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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Skills: Ultralight or Bust

A 10-step plan for getting your base pack weight under 15 pounds

by: Michael Lanza

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Going light is a bit like marriage: It's a multifaceted contract that requires your constant commitment. Cheat just a little bit, and your hike–and especially your shoulders–will suffer. But stick to these rules, and you'll quickly find a new comfort level with 15-mile days.

Step 1: Question everything
The only way to make ultralight work is to ditch your standard gear list and your gotta-have-my-coffee-press 'tude. A checklist tricks you into bringing gear you don't need–like a tent in the Sierra–and the attitude distorts the hard choices you'll have to make to trim the last five pounds. For your next trip, start from scratch and select only the gear that's absolutely critical for the conditions you'll face. If in doubt, leave it out.

Step 2: Weigh it all
It'll open your eyes to the surprisingly heavy items–like a filter or first aid kit–and to the little things that individually weigh next to nothing but together add up to something real. Allow yourself a luxury item (recommendation: a comfortable sleeping pad), but otherwise eliminate or substitute with a ruthless eye for fat and duplication. Example: Swap your knife for a razor blade, which is just as effective in most medical situations.

Step 3: Rethink shelter
This is the place to make a major dent: Most serious ULers carry tarps that weigh less than a pound without stakes and guylines. (See page 86 for our testers' favorite.) If you need a three-season tent for bugs or heavy rain, try the superlight Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 (2 lbs. 14 oz.; $319). Or split the difference with a tent that pitches with just rainfly, poles, and footprint. On the AT and Long Trail, plan to sleep in the shelters that appear almost every 8 miles, unless it's a busy weekend.

Step 4: Change your bedding
Old thinking: Choose a sleeping bag for the lowest temps you might encounter. New thinking: Aim for the middle, and wear more clothes if a cold snap hits. Hard-core fastpackers hit the trail pre-dawn–typically the coldest hour of the night–when they start feeling chilled in their lightweight bags. You can also lose pad weight (and bulk) without sacrificing comfort: Carry a short model and place your empty pack under your feet.

Step 5: Layer down
Another tired maxim: Carry extra clothing. Sure, you want to be cozy and safe, but thick down in July is overkill. Choose layers based on the forecast, and don't double up (no wind jacket and rain shell). For 3-season trips, your shell should weigh under a pound; the lightest are a mere 8 ounces. Pack a midweight long-sleeve top, one synthetic T, lightweight shorts and pants, a light down jacket (10-12 oz.), two pairs of socks and underwear, two hats (for sun and warmth), and (maybe) light gloves and rain pants.


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Gorbo
May 03, 2009

Last year I tested a home made wood burning stove made from a one pound coffee can. Weighs about 2-3 oz's. Far better than sterno fuel. You can find plans on line. Tip Make a nice size Damper to allowin air and add a wire mesh to hold coals in bottom from 1/4 wire netting. Drill a small hole on the side to add a air blower. I used a bike cable housing about 18" long to blow air into the chamber. Small twigs, pine cones and 1/2 inch dry wood worked very well. Only down side is packing the thing. Attach with a small carabiner to outside of pack.

Bryan L. Allen
Jun 19, 2008

Wood-burning stove and titanium pot gets you a warm meal in the evening with little extra weight. Water treatment along the JMT is not necessary; scoop (exercise some care/judgement) and drink. Depending on the time of year, you WILL want some mosquito protection. Tarp-tents with netting now can be found that weigh less than 24 oz. (they use your walking stick for support) and a hat-ring of netting is only a couple of ounces. Don't forget the biggest place to save weight - your feet! Lightweight running shoes are all you need.

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