Object Lessons: The Enduring Adirondack Day Pack Basket

Swamp Road Baskets

The tradition of shouldering a basket dates back to early Native American times, and these days packs are still woven in wilderness pockets in the US. We decided to do some investigating and discovered a number of Adirondack basket weavers who create the packs the traditional meticulous way, out of local black ash, hand-pounded, cut, and shaved into splints. Their designs come in a range of sizes and shapes, all reinforced on the base with ash runners, and were traditionally made by wilderness guides and hikers themselves for toting everything from fishing rods and picnic gear to just-picked blueberries. We’ve found they’re also ideal for storing hats and gloves, pet gear, and the daily mail; no trekking required.

Five to Buy from Local Craftspeople

Jonathan Kline Black Ash Baskets

Above: Jonathan Kline of Black Ash Baskets in Trumansburg, New York, whose designs we spotlighted in Baskets as High Art, has a cult following and makes pack baskets to order in a range of sizes, with or without straps. Of his pack designs, he says: “Rims, handle, and skids are made of shagbark hickory that is split, carved, and bent to fit each individual basket. The basket itself is woven of heavy black ash splint. Like all my baskets, these strips are the annual growth layers that I pound and separate from the tree. I shave each strip to a smooth finish that is then beveled on the edges to make a tight weave.”

Swamp Road Baskets

Above: Adirondacks master craftsman Jamin Uticone apprenticed for six years under Jonathan Kline, and makes a range of finely crafted baskets detailed with bridle leather, including the Urban Pack Basket, shown above right, which is in the collection of the Smithsonian. See his work at Swamp Road Baskets; prices on request.

Claire Swanson Backpack

Above: The End of Summer Knapsack Basket, $75 on Etsy, is handwoven to order by Minnesota basket maker Claire Swanson.

Adirondack Baskets by Fran Doonan and Stephen Zeh

Above L: Maine weaver Fran Doonan is a “self-taught black ash basket maker,” as she says. She teaches the art and produces limited-edition baskets. Above R: Stephen Zeh uses Maine brown ash, English bridle leather, shearling shoulder pads, and copper and brass fittings in his luxe pack baskets.

Birch Store Adirondack Pack

Above: The Birch Store in Keene Valley, New York, offers handmade backpacks in three sizes from Bud Ziolkowski and Sandy Muller of Clear Creek Weavers in Saranac Lake, New York. The couple also teach workshops on basketmaking; visit the Adirondack Mountain Club for information.

Adirondack Slat Pack Basket

Above: Vintage Adirondack pack baskets are available from a number of sources, including rustic antiques specialist Ralph Kylloe of the Adirondacks, and on eBay and Etsy—search “Adirondack pack baskets,” “pack baskets,” “trapper baskets,” and “basket backpacks.”

Go to Baskets & Bins for more of our favorite storage solutions.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran November 3, 2015.

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