THE ULTRALIGHT/SORT OF LIGHT WAY

As a long-time unapologetic gearhead, I can testify that a little bit of good hardware is essential to a great trip but that too much of it quickly drags down the experience. But as much as I'm inspired by Ray Jardine and his books on ultralight high-mileage hiking, I know that the Ray-Way is not my way. I like a slower pace and a bit more gear and I'm definitely out to see the sights and not to log the trail miles. Life seems to rushing by fast enough these days without any additional encouragement and a trip out with the backpack is a personal opportunity to slow the pace back down to a manageable level once again.

As a side note, all this lightweight gear also fits quite nicely in a small kayak or on a BOB bike trailer.

CRITICAL ISSUES: WEIGHT & VOLUME

Me and my knees are quite fond of items that are lightweight, high-quality, and small in size. And even when that ultralight gear is spendy, it's a one-time expense and there's not that much of it to acquire. Once you have the critical equipment, the main obstacle to using it simply becomes that most hard-to-find commodity of all: time.

SHELTER AND TRANSPORTATION

Tent, bivy-sack, tarp, or nothing? Bag or quilt? All good choices in the right context. The pack, tent, and sleeping bag combination tends to suck up a disproportionate chunk of weight and volume and deserves some thoughtful consideration. I personally prefer an ultralight three-season tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 and UL2 are current favorites) for most occasions - the combination of light weight, bug and rain protection, and overall coziness works well for me. For sleeping bags, I like the minimum-sized down bag when the weather is likely to be nice and an artificial fill for when it might get damp or rainy. The older I get, the more I appreciate a comfortable spot to lie down at night, and there are now several quite lovely small and lightweight choices available (the surprisingly compact, comfortable, and expensive Thermarest NeoAir pad is a good example). A stuff bag full of the spare clothes makes for a fine pillow provided you don't have to wear them all on a chilly night.

THE KITCHEN

I keep my food trip fuss to a minimum and pack accordingly: an MSR Pocket Rocket stove, a single titanium pot and lid, alloy spoon, plastic (easy to clean) bowl, REI plastic mug (with handle removed), and MSR MugMate coffee filter (with good ground coffee) pretty much takes care of the gear end. Yeah, I know - the disposable fuel cannisters suck - but after trying various camp gas stoves, alcohol stoves, and zip stoves, the Pocket Rocket works SO well for a 3-4 night trip. But maybe I'll dust off my 40+ year-old Svea again someday. Really. Titanium sporks look cool but leak when I try and eat soup or oatmeal with them.

FOOD

Although I love to go camping with foodies who share, I personally keep it very simple for most trips - if it requires anything beyond boiling water as the main component, it's probably not going to happen at my campsite. A typical menu is hot oatmeal for breakfast, abundant snacks throughout the day, and something steaming out of a bag or pot for dinner. Don't want to spend the big bucks on the camping food? Check out your local grocery store or Trader Joe's for meals in bags (just throw in hot water) and plenty of similar items. I never get as hungry as I think and generally bring too much food but also really hate to come up short. A cold beer or a little scotch at the end of the day (remember, you don't have to carry these out) is always appreciated and please note that rum mixed with powdered fruit punch Gatorade = a campsite Mai Tai. Aloha.

WATER

If you've ever experienced the side effects of giardia, you'll understand why good water can get to be a bit of a preoccupation. There's no need to filter all water from all sources but there's some very good reasons to exercise some reasonable caution when filling your canteen from any untested source - you never know what might be upstream (use your imagination). I was also reminded in the Grand Canyon a few years back that it's better to carry too much water than not enough.

BATHROOM AND MEDICINE CABINET

Don't forget the ibuprofen and toilet paper. For first aid, a few band-aids along with some duct tape should cover most issues. If there's water available, a dab of Dr. Bronner's and a rinse helps to keep the thighs from sticking together on a warm night. If it's a little chilly out, long underwear will also handle that last task nicely. In sunny weather, it's easier (and cleaner) to cover that exposed skin with lightweight clothing than sunscreen.

CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR

Layers layers layers. Leave the cotton at home. If cool out, wool socks, stocking cap, and lightweight wool gloves at night will be a welcome addition. Lightweight and comfy shoes usually do the job quite adequately. Ultralight camp sandals are a very nice but optional luxury at the end of the day. Stay warm. Stay dry. That about does it.

PERSONAL GEAR

Much as I like being out in the woods or the desert, it can get a little tedious on occasion and those 14-hour nights in the tent in the late fall require some solid in-shelter entertainment opportunities. I find that a good book (small print) and an iPhone loaded with podcasts and some e-books really help. A lightweight battery extender and/or battery phone case (there are plenty out there although I like the Mophie brand) are also valuable for longer trips. And I've lately abandoned my standalone digital camera at home and am relying exclusively on my iPhone camera. When it's cool out, a lightweight pair of wool glove liners will keep the fingers warm when reading. The iPhone clock app is also handy for those long nights when you wake up and wonder how many hours it really is until dawn.

I've also come recently to cautiously alter my opinion of devices like the SPOT Connect or DeLorme inReach, intriguing little pieces of satellite communication technology that have also occasionally prompted some hikers to behave quite cluelessly and irresponsibly. They will allow an out-of-cell phone range user to send a short reassuring or informational email (and location) to friends and family and could also work very well for backcountry field work. Customer reviews for these can be found at amazon.com and are well-worth reviewing carefully if you're interested in exploring this technology.

FINDING YOUR WAY

There's no better tool for trip planning than a topographic map and it used to be that all a person needed was a compass, a good topo map, and some practice in how to use them together. But no longer. These days I'm much more likely to turn to several iPhone/iPad solutions for trip planning and orienteering. Until recently, portable standalone GPS's were mighty cool but I've now completely abandoned them and replaced them with iPhone map apps. Please note that iPhones have built-in offline GPS capabilities that work spectacularly well with many mapping apps but that iPads require the addition of an external GPS such as the Bad Elf GPS Pro. And don't forget to pack a backup paper map in case your electronic device decides to go swimming or run out of battery life.

THINGS TO AVOID

Finally, there are some things a person just doesn't want to have to deal with when they're out having fun on the trail. Here's my list of them - carefully and thoughtfully crafted over the years during moments of discomfort and occasional misery. That said, every great hike involves at least a little suffering - plan accordingly. Be proactive.

Too Thirsty
Too Hungry
Too Wet
Too Cold
Too Hot
Too Tired
Too Much Pain/Discomfort
Too Bored
Too Lost

As the result of a trip a few years ago, I was reminded that illness can also be added to the above list. There's not much a person can do to prevent this (aside from drinking filtered water) but it can be critical to know just when to bail out of a hike. Take it from me ... pneumonia will not get better if you try to ignore it.

ABOUT THIS WEBSITE

I put together this little website because it helped me to get focused on the joys and pleasure of the backcountry once again. Although I started out backpacking in the Oregon Cascades in 1970 with Colin Fletcher's Complete Walker as my bible (whatever happened to bacon bars?), the distractions of life - education, children, career demands, house payments - somehow gradually took over. Several years ago at age 62, it was time to head back out again! No regrets about that decision. I hope to see you out there and aspire to eventually be the oldest hiker that you run into on the trail.

My new cubicle ...

THE LIST

LIGHTWEIGHT BACKPACKING WEB RESOURCES

HEAD BACK HOME

09/08/2017
Visit the Webmaster