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Bay Area Backcountry Buddies Message Board › Light/Ultra-light backpacking

Light/Ultra-light backpacking

user 5685298
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 266
A friend asked me for advice about packing lighter, so this is what I wrote back and I thought I'd share it. Remember that your results may vary, what works for me may not work for you. Feel free to add your own spin. Discuss.

My #1 piece of advice is 'Leave it at home.' You probably don't realize it but you probably bring a bunch of stuff that you don't really need or only rarely use. When I'm packing light I use just about everything I bring, every day, every time I go out. Leave stuff like tent stakes at home, you can improvise a lot of things with sticks and rocks. Recognize that what you've got isn't going to guarantee absolute comfort all the time. Sometimes you will be cold, sometimes wet but you will survive. But 99% of the time it'll all be good.

Here's what I bring:

Ultralight pack. I have the Gossamer Gear G4, the Mariposa is also pretty popular. http://gossamergear.c...­ These are pretty much just a sil-nylon bag with some straps and mesh pockets sewed on the outside. A Z-rest pad tucks into a pocket in the back for structure. These are not intended to carry much weight. That being said, I've carried 35 lbs in reasonable comfort.
NeoAir pad. I have full size for comfort sleeping, something that I will carry a bit of extra weight for. Some people carry 3/4 length. Some people are ok with sleeping on just the Z-rest that they use for structure in their ultralight pack, I'm not one of them.
800 fill down bag. A lightweight summer bag (I've got a Lafuma 30° that weighs about a pound) and a heavier bag for colder weather (mine is a Marmot Helium 15°) Add a silk liner for extra warmth, also just a good thing to have along and it weights nothing.
Tent. Mine is a Big Agnes SL-1, good but doesn't perform well in the wind. Some people skip the tent and sleep out with a net over their head for protection from bugs and a sil-nylon tarp or bivy sack in case of rain. I like to do this when the weather looks good and I don't have my dog along. Tarps are light but a pain in the ass. Bivys are pretty good most of the time but crappy if it's going to rain more than a little. There's a lot of options for light tents, do some research. I personally like the ones that are freestanding (generally heavier but much easier to set up and bigger; being able to sit up in it is essential.)
Poncho for rain protection, it also doubles as the ground cloth for your tent. Get a sturdy one, not one of those cheapo ones that will tear apart in the wind. It'll weigh a bit more but it's worth it. There's a few on the market that are backpacker specific, they are longer in the back to cover your pack and have grommets on the side.
A light jacket with a hood. This should weigh less than a pound, you don't need much insulation to stay warm. A light down jacket or I have a Patagonia micro-puff. If it gets really cold this won't keep you toasty warm, just warm enough. Move around or wrap your sleeping bag around you for extra warmth or just get in your bag. Most important is that your warmth layer is wind proof. The wind will take your heat away faster than anything else. Hoods are a subject for argument but I like them.
A pair of light weight long johns. Smartwool, Icebreaker or other marino wool is great. Wear them to bed for extra warmth.
Gloves (windproof), warmth hat, sun hat (cotton, get it wet for daytime cooling), two pairs of socks (wash out the pair you wore during the day, wear the clean pair to bed and all day while the previous pair dries out. Repeat.) Do the same with two pairs of underwear if you're out for more than 2-3 days (get over your squeamishness.)
Stove, if you want hot food and drink. I think it's essential, something I wouldn't give up. Some people just eat bars or other cold food to save the weight. Yuck. I have a Caldera Keg by Trail Design (http://www.antigravit...­. It's good at heating water but not really for cooking in. That means that you'll need to develop hot water-only cooking techniques. No more pasta.
Toothbrush, first aid (large-small band aids, alcohol swabs, gauze, painkillers) sunscreen, plastic shovel, toilet paper, earplugs and so forth. I don't bring much of this kind of stuff. Leave the soap and deodorant at home. Nobody cares if you smell. Repackage things into sizes that you're likely to use up in the course of your trip. For instance, don't bring a whole bottle of sunscreen, put an ounce in a container.
Headlamp (get a super light one, you really don't need a lot of light), some 2-3 foot lengths of para-cord (good to have along, lots that you can do with it) a little duct tape( 5-10 feet rolled up), map, a small camp towel (very important) and a hanging line if bear cans aren't required, a bear can if they are. I haven't been bringing a knife lately but some people like to have one. A single sided razor blade or matte knife blade in a protective cover works well if you want something sharp.

Adapt to the expected conditions. If it looks like it's going to be rain more than the normal sierra 2 hour downpour then I'll bring a rain shell and pack cover as well as the poncho. If it looks to be cold I'll bring those chemical heat packs, an extra fleece layer and a heavier pair of long johns. If snow is a possibility I'll put a set of gaiters in my pack as well as that other stuff.

That's about it. I carry a few things that a true ultra-light aficionados wouldn't, there are some bits of comfort that I'm unwilling to give up (warm food, a softer bed, if I bring a tent, one I can sit up in.) Generally I wear a light long sleeve shirt to hike in and bring a t-shirt (Patagonia Capeline #1) as an extra layer and to sleep in. Get some light shoes/boots, you may not think so but lighter shoes can really make a difference to how tired you are at the end of the day. And of course pants. Don't forget your pants.
Osamh A.
user 12270003
San Jose, CA
Post #: 14
Miles, Thank you very much, what a great simple advise :)
I need to come back to read it more and more.
user 9860949
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 16

Great topic. As a recovering ultralighter and dedicated tarp user - I'll chime in too. First of all everyone has to find their own comfort zone and try this out for themselves. I think the "everything has a use and you use it everyday" is a great maxim. Another thought is pick the lightest weight items that satisfy their intended use - if an item is ultralight but not useful it is actually wasted weight (you'd be better off without it). I think technique can also help you reduce your weight and/or improve comfort, here are some thoughts in that vein.

Hiking - Wear the minimum amount of clothing so you are comfortable when hiking. That way your clothes get less sweat soaked and you have less of a need for "extra" clean or dry clothes for camp. I have found rather than adding/removing clothes as you heat up or cool down, it is easier and more efficient to add or remove a light hat and gloves. You may feel ridiculous wearing shorts a t-shirt and gloves and a hat - but it works. At rest stops pull out your windbreak/insulated layer so you don't get chilled.

Camp - What do you need to be comfortable? At a highly impacted site my z-rest just doesn't cut it anymore, so I try to establish a Leave No Trace (Dry Camp) at a non-impacted site whenever I can. If I know this is not an option I bring a much cushier pad. I find wind/bug pants and cut-off longjohns work for me around camp and while sleeping.

Food/Water/Other Beverages - Water is heavy, food is heavy. If you come to a great water source at 3:30 instead of carrying that water and food for another 2 hours take a break then, have an early dinner, hydrate, maybe even rinse off (away from the water source). Then hike those 2 hours refreshed and with a lighter pack : ). That awesome Cabernet you are thinking of bringing fits perfectly into a 20 oz soda bottle, and then you don't have to bring knife with the corkscrew either. A Gatorade bottle is much lighter than a Nalgene.

Shared Gear - What kind of weight can you save by sharing gear with your new/old friends. How many filters do you really need for the group? Can you share a 2 person tent (or Tarp)? One non-ultralight pot and three spoons weighs less than 3 Jetboils. Does everybody on a 6 person trip need to bring a GPS? or just the leader? How many First Aid kits is the group bringing?

Inventory - Know ahead of time what you are bringing, what it is for, and how much it weighs. This enables you to make informed decisions about what to bring and what to leave.

Right size - Do you need 8 stakes or 6 to set up your shelter. 12 oz of sunscreen or just 3 oz. The whole guidebook or just photocopied pages. Challenge yourself - can you fit your first aid kit into a Gallon Ziplock? A quart? How about into an Advil bottle?

Be creative and have fun with this, think outside the box, sometimes you find solutions at places other that REI. I once left my groundsheet and thermarest at home and instead used a mylar car sunshade from Target instead - Did it work? - Yes, but only because I was careful where I set up camp.

I think it would be great fun to do an ultralight meetup trip so people can compare ideas and techniques.

user 5685298
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 269
Nice addition Brian. It's definitely worth noting that it took me a number of trips to work down to my present gear. It didn't happen all on one trip.

I would absolutely recommend that everyone try lightening their load. People say "Oh, I'm used to carrying 40 lbs. It's no problem." Well, wait until you get used to carrying <20 lbs. (or even <15 lbs.) It makes hiking a joy and especially as you get older and your back hurts and your feet hurt and your knees hurt and you still want to get outdoors, going light is the only way.
Max K.
user 8482990
Saint Helena, CA
Post #: 2
I love the idea of an “ultralight meetup trip”. It’s great to get together and share ideas. There’s ton’s of info on the web. I actually learned a lot from blogs and Youtube videos.
I’ve got my base weight down to about 12 lbs. It’s so nice to have plenty of energy and not be completely sore/exhausted at the end of the day!
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 1
For those that are interested in going light or ultra-light, the 2009 GoLite Pinnacle is available on their site right now for $75. The pack weights only 2 lbs, but it's weight capacity is only about 40 lbs. No affiliation here. Personally, I haven't reduced the rest of my gear down in weight enough to justify a lightweight pack yet, but I thought maybe others could take advantage of this.
A former member
Post #: 115
I think "find your comfort zone" is a good maxim. Ultralight sounds great, but we don't all have to go all the way over in that direction. It's a balance between comfort vs. how heavy you've willing to have your rig be, and refining this balance is an ongoing process. Gear changes, you change, you try something new, or gain insight that something isn't really necessary, or you can use a smaller one just as well. You think of ways to whittle down the weight. Sometimes you make concessions for comfort: some folks use an ultralight pack, but I don't at this time. I use an Osprey 70L which is not ultralight, but I feel that for a bit more weight it's rugged, has good suspension, and just does a great job, so I feel it's worth the extra weight. Someday I may re-examine that assumption.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is Crocs. I like to have camp shoes to change out of from my boots--it's a measure of comfort I prefer not to do without, like having a dry change of clothes for camp. They serve a dual purpose as water shoes for water crossings, and they're light--much lighter than Tevas.
user 13867698
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 3
Good idea with the Crocs. Never had a pair, but I like to get out of my hiking shoes at camp as well and they are so much lighter than tevas! Thanks for the good suggestion.

I am constantly trying to lighten my pack, but need to make some bigger purchases(i.e ultralight sleeping bag. Any suggestions on great bags?) to really get there. The biggest concern I have especially for this meetup group (which I just joined) is that I usually split the weight of the bear canister and the tent (2person, fairly light, abt 4lb) with my hiking buddy, but if I join one of these meet up excursions solo that is way too much weight for me to carry and would also be a huge waste of space. Do members usually team up and try to share the load or do I need to invest in a personal 1 man ultralight tent? And a smaller lighter bear canister?(Does that even exist? lol)

Thanks for any input!
A former member
Post #: 116
The Bare Boxer Contender is smaller and lighter than other canisters, and it's approved for the national parks:­

It seems like it would be just the thing for 1 person overnight, and it would fit in a smaller backpack.

The Bearier 700 has a better weight-to-volume ratio than any other canister. You can split it in half to share the load. It hasn't been released or approved for the parks yet:­

You can also still hang your food--lightest of all--where bear activity is not a problem and canisters are not required.

-Dave S.
Fremont, CA
Post #: 1
I had to go ultralight being a novice backpacker and by my physical fitness level and who wants to carry weight anyways! My base is 9.5lb on a budget. To cut 3 lb here, would cost my another $300-400. My gear list:

I love the GoLite Pinnacle at 2lb. Not only is it ultralight, but converts to a daypack so easily that I was off to a hike with a daypack after setting up camp to the envy of some who missed the daypack.
I carry a solo free-standing tent Alps Zephyr 1.0 at 3lb 14oz total - thats my comfort compromise in my base.
My bag is a 20F Rei Zephyr at 3lb, haven't switched to a lighter summer version since I feel cold anyway. I prefer synthetic, so that is another compromise for me.
My pad is the Z-lite that just sticks on the outside of my pack and I love it at 10oz.

My two trips (1 solo, 1 with a meetup) , so I couldn't share gear/food here.
Its the other stuff (non-food and water) I carry that adds up equally as well even though they have all been carefully picked considering their weight in ounces! That needs to lighten up along with the mindset "what if I need" !

For someone who asked about sleeping bags, the quilts/bags and other products from Western Mountaineering are the way to go, with the price tag of course apart from some custom/self-made stuff that truly ultralight aficionados swear by.

Thanks for starting this thread and your suggestions, especially clothing. I do have lightweight clothing, but your list helped a lot.
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