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.

The Perfect Backpacking Holiday Present: The Jetboil Stove System

My desire to have presents under the tree, no doubt, is a leftover from when I was a kid. As a kid, the sky was the limit. Now, I will be content to see just one: the Jetboil Sol Advanced Cooking System.

I’ve had my eye on the Jetboil for several years, but felt the original version was was just too big and heavy; not quit perfected.  The newer models are improved versions of the all-in-one concept of fuel, stand, stove, cup and cover nicely integrated into one lightweight unit.

The Sol is 10.5 oz. (300g) according to the specs, will hold 27 ounces (0.8 liters), and will bring the whole thing to a boil in 4 minutes, 30 seconds. You can even see through the side so you know when the water is boiling–a nice feature. Check it out.

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

Sometimes Beauty is Just Down the Street … Literally

I was standing by this waterfall awhile back talking to a backpacking companion, gazing at the waterfall and asking him what we were going to do on our next backpack. He said, “Bruce, look around, is there anything more beautiful than this?” The waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park in Northern California is a 10-minute drive and a 20-minute walk from my home.

Humboldt Creek and the Dolason Prairie Trail

One of my favorite backpacks  is Redwood National Park in Northern California — particularly Redwood Creek where you are surrounded by towering old growth redwoods.

Access goes something like this: you get you permit at park headquarters. They give you the combination to a locked gate. Past the gate, you drive 6-7 miles to a parking area. From there,  you hike a mere 1.5 miles down to the creek and your backpacking camp.

With your camp set up along the creek, you take a great 7.5 mile round trip along the Dolason Prairie Trail up through redwood groves and pristine forest to open prairie views and an overview of the entire area.

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

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse … At the end of a Trail (of sorts)

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is one of the few working lighthouses left in America. It was built in 1909 and restored and relighted in 1999 as a federal aid to navigation. Located between Mendocino Village (Cabot Cove, Maine in ‘Murder She Wrote’) and Fort Bragg, California, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, the 300 acres, now a state historic park, is chriss-crossed with trails and great spots to watch migrating grays, blues and humpback whales. I am one of its lightkeepers, once a month going up into the lantern room where we wash windows and clean the brass. It also is one of my favorite places for taking photos. Surrounded by about dozen other state parks, hiking in the forest or along beaches is fantastic.

You’ve Got One Trip Left: Go Wild in Snow Mountain Wilderness

When I say go wild, I mean get out where no one else goes. I’ll soon be heading out to the Snow Mountain Wilderness, which even at around 6,500 feet, feels like the Sierra and has views to the ocean on the west. It’s located north of California Highway 20 and is sandwiched between Interstate 5 and Highway 101. My first trip there was June of 1997 — my second backpack. With beautiful fall weather (70’s in day and 40’s at night) predicted — an 50+ backpacks under my belt, I can wait to go back. Most backpackers have mothballed their gear for the winter. But October and sometimes even November in Northern California can have perfect backpacking weather. Back to going wild: we expect to see no one else on this trip. Some other wilderness suggestions: Yolla Bolly, Cache Creek, Marble Mountains and Canyon Creek Trail in the Trinity Alps (look out for hunters). Evem in peak season, you’ll see few if any backpackers on the trails.

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

Tom Stienstra and 11.7 Miles of Heaven

Award-winning outdoor writer Tom Stienstra, author of California Camping and California Hiking by Moon Press, knows the best places for ultralight backpacking. He described my favorite spot in a column published in the San Francisco Chronicle today: a loop in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, from Agnew Meadow to Shadow Lake to Garnet Lake. I agree with Tom that with kids back in school and most PCT and JMT hikers already passed, now is time to go. Few bugs. Nice days. Cool nights. Check out the Mule House Cafe at Red’s Meadow on  your way in or out.