Thursday, May 23, 2013

Allagash Pack Basket

Growing up in Northern Indiana and Michigan I used a lot of pack baskets. As a scout, camper and historic interpreter they were a regular part of my life until about the middle of college when I switched to mostly using cloth packs of one kind or another. The main reason was that pack baskets are much harder to come by if you don't go looking for them and I was simply no longer part of any organizations that used them. Pack baskets are good for a number of things and arguably superior to many pack styles for a variety of uses.

Being basically rigid they protect the wearer from hard and odd shaped objects. This makes them favored for hauling things like trapping and fishing gear. They also protect fragile things like mushrooms, field greens and other forage. The only real drawback is their bulkiness and inability to be stuffed or stowed in tight places. Examples like the Loring pack basket  will last for years and go toe to toe with more modern designs on a lot of levels. Another useful trait is how repairable they are. The harnesses are simple and relatively easy to replace even for those with few tools and limited experience. Though, realistically, any bag can be repaired if people would bother to.

I had been wanting a pack basket for quite a while but had balked at the prices for most of the decent ones. Not that the market rate is unfair, on the contrary, it's a reasonable long term investment. Enter the Allagash Pack Basket from L.L.Bean and a gift certificate. Bean sells pack baskets made in Maine, light weight, durable and built from domestic maple. It comes unfinished with roughly adequate nylon straps if you don't really plan on loading it down. These packs are capable of carrying a lot of weight and doing so comfortably. Ones I have used in the past had either leather or canvas straps, usually wider at the shoulders. While the nylon straps on the one from Maine are no doubt durable, they aren't wide enough to distribute a heavy load. Nor is the harness as a whole set up for the weight the pack can handle. That said, the stock setup is probably enough for most uses.

There is seem to be about three schools of thought as to how to care for the baskets. One is to leave them unfinished. Scrub them clean as needed and keep them from drying out and crack but not so damp that they mold. With regular use the ideal conditions to do that actually come naturally in most environments other than very dry or humid climates. Just don't let the things stay wet and don't store them in direct sun. Not so tough. Another popular option is oiling the basket with a marine grade finish, teak oil and Deks are popular but any oil finish ought to do. I don't like oil finishes on things that will come in contact with clothing. That's not always a bad thing as evidenced by countless oil finished rifle stocks but my preference is for a third option, varnishing. All of the baskets I have used in the past were varnished. The finish was durable but not brittle and made it much easier to keep the baskets clean as well as preventing them from soaking up water in rainy and humid conditions. All of these methods work to some degree or another, if you find a way that works, it's likely the method you should use. We're talking about pack baskets that will last for years with minimal care regardless of care methods. I have seen a wide range of reinforcements and repairs ranging from cloth and leather to copper sheeting and basketry materials. Simple cloth bags or fitted cloth liners can extend the use and life of pack baskets even further. I'd still like to have a Loring but the L.L.Bean is a welcome addition to my outdoor gear.


  1. Thank you for having written so beautifully and helpfully about caring for baskets. From your post, I now have a handle on what I can do, or not do other than protect it from moisture and direct sun. Your words were a genuine help, I appreciate it.

  2. I'm glad it helped. I grew up with them but it still took a lot of reading to figure out all the ways to take care of them. I'm still using the one in the photo. Not every day but it's seeing a fair bit of work. It's been perfect for crabbing and fastens down well as a rear panier on my cargo bike.

    They're a real rarity out in California.

    Thank you for the compliment in spite of a couple typos I'll have to fix.