climber2Brains

Patrick Smith continues to be an avid backcountry hunter, fisherman and rambling backpacker, while constantly tinkering, crafting and inventing (Smith has thirteen patents) better ways to "Open the Outback".

This "real world" designer spends a third of the year in the middle of nowhere, and many more days wandering on local mountains evaluating gear.  He’s been doing it for more than fifty years so he knows a thing or two about living "out there".

His town-based office is a place to connect.  The real work happens in the Outback, usually in trail-less terrain with everything needed for living and working on his back.  Equipped with a special hand stapler, scissors and a kit of raw materials, the man literally designs in the field.  Tough testing is done, feedback is immediate, and changes are made on the spot. This process goes on for typically two years, often much longer.  When Patrick finally releases a product it has undergone many hundreds of hours of intense field use and modification and is simply as good as it can be for the task it will perform.

The Kifaru legacy has deep roots, starting with a boyhood passion for the outdoors that grew into the founding of the Colorado School of Outdoor Living (nominally a Survival School, but also teaching backpacking and winter ski mountaineering) and later as a Nordic Ski Guide.  Patrick found commercial gear inadequate for his Guiding activities and made his own.  Clients clamored to buy it so a new company, Mountainsmith, was born.  The first product was the Smith Sled--a svelte sure-tracking wilderness sled that solved the first of many challenges.  Thousands of those first sleds are still in use today--a testimony to their usefulness as well as durability. Following closely were the first Lumbar Packs, with new-departure designs that focused on extreme comfort and fit in completely new ways.  Larger packs followed, all demonstrating body-hugging fit and a unique ability to transfer weight to the hips--instead of shoulders--and therefore the ability to wrangle brutal loads like no other.  The fledgling Mountainsmith company became world-renowned in the mountaineering community.  Venerable Mountainsmith packs such as the Frostfire, Bugaboo and Tyrol--to name a few--are still in use decades later, and are known for their handcrafted, no-holds-barred durability, modularity and incredible fit.  They became a crucial tool in many a quest for the likes of Everest, Denali, and Antarctica. climber2

climber1The Company was managed so that Patrick could do what he does best and loves most--spending huge chunks of time in the field and inventing better gear for literally living out there. He spent a great deal of the time "living off the land" with a firearm and fishing rod.  His yen for real "living" in wild places brought the very first man-carryable woodstove-heated shelters into existence.  His famous "tipis", with accompanying wood stoves, were introduced in 1989, and most are still providing portable "homes" in wild, cold places around the world.

Mountainsmith provided fertile turf for many groundbreaking ideas--ideas too good not to be brought to the attention of Patrick's fellow hunters, especially for those elite hunters who wanted to hunt "up there among 'em"--backcountry style. Hunting pack technology was light years behind that of the mountaineering world, so, not too long after selling Mountainsmith, Patrick once again paved the way by creating Kifaru in 1997, and at last attended to his most passionately loved backcountry activity.  Prior to that "backpack hunting" meant modifying an existing mountaineering pack or, worse, making do with antiquated external frame torture racks that inevitably fell apart under the extreme loads and conditions successful backcountry hunting imposes.

Soldiering demands the same ruggedness, fit and huge-load capability from backpacks, but has its own special feature needs.  Shortly after the atrocities of 9/11/2001 Mel Terkla approached Patrick about adapting Kifaru Hunting packs to military applications. Mel, a former military man, had exceptional insight into military load-out requirements and is a world class designer in his own right.  Patrick's skills--ergonomics, modularity, versatility--blended perfectly with Mel's and the result has been what a great many elite warriors consider the best military pack systems in packthe world.

In large part Kifaru was set up as a Design Shop—no dealers, build gear right here in Colorado, and build what Patrick never could do in a long career of building gear for a more conventional market.  Doing hunting packs properly was the first step. Building the first true man-carryable “homes” for the outback were added from the Mountainsmith mildays. Military packs came along when the nation was attacked. 

Since then Patrick has addressed two backcountry essentials in the way he’s been waiting to do for decades: sleeping bags that do more than just encase one for sleeping, and clothing that is built specifically to accommodate backpacks and perform optimally in terms of weight-to-warmth ratio and go-anywhere field worthiness.  The company rests happily on the simple premise of taking what it selects as very important gear and making it the best in the world.  

Throughout this site you’ll find Patrick’s design notes, historical commentary, and problem solving tips.



For extensive backcountry info and articles check out our many essays.

 

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