Recommended Tents and Tarptents

A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

  1. Look at The tents and shelters listed in my 9 pound gear list. It has recommended Tents and TarpTents in the “Sleeping Gear and Tent/Shelter” section.
  2. And then take a look at the recommended Tents and Tarp Tents below.

 

Here are a few suggestions for Tents and TarpTents

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Mountain Hardware Direkt 2 Tent – $550 at REI

This is one of the lightest freestanding four-season tents on the market. While it’s made for fast and light alpine climbing, it could be just as good for fast and light… anything. At least anything where you need to stay out in crazy conditions safely! This tent can be staked out to handle huge winds, and is more comfortable, lighter, and stronger than the previous best-in-class alpine tent: Black Diamond’s FirstLight.


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REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent – $300 at REI

Okay, not everyone needs a siege-proof alpine four-season beast of a tent. REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a great option for those looking for a reasonably priced lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. If ultralight tarps seem too daunting, this will still help you cut weight, weighing just over 3 lbs, but the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample head room, and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room/livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets tent apart from most of its peers.


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Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – $450 at REI

If you want to cut a little weight, but keep lots of space, Big Agnes has you covered with the high volume version of their Copper Spur UL 2 freestanding tent. It comes in at 2 lb. 12 oz on the trail, and can be pitched even lighter using just the fly. This is one of the most spacious 2-person tents out there, which is great if you are going to be stuck in your tent playing cards for a while in bad weather, or just prefer highly livable tents.


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Tarptent Notch 1-Person Shelter – $285

Tarptent has been around for ages with a great reputation in the lightweight backpacking community. As the name suggests it combines the best aspects of a tent and tarp. That is, low weight combined with a fully waterproof floor and mosquito protection. The Notch is a great 1-person shelter, that sets up with two trekking poles, and includes a full inner bug netting and a bathtub floor. The Notch will keep you and your stuff dry in a rain storm, and there is ample headroom to sit up and wait out the foul weather from dry comfort inside! The shelter weighs in at 27 oz, which is a fair bit lighter than even the lightest free-standing tents!


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Tarptent MoTrail 2-Person Shelter – $259

This is a light shelter with plenty of room for two to sit up side by side and eat dinner looking at the view. This Tarptent MoTrail is more like a traditional tarp setup with a ridgeline held by two trekking poles in the long direction of the tarp. The tarp has a mesh inner, and a Silnylon outer with a Silnylon tub floor to keep you dry even in a total downpour. Inside is space for two people to sleep comfortably without a trekking pole between them. At 36 oz, it’s just over 1lb/person, and it’s less expensive than the 1-person shelters like the Tarptent Notch or MLD Solomid!


The following Pyramids are fully storm worthy shelters

All can be ordered with an Inner Nest if you need a floor and bug netting


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Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL – $365

This is the pyramid shelter against which all others are measured. These have been used by thru hikers on the longest treks, deep in the wilderness of Alaska, on glaciers and high peaks, and even occasionally as car-camping tents! The design is flexible, durable, functional, livable, and light at 21 oz for the SilNylon version. It can withstand serious storms, and open up on nice nights. It is spacious and comfortable for two backpackers and their gear. Of course, for the gram counters, this tarp also comes in the much lighter cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) version, weighing in at 16 oz even, and costing about $700 depending on the color of fabric used. Note Asym design: one of the few ‘Mids that allows a couple to sleep side-by side without a center pole between them.


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Mountain Laurel Designs SOLOMID XL 4.5′ X 9.2′ – $265

This is the upgraded version of the shelter Andrew Skurka took on his epic Alaska-Yukon Expedition. It’s a 1-person version of the Duomid with all the same great features, but it’s lighter and less expensive! It fits 1-person with ample room for gear. This SilNylon version comes in at just over a pound (17 oz). The Cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) is a svelte 12 oz, but costs $465. For such a versatile, lightweight shelter, it’s a bargain! Note: new 2017 Asym, single pole design with 70% of the user space behind the one center pole and the front 30% functions as a vestibule. This offset design allows entry and exit in rainy conditions to help keep the sleep side of the shelter dry like the DuoMid XL design.


2.4 Pound Extreme Ultralight Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail

2016 Update: I have redone this with a a new post “5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List” which I believe is a far better approach to light on the AT. This new gear list is both light and practical. It can be used by many AT hikers to increase both their enjoyment and miles covered per day.


 

2007 version – 2.4 Pound Extreme Ultralight Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail

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sub-5 pounds Full Skin Out Base Weight. That’s all of my pack and everything I am wearing. Overlooking the Shenandoah Valley

Detailed 2.4 lb Extreme Ultralight Gear List (pdf)
90+ mile Fall trip – AT in Shenandoah National Park – 3 days / 2 nights, Nighttime temps near 32 F with wind. One day/night of rain.

Some key gear for 4.8 pounds FSO-BW: Jacks R Better Stealth Quilt (worn in poncho mode), Oware Cattarp 1.5 (cuben fiber version), Trail Designs Caldera cook system, Gossamer Gear 2007 Lightrek Poles (supporting the Cattarp), Inov-8 F-Lite 300 shoes, Gossamer Gear Whisper pack (blue), Rain Shield O2 Rain Jacket (yellow behind pack), and Smartwool Microweight Shirt.

A Brief Summary of the Details

When I first thought of testing out a Sub-five-pound, Full Skin Out Base Weight (FSO-BW) gear kit I thought of early Fall in the Blue Ridge. To be a valid test, I’d need some good rain, some wind and cold nighttime temperatures. I’d need to watch the weather and be ready to quickly head out when the predicted forecast met these conditions. I’d also need to cover a lot of trail miles, at least 75 to 100 miles, to test out my gear. I chose the AT in the SNP because it is more mileage than I’d likely cover in three days and for its significance as a national trail. “AT trail miles” have become something of a national hiking standard.

My criteria for testing sub-five-pound FSO-BW*:

  • Hike 75 or more miles in 3 days
  • Must have solid rain
  • One night with temperatures below 40 deg F
    (possibly approaching 32 deg F)
  • Carry own shelter
  • Full rain gear
  • Cook food (There’s 3 oz or so to be saved here, and many who venture into pack weights this low will opt to go without cooking. I wanted to get under 5 pounds FSO-BW and still cook. It seemed a more elegant way to get there.)
  • When possible, gear should be readily available, and reasonable in cost (reasonable for making a Sub-five-pound FSO-BW).

* Using different criteria: Staying in huts and without cooking it would be possible to achieve a 1.9 pound base packweight (see gear list for more details) and under four pounds FSO-BW.

Using the above criteria it was harder to get down to Sub-five-pound FSO-BW than I had anticipated. I quickly realized that my primary gear focus was on keeping warm and dry. To do that and stay under weight FSO-BW, I threw out many of the Ten “Essentials” and gear numerous people would consider essential. For instance: compass, knife, [sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen]*, warm insulating jacket or vest, gloves, spare socks, long pants, TP, toothbrush/toothpaste, and no underwear. I even considered leaving my watch. On the trip I missed very little of this. The thing I wanted most was the down hood that mated with my JRB Stealth down quilt. (I would have traded my first aid kit and more for the hood.) I also missed dry camp socks at night.

* I had a good summer base tan, only my face and hands were exposed, the leaves were on the trees so the trail was mostly shaded.

Clothing and “gear carried” counts for a lot in FSO-BW. Usually, it is more than your BPW. To make sub 5 pounds, I selected the lightest garments I could get away with. Being a smaller person helps. Many times I went down a clothing size to reduce weight.

Key Gear

Jacks R Better Stealth Quilt

This was my most important piece of gear. The Stealth Quilt is a lighter, sewn-through version of the No Sniveler Quilt. At $200 for a sub-one-pound sleep system with 800 fill power down, it is an ultralight bargain. The Stealth Quilt has a slit in the middle so it can be worn as an insulting poncho. Like Francis Capon in his CDT Yoyo, this quilt was both my “sleeping bag” and my sole insulating garment (Francis used a warmer version). Jacks R Better offers a down hood that integrates with both the Stealth and No Sniveler.

The poncho/quilt system works quite well when you hike without stopping during the day. It eliminates about a pound to a half pound for an insulating garment like a down or synthetic high loft jacket. (In cold weather you hike fast enough to stay warm with a light wool shirt and a rain jacket.) In camp, you use the quilt briefly as a garment to stay warm while you cook and do chores morning and evening, otherwise you’re sleeping under it.

My 15 oz Stealth quilt had 2 inches of average loft (single layer), ½ inch over the manufacturer specified 1 ½ inches of loft. It is rated to +45 °F. The first night was in the low 50’s and I slept quite warm under the JRB Stealth Quilt and easily dried out clothes wet from hiking in the rain. The second night on the trip was around 30 F, or about 10 to 15 degrees below the quilt’s rating. Due to the Stealth’s generous loft (for sub 16 oz bag), I managed to stay warm enough to get reasonable sleep.

Note: One can use a conventional sleeping bag as an insulating garment. This involves wrapping the bag around your torso and neck and then covering it with an oversized shell jacket (e.g. a Rain Shield jacket a size larger than you normally wear) to hold it in place. It is the height of fall fashion and your buddies may laugh at you, but it works.

Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight Pack — overlooking the Shenandoah Valley

Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight Pack

At 3.8 oz and $60 the Whisper may be the best extreme ultralight deal on the market. I’ve used the Whisper since it was first introduced. In the beginning I had misgivings about the packs paper thin appearance but the pack is remarkably durable. I own two and both are doing fine with a many miles on them. For most UL and XUL trips the volume of the pack is about right. My only suggestion: I wish the pack had side pockets to store food and a water bottle, etc. in a more accessible location. (I hope that Gossamer Gear is developing a Whisper-based pack with side pockets.)

Oware Cuben Cattarp 1.5

This tarp, large enough for two-people in pinch, weighs 3.9 ounces! It uses a new lighter Cuben fabric. The large coverage has another weight savings. It allows a single hiker to use down bag without a bivy to protect it from rain that might blow under a smaller tarp. The Cuben Cattarp 1.5 while expensive for a tarp is still inexpensive compared to most UL tents. You get what you pay for. A tarp or shelter with the same coverage in Spinnaker fabric is almost double the weight. The Cattarp 1.5 measures 8.8 feet long x 7.1 feet wide at the front. It kept me dry with room to store gear and cook. I like the simplicity and ease of pitching a tarp.

Trail Designs Caldera and Beer Can Cookpot

Most times I don’t cook on solo trips. But I thought that it would be more elegant to get under 5 pounds FSO-BW and still cook. In addition, I was doing a lot of trail miles and it is a big psychological boost to have hot food at the end of a 30+ mile day with thousands of feet of climbing. I like my hot cuppa (tea) in the morning and a warm meal and hot chocolate at night. The light weight and high fuel efficiency of the Caldera system is hard to beat. I took two ounces of alcohol fuel for the trip. Weight of the whole system including fuel bottle (less fuel) was well under 3 ounces. Image on the left is a lightened version of the TD stove system that I used (lower capacity and no priming ring stove, stripped down parts) that is not currently in production.

Note: A version of this stove (right image), the Trail Designs Caldera Keg Cooking System is now available to the general public.

Gossamer Gear Lightrek 3 Trekking Poles

New for 2007 is a stronger and stiffer tapered shaft that adds no weight to the poles. These are strong enough for anything trail hiking can dish out. They are also excellent tarp supports. At 2.4 ounces they are about ½ the weight of most aluminum and carbon trekking poles yet cost no more than many high quality poles. Another UL/XUL bargain.

Note: Some will argue to skip the poles and just string the tarp between trees or use sticks for shelter support. I believe, like many long distance hikers, that trekking poles increase hiking efficiency. While I could have reduced my FSO-BWweight by leaving the poles, I believe it would have also reduced my daily mileage. The poles had two other significant advantages on the trip. (1) They clearly prevented me from slipping and falling when I hiked at night in pouring rain and whiteout conditions. (2) They were a godsend for a quick setup of my tarp in the rain that night. I was not in the mood, nor did I have the time, to ferret about in the dark for the right sticks to erect my shelter. I wanted to be under the tarp, in my warm quilt, and cooking dinner.

Inov-8 F-Lite 300 Shoes and Smartwool Adrenaline Socks

Shoe weight matters. Even a conventional lightweight trail runner is too heavy for a sub 5 pound FSO-BW. The difficulty is finding a very light shoe that provides enough comfort and support to hike 30+ miles a day with no foot problems. The Inov-8 F-Lite 300’s are just over 10 ounces per shoe, provide excellent cushion (3 arrow mid-sole), and are easy on the feet. This summer alone, I’ve backpacked hundreds of miles in the magic combination of Inov-8 F-Lite 300 Shoes and Smartwool Adrenaline socks with no problems. This trip was no different. After 90+ miles in three days I had no blisters or serious foot discomfort.

Gossamer Gear Thinlight Sleeping Pad

Probably the highest R value (insulating) pad for its weight, the Thinlight is surprisingly comfortable for the portion of your body it supports. The Thinlight does take up a bit of pack volume. In this case, that was a good thing as my Whisper pack was a bit over-volume for the small amount of gear I carried. I used a 3/8 inch thick pad trimmed to approximately 30 inches long and 16 to 12 inches wide.

Gossamer Gear Spinn Chapps

These were a new piece of gear for me. I was surprised at how well they worked. I have always taken GoLite Reed pants when there’s a good chance of rain. On this trip, I had on and off rain starting about noon on the first day and hard rain from late afternoon to when I stopped hiking around 10 PM. The rain was fairly warm (60’s), with dreadfully high humidity and whiteout conditions for most of the evening. The Spinn Chapps kept my legs just damp and I easily dried out under my quilt that night.

Rain Shield O2 Rain Jacket

I hadn’t used this jacket for a while but it was perfect for the trip. It is less than 5 ounces. The Propore fabric is highly breathable—almost as breathable as eVENT with the same flat moisture curve of a true microporous membrane (as opposed PU based technology including Gore-Tex). Breathability mattered since the Jacket would also be my windshirt. In a day of hiking in the rain (see Spinn Chapps) I arrived at camp just damp and I easily dried out under my quilt that night. The next two days had cold mornings (near freezing) and evenings and I used the Jacket as windshirt over my wool baselayer to stay warm when I hiked. I also used the Rain Shield Jacket as a pillow by stuffing it into its hood. It was my only bulky item left to make a pillow.

Smartwool Microweight Shirt

Initially I considered taking a 3 oz GoLite C-Thru T-shirt. But with no insulating garment and no long pants, my shirt would be my sole warm piece of clothing when I hiked. From numerous years of experience with Smartwool shirts I know that in combination with a shell (in this case the Rain Shield Jacket) and a fleece balaclava, I can stay warm hiking down to the freezing (or even upper 20’s F if I keep moving fast).

30 Pound Weight Savings for Lightweight Backpacking

Food and food storage: 6.5 lbs (5.2 lbs food, 1.3 lbs bear cans)
The biggest weight savings of the trip and nobody went hungry.
Again the greatest weight savings was in food. See below.

Clothing:  5.5 pounds
Less clothes, no Polarfleece, no camp shoes, lighter rainwear

Packs: 5.2 pounds
Heavy frame packs vs. ultralight frameless packs

Shelter: 2.4 pounds
Freestanding dome tent and Space Blankets vs. tarps and lightweight ground cloths

Sleeping: 2.2 pounds
Polarguard bags and Thermarests vs. ultralight down bags and foam pads

Stove and Fuel: 1.8 pounds.
MSR stove, full MSR XGK cook set and two bottles of fuel vs. Snowpeak Giga, one titanium pot and one Primus fuel canister.

Misc. Odd and Ends: 2.3 pounds
Including but not limited to: Leaving a 1.9 lb first aid kit & 14 oz of sunscreen, Platypus reservoirs instead of rigid Nalgene bottles, Photon micro lights instead of incandescent headlamps, fewer and lighter maps, etc. (see detailed list)

The Rest of the stuff: ? pounds
Including but not limited to weight reductions in: Additional food carried for other party members, fishing equipment, water treatment, repair kits, straps, soap, bug juice, dental stuff, TP, compasses, emergency Space Blankets, notepaper and pencils, ditty bags, etc., etc.

DETAILS ON FOOD AND FOOD STORAGE

Logistics (saved us one days food and started the trip right)
First 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 bad 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!

Food per Person
We carried 1.6 lbs/per/day on this trip vs. 2.0+ lbs/per/day of the last trip. By going for one less day (but the same trip with the same number of layover days) we reduced our food even more — 9.6 pounds (7 days – 6 nights) vs. 15 pounds (8 days – 7 nights). We were never hungry and came back with extra food. In the final calculation we ate 1.47 lbs of food per person per day. In addition, we packed denser (calories per cu/in) food that would more easily fit into bear cans. Lots of good high calorie GORP is great for this.

3,100 vs. 3,700 calories per day
We packed food that was higher in calories, 130 cal/oz vs. 110 cal/oz of the previous trip. Even so, we consumed fewer calories per day than on the previous trip. One explanation is that with lighter packs and feeling less stressed you need less food.

Food Storage (Bear Cans saved 1.3 lb/person)
We rented 3 Bearikade Bear Cans from Wild Ideas. We used two Weekender cans and one Expedition for four people and 7 hiking days — a weight savings of 1.3 lb/person. But renting bear cans ahead of time did more than reduce weight. We were able to pack our bear cans at home before the trip. We could be sure that our food would fit and that we could start hiking as soon as we hit trail head. (Last trip we had a rude shock at trail head when all our food didn’t fit into the 3 Garcia Bear Cans. This was partially a problem of too much food and partially a problem of choosing bulky food that did not pack well into a bear can. We had to hang our freeze dried dinners for the first few days, figuring that they had no scent, had the highest volume and fewest calories, and that we could continue the trip if we lost them. There is also the question of backcountry regulations… Fortunately we were off trail in areas not frequented by bears on those first nights. I wasn’t happy about this and went to some effort not to repeat it on the this trip.)

Fish for Appetizer
Finally we did eat a fish twice during the trip. We didn’t eat all that much fish. It probably only qualified as an appetizer and didn’t add more than a few hundred calories per person for the trip. But it was delicious!

 

Why Hike Lightweight?

A heavy pack is never a highlight or happiest memory of a trip…”


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My son may be laughing in this 1999 picture, but his monster pack is no joke. Over eight days that 55 pound pack took its toll on his body, his spirit & ultimately his enjoyment of the trip.

Disadvantages of a heavy pack

  • It sucks the joy out of the trip…
  • It will not keep you warmer, safer or more comfortable
  • Slow, tedious hiking
  • Exhaustion, irritability, and low morale on the trail
  • Increased injuries – sore back, sprained ankles, blown knees, sore muscles, bruised and blistered feet
  • Tired, cross people make bad decisions, sometimes with serious consequences.
  • Slow hiking leaves less time for fun – relaxing in camp, fishing, staring at clouds, skinny dipping, & side trips

Have warmth, comfort & safety for 15 to 25 pounds

How about 24 pound pack for a one week trip? A 15 pound pack for a weekend trip? At these pack weights, backpacking feels more like day hiking. It’s hard to describe how freeing this is until you experience it. The trail miles melt away. Without the misery of a heavy pack you can actually appreciate the beauty of the land you’re hiking through. You get into camp early, with plenty of time and energy to do almost anything.

FAQs about Lightweight Backpacking

  1. Is it Safe?
  2. What are Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacking?
  3. How Much Does it Cost?
    (
    and it doesn’t have to cost a lot here’s some current Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear)
  4. A personal history of going from a 55 pound to 15 pound pack.
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55 pounds to 15 pounds and just as safe: Colin’s pack 40 pounds lighter to do a longer and more ambitious trip. Even so he’s warmer, safer and more comfortable than in 1999. This trip was actually fun!

Is it safe?

YES! An ultralight backpacker carries all of the same safety items that any hiker would take – clothing, sleep system (e.g. sleeping bag), shelter, first aid kit, water treatment, etc. Arguably this is a better thought out and assembled set of gear that will be safer, warmer and more comfortable than an ill considered set of conventional/heavy backpacking gear.

Inexperience and poor judgment of hikers cause most problems when backpacking – not the equipment. This can happen to someone with a pack fully laden with all manner of equipment just as easily at it can to an ultralight hiker with a stripped down load. Solid backpacking technique, familiarity with your equipment, sound safety practices, and above all good judgment, count a lot more for your well being on the trail, than the type and quantity of equipment you bring.

That said, most of what the average backpacker takes is either too heavy; or unnecessary, adding little to their safety. With a little bit of thought, selecting lighter equipment, and leaving stuff you don’t absolutely need at home, you can carry enough to keep you warm, dry and safe for one-half to one-third the weight of what the average hiker carries.

Most of the time this lighter equipment is every bit as good (or better) than heavier, conventional equipment. Sometimes the lighter equipment has some performance limitations and is less durable than heavier equipment. In this case, I believe that the benefits from reduced weight (usually a significant reduction) far exceed the limitations of the lighter equipment. With care and proper use the equipment works fine. For example:

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The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

A silnylon (thin but strong fabric) tarp doesn’t provide the easy setup and bombproof rain and wind protection of a free standing tent. But in summertime in the Sierras where the normal weather pattern is for short afternoon thunderstorms, if any at all, do you really need the 5 to 7 pound tent? With proper care and pitching, the 0.5 to 1 pound silnylon tarp will keep you dry and sufficiently sheltered from the wind (I weathered some horrific Sierra storms and even a blizzard under a tarp without any problems). And it’s a lot airier and less claustrophobic under a tarp. If tarps aren’t your thing, there are complete two person ultralight tents and shelters for around 2 to 3 pounds (Links to: TarpTent or Six Moon Designs.) For more discussion of lightweight equipment see my Gear List Page.

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What are Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacking?

  • Loosely defined, ultralight backpacking is a base pack weight (BPW)* of under 10 pounds. This is an arbitrary number, but I’ll use it for now since many ultralight backpackers seem to make this number or go substantially below it. [on my site 9 lb and above is Lightweight]
  • Lightweight backpackers fall in the range of a 10-20 pound base pack weight. Again, these numbers are completely arbitrary. There is nothing “wrong” with a BPW over 20 pounds. The goal is the find the least pack weight that meets your personal needs and goals. Make intelligent decisions of what you do and don’t want—rather than blindly buying heavy gear when you may not need it.

* Base Pack Weight (BPW) includes your pack and all necessary equipment for your hike; but excludes food, water, and fuel. It also does not include stuff like cameras, binoculars, books, etc. or the clothing that you wear hiking. If you include your clothes and all equipment you carry but not food, fuel or water, the term is Full Skin Out Base Weight (FSO-BW).

The 10 pound ultralight base pack weight is (usually, but not always) limited to:

  • 3 season trips (Spring, Summer and Fall)  for much of the lower 48.
  • 2+ seasons trips for Western Mountains, Sierras or Rockies
  • Night time temperatures not too much below freezing
  • Trail hiking and cross country routes not to exceed class III (e.g. no ropes required)
  • Usually camping below tree line. Might be a bit iffy at some windy, exposed, high altitude camp sites, although many are alble to this. And there is always the option to move to a lower and/or less exposed location.

Note: There are two even lighter categories of Ultralight:

  • Super Ultralight (SUL) < 5 lb BPW (still valid 2+ season Western Mountains)
  • Extreme Ultralight (XUL) less than 5 lb FSO-BW (my preferred definition)
    but it’s a hazy category (for other it’s < 4 lb BPW? or <3 lb BPW?)

How Much Does it Cost?

The short answer is: for $500 to $1,000 you can put together a great set of ultralight equipment if you are careful with your purchases. But be forewarned this is addictive stuff. Many who started out to spend a little end up spending a lot. Watch that credit card and beware the titanium tent pegs!

Here’s some great Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear. Keep checking back as I add items to this list.

The equipment for my 2001 summer ultralight gear list cost me under $700. But ultralight backpacking doesn’t have to be this expensive. I have put together a basic ultralight gear list for $250.

Some of your current clothes and/or backpacking equipment may do just fine for ultralight backpacking (e.g your present pair of running shoes). Less is more: leaving unnecessary gear at home will save a ton of weight and cost nothing. Stores like K-Mart and Target have a surprising amount of inexpensive stuff that will work for ultralight backpacking, e.g. $20 fleece garments. You can purchase a great pair of $40 carbon fiber trekking poles at Costco.  If you watch for closeouts from conventional retailers (e.g. REI, Campmor, EMS, etc.) and/or super deals from discount retailers like Sierra Trading Post you can get some great deals.

Historical Information

Read how Colin’s pack got 40 lb lighter:

4.7 lb Super Ultralight Pack in the Sierras

Light shelter: We weathered two days of rain and wind, completely exposed at over 11K. Our Gossamer Gear Spinn Twinn tarp kept us dry at just over 4 ounces per person.

A 15 lb pack (with food & fuel) for 7 days in the High Sierra

It’s been six years since Colin dropped 30 pounds from his pack. Time to drop some more pack-weight! Once again the brothers and their sons ventured into the Sierras with even lighter packs. We headed into the Southern Sierras. Our plan was to:

  1. Climb from 5K to 11K the first day
  2. Spend the rest of the trip traveling mostly off-trail in areas 11 to 12+K, and
  3. Fish remote areas, concentrating on finding Golden Trout and native Rainbow Trout
  4. And of course, drop some more pack weight!

A Brief Summary of the Details (with pictures below)

Detailed gear 4.7 pound backpacking gear list for 2007 Sierra Trip (PDF file)

While we did not make the huge weight savings of our 2001 trip, we still shaved another 10 pounds from our 2001 packs weights. This brings the total weight savings vs. our 1999 trip to over 40 pounds. Our packs were 75% lighter than in 1999!

Lake

A Brief Summary of the Details (with pictures below)

It’s been six years since Colin dropped 30 pounds from his pack. Once again the brothers and their sons ventured into the Sierras—this time with even lighter packs. We headed into the Southern Sierras. Our plan was to:

  1. Climb from 5K to 11K the first day
  2. Spend the rest of the trip traveling mostly off-trail in areas 11 to 12+K, and
  3. Fish remote areas, concentrating on finding Golden Trout and native Rainbow Trout
  4. And of course, drop some more pack weight!
Kevin Hiking

The trip went without a hitch and all equipment performed well even with below freezing temps and a fluke cold front with significant amounts of precipitation and wind.

A Brief Text Summary of What Changed

Savings vs. 1999
Total PackTotalGearFood & Food storage
199955
2001253023.56.5
2007154029.210.8
10 lb Saved 2007 vs. 2001

While we did not make the huge weight savings of our 2001 trip, still we shaved another 10 pounds from our 2001 packs weights. This brings the total weight savings vs. our 1999 trip to over 40 pounds. Our packs were 75% lighter than in 1999!

Food: Like the reduction from 1999 to 2001, our greatest single weight savings (over 4 pounds) was from food and food storage. Our food “savings” came from taking fewer days to travel a longer trip distance over harder terrain. That is we took fewer days food. This reduction in trip days is due to:

    • Both sons are older and in better shape—gaining adult strength and endurance they can hike faster and longer each day.
    • The fathers can still hold their own.
    • With nearly 50% lighter packs vs. 2001 we all could travel faster and farther each day (but still have plenty of time for fun, side trips and fishing for golden trout.)

Golden Trout

Food Storage/Bear Cans: We weren’t in an area requiring bear canisters but we were close to area that did require them. We considered each taking an 8 oz Ursack (without aluminum liner) for our food, but we decided to share an ultralight food hanging system for less than 2 ounces per person. We camped well away from trails and popular areas that bears might habituate. We were fastidious about our cooking and washing up habits. We made excellent food hangs, slept next to our food and were prepared to defend it from Bears.
Father Son

Packs: Colin and I used low volume, hipbeltless packs with a minimum of features. With strong but light, high tech fabric they are more than durable enough for off trail travel and light mountaineering. On the right is my 10-ounce, home made backapck with durable X-Pac fabric.
Sleeping

Sleeping: Average sleeping bag weight went from 1.75 lb to 1.1 lb using very light hoodless down sleeping bags. Some savings came from using 1 oz Polycryo ground cloths. We slept warm enough in below freezing temps.
Shelter

Shelter: We shared a 9 ounce Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp. This two-person spinnaker cloth tarp is less than half the weight of our old tarp with heavier silnylon fabric. We weathered a couple of days of high winds and sustained rain when camping exposed at over 11K.

Wx

And this rolling in, is is the ugly weather system that sat on us for two days. Again, no problems under a tarp.

Clothing

Clothing: We halved the weight of our rainwear and insulating garments by using new lighter technology clothing (a 5 oz vest each was the only warm clothing we brought). Much of this saving comes from substantially lighter fabrics. We added 1.5 oz rain chaps.Caldera

Stove/Cooking: We switched to an integrated alcohol stove/pot/cooking system from Trail Designs and Antigravity Gear. This system is lighter than a canister stove. More significant, alcohol stoves are more environmentally conscious than fuel canisters. The fuel efficiency of the Trail Designs Caldera system contributed to a weight reduction in fuel carried for the trip.

The Rest (not included above): A number of small things add up. We saved around 2 pounds vs. 2001 by taking fewer things and lighter things. It pays to look at the small details.

View

Trout

Kevin 2

Swim

Kevin

Fishing

K & S

Hiking

Weather

KS Tarp

The Crew

1999 Sierra Trip – Discussion of Weight Savings

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Colin and Emma with their killer huge packs on a high alpine route.

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

Killer heavyweight equipment list. What not to take! A detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 and 2001.
Discussion of weight savings between 1999 (heavy) and 2001 (ultralight) trips
Discussion of weight savings of 2007 trip vs. previous trips (1999 & 2001)

Killer Packs

Good planning can make or break a backpacking trip, especially with kids and heavy packs. I found this out the hard way when I took my kids on their first extended trip to the high Sierra. Our experiences sparked my interest in ultralight backpacking, especially since our industry-standard equipment was much too heavy for anyone, but in particular the kids, to carry over long distances. Colin and I started out the trip with 55+ pound packs.

We saw a lot of great scenery and camped in beautiful places, but it’s harder to enjoy the astonishing beauty of the high Sierra when you ache all over. Nonetheless, Colin and Emma and I would do the same trip again—but not with the same ten tons of gear. We didn’t get into camp until just before sunset many days. And each day we spent more than double the hiking time I had anticipated. The additional hours on the trail meant that my whole body, feet included, had to support a 55 pound pack for much too long. Just standing up with that weight was exhausting; but what was hard for me was, at times, misery for my kids. Never again!

The Trip

Our loads were just too heavy. And I, the eternal optimist when it comes to getting my family and friends into the great out-of-doors, overestimated the kids strength to some degree and underestimated how long it would take them to hike the distance I had planned. We were out for eight days without re-supply and covered 45 to 50 miles. Over half of this was challenging cross-country, with only one layover day (not surprisingly, the kids favorite part of the trip). Colin and Emma would have enjoyed the trip a lot more if I had known then what I know now about ultralight gear and if I adjusted our schedule to their real hiking ability rather than my sanguine estimate of what they could do. Obviously, if you halve your pack weight, most everything about backpacking becomes easier. Next time it’s ultralight for us!

But we made it there and back. And the kids didn’t kill me, although they’ve promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more hikes with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”

Colin and Emma (then sixteen and twelve) were model backpackers, getting up at first light each day to help cook breakfast and then break camp. Every night they helped to unpack and set up again. I didn’t need to ask them to help. Mostly, they figured out what needed to be done and just did it, without bickering or grumbling. Even on long and hard days, they never gave up and complained very little.

Day 7 (see photos) is a good example of a hard day. En route to Crown Lake, we’d already been over one steep pass and a difficult boulder field descent. We were all tired. Unfortunately, our planned campsite was already occupied by a tent city of yahoos, breaking every camping regulation you can think of. A shock from the off trail solitude of previous days. Laundry hung from lines. Tents pitched on the waters edge at every flat site. People everywhere. Short of hoping a posse of pack-ripping, tent-shredding, cooler-chomping black bears would descend upon them, there was nothing we could do. Discouraged, we opted to hike the extra distance to Peeler Lake, even though it was late in the day. The uphill climb to Peeler Lake was much steeper and took much longer than we had anticipated. Emma was worn out and moving slowly, although she still didn’t complain. Colin was nearly as exhausted, but better able to disguise it.

I made it to the lake first, dropped my pack, hiked back to Emma, and offered to carry her pack for the last thirty minutes of hiking to the lake. Nothing doing. She made it clear she intended to carry her own pack all the way to the end. Unfortunately, all the nearby campsites at Peeler Lake were taken and we had to hike another half-mile to the far side before finally dropping our packs. But the kids still didn’t complain.

A brief plunge off a cliff into the deep and very cold waters of the lake washed away the misery of the day. After scrumptious handfuls of dusty gorp—which by now had been compressed into bricklike nuggets—Colin and Emma once again helped set up camp, filter water, and cook dinner. We enjoyed the beauty of Crown Peak reflected in Peeler Lake, and checked out its second outlet (Peeler Lake is one of the few lakes that sends water down both the western and eastern slope of the Sierras). I got in some fishing and we watched the dusky, orangey-pink alpenglow suffuse the landscape. Night had fallen by the time we crawled into the tent for much-needed sleep.

In Conclusion — Ultralight Here We Come

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words. But with the heavy packs and long days, I think I lost a little credibility with the kids. Our next trip, with ultralight backpacks and a bit less rigorous hiking schedule, will be a 100% winner and should change this. It’s my hope that Colin and Emma will continue to hike in the mountains for years to come. And hopefully their children will hike in the same mountains as well. I feel fortunate that I’m blessed with such wonderful children.

-Adventure Alan

1999 Sierra Trip – Photos & Narrative

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words.
Read text about the trip – Discussion of Weight Savings.  Or browse the photos below.
The brood about seven days in. Colin left, Emma center, AA on right. Yosemite Backcountry – Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak in the background. Our heavy packs nearly killed us on this trip.
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Why we go to the mountains. View from Camp morning of day 5. The middle three days of this trip were entirely off trail in some of the remotest areas of Yosemite. We saw no one and it seemed we had the whole Sierras to ourselves.
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Day 6. Our final day of off trail. Colin and Emma hike up Slide Canyon in a seemingly endless valley meadow at 10,000 feet. Although they don’t show in the photo, the meadow was strewn with wildflowers.
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Colin and Emma morning of day 2. We had cooler weather for the trip (50-60’s during the day and below freezing at night). We got a late start the evening before, and stopped hiking just before dark. Nowhere to pitch a tent so we bedded down in the shelter of some low pines and used our packs as a wind break. Heavy winds all night. We could hear the bigger gusts coming up the canyon long before they hit us. Emma was so cold that Colin and I had to sandwich her between us to keep her warm enough to sleep.
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Cold morning – day 2. Colin and Emma just before we started our off trail ascent of the ridge in background. One of dad’s “4 to 5 mile easy days.”
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Day 2 – half way up and preparing to ascend the steeper portions of the ridge.
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Day 2 – finally at the top of the ridge! Emma eyes a very steep decent into Upper McCabe Lake. The kids have promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more trips with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”
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Colin being attacked by his monster Pack!
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Day 4 – another “4 to 5 mile easy day” of steep off trail hiking. Colin and Emma
taking a rest before descending into Tulula Lake. We saw a pair of skinny dippers from this vantage point but they were gone by the time we arrived at the lake.
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Emma enjoying some warm afternoon sun in our “kitchen,” a rock bluff overlooking the lake.
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Day 5 – our only layover day. Colin resting on an excursion to a very remote high altitude lake. We had a wonderful swim although the water was very cold. The lake’s shore was lined with late season wildflowers in full bloom.
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Day 5. The kids hiking back down to Tulula Lake.
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Day 7 – Colin and Emma climbing up
towards our last pass of the trip.
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Day 7. A brief plunge into the deep and very cold waters of Peeler lake washed away the misery of the day. This was the coldest lake of the trip. I’m guessing the water was not much above 50. We were the only people swimming.
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Day 7. The kids enjoying the last alpenglow of the trip. The pink of Crown Peak reflects in Peeler Lake.

Text Summary of Weight Savings 1999 to 2001

All weights savings are per person

Food and food storage: 6.5 lbs (5.2 lbs food, 1.3 lbs bear cans)
The biggest weight savings of the trip and nobody went hungry.
See a special note on food and food storage.

Clothing:  5.5 pounds
Less clothes, no Polarfleece, no camp shoes, lighter rainwear

Packs: 5.2 pounds
Heavy frame packs vs. ultralight frameless packs

Shelter: 2.4 pounds
Freestanding dome tent and Space Blankets vs. tarps and lightweight ground cloths

Sleeping: 2.2 pounds
Polarguard bags and Thermarests vs. ultralight down bags and foam pads

Stove and Fuel: 1.8 pounds.
MSR stove, full MSR XGK cook set and two bottles of fuel vs. Snowpeak Giga, one titanium pot and one Primus fuel canister.

Misc. Odd and Ends: 2.3 pounds
Including but not limited to: Leaving a 1.9 lb first aid kit & 14 oz of sunscreen, Platypus reservoirs instead of rigid Nalgene bottles, Photon micro lights instead of incandescent headlamps, fewer and lighter maps, etc. (see detailed list)

The Rest of the stuff: ? pounds
Including but not limited to weight reductions in: Additional food carried for other party members, fishing equipment, water treatment, repair kits, straps, soap, bug juice, dental stuff, TP, compasses, emergency Space Blankets, notepaper and pencils, ditty bags, etc., etc.

Table of Weight Savings from 1999 and 2001

A savings of 30 pounds

  • in 1999 – His pack was 55 pounds
  • in 2001 – His pack was 25 pounds
Sierra trip comparison 1999 and 2001
(Note: this is not a complete list)Note: 1999 trip had 3 people. 2001 trip had 4 people
Food and food storage2001 1999
Food 1.6 lb per person x 6 days9.8Food 2.1 lb per person for 7 days15
(2) Bearikade weekenders 1.8, and (1) expedition 2.2 for 4 people [carbon fiber canisters]1.45(1) Garcia bear can 2.75 lb per person [plastic]2.75
Total per person11.25Total per person17.75
Savings per person6.5
Selected Clothing2001 1999
Marmot PreCip .8, Sirocco Smock .5, (2) nylon ponchos .75 (no rain pants)0.7GoreTex jkts 1.3 & 1.4, (1) SD wp/b jkt 1.2; Gtx pants 1.1, (2) wp rain pants .752.2
(3) Synthetic Puff vests .5, (1) down vest .80.6(3) Fleece jackets (1) Fleece vest2
No camp footwear0Camp footwear (running shoes)1.6
Extra socks (1 pr trail running)0.15Extra socks, (2) hiking, (2) lightweight0.8
Gloves, headwear, silnylon stuff0.3Gloves, headwear, nylon stuff0.6
Total per person1.75Total per person7.2
Savings per person5.5
Packs2001 1999
GoLite Breeze0.9Dana Terraplane & rain cover6.9
GoLite Gust1.2REI frame pack6.5
Wild Things AT (mod’ed)1.8Sierra Designs internal frame pack6.1
Total per person1.3Total per person6.5
Savings per person5.2
Shelter2001 1999
10×10 Silnylon tarp 1.25, 8×10 ID SilTarp .9, stakes .62.752 person REI trail dome for 3 people8
Campmor emergency. blanket .3, (2) ponchos 0.0 (incl in rainwear)0.32 reg. Space blankets for ground sheet1.5
Total per person0.76Total per person3.17
Savings per person2.4
Sleeping2001 1999
Marmot Hydrogen 1.4 and Arroyo 1.8, WM UltraLite 1.7, REI sub-kilo 2.1 [all down bags]1.75(2) 3.5 lb Polarguard bags, (1) 2.6 lb DryLoft down bag3.2
Silnylon stuff sack0.1Pillow stuff sack0.25
foam pad .3, foam pad .4, (2) ridge rest .60.53/4 UltraLite Thermarest with stuff sack1.1
Total per person2.35Total per person4.55
Savings per person2.2
Stove and cooking2001 1999
Snowpeak giga and windscreen0.3MSR stove and XPD cook set2.83
1.9 L titanium pot0.5Pump and 33 oz fuel canister2.2
450 g Primus fuel canister1.322 oz bottle w. fuel1.4
2 ti and 2 plastic cups0.53 large steel cups0.9
Total per person0.65Total per person2.44
Savings per person1.8
Some Misc. Odd and Ends2001 1999
Platypus reservoirs0.2(4) Rigid Nalgenes & MSR Dromedary0.5
Sunscreen 1 oz tube per person0.05Sunscreen 10 bottle & medium tube0.3
First aid kit 5 oz and 3 small 1 oz kits0.13First aid kit 1.9 lb and 3 small 1 oz kits0.7
Photon microlights & LED Lites0.05(3) 4-AA headlamps and (4) extra batt’s0.55
Pocket knife e.g. SA classic0.05(2) SA knives 3 oz; (1) multi tool 7 oz0.3
No pack towel0Pack Towel0.2
Maps 5 oz guidebook pages 1.5 oz0.1Maps/case 12 oz. guidebook pages 3 oz0.3
Total per person0.58Total per person2.85
Savings per person2.3
TOTAL OF ABOVE WEIGHT SAVINGS25.8  
The Rest  
Additional food for other party members, fishing equipment, cameras, water treatment, repair kits, straps, soap, bug juice, dental stuff, TP, compasses, emergency. Space Blankets, notepaper and pencils, ditty bags, etc., etc.?

2001 Sierra Trip – Gear and Weight Savings

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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.

Background

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 Trip55 Pound PacksPhotos
2001 Trip25 Pound PacksPhotos
Savings30 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.

Logistics…

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.

-Alan