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Backpacker Magazine – May 2002

I Saw the Light: Jon Dorn's Ultralight Conversion

Going ultralight may be the ultimate get-out-quick scheme: It took me all of 60 minutes to shop and pack for a 5-day hike and all of 10 minutes to pitch or pack up my simple camp.

by: Jonathan Dorn

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(Photo by Steve Howe)
(Photo by Steve Howe)

Ultralight 2.0
Help Jon fill his pack for an upcoming 2009 ultralight adventure.
Ultralight Do's and Don'ts

There's no magic formula for hiking light. What matters most is good preparation and troubleshooting, not the gear you pick or any one method of shaving ounces. As you experiment with it, you'll learn to make choices that suit your hiking destination. Everyone needs a place to start, though, so here are a few lessons I learned in my first 50 miles.

Do:
  • Pack a large garbage bag or two to safeguard your gear against rain. Since you're carrying fewer clothes, it's more important that they stay dry. My worst-ever night of sleep came after the second day, when every last stitch of clothing got soaked. With no dry spares to change into, I had to sleep-dry soggy clothes.
  • Pack less food. I'm a big eater, so I was worried about getting by on fewer calories than usual. My menu on this trip included 2 cups of mashed potatoes and hot cocoa for breakfast, 1 package of noodles for lunch, 1 cup of nuts and 10 dried apricots for snacks, and 1 cup of soup, 1 box of couscous, 4 ounces of smoked salmon, and 1 cup of cocoa for dinner. That's less than I usually carry, but because I was expending much less energy, my stomach never growled.
  • Watch your step. With a light load, you're less likely to suffer an ankle sprain, but any injury could pose a problem when you're carrying less survival gear.
  • Be ruthless. If you aren't certain you'll use a piece of gear every day, don't pack it.
  • Pack a hat and gloves, but leave the extra fleece at home. You can always cook from the warmth of your sleeping bag.
  • Consider taking a rest day if the weather gets fierce. Better to catch up on your sleep under shelter than get your gear wet moving out into the storm.
  • Wash your socks and underwear midtrip, or carry a spare set. Unless you're hiking solo and can't smell a thing.
Don't:
  • Saw your toothbrush in half. I cut mine too short and couldn't reach my back molars.
  • Skimp on raingear or shelter if consecutive rainy days are common where you're hiking. You're most vulnerable in extended stretches of cold or wet weather.
  • Depend on a single lighter or Piezo stove ignition. Always bring a backup lighter or waterproof matches.
  • Get so fanatical about food weight that you pack boring meals. Bring tasty treats: a tin of smoked mussels, some fancy cookies, or a bottle of Tabasco.
  • Assume you'll immediately double your daily trail mileage. Walking for 8 to 10 hours still takes a toll on the body, especially feet clad in light shoes. You'll get up to 15 or 20 miles soon enough.
  • Forget your chocolate. I did, and I was jonesing for a Snickers by day 3.
  • Ridicule friends carrying big loads. Be kind, and they might leave you the scraps from their gourmet dinner, or share a tent when all hell breaks loose.

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