In California, the Snow is Nearly Gone: Time to Go Backpacking

The drought in California is both good and bad.

Bad: we need the snowpack for a good supply of water for city and rural needs.

Good: you can get up in the higher mountain elevations right now where there is little snow left.

So, you’re ready to go. But are you ready to go light?

On my first of 50+ backpacks (back in 1998), I carried 55 pounds. In those days everything was big and heavy. That was just part of the deal. The words Ultralight Backpacking or Light Backpacking were not part of the trail lexicon. You had to build your own gear to go light. Now, light gear is everywhere.

For those of you just starting out, remember that the way to lightness is not cutting off the handle of your toothbrush. Rather,  you want the basics (pack, tent, bag, mat) to be light.

I have three basic configurations.

1. Osprey Pack – Atmos 35: 2.25 pounds; Sierra Design Light Year Tent: 3 pounds; Western Mountaineering Down Bag: 1 pound; Downmat 7 (a new, lighter version is available): 2.25 pounds. Total: 8.5. The Downmat, which is filled with down, makes up for the bag thinness (38 degrees). I love the extra comfort without too much extra weight.

2. Replace the Downmat with full-length Therma-Rest: 1 pound. Total reduced to 7.25.

3. Replace the Atmos 35 with a Osprey Ather Pack: 1 pound, 6 ounces. Reduce total to 6 pounds, 6 ounces.

You can be crazy and get your mat down to 3/4 length and cut .25 pounds and leave the tent and use the fly only configuration and cut another  2 pounds. That would bring it all down to 4.5 or so. However, a little comfort goes a long ways.

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

 

Ray Jardin: Father of Modern Lightweight Backpacking

It was 1998 and I had just finished my first year of backpacking with a pack that weighed in at 45+ pounds. Then I read the book, the Ray Way, a guide to ultralight backpacking, and instantly became a devotee. His wisdom lead to my quest for ultralight backpacking and ultimately this blog.  He and his wife were able to get their packs to 9 pounds on a PCT trip while the rest of us where still hauling 5 times that much.

Without doing a lot of history research, I figured Jardin was the father of modern lightweight backpacking, since legends like John Muir, who carried a rucksack with a few hard biscuits, must have been the original “father” back at the turn of the century.

In any case, Jardin published a book in 2009 I just discovered: “Trail Life, Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking” with the subtitle: 25,000 miles of trail-tested know-how.

Seems like a no-brainer as a must-read for anyone who wants to lighten their load.

A interesting note: Jardine was age 50 when his original book came out. He is now pushing 70. No doubt he is still on the move.

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

Starting Fire with Steel Wool and a Battery

It always useful to have a back up (or two) and the know-how to start a fire when you forget your matches or they get wet in a rain storm. This battery method looks so simple. I knew that fine “0000″ steel wool burns easily with a match even if is is wet. But this is one more ultralight tool for that all important fire for cooking for keeping warm. Be sure to keep a fresh battery in your pack.


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

Extra Trail Shoes for Ultralight Backpackers


My hiking shoes are waterproof Keen “tennis” shoes. But after walking across too many streams barefoot on sharp rocks — and an achilles injury from new boots — I decided to carry a second pair of shoes. Extra shoes, of course, means extra weight. This video shoes three alternatives. I encourage you to share other options with my readers.

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

First Aid for the Fingers a Good Backpacking Companion

Finger protectorsIf you’ve read my blog, you know that I love to find little stuff — call them quality of life items — that don’t cost much, don’t weigh much and yet can add a lot of comfort.My latest find are rubber finger protectors for cuts, burns, scrapes. They look like condoms for your finger and come in three sizes. They are available at CVS or other pharmacies.

iPod Nano 5th Generation: The Best Backcountry Companion Yet

If you’ve read my posts about technology, you know I love iPods as trail companions. I’ve struggled lately on the trail: do I bring my iPhone (with camera, movies, music, GPS app – 5 ounces) or just go with my Flip Ultra (video camera that easily uploads to YouTube). To complicate matters, the new iPhone 3GS has a video camera as well as still camera and true built-in GPS and more.They are all relatively light when you consider what you get in a single device.But I just bought the new iPod Nano with a bigger screen (2.2 inches), video camera, music, audio books, and movies, as well as a built-in FM-radio for $149. Best of all, it weighs 1.5 ounces, is 1.5 inches wide, 3.75 inches high and 1/4-inches thick. Since it has flash memory, instead of a hard drive, it comes on instantly and the battery lasts up to 8 hours.   The new Nano is a winner.Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Don’t Sacrifice Comfort to Get Ultralight

In the latest issue of Backpacker Magazine are 33 tips for lightening your load. One I have pointed out before, but it is worth mentioning again: don’t leave behind items that can make your trip comfortable and/or satisfying. Example:

I have three sleeping pads: 14 ounces, 20 0unces and 36 ounces. Two are self inflatables: a 3/4th length and full-length. They are fairly comfortable, but the third one, while bigger  is not only much more comfortable, but warmer because it provided incredible insulation against the cold ground. That allows me to carry a lighter sleeping bag. About the “satisfying” part of my comment: a fresh apple for lunch or cookies can give your trip and your attitude a big boost.

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

The Ultra, Ultralight iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation

Your favorite music to help you sleep or to give you inspiration during an uphill slog can be a welcome backpacking companion.  As long as it doesn’t add a lot of weight.The new iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation weighs all of .38 ounces — that’s right, just a tad over one-third of 1 ounce. Holds 1,000 songs with a 10-hour battery. Only 1.8 inches tall and .7 inches thick. And, only 79 bucks. I can’t think of a better trail companion.Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.