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.

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.


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 (or something similar since this model is no longer available): 1 pound, 6 ounces. Reduce total to 6 pounds, 6 ounces.

You can be crazy and get your mat down to 3/4 length to cut another .25 pounds. By leaving the tent body at home and using the fly-only configuration you can 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.


Osprey Hornet 46 Ultralight and Compact

I own an Osprey Aether (no longer made) at 1 pound, nine ounces and an Osprey Atmos 35 (discontinued) at 2 pounds, 4 ounces and love both. The Atmos 35 is really solid with a frame, mesh net at your back and really stretchy pockets all around. You can go for a week or more in this 35-liter pack. Just when I thought Osprey had completely abandoned the ultralight market with many packs at 4-5 pounds (not ultralight), I was pleased to discover the Hornet series at sub-two pounds. They have lots of choices for men and women. Worth a look at the company website.

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

Sierra Crossing: Tom Stientra’s Great Adventure

U.S. award-winning outdoor writer, columnist and TV personality Tom Steinstra is writing an eight-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper about a 70-mile backpacking trek through Sequoia National Park, starting at Siberian Ridge and ending at Mineral King, which takes in Mt. Whitney, one of highest points in North America.

Steinstra says in this first part: “The most remote river canyon in the Lower 48, the headwaters of the Kern runs through this mountain cradle. A trek here can reveal the towering canyon rims, ancient virgin forests, pristine lakes and creeks, waterfalls and hot springs, and wildlife for which each visitor is a curiosity, not a threat. The trout fishing in the remote Kern can be the best of any in the American wilderness. The streams are the purest in California. People are scarce and litter nonexistent … to get there you have to earn it …. Sounds amazing. To read more, click here.

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

Choosing Your First Backpack – Let Weight Guide You

I’m a member of and frequent shopper at REI. They have a good selection of goods and for the most part knowledgeable folks working there. I can walk around for hours touching, poking, feeling, examining and exploring. It’s actually a treat to spend two hours there even if I don’t buy something since I live in a rural area 100 miles to the closest REI store.

Many of their sales people, men and women, are experienced backpackers. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a store when someone comes into to ask for basic advice, such as choosing a backpack, and their expertise seems to disappear.

Personally, I have never heard any discussion — and I’m always eavesdropping — about going lightweight, despite the fact that REI has plenty of light and ultralight backpacking gear.

I’ve posted on this subject before, but let me offer some advice:

Keeping the basics light will help you start light and stay light. The basics are backpack, tent, pad and sleeping bag. Limit this to 10 pounds. Less is better.

Two Days or Treks
I don’t care what kind of trips you plan to take — two days out-and-back or a trek on Appalachian Trail — you can get by just fine with a pack weighing no more than 3 pounds, preferable 2 pounds or less. These lightweight backpacks have plenty of bells, whistles and pockets. They also are comfortable.

My light pack is an Osprey Aether, 1 pound 9 ounces, and my heavy pack is an Osprey Atmos 35, size medium, which weighs 2 pounds, 9 ounces. Rated as a “light and fast backcountry adventure pack,” it is optimized for up to 30 pounds. I have come to prefer it because it has more pockets into which I can jam (ultralight backpacking) gear.

If you want to be an ultralight backpacker, you can also find molecule-light packs at less than 8 ounces, such as those made by Gossamer Gear.

By picking the lightest, most comfortable pack, you’ll narrow your choices and quickly be on your way to being a lightweight backpacker.

My basics – with light pack: 6.5 pounds; with heavy pack: 7.5 pounds. My first backpack alone weighed 7.5 pounds.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone in the story you want to go ultralight. Say: “I want my basics to be under 10 pounds.”

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

Ultralight Day Packs Keep Pack Weight Down

A light daypack is an essential piece of equipment for the light backpacker.
Kiva Designs Key Chain Backpack
I’ve taken many, many three-day loop trips that involve two overnights and 8-10 miles of day hiking wearing your pack. That’s great except for one thing: you’re wearing your pack the whole time. Even an ultralight pack is still a weight on your back.

More and more of my backpacks involve hiking to a campsite and then taking long day hikes to explore the area. My companions The Duke, Wild Bill and I load up our sandwiches, windbreakers and water in Duke’s ultralight daypack and head out. In the Caribou Wilderness, for example, we hiked in 4 miles to a great camp, then took 10-12 mile day trips.
Kiva Designs Key Chain Backpack Open
The Duke’s wife found his daypack years ago, but couldn’t remember where she got it. My wife finally found one for me the other day in a Bed Bath & Beyond. From my web search it appears they are mostly sold in luggage shops.

The Kiva “key chain backpack” weighs just 2 ounces and is four inches wide by 3 inches high. Unzip it and you have a 612 cc daypack. Cost: $10. It was a great find. A feather on my back.

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

Zero Based Budgeting – Perfect Formula for Lightweight Backpacking

Most of you have probably heard of zero-based budgeting. It’s a simple concept: your budget starts at zero and builds. This differs from annual budgeting that merely looks at the previous year’s budget and adds or subtracts an amount.

With spring on us and snow melting fast, you’re probably anxious to hit the trail. But you want to do it as lightly as possible.

So where do you begin? You start at zero. That means buying a really light pack and building from there.

When I started backpacking 10 years ago, the average big load pack, like my 5800 cc Dana Terraplane was 7.5 pounds. By the time I added my 7.5 pound Sierra Design Meteor Tent, I was already at 15 pounds. Ouch!

The 2007 Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide lists dozens of packs in the two to three pound range. Here’s my recommendation to get off to the lightest backpacking season ever:

•Choose a pack around 2 pounds.

•Ignore marketing gobbledygook about “Adventure Packs”, “Racing Packs”, and “Fast Packs.” Any of these will be a good place to start since they are small and light.

•Smaller is better: it’s lighter and you’ll be forced to take less (I can pack for a week’s trip using my 1 pound, 9 ounce Osprey Aether 2,800 cc pack).

•If you don’t have the money to get a whole new set of equipment — and few of us do — then just start with the pack and then carefully analyze each item (whether you really need it; can it be used for multiple purposes).

If you check out my past posts in “key posts” or “backpacks” or “tips” you’ll find examples of lightweight packs and strategies for lightening up.

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

64 Backpacks 3 Pounds or Under

The annual Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide is just out and it is absolutely jammed with all the latest packs, tents, boots and more for backpacking, hiking and camping.

Good news for light and ultralight backpackers: of the 479 packs reviewed, 64 are 3 pounds are less. This is the culmination of a real revolution in materials and construction that has created a whole new generation of really light packs.

For those of you who don’t think this is a big deal, consider that when I started backpacking in 1998, monster internal packs were the rage. My own pack was a beauty — a Dana Design 5800 cubic inch model made for carrying 50+ pounds very comfortably.

In fact, when Backpacker Magazine’s editors did gear reviews, you would have thought they were human pack mules — raving about how easy it was to carry huge loads.

Well, no more. My mantra is keep your base weight to 10 pounds or less (pack, sleeping bag, tent/shelter and sleeping pad. And now, you can do that with no sweat.

I also noticed that the listings include foreign manufacturers. The Europeans have long been experts at hiking and backpackinging with lots of innovative gear, but few have gained mainstream status in the U.S.

Alas, in the Gear Guide pack division is Bergans of Norway with six sub-three pound packs. This is a real breakthrough.

More on the gear guide once I’ve had some time to digest it.

In the meantime….

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