Going Lightweight Begins With the Base

Backpacking Gear List
I’m starting a Light Backpacking Gear List Series today, sharing my choices and the choices of others to help you become a lightweight backpacker. Of course, I’ll offer just a few of the seemingly unlimited possibilities. However, they seem to fall into just two categories: equipment available commercially and gear you can build or sew at home. I’ll share some sites where you can find “make your own” gear, but this series will focus on what you can find in local stores or on line.

So how do you start the get lightweight process?

You can drill holes in your toothbrush, cut straps off your pack and tent, trim your shoelaces and remove labels until the cows come home, but unless you start with a minimal base weight, you’ll fight a losing battle to achieve your lightweight goals.

Your base is your pack, tent / shelter, and sleeping gear (pad and bag).

I know some hardcore lightweight backpackers will scream at this, but my suggestion is for you to shoot for a base weight target of 10 pounds or less. The really dedicated lightweight backpackers will aim for 5 pounds or less. I assume that your goal is to be as lightweight as possible so you can enjoy and wilderness experience without feeling burdened by gear.

I have two sets of base gear which I’ll share. Obviously, you can mix and match depending on weather conditions, season, bugs, etc. I have also provided links to allow you to check out the highlighted gear. Here is my first set.

Base Set # 1:
Backpack: Osprey Aether – 25 ounces (1#, 9oz) – no longer made
Tent: Sierra Design Light Year – 1-Person 3-Season Backpacking Tent – 43 ounces (3#, 11oz)
Sleeping Bag: WESTERN MOUNTAINEERING HIGHLITE SLEEPING BAG (35 degrees) – 16 ounces (1#)
Sleeping Pad:Therm-a-Rest Trail Sleeping Pad – Short 3/4 length – 15 ounces
Base Total: 7 pounds, 4 ounces

Be safe. Be light. Be one with the pack

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Trip Report: Caribou Wilderness A Paradise for Lake Lovers

This past year, I completed my second backpacking trip to the Caribou Wilderness, which is located southeast of Lassen National Park in Northeast California.

Both trips were memorable – the first for standing at the edge of Turnaround Lake at night and seeing the sky reflected in the still, crystal clear lake as if they were melted together in one endless landscape of stars. Spectacular. The second was notable for the weather – a beautiful day of short-sleeve t-shirt temperature weather ideal for hiking, followed by a storm that dropped snow on our tents and left the morning an icy wonderland AND an icy mess.

Backpacking trips are often like that: great contrasts of weather and hiking conditions that are ever changing. From sun to storm in minutes, sometimes.

My regular backpacking companions Wild Bill and The Duke both got doses of how weather can change and how you need to be prepared for everything. Bill took a swim just before sunset and when the storm suddenly came in and obliterated the sun, he was on the edge of hyperthermia by the time he got out, dried off and dressed.

The next morning, The Duke couldn’t get his hands to work to light the matches and therefore unlike most mornings, we had no fire. No warmth. No coffee. Since we were planning to leave that morning anyway, we decided to stuff our ice-stiff tents in our outside pack pockets and head for the trailhead and our car. Within an hour, a dose of sun had warmed us up and an hour after that we were in a cafe with hot coffee and a big breakfast of sausage, eggs and pancakes the size of dinner plates (literally).

Photos of Turnaround Lake morning after storm, earlier the previous day on a sunny afternoon and views of Mt. Shasta, view from atop Red Cinder
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Caribou wilderness averages 6,900 feet. With the trailhead at nearly 6,000 feet, the elevation gain is slight and the hike into the first of about a dozen lakes as little as three miles. It is the kind of place where you can hike in, set up camp and get in some great day hikes.

We were roughly in the middle of the wilderness. Hiking one direction took us around 10 lakes in 10 miles. The walk is entirely level so you can stride along at a relaxed pace, stop for lunch, take a swim, shoot some digital photos, sit and smell the forest, or just enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. By the way, my ultralight digital camera is a 3.2 megapixel Konica Minolta DiMage Xg (5 ounces with battery) and carrying case. I snap it on to my sternum strap, which gives me instant access.

Caribou Lakes
Caribou Lakes near Silver Lake is the eastern trailhead entrance and within a few miles gives you access to Triangle Lake on the north end and on the south end to Hay Meadows. We set up camp in the middle at Turnaround Lake.
Caribou Peaks, Black Cinder Rock, and Red Cinder are points of interest. The highest point, Red Cinder, is 8,370 feet. From here there are majestic views of the lofty mountains that surround this primitive wilderness. Located on the eastern slopes of what was once Mount Tehama, this area is surrounded by the volcanic peaks of Swain Mountain, Bogard Buttes, Prospect Peak, Ash Butte, Red Cinder Cone and Mount Harkness.

Two other great volcanoes, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen, are both visible from the top of Red Cinder.

As seems to have happened so often in the past two years, we picked hikes where we saw virtually no one else. Isn’t it a great feeling to have the whole wilderness to yourself?

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

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New Falcon Guide “Backpacking Tips”

My wife Gerry just picked up the latest copy of the Falcon Guide, “Backpacking Tips” (2005), from the pubic library and brought it home for me to read. It’s a thin book, just 99 pages, but as it claims it is indeed filled with trail-tested wisdom.

Each page contains 4-6 paragraphs of tips with tips listed under categories, such as “Tent”, “Weather”, “If You Get Lost”, etc.

Editors Bill and Russ Schneider (father and son) are seasoned backpackers from Montana with lots of experience in Glacier National Park. Bill was editor of Montana Outdoors magazine in the 1970’s and is co-founder of Falcon Publishing, which now prints 17 different outdoor guides.

I own the Falcon Guide “Hiking California”, a good handbook with lots of detailed trips and routes. It appears they no longer publish this one, however, so I can’t give you a link.

In regards to lightweight or ultralight backpacking, Bill Schneider offers these words:

“Most people tend to carry more weight in their backpacks than necessary, but sometimes this is a good thing … Ultralight backpacking equipment is the craze, but in some cases these efforts sacrifice safety. And safety always comes first. This is especially true when hiking in northern-tier mountain ranges where it can be winter on any summer day.”

He encourages keeping one set of dry clothes double-bagged for emergencies (worth the extra pound, he says) and notes there is “nothing wrong with spending the extra money for ultralight gear, but make sure it’s reliable. What good is a two-ounce raincoat that doesn’t keep you dry or a two-pound tent the wind blows away?”

He adds one more word of advice, which I have discussed in my posts: “In addition to safety, there is the issue of comfort: “You can leave everything home except essential items, but I personally go backpacking to enjoy myself.” Ditto.

Falcon Publishing, I found out in researching its other guides, publishes Lighten Up!: A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking. Based on the sound advice offered in “Backpacking Tips“, I think this is worth checking out.

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

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Avoid Salt with Healthy Trail Mix

DonheadMy friend Don Gazzaniga was suffering from congestive heart failure. His
original diagnosis was for “terminal congestive heart failure.” That was
in 1997. Today, 2007, he’s healthy again, working full days and all
because of his own program that is now used by thousands in America and
other countries. together with exericise and some new medications.

But what happened? After all, Stanford was about to list him for a
transplant. That’s a big deal. Lots of tests both physical and psychological
to go through. But just days before that decision Don’s heart started
showing signs of a major turnaround.

Don’s lucky rabbit foot turned out to be Dr. Michael Fowler, director of the
Stanford Medical Center Heart Transplant Program. Don has asked him if
cutting salt out would help. Dr. Fowler suggested he thought so, but that
he’d not had anyone really give it a strong try.

Enter this former Marine. He lowered his daily intake to fewer than 500 mg
of sodium and for ten years that’s been it. He also had quite a collection
of his own recipes after a few years so naturally he sought a publisher.

“At first nobody wanted it. Eat without salt? they’d ask.”

But St. Martin’s Press at the urging of Don’s book agent, who just happens
to also be a neice took the chance. Four books later we find Don still
working hard and keeping the most popular Web site on the Net concerning
salt free lifestyles going.

Because lightweight backpackers are notorious for being healthy, I asked
Don for a low-salt trail mix recipe, which he has generally shared with us.

I’ve always thought that when you are trying to reduce your trail weight,
you ought to consider reducing your body weight instead of drilling holes
in your toothbrush handle. Dropping five pounds from your waistline can
definitely help you go faster on the trail.

By the way, Don’s website, MegaHeart.com donates all net proceeds from
sales of The No Salt, Lowest Sodium Cookbook to Stanford’s heart
transplant research. Check out his “kitchen.”

The site has lots of great recipes and they are free. His wife has joined
with him in the last two books and the recipes are excellent. The next
one, a book of international recipes is due in stores June, 2007.

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

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Review: Icebreaker Men’s Oasis Crewe SKIN200

At Shasta Base Camp, an outdoor store in Mt. Shasta City, California (70 miles north of Redding), I recently purchased my first non-polypropylene under layer for lighweight backpacking.

I suspect I am behind the times because Icebreaker, the New Zealand manufacturer of 100% pure merino wool clothes, has apparently been turning out their product line for a couple of years.

Better late than never. I tried on and immediately purchased the Men’s Oasis Crewe SKIN200, lightweight thermal top. Not only does it fit great, but it’s real wool so it stays warm in cold weather, cool in hot weather and keeps you warm if it gets wet. According to Ben, one of the new owners of Shasta Base Camp, it also (this is big) doesn’t smell — ever, no matter how long you’ve worn it. He said the company test was on a guy who wore it for 190 days straight–so long that his chest hair was growing into the material.

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I guess you could call it “retro” since wool was the original clothing material of choice. In the old days, however, wool was big, bulky and weighed a ton. Now it is ultralight and extremely comfortable.

One more thing I like: the company’s marketing department has a sense of humor:

“Each year we procure the best merino wool in the world, directly from the best growers in the world, up high in the very pure Southern Alps of New Zealand (not the inferior wool of lowland sheep). If the fibre didn’t work, the animals would die every time it snowed. But it does, and they don’t … we have built a platform to prove that nature is cool, and not everything has to be made of plastic.”

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

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Consider a Lightweight iPod for Backpacking

All the new, constantly changing gear is enough to make John Muir turn over in his grave. After all, he apparently carried a rucksack, some hard biscuits and little else.

Today, we go lightweight or ultralight and we go fast. And electronics are getting to be a big part of the lightweight backpacking experience, including GPS devices and digital cameras.

I have one more to add: the new .55 ounce, 1.62 inch by 1.07 inch Apple 1GB iPod Shuffle. It holds 240 songs or you can use it to play audible books. Works on both Mac’s and PC’s with iTunes 2.0.3, a free dowload at Apple. Just clip it anywhere on your clothes or pack, plug in the ear buds and you’re ready to go.

On the trail, you may love the quiet, only drowned out by the sounds of nature. On the other hand, you might enjoy a little jazz, some classical or the songs of the humpback whales as you stroll through the backcountry.

But on rainy, snowy or short fall and winter days when you could spend 12 hours or more in your tent, this is a handy device to have as you’re lying wide awake for hours. That’s exactly what happened to me several years ago in the Ohlone Wilderness in the San Francisco Bay Area. It started pouring at 2:30 p.m. and was snowing by 2 a.m. We were in the tents about 15 hours.

If you’re a real purist, perhaps you could justify the iPod by loading an audible book such as The Yosemite by John Muir. Or just add your favorite music and relax. I’ve used the original iPod shuffle for exercise and for backpacking trips the past two years because it is extremely light and can hang around your neck on a lanyard.

Another Lightweight option is Apple’s iPod Nano, which weighs 1.41 ounces and 3.5 inches high by 1.6 inches wide by .26 inches thick. The Nano also holds up to 25,000 digital photos (the 8 gigabyte version).

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack

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Lightweight Condiments – Creating Your Own Small World

On a quick family reunion trip to Tennesee last week, I got tiny salt and pepper shakers with my airline meal and I asked the flight attendant for an extra pair for backpacking. She happily provided them.

When you are trying to go lightweight or ultralight, you can keep weight down and still have some creature comforts if you look out for miniature versions of bigger containers or go for travel sizes. And often these items are free. We’ve all gotten food condiments such as catsup, mustard and mayo come with our fast food orders. Tiny paper salt and pepper-filled containers are common in fast food restaurants as well.

My airline salt & pepper shakers, each the diameter of a nickel, weigh less than one ounce total.

Salt Pepper
Keep your eye out, think small and lightweight and you’ll see all kinds of great stuff to lighten your load.

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

Technorati tags: lightweight backpacking, trail food, lightweight gear, backpacking

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