Gear Review: Osprey Aether 70

The Osprey Aether 70 has been my go-to pack for a number of years now, and for the entire time I’ve owned it I wish I had never bought it. That’s not to say it’s a bad pack but there are a few features on this pack that are either poorly designed or essentially missing entirely that make me hate this pack.

Let’s start with the good. LIke all Ospreay packs the Aether is backed by Osprey’s “All Mighty Guarantee,” a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty that will replace or repair any pack for any reasons, even if the damage is a direct result of neglect or abuse. While a lifetime warranty is pretty standard on this kind of equipment, not too many companies will repair or replace a product for free if its been neglected or abused; many warranties only cover manufacturer and material defects. Additionally the Aether comes in 3 packs sizes, 60L, 70L, and 85L, and each size comes in 4 different harness sizes, essentially ensuring that each person will have a pack that fits them just right, no matter how big or small they are. The one thing I will caution you about here are the waist belts. Like so many other waist belts, the ones on the Aether are meant to be a pretty “one size fits all” belt, which is fine if you have a bigger waist, but if you have a smaller waist you may find that there simply isn’t enough adjustment room in the belt to get it tight. I also like the simple, no-frills design of the Aether. My biggest pet peeve with packs is when they have too many pockets, and when that is the case I always end up taking along way more stuff than I need just to fill the pockets. The Aether is one of the few packs I’ve owned that I would consider perfect in the pocket department. In has a very generously sized pocket in the lid that fits all of my small essentials, one large, main compartment with a divider for a sleeping bag compartment, 2 water bottle pockets, one stretch mesh pocket on the front, 2 zip pockets on the waist belt, and a pocket in between the pack and padding for a hydration bladder. I find that with this pocket setup I have enough room for everything and enough pockets to keep it all organised, but not so many pockets that i feel overwhelmed by them and don’t use them. The Aether also has ample compression straps to keep your gear tight, lashing points on the lid, 2 excellent bedroll straps that will easily accommodate a good sized tent, dual ice axe loops, a spot to lash trekking poles to, and the lid can even be removed entirely and be used as a lumbar pack with the included waist straps stored on the underside of the lid.

While the Aether definitely has a lot of good things about it, I feel that the small things I don’t like about it far outweigh the good. The 2 things I dislike about this pack the most are the water bottle pockets (honestly they don’t even deserve to be called pockets) and the front stretch mesh pocket. My biggest beef with the water bottle pockets is how tight they are once the main bag is filled with gear. They are pretty hard to get a 750 mL Camelbak bottle into, and once you do it make it almost completely inaccessible with the pack on. If you do manage to get a bottle out of it, good luck getting it back in. While the pockets do have a way to put bottles in that point them towards you, I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting large bottles in that way because it’s just not a very secure way to hold them. This not enough room once the pack is filled problem is also shared by the front stretch mesh pocket. On a good day I can get my rain gear in there with the pack empty, but once it’s full, good luck. You’d be hard pressed to get any appreciable amount of gear in that pocket, let alone stuff like lots of wet clothes or a good sized tent rain fly. This kind of problem is certainly not unique to Osprey or the Aether and it is a problem that affects essentially every pack I own. I also hate the ice axe loops. To be honest I wish manufacturers would stop putting them on altogether or at least make them bigger or removable. What I’d really like out of them is for them to be bigger so you could strap a real axe to your pack. As is they sit unused for me and just a hair too small for a real axe to fit.

All in all the Aether is a great pack that I’m sure most people would love. There’s lots of sizing options to make sure everyone will have a pack that fits and its got enough features to keep it competitive with similarly priced bags. Its no-questions-asked warranty is also a huge plus. Despite all of the good things about it, there are just enough things I dislike about it that will keep me from loving it.

Backpacking trip: Eagle Lake, AB

I’d like to tell you about a great, little backpacking trip I’ve gone on a couple of times, and its admittedly the only real backpacking trip I’ve ever been on (unless you count a failed on Alone the James River west of Sundre where we only managed to be about 100 yards off the highway a backpacking trip). Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly easy hike in some nice country and there’s plenty to do once you get there. This definitely isn’t for the hardcore hikers or backpackers out there, but if you’re a first timer or just looking for an easy to get to spot for a quick weekend trip, it’s not too bad.

Eagle lake is a pretty small lake nestled right in between 2 mountains (one of them being Maze Peak) just a few km east of the Ya Ha Tinda. The hike in to the lake from the parking lot (it’s on the right hand side of the road on the way out to the Ya Ha Tinda) is about 2.5 km and is an incredibly easy hike. There’s not a lot of challenging terrain or elevation gain, but there is one small creek crossing and if memory serves me correct there may be a few spots of water to dodge just before getting to the lake, so be ready to skirt around this stuff or make sure you have waterproof boots.

Once you get to the lake there is ample room to set up even the largest of tents and there is plenty to do. One can fish for trout in the lake, make you way to the falls at the east end of the lake, or for the more adventurous, you could go on a bit of a hike into the mountains surrounding the lake. Be aware that there is a very good chance you’ll run into people up there. The area is popular with ATV riders and a local horse ranch so if the weather’s nice it could be a little busy. I’d suggest setting camp up a little ways back from the lake if you want a little more privacy. There’s plenty of dead fall for firewood, so make sure to bring an axe or a small saw, and don’t worry about water, because there’s plenty. besides the lake there’s a nice, fast-flowing stream feeding into the lake on its northwest corner that will provide all the water you could possible need.

All in all Eagle Lake will continue to be one of my favorite places to hike into and camp for a weekend. yes, it isn’t a particularly exciting hike or a very challenging one, but what it lacks in excitement on the way in it more than makes up for in beautiful scenery and things to do once you’re there. It’s a great introduction to backpacking for kids or beginners, but the drive to it may make some shy away if they’re looking for a really quick trip; expect the drive to be 3 to 4 hours from Calgary depending on traffic and weather conditions.

Directions from Sundre, AB: Drive west out of Sundre on Highway 584 and turn south onto the Coal Camp Road. Continue following the Coal Camp Road until it ends at Highway 40/734, the Forestry Trunk Road. Turn left onto the Forestry Trunk Road and follow it until you reach the Red Deer River crossing. At this point DO NOT cross river, but continue heading straight, following the river out to the Ya Ha Tinda ranch. The parking lot will be on the right hand side of the road just as you are coming out of the trees.

 

Gear Review: Hilleberg Kaitum 2

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of insanely expensive tents, Hilleberg, a Swedish company, has been making absolutely bombproof tents since 1971. They have earned a stellar reputation and have been used in some of the most inhospitable environments in the world, from the Arctic to Antarctica. For the last few years their Kaitum 2 has been my go-to tent and they will be the only brand of tent that I will ever buy.

The Kaitum 2 is part of Hilleberg’s Red Label line of tents, which are designed to be 4 season tents that can stand up to the most demanding conditions, surpassed by their truly bombproof Black Label tents. It’s an incredibly spacious and luxurious 2 person tent that features dual vestibules and entrances, 39″ of headroom and 3 m² of livable space. Weighing in at 6 lbs. 13 oz. it’s very manageable for 2 person trips and can easily be carried along for solo trips if you want or need the extra room, although many would complain about its weight (I don’t; if you can’t handle an extra 3 lbs. backpacking probably isn’t the sport for you).

I have used this tent on for trips now for a total of probably 20 or so nights and have used in in conditions ranging from 5°C nights in the summer to well below freezing nights during November. The only conditions I haven’t used it in are particular bad conditions such as heavy rain, snow, and stiff winds.

The primary reason for me upgrading to a Hilleberg was due to the condensation buildup I experienced in my previous tent, a single wall North Face with inadequate ventilation options that gathered condensation in it like there was no tomorrow. Unlike the North face the Kaitum 2 is a double all design with the inner and outer tents linked together with loops and toggles, meaning the outer tent can be pitched alone without the inner, both can be pitched together at the same time which is great for when the weather is inclement, or you can buy an additional pole holder kit that allows you to pitch just the inner tent in conditions where precipitation isn’t an issue. Also unlike the North Face, the Kaitum 2 has plenty of ventilation options and in using it thus far I have never had a single drop of condensation in the inner tent, even when using it in sub-zero temperatures.

The Kaitum 2 has 3 different ventilation options on each end that can used separately or together. The first is a zip open vent on the outer tent above the vestibules. It can be open partially or open fully and rolled up and stored using loops and toggles. A generous overhang keeps the weather out. The next option is on the door of the inner tent, which features a zip open panel that reveals a no-see-um mesh door. Again, this panel can be partially opened or full opened, rolled up, and stored using loops and toggles. For ultimate ventilation the entire door assembly can be fully unzipped, rolled up, and stored using loops and toggles, leaving the entire end of the inner tent exposed. Due to the fact that the inner tent material is water resistant but not water proof, this method is not recommended unless precipitation isn’t in the forecast. The interior features are no slouch either. Each corner of the inner tent features a generously sized storage pocket and there is a clothesline running the length of the tent. You are protected from ground by a generously sized bathtub floor as well.

Pitching the Kaitum 2 is incredibly easy and it can be pitched fully using only 4 pegs, although I would never pitch this tent without pitching the guy lines as well. I do recommend pitching this tent before heading out with it your first time to get the hang of it. It can seem a bit overwhelming once you get all 3 poles in and it starts flopping around, but it’s very easy to get the hang of and you can get it up in no time at all.

The Kaitum 2 comes with some nice extras as well, including an extra pole section and repair sleeve, extra v pegs, and separate bags for the pegs, poles, and tent. What I will say about the pegs is that if you do a lot of camping in windy conditions or on hard ground I would recommend upgrading the pegs either to one of Hilleberg’s offering for tougher ground or to another brand (Easton is one that gets tossed around a lot).

All in all, despite the little amount of time I’ve spent in my tent, I really like and would not hesitate to get another Hilleberg tent (I plan on buying their one man Akto for solo backpack hunting soon) or any of their other products. The Kaitum 2 has been very good to me so far and has proved to be extremely comfortable for my friend and I who both end up bring way too much stuff along with us for the hike. It’s also worked great for hunting season where we drive in and set up base camp. There’s lots of room for a small duffel bag or gym bag inside and the ample amount of interior pockets allows me to easily keep essential gear stored and organized. I really do love this tent.

Gear Review: Nikon Monarch 3 3-12x42mm Side Focus Nikoplex

This has been the scope on my go-to Savage .270 Win. for quite a few years now. Granted, it hasn’t seen a lot of days in the field but what days it has seen have been pretty hard on it. As much as I try to be careful with my rifle when I’m out hunting in inevitably gets banged around and dropped a fair but.

Before I really begin here let me tell you right now this won’t be a “technical” review of the scope, meaning I won’t be going over glass and optical quality or low light performance or anything like that. Those are areas I know nothing about and to be honest you could probably put me in front of a $200 scope and a $2000 scope and I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything regarding the “technical” quality of the scopes.

This scope has served me well for the years I’ve had it, but it certainly does have its faults, and the faults I find make me say I probably won’t put another Monarch scope on any of my rifles ever again. The things I like about this scope are the turrets on this scope which feature a spring zero reset, meaning you can set your zero, pull up on the dials, move them back to zero, and snap them back into place. I also like the side focus which is easy to use and stays where you have it adjusted no matter what. The diopter adjustment on the rear of the scope is a great feature, especially for those of you who have to wear corrective lenses but don’t want to hunt with them on, but for me this is also the biggest weakness of this scope and the primary reason I won’t buy another one.

I have perfect 20/20 vision so having the diopter adjusted correctly means the adjustment rings doesn’t sit flush with the rear of the scope. While this is fine for the most part, the issue is when I carry my rifle with a pack (which is all the time) and the adjustment ring rubs up against my pack. If the rings gets twisted in (- diopter) so it’s flush with the scope it’s not a big deal as everything is still in focus but my eye relief is off a bit and it make shooting, especially with a pack on, a bit uncomfortable. If it gets twisted out (+ diopter), everything goes blurry, which is alright unless that happens and you don’t have time to adjust it before a shot, something that happened to me this year. I had a shot at a whitetail and had to dial back the magnification on my scope, which was made difficult by the tough to turn magnification ring, and I also had to twist the diopter adjustment back in because it had rubbed against my pack and twisted out and made everything blurry. Luckily for me I had time to do both and get off a shot, but the other 99 times I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that and I would miss a chance at a shot.

Beyond the diopter adjustment issue and the tough to turn magnification ring, I also find the finish on this scope to be not so great. I’ve really only taken this scope out hunting for 3 or 4 seasons for a total of 20 or 25 days and there’s already a pretty significant amount of finish wearing off where its rubbed up against my pack. That’s definitely not something I like to see on a $400 or so dollar scope.

All in all I’ve been pleased with the performance of this scope so far, but there’s some pretty big issues with it that make me not want to buy another one ever. The diopter adjustment is far too easy to turn and is easily messed up if you hunt with a pack, the magnification ring is pretty hard to turn at times, and the finish quality is just not up to snuff.

The fiasco that was: A recap of my 2016 Alberta hunting season

Well, to say that my 2016 hunting season was interesting would be an understatement. Having been away for university in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan since 2012, I have only managed to make it back for 1 hunting season, meaning this year was the first time I had been out since November of 2013. I was unprepared as usual and I was in the worst shape I have ever been in. The university lifestyle has not been kind to me: since starting school in 2012 I have been to the gym only a handful of times and I have put on a good 30 or 35 lbs and about 6″ on my waist.  What that meant for me was a rough season and having to go back to my generously sized, cheap as dirt fleece camo because my $1000 set of Sitka camo didn’t fit me anymore. Needless to say it was a rough November for me.

Things got off to a bad start well before the season even began. Things started going downhill with my dad somehow putting down the wrong WMU* for his antlered mule deer draw. He has friends who have a farm down near Foremost, Alberta and he somehow got it in his head that he was applying for a WMU that they had land in when in fact he didn’t. The only way for us to hunt for his mule deer was on a 30,000 or 40,000 acre ranch that allowed foot, bike, or horse day access only, and the thought of packing a deer out 10 or 15 miles didn’t sit well with either of us, so his tag went unfilled.

The fun in Foremost didn’t stop there, however. I managed to see and scare off the same 3 point whitetail buck not once, not twice, but 3 times in the same morning. We’ll blame that one on bond dry fields of stubble that are so loud you couldn’t sneak up on a deaf person and my lack of physical fitness. The last time I scared the buck off was with me getting within 50 yards of it, not seeing it, and scaring it because I was too exhausted to care enough to pay attention to what I was doing. Lesson learned.

Sadly, that wasn’t the worst part of our trip to Foremost. Things continued their downward spiral. On the afternoon of our second day of hunting, through a massive miscommunication between dad and I and horrendously poor timing on dad’s part, dad managed to scare off perhaps the nicest 4 point whitetail buck I’ve ever seen; a buck that I would have an easy 150 yard shot at had dad only shown up literally seconds later. Instead, dad took 2 standing shots at the buck from about 150 yards, missed both, and the buck was gone like the wind.

The rest of our trip was about as bad. Dad missed another standing shot at a nice buck, and of course we had to see a nice 4 point muley buck. Where would the fun in hunting be if you didn’t see big bucks you couldn’t shoot? And the worst part was this buck knew it. I first spotted him about 50 or 60 yards away with 6 or 7 does. I was tromping along making all kinds of noise and these deer just looked at me and casually walked off, knowing full well I couldn’t shoot any of them. But that’s how it always goes for us it seems.

Fast forward half a week later and we found ourselves just northwest of Sundre, Alberta on our 75 acres of swampy land for our annual Remembrance Day weekend hunt. This is the same hunt we’ve been doing in the same place for the last 9 or 10 years, and it’s something I’ve looked forwards to-until now. I found myself recovering from about a dozen blisters on my feet facing a 5 or 6 days of hunting on land that I knew was going to be miserable to hunt on. On property is surround by quite a few square miles of Crown land** that is primarily swamp mixed in with rolling hills and islands here and there. Normally it isn’t too bad to hunt in November because the swamps are all frozen or at least mostly frozen, but because of the unusually warm weather we experienced this November, there wasn’t a frozen swamp in sight and they were all filled with a lot more water than usual.

Normally walking on frozen or partly frozen swamps for me isn’t an issue because my boots, a pair of nearly decade old Irish Setter Elk Hunters with 1000g of Thinsulate and Gore-Tex lining, have enough waterproofing to keep them dry. This year was a little different. I had last worn my boots 2 or 3 years earlier and I hadn’t applied any leather treatment to them in years, so the leather was dry and ripe for absorbing and holding onto whatever water I stepped in. Needless to say that my feed didn’t stay dry, and after hunting season was done it was a good 2 weeks before my boots fully dried out. Problems were further compounded by my excessively baggy fleece pants which only served to soak up tons of nasty swamp water and add many extra pounds to my already stupidly heavy feet. It was a rough week.

What made the week even worse was that I was super exhausted from hunting by Foremost so I missed a LOT of opportunities to take a buck because I was too tired to pay attention. Yes, I could have shot a doe, but we always seem to try and hold out for a buck even though the chances of seeing a good, shootable buck where we hunt is slim to none. In previous years we’ve been lucky to see the tails of 1 or 2 bucks in 4 or 5 days of hunting. This year, however, was different. I managed to see 6 or 7 good bucks, but none of them were meant to be. They were either far too far away for me to feel comfortable taking a shot at them, or all I saw were their tails and antlers as they disappeared over a hill.

Finally I got so fed up with walking in water and holding out for a buck that I adopted a “if it moves, I shoot” policy, which ended up working out well for me. I managed to land a 60 yard shot at what I thought was a doe, but turned out to be a button buck. I was happy to have a deer down, but kind of sad that I’d shot such a small buck. Not that I care too much about antler size, but in an area that is road hunted a lot and that is getting quite popular, you never want to take out a young buck like that; one that hasn’t had a chance to reach its prime.

Despite having a disastrous year, there are many things I learned. Number one, I need to hit the gym and get back in shape. Not only will that help with hunting out at Sundre, but I’d like to start doing sheep and elk hunts out in the mountains in a year or 2 and if I tried doing that in the shape I’m in now I’m pretty sure I’d drop dead of a heart attack. Second, I learned that I need to take better care of my boots. After I got home I put 4 coats of leather treatment on them and I will never neglect them like I did. That being said, they performed great as usual. Over the decade or so I’ve had them I’ve put on hundreds of miles and they’re still in excellent shape. I’d never hesitate to buy another pair, and hopefully I won’t have to. Finally, I learned that I need a much better sleeping bag than I currently have. I took my North Face Elkhorn mummy bag that is rated to -18C with me (as I do every year) and I froze despite the fact that it only dropped to -8C or so overnight and I was in a canvas sleeping bag cover and was covered with a Mexican blanket. Both of my mummy bags have since been sold (I don’t know why I bought one let alone 2 mummy bags; I can’t stand them and they are unbelievably uncomfortable) and now I just need a job and money to get a new one.

All in all it was a weird year, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At least I can say I got a deer and that’s all that counts anyways.

*For the purposes of hunting Alberta is divided into various Wildlife Management Units, or WMUs for short. These WMUs dictate where you can hunt, what you can hunt, what type of license you need (i.e. a general tag versus a draw tag), and when the season opens and closes, as well as what days you can hunt (this only applies to a few areas, though).

**Crown land is government owned land that is fully accessible to the public.

Welcome to the blog!

I would like to welcome you to Canuck Outdoors and would like to sincerely thank you for stopping by. Let me tell you a little about the idea behind this blog. My name, for those of you interested, is Tristan Edwards. I am a 24 year old recent college grad who also happens to really love the outdoors, despite how little time I spend in them. I decided to start this blog as a way for people local to the Canadian Rockies to share their knowledge and insight into things to do, places to see, and gear to get or avoid when you’re heading out into the Rockies. Yes, there’s a plethora of websites and books and Podcasts and what have you that have beaten the subject of the Canadian Rockies to death, but I hope this blog will offer something unique and insightful that you may not find elsewhere. Maybe it will be a new place to go hiking or backpacking that’s way off the beaten trail and isn’t covered elsewhere because of it, or maybe it will just be the fact that it’s a blog written by people who have spent their lives living, eating, and breathing the Rockies. Oh, and don’t forget the wild stories of fun, and venture, and the odd misfortune you’ll be sure to hear about. Whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy your time here and we’d love to hear from you!

Tristan