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.

First Aid: New Skin Liquid Bandage

new-skin.JPGA must in every ultralight backpack is some form of first aid. I usually take duct tape (you can use to make a liquid in a 1.5 ounce and 2 3/4 inch high bottle (heavy compared with Bandaids) that you brush on: NEW SKIN LIQUID BANDAGE BOTTLE. In less than a minute the New Skin fluid dries and you’ve got a nice seal that covers the wound and keeps out the dirt. I’ve used it several times on the trail. Mind you, it’s only for minor wounds. The bottle says don’t use on large areas or burns. A bottle will last for several seasons and eliminates wasted paper and plastic associated with Bandaids.

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

An Ultralight Backpack Doesn’t Need to be a Marathon

The basic goal of ultralight backpacking is to go light, fast and far in total comfort with the least amount of effort … be one with the pack … Maximize your enjoyment and reduce the possibility of injury. Ray Jardine, the father of ultralight backpacking, assembled a pack under 10 pounds to comfortably trek the Pacific Crest Trail a decade ago.

But do you need to go far to benefit from a light pack? I have discovered a short backpack to a basecamp, followed by day-hiking and/or fishing is a great way to go. Who says you need to lug a pack 30-40 miles over three days to have a good time?

Three places to go for short backpacks with outstanding day hikes:

  1. Granite Chief Wilderness – 2.5 miles into the first camp, then day hiking with view of Lake Tahoe over the ridge. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the area north-south for about 21 miles along the eastern boundary passing through Five Lakes Basin.
  2. Caribou Wilderness – 5 miles into the basecamp with a nearly flat 10-mile loop day hike around 10 lakes. Bordered by Lassen Volcanic Wilderness, I’ve visited here twice. Read my trip report.
  3. Mt. Eddy – 3 miles to Upper Deadfalls Lake with a day hike to the top of 9,000-foot Mt. Eddy (only 7 miles from the trailhead). At the top is a spectacular view of 14,000 foot Mt. Shasta, just the the other side of Interstate 5.

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

Big Sky’s Convertible an Ultralight Winner in the Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide Freestanding Tent Category

In the Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide is this year’s winner for lightest freestanding tent: the Big Sky International convertible 1-person tent at 1 pound, 12 ounces with tent, outer shell, and carbon fiber poles. Of course, the carbon fiber poles are an extra $100 and you need to add 2.7 ounces for stakes, 3.0 for rainfly and 3.o for ground cloth. That all adds up to 2 pounds, five ounces. Still, it meets my 2-15 rule (if it isn’t 2 pounds, 15 ounces or less it doesn’t qualify as ultralight backpacking equipment). Obviously, that’s arbitrary and some ultra, ultralighters are going to roll their eyes. You can go lower with tarps and bivy sacks, but tarps don’t keep out the bugs and bivvies are coffin-like.
Also worth a look: Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 and the Black Diamond OneShot.

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

Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide Lists 363 Tents; Few Meet the 2-15 Rule

Kudos to the editors at Backpacker Magazine who once again have created a must-have annual gear guide. This year, they review 621 packs, 483 boots, 363 tents, 480 sleeping bags and more. As a gearhead and ultralight backpacking hawk, it’s nice to have so much of what’s available out there listed in one place.

In my initial review of listings, I applied Bruce’s 2-15 rule (I will consider no tent over 2 pounds, 15 ounces) and came up with an astounding — compared to a few years ago — 80 tents that qualify.

If you apply the 2-15 rule to freestanding tents, which are those that require no stakes to hold them erect, there are only 13 of 363 tents that meet the rule. The reason for the rule: the lighter your base, the lighter your overall pack. You should keep your base (tent, pad, sleeping bag and pack) under 10 pounds.

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.