Story and Photos by Kevin Estela
The idea of an outfitter conjures images of a one-stop shop, providing everything you need for the great outdoors.
As a kid, I would ride my bike from my childhood home to a store right down the street, called North Cove Outfitters. They had it all from knives to fishing gear, hunting equipment and camping kit. That store has long since shut down, as have so many other countless businesses in the age of E-commerce.
Well, it wasn’t long ago, perhaps by fate or perhaps by incredible coincidence, I was browsing the internet for vintage kit items, including an old K&M Match Case, when I stumbled upon another outfitter’s website with a Connecticut hunting and fishing license displayed in a photo.
Digging a little deeper, I discovered the outfitter was located right down the street from my childhood home, along the same route I used to travel to North Cove back in the day. Needless to say, a visit to this outfitter was inevitable and after an E-mail announcing my intent to visit, I coordinated a mutually good time with the owner, Jason Polaski, and was welcomed inside and given a bowl of soup.
For as long as I can remember the term “pocket dump” appeared on Instagram, and before that in online-discussion board threads. Eventually, the term “flatlay” became a popular hashtag, with folks laying out all of their gear in a slightly OCD way.
Let’s face it, we’re human and we like tools, as well as a means of storing/organizing our gear. We weren’t born with marsupial pockets—well, there is that one guy I’ve seen online who can hide a rifle under a fat flap. But for the rest of us, enter Yellow Birch Outfitters, there to help us keep our daily carry at the ready.
YBO is run by Jason Polaski and is quickly becoming the go-to source for well-thought out leather, Cordura and combo leather/Cordura gear. We recently took a tour of YBO and wanted to highlight some of the top items we have on our “must have” list, for your consideration.
We all have those random everyday carry items that float around in our pants pockets. If you’re like me, you probably have a small pile consisting of a lighter, paracord, chapstick, flashlight, pen and more on your nightstand, at the end of the day.
Yellow Birch Outfitters came up with a simple solution, in the form of a pocket organizer, for your kit. You can call it a “PocKit,” and that isn’t a typo. These handy pouches are available in a few different layouts and sizes. Often imitated but never duplicated, Jay from Yellow Birch Outfitters has the method down to minimize bulk, maximize strength and provide ample organization.
Some colors are essentially standard like ranger green, coyote tan, black, etc. but every so often some colors are made available in limited special edition runs—like various MULTICAM runs and colors with contrasting trim.
I’ve carried a small emergency kit (if you remember the S.O.S. kit Victorinox sold years ago, you can imagine the updated kit I made) in my work bag daily, for close to 2 years, and it allows me to have what I need for life’s small emergencies. The PocKit is like that, only for your pocket.
Cordura nylon is not the only material Yellow Birch Outfitters is known to use in the creation of their EDC items. Many of the products found in the company catalog are made with quality English bridle leather, from Wickett & Craig.
Yellow Birch produces Field Notes covers, travel cribbage boards and pocketknife sheaths for belt and in-pocket carry.
One particular item that caught my eye on a recent visit, was the Pancake Belt Sheath. This semi-horizontal carry sheath can be worn in many different positions around the waistline, but I like it in the appendix location. By design, the sheath body gives the knife some retention, eliminating the need of a closure flap, which allows the user to access the folding knife easily.
One recent addition to this leather sheath—available as an option—is a firesteel loop. For those who carry a multitool, the firesteel loop can also be used to carry a hex bit driver. The attention to detail is incredible and the way Jay was able to add this loop to the sheath, and fit the end of it into a separate pocket in the main body of the sheath, is very cool.
If Indiana Jones needed a modern-day bag to take with him on a remote adventure, he’d choose this bag.
Think of the Peck Mountain Field Bag as the perfect travel companion, that blends old-school looks with modern technology. It has just the right amount of bridle leather to go along with the nylon body for durability.
I like the non-tactical look of it, making this bag perfect for carrying bug-out gear or whatever you may need for the impending 2020 end of days apocalypse. The bag has more than enough room to carry a weekend’s worth of clothes or whatever bushcraft kit you might want, while wandering the woods.
Jay Polaski puts a lot of time into each one of these bags and the effort shows.
Staying true to form of an outfitter, Yellow Birch Outfitters carries an assortment of gear one can purchase, prior to venturing out into the great outdoors. Rather than listing the equipment carried, we’ll simply say, the folks behind Yellow Birch Outfitters have experience with each of the items in their inventory.
You will find everything from mess kits to fire starters, books to pocketknives and basic bushcraft blades at Yellow Birch Outfitters. If you need proof that Yellow Birch uses the gear they sell, just check out what he carries inside his highly customized overland Jeep and you will find Jay’s personal collection of the gear he sells.
I was lucky enough to pull Jason aside and ask him a handful of questions in between sewing pouches, managing online orders and fabricating some pretty cool items—that you’ll just have to check back in to see about.
Here’s part II of my visit, a sit down with Mr. Yellow Birch Outfitters himself.
Knife & Gear Society: What is your background in the military and prior work, before starting Yellow Birch?
Jason Polaski: I spent three years in the Army Infantry, from 1998-2001. The first year in Korea, and the rest in Fort Lewis testing the new MOLLE system and the Stryker vehicles, along with regular Infantry training and field Exercises.
K&GS: What prompted you to start YBO?
JP: I’ve always been a big fan of self-sustaining hobbies. As a bushcrafter, and a southpaw, knife sheaths don’t typically come for my kind—and custom work adds up quick.
As a disabled vet, extra fun money wasn’t easy to come by. My education in two different art schools, with a major in Industrial Design, as well as my time in the Army and a lifetime of DIY, gave me a pretty good idea of what I wanted, and how to do it. It was just a matter of finding the materials.
When I found a Tandy Leather in state, I got to work. With only the idea of making things for myself, I made a few sheaths, a few pouches and a notebook (now the Expedition Notebook) to write everything in. When a friend of the family saw my work, she commented that “I should sell it on Etsy.” My immediate reply being, “Who is Etsy?” Which prompted a quick tutorial on the site, and I was off.
As I said in the beginning—loving the idea of self-sustaining hobbies—I thought I might sell a few items a month, which would pay for the materials to keep me going without digging into the family finances. It just kind of blew up from there!
K&GS: How many PocKits have been sold and to how many different countries?
JP: I really wish I had the foresight to have kept better track of that. Starting on Etsy, and now on my own site, I lost track of that number in-between it all. It’s a safe guess that it is closing in on, if not having already surpassed, 10,000 units so far.
As for where, they’re in over 30 countries (that I know of) around the world! I keep a map full of pins in my workshop so I can see it all. It’s quite the motivator. A lot of my customers are at APO addresses, or deployed, so I don’t know all of them. I just hope I’m helping them out!
K&GS: What can you tell me about the Peck Mountain field bag?
JP: I can tell you it has been hard for me to top! (Haha). That bag has been floating in my mind since college. I came into art school at the height of the 90’s messenger bag craze, and that’s probably where it started. I carried one through high school, college and everything in-between.
Other than the backpacks I had to use on duty, it has always been a messenger style bag for me. The ease of access is just unparalleled in my opinion, and in a Field Bag that makes all of the difference. You see, a backpack is great for things you just have to haul, and don’t need to get to—like camp gear for when the hiking is done for the day. A field bag is meant to be an assistant out there. Easy to access, well organized so it’s quick to get what you need, durable as hell and built to take punishment. If you can add comfort to the mix, it’s absolute heaven.
I wanted something that didn’t look out of place, no matter where the field was—be it New York or Upstate Vermont—and was stylish, but inconspicuous…subtle, if you will (something I picked up from my days as a photographer).
Over the years, and through everything I learned in the Army, I was able to put it all together: English Bridle leather from one of the oldest tanneries in America, Cordura for incredible wear and weather resistance (with it doubled in high stress or high wear areas), MIL-Spec tapes & threads and solid cast hardware. Nothing bent or plated. It costs more, but it ensures nothing will fail.
The final key is simplicity. Superfluous details add failure points. Taking cues from old postal bags, I used a harness system to keep the bag hanging right, no matter how loaded it was—without restricting access. The bag opens completely this way, and you can stuff it however you need, without it digging into you.
K&GS: What is next on deck for YBO?
JP: That’s an excellent question. I’m headed back to my roots. The last few years have been all about Cordura and textiles. They’re not going anywhere, and people will still see new things in those lines, but I miss my leather.
We are going to revisit some of my classic designs, from when I opened the doors, and reimagine them. Add some versatility and sizes, and maybe a new color or two. You never really stop learning and I’m excited to add those new lessons into my designs. I don’t completely know yet, and that’s what I’m really excited about.
I may not be as able to get out on the adventures anymore, but figuring out what I want to make, and have someone be able to really rely on, is a great adventure in itself; one I get to enjoy every day.
I try every day to live up to my mission statement: Gear you can Beat On, Count On, and Hand Down. Something built to tackle life’s every adventure, and still be usable by your grandkids.
Knife & Gear Society would like to thank Jason Polaski for his candor and taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate the opportunity to learn more about him on a personal level and the chance to learn more about his well-crafted products. K&G
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The PocKitMaterial: 1000D Cordura nylonStitching: Mil-Spec Nylon #69Edged: Mil-Spec tapeWidth: 4 inchesHeight: 6 inchesZipper and Pull: YKK #5MSRP: $34.99 – $49.99
Pancake Belt SheathMaterial: 5oz. vegetable tanned English Bridle leather from Wickett & CraigStitching: Cemented and stitched with #138 threadFits: Up to 1.75 inch beltMSRP: $69.99 – $79.99
Peck Mountain Field BagMaterial: 1000D Cordura nylonStraps: Thick vegetable tanned, oil finished leatherHardware: Solid cast brass hardware and rivetsFinish: DWR coating and urethane backingWidth: 16 inchesHeight: 12 inchesDepth: 4 inchesMSRP: $249.99
Yellow Birch Outfitters(860) 552-6678www.YellowBirchOutfitters.com
Yellow Birch Outfitters
Kevin Estela is a professional Bushcraft and Survival Instructor, Author, Martial Artist, and teacher. He is the former Lead Survival Instructor of the Wilderness Learning Center under Marty Simon and the Owner of Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin’s book, 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods is an Amazon best seller and his 140 published print articles in 20 different magazines with many more online blog posts make up over a decade of his outdoor-industry writing career. Additionally, Kevin is a Sayoc Kali Senior-Level Associate Instructor and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt. He has trained under top firearms instructors and he enjoys shooting and marksmanship. A knife guy through and through, Kevin has been tapped by numerous companies to assist with knife designing and testing. His company motto was born of his no-nonsense outdoor experience in many countries around the globe, “Trusted information proven in the field”. When not wearing these hats, he is a mild-mannered high-school history teacher in a public school in Bristol, CT.
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