Light as Air … Almost: The Thermarest NeoAir XLite

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but no matter. I’m back at it and today I saw a sleeping mat that packs down to almost nothing, is full-length, has a barrier against cold ground, is comfortable and weighs only 12 oz or 340 grams.
There is a patent pending on it’s heat capturing technology. What I like is that it meets two of my essential ultralight backpacking criteria (it’s light, of course), but is also adds comfort with almost no weight.

Near weightlessness comes at a price, but even though I love my Exped Goose down at about 2 pounds, this is something worth looking at. With this weight reduction, I could carry my heavy (2 pound, 4 ounce Osprey Atmos 35 pack) and still have my essentials under 8 pounds (tent, bag, pack, sleeping pad). Or I could go with my Osprey Ather at 1.5 pounds and get under 7 pounds.

I’m thinking the investment will be worth it.

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.


Exped DownMat 7UL – High Comfort, Warmth and Lightness at a Reasonable Price

On my first backpack 15 years ago my pack basics (pack, tent, pad, bag) weighed a whopping 21 pounds. Today – what a relief – the total is 8 pounds, 1 ounce.

I do it this way:
Osprey Aether Pack – 2800 cu (good for 7 days) – 1.5 pounds
Tent – Sierra Design Light Year (aluminum poles) – 3.0 pounds
Sleeping bag – Western Mountaineering – 1.0 pounds
Sleeping Pad – Exped DownMat 7 – 2.6 pounds
Total – 8 pounds, 1 ounce

Ditch the tent and employ the fly-floor configuration (1 pound)
Use my short Thermarest (14 ounces) instead of the DownMat
Total with these substitutions – 4 pounds, 7 ounces.

However, carrying the added 3 pounds, 4 ounces – for the DownMat 7 and full tent – I earn a huge payoff in warmth, comfort and mosquito-free sleep. The 5.9 R Value for the regular 2.5 cm mat allows me to carry a one-pound sleeping bag for three seasons.

Here’s good news for you: Exped has just released the DownMat 7 UL (ultralight) and the medium size is only 20.5 ounces, compared with 34 ounces for my three-year-old DownMat 7! And, I the D7 UL is rated for -11 F.

Be light. Be Safe. Be one with the pack.

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.

Backpacker ’09 Gear Guide Touts Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent

Most ultralight tents are pretty durable, so I look at weight, roominess and price in deciding whether I think a tent is in my ultralight backpacking ballpark. The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 gets Backpacker Magazine’s top rating in its annual gear guide as best all-around. My take: Big Agnes is $300 (pricey), 2 pounds, 3 ounces with everything (stakes, poles, fly, tent, sack, instructions – under my 3-pound limit), has a 38-inch high pitch (you can sit up) and a fly that allows space for boots, pack, etc. I’m not crazy about the front entrance, mainly because  side entrances allow you to easily “roll” into the tent. Add 4 ounces for a footprint ground cover.  If you have the money, I give this thumbs up. A word about price. In my experience, the lighter the equipment the more it costs. For example, my Sierra Design Light Year is about 3.5 pounds and cost (five years ago) about $149. To get titanium poles, instead of anodized aluminum, that knock off another eight ounces, the tent cost would have been $349: $25 an ounce or $100 per pole. But if light is what you want and you can afford it, why not get the best and lightest. Chances are, you’ll have it a long time.

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

Hand Warmers – A Summer Treat

I head off soon for a backpack in the Granite Chief Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. With some snow still on the trail and nights at 8,500 feet expected to dip into the 30’s, a hand warmer isn’t such an odd suggestion as an added comfort for very little weight. As a kid, I had a , small polished metal heater that comes with a felt bag and lasts all day on a single fill of lighter fluid. There’s no flame, but lots of heat. What got me thinking about this was when I donated blood yesterday and the nurse gave me a disposalable hand warmer — a tiny pillow filled with some unknown material — to keep my hands warm so she didn’t have to squeeze a cold finger really hard to get that drop of blood needed to test my iron. A smart idea and made me think that it would be ideal for the “essentials bag.” If nothing else, you’ve got them for an emergency.

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

It’s a Croc – Ultralight Water Shoes An “Optional” Essential

Pulling off your hiking shoes or boots to cross water is literally a pain. A pain in foot and toes. One solution: Crocs Beach Clog Sandals.

I jettisoned my heavy boots years ago, in favor of waterproof tennis shoes. But any water crossing more than a few inches deep requires you to unlace and walk barefoot. I’ve done this many times and I’m almost always sorry I don’t have sandals or water shoes of some kind to protect my feet. Slipping and sliding on rocks in a stream in bare feet can also result in pulled muscles, falls, and injury.

Although I had tried a couple of options, including surf booties, all were too heavy. Storm socks are an option at about 2-3 ounces, but don’t provide much protection. On the other hand, Crocs, those odd slip-ons with lots of holes drills in them, are only six ounces each, provide relief from trail shoes after a long day and can function as a second pair of hiking shoes if necessary.

I think the comfort and safety benefits make them worth the extra 12 ounces.

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

Gear List # 1 – 15 pounds, 4.5 ounces (without food)

I’ve reviewed plenty of gear and discussed lots of ways to reduce weight to help make each of you the ultimate ultralight backpacker.

At the same time, entering my 11th year of backpacking, I believe in having some extra comforts, which go against the austere philosophy of the take-no-prisoners ultra, ultralight backpackers, but make me feel better on the trail. However, even Ray Jardine, the grandfather of ultralight, admitted that taking no fuel — and therefore having no hot meals on the trail (as he and his wife did on one PCT -trek) in the interest of saving weight — was going too far.

My own example: I have three sleeping pads. My lightest is a Thermarest 3/4th length model at 11 ounces. My middleweight is 20 ounces, but full body length. However, after my wife bought me the ultra-comfortable Exped Downmat 7 (stuffed with down) at 2 pounds, 2 ounces, I almost always carry it. Makes a huge difference in being warm and sleeping well at night.

With about three sets of piece of backpacking gear, I can vary my weight by weather and length of trip. For example, I own an Osprey Aether pack — no longer available — that is 1 pound, 9 ounces, and more than a pound less than my new Osprey Atmos 35. For an extra pound, I get lots outside pockets and more choices for packing. The extra weight is worth the extra featues. Here’s my current list.


Pack Osprey Atmos 35 (size large) – 2 pounds, 11 ounces
-Tent Sierra Design Light Year – 3 pounds, 11 ounces
-Sleeping Bag Western Mountaineering Highlite; goose down, rated for 38 degrees – 1 pound
-Pad – Exped (down filled), self inflating (72 inches) – 2 pound, 2 ounces
9 pounds, 8 ounces (8 pounds, 1 ounce with my 3/4 length sleeping pad; 6 pounds, 7 ounces if the weather is nice and I use the fast-pack version of my tent which eliminates the tent body and uses only the poles, fly and ground cloth).

CLOTHES – On My Body

Shoes / Boots – Keen Targhee II low-cross trainers (tennis shoes) with waterproofing eVENT; comfortable right out of the box
-Hiking Pants – Ex-Officio long, no-zip off.
-Hiking shirt (1st layer) – Icebreaker Skin 200 pure merino wool (keeps you warm and cool and doesn’t stink no matter how long you’ve been wearing it) – 6 ounces
-Hiking shirt (outside layer) – long sleeve Travel Smith , 100% Supplex with 100% mesh, vented up (around shoulders for airflow and heat venting) or short sleeve Columbia PFG fishing shirt (quick drying with upper body vents).
-SmartWool socks – keep their shape after despite days of wear
-Bandana – 2 ounces (wear around neck)
-Sunglasses – my regular glasses are photograys and turn dark outdoors.
-Whistle – whistle and id tag carried on lanyard around my neck under my shirt.

CLOTHES – In My Pack

-Jacket – GoLite Storm – 1 pound
-Gloves – 3 ounces – Manzella
-Knit cap – 3 ounces
-Long underwear – for sleeping – Layers brand – 7 ounces
-Short sleeve Capilene top for sleeping – 4 ounces
-Smart Wool socks – 4 ounces
1 pounds, 5 ounce


-Stove – Esbit solid fuel stove with windscreen (piece of aluminum foil) – 4 ounces
-Fuel – 3 ounces / day (Esbit tablets are ½ ounce each) – 9 ounces for three days
-Titanium drinking cup – 3 ounces
-Titanium .5L pot for boiling and as a bowl – 4 ounces
-Plastic spork (knife, spoon, folk all in one)– ½ ounce
-Matches – propane lighter + a few matches in a snack bag – 1 ounce
-Pocket knife – ½ ounce – 99 cents at local hardware store – ½ ounce
-Titanium cooking pot for three hikers (I carry for the group) – 2L with lid and pot lifting tool – 7 ounces
-Salt and pepper – 1 ounces
-Coffee creamer – 2 ounces
1 pound, 12 ounces


-First aid kit (duct tape, various sizes of big Bandaids) – 4 ounces
-Light: Naschem Cat’s Eyes – 1.5 ounces
-Sunscreen – foil packets or some in a small bottle – 2 ounces
-Compass: none (take Map – good topo of the wilderness destination) – 2 ounces
-Extra clothes: 1 pair of socks (long underwear double as pajamas and extra clothes. – 6 ounces
-Insect repellant – Cutter stick and small pump spray bottle – 2 ounces
1 pound, 1 ½ ounces


-Water purification – SteriPEN Adventurer (uses ultraviolet light to kill all crypto, viruses and bacteria in about 60 seconds) – 6.5 ounces with batteries
-Pint nalgene bottle – fits in outside pocket- 4 ounces (with water 1 pound five ounces)
-Digital camera – clips on pack breast strap – 4 ounces
14.5 ounces


-Tooth brush – thumb brush
-Floss – travel size (about the size of a quarter)
-Paste – foil packet
-Bandaids – 2 or 3
-Pill container – aspirin, anti-histamine, etc.
-Eye drops
-Nail clippers
4 ounces


-Entertainment/camera – iPhone (music, TV shows, movies, 2 megapixel camera) – 6.5 ounces