Frost River packs and bags are made from the best materials available. They are designed and built to last for years– the raw materials used in the construction had best be up to the task as well. We search out, and invest in, the best materials available. The best isn’t cheap, but the cheap doesn’t usually last. Solid brass is some of the best material with which to make buckles, slides, snaps, and D-rings. Solid brass hardware is not easy to find. Very few companies manufacture solid brass hardware, several make steel hardware and plate it with brass– That’s not what we use. We seek out, pay a premium for and bring in the best. For us, solid brass is worth the hassle of finding a steady supply and paying the extra cost, it’s that important.
Brass is made from copper and zinc– it is strong but malleable, those are valuable qualities for buckles. They will bend before they fail and break. Recently we were asked to repair a competitor’s pack that had brass plated steel buckles. One of the buckles that had attached a backstrap to the packbody was slammed in a car door. The buckle failed… it broke in half. We replaced it with one of our solid brass buckles. We didn’t, and won’t guarantee that it will now hold up to the wrath of a slammed door, but because it’s solid brass it will bend before it breaks so it’s got a better chance than a brass plated steel buckle.
Brass is corrosion resistant. We plan that our packs and bags will be around for a while. Hopefully longer than a thin layer of plating. When that layer wears away there is bare steel left. Canoe packs are often around water and usually end up getting wet. Solid brass buckles are unaffected by water (ever notice that many of the water fittings in your house are brass?), brass plated buckles do fairly well… as long as the plating lasts. But once that thin layer of plating wears off and the steel is all that’s left– you get rust. Rust stains on your pack, rust pitting the buckle, and if it gets bad enough, the roller will quit working, the flapstraps don’t work like they should, and the steel will fail. Solid brass is better. It doesn’t rust, it just oxidizes.
Brass looks nice. On luggage and briefcases, brass hardware compliments the Field Tan waxed canvas, it contrasts nicely with the browns of the leather, it all works together. If you want to keep the brass shiny, there are several ways to polish it and keep the shine. One of my favorite looks of brass is the patina. As the alloy weathers from being out in the world it takes on a character of experience. More than a tarnish, the finish of a well traveled buckle, or snap on a shoulder strap, speaks of travels and adventures that take place in a world of air and water. Those elements can be hard on raw unprotected steel, but it doesn’t hurt brass a bit.
Brass has a nice sound. There is a reason horns are made of brass. There’s a resonance that only brass can provide. True, it’s not likely the top reason to choose a pack or bag, by how it sounds, but it could be considered a side benefit. Frost River stuff sounds good. They aren’t loud. Your paddling partner isn’t likely to call you out on noise pollution infringing on a wilderness experience because your buckles sound good. You’ll still be able to sneak up on animals and travel off the beaten path remaining unnoticed with hardware that has a distinct sound. You aren’t wearing jingle bells as you travel in the woods…. but they (the good ones anyway, the bells with a nice sound) are made of brass as well.
So, how is one to tell the difference between solid brass hardware and brass plated steel hardware? Visually it’s tough to tell the difference when new. Brass will sound different, but if you don’t have a sample of each to compare it can be tough to be sure. The best way is to use a magnet. Brass is nonferrous, a magnet is not attracted to it at all. Brass plated steel is magnetic and you will be able to identify it on the first swipe with a magnet.