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Book Excerpt: Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

Kings of the Yukon will be available on May 15th, 2018 in the us via Little, Brown. Enter to win a copy via: Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter now through 5/7 12pm cst.

In May of 2016, author Adam Weymouth reached out to us at Frost River about using a Campfire Tent on his upcoming epic paddle of the Yukon River. Over the course of four months, he’d be paddling 2,000 miles in search of King Salmon, and exploring the effects of their recent drop in number on the people of the region who depend upon them.

“A captivating, lyrical account of an epic voyage by canoe down the Yukon River.

The Yukon River is over 2,000 miles long, flowing northwest from Canada through the Yukon Territory and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of King salmon migrate the distance of this river to their spawning grounds, where they breed and die, in what is the longest salmon run in the world. For the communities that live along the Yukon, the fish have long been the lifeblood of the economy and local culture. But with the effects of climate change and a globalized economy, the health and numbers of the King salmon are in question, as is the fate of the communities that depend on them.”

In anticipation of the journey, Weymouth dutifully prepared for months, researching routes, and gear. “I’ve come across your Campfire tent,” he said, “after having read a couple of the Bill Mason books, and how much he praises it as the perfect tent for a long distance canoe trip. As a home for three months, and something that I’ll be living and writing in, I’d love to have the kind of comfort and protection that the Campfire would provide.”

We couldn’t think of a better mission for our tent, and we’re proud to have been a small part of such a voyage.

The resulting book, Kings of the Yukon, is now complete, and will be released on May 15th, 2018. It’s an enthralling journey down one of the mighty waterways of the north-country, and masterfully ties together the region, the people, the river, and the King Salmon. Read on for an excerpt from the upcoming book and to get a glimpse of life in the rugged northern wilds.

Cheers, Adam, job well done– Now let’s get to the good stuff!

***

The Tanana, the Yukon’s second biggest tributary, drains a watershed the size of Ireland. Where the two rivers meet the silt load becomes yet heavier, the water saws at the canoe. The day is hot, too hot for itself. It has been like this for close to a week now, and a wind is coming, and out over Fairbanks, way off east, the clouds are piling up. The skies are so huge that you can read the coming weather many hours before it arrives. It is the tail end of July, and people are already talking about the end of summer coming.

photo Adam Weymouth

We are more and more careful, as times goes on, to camp out on the islands. The salmon are in full spate, and as those that are spawned out begin to wash up in the tributaries, bears are making their way down to the Yukon from the hills where they have spent the early summer. We still see them only rarely, but they are forever in our minds. One sat in the shallows, the water up to its chin, cooling off as we paddled past.

It is now the tail end of the king run and only the stragglers remain. But now the summer chum are here, flowing east beneath our boat in their spawning colors of green and red, and next will come the pinks, and then the silvers, and then the sockeye, and then last the autumn chum. Most of the kings that have not been caught, or turned off the Yukon up the tributaries to breed, will be in Canada by now. Kings travel fifty miles a day; for us, going downriver, fifty miles is exceptional, and we’re still eating three meals a day.

Although that could be what slows us down. Half the boat is full of food. We bake bread and cook tagines, bulked up with wilted dandelions. In the mornings there are pancakes with wild raspberries, in the evenings there are fish chowders and elaborate stews of donated moose meat and of cabbage, cooked over the fire, rounded off with rhubarb crumbles. And then there is the salmon, which everyone wants to share, despite their smoke- houses being half empty this summer. When we stay with people they press it on us, and when we leave they fill our bags: with whole fish and filets, heads and bellies, smoked and half smoked, canned and dried. One afternoon a man pulls up alongside us in his skiff, hands us two Ziplocs stuffed with dried strips, to welcome us, he says, and races off down the river. We snack on it as we paddle, until we are so oily it becomes part of our odor, and in the evenings we roast it, grill it, fry it, or slice it thin for sushi. I do occasionally consider the ethics of investigating a fish’s decline while stuffing my face with it. It is in these moments, by the fire in the evening, the day over with, the dishes done, when I feel the journey most acutely: the simplicity of it, of days that feel full, and fully used by the day’s end.

It is in these moments, by the fire in the evening, the day over with, the dishes done, when I feel the journey most acutely: the simplicity of it, of days that feel full, and fully used by the day’s end.

photo Erik B. Jørgensen

Two days out from Tanana we make camp far out in the middle of the river, on an island of sand that rises only slightly above the level of the water. We hadn’t seen it until we were almost on top of it, obscured by the gentle swell. No bear in its right mind, we figure, would be making its way out here. There is nothing on the island but for a single dead tree. Ulli sets the tent and I make a fire and we are finishing up dinner when the wind starts to pick up. We see it first in the movements of the swallows, buffeted through the air. Down the valley, the way we have come, the sky is so gray it is blue. The trees on the banks are stirring, shivering in their canopies, soughing in their branches, and the sounds come to us undiluted across the water’s vast expanse. It is hard to make the guy ropes fast on ground as soft as this. We hurry about, piling whatever we can find down on the pegs: dead limbs, the float barrel, the canoe. I wonder if the water is rising. It looks as though it might be rising.

The sky turns, if anything, darker. We watch it, sipping tea. Our shadows stand out stark against the sand. Ancient spruce flex turquoise in the light, bending forward, deferential, snap- ping back and flapping like those inflatable men outside of garages. The light is as sharp as a knife, carving out each individual color. The wind keys up a pitch, whipping the sand about, so that it flows about our feet like the ghost of some other river. The thin alder that climb the bluffs flare white. The atmosphere thrills me; I feel electric, animal. Lightning cracks. And then we hear the rain. The sound of it swells as it sweeps down the valley as though a herd of horses were approaching, charging at us across the water. We hurry inside the tent and get the canvas zipped down, and then it hits.

The tent bends and quivers, straining at its tethers. We lie inside the sleeping bags staring up at the thrumming canvas. I’ve not used this tent in a storm before, and I have a sudden jerk of realization quite how far we are from anything. What an illusion it suddenly seems, this membrane between home and the vast and storming world. Outside the flaps the sky is as black as it has been in weeks. The puddles on the beach reflect it. Thunder barrels across the sky. I try to read, but the storm is too absorbing, there is nothing to do but be in it. We make poor, nervous jokes to each other. A lone goose, barking, is hurled out of the clouds.

What an illusion it suddenly seems, this membrane between home and the vast and storming world.

It rains all night, and when we wake it is still raining. The wind has died, at least. I push farther down inside the sleeping bag, and think I might just sleep the day away. A little later Ulli stirs and takes a look outside. The island is half the size it was. The canoe is partly floating, and the river is meters from the tent. Ulli shakes me awake. The rain hammers on the canvas.  We pull our waterproofs on and push out into the weather.

photo Ulli Mattsson

– Adam Weymouth is a freelance writer who has worked for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The GuardianThe BBC, The Atlantic and Lacuna. His book, Kings of the Yukon, published by Little, Brown in the US, will be available on May 15th, 2018. More of his work can be found at www.adamweymouth.com & @adamweymouth

***

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Gear for the Cold North

A little bit about our goods in the cold:

Frost River gear is made to be used in all sorts of conditions, from the streets of Manhattan to the backwoods of the Boundary Waters and everything in between, and in every season. That means that warm or cold, the gear’s got to perform, and winter’s one of the times where Frost River’s reliable softgoods can really shine.

Water Resistance


Water resistance equals ice resistance. Waxed canvas helps water bead up and roll right off, so your goods don’t freeze solid. It’s not waterproof though, so try and avoid letting a pack soak in slush if you’re in below freezing temps, because water in canvas can freeze, and then you have to be a bit more careful with your gear.

Pliability

Waxed canvas is made from natural materials, chiefly cotton, and cotton is one of the best materials for deep cold. Parkas made from the stuff help you breath and keep from overheating, while providing defense from the winter wind. Waxed cotton canvas in packs help ensure pliability in cold. Sure they’ll get stiff and stand up on their own, but the materials hold up and resist cracking, unlike some synthetics which can crack when the needle drops.

Hardware

One of the great benefits of solid brass hardware is its resilience: It doesn’t rust, bends before it breaks and shines real bright-like. That translates to cold, too. Try wedging a plastic buckle between a rock in the dead of winter and see what happens—Usually not the best when you’re in the backcountry and reliant upon your gear to get you where you gotta go. Brass holds up, and takes the cold like a champ. Just take a look at the video below.

Quiet

It’s a bit of a stretch, but Frost River goods are quiet. What do we mean by that? Well imagine walking along a quiet woods trail at a brisk pace. You’re wearing synthetic pants, like snow or rain pants. All you hear is the swoosh, swoosh as they rub together. Now imagine the quiet of wearing a pair of your old jeans. It’s the same with packs. Synthetics can get loud, swooshing along as you go. In the winter, when the land is even more quiet, it really makes a difference. Frost River waxed canvas is more like those old jeans, it maintains a low profile in the woods. The brass’ll ring a bit, but secure the buckles and they’ll hush right up.

So however you enjoy winter (spring, summer or fall!), enjoy it with some quality waxed canvas packs and bags made by hand in Duluth. Pair that with a couple of our dutiful mittens, and you’ll be ready to strike out into the beautiful land of snow with confidence!

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Mittens Made Right

Be ready to give winter a big “Thumbs Up” when your hands are happy in a pair of rugged and reliable Frost River Mittens. Designed, tested, and built in the frigid north, at our home port of Duluth, Minnesota. Good winter gear in these parts is not an option— it’s a way of life— so we know what’s needed when the needle drops.

We’ve learned that fingers stay happiest in the cold when they can warm each other, and that means mittens, not gloves, are a winter warrior’s best defense from cold weather’s wrath. 

Here’s a breakdown of Frost River Mittens and Choppers for you (and your fingers) to choose from. All are a bit oversized because that’s another secret of staying warm, allowing yourself a bit of wiggle room in your cold weather wear. Sometimes it’s not good to fit like a glove! Our lined mittens feature 150 gram Thinsulate™ insulation for warmth. On every mitt and chopper we make, buckskin leather provides grip and wear resistance on the palms. You get the choice of buckskin leather or waxed canvas for the outer shell on all of ‘em except the Great Northerns, which are available exclusively in our signature waxed canvas.

Read on to find out what each style Frost River mitten has to offer, and to find the right mitts for you.

Great Northern Choppers 

Frost River Great Northern Mittens are made for the harsh cold of the Minnesotan winter, so you know it'll work most anywhere. Durable waxed canvas with buckskin palms and Thinsulate® lining, plus gauntlet length cuffs mean you'll be ready when the temperature drops.

Serious hand-wear for serious cold. Gauntlet cuffs cover wrists and seal off drafts, while the oversized opening allows room for most sleeves to slide inside. There’s a bit of elastic sewn into the wrist to keep things in place, and a solid brass snap clip keeps the pair together and offers a spot to attach a length of cord. Frost River’s Great Northern Choppers are available in waxed canvas, but you get a choice of Field Tan or Hunter Orange. Both the Hunter Orange and Field Tan are paired with a dark buckskin palm for great grip and durability.

840DPL Northern Pacific Palamino Buckskin Mitten. Thinsulate lined buckskin leather mitts, made by Frost River in Duluth, Minnesota, USA.Northern Pacific Mittens - WNorthern Pacific Mittens

Same insulation as in the Great Northers with the same buckskin reinforced palms, the difference is in the cuff: The Northern Pacifics are shorter, with a lower mid-rise cuff for daily use on and off the trail. Like their bigger siblings, elastic at the wrist keep the mitts on and help keep snow and drafts out. Get the waxed canvas for better water (and slush) resistance, get the buckskin for better dexterity and a super supple feel. As with all our mitts, consider that they run large, so you don’t need to upsize for our mitts, refer to the size chart in the photo gallery of the Northern Pacific Mittens to be sure you get what you want.

Pennsylvania ChoppersPennsylvania ChoppersPennsylvania Choppers

Our Pennsylvania shells are sewn with the same fit and feel as the Northern Pacifics, but are finished without an insulating liner. What? you ask, but why? It’s the traditional layout for real choppers. Our Pennsylvania Choppers (available in waxed canvas or buckskin leather) are built to be paired with a removable liner of your choice. This gives you options, plus some flexibility when it comes to washing, drying, or even carrying spare liners for if they get wet in the field and you need to keep on trucking with fresh, dry warmth. You can even use thin gloves as liners for keeping digits protected and some dexterity when you need it. Consider our blended wool mitten liners from Fox River (available as an add-on to the Pennsylvanias). They have a 50/50 wool acrylic blend and are made in the USA. Or use the mitts Grandma knits, and warm a heart as well as the hands. Please note that we only stock the Fox River liners in large, but their stretchy weave fits most paws we’ve tried ’em on. As with the Northern Pacific Mitts, the Pennsylvania Choppers are available in waxed canvas or buckskin.

Frost River mittens and choppers are sized to be roomy, just right for harsh Minnesota winters.
Frost River mittens and choppers are sized to be roomy, just right for harsh Minnesota winters.

Just as with all our Frost River gear, the mitts are all made at our shop in Duluth, Minnesota. The buckskin is sourced from real deer, so evidence of a life lived in the wild may be present in your mitts. There may be scars, blemishes, and a bit of terrain in there. We don’t make mittens with spots that’ll hamper durability and performance, and we inspect the parts, and finished product to ensure your mitts will be up to the task, just know there may be a bit of texture in your leather– it’s a little character, evidence you’ve got some of the real thing.

Got a pair of our mitts already? How do you like ‘em? Please consider leaving us a review by clicking one of the links above and scrolling down to the “Review” section.

Thanks – Thumbs up to happy hands and cold weather!

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Field Journal: Five Days in the Winter Woods of the Boundary Waters

Snowshoes are an integral part of any winter camping expedition. Hot tent in the background.

We knew it’d be cold: Forecast highs were in the single digits just above zero fahrenheit each of the five days we were going to be out. The cold surprised and scared me most after a necessary quick trip outside at 3am on our first night. Getting back into the sleeping bags (yes, multiple), my hands seemed to scream as they managed the ice-cold nylon, insulation, and zippers. It was thirty below zero. As planned, the wood stove was out, and now it felt just as cold inside our shelter as out. Don’t jam that zipper! I warned myself as I realized how reliant I was on the lofty insulation I brought along. It was a sharp contrast to what I had found during the day—a surprise of how few layers I could wear while on the move along the trail. Several layers were required at times of less exertion, but when I was harnessed to a heavy toboggan and doing the job of a group of sled dogs, a well chosen few articles were all I could get away with wearing. Any more insulation caused heavy perspiration, and being wet in the deep cold is a dangerous way to learn about hypothermia.

Loading toboggans for a winter camping outing in the BWCAW
Loading toboggans for a winter camping outing in the BWCAW

We’d chosen long narrow toboggans for our expedition into northeast Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was the first full week of February, and we had hot tents with portable wood stoves, food, tools, and extra clothes lashed to the sleds. The toboggans were new to me. I’d never camped from one before and had been told to bring only what’s necessary and leave all the extra junk behind. Loading in the parking lot at the entry point, I looked at my load and worried I hadn’t been judicious enough; my sled was taller and seemed heavier than those of my trekking mates. I believed in my clothes though. I’d brought a tried-and-tested mix of wool and fleece. But I’d soon learn that I didn’t need so much of a good thing. Hike “comfortably cool” was recommended. Soon, I’d be as wet as if I’d fallen in the lake before I even had an idea of what comfortably cool really meant.

Sunset on Basswood Lake in the BWCAW as the temperature drops below zero F.
Sunset on Basswood Lake in the BWCAW as the temperature drops below zero F.

Seven miles into the wilderness, traveling across the frozen surface of Basswood Lake just before sundown, we looked for a campsite with a supply of firewood nearby. And I was wet. I’d sweat through my base layer, insulating layer (a midweight wool shirt), and unlined parka shell. I had already shed and stowed the down vest and other wool shirt a couple miles back, before they soaked through as well.

“Maybe we’ll camp behind this island,” one of the guys said. It would block the wind and have good wood available. There, we found deeper snow and not much good firewood, and it was there that I learned why low-slung sled loads are preferred. While the other guys’ turned easily in the loose snow, mine toppled over. Every turn, and even when I wasn’t turning, it happened again and again. It was a maddening. I got help getting the sled work-wise again and over to where we chose a camp site and began to get the gear off the toboggans. I put those stowed insulating layers back on, began setting camp, and gathering firewood. I felt on the cold-side of comfortable. I considered my hypothermia risk: I wasn’t, and hadn’t been shivering, so I decided to drink most of the rest of my water that wasn’t frozen, eat a quick snack, and keep moving.

Sawing firewood becomes a routine job in a winter camp. Big bow saws are the best tool for the job.
Sawing firewood becomes a routine job in a winter camp. Big bow saws are the best tools for the job.

I knew what summertime firewood looked like, I’d been collecting that for years. Dead and down, preferably off the ground, not much moss, and the twigs snap when you break them. Winter is different. Wood stoves work best with seasoned dead wood. And the bigger the better, and split. That’s a bit harder to find, especially in the waining daylight and with the ground covered with snow. We targeted dead snags in an ash swamp. Pine was preferred, but the forest wasn’t mature enough yet. It had juvenile red pine, not many balsams, and very few were dead. Ash was what we had available. It’d have to work. Soon enough, the tents were up, stoves were lit with the fresh-split ash, dinner was cooking, clothes were drying, and bodies were warming.

We planned to let the fires in the stoves go out during the night for safety and fuel conservation. All of us were equipped with below zero sleep systems.

"Hot Tents" usually made of canvas equipped with portable woodstoves are an important part of a comfortable winter camp.
“Hot Tents” usually made of canvas equipped with portable woodstoves are an important part of a comfortable winter camp.

The next morning, and every morning after, I was surprised by how much frost accumulated overnight in the outer insulation of my sleeping bags. It was substantial, and most apparent at the foot of my bag and around the hood near where I was exhaling throughout the night. The bags dried quickly once we got the fires going in the stoves again and we hung the bags in the tent to dry them further. But if not for that wood fired heat, the frost would have severely degraded the insulation of the sleeping bags. I was thankful again for the wood stove.

Fish-on! Take out dinner in the BWCA.
Fish-on! Take out dinner in the BWCA.

There is much more work that needs doing on a winter trip than in a summer camp. We only had a bit of time to fish, but only enough to drill a couple holes (through about 30” of ice) and drop tip-ups down. One in our party caught a nice pike, cleaned it with an axe, added butter and spices, wrapped the whole works in foil, and placed it on an open fire… once it was cooked, most of the bones zipped right out, it was tasty, simple, and rugged.

Winter is a beautiful time of year in this neck of the woods. There’s marvelous scenic beauty that’s heightened by the severity of the cold. The landscape is drastically changed by the wash of white snow. The rare glimpses of evidence of the wild inhabitants infused a magic in the scene.

Canvas parkas with fur ruffed hoods, long toboggans, and mukluks are all in the dress code for winter trekking.
Canvas parkas with fur ruffed hoods, long toboggans, and mukluks are dress code for winter trekking.

On our last full day in the backcountry, I laced up my boots and clicked into my skis. It was mid-afternoon and temps sat steady at zero under the blue-sky sun. I finally felt I was beginning to figure out my layering and was happy to move about unburdened by the toboggan—layered in two mid-weight shirts and a down vest. Pointing the tips of skis out into the mixed icy hard-pack of the lake, my compatriot and I happily skied on the crust of the snow of the frozen lake. The wind had calmed, and it was quiet but for the sounds of our poles, and skis, and breathing. I thought about how I’d gotten there, how exposed I felt in the cold despite the many layers, the tents, the gear and the group. I looked down to the endless white to find tracks arcing across the hard snow.

Wolf tracks.

Wolf tracks mark the hard packed snow down the center of a remote wilderness lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Are Wilderness.
Wolf tracks mark the hard-crusted snow down the center of a remote wilderness lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Are Wilderness.

They were shallow, but clearly visible. The lone set of wolf tracks filled me with wonder, reverence, and curiosity of what life would be like as a resident and not just a visitor. I felt a shiver, and a bit of a longing for a familiar canoe pack, good canoe, and warmer open water. Above that, I felt a newfound respect for the wolf, and its woodsy neighbors.

The next day, as we trekked our way out of the wilderness, I thought back to loading up at the parking lot, the frustration of the overpacked toboggan, the delicious fish pulled from the icy water, and the humbling cold that surrounded it all.

A toboggan caravan makes its way across the lake ice on a winter camping expedition in the BWCA. Photo: @RyanFox4
A toboggan caravan makes its way across the lake ice on a winter camping expedition in the BWCA. Photo: @RyanFox4

It takes more work to get yourself and your gear where you want to go in winter, it’s a struggle to stay warm and keep dry. But, if you’re traveling with a good group, learn from the lessons, and don’t bring too much crap, a traveller can catch a glimpse of what less adventurous folks will only read, and dream about—to catch a brief look of life in an uninhabited, wild area, in deep cold, a spot where wolves thrive and humans only visit.

Happy trails, thanks for following along.

-David

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12 Days of Crafting

The bustle around the finishing table during a busy day at the Frost River shop.

Welcome to the Frost River shop! It’s a bustling place throughout the year, but it gets extra crazy building up to the holidays. An active workshop has a commotion all its own. Each step of the way, you’ll find skilled folks making it happen. It takes a long time to make good stuff, with many steps involved. Bags go upstairs and down, between machines, from station to station getting a bit more of what makes them special at each stop. Most often, there’s far more than twelve steps to build our goods because it takes a lot to make quality gear that’ll last. Scroll down to see a bit of how Frost River goods are built without compromise and follow along as we share some of the sights, sounds, and action going on.

Welcome to our “12 Days of Crafting” – Cheers!

It all starts with one roll of canvas. Our part in the shop starts with carrying the canvas from the delivery truck to the cutting table one roll at a time. Luckily the trip is mostly downstairs.

Two sides of leather are used to make a bundle of handles. Here, Dan uses a hydraulic press called a “clicker” along with a cutting die with a sharp edge to punch out the necessary leather pieces.

Three kits of bushcraft packs. The kits for the sewing staff get assembled so they have all the straps, reinforcements, lash squares, logos, and necessary canvas panels they need to put the packs together. Three bundles of six-packs will equal 18 Isle Royale bushcraft packs ready to hit the portage trail.

Four steps to make our signature buckskin padded backstraps for our canoe packs. Click out the hard harness leather on the clicker, stretch the buckskin for a perfect fit, sew the two together with a bit of foam padding, and trim appropriately. That’s how we do that!

Five golden things…

Okay they’re not actually made of gold, because gold wouldn’t hold up! Hand pounded harness rivets are the best way to secure straps and buckles to our Isle Royales and other rugged packs. The pounding table lends unique syncopation to the production floor.

Six sewers sewing… at least! It’s all hands on deck this time of year as the production crew works hard stitching seams to fill orders. Even on a Saturday the machines are buzzing, building bags to last a lifetime.

Seven Finishers Riveting around a bustling center station. Tyler and Jen do the bulk of the riveting, but this time of year they often get help with the finishing. Straps & buckles added, the packs are done right here. There ya go!

Eight steps of quality assurance. Everything we make takes a trip through QUIP: All seams inspected, rivets surely set, buckles and straps get stressed. We make it all here, best be sure it’s done right. Overbuilt is the standard.

Nine Frost River hangtags. They’re more than a place to put a price. It’s a stamp of approval, a name tag for the model number, a statement of quality and heritage— it’s a reminder of where our goods come from: Frost River.

Ten orders picked from the store. Just as Santa loads his sleigh, we gather frostriver.com orders from the shelves of the store and set them up to ship. This time of year we get a bit of exercise as we’re at it!

Eleven packed packages, ready to ship. Inside each box we wrap with care to send across the country and around the world, we try to add a bit of character, present it so it’s fun to open, and there’s no doubt who made it and where.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas drivers pick up the day’s packages that we’ve carried, batched, built, buckled, made, sewn, finished, inspected, tagged, picked, packed, and shipped. It’s a lot of work by a whole team. Thanks to all, and to you!

So there ya go! Twelve days of Crafting, from our shop out to you, Thanks so much for the support, business, and opportunity to keep building packs and bags in our home port, Duluth, Minnesota.

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you and yours!

-Frost River

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Frost River Discounts and Coupons: Why you won’t find ’em

Folks ask all the time when our goods will go on sale. Some websites even pretend to offer coupon codes for FrostRiver.com to try to get a discount, but they’re not even real, they’re just trying to get traffic so they can make money with ads.

The thing is, our goods don’t go on sale. We don’t run promotions and gimmicky specials, and that’s because we believe that it’s better to price the goods right from the start.

Fixed and fair pricing comes from building a pricing model off of what goes into a bag. Each bag uses a certain amount of canvas, a specific number of buckles and rivets, a set amount of leather, and takes our team a different amount of time to build each one from start to finish. All of the parts that go into our goods are the best we can find. Solid brass hardware, heavy duty waxed canvas, and tried-and-true leather from Red Wing, MN mean that Frost River goods are built without compromise. They’re not cheap materials… they’re the right materials, and that’s the start of our goods.

We take all those raw materials and put them together by hand in our shop in Duluth, MN. Our team of artisans and craftspersons work diligently sewing, kitting, riveting, cutting and building reliable softgoods while earning fair pay and benefits like dental insurance, health insurance and PTO so that they can stay healthy, get care when they need it, and spend time with their families. It’s important to Frost River that our team is rewarded for their hard work, that their attention to detail and skills in craft are appreciated by not just their fellow Frost River teammates, but by the end user. You can feel confident knowing that the pack on your back or the bag over your shoulder wasn’t built through exploitation, it was made by American workers who take pride in what they choose to do.

Our goods aren’t cheap, because they’re not cheap to make, and most importantly, they’re high quality when they’re done, because our gear is built to last.

So many times in the softgoods and apparel industries, companies push their production costs down, down, down, while driving their retail prices up and up to what they think they can squeeze out of consumers. How high can we go? That model lines up just right with outsourcing, offshoring, seconds, specials, discounts and blowouts. An item priced high in order to go on sale a bit lower is simply smoke and mirrors to you, the consumer; it gives the perception of a deal, the idea that you’re saving money, when you’re just being pandered to by the big corporation.

Seasonality comes into play, too. Goods that are perishable with the time of year, based on trends and the whims of fashion are goods that must be cleared out, moved to make room for the next best things and the new season’s line. Chasing colors and styles that change over the year isn’t our style. We make goods that are generation-proof, gear that is just as relevant now as it was back in the day. When a company doesn’t chase after the consumer’s ever-present urge to acquire things, and to get a deal, it doesn’t have to be priced it up to sale down. Making Frost River softgoods pricing fixed and fair means it’s up to you, the consumer, when it’s right to get our goods. You don’t have to feel the pressure of a sale, the urge to buy something online out from under the hardworking folks at your local retailers. You get to make the decision based on what’s best for you. And we think that’s right.

Another reason we don’t get into the discount game is because we truly value our Retail Store Partners. Those are the good folks at retailers across the country and around the world that work so hard to stock shelves and create an engaging experience in their curated stores. We ask them to adhere to our pricing model because it’s important for them to be able to succeed. They pay rent, utilities, wages and taxes and help support your local economy. Because our prices are the same from Kansas to New York, our partners won’t be undercut by some big box across the country.

…but the one who really makes all of that possible is you, the customer.

You are not the norm, you are not the center of a bell curve: you are a rare breed, a classic purveyor of quality goods— whether that’s born from an attraction to the aesthetic and the ideals that these goods embody or a requirement that your gear remains steadfast in the backcountry, reliable in the front-country, or consistently stable in the urban wilds — you are what makes Frost River.

Without folks like you, who appreciate quality, value rugged materials, recognize timeless designs and rely on equipment that’s built to last a lifetime, not made to be cheap and disposable, without you, Frost River wouldn’t be a possibility and a reality. That takes a certain personality, an appreciation that is born out of an understanding of what it is that makes quality gear. We won’t let you down, we’ll keep building the good stuff so you can use it over a lifetime and pass it down as an heirloom. Thank you for supporting American Manufacturing, American Jobs, American Goods and believing in Frost River now, in the past, and going forward.

 

A view into the Frost River shop. See stuff being made at 1910 W. Superior Street in Duluth, MN.
A view into the Frost River shop. See stuff being made at 1910 W. Superior Street in Duluth, MN.

 

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A Frost River Thank You Note:

We’re thankful for… you!

It’s that time of year to take a moment, get together, take stock on life, family, friendships, health, and well-being… to inventory the people, places, activities, and things we’re thankful for. All of us at Frost River have much to give thanks for this year. As a brand and a business, first and foremost, we have You to thank! Thank-You, for buying and supporting what we have to offer. If we didn’t have customers who come back and help us spread the word of reliable waxed canvas packs and bags being made in our corner of the world, it would be a tough, lonely existence ‘round here at the shop. So THANKS! We appreciate your support and please keep coming back and telling folks where you got that trusty pack that you keep wearing all over the place.

Along with all of you out there, we also have to thank our talented production crew right here.

The men and women who come to work at the shop here in Duluth each day to keep us in stock with great bags to sell. It’s not an easy job, working with rugged and robust raw materials day in and day out. The materials are heavy and tough. The work takes skill, and is hard for sure — it takes a physically hearty and mentally tough craftsperson to keep creating good stuff day in and day out. We all take pride in a job well done, and enjoy working side by side as a talented and dedicated team that makes good things, and gets them ready for you, right here in the USA.

We’re thankful for our neighbors here in the Craft District of Duluth. They help make coming to work more enjoyable. They also add character and hand crafted commerce to a visit to our neck of the woods.

From all of us to all of you…

We hope you get a chance to get outside a bit during a long weekend, get to spend quality time with family and friends, and if you have a moment to do a bit of shopping, please consider the little guys, working hard to make good stuff in our corner of the USA. Please consider buying local and shop small for any holiday shopping left on your list.

Cheers – Happy Thanksgiving from the Frost River crew!

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Top Ten Packs in Heritage Black

Have you seen all the bags now available from Frost River in Heritage Black? We keep rolling out new designs, and wanted to take a moment to highlight some of our favorites. The black waxed canvas is sourced from our trusted supplier Fairfield Textiles in New Jersey. The seventh generation of the Martin Family supplies us with the Field Tan canvas that we’ve been using for years, so getting black from them as well was a no brainer. Same with the leather for our Heritage Black collection. The S.B. Foot Tannery in Red Wing, Minnesota has been getting us the good stuff for years, so we sourced the same grades, and styles from them in black. We feel privileged and proud to be working with companies of such good reputations for longevity and pride of manufacturing in the USA. All our Heritage Black bags are made here at our shop in Duluth, Minnesota right next to their Field Tan brethren.

Scroll down, check out the featured items in the collection and pick out something you like!

Summit Expedition in Heritage Black – A hard working rucksack with features aimed to please. The pack body offers good capacity in its round shape. There’s easily room for a day’s worth of rambling gear. Internal volume is in the range of 32 liters. Dual 2-in-1 side pockets will each house a 1L bottle, while the slip pockets  offer storage for long, lean items like a folding saw, big knife, or whatever else you wanted to stow back there. The medium size front pocket is secured with a zipper and offers ready access to often used items like a pair of mits or a notebook and sunglasses. Our Northern Pacific Buckskin mitts fill the pocket well. There’s additional zippered storage space under the top lid. Lash squares on top offer even more spots and ways to attach gear to the pack. Have you noticed we added additional Leather Accessory Straps to go with our lash squares? They work very well together.

Curtis Flight Bag in Heritage Black – All the rugged simplicity of our classic Flight Bag along with convenient side pockets cut from Heritage Black waxed canvas. Handcrafted, soft sided luggage rules the overhead bins of carry on airline travel and the the cramped quarters of vehicle trunks and cargo areas, because it’s crammable! Just that little extra wiggle room puts a waxed canvas and leather reinforced bag head and shoulders above their hard-sided brethren. Invest in a good bag for your getaways, travel well with luggage you’ll look forward to carrying. You and your next generation will thank you for it.

High Falls -Short Day Pack in Heritage Black – A small pack for big things… Our High Falls Pack is streamlined and rides out of the way. Yet it still offers decent capacity, good backstraps, options to hang stuff on and in the bag via loops stitched in, daisy chain style. Inside, there’s a full length slip pocket, perfect for a water bladder, tablet, or slim laptop. Now in Heritage Black, it’ll blend in, yet stand out wherever you choose to roam.

Premium Carrier Brief in Heritage Black – Our top of the line messenger bag has it all! There’s a padded sleeve inside along with the pockets and compartments to keep a professional organized and movin’ forward. The long, wide shoulder strap has a leather pad to spread out a heavy load and offer a bit of grip for a shoulder. Black leather accents and dark waxed canvas give this rugged and reliable work bag just the right amount of hard working attitude.

Sojourn Pack in Heritage Black – Classical canoe pack pattern shrunk down to daypack size, the Sojourn is a ready and willing companion on forays on and off the beaten path. It’s a box style pack, with side gussets for more capacity. This pack is just right to tote a day’s worth of gear no matter if woods wandering or heading off to work. Heritage Black waxed canvas and premium leather will dress up any ensemble. Be set for success, traveling as a timeless wanderer with this pack built to withstand the ages.

Field Satchel – A satchel fit for the field in our standard Field Tan or dressed up a bit in Heritage Black. Pockets, dividers, and compartments abound in and on a Field Satchel. It’ll work great as a haversack in the woods, or as a purse ‘round town. Either way you’ll be carrying well with a trusty shoulder bag built right here in Duluth, Minnesota.

Big Saganaga – Named after the biggest, deepest lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota, here’s a shoulder bag that’s built to last and designed to perform. It’s a simple bag that keeps cost down yet exceeds expectation with unmatched quality. The long front flap is held closed with button magnets. Inside the bag you’ll find dividers and compartments to stash your stuff and stay organized. Heritage Black waxed canvas offers understated style and durability to spare.

Accessory Bags – Handy for carrying all sorts of things, Frost River Accessory Bags hold more than expected with a wide-bottomed design. Great to get a handle on your charger cords in a briefcase, keep your tinder and fire kit together for a bushcraft outing, or shaving supplies and/or make-up in a travel bag. With the addition of Heritage Black you can color code your essential accessories. Slick!

Boardwalk Tote – Just a bit bigger than a purse, our Boardwalk is great for toting a bit more along on your daily rounds. Adjustable black leather handles, antiqued solid brass hardware, and black waxed canvas set the Heritage Black collection apart. Exterior side pockets provide convenient spots to stash items and keep them handy. Carry well with an American made tote!

Isle Royale – Our top of the line pack, now in Heritage Black. All the premium features remain, including the axe sleeve, twin flap covered pockets, black buckskin padded backstraps that are comfortable and distinctive, along with plenty of lash points all combine to provide options for your bushcraft kit (or whatever you choose to carry in there). All the materials and construction are the same whether your Isle Royale is crafted in black or field tan.

Shell Bags – Purse, haversack, possibles pouch, Shell Bag… whatever you wanna call it or however you want to use it is up to you, just know that we now make ‘em in Heritage Black or Field Tan to help you carry what needs bringing along. The leather strap with a pad breaks in and feels great on a shoulder, plus it’s adjustable for length. Four sizes available to carry a lot or just a little. Male or Female, young or old – anyone can appreciate a trusty shoulder bag ready to accompany you on your outings.

 

 

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Meet the new Axe-cessories

A good axe is nothing without a sharp edge and good technique, so along with our Wood Craft Axe from Council Tool, we’ve sourced a sharpening stone and come up with some great pouches to bring it along. The combination works great to keep a sharp edge no matter where you are. The pair of pouches add portability and protect your stone and would work great carrying other stuff too. They’re all made in USA, check ‘em out!

Frost River Wood Craft Axe

We’ve had these around awhile now, and like them better all the time. They’re truly functional axes that are made to last, and are a pleasure to work with. We’ve got two models to choose from, both have the same 2 lb. head forged from 5160 steel at Council Tool in the USA. You get the choice on handle length -19 or 24 inches. Both are premium American Hickory handles with a circular steel wedge to ensure a permanent connection between head and haft. We craft the heavyweight leather Boreal Axe Sheath with a welt, rivets, and a brass snap. There’s a Frost River logo on the handle as well as on the sheath, and they ship sharp, ready to go straight to work.

Arctic Fox Sharpening Puck

Experienced folks know that a sharp axe is a safe axe, so we’ve found a stone ready to help keep a keen edge on your blade wherever you roam. Made by the Baryonyx Knife Co in the USA, it has 240 grit on the darker, coarse side, 400 grit on the other. The manufacturer recommends a thin film of water be used to keep the pores of the stone clear while sharpening, but you can use it as an oil-stone as well if you prefer. The coarse side of the stone readily erases scratch marks from a file as well as minor dings in an edge. The “Arctic Fox sapphire ceramic blend” makes up the fine face. The manufacturer states it will “bring the edge to a hazy mirror finish that easily shaves.” The sharpening stones are made in the USA and strike a sweet spot of portability, performance, and value. Pair it with a pouch to keep it all handy and contained!

Weight: 7.8 oz

Diameter: 3”

Thickness: 7/8”

Canvas Belt Pouch

Sized perfectly for our Arctic Fox Sharpening Puck, our Belt Pouch offers protection of the sharpening surface and edges from damage, adds portability, and offers a great way to keep a stone handy when in the field. Made from our 18 oz waxed canvas, there’s a leather loop on the back to use on a belt, strap it to a pack, or even fit it on our padded waistbelt. Feel free to use it for carrying other stuff too, like a compass, or a miniature first aid kit (great idea to keep handy anytime using edged tools in the field), ammunition reloads, round tins, Lip Balm, cookies, you name it, there are all sorts of items to put in a small, handcrafted belt pouch!

Buckskin Drawstring Pouch

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of things to put in a small buckskin bag. We sized it around our sharpening puck, so there’s that. The size and shape, along with the drawstring top is reminiscent of a bag where a kid might carry marbles. It’d work great for treasures of coins or trinkets and the bounty will be magnified with the added value of a really nice bag. The leather is soft and supple yet strong and resilient. It feels good in the hands. You could easily stow it in a pack, pocket, or purse; the leather drawstring provides just enough friction to stay closed fairly securely on its own. It’d make a great gift bag! The leather will last for years of use and will change and patina over time, just like our rugged backstraps faced with the same material. Starts out super supple, break yours in today!

 

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Enjoying Autumn’s Chill

Get your autumn gear out!

Autumn’s chill is in the air. With the changing seasons in northern Minnesota, leaves once burnished red and yellow give way to bare branches, and with that irrefutable sign of autumn, so come crisp winds, longer nights and, before long, falling flakes. It’s the perfect time to explore an ever-changing environment, to reconnect with old friends, get out those sweaters and enjoy campfires and the bounty of the autumn harvest.

Time to pull out those layers.

They’ve been put away in closets, tucked in nooks and crannies, but it’s time to bust out those sweaters, coats and jackets and welcome the chilled air. Layering is important in every season, but especially when temperatures range as much as they do during the fall. A day begun with warm October sun can end filled with snow, rain and sleet, so…

Remember to prepare for the possibilities when you venture out:

Be smart and pack extra layers to go from being active when it’s warm to holding still while it’s cold.

Base Layers: Wicking, synthetic or performance base layers are a great place to start, and some of our favorite materials for this purpose are wools and synthetics, like polyester. In general, you want to steer clear of cotton. It’s a great material when you want to lounge and be comfy or don’t mind your clothes holding onto moisture, but when you need performance and a layer that will breathe, dry quickly and let your body do it’s temperature-regulation-thing, cotton can do more harm than good. Our appreciation of cotton changes once it’s nearly cold enough to freeze boiling water in mid-air, but we won’t go there yet!

Grab a hat to stave off the sharp edge of autumn’s wind. Mom and Gramma have been reminding you for years, and they’re right, heat gets lost out top. Wear a good hat, consider bringing another, warmer one along just in case. Ours work great!

Your shirt and mid layer are just as important. We suggest a cozy mid layer that you can unzip or open up a bit to allow for more temperature regulation. Most of our Made-in-USA shirts and hoodies are a nice blend that mixes performance fabrics with just the right amount of comfy cotton to allow for easy-wearing layers that go from happy hour to trailhead without skipping a beat.

What’ll I do with all these clothes?!

Bring a pack. You should have water and some supplies along anyway, a good backpack is a great place to store extra layers. Choose a pack big enough for your gear, but don’t try to bring too much and find yourself overburdened. It’s a fine balance between having too much and not enough. All those layers add up to extra stuff you’ve got to carry. Consider bringing along a solid pack for the layers, snacks, and other gear that your adventures require.

Our Sojourn PackSojourn Box Style Pack  is a classic pack, with room for layers and more. Slim side pockets carry smaller water bottles or other essentials handy and accessible.

Our Back Bay Lumbar Pack is perfect for high-output activities in changing temperatures. It’s just big enough to fit plenty of layers, and your snacks and drinks, plus there’s room to keep any extras on the outside via an array of webbing attachment points. A waist belt keeps the pack off your back so you can move freely and avoid building up extra sweat.

Summit Expedition PackOur Summit Series can be perfect for whatever gear you’ve got to bring along, and come in three different trim levels to suit your needs. Really, these backpacks are the real deal!

Left to Right: 396 Arrowhead ECO, 397 Arrowhead 15 Eco, 398 Arrowhead 15, 395 Arrowhead. Available in two different sizes and trim levels, these waxed canvas daypacks have a rolltop pack design to keep water out. Available in standard 12″ width, or upsized to 15″ for more capacity, both widths are available as Ecos, with extra inner and outer pockets and sleeves. All options include burly construction, a comfy & unique brass ring yoke, inner zippered pocket, side slip pockets and front lash squares and accessory loops. Simple, reliable and adaptable, just roll the top. Guaranteed for life.

Our Arrowhead Trail Rolltop Packs are great for forays in the field and on your day-to-day. They each offer a large main compartment with adjustable height, ring yoke strap system and burly made-in-USA construction

Cliff Jacobson Signature PackOur Cliff Jacobson Signature Pack is a classic canoe pack rucksack. It’s a modern version of our Nessmuk, refined with input from Cliff Jacobson himself. This pack offers two large side pockets, lots of organization, our 10.10oz lightweight waxed canvas and is available in both Field Tan and Hunter Orange.

It’s Campfire Season

Another way to beat autumn’s chill is to gather round the campfire. There’s no better time to enjoy a bonfire than in the crisp fall air (check with your local regulations and fire-safety folks to make sure that you’re practicing safe and legal fires). The glow of firelight, the camaraderie and sense of well-being that comes from flame and wood is something that is engrained in us, an integral part of the human experience, and taught in survival training for both it’s objective benefits (keeping warm in cold) and the sometimes equally important boost in confidence and level-headed thinking that comes from building a fire. All that aside, campfires are the perfect place to sit and enjoy a drink, stories and laughs with those you care about.

 

Stahl Firepit – Bring a beautiful and functional firepit with you with the Stahl Camper Firepit and our custom-made Firepit Sling. Both are crafted in the USA and built to last (and keep you warm and surrounded by good company!).

Blanket – A good blanket can help to make a fireside chat comfy, provide a platform and organization for a picnic or help make your sleeping arrangement just that much warmer. Our blankets are made from USA-milled wool that’s a high-performing blend of 85% wool and 15% polyester for durable loft that’s warm, comfortable and made to last. Available in Olive Drab, Red Plaid and Black.

Axe – Campfires need fuel and there’s no better way to get firewood ready to get to glowing embers than with a quality axe. Our Wood Craft Axe from Council Tool is made completely in the USA from premium materials like 5160 steel and American Hickory Wood. They ship sharp (don’t worry, they come with our Boreal Axe Sheath) and ready to make your autumn bonfires a crackling success!

Sharpener – Though our axes ship with a hand-honed razor sharp edge, like any good axe, they’ll eventually need to be resharpened. Hone your axe to a near-mirror finish with our Arctic Fox Sharpening Puck. With two grits, you can take an edge from dull to shaving sharp in the field. Add a Canvas Belt Pouch or Buckskin Drawstring Pouch to make hauling your puck that much easier.

Add some seasonal beverages to your campfire for a bit of extra festive fun.

Breweries across the land are crafting seasonal pumpkin brews to accompany Octoberfest. Bring some local beer along in one of our Growler Packs and share the joy of the season. Even heft your haul on two wheels with our Rolltop Growler Pack. Add some of our Pint Sleeves to help keep your hands and fingers warm. Enjoying suds a bit further from the tap? Keep a can or a bottle cozy in our Can Insulator. It’s handcrafted from waxed canvas and foam (the insulation kind, not the beer kind!) to keep your fingers cozy and your beer cooler longer. Looking to keep your water bottle cool or warm? Our BWCA Insulator brings the features of the Can Insulator to the liter-level, adding a lash square, D-rings, and web for versatile connectability.

Dave Freeman tests the lower awning of the Two Person Campfire Tent and it meets his approval.

Campfire turning into an overnight?

Consider one of our canvas tents for the ultimate in portable livability. Our Campfire Tent is the perfect solution when you’re looking for a versatile shelter that can transition from hot summer days to the coldest winter nights. With an integrated awning and sidewalls, plus the option for an End-cover that is wood stove compatible, this tent is built for comfort.

However you enjoy your autumn, do it safely, with good gear and with good friends. Feel free to Contact Us for any questions, and if you’d like to keep up to date with more Frost River goodness, fill out the form below to sign up for our email newsletter. Cheers!

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