ZPacks Help Redefine “Ultralight Backpacking”

I started my backpacking days with a really beautiful, but giant 5800cu Dana Design Pack (7.5 pounds) stuffed full and weighing 40-45 pounds with food for just three days.

Feeling more like a pack mule than a backpacker, I saw the light when I read about the “Ray Way“.

Today, my basics (pack, pad, sleeping bag and tent) are around 9 pounds. With a few adjustments, I can go lighter. However, lighter translates into less comfort. For example, a 3/4 length mat can be thin and light at less than a pound, but can also be pretty uncomfortable and cold.

I feel pretty good about the lightness of my current Osprey Atmos 35 at 2.25 pounds. Still, ZPacks’ offerings at PCT Days in Cascade Locks, Oregon, which I attended a few weeks ago, go as low as 3.5 ounces for the small size “Zero Backpack” model. ZPacks rates the Zero Pack for loads of up to 20 pounds. They are not only light, but tough as well.

ZPacks is a home-grown business based in Florida. Founder Joe Valesko started ZPacks in 2005. Joe told me that he designs and tests all the gear, and has thru-hiked over 9,700 long distance miles including the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Te Araroa Trail, TGOC Scotland, and the TMB in the Alps. You can see some of Joe’s Adventures Here.

Joe and his team also make ultralight tents and other gear.

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

Granite Gear A Good Choice for Multi-Day Ultralight Backpacking

Shelly Smith with Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Pack.

Shelly Smith with Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Pack.

The highlight of PCT Days this past weekend was walking across the Bridge of the Gods, on the PCT, with hundred of other backpackers, thru-hikers and outdoor lovers. It was only open to pedestrians for 30 minutes; long enough to walk from the Oregon to Washington side and back, with stops in the middle for spectacular views and photos.

Another highlight was seeing, touching, wearing and experiencing ultralight backpacking equipment first-hand (instead of viewing it in magazine gear guides). What amazed me most is the quality and thought that has gone into creating gear that works in the wilderness, like Granite Gear. It all comes down the thought that went into GG’s products.

As noted on the Granite Gear website, “During a paddling trip through Quetico Provincial Park in 1986 Jeff Knight and Dan Cruikshank realized there was a need for better outdoor gear, planting the kernel that became Granite Gear. From those humble beginnings—two buddies on a camping trip—Granite Gear has grown into an internationally respected brand that matches purpose with weight, comfort and durability.” Jeff, Dan and company know their equipment. They live it. They test it. And they make it for us — devotees of ultralight hiking and backpacking.

Among the standout packs they have created — and I checked out — with the help of communications rep Shelly Smith, was the Granite Gear Crown V.C. (Vapor Current Suspension) 60, a 2-pound pack that is not only light, but sturdy and comfortable with plenty of pockets and room for everything you will need for a multi-day trip. Check it out.

In the meantime … Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.


PCT Days Scheduled for Aug. 28-30 near Portland, Oregon

Just been in Portland four months after living and backpacking my entire life in California. My new outdoor world includes the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and more. We are surrounded by the great outdoors. My wife and I even have a townhouse close to Forest Park, a 7,000-acre wilderness park right here in the city. But back to PCT Days …

In the September 2015 issue of Backpacker Magazine, an ad for the 9th Annual PCT Days caught my eye. Just so happens, I’ll be in the area and plan to attend.

Here are some details of the event (I will report on any ultralight backpacking finds with photos after I return) from PCTDays.com (just 42 miles east of Portland).

PCT DAYS is an annual three-day event that promotes outdoor recreation and the products of exhibiting sponsors, with a focus on hiking, camping, and backpacking gear.  PCT DAYS takes place in the Marine Park of Cascade Locks, Oregon, located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge.  Attendees are able to check out the latest outdoor recreation products of exhibiting sponsors at the gear fair, participate in free outdoor classes & activities, win products at the gear raffle, explore one of the regional trails or bike paths, camp onsite and enjoy the beautiful setting in the Columbia River Gorge.  PCT DAYS is a family-friendly event and free to attend (with overnight camping available for a small fee.) Whether you decide to immerse yourself in the event’s activities or take a relaxed approach, don’t miss out on a great time at the 9th annual PCT DAYS!

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

Backcountry Coffee: Three Ultralight Backpacking Options

I recently visited Snow Peak’s USA headquarters in Portland to check out all the lastest goods and gadgets. One of the items that caught my eye was the Snow Peak Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Brewer.

A tasty cup of trail coffee

A tasty cup of trail coffee









Weight 4.9 oz (140g)

I got a fresh-brewed cup of coffee out of the visit (very good) and hands-on experience. It is solid and folds flat. Worth checking out at $29.95 if you love good trail coffee.

Jetboil Coffee Press

Weight 0.8 oz (22g)

Jetboil Coffee PressFor my birthday, my wife bought me a coffee press for my Jet Boil. In my home try-out, I added 8 ounces of water, which boiled in one-minute. I stirred two tablespoons of fresh, dark french roast (#4 grind), let it sit for 3 minutes, then inserted the press to push down the grounds. Coffee was excellent. Fits inside the Jetboil cup. About $10.

Starbucks VIA® Intant

Weight .02 oz (3g)

Finally, a few months back, a friend and fellow backpacker brought Starbucks VIA® Instant coffee packets. If you like good coffee, like me, the thought of instant coffee gives you the shivers. Surprise. Surprise. Starbucks is excellent and the Dark French was strong the way I like it. Each packet costs less than a dollar and a fraction of an ounce — a dozen grams maybe. There are 15 flavors, including decafs, flavored (like Caramel Latte) and light and medium-bodied roasts.  Here is a Weblink for a look-see: Starbucks Instant Coffee.

My Choice

I like and recommend all three.

  • The Snow Peak is sturdiest and heaviest (4.9 ounces).
  • The Jetboil is a great trail coffee solution for the Jetboil Cooking System.
  • The Starbucks VIA® Instant is lightest of the “ultralight backpacking” trail coffee solutions.

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


California’s Lost Coast A Rare Beauty of a Hike


Note: click on photos to make them larger and smaller.

Backpacker Magazine recently featured a article about backpacking the Lost Coast, a 30-mile stretch of beauty sandwiched between Northern California’s King Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Three companions and I completed the entire 30 miles in two days and one night on the first trip. Two more times, friends and I hiked 10-mile sections from the north and south.

There are at least two 4+-mile sections impassable at high tide, which encompass at least three campsites where you are pretty much on an island unless you want to climb steep trails up the mountainsides. At Buck Creek, we camped on a specular cliff site, high above the beach with incredible sunset views.

The Trail

The Lost Coast Trail leads you to wide sandy beaches (like Spanish Flat and Big Flat), which are ideal for camping. We found several wonderful campsite / shelters made (by previous campers) from driftwood with seats and fire pits. Although isolated, surfers manage to come to these flat expanses for great waves.

The trail takes you on the beach (walking in the sand and over small boulders in some places) and up on hard pack cliff trails and through meadows.

Water and Toilets

There are several creeks that flow into the trail so there is no problem with fresh water (however, drought conditions may have had an impact so check in at the ranger station). Paper and poo go in the sand (dig a hole) below the high tide water line. Seems counterintuitive to the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” philosophy, but those are the rules).


The abandoned Punta Gordon Lighthouse is a wonderful ruin to explore. No lens or glass in the lighthouse, but you can climb up into the former lens room and get a spectacular view. The abandoned light keeper houses were burned down 40 years ago to keep squatters out.

Getting There

Check you maps. But there are several ways to do this. On our trip several years ago, we discovered that a local woman would pick you up in Shelter Cove (leave your car) and drive you to the Mattole River to begin the 30+ miles trip south to Shelter Cove. An alternative is to have two cars — one at each end. But the roads, in and out and along the ridge of the King Range are really windy and unpaved in places.  Two cars is not a great option.

Check with the store at Shelter Cove or King Range Conservation Area Office (Call ahead for hours. (707) 986-5400. 768 Shelter Cove Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589) to see what other options might be available. The shuttle was a great way to go. But not check (like $50 / person). Of course, another option is to hike half way or more from either end for an out and back.

Pre-Backpack Camping

You can tent camp at Shelter Cove and at the Mattole River before you hit the trail. There are no services at Mattole, but Shelter Cove is a regular little community with a general store ((707) 986-7733), restaurant, RV Park, campground ((707) 986-7474), etc.

Bear Canisters

Last time I checked, canisters were required. Read the regulations. I guess bears come down the creeks from the mountains for food and water. We never saw any. Rules are rules — and for a reason.


If you go, DO NOT try to be brave running through even shallow surf to get around points impassable at high tide. You will be risking your life. Currents are strong and sneaker Ray P at Lost Coastwaves can surprise and carry you out to sea in a moment. Do like we did: have lunch, relax, take it easy, take a nap until the next tide change. On one hiking day, BECAUSE of the high tides and because we were feeling good, we raced passed “impassable” areas while the tide was low and made 16 miles. That is a slog when you consider you walk through a fair amount of sand. We were really energized, but what’s the point if you are just trying to enjoy nature. Take your time.

As Always: Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Map:  http://www.mappery.com/map-of/King-Range-National-Conservation-Area-Trail-Map


Let There Be Light … On the Trail and in the Tent

I recently attended a presentation about Luci, a “solar justice” solution for those who live in “energy poverty” (they have little or no electricity for basic living).
Created by Mpowerd, Luci lights are inflatable, waterproof, solar-powered lanterns that recharge indoors or out and will reportedly last for 12 hours of continuous use. They stay charged for months when not in use. 



The best part: they weigh just 2.5 ounces (about 70 grams) and fold flat to about a half inch by about 5 inches.

As a ultralight backpacker, I couldn’t resist buying one. It solves the problem of carrying batteries, especially on extended backpacks.

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

Forget the Tooth Brush: Chew Your Way to Clean Teeth

Archtech Toothpaste TabletsWe all know the sure way to creating an ultralight backpack is to start light with minimalist pack, mat, bag and tent (under 10 pounds). Beyond that, the little things can add up; an ounce here and an ounce there can quickly become pounds on your back.

One of my recent finds for good trail oral hygiene and pack weight reduction, which eliminates the need for a tube of toothpaste, is the Archtech Toothpaste Tablet. See photo for size of a single tablet. You can buy 60 tablets from Amazon for $6.74. Maybe you even leave behind the brush and use your finger, further cutting your weight.

I bought a pack and tried them. They taste good. And, they seem to work.

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


Light as Air … Almost: The Thermarest NeoAir XLite

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but no matter. I’m back at it and today I saw a sleeping mat that packs down to almost nothing, is full-length, has a barrier against cold ground, is comfortable and weighs only 12 oz or 340 grams.
There is a patent pending on it’s heat capturing technology. What I like is that it meets two of my essential ultralight backpacking criteria (it’s light, of course), but is also adds comfort with almost no weight.

Near weightlessness comes at a price, but even though I love my Exped Goose down at about 2 pounds, this is something worth looking at. With this weight reduction, I could carry my heavy (2 pound, 4 ounce Osprey Atmos 35 pack) and still have my essentials under 8 pounds (tent, bag, pack, sleeping pad). Or I could go with my Osprey Ather at 1.5 pounds and get under 7 pounds.

I’m thinking the investment will be worth it.

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