2001 Sierra Trip – Gear and Weight Savings


Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation. The tarps kept us dry and saved a ton of weight vs. conventional tent.


Two years ago (1999) I took a backpacking trip to the Northern Sierra with my son (16) and daughter (11). The Sierras were beautiful but our packs were heavy and our feet and backs sore. Hiking was long and tedious. Even with an early start, we seldom got into camp with much time to do anything at the end of the day. Needless to say, the kid’s favorite day was our layover day in the middle of the trip. This was the beginning of my interest in lightweight backpacking.

This year was the summer before my son, Colin, went off to college. As a sendoff we decided to retake our Sierra trip with my brother and my 10-year-old nephew a fathers and sons trip. The challenge for me was to see if I could get pack weights down to a minimum while trying to meet the diverse attitudes and interests of four people ranging in age from 10 to 40.

A Comparison of Heavy and Ultralight Backpacking

1999 Trip 55 Pound Packs Photos
2001 Trip 25 Pound Packs Photos
Savings 30 Pounds

Link: Highlights of the major weight savings
Link: Detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 to 2001.

2001 Trip Report

In the end Colin and I managed to reduce our pack weights by 30 pounds each. This included cameras, fishing gear and carrying some extra food for my brother and 10-year-old nephew. Our base pack weight was below 10 pounds. My brother and nephew carried very light packs as well.

Just about everything on the trip worked as planned. We completed each days hiking with plenty of time to swim, fish and hang out. There were no blistered feet, sore shoulders or aching backs. The mood was generally cheerful. No problems with any piece of equipment.

Colin said he was more comfortable on this trip than the 1999 trip. Just as warm. Better food. Easier hiking without a heavy pack fighting him, especially going downhill and cross-country. He really liked the shorter hiking days. One thing he mentioned about going ultralight is that he had to be more aware of what he was doing with his clothing, sleeping system and shelter. That is, to achieve the same level of comfort with less equipment, he needed more knowledge both about his equipment and backpacking technique, but also a higher level of awareness of weather and trail conditions. He also noted that on very cold nights there was little clothing left to put in a stuff sack to make a pillow.


saved us one day of food and started the trip right.

We stayed locally the night before the trip. This put us at trailhead early the first day, feeling chipper and raring to go. This and lighter packs allowed us to easily travel in the fist day some difficult cross country that took us two days on the previous trip. We arrived in camp with plenty of time to fish the evening hatch. It saved us a day’s worth of food as well.

Every other trip I’’ve taken has started at 4 AM with a long drive to the Sierras, getting a permit and bear cans, frantic packing of the food etc. Tired and cranky we’’d be lucky to get to trail head with enough time to stagger down the trail a few miles before dusk. Starting like this puts a trip, quite literally, off on a the wrong foot. I don’t think I will do it again if I can help it. Nothing like starting fresh and positive with a big lodge breakfast in your belly!

My Favorite Moment

Mid-trip, we woke the morning after a cold front had come through. A hard frost covered everything. Don’t remember who, but someone had the silly idea to take a dip. Temperature was still below freezing but we all plunged into the lake. Kevin and I took 10 minutes to swim across and back. We walked back into camp in just our shoes and sunned dry while cooking breakfast. It took another hour
for the frost to melt off our tarps.

What Ultralight Didn’’t Solve…

the usual trail squabbles.

Going into this hike, I naively thought that ultralight would turn this trip into one long idyllic camaraderie fest. We did have a great time and enjoyed each other’s company. And I know the reduced stress of lighter packs and getting into camp early certainly helped to minimize conflicts. But…..

But in retrospect it was unrealistic to assume that everybody would get along all of the time. Given four personalities, four interests, and four ideas of how to hike, there probably isn’t a complete solution to this. Colin hates to suffer, Kevin loves to fish and holds to a loose concept of schedule, Silvio is only 10 and needs to visit every snowfield, and yours truly likes to hold to a schedule get into camp early. I think we did a great job getting along 97% of the time.

For Next Trip…

people first.

For next trip I’ll focus a more on people and personalities. I think I’ve got the equipment stuff well under control but people are never easy. I have a feeling that 20 years from now I’ll still be learning. For the next trip I’m going to slow down a bit and listen more. A good belt of scotch in the evening wouldn’’t have hurt either.



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