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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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Step 6: Improve your diet
This is a hard sell for caffeine junkies, but do you really need a hot drink (or meal) in summer? Even the lightest stoves add ounces, especially when you tally fuel and cooking-gear ballast. Leave it home in favor of peanut butter, tortillas, cheese, jerky, pepperoni, dried fruits, nuts, sesame sticks, and peanut M&Ms–all of which are satisfying, nutritious, and packed with calories. And that extra food you always carry? Skip it. Even remote trails are usually within a day's hike of a road, and hunger would take weeks to kill you. Besides, when's the last time you ran out of chow on a trip?

Step 7: Ditch the map
Hiking without a topo (and guidebook) isn't sane everywhere, but many trails are so well-marked that no seasoned hiker could get lost. If you must carry a map, trim the superfluous parts. If you're thru-hiking, carry only the section you need between resupplies–and find the lightest version available. The set of 13 waterproof maps from Tom Harrison covers the entire JMT and weighs just three ounces, about the same weight as the Trails Illustrated map of Yosemite, which covers just a fraction.

Step 8: Downsize your pack
Your streamlined load should fit in a pack with about 3,000 cubic inches of capacity. And you no longer need an elaborate (read: heavy) suspension. Ultralight packs typically consist of a simple, lightly padded harness and a minimalist frame. They weigh six ounces to two pounds, and comfortably carry up to 25 pounds.

Step 9: Take less medicine
Your kit should weigh no more than eight ounces: All you really need is antibiotic ointment, duct tape, a few gauze pads and bandages, a bit of blister treatment, and your WFA training (you got that, right?). In the field, sub what's available: sticks for SAM splints, a cold stream for an ice pack, a T-shirt for a dressing.

Step 10: Empty your bottles
Tradition holds that you need to carry two to three liters of water at all times. But at 2 lbs. 2 oz. per liter, water is among the heaviest things you're schlepping. Instead, drink opportunistically. Along many mountain trails, you rarely need to carry more than a liter–if any. Elsewhere, check distances between sources and tank up just enough that you're nearly empty as you reach each one. Then guzzle away as you refill. Finally, forego a filter in favor of lightweight water treatment like Aqua Mira.


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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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