A Little Kifaru History by Patrick Smith
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|As a foot soldier in the hunting fields, I've been carrying store-bought "hunting packs" for over 40 years. Not liking what was available to purchase, I started making my own. The first problem I had to solve when I began to focus on making my own hunting packs for my own needs was quality-quality of comfort, first of all, and then quality of durability.|
Having made my living for a couple of decades in mountaineering packs, I must report the truth: so-called "hunting packs" are just plain crap. Their designers don't seem to have a clue about comfort - or durability. They hurt. And they fall apart-seams disintegrate and welds disengage - usually at the worst possible time. The creators of these gems seem to think a plethora of pockets and camo will substitute for supple, long-range comfort and durability. Perhaps they don't think we hunters will step up and pay the fare in hard cash that it takes to produce a world class carrying system.
So I would make my own packs for my own needs. As for durability, I decided to build them using mountaineering grade materials and construction techniques and deal with the quietness/visibility issues separately. It took a while, but the "panels" solution did the trick. They also vastly increased the packs' utility: a single pack in 3 "color phases." Very efficient, cost-wise, to the user (me, at that time) too!
The comfort part was pretty straightforward. I already had it - successful mountaineering pack builders must make comfortable packs to survive.
The second problem I focused on was carrying my rifle (handgun, bow). The ancient shoulder sling just doesn't cut it. Too slow, too insecure, too snagable, too uncomfortable and not usable at all on a modern pack with snugger straps at the top of the shoulders - in this scenario, you have to lash your rifle to the side of the pack. And that is just not kosher at all - too vulnerable and way, way too slow, especially for moseying around in Alaska where the predators include us on the menu. I developed the GunBearer many years ago expressly for Alaskan hunting. My original G.B. must have 10,000 miles on it - toting everything from a featherweight 6mm Rem. to a hefty.375. It's been all over the world with me and never skipped a beat. It simply has to be the most innovative rifle carrying system ever built.
Next problem - cold hands. I can't shoot straight with numb hands. Can't do well with bulky gloves either - all my rifles have 32 oz. triggers and just don't do well unless I can finesse that trigger. So the HandWarmer evolved. Add a pouch to the front and, voila', the perfect stash place for my binocs. It works, problem solved. (Readers should understand that I'm in the field a lot - always with a rifle - shooting rocks, small game, whatever; and I've therefore had an enormous amount of time to recognize and work on solutions to these problems).
The next problem: How to carry bulky extremely heavy loads? Well the solution to this turned out to be the solution to another problem - how can I take a chair with me "out there"? I am long past the age where hunkering on the cold, hard ground has no effect on me. The CargoChair solved both problems. I'm never without mine.
Another problem I addressed was the incompatibility of different sizes of packs. Let's face it, some days we hunt with a daypack and some days we hunt with a full-size pack. I figured I'd better design all my hunting packs - regardless of size - to do the same things: carry my rifle in the GunBearer, allow me to plug in the wonderful CargoChair, the useful HandWarmer, and so forth. So I developed a "systems approach" that lets all these solutions to problems function across all sizes of my packs. All the useful "add-on" pockets I came up with over the years would follow the same philosophy. I had decided to start with packs absolutely clean of external pockets - all the pockets on the inside. But I left myself the option of external pockets by building in unobtrusive "female" attachment points on the waistbelt of all my packs - the "pockets", and the GunBearer as well, mounted at these locations with equally unobtrusive "male" components. A Systems Approach again. They could be adjusted for lateralness - vitally important I have found - as well as vertically, neither of which is possible with a sewn-on pocket or any other "System" I've seen since for that matter. And, they could be moved to the right or left side, or not installed at all. I had total freedom to use my packs for any task, with the external componentry transferable from pack to pack in seconds. I was on a roll. And I saved a lot of duplication. (I think we're now calling this system the Caddy System. I have found that it works well on the lower sides of our pack bags too, plus I have developed some more useful pockets, so we are putting the female components of the system on the sides of all Kifaru packs - not just the waistbelts - for the '99 Season. More options are good.)
I discovered another advantage to all these packs, regardless of size, operating the same: "no-brainer" consistency. And that's important to me as a hunter. For the same reason all my rifles have Remington or Sako actions - they all operate alike. Consistency. It's important when you're focusing on other matters.
I think by now you get the idea. My gear represents years and miles of field solutions to field problems. I don't spend much time in an office and I don't design at a computer. All of the innovations you see at Kifaru existed on my self-built personal hunting packs long before Kifaru was ever born.
A few more words about comfort. I chose the internal frame format for my hunting packs. The external vs. internal frame debate is over in the Expedition world - won by internals. They simply carry more weight more comfortably, with a lot more stability and greater durability than externals. And with a lot less bulk and clunkiness.
I had to make some adaptations when I started building my own internal frame hunting packs. One was making the internal "frame sheet" on the big packs removable from the pack bag for carrying really huge (and messy) loads. Eventually I figured it all out and it's been working for years. The other adaptation needs a little explanation. Any readers who've examined serious mountaineering packs lately will have noted how bulky their waistbelts and shoulder straps are. Well, I've spent quite a bit of time in a stuffed Super Cub and know well what a premium space is - especially if you're dealing with a clanking external frame pack. (I don't want my rifle scope in the same county with one of these things, having had some bitter experiences.). I've also tried to shoot with my rifles' buttstock up against a thick shoulder strap (none too fun, is it?)
So I worked hard at reducing the bulk of Kifaru suspension ingredients - focusing on anatomicalness instead of bulk. The result? These thinner, "drapier" (and wider, waistbelt-wise), nimble components are more comfortable than even the bulky mountaineering suspensions out there. These "hunting packs" have turned the tables - they appear to be the world's most comfortable packs. (What a bonus!) A lot of you seem to think so, judging from the correspondence I get from serious hunters who've tried 'em all. Of course, our custom fit approach helps a lot too.
Building hunting backpacks is liberating for me. I am a dedicated backpack hunter - this is sort of like "where I belong" at long last. What's also liberating is that my hunting customers care about what works, not what looks fancy on a showroom shelf. The mountaineering pack market has gotten a bit showbiz over the years, sad to say. I'm proud of us hunters. When it comes to carrying serious weight, in serious terrain, we take a backseat to nobody. We want what works, not what appeals to the sensibilities of the vegetarians.
So far, Kifaru is doing great! And I'm really pleased! To friends who questioned my sanity at introducing real quality (and cost) to my fellow foot hunters, I say, "a whole bunch of my colleagues are stepping up to the plate!" Frankly, anyone familiar with mountaineering pack prices knows that, with the included hunting features and systems - GunBearer and Panels, etc., - these prices are less than one would pay in stores for world class mountaineering packs, which these certainly are as well.
As for foot hunting - it's simply the most successful way to hunt (not to mention that it's the most psychically satisfying.) .
From a ridge top in Central Colorado