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A Trusted Friend: My Dana Backpack

Posted on January 30th, 2013

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North Manitou Island Map

Editor’s Note: In the latest Trail Talk, Jim DuFresne writes about the Dana Design backpack he used for 25 years. The final adventure with it was while researching our new map of North Manitou Island last summer. The map is now out and available from our e-shop. The large format map measures 11 by 17 inches, is printed on durable card stock and coated to be water resistant. Includes all distance markers, contour lines, historic buildings and ruins. Best of all, when folded it fits in your back pocket or the side pouch of your pack.

Next appearance for Jim will be at the Cottage & Lakefront Living Show and Outdoorama on Feb. 21-24 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. His presentation will be Michigan’s National Parks: Jewels of the Great Lakes.

By Jim DuFresne

My first backpack was an official Boy Scout, canvas rut sack that my father purchased just before sending me off to summer camp. I used it for five years. My second pack was an external frame Kelty that my oldest sister passed on to me. I had the Kelty for nine years. My third was a Dana Design that I purchased on my own in 1987.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

I still have my first two packs. I don’t have the Dana.

Last year my good friend, Sandy Graham, asked me if I would be interested in donating the pack as part of a small collection of historical backpacking gear being displayed in Backcountry North, his new outdoor store in Traverse City.

Even though I was still using the Dana, I couldn’t say no. Sandy sold me the pack 25 years ago.

At the time I was producing a newsletter for Sandy so I’m sure I received a hefty discount at the store he was managing. Still the pack, with its optional rain cover, side pockets and duffel bag designed to ship it on airlines, set me back more than $300. Maybe $400. Either was a small fortune for a struggling writer who only had three books under his belt.

But I was attracted to how well the internal frame pack fit – it featured lightweight metal stays that could be bent to the curvature of your back – and by its bright red color. While living in Alaska someone once told me that if a bear charged, toss your backpack in front of you. The theory was the pack, especially a brightly colored one, would distract the bruin long enough for you to back away to safety.

Dana on the Chilkoot

Jim DuFresne climbing the Chilkoot Trail with his Dana Design backpack.

I don’t know if that’s true. In all my years trekking in Alaska I’ve never been charged by a bear. What I did know is that when you’re outdoors in a world of greens and grays, browns and blues, a little bit of bit of red really made your photos pop.

Pretty soon it seemed like every other photo I took had the red Dana somewhere in it.

The other thing about the Dana; it carried a ton of gear. Like a small, rubber raft and 400-feet of rope when we knew in advance an Alaskan river would be too deep to ford … or bottles of fine wine and frozen tenderloin wrapped in newspaper when I was trying to show my wife how much fun backpacking could be. There were times, in the peak of my youth no doubt, when I had 80 or 90 pounds of gear stuffed in it.

Most of all, the red Dana was a trusted companion, there with me on almost every wilderness adventure I embarked on. It had been from one end of New Zealand to the other and all over Alaska. I have lugged it up and down the Greenstone Ridge Trail on Isle Royale National Park and across the heart of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

In the 25 years I had that pack I researched and wrote 62 editions of 22 different guidebooks, including Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails and Water Routes (MichiganTrailMaps.com), Tramping in New Zealand (Lonely Planet), Backpacking in Michigan (University of Michigan Press) and 50 Hikes in Michigan (Backcountry Publications).

Photos with the distinctive red pack in it has appeared in 10 of those books, including on the back cover of Lonely Planet’s 1993’s Backpacking in Alaska.

When I handed the backpack to Sandy just before one of my presentations at his store last November still attached to it were two backcountry permits. One was for the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska that I hiked in 2011 with my son, who, now at the age of 27, carries far more gear and climbs faster than me.

The other was for North Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that was issued last August, the final adventure for this Dana Design pack.

I told the crowd that evening that somewhere in this beloved pack there was a lesson, that when you invest in quality gear, even when the price seems outrageous at the time, it always ends up being a much better value in the long run.

Either that or  Sandy is a darn good salesman.

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