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.

Granite Gear A Good Choice for Multi-Day Ultralight Backpacking

Shelly Smith with Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Pack.

Shelly Smith with Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Pack.

The highlight of PCT Days this past weekend was walking across the Bridge of the Gods, on the PCT, with hundred of other backpackers, thru-hikers and outdoor lovers. It was only open to pedestrians for 30 minutes; long enough to walk from the Oregon to Washington side and back, with stops in the middle for spectacular views and photos.

Another highlight was seeing, touching, wearing and experiencing ultralight backpacking equipment first-hand (instead of viewing it in magazine gear guides). What amazed me most is the quality and thought that has gone into creating gear that works in the wilderness, like Granite Gear. It all comes down the thought that went into GG’s products.

As noted on the Granite Gear website, “During a paddling trip through Quetico Provincial Park in 1986 Jeff Knight and Dan Cruikshank realized there was a need for better outdoor gear, planting the kernel that became Granite Gear. From those humble beginnings—two buddies on a camping trip—Granite Gear has grown into an internationally respected brand that matches purpose with weight, comfort and durability.” Jeff, Dan and company know their equipment. They live it. They test it. And they make it for us — devotees of ultralight hiking and backpacking.

Among the standout packs they have created — and I checked out — with the help of communications rep Shelly Smith, was the Granite Gear Crown V.C. (Vapor Current Suspension) 60, a 2-pound pack that is not only light, but sturdy and comfortable with plenty of pockets and room for everything you will need for a multi-day trip. Check it out.

In the meantime … Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.


Backcountry Coffee: Three Ultralight Backpacking Options

I recently visited Snow Peak’s USA headquarters in Portland to check out all the lastest goods and gadgets. One of the items that caught my eye was the Snow Peak Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Brewer.

A tasty cup of trail coffee

A tasty cup of trail coffee









Weight 4.9 oz (140g)

I got a fresh-brewed cup of coffee out of the visit (very good) and hands-on experience. It is solid and folds flat. Worth checking out at $29.95 if you love good trail coffee.

Jetboil Coffee Press

Weight 0.8 oz (22g)

Jetboil Coffee PressFor my birthday, my wife bought me a coffee press for my Jet Boil. In my home try-out, I added 8 ounces of water, which boiled in one-minute. I stirred two tablespoons of fresh, dark french roast (#4 grind), let it sit for 3 minutes, then inserted the press to push down the grounds. Coffee was excellent. Fits inside the Jetboil cup. About $10.

Starbucks VIA® Intant

Weight .02 oz (3g)

Finally, a few months back, a friend and fellow backpacker brought Starbucks VIA® Instant coffee packets. If you like good coffee, like me, the thought of instant coffee gives you the shivers. Surprise. Surprise. Starbucks is excellent and the Dark French was strong the way I like it. Each packet costs less than a dollar and a fraction of an ounce — a dozen grams maybe. There are 15 flavors, including decafs, flavored (like Caramel Latte) and light and medium-bodied roasts.  Here is a Weblink for a look-see: Starbucks Instant Coffee.

My Choice

I like and recommend all three.

  • The Snow Peak is sturdiest and heaviest (4.9 ounces).
  • The Jetboil is a great trail coffee solution for the Jetboil Cooking System.
  • The Starbucks VIA® Instant is lightest of the “ultralight backpacking” trail coffee solutions.

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


California’s Lost Coast A Rare Beauty of a Hike


Note: click on photos to make them larger and smaller.

Backpacker Magazine recently featured a article about backpacking the Lost Coast, a 30-mile stretch of beauty sandwiched between Northern California’s King Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Three companions and I completed the entire 30 miles in two days and one night on the first trip. Two more times, friends and I hiked 10-mile sections from the north and south.

There are at least two 4+-mile sections impassable at high tide, which encompass at least three campsites where you are pretty much on an island unless you want to climb steep trails up the mountainsides. At Buck Creek, we camped on a specular cliff site, high above the beach with incredible sunset views.

The Trail

The Lost Coast Trail leads you to wide sandy beaches (like Spanish Flat and Big Flat), which are ideal for camping. We found several wonderful campsite / shelters made (by previous campers) from driftwood with seats and fire pits. Although isolated, surfers manage to come to these flat expanses for great waves.

The trail takes you on the beach (walking in the sand and over small boulders in some places) and up on hard pack cliff trails and through meadows.

Water and Toilets

There are several creeks that flow into the trail so there is no problem with fresh water (however, drought conditions may have had an impact so check in at the ranger station). Paper and poo go in the sand (dig a hole) below the high tide water line. Seems counterintuitive to the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” philosophy, but those are the rules).


The abandoned Punta Gordon Lighthouse is a wonderful ruin to explore. No lens or glass in the lighthouse, but you can climb up into the former lens room and get a spectacular view. The abandoned light keeper houses were burned down 40 years ago to keep squatters out.

Getting There

Check you maps. But there are several ways to do this. On our trip several years ago, we discovered that a local woman would pick you up in Shelter Cove (leave your car) and drive you to the Mattole River to begin the 30+ miles trip south to Shelter Cove. An alternative is to have two cars — one at each end. But the roads, in and out and along the ridge of the King Range are really windy and unpaved in places.  Two cars is not a great option.

Check with the store at Shelter Cove or King Range Conservation Area Office (Call ahead for hours. (707) 986-5400. 768 Shelter Cove Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589) to see what other options might be available. The shuttle was a great way to go. But not check (like $50 / person). Of course, another option is to hike half way or more from either end for an out and back.

Pre-Backpack Camping

You can tent camp at Shelter Cove and at the Mattole River before you hit the trail. There are no services at Mattole, but Shelter Cove is a regular little community with a general store ((707) 986-7733), restaurant, RV Park, campground ((707) 986-7474), etc.

Bear Canisters

Last time I checked, canisters were required. Read the regulations. I guess bears come down the creeks from the mountains for food and water. We never saw any. Rules are rules — and for a reason.


If you go, DO NOT try to be brave running through even shallow surf to get around points impassable at high tide. You will be risking your life. Currents are strong and sneaker Ray P at Lost Coastwaves can surprise and carry you out to sea in a moment. Do like we did: have lunch, relax, take it easy, take a nap until the next tide change. On one hiking day, BECAUSE of the high tides and because we were feeling good, we raced passed “impassable” areas while the tide was low and made 16 miles. That is a slog when you consider you walk through a fair amount of sand. We were really energized, but what’s the point if you are just trying to enjoy nature. Take your time.

As Always: Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Map:  http://www.mappery.com/map-of/King-Range-National-Conservation-Area-Trail-Map


Let There Be Light … On the Trail and in the Tent

I recently attended a presentation about Luci, a “solar justice” solution for those who live in “energy poverty” (they have little or no electricity for basic living).
Created by Mpowerd, Luci lights are inflatable, waterproof, solar-powered lanterns that recharge indoors or out and will reportedly last for 12 hours of continuous use. They stay charged for months when not in use. 



The best part: they weigh just 2.5 ounces (about 70 grams) and fold flat to about a half inch by about 5 inches.

As a ultralight backpacker, I couldn’t resist buying one. It solves the problem of carrying batteries, especially on extended backpacks.

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

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.

Ultra-Sil Kitchen Sink just 1.5 Ounces, But holds 2.64 Gallons

Ultra-Sil Kitchen Sink for websiteAlthough I often just use my finger and a little water to clean my bowl and mug after breakfast or dinner on the trail, having a “wash pot” is nice. But too much weight and bulk, right? I recently discovered the Ultra-Sil Kitchen Sink (1.5 inches thick and 4.5 inches wide) as a great alternative. Packs down really small in its own case and is feather light. Best of all you can fill it with water, move away from the lake or stream to avoid contamination and use a small amount of biodegradable soap. Check it out.

In the meantime, 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.


Ray Jardin: Father of Modern Lightweight Backpacking

It was 1998 and I had just finished my first year of backpacking with a pack that weighed in at 45+ pounds. Then I read the book, the Ray Way, a guide to ultralight backpacking, and instantly became a devotee. His wisdom lead to my quest for ultralight backpacking and ultimately this blog.  He and his wife were able to get their packs to 9 pounds on a PCT trip while the rest of us where still hauling 5 times that much.

Without doing a lot of history research, I figured Jardin was the father of modern lightweight backpacking, since legends like John Muir, who carried a rucksack with a few hard biscuits, must have been the original “father” back at the turn of the 20th century.

In any case, Jardin published a book in 2009 I just discovered: “Trail Life, Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking” with the subtitle: 25,000 miles of trail-tested know-how.

Seems like a no-brainer as a must-read for anyone who wants to lighten their load.

A interesting note: Jardine was age 50 when his original book came out. He is now pushing 70. No doubt he is still on the move.

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