1 Pack. 12 months. 12 hunters

This amazing project was concocted by our own Steve Opat of Alaskan Odysseys Podcast. He brought the idea to Joe and I, and together we refined the idea that has taken on a life of it's own.

Here's Steve to talk more about it.

"Maybe you've seen some of the initial postings about "The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pack" (maybe not) and wondered what we were yammering about. Well, Dennis and I sat down the other day and recorded a talk about it so now you can check it out by listening to my Alaskan Odysseys Podcast.

      If you need more of gist regarding the concept, you can watch the inspirational movie "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants", but I think Dennis would suggest that you just find the Cliff Notes about it instead of watching the full movie because, well... it's hunting season and we have higher priority tasks to complete."

Here's the scoop on the 'Brotherhood of the Traveling Pack':

For the next year, one IA4k pack will be traveling the country (and hopefully the world) to spend a month with 12 lucky hunters. These men will come in all shapes, sizes, and experience levels. Along the way, these fine folks will document their experience with the pack. All this should serve to demonstrate how versatile the Initial Ascent system is and allow us to enjoy the stories and experiences from these adventures. Along the way, we'll all be following these Rules of Engagement:

1. Document your hunt adventure in the provided journal

2. In the journal, list your favorite feature of the IA pack system

3. Capture pictures/content of your hunt with the IA pack

4. Write a personal note in the journal to the person to whom you send the pack

5. Take a selfie with the Mountain Dude atop the highest peak on your hunt.

6. Send some useful with the pack to the next person

7. Using a sharpie marker, write your name, first species harvested, and the state you were in; on the inside of the pack.

8. Wash the pack and accessories before shipping to the next person

"We're hoping this pack can travel the world this year. If you have a big or important adventure planned in the months ahead, reach out to myself or Dennis and let us know that you're interested in being a part of the Brotherhood and hosting the pack. DM on IG or FaceBook @AlaskanOdysseys, @initialascent or send an email to [email protected] Dennis and I will work with the current host to pick the next one and most Fridays, we'll be sharing a post about the adventures of the pack and its hosts.

(Ladies, we're scheming something for you as well, so follow along!)"

The Journey Begins

After lots of planning and discussion between Steve, Joe, and myself, the journey of The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pack began at Initial Ascent HQ in Middleton, Idaho in mid-August 2020. After carefully putting it together by hand, inspecting it for quality assurance, pre-fitting, and packaging, it was on it's way to the first destination and adventure, Alaska.

BrotherhoodPackBoxed

It was then shipped out to Steve Opat (@alaskanodysses) up in Alaska for the first leg of this 12-month journey. Steve and his buddy, Todd Bumgardner (@BumTodd) from the @HumanPredatorPackMule Podcast, decided to use the pack to chase Caribou.

Back to you Steve!

"This was very much a "Brotherhood" hunt for me. I had assembled a group of people with whom I had met through my network of outdoor industry friends. These are the kind of people you meet and realize right away that you're great buddies with them.  I knew we needed to get together and just hunt/camp to solidify that fact.

Todd Bumgardner @HumanPredatorPackmule came in from Virginia and @GoodTimeCharlieCharters came up from Florida. Charlie knew that he would be selfish to come alone, so he brought along his fiance Chelsey and also his good buddy Steve.

I knew this would change the dynamic of the hunt from my normal style where I pack light, travel fast, and chase down giants. The right mindset was now: relax, have fun, and help other people discover how grande Alaska is - get them hooked. And also, along the way, help them all harvest a caribou. All this made for a perfect scenario for this pack; the pack that can fit anybody and haul anything. 

It was really fun to field the barrage of questions ahead of this hunt. Each of the people joining came from a different background and level of experience. What was even more fun was how each person said, "This is not rocket surgery. We've done hard shit before. We can learn. We can handle this." They all engaged in the planning, asked whatever questions they had - even if they thought I may think it was "stupid". They all listened. They all prepared with diligence. 

 

Through the early phases of the trip, there was a lot of "You don't know the things you don't know until you get there and start doing the thing" but, as a result of good preparation, obstacles became minor and we were able to overcome them all. Everybody went home with a bull. Charlie harvested his on the last evening of the last day. He and Todd had spent the full afternoon stalking that bull. As well worked together to cut and pack that bull, the concept of "Brotherhood" shone through. I look forward to our next adventure. But also, I look forward to spending more time solidifying friendships by helping people accomplish goals in the backcountry."

 

 

What useful item did Steve add to the pack for the next user?

"I added a velcro patch to the bottom pocket of the pack. That way, each user can velcro on patch of importance to them and give the brotherhood pack their personal touch." (shown above)

What did Steve love about this pack?

"There's a point where you need to let people experience things for themselves. And there's a point where extending help is essential - we had reached that point." Steve Opat

"What I love about this pack is that it only takes a few seconds to adjust the straps and make it fit anybody. Three different people used it to pack out a bull on this trip because it was easy to say "Here. Use this pack. It will carry weight better."

 

Here's a good story of how a pack that is quickly adjusted/assembled is invaluable to making a trip successful (both in harvesting an animal, and in actually enjoying the experience of doing so):

 

On Day 4,Todd and I harvested a bull. It was the first animal to go in the "Brotherhood Pack". He and I split the small bull between two packs and easily packed it the 1.5 miles back to camp. When we reached the tent, we had officially eclipsed 10 miles of tundra stompin' for the day. We were tired, but had prepared, had paced ourselves, and still had some legs left. We knew the other three had harvested two bulls that day. Steve is a physical specimen. He had packed his bull back to camp alone. It was the first meat ruck trip he had EVER done and his response to it was, "It was hard. But it wasn't as hard as skinning up a mountain all day while mountaineering."  (Hunters, eat your shorts out.) Steve felt that Charley and Chelsey shouldn't be too far behind him. Further, he knew them well enough to say, "Also, they will appreciate accomplishing the task with just the two of them." 

So Todd and I settled into camp to rest our feet and start celebrating. But after an hour, we still couldn't see the two love birds on the horizon. We could see the sea fog starting to roll in and knew we had about 20 minutes of any visibility left. There's a point where you need to let people experience things for themselves. And there's a point where extending help is essential - we had reached that point.

I slid on my token Vivo Barefoots, shouldered my empty "Brotherhood" pack, grabbed my trek poles and started my patented - and oh-so-graceful - jog across the tundra. 

I intercepted Charlie and Chelsey about a half mile from camp. They. Were. Gassed!! 

Chivalry is not dead in Charlie's world. He had done A LOT of work that day to take care of his team. As much of a beast as he is, the tundra had taken its toll through the day. He looked half-dead and could barely talk. My experience took over and our great gear shined. 

I shoved a bottle of water in his right hand and some Heather's Choice Packaroons in his left hand and said, "Down these. It's not negotiable." 

While he and Chelsey were re-fueling and telling the story of their epic day, I started re-distributing the weight of the packs. As a reward to their successful day, I transitioned a hefty portion of weight into my pack. In less than a minute I had clipped eight buckles and cinched eight straps to secure half their bull in my pack. 

Clip. Clip. Clip. Cinch. Cinch. Cinch. In another minute, Charlie's IA pack was reloaded. I'd reward Chelsey on her first bull by just carrying her pack on my front for a while.

 

Knowing where they were, and now replenished, the three of us only needed those few minutes of rest before we started back to camp. The fog was so thick you could chew it but we found our way straight home because Todd and Steve stayed behind to hang a beacon light from the top of the tent. They also did the critical jobs of making a hot fire and food. Charlie and Chelsey arrived to someone to help them take their packs off, warm quarters, and hot chow.  More importantly, the entire team was back together for a night of tenderloins, tall tales, and big lies."

Once this hunt was complete, Steve decided he would send the pack on to our good friend Johnny Mack of The Soulful Hunter Podcast in Washington for the month of September. As stated in the Rules of Engagement, Steve wrote Johnny the following note before sending the pack:

"Dear Johnny,
        This pack will take care of you if you love it and treat it like of member of your tribe or family. 
Look for the magic: Keep your head clear, you lungs full of fresh air, some 80's rock playing in the background, and your legs pumping; and the magic will lead you to success.
Good luck on your elk hunt and all the soulful hunts in your future!!

Happy Hunting,
Steve Opat"

The Journey Continues- Washington in September

In September, The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pack continued on to the state of Washington in the eager hands of our friend Johnny Mack.

As you may or may not know, Johnny Mack is the host of The Soulful Hunter Podcast and founder of Washington Backcountry, an organization focused on hunter recruitment and mentorship. Founded upon the idea of "Mentorship is Conservation" and that hunting has the power to transform lives through primal adventure.

When Johnny is not hunting, he is a middle school physical education and health teacher. He is a husband and father to three young boys (5, 3, &1).

Johnny is using the "Brotherhood Pack" for a backcountry deer and bear hunt in the heart of the Cascade Mountains in the state of Washington.

JMack1

Things got going immediately for Johnny. When he received the pack, he fitted it to his body, packed his gear, and took off in search of a buck that he'd seen earlier in the month while scouting for elk.

He sent me the following text:

"Toughest hunt I've ever been on. Never even made it up the mountain for that buck. So we threw a plan together quickly and hiked further in. Rain and fog the entire time. The paper with the face (Mtn Dude) got ruined (sorry, gonna need a new one to ship with the pack.)
On the last morning finally something popped out at 65 yds."

Johnny's Hunt:

"I got beat down by the mountain like never before. Battling smoke, fog and relentless rain it was one of the toughest hunts I’ve ever been on.  The morning after the storm let up, the magic finally happened, as a black bear stepped out at 65 yards. A decisive shot to the heart and a death moan later, it was all over."

What did Johnny love about the pack?

"Packing out heavy, I was blown away at how comfortable the IA4k was. I’ve always had major pain and pinching in my spine and in between my shoulder blades, and after a 7 mile pack out, I felt great. The feature I loved the most on the pack was the huge lumbar pad and how it helped the pack ride on my body."

What item did Johnny leave with the pack?

"The item that I left to travel with the pack is something I always bring with me on all my hunts, and that is a small American flag. The flag represents freedom, along with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All things that we pursue in the wild on our journeys. I fly it proudly at camp and use the hashtag #patriotsinthewild."

Where is Johnny sending the pack for October?

"For the month of October the Traveling Pack is heading south to the state of Oregon to Christian Armstrong for a blacktail deer hunt."

Note to Christian:

"Christian,
May the wind always be in your favor and the sun upon your face. May you stay humble and reflective on your pursuit and be blessed on your journey. As Steve said to me, if you treat this pack like a part of your tribe, it will take care of you. Aim small miss small brother. And as always, freedom on and stay soulful!

Johnny Mack"

The Journey Continues- Oregon in October

Meet Christian.

"Hello everybody,
My name is Christian, but most know and refer to me as “Rev”. I was honored to be chosen as a candidate to operate in the project of the traveling pack, by my good friend Johnny Mack. I am an avid hunter and outdoorsman, born and raised in the state of Oregon. I am an Army veteran, and currently a Journeyman Electrician. The story of my fatherhood and the journey it’s taken me on, has bonded me with some outstanding people within the hunting community, and I am privileged to now call many of them friends.

During my segment of ownership, I will be hunting my home state of Oregon with a general season rifle buck tag on the western side of the state in the Cascade range. I have chased many blacktails during late archery season, and decided to shift my hand to a rifle tag this year to hopefully increase my odds and opportunity at harvesting my first true blacktail buck. The season opened October 3rd and will run through October 16th, with an intermittent break before returning for the second segment between October 24th and November 6th.

I am excited to be a part of a creative opportunity to get involved with the hunting community, and a great company that I have grown to respect and appreciate greatly over the last year. First impressions of the pack are strong, and I am excited to see how it performs in the field, hopefully utilizing the load shelf. Throughout my time of possession I will document aspects of the hunt, unique experiences, as well as thoughts on pack performance for the next candidate to review, and expand upon.

I will check in weekly to give updates on the hunt, and you can tune into my Instagram feed for more insight @rev.Armstrong

- Rev"

October 13, 2020

Steve Opat took a little time to get to know Christian as well. Here's what Steve sent me today:

"I am one of those people you might know who has a brain that doesn't ever shut off and a hard time sleeping as a result of it. Next to this computer is a notebook with a bajillion ideas, all of which are probably taking time away from one or two truly great ideas. But somewhere amidst all that insomnia and idea chaos, came this idea of the Brotherhood of the Traveling Pack. When I pitched it to Dennis, he said, "I love it. But can you take the lead on this?" And, (admittedly reluctant on account of all those other great ideas I have percolating) I said "yes".

Yesterday, I finally got caught up on my priorities enough to really start giving this project energy. I made 10 minutes to talk to the current host Christian Armstrong. As a result, I am more aware of the fruits that this project can bring to us all and why it was important that we give this project effort. It's enchanting to speak with a man who can talk with you as a brother or best friend after only exchanging introductions. It's humbling to hear him speak about the challenges of trying to maintain an identity as a male role model at a time when he's been furloughed due to a pandemic. Also, it's motivating to meet somebody who does it with Grace. 

When Christian told me that he has four boys at home and another on the way, I immediately laughed to myself at the amount of wrestling that must occur in the house. I can only imagine the number of cuts and bruises that occur in the Armstrong home. But a man that can raise a large family and still find time to hunt is a man that understands how to manage his resources and act in line with his values. I knew we could all learn from his opinions and experiences with the pack.

Christian and I share a commonality: We have both experimented with just about every pack maker in the country and have a "Like but not Love" relationship with them all. His comment about the IA packs were genuine, "That's what drew me to this pack. I want a 'go to work' setup. Minimalist. I want a pack that helps me hunt instead of one where I'm constantly organizing my gear."

We had a conversation about how we've each learned that "If a feature isn't quick to deploy, you won't use it." This mostly pertains to being able to use quick clips to cinch in your gear or switch bags as opposed to straps that you have to weave in&out. 

His first test with every new pack is the "80-pound sandbag test". I told him I was confident he would appreciate how wide the frame is compared to his previous packs. That expanded base allows us to keep a load flat and the weight close to our core. When considered along with the eight easy to use attachment points of the panier, I was confident the IA pack would impress him during its trial run.

"I've never thought about how much a difference a wider pack would create. That makes perfect sense" He replied (*something similar to that. It was not a recorded conversation). 

 

Christian replied later the next day that the Brotherhood Pack excelled during his test. 

And now, he's out in the Oregon backcountry trying to harvest his first true Blacktail deer. 

When he's back, he'll share about his experience with the IA system and pass on some new found or confirmed wisdom. He loves the Brotherhood of the Traveling pack because he's eager to help us all shorten our learning curve and create better experiences in the outdoors. Those great experiences turn into lessons that we can teach our kids, our buddies, our significant others, or just other like-minded people who follow the Brotherhood project. That call to serve is truly why this project is worth His, and Mine, and Dennis, and Joe's time. That's why 12 of us will be taking the pack on a Journey. And that's why we hope you'll follow along and participate. 

Happy Hunting

Steve Opat"

October 29, 2020

"Hey man, Just checking in and letting you know I'm gonna be shipping the pack off soon I think. I really don't have any time to hunt with my move coming up, and with everything going on I don't think I'll get back out before we leave. Didn't get to do much for the project but it was fun getting to get the pack in hand to check it out. Able to give some pretty solid comparisons and feedback on it from the little bit of time I've had with it..."

This was the message Christian sent me last week. As I type it now, it makes me laugh. It also humbles me and helps me acknowledge that maybe I cast this project in the wrong light.

Why does it make me laugh? Well, because (in the the same paragraph) a person claims that they "didn't get to do much for the project" but  is also "able to give some pretty solid comparison and feedback". I hope this post can help Christain feel happy that constructive feedback is an amazing - and all-to-rare - gift. Further; that with his breadth of experience in all things related to hunting packs, any insight from him is invaluable. I believe that a guy like Christian having the pack for an afternoon hunt may provide as much insight as the same pack in the hands of a novice for a month full season. If you think you have a keen eye for a good pack, send us a message and let us send you the pack for month. It doesn't matter how sexy your hunt is. (that pack could hold a limit of pheasants AND a limit of rabbits.)

Ultimately, this project is not about grip'n grins, horn porn and sexy content. It's actually about helping our tribe. And in this year of the COVIDs, a year where a guy like Christian doesn't get much time recharge in the woods because he must teach kids/cook lunches/relocate his family/etc, a little help from our friends goes a long way. I'm going to take some more time this weekend to reflect on that. And I have an idea for you...

If you really want to help your tribe, your community, your family, etc., spend the weekend preparing to be an AWESOME Voter! In essence, do as Christian did by choosing not to go hunting: act in line with your values.

Study your values, examine every candidate as an individual and not as a party, and courageously vote for a leader that can take the best care of your people, our country, and this Earth! 

Here's my improved tagline:

Take care of each other. Take care of the Earth. Happy Hunting,

Steve

and also Dennis, Joe, Johnny, Christian, and the IA Team.

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