Selecting the appropriate pack for mountain or wilderness hunts can be a daunting task given the number of options available to today’s discerning hunter. Leaf through the pages of just about any current hunting magazine and you’d be hard pressed not to find a pack company’s advertisement claiming to offer the lightest, strongest or most durable model available. Online research only muddies the waters further as each manufacturer seems to have its own dedicated following of both loyal customers and vocal detractors. One thing however is certain, this competition has driven innovation and creativity to new heights and dispelled the long held belief that it was impossible to build a pack that was both durable and incredibly lightweight.
At the forefront of this ultralight yet “mountain tough” design movement is Kurt Racicot and his Montana based company Stone Glacier Packs. In an age when it’s basically impossible to please everyone, Kurt has quietly but confidently built a brand and product line that is seemingly revered by each and every customer, a rare feat in today’s marketplace. To top if off, he has to be one of the most down to earth, likable guys we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, not to mention one hell of a mountain hunter. If you’re in the market for a new pack and on the fence about what company to buy from, we think this interview may just sway your decision.
Tell us about your upbringing in Montana, did you grow up in a hunting family?
I grew up in Western Montana, and yes definitely in a hunting family. My Dad was a teacher so in the fall our weekends were scheduled around football on Friday nights and then hunting on the weekends. Back then it was mostly about filling the freezer, and we’d primarily chase elk and mule deer.
At that point in your life, what was your favourite game to hunt?
Elk definitely, tags were easy to come by and that was back in the hay days of elk hunting in Montana, the late 80’s and early 90’s, before the wolves were re-introduced and the elk populations were strong.
When did you start solo backpack hunting?
It wasn’t until college really and mostly due to necessity. At that time it was often hard to get my buddies’ schedules to line up with mine so I just started heading out on my own. It boiled down to either going solo or not going at all.
You stayed in Montana for college correct?
Yes, I went to MSU and studied Technology Education and Biology. Shortly after graduating I moved to Alaska for a teaching job and it was in AK that I started to seriously get into solo backpack hunting.
I assume your first sheep hunt was in Alaska? And it was here that you really started to get serious about pushing the limits of backpack hunting and your gear?
Yes, I never had a chance to hunt sheep until I moved to Alaska as there weren’t any OTC sheep opportunities for us in Montana at that time. And as for backpack hunting the terrain and access in AK basically demanded that I get comfortable covering a lot of miles to get into good hunting areas, and this led to a focus on cutting as much weight as possible. I cut my teeth on the Kenai Peninsula where most of the access is walk-in so if you want to hunt, there’s only one way to get in there. At the time I’d take notes of everything I used and everything I didn’t and after each trip I’d eliminate anything that wasn’t a necessity.
So is it fair to assume that your first few sheep hunts were a bit of a learning experience?
Oh ya, it was a few years before I finally connected on my first ram. It takes a while to figure everything out from your gear to the sheep themselves.
Do you have a favorite or most memorable moment from your time in AK?
Man, that’s a tough one…there were so many great memories from my time in the mountains there it would be hard to pick just one.
OK, how about your most memorable hunt? And that doesn’t have to be a successful one.
In that case I’d have to say the time I was flown into the Chugach. It was supposed to be a ten day solo hunt and I managed to tag my ram pretty early in the trip but bad weather kept me in the mountains for a total of fifteen days. I’ll tell you those last few days were tough, stuck in the tent just waiting and hoping the weather breaks.
If you had to pick the most physically and/or mentally challenging hunt you’ve been on, would that also be the Chugach hunt?
No, it would have to be my Montana Bighorn hunt. It was in the unlimited districts of the Beartooth Wilderness so physically it was tough, no question. But more than anything it was mentally challenging. I didn’t see any game for 9 days straight before I found my ram and to physically push yourself for that long and keep your head in the game so you can pull it off when you do finally find the animal you’re after is as tough as it gets in my opinion.
OK let’s move on to some Stone Glacier specific questions:
Was it on these solo hunts in AK that you decided to start a pack company and was there a “light bulb” moment where you decided that you needed to design and sell a minimalist backcountry hunting pack?
I definitely didn’t have one of those light bulb moments. It was actually a pretty incremental, organic process over the course of five years. It started with me wanting to reduce weight and not being completely happy with the options on the market at that time (2007). I started by teaching myself how to sew, mostly figuring it out by trial and error and then just kept testing, tweaking and re-testing what I’d made. Once I was happy with the bag I started to play around with the frame and again went through the same process of personally testing, tweaking and re-testing the design until I got it right.
So you didn’t necessarily set-out to start a pack company?
Not at all, some of my friends saw the pack and asked me to build one for them and from there it was the proverbial ripple effect. Demand kept growing almost entirely through word-of-mouth until it got to the point where I decided to look at this as a viable business opportunity instead of just a hobby. I ran some numbers and it looked feasible so Stone Glacier was born!
Ultralight and Ultratough
And where did the name Stone Glacier come from?
This is a name I gave a completely impassible, hanging glacier at the head of a drainage where I was fortunate enough to take three different rams. It’s unnamed on every map of Alaska I’ve checked, so I figured it was mine to name if I wanted. Seemed like a fitting name for the company!
Stone Glacier was launched at a time when a variety of companies were coming to market with some fairly advanced pack designs, what’s especially interesting about SG is when other companies seemed to be designing pack systems that were more and more complicated you went the other way, simple, functional and of course very lightweight. Was this a conscience differentiation decision?
Not really, the pack design was and is a true reflection of my constant focus on stripping things down to the bare necessities. There’s no question that when I looked at the competition I felt I had something different to offer. In the initial stages, I was constantly testing and tweaking. I just kept cutting extras. If I hadn’t used a pocket or didn’t like where a zipper was located they didn’t make the cut. It was really as simple as that.
Where do you see Stone Glacier in 3-5 years?
I’d prefer not to get into that really. At this point, I’m just focused on providing a niche product, made from the best materials available and backed by true one on one service. I don’t want to lose sight of that any time soon. I think too many companies focus on growth too early in the life of the business and then decisions are made based on growth goals but not necessarily what’s best for the product or more importantly the customer. I want my customers to know they can count on Stone Glacier to provide great packs and accessories and still be able reach someone on the phone that really understands the product so they can discuss anything they need or ask any questions they may have.
As they say, the best marketing plan is designing a great product right?
Precisely! So for now, I’m content to stay focused on that and see where things go.
Great stuff, let’s move on to some “quick-fire” personal questions:
Do you prefer to hunt with a bow or rifle?
Well I hunt with both but I have to say I prefer late season hunting so I’d have to say rifle. November in particular is a great time of year. I love everything about late season hunts, the weather and scenery at this time of the year, how the animals behave, it’s definitely my favorite time of year to hunt.
What is your “go-to” rifle rig?
Weatherby Mark V .30-378 Wby Mag, Weatherby Ultralight stock, with a Proof Research barrel, topped with a Nightforce 5.5 – 22 NXS.
What’s your favorite species to hunt?
I’d have to say elk right here at home in Montana. The tags are OTC so I get to hunt as much as I want and there’s just nothing like chasing big bull elk.
What species is at the top of your “bucket list” to hunt?
I’d have to say a Stone Sheep hunt in BC. Everything about these hunts pulls at me. From the terrain, to the history surrounding the guide areas, everything about a Stone’s hunt sounds incredible. To be able to hunt areas with such a deep and rich history of sheep hunting and guiding would be unreal.
And related to that question, is there a specific area or region of the world that you’re dying to hunt, not for the species per se but for the terrain and scenery?
I’d have to say BC again, the photos I’ve seen from Stone Sheep hunts are just incredible.
Stone Glacier’s New For 2014 Sky Series Packs
You have a reputation as a guy that can cover extreme distances in serious terrain, other than spending as much time in the mountains as possible do you have a training program you follow?
Well due to time commitments with family and work, during the week I usually get in a mix of weightlifting, circuit training and then running to keep my cardio up. When I can, I get out hiking with a pack but that’s not always feasible so I try to keep my mountain applicable fitness up any way I can.
And finally, what are some items in your pack outside of the standard necessities that you always have with you that might be different from the average hunter?
I honestly don’t carry anything that isn’t an obvious necessity. Over the years I’ve whittled down my list to the true bare essentials…well OK, I may from time to time have some scotch with me!
Editorial note: Until this point we were starting to worry that Kurt was way too serious for us, but he totally redeemed himself with that last comment!