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.

A Walk in the Near Woods

I happen to live in a rural area of Northern California where a 10-minute drive and 20-minute walk will take me to a 40-foot waterfall among redwoods and ferns. This setting is as beautiful as you will find in the most remote wilderness areas. A great trek can merely be a walk in the near woods. Which drew me to this local adventure:

Recently, Ron Bloomquist of Fort Bragg, California who walks the town each morning for health and then blogs about it, decided on a near adventure of his own. He and a friend strapped on ultralight backpacks and followed the tracks of the local historic Skunk Train railroad, logging 40-miles. Here is his story.

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.

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.

Field Test: SteriPEN Adventurer

field-test.gifA few months back I wrote a review of Hydro Photo, Inc’s new SteriPEN Adventurer water purification system — innovative ultralight backpacking technology that uses ultraviolet light to give you a liter of virus and cryptosporium-free water with a single 2 1/2 – minute dose. My comments were based on my positive experience with earlier generations of the device and some kitchen testing. In the Granite Chief Wilderness north of Lake Tahoe June 13-16, it proved itself a worthy, trail tough companion. Over three days, three of us used it exclusively to purify about 35 liters. It worked flawlessly and the lithium batteries held up fine. It’s so light (3.5 ounces with batteries or 4.5 ounces with carrying case), I hardly noticed it on my belt during our day hikes of 8-10 miles. This is a must-have system.

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.

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.

Manchester State Beach To Close on the Rugged North Coast

Stornetta Preserve

Wind swept dunes separate Manchester State Beach on California’s North Coast from one of the longest and most beautiful beaches anywhere. Now, it is slated to close under California’s pitiful budget cutting proposal. I’ve been told that California State Parks represent 1/2 of 1 per cent of the entire state budget, yet they continue to come under attack — this time to save $16 million as part of a plan to deal with a $10 billion budget deficit. Just to the south is the Point Arena Lighthouse and the new Stornetta Preserve with a pretty waterfall plunging into a crashing ocean. Manchester may close, but I have a feeling the gate won’t keep many folks out. For those who want an escape, it has an irresistible draw. It’s one of those places you can walk for hours and see no one.

Be light. Be safe (don’t go too close to the surf). Be one with the pack.