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.

The Book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed a Must-Read

A couple of weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (an Oprah book pick and New York Times bestseller), was in my hometown in Mendocino, California talking about her book.

Her story details how, burdened by a pack she names “monster” (sounds like 80-100 pounds), she sets off from the town of Mohave with the intention of hiking the PCT. She is completely unprepared (despite buying every possible piece of “essential” gear she could find at REI), destroys her feet from boots too small and her body in general from the pack’s weight. It’s the story of her struggle to literally survive on the trail and figuratively from a life gone wild and out of control. She even packs a dozen condoms as part of her survival gear.

Going Wild

Strayed says the death of her mother from cancer just  seven weeks after the diagnosis sent her into a tail spin: she cheated on her husband (which led to a divorce) and was having regular one-night stands with strangers; met a heroin addict and became his boyfriend (and an addict) and, as part of her crazy behavior, decided to set off alone — with no experience — on the PCT.  She even made up  her last name, Strayed, after getting a divorce. Instead of going back to her maiden name, she picked “Stayed” … I guess because her life strayed off course.

Ultimately, Stayed only covers about 1,100 of the PCT’s 2,600 miles and totally missed 400 miles of the Sierra because the year she hiked there were record snowfalls. But that’s kind of beside the point of her book. Light backpackers will find the story of the pack and its weight enough reason to read the book. It’s beyond belief.

A New Kind of Hero

Sadly, it is becoming more common for people to do stupid or careless things in the wilderness — and because they survive — are hailed as heroic. Apparently Oprah sees Cheryl Strayed that way … heroic like Aron Ralston, who went solo canyoneering, didn’t tell anyone, got his arm caught under a boulder and had to cut it off.  His so-called brave act garnered him big money from his book, Between and Rock and a Hard Place and his movie, 127 Hours (I read the book and saw the movie). No doubt Cheryl Strayed is looking at a movie down the road.

Strayed was 22 when she started to spin out of control. She’s now in her early 40s and has settled down with a new husband, two children and a book tour.

Wild is a well-written, fascinating tale. And Strayed is very charming and authentic. She noted in her talk that she and her new husband plan to take the kids and hike the entire PCT. No doubt there will be a book in that, too.






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.

Sometimes Beauty is Just Down the Street … Literally

I was standing by this waterfall awhile back talking to a backpacking companion, gazing at the waterfall and asking him what we were going to do on our next backpack. He said, “Bruce, look around, is there anything more beautiful than this?” The waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park in Northern California is a 10-minute drive and a 20-minute walk from my home.

Best Apple iPhone Apps for GPS-Led Adventures

I’ve experimented the past few years with all kinds of electronic gadgets I thought I might make good trail companions.

The iPod nano was a favorite: a little more than an ounce with a video camera and music. My iPhone 3 offered books to read after dark. Then my iPhone 4 provided the total package of still camera, video camera, books and Apps to guide you in the wilderness. Battery life is an issue, but now they’ve got solar chargers.

With all the interest in smart phones, it’s no wonder Backpacker Magazine’s Fall/Winter Gear Guide 2011 features “the three best hiking Apps” for iPhone (all three are made for the iPhone, one for the iPad and one for Android). I own an iPad2, but can’t see myself carrying it into the wilderness — too much weight and too expensive to replace if is gets dropped.

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

Backpacker Bruce Alive and Well

Blog are supposed to be a place to pour out your heart about things you love. I launched June 17, 2006 (hard to believe) with that in mind and have posted lots of information about gear, trips and tips for going light and ultralight on the trail.  This year, mainly because of my work schedule, I’ve gotten out only twice, thus a dearth of posts about anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. However, I am constantly looking for new “stuff” and idea to help you go lightly and not be burdened by the pack. Luckily manufacturers have embraced the ultralight philosophy (not so in 2006), which makes going light or ultralight much easier.

If you want to share your tips or ideas for best of class equipment and technique for ultralight backpacking, I’ll be happy to forward them to my readers.

Humboldt Creek and the Dolason Prairie Trail

One of my favorite backpacks  is Redwood National Park in Northern California — particularly Redwood Creek where you are surrounded by towering old growth redwoods.

Access goes something like this: you get you permit at park headquarters. They give you the combination to a locked gate. Past the gate, you drive 6-7 miles to a parking area. From there,  you hike a mere 1.5 miles down to the creek and your backpacking camp.

With your camp set up along the creek, you take a great 7.5 mile round trip along the Dolason Prairie Trail up through redwood groves and pristine forest to open prairie views and an overview of the entire area.

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

Nemo Moto Ultralight Tent Among Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide Favorites

Nemo Moto 1P (1 person)

Backpacker Magazine’s 2011’s Gear Guide is out and is filled with every piece of gear on the market worth considering. I took a quick look at ultralight stuff and found an interesting tent, the NEMO Moto 1P tent. It’s just two pounds and since the tester was 6-feet-7 inches tall and found some comfort in it, I think it it worth checking out. It is pricey at $330, but less ounces often equal more $$ in the world of ultralight backpacking.

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