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Survival Skills and Rad Gear: The 2023 Backcountry Skills Summit

Adventuring into Montana's wilderness to explore, test gear, and learn survival skills was an epic opportunity that was too sweet to pass up. The Backcountry Skills Summit from Tread Agency measured up.

Traction Series, Tread Agency, Backcountry Skills Summit
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It isn’t easy to organize a media event in the backcountry. The logistics can be a real nightmare. Once you add in travel and gear configurations, getting people and stuff to the backcountry can be a real test of determination. The Backcountry Skills Summit pulled it all off beautifully.

Tread Agency brought brands, personalities, and media together to test outdoor gear in the place it was designed to be used. On top of that, there were epic views, fantastic food, and some solid survival skills tossed into the mix.

For me, it was an opportunity/excuse to get away from my desk and go play in my own backyard. This year’s event wasn’t more than a stone’s throw from where I lay my head at night. I couldn’t not go.

Seeing old friends and gaining a few new names on the roster was a serious perk. From food to gear and views that couldn’t be beaten, I was glad I made the drive.

2023 Backcountry Skills Summit

Backcountry Skills Summit Location
The views from camp were hard earned and well worth it; (photo/Tread Agency)

Tread Agency, a PR firm located in Bozeman, has launched the Traction Series, a collection of targeted events to bring media, outdoors people, and brands together in the places we all love.

These inaugural events include the River SummitOverland Summit, and Backcountry Skills Summit.

We believe the best ideas and most meaningful connections don’t come from behind a screen or in a booth. Instead, they come from being in the great outdoors, wild adventures, epic off-road trips, and tales around the campfire.

That’s why this year, we’re excited to offer best-in-class brands the opportunity to slow down and tell their stories in unique destinations that inspire great conversations, intimate product knowledge, and camaraderie. We’ll vet participating brands, bring together media, host experts in their fields, and curate an unforgettable experience.

— Tread Agency

We can’t speak for the other events quite yet, but the Backcountry Skills Summit was epic.

Full transparency: this event was not technically in the backcountry. There were primitive roads to all the places we hiked and camped, but that’s for obvious reasons. Toting gear in and out for a skills summit was a necessity. We didn’t utilize the roads, but the Tread Agency team was on top of it, getting camps and gear set up while we trekked between places.


Shift Pods - Backcountry Summit
Shift Pods set up at the upper camp; (photo/Tread Agency)


I’ll be honest, my first thought of the camp that was waiting for us on arrival was: WTF are those?

As someone used to setting up my own primitive camp, the idea that my “tent” would be laid out and ready for me was foreign but shockingly pleasant. The Shiftpods look like they belong on another planet. These metallic, easy-to-pop-up shelters are a far cry from what I’m used to in the backcountry. I tend to try and blend in with my surroundings. These are a stark departure from that mindset.

My initial skepticism was immediately squashed. The Shiftpod reflects so much heat back off the tent, keeping the interior cool during the hottest parts of the day. The quilted material retains heat for cool nights. It certainly isn’t lightweight or anything you’d want to pack in, but for a basecamp, these things are sweet.

Tread Agency Backcountry Skills Summit Food

The Food

Ohhhhh … the food. This was not your typical backcountry grub. Canyon Coolers kept the Montucky Cold Snacks, well, cold. Local food slingers kept the rations hot and plentiful.

Day one brought us an amazing BBQ under cloudy skies.

Day two brought a feast of epic proportions. The fare included chicken heart skewers, roasted vegetables, bison and beef tongue, bison heart, fire-seared marrow, and more.

The Amalthea goat cheese panna cotta with huckleberries was worth the hike alone.

We gained some serious elevation on our way to the second camp, but the feast that awaited us added pounds to my frame by the time I returned home.


The Montana Dept. of Commerce was a presenting sponsor of this event and gave some insight into where the state was headed in terms of recreation and the economy.

Bear education and awareness was presented by Amber Kornak (a genuine badass in every sense of the word) from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Bear Education
Amber Kornak teaching lessons on all things bear; (photo/Tread Agency)

Discussing everything from the proposed grizzly management plan to how to differentiate bear species, Amber was an epic educator. We had active bear spray training and enjoyed personal stories that would give the hardest outdoorsmen tremors.

Survival Skills

Survival Skills Course: Knots & Tarps; (photo/Tread Agency)
Survival Skills Course: Knots & Tarps; (photo/Tread Agency)

Jordan Jonas (season 6 winner of the television show “Alone”) ran us through some of his favorite knots, tarp uses, and other practical survival skills. Though I tend to drift my gaze when people start pitching survival tactics, these were all solid pieces of advice. He taught me a new way to split kindling that will never be topped.

Laura Zerra (fan favorite on “Naked and Afraid” and host of CarbonTV’s “Decivilized“) led the hike and offered knowledge ranging from wound care in the backcountry to edible forage.

Tourniquet Training
Tourniquet Training from Scoute Arms; (photo/Tread Agency)

The Scoute Arms team also led some basic first-aid training, such as the proper way to use a tourniquet. With so many people carrying first-aid kits that have them, most have no idea how to use them. It was a good refresher course for most and an introduction to some.

As a hunter, I always carry both a tourniquet and a chest seal in my pack. You just never know when a few simple items might save a life.

Precision Shooting

Rachelle Schrute Scoute Arms
Author taking part in the long-range precision shooting course presented by Scoute Arms; (photo/Tread Agency)

The Precision Shooting Course was a highlight for many of us. For those based in urban areas, the opportunity to shoot long-range is rare, and for some, this was a first. For others, it was a gift to be given some time behind the scope with some dedicated coaching. I know I needed it.

Both long-range and pistol courses were set up with rifles and coaching from Scoute Arms. From proper body position to adjusting for elevation, the skills passed along will aid in any pursuit behind a rifle.

The Backcountry Summit Gear

Loft Gear

Loft Gear Duffle Table
Loft Gear Station 150; (photo/Tread Agency)

We had the chance to test out the Station 150 rolling duffel. This duffel bag from Loft Gear solves a shockingly common and overlooked problem. You load all your gear into a bag, which then sits on the ground/floor, which you then have to either get down on the ground with or find something to put it up on.

This bag has folding legs that elevate your entire bag to usable height. It also comes with a tabletop insert that converts it to a table for whatever your outdoor adventure demands.

This product is in its early stages of availability, and we are going to have our hands on one for some very specific hunt and fish applications. Stay tuned for that. Once this thing hits the market, we see a lot of applicable uses.

Winchester Ammunition

Winchester Ammunition
Copper Impact: Winchester Ammunition; (photo/Tread Agency)

Winchester provided all of the ammunition for the shooting events. For the long-range rifle course, we shot the Winchester Copper Impact.

When it came to pistols, we ran both the FMJ and a few personal defense rounds through the handguns chambered in 9mm.

For the 10mm pistols, we shot standard FMJ and Winchester’s new Big Bore, which I’ve been excited about since shooting for the first time last year. The Big Bore round is specifically designed as a bear defense tool, so you know it has some serious punch.


Schnees Beartooth 200G Women's Hunting Boot
Schnee’s Beartooth 200G Women’s Hunting Boot; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

Schnee’s is no stranger to the GearJunkie team. You’ll find Schnee’s boots on both the men’s and women’s best hunting boots lists for 2023, as well as several previous lists. I can only imagine they’ll retain staying power because the brand makes a serious boot.

Matt from Schnee’s came out to unveil a new boot and some care tips to help us get maximum longevity in wear.

I’ll stand by the fact that I believe that the Schnee’s Kestrel is one of the best early-season boots money can buy.

Scoute Arms

Backcountry Summit Scoute Arms
Scoute Arms Rifles; (photo/Tread Agency)

Run by service members and lifelong hunters, Scoute Arms builds some of the lightest long-range rifles available. The attention to detail in these rifles is top-notch, as is the team behind them.

Not only do they build these guns, but they’re also building a community around them by offering a course to improve the shooters using these weapons. The Precision Hunter Development (PHD) course is offered each year, and the team at Scoute works to build confidence in the hunting community through increasing skillsets behind the scope.

Guzzle H2O

Guzzle H2O - Backcountry Skills Summit
Guzzle H2O Stream; (photo/Tread Agency)

All of our water throughout the summit was provided directly from the creek and filtered through a Guzzle H2O system. As someone who has enjoyed the gift of giardiasis in the backcountry in the past, I am pretty critical of my water in the wood. The Guzzle H2O Stream system uses both carbon and LED filtration to ensure that you’re getting fresh water, regardless of the source.

The battery life of the stream setup is impressive. On one charge, it can provide 35 gallons of drinkable water.

Though, this isn’t something you’ll be carrying into the backcountry. At 12 pounds, it has some heft. It’s still small enough and easy enough to set up to be perfect for a base camp or a solid emergency water source.

Mystery Ranch

Mystery Ranch Backcountry Summit
Mystery Ranch Coulee 40; (photo/Tread Agency)

Mystery Ranch provided daypacks for all participants in this year’s backcountry skill summit. I’m someone who is very particular about my pack, so I wasn’t elated to use a pack I’d never even tried on, but the Coulee 40 from Mystery Ranch was a great pack to get us up the mountain.

It had more than enough room, which I find daypacks typically skimp on without being heavy. It’s a pack that will definitely find its way into my rotation on the mountain for quick trips and early-season overnights.

That’s a Wrap

(Photo/Tread Agency)

I think there’s a lot of pressure on the first event of any series. It’s trial and error, at best. The team at Tread Agency did a bang-up job of not only creating an incredible experience but also connecting brands, products, media, and industry personalities.

That isn’t an easy task. If invited back, I have a feeling GearJunkie will make the trek to these events, wherever they’re held.

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