Monday, July 11, 2011

Ultra What?

Its called "ultralight" backpacking and while it sounds cool and catchy; according to backpacker magazine this month it only accounts for about 30% of backpackers. Simply put, we tend sacrifice typical camping methods and equipment for a lighter weight and more space in our pack. So in theory we can travel further and faster than most. Some backpackers carry 60lbs, others like me carry 25lbs or less into the same environment. I think "Ultralight" is really still being defined and as such its hard to put it in perspective. In my trips, I've encountered only a few other so called "Ultraighters". However I always meet people who usually ask for tips or even demo's on how to lighten the load. So today I thought I'd give a few tips of my own and dispel some myths along the way.

 First off I'll say I didn't really start out thinking, "Hey... I'll be an "ultralight" backpacker. Honestly it just started with my lazy ass style of thinking. What was the best way to avoid the pain of carrying weight? As a 40 something getting back to my backpacking roots I knew I could not do things the same as when I was 20. While its true the newer technology and gear meant less weight; you still go without. Below is the top five things I do not carry with me that a typical backpacker/camper would. Also I explain the alternatives that I use.

A look inside my Bivy...Behind me is mesh so I can see the stars.
1) Tent... Average weight is about 4-5lbs still for a so called 2 person version. The alternative for me was a "Bivy" which is typically a sack that is water and rain proof. However I went with more of a "Bivy" hybrid. It has a pole so I have room above my head. The weight is far less at 1lb 8oz is waterproof and can fit myself, pad, pack and that is about it. Some people use less and have a tarp or ground cloth but I prefer this method.

2) Food.... This can be a huge drag in the weight department. I now exclusively, say for some trail mix go with dehydrated foods. The weight of my food is a fraction of the typical camper/backpacker. They literally carry tons of stuff for the calories and I carry a lot less and do sometimes suffer with weight loss.Taste I could care less about and am always surprised how good dehydrated things taste now. Really when cooked right, there is not much difference. However it leads me to my next weight saving method...

3) Stove... Typical stove is any where from 5 to 7 lbs. My stove with kitchen gear is 10oz, the fuel is a separate matter but obviously I use a lot less. Water and coffee (Starbucks via packets) is the only thing I use it for. Then pour into my food pouch (never a plate) and I have a meal. It's that simple. Food to me is substance; not a damn thing more.

A normal setup for me
4) Pack... The average framed fully padded pack that is considered for multi-day backpacking weights 6+ lbs. I go with a less than 3lb pack that really works very well for me. It's not huge but still considered big at 61L. Do I suffer in pain? Nope not a bit because I've got less weight to begin with.

5) Hygiene products and clothes... I carry travel size things and do not use deodorant. This is mainly because of the bears and honestly I'm not trying to impress a woman out there. It's backpacking people not a dating scene. You go with what you need and can always clean up later. Do I smell my best? Nope. Do I stink to high heaven? Only after I'm running for my life but other times NO!

In the clothing department I may carry one or two changes of lightweight UV resistant clothing. and that is it. Maybe two changes of socks and this is all. It's an adjustment but again not a dating scene out here; its nature.

It is also very important to note that "Ultralighting" is as much about mentality as anything else. I don't need a shave until I get back home. I stay warm by moving and doing jumping jacks before I go to sleep at night. Not with heavy clothing though I do carry Military poly-lite thermals.

Not uncommon for me to sleep like this either
I have one last tip for people that may want to try this. Constantly revise your thinking and ways. Make a list of what you use and more importantly what you don't use. I found tons of useless things in my pack even after I thought I was carrying light. You don't have to buy the latest greatest stove. MSR's Pocket Rocket has been around for 30years and still out-performs most things on the market. Look on Craigslist and yard sales instead of REI or Summit Hut. Trust me they will get their fair share of your business but look around. I get some of my most lightweight stuff at Wal-Mart for a fraction of the cost it is at REI. Oh and by the way my "In the Bag" page will return later this month so you gain a better idea of what I and others carry. Till next time friends... Bangarang!

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