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Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Stormy Kromer: History of a Great American Made Hat

November 23, 2011
Wear your Stormy while you fish, and stay warm

Imagine your “real” job is the engineer on a train screaming down the frozen tracks of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You stick your head out the window to try and get a glimpse of something…of anything. Suddenly, your hat is stolen away by the swift, invisible hand of Njord, god of the wind.

This cruel scenario played out more than once for our hero George “Stormy” Kromer. He would peek his head out of the window on the train engine, and his hat would be stolen away.  Stormy knew there had to be a better hat; the fedora design just wasn’t well suited for hanging out of a train engine.

Having been a semi-pro ball player, spending time on more than 30 teams, Stormy was partial to baseball hats. He asked his wife Ida if she could modify his favorite ball cap to help keep it on in the windy weather. She came up with a hat, which incorporated a soft canvas visor with a six-panel design that stayed put in the wind.

The men who worked the railroad with Stormy liked the hat so much they wanted one for themselves. After a very, short time Ida was unable to keep up with demand, she hired a few workers, and in 1903 the company was born. Demand was ever increasing, and in 1919 the Kromers moved production to a facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 2001, Bob Jacquart, owner of Jacquart Fabric Products purchased the rights to Stormy Kromer caps and the production was moved to Ironwood, Michigan. Today, the company produces more than 50,000 caps annually, in a variety of colors and styles. Of course Stormy Kromer is more than just hats. Stormy Kromer jackets, shirts, and pants are all made right here in the U.S.A.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

The Voyageur, the Canoe, and the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket

November 4, 2011
Hudson's Bay Point Blanket

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. Begun under English royal charter in 1670, the Hudson Bay Company made its name and reputation as a fur trader, but today owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada.

The founding of the Hudson Bay Company coincided with the era of the voyageur and the fur trade in North America. These voyageurs were using large canoes to transport 90 pound bales of fur pelts over the trade routes of the Great Lakes and as far west as modern day Manitoba. The typical interior river canoe was 25 feet long, paddled by five or six men, and carried 25 to 30 of the heavy fur bales.

In the 1700’s European demand for fur grew, as did the number of voyageurs and the success of the Hudson Bay Company. The HBC held a near monopoly on the fur trade and employed hundreds of voyageurs that were once independent contractors. At the peak the HBC was trading in an area greater than 3,000,000 square miles, and had 1,500 contract employees.

The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket was born in the 18th century as a currency of exchange with First Nation Tribes. The blankets were traded to Native Americans for beaver pelts, buffalo robes, and other goods. The wool blankets were coveted because they were easier to sew than bison hides and retained their ability to hold heat even when wet.

The “points” or small lines stitched into the side of the blanket have led to a common misconception. Many believe that these points denote the number of beaver pelts it would take to trade for a Hudson’s Bay blanket. In truth, these points were sewn into the fabric to denote size of the blanket. On display a merchant would immediately know the size of the blanket without having to unfold it for the customer.

The four colored stripes of the Hudson’s Bay blanket have become a North American icon. Today the blankets are made in England by John Atkinson, with Woolrich Inc. of Pennsylvania holding the official license to import them into the United States. When you see that familiar tag with the red, green, yellow, and indigo stripes you know you are looking at a long and storied history.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Duluth Pack premieres the American Bison Series

October 20, 2011
American Bison Series

New, high-quality leather is introduced to Duluth Pack’s venerable line of products.

Introducing the American Bison Series from Duluth Pack. The American Bison Series blends the quality and tradition of Duluth Pack with the rugged luxury of the American West. Beautifully handcrafted of full-grain, premium Bison leather, these bags are both robust and replete with style.

Our craftspeople, which create these pieces, pay significant time and attention to every detail as well as to the elegance of their art. The bags in this series are sewn from full hides, which are soft to the touch and durable for life. Elements such as rolled leather handles, hand-pounded solid copper rivets, and interior linings come together to embody these high-quality bags.

With traditional styling in mind, we have taken seven of our most in-demand leather products and adapted them especially for bison leather. The series includes: the Bison Leather Kit Bag, Bison Leather #100 Purse, Bison Leather Traveler’s Portfolio, the Bison Leather Sportsman’s Tote, Bison Leather Gun Cases, Bison Leather Pistol Rugs, and the Bison Leather Sportsman’s Duffel.

Reminiscent of expeditions across an untamed American West, these pieces will become time-honored adventure gear. Reward yourself with something truly unique from the American Bison Series by Duluth Pack. Made in America, guaranteed for life.

About the American Bison

For hundreds of years the natives of the North American plains relied on the bison for their existence. The bison was hunted to near extinction in the 1870’s, their numbers dwindled to as few as several hundred remaining. A reintroduction of bison to North America began in 1899, and today free-ranging bison in conservation herds number approximately 30,000. For many people living in North America the bison is symbol of strength, stability, and prosperity.

About Duluth Pack

Duluth Pack established in 1882, is dedicated to making quality canoe and camping gear as well as purses, luggage, messenger bags, gun cases, and portfolio bags.  These products are manufactured in Duluth, Minnesota, using time-honored techniques.  All products manufactured by Duluth Pack offer a Lifetime Guarantee on craftsmanship and hardware.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Women’s fashions for fall

September 30, 2011
Petal Pusher

The wind is blowing, the leaves are turning color, and it feels like fall here in the north woods. It is time we starting thinking about pulling those warm clothes out of the closet. Better yet, let’s talk about what’s new and looking good for women this fall.

Stormy Kromer Petal Pusher Hat • Good, old Stormy Kromer, his ears would get cold while wearing his baseball hats and steaming down the rail line. His wife, Ida added ear flaps to one of those time-tested hats, and the Stormy Kromer hat was born. The Petal Pusher not only looks good but it’s stitched with the same last-as-long-as-you-will, six-panel-crown-construction as the original Stormy Kromer cap. Made in America.

 

 

Filson Women’s Wool Timber Jacket • Like Stormy, C.C. Filson was a railroad man who knocked around Nebraska for a time before he settled in Seattle, Washington. The gold rush came to his neck of the woods in 1897 and C.C’s destiny in wool was forged. This jacket is reminiscent of the original Filson wool jackets designed to protect timber cruisers. Built for warmth, the Timber Jacket is made from Filson’s heavy weight 100% virgin 24-oz. Mackinaw Wool. And, it is as durable as it is good looking. Made in USA.

 


All-Leather Rucksack • Our comfortable wrap-around Classic Rucksack, redesigned as a women’s backpack/purse. The All Leather Rucksack is made with our luxurious Serengeti leather and has been sized down for everyday use. Take it on the hiking trail with you, to a football game, or wandering around Canal Park. Guaranteed for Life. Made in USA.

 

Heim Made Minne-Skirt • Here is a great down insulated skirt from right here in Minnesota. Perfect for staying warm while being
active in the winter time; hiking, snowshoeing or skiing. Also great to have with you for those fall football and soccer games when you need just one more layer to curb the chill while you cheer for the hometown team. A “jacket for your behind” as the Heim ladies like to say.

 

 

 

Minnetonka Three Layer Fringe Boot • In 1822, two 17 year old boys paddled up the Minnehaha Creek to make the European discovery of Lake Minnetonka. While we are not sure of their footgear, one thing we are sure of: this Three Layer Fringe boot is going to be a very popular one this fall. Minnetonka likes to say these are “more than just boots, they become a part of you.”  Calf high, in natural suedes with a thin rubber sole.

This season is shaping up to be a really nice one for color in the trees of Minnesota. Looking forward to getting out and enjoying some great walks through the woods. Here’s hoping you have a great fall season no matter where your hiking boots may land.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Gear for the canoe pack as the weather gets cooler

September 7, 2011
Leaves changing in the north woods

September is here and the sun is setting noticeably earlier now then it did just six weeks ago. The loons are starting to raft up and have begun consultations in preparation for their move to southern waters. And, over the last few nights there has been somewhat of a chill in the air, fall is on its way.

And while another season is drawing to a close, there will still be some great days and nights on the canoe trail. In anticipation of those chilly nights ahead I would like to share with you a few things you might want to think about adding to the canoe pack to stay warm.

Quicklace Mukluks from Chota are going to be a requirement especially if you have a Kevlar boat. Wet-footing the landings and takeoffs in cold water are much more pleasant in a neoprene boot that protects up to the knee.  The boots also provide some much needed support as you climb up and down the Yum Yum portage.

SmartWool PHD socks in the medium weight will be the perfect companions for your Chota Mukluks. These socks are Merino wool, therefore making them extremely soft, very breathable, and odor resistant, even in boots. Additionally, this sock is fully cushioned making long, cold portaging days a little more bearable.

The Duluth Pack Bedroll is an excellent addition to a late season pack headed into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or the Quetico. While many canoe trippers may simply opt to go to a heavier sleeping bag, I would recommend the bedroll to provide some flexibility. In cool weather it can be used outside a bag to provide warmth, and in warm weather you can simply lie on top of the bedroll.

IceBreaker Bodyfit long sleeve tops and matching bottoms in the 260 weight are a must have when tripping late season. During the day the Merino wool breathes and keeps you comfortable no matter what the air temperature. And, at night they keep you warm and toasty, as it gets cool in your tent. IceBreaker is also great for multiple days on trail because Merino is naturally odor resistant.

Cache Lake fry breads are good at anytime of the year, but to have something warm on your stomach can make a cool, fall day much easier. My favorite is the garlic for lunch or dinner, but the cinnamon raisin breakfast bread is a perfect start to the day. Get the pan nice and hot with a little oil, stove works great a fire isn’t necessary, and cook it just like a pancake. Fry breads are easy to make on trail or in camp, add a little syrup if you like.

Great stuff to get in the canoe pack this fall, and enjoy those fall colors while you are out on the water.

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, 2011

August 18, 2011
Salt Lake City

Twice a year, in Salt Lake City, Utah, outdoor retailers get together and share what’s new and what’s hot for the coming year. And while not lucky enough to attend this mammoth event on the Wasatch Front two weeks ago, I do have some great gear to share with you. This list is by no means all-encompassing, just a few cool items that caught my eye.

In one of my previous posts I shared with you Bending Branches new paddle the Black Pearl, $229.00. At only 14 ounces you have got to pick this one up to believe it.

The Vasque Taku GTX, $165.00 is a hiking boot for men that thinks it is a running shoe. This all leather, over the ankle boot takes just a few minutes to break in, and will be ready to go on an all day hike. With a breathable Gore-Tex lining, stiff midsole, and sticky rubber sole these boots are ready for the mountains.

IceBreaker for ladies has their Siren line of base layer tops and underwear. As with all Icebreaker, the Siren line is made from super soft Merino wool that is non-itch and extremely breathable. All the pieces look and fit great and have been designed with active, athletic women in mind. The line includes a cami ($50.00), a tank ($50.00), and a bikini bottom ($28.00).

For mountain bikers, Camelback is introducing the Charge LR hydration system, $100.00. For some time, the R&D department at Camelback has been working with a lumbar pack designed especially for the demands of mountain trails. And to listen to the testers they have got this one right. Low sloshing and great feeling should make this one a hit when it debuts in the fall.

Biking and high heels don’t really seem to go together, but leave it to Merrell to bridge that gap. The Evera MJ, $110.00, is high heel bike shoe with a rubber sole for grip, and a contoured bottom that fits right into the pedal. Expect to see these fashion forward Merrells sometime in February of 2012.

And never forget the Scout pack, the Wanderer, and all the canoe packs from Duluth Pack. We had an impressive booth there on the convention floor to share all our American Made products with both the initiated and the neophytes. From the feedback we are getting everyone loved the show and loved our gear.

See you next time, enjoy the new stuff!

Show me the way back to DuluthPack.com.

 

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Bending Branches debuts their new Black Pearl carbon fiber paddle

August 11, 2011
The new carbon fiber paddle from Bending Branches

Hard charging, performance-touring paddlers are going to love the new Black Pearl carbon fiber canoe paddle from Bending Branches. Made from high tech materials and coming in at just 14 ounces this paddle will be a great addition for your lightweight Kevlar canoe. The company recently debuted the new Black Pearl paddle at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, 2011.

American made Bending Branches (BB) was founded in 1982 by whitewater paddlers Dale Kicker and Ron Hultman. By building composite paddles with Kevlar tip guards, which became known as rock guards, they revolutionized the industry and changed paddling forever. This small, privately held company in Wisconsin has built more than one million paddles for canoeists and kayakers.

The Black Pearl was built as an answer to Bending Branches customers who own and paddle high-end canoes built of Kevlar or carbon fiber. They wanted a lightweight, strong paddle to match well with their lightweight boat. The Black Pearl gives them the ability to partner a high tech touring paddle with their high tech boat.

It starts with a carbon fiber touring blade paired with a carbon fiber composite shaft, a very stiff, light combination. The paddle is topped off with a carbon grip built to fit the paddlers’ hand. Dale Kicker has said he believes it to be the most comfortable grip they have built. At 14 ounces this paddle possesses an extremely high strength to weight ratio, and with the large touring blade it is maximum efficiency on the canoe trail.

This paddle will be ideal for the canoeist who likes to have the newest, fastest technology in their hands. And, has been waiting for a high-end paddle to pair with their high-end boat for outstanding performance touring.

Grab one of these paddles today, get your canoe pack out of the garage, and be ready for the Boundary Waters tomorrow. And don’t forget one for you bowman, too.

Portage me back to DuluthPack.com

 

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

My five favorite pieces of gear to fill my Wanderer pack

August 1, 2011
The best pack to take on your adventure to Costa Rica

You’ve been watching “Love in the Wild,” and have your favorite guy, girl or couple in which you are pulling for. Please always keep in mind that Miles is from Minnesota. You are really in the spirit and have stenciled your name on your Wanderer pack, making it ready for an adventure in Costa Rica. But what great gear are you going to use to fill up your pack?

Let me share my five favorites with you:

1. Leatherman Skeletool, $79.00. You can’t go into the woods without a Leatherman, and this is the coolest one out there. Not only is the frame cutout to keep it light, but you have all the tools you would ever need. One word of caution: never hold your Leatherman over the side of the boat to de-hook your fish. That’s not covered by the 25 year warranty.

2. Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp, $39.95. Having a hands-free light source is invaluable whether camping, night fishing or just reading a good book in the Adirondack chair on the deck. This headlamp is great because it has a couple different levels of light, and the light source tilts giving you extra flexibility when pointing the beam.

3. MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, $39.95. Lightweight, easy to use, and adjustable flame from boil to simmer. This little stove fits right on top of the canister and hardly weighs anything. Add an aluminum windscreen and you are good to go for hiking or canoe camping.

4. Brunton Military Compass, $19.95. This sighting compass has rugged case and is easy to use with all maps.

5. MSR MiniWorks Water Filter, $89.95. Two reasons why I love this filter: 1. it screws right on top of my Nalgene water bottles. And 2. this filter is field maintainable. Simply unscrew the pump, remove the ceramic cartridge, give the cartridge a good scrub and rinse, and back into the pump it goes. Keep it on top in the canoe pack, just under the flap or in a side pocket, and it is handy at any point.

Here’s an honorable mention: Sigurd Olsen, “The Singing Wilderness.” It is simply wonderful, old-school, Boundary Waters prose that will make you listen to the glide of the canoe, and revel in a fly line that is thrown with a perfect loop.

Enjoy the water!

Fly me back to DuluthPack.com

Gear Talk

Bent-shaft canoe paddles vs. straight-shaft

May 13, 2011
steve_21

“What’s the degree of bend in this paddle?”

As you may remember from the summer of 2010, I wrote a couple of articles entitled “My favorite questions as an outfitter.” And while the above question may have been in contention for inclusion in that list, it might be a good inquiry. My first reaction was to think this guy was some kind of gear geek, and had been reading too many canoe forum paddle posts. But in reality it is a question that should be answered.

Let’s start with the basic, bent-shaft canoe paddles vs. straight-shaft canoe paddles.

In the early 1980’s canoe racers discovered that they could increase their stroke efficiency by bending the shaft of the paddle between 12 and 14 degrees. The bend changes the mechanics, and creates a stroke where the blade of the paddle stays virtually upright through the arc. The transfer of power from the paddle to the water is almost entirely horizontal.

Through the arc of a straight shaft paddle motion you have three transfers of power. As the paddle enters the water much of the effort is pushing down on the water. In the middle of the stroke you are pulling horizontally. And at the end of the stroke you are lifting up on the water. Mimic the motion sitting on a chair and you can visualize the arc and see the transfer of power.

Therefore, when somebody asks about the degree of bend in a paddle they are really asking, “is this the most efficient paddle you have?”

How do I measure for a bent-shaft paddle?

All other variables being equal, the bent-shaft will be about four inches shorter than the straight shaft paddle. The quick and dirty method is to sit on a bench, turn the paddle upside down, and shoot to get your nose right to the bend in the paddle. Other factors like seat height will affect the length, but this is the best place to start.

Which paddle is right for me?

Bent-shaft paddles work well for a canoe team that is going to paddle with the hit and switch method. Which is taking four to six strokes on one side of the boat and then switching to take four to six strokes on the other side of the boat.

If you are a j-stroker, like myself you may prefer the straight shaft paddle. I have found the twist of the j-stroke with a bent-shaft paddle to be a bit too cumbersome. Yeah, yeah, I know. All you bent-shaft converts have no problem with the j-stroke, I am just stating this old guy likes to j-stroke with the straight-shaft paddle.

What if I was to suggest this? How about a 12 degree bend for the bowman and a seven-degree bend for the sternman?

In the end it is a personal choice. And who really cares how you propel your boat, just get out on the water!

Photo and Article By: Brad Putney. “Captain” Brad Putney considers himself an inland waters guru after spending 40 years on the lakes of Minnesota. The Captain likes to say he has been at the helm of everything from a ten-foot inflatable to an America’s Cup yacht. Mr. Putney can be found at the Duluth Pack Store, helpfully dispensing free advice. He has degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota. Please contact at: [email protected].

Gear Talk, The Lowdown

Canoe or Kayak? Both! The Canak by Wenonah

April 19, 2011
hybrid

The popularity of the kayak is growing by leaps and bounds. The canoe is the preferred method of travel in the Boundary Waters and the Quetico. There must be a hybrid that tours like a kayak and hauls gear like a canoe. I promised you a curveball and here it is: the Canak by Wenonah.

The following is a review I wrote last August just after paddling the Canak prototype for the first time.

The first thing I noticed about the Wenonah prototype kayak/canoe blend was the stability. I climbed into the cockpit from a dock and the boat hardly waivered. Being built on the Prism this should have been no surprise. As I paddled out with a kayak paddle the boat gained speed easily, with no loss of stability.

At one point I did attempt to roll the boat up onto the shoulders, and while stability felt good, it is really a maneuver to be done while kneeling. And this is not a kneeling cockpit because it is made up of a tractor seat and rail.

The wind was blowing stiff the day I tested the boat, therefore I headed out into the whitecaps to check performance. The boat tracked well on flat water and did very well in the waves. Going straight upwind, quartering upwind, and even letting the waves take the boat broadside didn’t affect the ability to hold the line or the stability.

Some water did come over the bow and I made the mistake of taking the cockpit covers off before venturing out. Should have left that cover on to protect from splash. On trail in such a case the covers should be left on both the bow and the stern.

Additionally, I paddled with both the kayak paddle and the canoe paddle, but I have to prefer the kayak paddle. Using a Bending Branches adjustable I stretched it out to the maximum and was able to reach out for a nice stroke. The decks on this boat created a situation where I felt I was reaching out too much with the canoe paddle.

The seat felt tall, I would like to paddle another prototype in which the seat might be lowered to the hull, but still keeping the sliding rail and seat. I moved the seat on the rail and could feel the boat change favorably with the weight adjustment. After having spoke with the designer I now know keeping the seat high was a purposeful design trait.

Additions to the cockpit might include a foot bar or foot pegs to brace against. I was pulling hard upwind and would have liked to have an anchor for my feet.

There’s the Canak, a great blend, and the best of both paddling worlds.

By: Brad Putney. “Captain” Brad Putney considers himself an inland waters guru after spending 40 years on the lakes of Minnesota. The Captain likes to say he has been at the helm of everything from a ten-foot inflatable to an America’s Cup yacht. Mr. Putney can be found at the Duluth Pack Store, helpfully dispensing free advice. He has degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota. Please contact at: [email protected].