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

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Day 2 – half way up and preparing to ascend the steeper portions of the ridge.
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.”
Colin being attacked by his monster Pack!
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.
Emma enjoying some warm afternoon sun in our “kitchen,” a rock bluff overlooking the lake.
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.
Day 5. The kids hiking back down to Tulula Lake.
Day 7 – Colin and Emma climbing up
towards our last pass of the trip.
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.
Day 7. The kids enjoying the last alpenglow of the trip. The pink of Crown Peak reflects in Peeler Lake.

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.

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 storage 2001   1999
Food 1.6 lb per person x 6 days 9.8 Food 2.1 lb per person for 7 days 15
(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 person 11.25 Total per person 17.75
Savings per person 6.5
Selected Clothing 2001   1999
Marmot PreCip .8, Sirocco Smock .5, (2) nylon ponchos .75 (no rain pants) 0.7 GoreTex jkts 1.3 & 1.4, (1) SD wp/b jkt 1.2; Gtx pants 1.1, (2) wp rain pants .75 2.2
(3) Synthetic Puff vests .5, (1) down vest .8 0.6 (3) Fleece jackets (1) Fleece vest 2
No camp footwear 0 Camp footwear (running shoes) 1.6
Extra socks (1 pr trail running) 0.15 Extra socks, (2) hiking, (2) lightweight 0.8
Gloves, headwear, silnylon stuff 0.3 Gloves, headwear, nylon stuff 0.6
Total per person 1.75 Total per person 7.2
Savings per person 5.5
Packs 2001   1999
GoLite Breeze 0.9 Dana Terraplane & rain cover 6.9
GoLite Gust 1.2 REI frame pack 6.5
Wild Things AT (mod’ed) 1.8 Sierra Designs internal frame pack 6.1
Total per person 1.3 Total per person 6.5
Savings per person 5.2
Shelter 2001   1999
10×10 Silnylon tarp 1.25, 8×10 ID SilTarp .9, stakes .6 2.75 2 person REI trail dome for 3 people 8
Campmor emergency. blanket .3, (2) ponchos 0.0 (incl in rainwear) 0.3 2 reg. Space blankets for ground sheet 1.5
Total per person 0.76 Total per person 3.17
Savings per person 2.4
Sleeping 2001   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 bag 3.2
Silnylon stuff sack 0.1 Pillow stuff sack 0.25
foam pad .3, foam pad .4, (2) ridge rest .6 0.5 3/4 UltraLite Thermarest with stuff sack 1.1
Total per person 2.35 Total per person 4.55
Savings per person 2.2
Stove and cooking 2001   1999
Snowpeak giga and windscreen 0.3 MSR stove and XPD cook set 2.83
1.9 L titanium pot 0.5 Pump and 33 oz fuel canister 2.2
450 g Primus fuel canister 1.3 22 oz bottle w. fuel 1.4
2 ti and 2 plastic cups 0.5 3 large steel cups 0.9
Total per person 0.65 Total per person 2.44
Savings per person 1.8
Some Misc. Odd and Ends 2001   1999
Platypus reservoirs 0.2 (4) Rigid Nalgenes & MSR Dromedary 0.5
Sunscreen 1 oz tube per person 0.05 Sunscreen 10 bottle & medium tube 0.3
First aid kit 5 oz and 3 small 1 oz kits 0.13 First aid kit 1.9 lb and 3 small 1 oz kits 0.7
Photon microlights & LED Lites 0.05 (3) 4-AA headlamps and (4) extra batt’s 0.55
Pocket knife e.g. SA classic 0.05 (2) SA knives 3 oz; (1) multi tool 7 oz 0.3
No pack towel 0 Pack Towel 0.2
Maps 5 oz guidebook pages 1.5 oz 0.1 Maps/case 12 oz. guidebook pages 3 oz 0.3
Total per person 0.58 Total per person 2.85
Savings per person 2.3
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. ?