Doc - the Gospel of Lite
I'm somewhat long-in-the-tooth with defective knees and other well-worn body parts so to keep backpacking I’ve had to travel a long way down the path to ultra-light nirvana, regularly doing things like sawing an inch off a tooth brush to save a tenth of an ounce. Below is a list of my ultra-light gear and some tips from my “Gospel of Lite.”
Go Lite Jam. The Jam weighs in at 1 pound 14 ounces and has a volume of 3000 cubic inches. It’s a small
pack which is a good thing for ultra-lighters because it forces you to bring only the essentials - there’s
simply no room for anything else. The price was $160.00. It’s extremely durable and comfortable and I
love it and can’t imagine owning anything else. The bad news about the Go Lite company is that it
apparently went out of business. It was a sad day when I learned about that because they forever
endeared themselves to me when a bear tore my pack up while I was off on a day hike. I sent the torn up
pack to Go Lite and asked them what it would cost to repair it. I got it back a few weeks later in
good-as-new condition and they didn’t charge me anything! How many companies would do that?
Zpacks Hexamid Soloplex. The Solplex is an ultra-light single person tent that sets up
with 2 trekking poles and 8 guy lines and 8 stakes. It has a cuben fiber tarp with a sewn in
bathtub floor and insect netting. It also has a single rainbow zipper door, and a vestibule
with 2 storm doors that can be closed independently. Total weight with the complete tent,
which is the tarp, screen, floor, doors, guy lines and clips, is just 15.5 ounces! It’s pretty
pricey at $550.00 but it’s about the lightest tent you can buy and it compresses to a package
smaller than a football. Unfortunately, I'm concerned with the durability of the lightweight
Cuban fiber material because after only 6 uses, I noticed a hole in the ceiling about the size
of a quarter where two guy lines come together. There's a lot of tension right there and the
fiber may not be strong enough to handle it. It has a 1 year guarantee so I sent it back for
repair. They fixed it but what if it keeps tearing when the guarantee expires?
Western Mountaineering Highlite. The Highlite is 6’ 6’ long, weighs 1 pound and compresses to a package about 6 inches long by 5 inches wide. It’s rated to 35 degrees but because I’m a thin-blooded Floridian, I get cold in it if the outside temperature drops below 45 degrees. If it gets below 40 degrees my teeth are chattering and I don’t sleep. I’ve been very happy with it for all my trips in the summer but at $360.00 it seems a bit pricy for the amount of warmth it provides. I’ve had this bag for about 6 years so I don’t know if WM still makes it.
Klymit KSB 20 Degree. I recently purchased this bag because I’m tired of being cold all night every time the temperature drops below 45 degrees. As the name implies, it’s rated to 20 degrees which means I may be comfortable in it if the temperature doesn’t go below 30 degrees. I used it for the first time in the Slickrock Wilderness in North Carolina where I spent the night in late October at nearly 5,000 feet. With the temperature falling to the high 30s, I had to unzip it to keep from sweating. It’s 6’ 8” inches long by 30 inches wide, so it nicely fits my 6’2” length. It weighs 2.7 lbs, which is heavier than I wish it was but I’ll take the extra weight for the enhanced warmth. There are lighter sleeping bags that are rated at 20 degrees but they’re more than twice the price of this bag, which was about $180.00.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not tried very hard to find a comfortable sleeping pad and as a result I’ve suffered mightily for it. When I was younger, if I had to lie down on rocks and cactus I’d have been fine with it and would have awakened refreshed and ready to roll. But now my body and especially my hips ache after a long day and while I’m still trying to get away with a 12 ounce foam pad, it’s way too uncomfortable to allow me to sleep well. I‘ve heard a lot about the Big Agnes Q Core SLX, which weighs 1 pound and packs to a 3 inch by 9 inch package. It’s $128.00 and I vow to not sleep another night in the woods before I get one.
Aeros Pillow Premium. This is an inflatable pillow by Sea to Summit that weighs about 3 ounces and has this neat multi-function valve that enables you to blow it up in just a few breaths then de-inflate it almost instantaneously. I think I paid about $25.00 for it.
REI Flex Lite. My camp chair is the only item I carry that I could most certainly do
without but it really perks up my mood to have it when the ground is wet and
muddy. It sets up easily using an aluminum frame that brings to mind a set of
Lincoln Logs (unless you’re over 50 you won’t be familiar with those). The 4-leg
design provides stability although the legs do have a tendency to sink into soft
ground with comical results if you’re not very careful when you sit down. The
mesh side pocket is handy for a book, flashlight or phone, the breathable mesh
seat panel drains and dries fast, and it packs easily into the included stuff sack.
I’m embarrassed to say that it weighs 1 pound, 14 ounces, which is obscenely
heavy for a luxury item and if word gets out that I carry this, I’ll probably be
banished from the fraternal order of ultra-light backpackers. It costs about
By now everyone should be completely aware that any piece of cotton clothing has no business being on your body or in your pack when you’re on a backpacking trip. Still I routinely see many backpackers arrayed from head to toe in cotton everything; jeans, tee shirts, underwear, socks, etc. There’s nothing good to say about cotton; it’s relatively heavy, it makes you cold when it gets wet, and it takes forever to dry.
For a three to four day trip in warmer weather, my backpacking wardrobe consists of the following:
Two pairs of polyester mesh shorts. These weigh about 4.0 ounces each, are very breathable, dry very quickly, and eliminate the need for underwear. Just as an aside, underwear is completely unnecessary and just adds weight and takes up space in your pack. Cotton underwear is worse than useless because when you sweat and it gets wet, it will mercilessly chafe you as if you had thick layers of coarse sandpaper between your upper thighs. I wear one pair of the shorts to hike in and I change into the other pair in camp after I’ve washed up.
Two polyester shirts. Many of the sporting goods companies like Nike sell these because they’re light weight (about 5.3 ounces each) and dry quickly. I wear one during the day and put on the other after I’ve washed up to wear around camp and to sleep in.
Two pairs of hiking socks. I use Micro Crew Cushion socks from Darn Tough made of merino wool that weigh about 2.2 ounces each. They’re supposed to keep your feet cool in the summer and toasty in the winter but how the socks know when it’s cold and when it’s hot is beyond me! They also have high density cushioning on the lower foot, reinforced heel and toe, and ring toe construction for a comfortable invisible seam. The company backs up its word with an unconditional lifetime guarantee. I wear one pair during the day to hike in and put the other pair on at night for sleeping.
I know this isn’t much clothing but if the weather turns unexpectedly cold because of an event like a passing storm, I’ll put my poncho on to provide extra warmth, or I’ll just get in the tent and wrap up in my sleeping bag. My clothing list is for the southern Appalachians and Florida and of course if you try to dress like this while hiking somewhere in the Rockies at 12,000 feet, not only will you be cold but you’ll probably die.
Total Weight of my warm weather clothing is about 1 pound, 7 ounces.
In cooler weather I bring all of the above but add one set of what I guess you call a long john top and bottom that I put on in camp after I’ve washed up. They have several weights and I have the lightest, with the top and bottoms at about 6.3 and 5.0 ounces, respectively. The brand I use is called Terramar and you guessed it, they’re made of polyester. They’re very comfortable.
I also bring a Mountain Hardware down jacket that weighs 13.2 ounces and stuffs down to about a 3” by 5” package. I should note that my winter backpacking is done in Florida where I’ve never experienced temperatures below 30 degrees at night. Of course my cooler weather ensemble would never cut it where there’s real winter weather.
Total weight of my cooler weather clothing is just a hair under 3 pounds.
Hoka Tor Ultra High Waterproof Hikers. I recently hiked over 80 miles in 6 days wearing
these on the very rugged Foothills Trail in South Carolina and you would think after all
that walking I could have developed a clear impression of these boots. But I’m still a
bit ambiguous about them. Even though they’re very light at 19 ounces per boot, they
more than provided the stability and support to handle the ruggedness. But they just
don’t quite seem to fit right, which could be my fault because I have weird feet. My
second toe on both feet is about a quarter inch longer than my big toes so they get
hammered as they brazenly stick up out from the protective embrace of their neighbors.
The boots have more high-tech features than the I-Phone X, like eVent waterproof
membranes (which didn’t keep my feet dry at all when the trail became a 6-inch deep raging
torrent during a spectacular downpour) and Late-Stage Meta-Rocker Geometry??? Who but shoe engineers even have a clue what that means? Unlike everything else I wear on my body, they’re not made of polyester. The outsole is made of Vibram Rubber and the upper is full-grain leather/textile.
When it rains while I’m backpacking in relatively warm weather, I only use an ultralight poncho that weighs about 9.5 ounces. It keeps me dry from head to shins and even keeps water off my boots to some degree. A poncho (and any other rain gear) will trap a lot of heat and cause you to sweat even in a cold rain because you’re working hard climbing up those mountains. So I take my shirt off to keep it from getting wet and just hike in my polyester shorts. I tend to stay warm but don’t get too hot. There are all kinds of cool looking, expensive rain jackets made of the highest tech breathable fabrics, but they still make me sweat like a pig and they’re much heavier than a poncho. I suppose if you’re hiking in much cooler climates (which admittedly I don’t do a lot of) rain jackets and maybe even rain pants would be indispensable.
SteriPen UV Water Purifier. I cringe when I think of the dark days of water purification starting
with chlorine or iodine tablets that upset my stomach followed years later by the clunky water
filters that were a pain to use. But now there’s the SteriPen UV Water Purifier, which is to water
purification like Gutenburg was to printing: nothing short of a giant leap forward. You simply
screw the adapter onto your one liter water bottle, stick your SteriPen into the bottle, push the
button, then swirl for 90 seconds while the UV light kills 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The lamp is good to purify 8,000 liters of water. Quite
miraculous really. It takes four AA batteries and make absolutely sure they’re Lithium
because the thing just doesn’t work well at all with any other type. The SteriPen costs about
$70.00, is about 8 inches long, and weighs in at 6.7 ounces with batteries.
Just reading articles in Backpacker magazine about how to gourmet cook in the wilderness makes me
tired considering all the planning, buying, preparing, packing, cookware carrying, food cooking, and
dish cleaning that's required. I simply use Mountain House freeze dried packaged meals. You just pour
boiling water directly into the package, let it sit for a few minutes, then eat it right out of the package.
This allows my cooking and eating equipment to consist of nothing more than a Jetboil stove, a
combination spoon/fork, and two plastic coffee cups. The meals are surprisingly good, average about
5 ounces, provide about 2.5 servings, and cost in the $10.00 range. The only other food I bring is gorp,
instant coffee, some sugar and creamer, cliff bars, and Starkist tuna packs for lunch. I also bring
instant oatmeal for the mornings because I just can’t seem to eat the Mountain House breakfasts
that contain scrambled eggs even though they smell and taste good. So coffee goes in one of my
plastic cups, oatmeal goes in the other and my cleanup is just the cups and spoon in the morning
and the spoon at night.
The Jetboil Stove, which they rather pretentiously call the Jetboil Zip Cooking System, uses an
insulated pot to bring liquids to boil in no time. It uses fuel canisters that contain a mix of isobutane and
propane and these screw on to the burner assembly. The canisters weigh in at about 5.5 ounces and it’s amazing how little fuel you end up using because the stove heats water up so quickly. The Jetboil weighs about 8.3 ounces without the fuel canister and costs about $80.00.
I’ve listed all the big things above but there are many small must have essentials I bring including trekking poles, backpack cover, head lamp, lighter, toiletries, first aid stuff, cell phone, head phones, magazine, and map. I also bring a small multi-tool that weighs about 2.1 ounces and has all the little standard appendages including a scissors.