Red’s Meadow, the PCT and JMT — A Lightbackpacker Must-See

Me with hiking companions Bruce, left, and Al, right, at Rainbow Falls.

Me, center with hiking companions Bruce, left, and Al, right at Rainbow Falls.

Getting there — from Portland, Oregon to Mammoth, California — took some doing.

Keeping an eye on the weather, seeing nothing but sunshine and 65 degrees days at 8,000 feet in the Eastern Sierra, two friends and I booked a flight to Reno where we met a fourth friend and then drove three and a half hours to Mammoth, then down into wilderness.

Logistics and lateness in the season didn’t allow for a backpack, even though before and after the weather turned out to be gorgeous. Instead, we booked a cabin at Red’s Meadow Resort.

For those not familiar with the area, Red’s is a pack station that runs horses and mules to take people into the backcountry. But the resort includes a cafe and store with a nearby backpacker campground and hot, geothermal fed showers. Red’s is right on the PCT and JMT, so a favorite refueling spot for thru and section hikers.

Red’s has closed for the season, despite the beautiful weather (60’s and sunshine). But no doubt the wilderness will close down soon as winter creeps in. Maybe it’s too late to backpack there this year, but it is a definite bucket list trip for next year.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Near Death Experience Produces Extraordinary New Backpack

ME2 Packs Founder Candace Spears notes on the company website, the ME2 is the only pack on the market without shoulder straps. An unusual feature, one you might not think much about until you meet Spears.

At PCT Days this year, she revealed the reason she created this innovative pack.

“I was nearly killed — I actually died and I was brought back — in a river accident,” she said. Her neck and back are now fused with titanium, making it impossible for her to carry weight that presses down on her spine, neck and shoulders. The ME2 allows her to continue her beloved days in the outdoors with her husband.

I was attracted because a good friend of mine with arthritis in his neck and back can no longer carry a traditional backpack, so we can no longer backpack together.

Spears’ invention might have changed all that. Did I mention the pack is only 2 pounds, 4 ounces, definitely in the light backpacking category. I tried it on. As someone who hates a lot of weight on my shoulders — especially on long hikes — the ME2 is a wonder.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

10th Annual PCT Days: Food for Thought

PCT Days Trail FoodI just returned from the 10th Annual PCT Days in Cascade Locks, Oregon, about 40 miles each of Portland where hundreds of locals and PCT thru-hikers gathered to sample the wares, play games and enjoy the weather (sunny compared with last year’s spritzing rain).

Many years ago, I gave up food produced commercially for wilderness travel (pouches of ingredients that require hot water and a few stirs). Mostly, they were tasteless and expensive. Like many ultralight backpackers, I make up my own combinations of my favorite foods.

At PCT Days I sampled several types of trail food –mostly new to market — and purchased a some for future trips. A few that caught my eye:

Backpacker’s Bistro – the bags are lightweight and feed two people for $12. I sampled the bean with bacon and found it pretty tasty so I purchased Spaghetti Bolognese for a future trip. What caught my eye were the ingredients: handmade pasta, grass-fed beef, bacon, red wine, garlic, diced tomatoes and a few more goodies. Here is something eye-catching from the website: “2008 winner of the French Culinary Institute’s Top Chef award, Melissa Lynn Lieser combined her passions for backpacking and food when she founded Backpacker’s Bistro in 2016 with a simple philosophy: we believe that the most satisfying and healthy meals begin with whole, real foods. We believe in finding quality products from sustainable sources, locally if possible.”  To learn more:

Vasque Sturdiwheat Pancake Mix – the package says it makes a half dozen small pancakes. They appear to have healthy ingredients. A six-ounce package of buckwheat pancakes costs just $2. They also offer almond pecan, banana and apple cinnamon. Although I’m not likely to carry a frying pan on a backpack, I might consider using the Sea-to-Summit collapsible cookware and take the pancake mix with me. To learn more:

Trail Butter – the label claims: “all natural energy nut butter” and notes it is “low sugar,” which will be happy news for those trying to avoid sugar-rich foods. Trail Butter, the love child of Jeff and Brad Boggess, two outdoor enthusiasts who have traveled the world biking and skiing, comes in handy 4.5 hand-size pouches and in jars. I bought two pouches for the PCT days discounted price of $5 each: Mountaineer Maple with real maple syrup and the Ozark Original chunky variety. Both were mouth-watering.  To learn more:

Huppybar – an energy bar created by river guide Lyndsay Hupp. she boasts her bars, which are very tasty (I had the espresso chocolate), are non-GMO and free of soy, dairy, gluten or refined sugars — good news for health conscience outdoors people. You can buy online and at some Whole Foods and other health-oriented retailers. Here is a list of where to find them:
Be Light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Sea to Summit X-Set 11 Ultralight Camp Pot and Cups

At REI’s Portland Store — in my never-ending search for the newest and lightest backpacking equipment — I discovered the Sea to Summit collapsible pot and  cups. The set is just 11 ounces. I didn’t weigh the pot alone, but I’ll guess 5 ounces (142g) — a weight easily qualifying it to fit in any ultralight backpacking pack.

Sea to Summit X-Set 11 Sea to Summit X-Set 11 OpenBesides the weight, I was very impressed with its packability. From the Sea to Summit website:

“The innovative X-Kettle collapses to 1 3/8” (35mm) and has a 1-liter safe boiling capacity. A wide base absorbs maximum heat from the stove while protecting the silicone walls. Two glass-reinforced Nylon 66 handles support the upper rim and improve control when pouring. The two X-Mugs nest perfectly inside the Kettle to create an exceptionally compact cook system.”

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.




Snow Peak Gigapower Stove a Great Choice for Ultralight Backpacking

GigaPower Stove from Snow Peak on Vimeo.

Some extreme ultralight backpackers may think the Snow Peak Gigapower Stove, at 3.75 ounces (106 grams), is a brick. LOL. I think of it as a trail warrior worth a look.

This minimalist stove has been around for a long time, no doubt because it has proved its value and reliability. The Snow Peak Gigapower Stove is 4.2 inches long and 2.6 inches wide and is about as simple as they come.

Snow Peak offers a manual version (light with a match or other fire source) and an automatic version (which lights with the push of a button, no batteries required).

Boiling time with a canister of gas is just under 5 minutes. You get a lot of cooking time out of even the small canister.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Bullet-Proof Alcohol Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove Just 1.2 Ounces

I was at REI today, looking at the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking equipment when I came across the Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove. I have tried just about every type of stove there is: Esbit, alcohol, propane and ethanol gel (but not biomass). I’ve made alcohol stoves out of soda cans and purchased the custom-made variety for a fortune.

Alcohol stoves are ultra light, but I found that by the time you carried the stove and a enough fuel to run it for several days, there is really no weight advantage over the fuel-canister-powered variety — assuming the stove itself is light. But that was 10 years ago and the “technology” seems to have advanced light years.

The Vargo Titanium weighs just 1.2 oz (34 grams) and takes 1.5 ounces of fuel. All one piece, the manufacturer boasts the ultralight backpacking Decagon Stove is so strong you can step on it with all your weight and it won’t break. In my hand, it did seem extremely strong and impossibly light.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Sierra Design Gives You Great Tents and Great Customer Service

A few months ago, I called Sierra Design for advice on re-waterproofing my Sierra Design Light Year ultralight backpacking tent. While on the phone, I mentioned that I also had a Sierra Design Tent Meteor Light with a fly that was sticking together after being folded up for any period of time.

Customer Service Rep Brandon McMullen asked me to send a video demonstrating the problem. I followed up with a short iPhone video and he quickly determined the problem was a covered by warranty.

I was honest with Brandon that the tent was 15 years old. He said, the “sticky” fly was a defect and said he would send me a replacement tent. The only catch was I had to cut up the other tent with the sticky fly and email the picture.

Sierra Design Meteor LightIt was painful to cut up my Meteor Light, a good friend for many years in the backcountry. However, ss promised, within a few days I had a replacement, a Lightning 2 FL that was lighter and light years ahead technologically.

I love my new tent, but I also love Sierra Design, a company which not only makes great tents and other backpacking equipment, but also stands behind it’s products. Customer service is just first rate.

Here’s a look at the Lightning 2 FL:

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

EXPED Cetus II UL Tent Has Loads of Room and Features

The Exped Cetus II UL Tent has a lot of interesting features, among them the large vestibule and entrance protected from the weather.

This makes me wish I had this tent on a trip a few years ago when it was raining cats and dogs in the Sierra near Thousand Island Lake and having to climb into my tent and take off all the wet gear, while trying to get the inside dry.

Here’s one backpacker’s review:

My only concern: at 4 pounds, 1 ounce it’s a bit heavy as an ultralight backpacking tent. On the other hand, for all the space and features you get, some extra ounces might be worth it.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.