Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Trail Gear

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As I've mentioned before, I am a fairly young (pfft...) and experienced backpacker, hiker and shooter. I like to go off and explore the vast tracts of wilderness that surround my fair city as much as possible. There is a small group of 4 or 5 of us who often go together on these treks, often fairly short, but sometimes very long.

None of us are stupid enough to think that we are immune to the interesting situations nature throws at us. We've been robbed by illegal aliens while we were caving in an abandoned amethyst mine; we've seen packs of coyotes roaming at dusk in the Borrego slot canyons; we've heard cougars in the distance hiking in the Lagunas. There are many, many things out there that can kill us if they so choose. Some of those things, like a hidden crevice, can be combated with skill and heads-up thinking. Others, like those coyotes, may have to be combated with more force. Hence the reason we all carry.

As uptight as California is about guns, once you leave the city limits and go off the beaten path, no one really seems to mind. Maybe it's because the yuppies and sissies don't make the arduous drive through the mountains, to the desert and take the 12 mile hike to see some of the wonders of our world. Whatever the reason, we have never been hassled about carrying firearms as long as we are smart. Park Rangers and Border Patrol agents alike have stopped our little group, most often mistaking us for a band of illegals at a distance, only to discover a rather somber group of dedicated hikers who don't need to be disciplined. They have never once ticketed us or tried to confiscate our weapons. Most often, they leave with a friendly wave in a cloud of dust...after kindly asking us to unload our weapons for them. This isn't to say this is going to be typical, but it has happened the most times we've been stopped.

One of my friends carries a takedown 10/22 in his pack for survival situations. Another carries a Walter P99 on his hip. Another carries a S&W 586 in an old cowboy rig, like a gunfighter. This is what I carry.

Trail Gear

I was fortunate enough to once have a friend in dire need of cash who was willing to part with his Smith and Wesson Model 66. One of their legendary revolvers, the Model 66 is the stainless steel version of the classic Model 19. You may remember the model 19 - it was favored by the noted writer and borderpatrolman Bill Jordan, who once suggested to S&W they chamber the "Combat Masterpiece" .38 in .357, giving birth to the modern Combat Magnum.

Built on a "K" frame, this medium sized revolver fits the bill of trail gun to the "t." Mine is a little older (the benefit of purchasing secondhand) and has recessed chambers, a Bill Jordan combat trigger and a pinned frame. It sports a 6" barrel and a Pachmayr grip and is quite comfortable to carry and shoot. I taught my kid brother to shoot with this gun and he wants one when he turns 21. In fact, he wants mine. Fat chance, little dude.

Bill Jordan called the Model 19(66) a ".38 that can occasionally fire .357." I take that advice, and practice only with .38 or .38+P rounds. I carry the .357 loaded with excellent defensive rounds manufactured by Speer. I prefer their Gold Dot JHP's to almost any other load with the exception of Cor-Bon, but for off-hand reflexive shooting, the Cor-Bons can be a little much. With these loads, I can draw and fire 3 double-taps in about 3 seconds with all rounds within a 12" circle at 15 yards. Not great, but not bad for a kid. Definitely good enough to drop a cougar or coyote.

At some point, my buddy had some work done on the trigger to smooth it out, and the DA pull is cleaner and crisper than most autopistols *cough* Glock *cough*. I kid because I love... I'm not a huge fan of the sights, but they work for fast target acquisition if not for precision shooting.

The other gear pictured is just as essential to the trail-faring hiker that needs to handle any situation they get themselves into. The knife is an Ontario Randall RTAK - standing for Randall Training and Adventure Knife. I saw some of the first of these produced when I worked in a knife shop here in SD and I was immediately impressed. It sports a big, wide flat-ground blade that can handle hacking and chopping like a champ, but will also keep an edge well enough to double as an effective camp knife. Read more about it's fine attributes here.

The pack is a Camelbak and needs no introduction. They were the first on the scene with hydration packs, and they still do it the best. Yeah, North Face and REI and Blackhawk have copied and modified their designs, but they can only approximate the build quality of the real thing. My pack that is pictured is one of many I own, and you could say I am fiercely loyal to the brand. Having friends who work for them has its advantages, too. It is the MOTHERLODE model in coyote brown, a big bag but not the biggest. I find I can comfortably pack for up to 2 days, with enough food, water and gear to last through the moderate strenuous exertion. If you don't have to rig a litter and carry a comrade out of the woods, you should only be moderately stressed.

This is just the basic stuff. First aid kit, flashlights and headlights, Powerbars and gels, rope and paracord, 'biners...we manage to haul around all kinds of stuff out on the trail, but these three items are the most essential to our survival and comfort on the wild.

I love to go hiking, and getting into specifics about the gear is only a small bit of it. It's actually a fun hobby to get into. Maybe I'll catch you on the trail.