just isn’t warm enough.

4. Bison Leather #100 Purse • Having premiered this fall, our entire American Bison Series takes the quality and tradition of Duluth Pack and blends it with the rugged luxury of the American West. Give the #100 Purse this Christmas and be guaranteed that you have given something truly unique.

There they are, four great gift ideas from Duluth Pack for this Christmas season.

Naughty or nice, everybody deserves a Duluth Pack this year.

The Lowdown

Duluth Pack’s Twelve Days of Christmas

December 2, 2011
A snowy day in Jay Cooke State Park

It’s that time of year when people are shopping, making their lists, and checking them twice.  The smell of gingerbread and hot chocolate is the air, with the twinkle of lights all around.  It’s a busy time of year, and we all know the excitement (or headaches for some) that is brought on by holiday shopping.  Budgeting for gifts, travel, food, and everything else can be trying, especially in today’s tough economic climate.  Most shoppers are looking for bargains and deals, basically anything to stretch their dollar just a little further this holiday season.

Duluth Pack will be adding to the shopping festivities by offering their 3rd annual, and highly anticipated, 12 Days of Christmas daily specials.  Starting December 5th and ending December 16th, Duluth Pack will have one (1) special offer per day with discounts up to 50% off.  And to make it even more exciting, each daily offer will be kept secret until the email release each morning.  For Duluth locals, the each daily offer will also be available for purchase at the Duluth Pack Flagship Store in historic Canal Park.

If you are interested in participating in this once-a-year event, all you need to do is sign up for the Duluth Pack email newsletter at 

On a personal note: thanks so much to Betsy Mistek who served as our guest blogger today. Great post Betsy.






Gear Talk, The Lowdown

How to Pick Bindings for Your Snowshoes

December 1, 2011
Snowshoes in the Woods

In the last blog post I talked about the different styles of snowshoes and which style would fit your snow trekking needs the best. In this article I would like to examine three styles of bindings that will match up well with your new American Made wooden snowshoes by Iverson’s. The two primary concerns with snowshoe bindings will be the ease of getting them on and the amount of control they give you while shoeing.

First snowshoe binding is the rubber, Bob Maki style binding. It is very easy to mount on the snowshoe, and being flexible rubber it is very easy to pull on over your boot. These features make it ideal if a lot of different users are going to be going out in the snow on your shoes. The downside to this style binding is the lack of control once the boot is in the binding. Not a lot of stability in the rubber binding, sometimes making it tricky to turn in tight quarters.

Second is the “A” or “AA” style binding.  This style is a heavy vinyl or leather forefoot piece, which holds the boot in place with a compression strap. The advantage with this binding is that it goes on and off easily. So again, if multiple people will be using your shoes adjustments can be made quickly no matter the boot size. One disadvantage that I can speak to is that this binding can be a little more difficult to mount to the shoe. However, you always have the snowshoe pros at the Duluth Pack store in Canal Park to assist you.

Third, is the “H” style binding, probably the most recognizable of all the bindings. The strapping system is usually made of leather or neoprene and mounts very easily to the shoe. This binding gives you great control of the shoe in all conditions, whether in tight spaces or in a straight line down a lake. It works best when only one person will be using a pair of snowshoes; therefore multiple users might find the adjustment process a bit cumbersome.

You’ve got classic, wooden snowshoes, and you have your bindings, now go out and play in the snow! If you have any questions or concerns about snowshoe bindings, or getting them mounted head on down to Canal Park and check in with the outdoor experts at the Duluth Pack store. They have trod many snow-covered trails in the north woods, and know their stuff well.

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

How to Choose the Right Snowshoe

November 29, 2011
Iverson Snowshoe

Winter in the north woods is on the way. Don’t let this mild weather fool you, before you know it we will be up to our knees in the white stuff. And like true Minnesotans once winter arrives we will be ready to go play in the snow.

Last February I posted an article on the differences between wood and aluminum snowshoes. As you are looking to buy snowshoes this season it might be a good idea to go back and review a few of the pros and cons of each type. In this article I would like to examine the wooden shoes from Iverson Snowshoes a little more, and talk about how to choose the right pair for you.

As with anything, examining how you will use your snowshoes is the primary factor in determining the best style for you. Is this a recreational snowshoe that might be used in tight spaces or wooded trails? Or, are you a pretty serious snowshoe traveler that will be going great distances on primarily open terrain?

Let’s start with the former; you are a recreational snowshoer who will be traveling wooded trails on a regular basis. A smaller rounded shoe like the Green Mountain will give you great maneuverability in the tight spaces. It is also an excellent shoe if you plan on carrying it as a back up on your snowmobile, or dogsled.

If you are going to be breaking trail and headed into deep snow there are two good choices. The Modified Bearpaw and the Michigan are both good straight-tracking shoes for the deep stuff. The Bearpaw will be a little bit more maneuverable at 35 inches long with the Michigan at 46 inches creating a nice blend for use in moderate wooded areas as well as wide-open spaces.

And for the adventurer who is going to travel long distances with deep snow the Alaskan or the traditional Ojibwa will be the shoes for you. The Alaskan was built for Artic Adventurers going out to trek across the tundra in deep powder and drifted snow. The Ojibwa is similar to other cross-country shoes, but the long pointed nose will cut through deep snow and any underbrush that might get in your way.

Of course if you want to talk to somebody about the difference between a Bearpaw and an Ojibwa, the snowshoe experts at the Duluth Pack store in Canal Park can answer all your questions. They have been all over the north woods on many types of snowshoes and will find the pair that’s right for you.

Next time: which binding is right for your new snowshoes?