Power Food: Boosting Your Trail Energy

Clif Shot Bloks - 12 Pack

I recently purchased a waterproof I.D. bag at REI for a friend who kayaks and a package of Clif Shot Bloks organic energy chews arrived in the same box as a free sample.

Well, I couldn't resist immediately ripping open the 2.1-ounce bag with 6 strawberry flavored chews and downing two of them.

The strawberry flavor was good. The texture/consistency is akin to Gummy Bears. While some “energy shots” have some pretty odd flavors, this was decent.

Rx for Energy

The instructions on the bag recommend taking 3-6 chews every hour during activity, followed by water.

Contents: organic rice syrup, organic cane juice, brown rice solids, citric acid, coconut oil and Carnauba wax (must hold it all together). No saturated fats or trans fats.

Sometimes you can be climbing in the mountains for long periods and your energy starts to run out. A sugar boost from an energy chew could help.

One acquaintance of mine is an ultralight backpacker in the extreme. He told me that he hiked in Greenland for two weeks, living entirely on 1,000 calorie per package energy shots like those used by weightlifters. Sounds pretty boring, but if you want to keep your pack weight down, eliminating real food is one way. But it’s not for me.

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

Review: Ultralight Backpacking Forever Flashlight

Excalibur Micro Forever Flashlight - 1 ea

Shedding Light on Flashlights

I recently stopped in a non-profit, volunteer “environmental center” where I discovered the Excalibur Micro Forever Flashlight, a 3.5-ounce light suitable for lightweight backpacking that requires no batteries and has a single LED (light emitting diode). Although I own at least four flashlights in the form of headlamps or small hand-helds that can be clipped on a cap or hung from a pack loop, I am always looking for new, lighter, more innovative lights. Forever Flashlight fits the bill.

Shake and Go

By shaking the Forever Flashlight back and forth for 15 seconds, enough electricity is generated to light the LED bulb for three minutes of continuous light, according to the instructions. Initially, as instructed, I shook it for 90 seconds and got five minutes of light. How does it work?

It uses the Faraday Principle of Electromagnetic Energy which states that if an electric conductor, like copper wire, is moved through a magnetic field, electric current will be generated and flow into the conductor.

This shake-and-go light certainly meets my criteria for lightweight and eliminates the need to carry extra batteries. Checking the Web, I found many versions of this, like the NightStar CS flashlight, which claims 20 minutes of bright light by shaking for 3 minutes.

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Ursack Ultralight Backpacking Bear Bag review

Ursack Bear Bag: A Wasted $50 Investment

I figured that I had found the perfect food protection answer a few years ago when I purchased a 4-ounce Ursack bear bag made of Kevlar , a material used in bulletproof vests.

A few months after my $50 purchase, however, wilderness officials announced that Ursack was not an approved container. I was really pissed. First at officialdom, then at Ursack. I asked the company, which pushed Ursack in Backpacker Magazine and on its website as an effective lightweight alternative to the bear canister, for a refund or at the very least an upgrade to a new double bag they hoped would get official approval.

Company Reject
Ursack rejected my request and I was stuck with a very expensive, but useless piece of anti-bear gear.That was about five years ago. Word came down in October 2005 that a new Ursack Hybrid , which weighs 1 pound, 4 ounces – half the standard Garcia canister, but nearly 5 times the weight of the original Ursack – has won conditional approval for use in some national parks and forests.

A Day Late, A Dollar Short
Ursack also reported that the original bags might possibly be approved for use in the future (no guarantee) with an aluminum insert. Last year, my original Ursack got carried away at Thousand Island Lake in the John Muir Wilderness when I failed to tie it to a tree (I was above tree line). Somewhere out there a critter still is trying to chew through the bag to get at a pound of prime beef jerky. I miss the beef jerky, but not the Ursack. Ursack’s website reports officials prohibit tying the new hybrid to rocks or trees for fear of environmental damage. Ursack company officials report being optimistic bears will not carry away the new Ursack if left on the ground. I wouldn’t count on it.

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Choosing a lightweight backpacking stove

Lightweight backpacking for beginnersIt’s All About Fuel

In the past few years, manufacturers have developed a large number of really small, light and efficient backpacking stoves.

Most of them are 4 ounces or less. But that’s only half the story.

The other half is the fuel. It’s my experience that when you read expert recommendations about picking light stoves, the experts forget that fuel can double or triple the weight.

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Lightweight bear proof container review: BearVault BV350 Solo

Bears Kill the “Light” in Lightweight Backpacking

The requirement to carry bear-proof containers in most national parks and forests really makes an ultralight backpacker roar.

You cut off toothbrush handles, trim pack straps and remove tent labels to save a few ounces, only to add 2 ½ pounds of bear-proof container to your load.

Since most light packs (less than 3 pounds) are 3000 cc’s or less, a bear canister takes up a huge portion of the precious little space. Strapping it onto the outside of the pack is an awkward alternative. No straps are included with purchase.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy some canister-free hiking is to share carrying duties with trail pals.

My regular backpacking/camping companions, Wild Bill and The Duke, are quite accommodating when it comes to sharing.

The Duke frequently carries our evening wine in his 14-ounce GoLite Gust Pack. Wild Bill hauls blocks of cheese and quantities of anti-oxidants (large dark chocolate candy bars) as his contribution. As a result, I carry the community pot and more often than not, the group bear canister. In theory anyway, sharing could lighten your load. One canister will work for three people on a two to three-day trip, but not much more.

BearVault BV350 Solo Bear Resistant Food Canister

After renting a big Garcia Bear Canister at 2 pounds, 9 ounces, on several trips, I decided to search for a smaller, lighter solution. I found it in the BearVault BV350 Solo Bear Resistant Food Canister (pictured at left), a large see-through plastic jar with screw-on lid and child-proof lock.

The BV350 Solo (4 days capacity, according to the manufacturer) weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces (on my wife’s food scale), 10 precious ounces less than the standard Garcia and nearly half the bulk.

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SteriPEN Water Purifier Review


I'm guessing, but it was at least five years ago when Hydro-Photon, Inc. announced the SteriPEN water purifier, a portable battery powered device that uses ultraviolet radiation to kill just about everything you might find in wilderness water in seconds.

As I recall, a manufacturing problem delayed the release of the device and actually resulted in a total redesign. I had to wait at least two years before I could get my hands on one. But it was worth the wait. 

From the first time I saw it written up in a national magazine, I was hooked.

In my quest to go ultralight, I was looking for anything that could help me shave ounces from my load and the SteriPEN seemed like just the ticket. It didn't disappoint.

The device has evolved since the original design and now you simply push the button one time and place the pen in water. It automatically insures you get the correct amount and duration of UV light necessary to produce a liter of safe, clean water.

Push the button twice and you purify 16 ounces in 48 seconds. Then you put the SteriPEN in a pouch that fits on your belt and you're back on the trail. Very slick.

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Ultralight Backpacking Food: Chef 5 Minute Meals

Chef 5 Minute Meals Beef Stew (Pack of 6)

My friend Sue recently handed me a coupon for a new line of foods called Chef 5 Minute Meals Beef Stew (Pack of 6). So far, I haven’t been able to find them in the supermarket, but am intrigued by the ad that says they need no refrigeration and have a salt-water activated “oven” in the box that heats the meal in five minutes to 140 degrees.

Each meal weighs 9 ounces. I visited the company website for Chef 5 Minute Meals, where they provide some information on the product, but no nutritional information. Among the features: each package comes complete with oven, utensils, napkins, salt and pepper. The advertising says there are no preservatives added, yet the meals have a five-year shelf life.

There are six different dinners and a dessert available: chicken cacciatore, chicken pasta Parmesan, beef strogonoff, spaghetti with meatballs, vegetable lasagna, beef chili with beans, beef stew and chocolate dessert.

A company representative told me they are available at Albertsons, Publix, ACME, Long’s Drugs, Kash ‘n Karry, Brooks, Eckerd and Amazon.com.

That’s all I can tell you about Chef 5 Minute Meals until I get my hands on some. If any of you have experience with this product, please share your thoughts with us. I find this product particularly interesting because you could actually take a trip and not carry a stove or any fuel (assuming you don’t need you’re daily fix of oatmeal, coffee or tea). Potentially good news for a light backpacker seeking ways to reduce pack weight.

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

Exped Downmat 7 Backpacking Sleeping Pad review

I own multiples of every category of backpacking gear – three tents, two backpacks, four stoves, two sleeping bags, three water purification systems.

Some people would call me a gearhead, someone addicted to buying gear.

Okay, I admit it. I am a gearhead. It is difficult for me to stick with one old loyal and trusty piece of gear when a newer, lighter, better, more high tech version comes on the market. However, most of my purchase of “extras” evolved out of my quest to go ultralight.

Exped Downmat Sleeping Pad 7

Exped Downmat 7

In this pursuit, I have gone from heavy to extremely light and back to somewhat light. One item in this category is the Exped Downmat Sleeping Pad 7 that my wife, Gerry, bought for me at Christmas a few years ago. Gerry reads Backpacker Magazine religiously (though she would never actually go backpacking), in her quest to show interest in my hobby. She pointed out the Exped, noting it is filled with down and suggested that it was “pretty light.”

At the time, I was using a 1 pound, 4 ounce Thermarest, so a 2-pound Downmat didn’t seem “pretty light.” Still, I was intrigued by its size and weight-to-feature ratio, if there is such a thing.

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Sleeping pads: The comfort factor

Lightweight backpacking for beginnersLet’s face it, most of us are accustomed to sleeping on thick mattresses. The shift to sleeping in the wilderness with minimal night-time amenities can be a shock to the system. Our home mattresses provide both comfort and insulation. The outdoor mattress serves a similar function, putting insulation and padding between you and the hard, cold earth.

My first pad, a Thermarest Travel Comfort, weighed 2 pound, 8 ounces, stretched 66 inches long and was about three inches thick. Very plush and VERY heavy.

Thermarest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad

For A Few Ounces More

In search of ultralight perfection, I shed this comfort king for a self-inflating 15-ounce, 3/4 body length Thermarest – smaller, thinner; truly minimalist. A couple of years later, a new model appeared — a full body length, 20 x 72 x 1-inch Thermarest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad for only 5 ounces more. It is thicker, warmer and much more comfortable than my shorter pad. Personally, I thought the increased weight was worth the extra comfort and warmth.

If you've already made the jump to ultralight (less than 20 pounds with food for 3 days and a liter of water) or light backpacking (20-25 pounds), I couldn’t, in good conscience, encourage you to backslide. Because it is, indeed, a slippery slope. A few ounces here, a few ounces there and next thing you know, you’re carrying lots of extra pounds. During my first year of backpacking, backsliding added 7 pounds to my pack.

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