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.

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.

The Full-size NeoAir Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pad Weighs Just 14 Ounces

I own three Therma-a-Rest pads (2.5 pounds, my original; 1 pound, four ounces (full size) and a 3/4 body version at 15 ounces) and a Downmat 7 (filled with down and really warm) that comes in at a little over two pounds. Of course, the 3/4 pad would be the first choice for the ultralight backpacker. But the lightness comes with a trade-off:  you  sacrifice comfort and warmth by having your lower legs and feet hanging off the mat. If the weather is warm, it’s not a problem. But now you don’t have to settle for less comfort to get the advantages of fewer ounces.

I was at REI last week just checking out gear when I came across the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir.

The new NeoAir pad is full size, a couple of inches thick and packs down really small — about the size of a one-liter bottle. It’s worth a look.

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

Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide Lists A Whopping 480 Bags

That number — 480 — is a bit overwhelming at first glance. But if you apply my 1-15 rule (your bag should not be over 1 pound, 15 ounces), you trim the choices to 129 sleeping bags.

To help pair this list down further, you need to consider temperature rating.

I own a Western Mountaineering Highlite, a 16 ounce, 38-degree bag. Inside the protection of a tent with a jacket, thermal bottoms and socks, I can get that bag down to a 20-25 degree rating. And my bag gets me through three seasons pretty nicely.

Honestly, there have been a few nights when I wished I had something a bit warmer, but I was only “chilly” at worst. You need to ask yourself if you really need a 20 or 30 degree rated bag, 0r if a higher rated, lighter model will do.

You’ve got to balance lightness versus comfort (and safety). There’s nothing worse than a cold, restless night on the trail. If you’re a warm sleeper you can probably get by on a higher temperated rate bag. If you get cold easily, then go for a lower rated bag.

Backpacker Magazine listed 45 bags with a temperature ratings of 30 degrees or less that meet the 1-15 rule. Only 13 bags on this list are rated at 20 degrees or below and still 1 pound, 15 ounces or less. Four of those are made by one company: Nunatak Gear LLC. The quest for lightness often comes with a hefty price tag as well with the 20-degree rated “Alpinist Nunatak” selling for $384.

Because bags are so well made and so light these days by comparison with just five years ago when I purchased my Highlite, I think I might consider a 20-degree bag for seven or eight extra ounces.

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

40 Degree Sleeping Bag – 20 Degree Nights

I’ve written about how you can stay warm in a thin, light sleeping bag, even when the temperature is 20 degrees below the bag rating. I have to admit that when I checked the weather report for our upcoming trip to the Dardenelles near Sonora Pass in California, I got the chills:

-Some patches of snow still at 7,000 feet.
-Might rain this weekend, but probably clear next week.
-Nights 25 degrees or lower.
-More rain and cool nights possible.

So, it might be warm – or not. It may rain — or not. Night may be as warm as 25 degrees — or lower. Then add the probability of mosquitoes.

Makes packing “ultralight” a bit of a challenge.

My one pound sleeping down bag will be just fine, but I will probably need to wear socks, long johns, jacket, gloves and knit cap to stay warm.

To be continued …

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

Mike Kretzler’s Lightweight Backpacking Base

This post is a continuation of my Backpacking Gear List Series, focusing on ways to achieve the lightest possible pack, while maintaining some comfort and staying safe while hiking and camping on your backpacks.
Backpacking Gear List

A frequent reader of my blog and experienced lightweight backpacker Mike Kretzler of Olympia, Washington and publisher of PEREGRINATE at, was good enough to share his list of base gear. Like my base list # 2, his is between 9 and 10 pounds.

His tent and sleeping bag recommendations are particularly interesting.

Here’s his list (by the way, I tried to provide links to Montbell Diamond tent and Moonstone bag, but couldn’t locate on company websites; names may have changed):

•Pack: North Face Slipstream (3 lbs., 10 oz.) – no longer made, super-comfortable, but too heavy

•Tent: Montbell Diamond – (3 lbs.)

•Bag: Moonstone (1 lb., 15 oz.)

•Pad: THERMAREST 3/4 PAD (1 lb., 2 oz.) –

Total: (9 lbs., 9 oz.)

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

P.S. – Mike lists this quote on his blog homepage (I like it):

But how the hell can a person; Go on to work in the morning; To come home in the evening; And have nothing to say (John Prine)

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Going Lightweight Begins With the Base

Backpacking Gear List
I’m starting a Light Backpacking Gear List Series today, sharing my choices and the choices of others to help you become a lightweight backpacker. Of course, I’ll offer just a few of the seemingly unlimited possibilities. However, they seem to fall into just two categories: equipment available commercially and gear you can build or sew at home. I’ll share some sites where you can find “make your own” gear, but this series will focus on what you can find in local stores or on line.

So how do you start the get lightweight process?

You can drill holes in your toothbrush, cut straps off your pack and tent, trim your shoelaces and remove labels until the cows come home, but unless you start with a minimal base weight, you’ll fight a losing battle to achieve your lightweight goals.

Your base is your pack, tent / shelter, and sleeping gear (pad and bag).

I know some hardcore lightweight backpackers will scream at this, but my suggestion is for you to shoot for a base weight target of 10 pounds or less. The really dedicated lightweight backpackers will aim for 5 pounds or less. I assume that your goal is to be as lightweight as possible so you can enjoy and wilderness experience without feeling burdened by gear.

I have two sets of base gear which I’ll share. Obviously, you can mix and match depending on weather conditions, season, bugs, etc. I have also provided links to allow you to check out the highlighted gear. Here is my first set.

Base Set # 1:
Backpack: Osprey Aether – 25 ounces (1#, 9oz) – no longer made
Tent: Sierra Design Light Year – 1-Person 3-Season Backpacking Tent – 43 ounces (3#, 11oz)
Sleeping Bag: WESTERN MOUNTAINEERING HIGHLITE SLEEPING BAG (35 degrees) – 16 ounces (1#)
Sleeping Pad:Therm-a-Rest Trail Sleeping Pad – Short 3/4 length – 15 ounces
Base Total: 7 pounds, 4 ounces

Be safe. Be light. Be one with the pack

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Gossamer Gear ThinLight Sleeping Pad

Gossamer Gear ThinLight sleeping padBackpacker Magazine in its August 2006 ultralight gear guide calls the Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad, “fanatically light”, a 1/8-inch thick pad of closed cell foam that tips the scale at a mere 2 ounces.

About the only thing you could find thinner would be a pad made of dragon fly wings.

Ultimate Pack

Think about the ultimate lightweight gear set: 4 ounce pack, 1 pound sleeping bag, 2 ounce pad, and 10 ounce tarp …. Just 2 pounds for all your basics. This is not a dream. These products really exist. Continue reading

Western Mountaineering SummerLite Sleeping Bag

I own the Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag, a 16-ounce goose down bag rated for 38 degrees. One way Western got the Highlite so light is that it has a half zipper. I love this bag dearly, but sometimes find that the half zipper pulls apart in the middle of the night when I get up for a bathroom break. How can you not wake up while trying to get it back together? I hate that.

Western has announced the SummerLite sleeping bag (pictured below), which for 3 ounces more gives you a full-zipper and is rated for 32 degrees. I believe the longer zipper and extra warmth justifies 3 extra ounces.

SummerLite sleeping bag

Another feature: fully baffled with insulated draft protection.

Says Western Mountaineering: "We designed this bag for the lightweight fanatics who provide us with feedback, criticism, and motivation to continue producing the lightest down products available. This bag will debut this spring in limited supply to selected retail partners. It will become available to all WM dealers by Fall (2006)."

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

Technorati tags: , ,

Secrets for Cleaning Goose Down Sleeping Bags

We’ve all heard the warnings about the sensitive nature of our down-filled sleeping bags and how easy it is to damage them with the wrong cleaning techniques.

Well, actually they are as easy to clean as one, two, three.

  1. Place your bag in a front-loading washing machine (never an agitator, top loading).
  2. Add Nikwax Down Wash (follow the directions for correct amount).
  3. Place your bag in a dryer on low with three tennis balls to break up the lumps and help it dry. I own two high quality Western Mountaineering bags (HighLite and Sequoia MF microfiber) and have washed them successfully several times – usually at the end of the season.

I’m told washing too often will remove the natural waterproofness of the feathers, but Nikwax actually adds waterproofing so this isn’t a worry.

Continue reading