What I Use...
by Patrick Smith
gleaned from our message board, and posted here as a convenient resource

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The short answer to your question about which packs and tipis I use is that I use, or have used extensively, all of them. If you're trying to narrow the field of options with a mind to make selections that fit your own needs,  then the best thing I can do is give you what's going to have to be what amounts to an essay on where I see the various pieces of gear fitting in the best at solving needs. Even though I'm primarily a solo Rambler I have a great deal of experience leading group trips from my days of putting on Dealer Rambles when I owned Mountainsmith. My Company supplied all the packs and especially the tipis and stoves for all the participants on these backcountry trips all over the country. By the way, I don't recall anyone asking me that question before. Maybe they should have, because I suspect what will come out of this will help some folks zero in on deciding which of the items we build will most fit their needs. So thanks!

I'm not sure how to organize this information, so perhaps I'll just start in with a stream-of-consciousness verbal ramble. And we'll commence with the tipis. I'll do the packs when we finish with the tipis. Let's do this built around Scenarios:

---Scenario #1- SOLO. Just me (or you...you get the idea). And let's break this down even further and say that it's summertime. I'm very likely to be rambling around with a Paratarp and ParaStove in my pack. Especially if I'm moving far and fast. The weather is as mild as it ever gets in the rockies, but I still have a stove just inside the front of the tarp for warmth evening and morning and for cooking. I could use an open fire but I long ago learned the winds in the mountains are unpredictable and also long ago reached my quota of smoke-in-face from an open fire laid out in front of a tarp. This system is astonishingly light for what it gives back to me. And I'm bullet-proof, no matter what the summer weather does.

Move forward to early Autumn. Now every evening/morning cycle is below freezing, and any precipitation is very likely to be snow--maybe even a LOT of snow. The day is shorter and the temp drops sooner in the afternoon and rises later in the morning. And I'm now most apt to be toting a ParaTipi with small stove (tho maybe the little ParaStove--just depends). I know that all-encompassing heat whilst in my tent more than compensates for the weight of carrying the ingredients to make that happen during the walk to get there--wherever there is. I have an abundance of room which, in my case, contributes to my personal ability to rest up for the rigors of the next day. Just as huddling in my sleeping bag is not restful to me, being confined in too small a space, even with the vast improvement a stove gives, is not as restful as toting a small increment of weight whilst on the move in order to have some wiggle room for recouping restfully. I can cut the handle off my toothbrush and all that sort of thing to give myself true camp comfort as provided by the ParaTipi and stove compared to the Tarp/stove. I'm spending more time in camp, after all, because the days are shorter. I can hammer myself during what daylight there is, knowing I'll rest well in camp. The juice will be back by morning.

Let's move along to full Autumn/early winter. Hunting season. Truly cold at night and often not exactly warm in the middle of the day either. A full-on blizzard is likely if you're out there long enough. I'm fully ensconced in the Paratipi with small stove, bullet proof no matter what happens. And there's this to consider: if the distance I've pushed isn't too great I might even be parked in a 4 man tipi, with small or perhaps even medium stove (the medium if it's really, really cold when I push off and looks like it's going to stay that way). At nearly six feet I can stand right next to the center pole--head touching it--and experience the great luxury of pulling on my britches while upright! This scenario assumes I've put myself in a base camp mode. And am going to stay there awhile. Remember, Griz, that I'm giving you pretty much all the ways I use our tipis here. You can highlight the ones that the make any sense to you. This one may not! But if I can do it, it's doable. Get the idea?

Let's move along to the dead of winter. If I'm afoot, on snowshoes (not likely) or skis (quite likely) I'll still be using the ParaTipi if I'm moving from day to day, or I can take the 4 man if I'm base camping. But here's a wrinkle that I really like about winter: if I pull one of our sleds I can bring in any tipi/stove combo that suits my fancy! This is the way I did most of my winter testing of our bigger tents. Just myself in a 12 man tipi. Wow, talk about luxury!

---Scenario #2- TWO MEN. And back to summer, etc. Yes, two men can shelter in a ParaTarp. So, for ultra, ultra lightweight rambling they can't beat this option. But they need to be really good friends.

As this is a stream-of-consciousness narrative the male-female aspect of "really good friends" just popped into my mind, of course (hey!, I ain't dead yet!). Ah, the wonderful Duo Rambler option. And the finest part of that whole deal is the attached sleeping bags scenario. Well, that option starts with the 4 man tipi. Just so you know, Griz, old fellow.

Anyway, where was I? OK, the ParaTipi. At this point it really doesn't matter what time of year it is because the ParaTipi, like all the others above it, is enclosed. I may dispense with the seasonal breakdown; we'll see as this ramble rolls along. So. Two men in a Para is the issue. And at this point I need to start talking about user background. To folks who are coming to our shelters from a mountaineering background, where their experience has been in typical mountaineering tents, the Para is huge. They love it, wallow in it. But to men whose history is wall tents or Coleman/Cabelas/Eureka truck camping tents it's a no-go. As a general rule I've learned that this latter group should half our stated "occupancy" ratings. Ergo, our two man tipi (the ParaTipi) should be considered a one man, the 4 man a two man and so on. We still use mountaineering ratings, because we have to--it's the Standard. Just remember this background factor. And while we're on the subject of experience influencing perception let's get into the first-time-with-stove-in-a-tent phenomenon. If you've never experienced this it will scare the bejeebers out of ya! Especially in a fairly small tent. It takes a while to learn the whole set-up is very safe, even that a cherry-red stove and stovepipe and two feet of flame shooting out the top of the pipe is "normal". And during that time folks tend to stay waaay far from the stove inside the tipi. A lot further than they eventually realize is quite safe. During this learning curve we find that folks can,prematurely, decide the tent is too small when it really may not be if they were experienced with the whole tipi/stove program. Bear this in mind. You should be able to sleep within six inches (often even less for me) of an operating stove. This, if you're on the ground. As for your cot program I'm not sure what the safe distance is. Hmmm. This may further indicate an 8 man in your case.

OK, let's move up to a 4 man tipi for two men. This is a very viable, and popular option. Except for the very cramped standing room (or non-room if you're much over six feet). Nevertheless, it is a very roomy tent for two men and a ton of gear and you CAN get a lot higher toward "standing" and moving around than you can in a Para. For what it gives back it is remarkably lightweight. For two guys this is a very versatile option, anywhere, anytime, you're bullet-proof.

We come now to the new 6 man tipi, in this case with two occupants. And we have arrived at true stand-up room for BOTH of our six-footer occupants. Even three, I think. There's even room to walk around a little. Behind and alongside whichever stove is parked in there, and it can be any of them that we make. Griz, if I remember correctly how far that cot was standing away from the stove when we placed it in there at the Elk Foundation Convention I'd say about a foot. I could walk between it and the stove easily enough, but now I'm not sure what to say about prolonged exposure to the stove of the thing at that distance, AT THAT HEIGHT. I know that a foot is plenty far away from the stove at ground level, but I do not have any experience with a cot at fifteen inches off the floor (or whatever they are). The top of the stove is about 14 inches off the floor. Assuming the thickness of a man laying on his side is at least that, and that I've lain even closer than that many times I'd have to conclude you're probably OK. So there. We've rambled along here, taking things into account as I think of them, and it looks like we've resolved that one.

I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to head out with a companion and carry this 6 man tipi anywhere. For two it's still a great weight-to-performance ratio. Considering that stand-up factor, how long you may be in the tent, and so forth I would even be tempted to take it over the 4 man. I can't believe I just said that, as I've spent lots of time in my beloved 4 man. But boy, being able to stand up and actually stretch is mighty appealing.

As for the 8 man tipi with two men it is very doable because I've done it several times. And it is wonderful to have all that room for REALLY walking around. Several feet apart from each other! It's hard to quantify how satisfying that is if you're tent-bound. Generally, it's hard to quantify a lot of these options, and I know that. But I need to lay them out for you, as I've said. Always there's the balancing between the space/comfort aspect and the weight you carry to get on location. I can even say that 2 men can make a go of toting a 12 man into the outback. If they are fit enough to hunt elk afoot they are genuinely fit enough to do it. I think I'd only go for this scenario, though, if it were a base camp. Which is fine indeed, because both men can spread out as if in a palace.

---Scenario #3- 3-4 MEN- With the stove inside, I'd say 3 mountaineer types can do well in a 4 man tipi. Two if wall tent veterans.

Three men will thrive in a 6 man tipi, and I do think four will do well due to the configuration I've given it. But the mountaineering/wall tent background may rule it down to three for the wall tent fellows. We'll see as the feedback comes in. Since you, Griz, are trying to decide which tent to go with, let me say here, before I forget, that a whole bunch of our tipi customers own more than one tipi. We even work with quite a few of them on providing different stovepipe lengths for the various tipis they own so that they can use one or two stoves in two or three tents. Perhaps what I'm getting at here is that if you get into these shelters at the point that looks the most "all-around" for your needs you may find yourself back for another one that is more "perfect" for other kinds of trips the whole tipi experience leads you to want to try. It's very much like the situation you almost certainly enjoy with rifles--you don't own just one, right? These tents are a lot like that. You may very well get to where you don't leave home without one. Or the "other" one for a different sort of trip. Anyway, it's hard to really make a "mistake" with these things.

---Scenario #4- MORE THAN 4 MEN- Five or 6 guys from the mountaineering tent world can do well in an 8 man tipi, probably 4 if wall tenters. Eight or nine fellows in a twelve vs. six, same background breakout.

OK, we've covered tents pretty well. My watch tells me I'd better get ready for a Birthday Party we're giving my Grandson. So let's do this: I'll come back later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, and we'll get into the packs. See you then!

Hello all--

I'm ready to resume this verbal Ramble on which tipis and packs I use, and how. looking at the intervening posts from last evening when I left off, it appears we're not finished with tipis/stoves after all. So I'll continue with them first, then move to packs.

I did indeed short-change the issue of small or Para stove in the Paratipi--I reckon I was pushing along too fast in order to make it to that B-day party. So, dan b, I'll speak at more length to that. The ParaStove will warm the ParaTipi clear down to about zero. But at that point it takes more management than the small stove; because it is so small feeding/emptying is oftener, etc. And the cooking surface is very small, demanding specialized pots if you're to use two. Not to worry, several of us here on the Board are doing just fine with pots from Snow Peak and other manufacturers, so it's very doable. In fact, your scenario of using the ParaStove and ParaTipi most of the time is very viable, and I'd say go for it! I remember using that combo in BC sheep hunting. The temps at night dropped to 15 belowF and I truly did wish for the small stove. Yes, it was still waaay better than no heat at all! Which you very aptly point out.

Still "filling in" on tipis.... Griz, I am astonished you are a one rifle man. You must be the only guy here in that category. Let me hasten to say I think that is laudable--"beware the man with one gun", and etc. Sorry to hear you're not backpack hunting anymore! After acquiring a tipi or two and selecting another pack (which we'll get to next) I'm betting you re-consider that. Speaking to your comments in your post of last evening, I'll say that I concur with your choices and wish you good fortune with them. You have everything wired! Yes, you can use the med. stove in that ParaTipi, you'll probably just want to throttle it down a bit and/or ventilate the tent in order to spill heat.

I'm ticking these overnight posts off one-by-one as we continue with tipis as our topic. There will probably be some that I'll miss whilst doing this! Which, Dan, points to the fact that this narrative, with "interuptions" is going to be difficult to convert to an Official Essay over on the Official Essay section of the website. Yet this "conversational" format developing here is mighty effective at getting to the whole point of answering Griz's great original question. The information flow is happening wonderfully. So. Any ideas? Maybe Maggie can somehow "link" to this thread over here where we are? If so, where, what and how does she "pick" the most relevant "parts". Like I said, the mechanics of laying all this out so that the maximum number of puzzled folks can get at it is difficult, eh? But thanks for the observation--you are very correct that it's useful as all get-out.

Rugerman, I'm happy you've picked up enough info reading this ramble between me and these guys to make your selection! It's working already!

OK, a few more observations about our tipis that occurred to me overnight and then off to talk about packs. Let's see, oh yes, stovewood. I think NY Jim has spoken to this. One of the reasons I never did get to total occupancies that match our published sizes in last evenings' talk is because I seem to always have a bunch of stovewood inside the tent. The tents were actually designed to accomodate this effectively; it's one reason they are ovals instead of round--so you can stack firewood at the doors without impinging on living space. Of course one reason for bringing it inside is to dry it out. Or to keep it dry in case it rains/snows. I've also found that I drag whole branches and trunks inside, then reduce them for the stove as I get around to it! Don't laugh, you'll love this routine if you ever start doing it! There's no reason not to do it-- the earth is your floor so there's nothing stopping you there, you can break/saw/chop just enough wood to get things warmed up and supper underway and deal with the rest of the evenings' wood supply on an as-needed basis. I suppose all of this is why I've never toted a tarp to cover an outside wood supply. Maybe it's some sort of neurosis--gotta have all that kinetic warmth all around me so's I can see it! Whatever, it takes up room and that's why I never reach the "full potential" of occupancy in my tipis.

Lastly, I need to say something to convey how important my heated tents are to me in the grand scheme of my Rambles. Here are my Basic Items for any Ramble: Tipi/Stove/Firestarter; firearm; pack; boots; clothing. They are ALL pretty much equal. And if I had to whittle, the firearm and most of the clothes could go.

---PACKS- I think I'll address the packs by starting at our smallest and moving up by size.

DayStalker- The unvarnished fact is that I very rarely use this one. I routinely carry an extensive array of "possibles" (see Essay) that, along with trip-specific items, is just too much "stuff" for the DayStalker. Actually, not so. But remember that I like some wiggle room. Never can tell--I might be bringing back a trio of grouse! The DayStalker nevertheless has a devoted following among our customers, and is a great pack if it suits your style.

Spike Camp- Except for elk hunting and backpacking my Spike is ALWAYS with me. It has been my knock-around, day hike pack for years and years. Before I invented it I carried a Mountainsmith Bugaboo in the same role. I've carried lots and lots of small game, and day-hunted deer and elk in and on that pack. It does it all.

Well, not really all. If I'm packing in to hunt big game it's been the Long Hunter, in either Standard size or Guide size--depending on length of trip. (And if I had to choose only one size LH it would be the Guide--more wiggle room).

Late Season- If I'm just plain old Rambling, out of Big Game season, and it's summertime, I really enjoy the Late Season. My ParaTipi/small stove set-up fits it fine. It is wonderfully comfortable, lighter than my Long Hunter, and will hold all the stuff I need. And it comes into it's own as a hunting pack if I'm day-tripping for big game late in the season. The name for the pack was so obvious I didn't even attempt to come up with something catchier. It will fly with me, just like my Spike. It will carry very, very comfortably even more "stuff". Nah, I won't let it replace my Spike--I'm too attached to the old fellow--but maybe you can see what I'm getting at. The LS is a very useful backpack.

Siwash- The Siwash is probably the most esoteric, most "niche" pack I've designed since the old BackBowl and Glade packs from my Mountainsmith days. I will have to stretch to explain it. It's a little-big pack that is at home wherever things get "technical"--steep, remote, gnarly--and you own the right compact gear to match up with it's special virtues. Experienced backcountry skiers/ramblers "see" this pretty quick. I think our own Ed T pounced on one right away. These same guys are using the Siwash for their sheep/goat hunting adventures. They have the right gear for it, and are accustomed to using that niche kind of pack in that niche kind of way. I said little-big pack above. The "little" part means that the pack gets used very, very often as a day pack for very long, fast, day-trip outings in questionable (like winter) or downright awful weather, in gnarly country, and one really needs to think about the possibility of bivouac. And carry the requisite gear. In it's niche, the Siwash is a very versatile pack, and very capable of carrying immense weight comfortably. I wish I had "discovered" it's suspension system way back when I was scorching the winter high country with a Glade on my back. As said, very versatile.

Long Hunter- But not as versatile as this one. The Long Hunter can do it all--from day-tripping to Expeditioning. If I'm elk hunting, even if just a quick day-trip from the truck, the LH is on my back. (If it's antelope or deer my Spike or LateSeason will likely get the nod). The LH will assume any variety of configurations for any task. And it will compress to near-nothing and slither with you anyplace you'll fit. There's nothing quite like it anywhere and if I were limited to just one Kifaru pack it would be this one. If I could own two they would be the LH and my SpikeCamp (tho that LateSeason is looking very tasty). The LH and the SC were the first Kifaru packs I designed because they were, to me, the most useful in meeting my needs. They're sort of my .308 and .358 if you catch my metaphor. But, just as I own other rifle calibers, I use and love the other packs when their niche is needful.

I certainly use my packs in their Complete mode--all the "most useful" accessories are always with me. I designed 'em to solve problems for me and the problems haven't gone away.

Hey! I may be done here! I hope you can dig something out from all this wandering. Again Griz, thanks for asking that question. This Ramble needed to be done methinks. I realize now that Kifaru offers an abundance of options for filling needs. That's probably not a great business approach--too many Stocking Units to build and keep up with, etc. I don't care. This is what we do. And I'm the first to benefit from this gear. My customers suffer only from too many choices, I guess. Let's hope this Ramble will help them decide.