Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Extreme Super Ultra Light Backpacking Gear List

A number of years ago the ultralight backpacking movement gained significant momentum. More and more backpackers started reducing the weight of their gear in order to facilitate their travel through the wilderness. In recent times, the super-ultralight movement has begun. While ultralight backpackers generally aim for a base weight of less than 10 lb, super-ultralight backpackers try to achieve a base weight of under 5 lb. Well, this line of thinking has lead to me to make a contribution of my own to the struggle to reduce weight, the extreme-super-ultralight form of backpacking. The goal with extreme-super-ultralight is to reduce your base weight to under 5 oz. Yes, you heard it right, 5 oz. Impossible you say? Have a look at the gear list:


Of course, because of the minimal gear used, you have to rely heavily on your skills and plan accordingly. While a regular backpacker might simply set up camp wherever he wants in the woods, an extreme-super-ultralight backpacker has to use his skills and resourcefulness to find appropriate shelter locations. Often times that requires calling ahead of time, and making what we extreme-super-ultralighters call “reservations” in what is commonly referred to as hotels. Similarly, while a regular backpacker might be able to just throw some food together in a heavy pot, the extreme-super-ultralighter has to do extensive research and locate food resources known as restaurants, or at times use his highly developed skills to locate food stashes known as supermarkets.

Why bother you ask? Why extreme-super-ultralight? Once you have experienced it, there is no going back. When you master the necessary skills and gear, you will seamlessly and quickly move through the wilderness, utilizing the available shelter and food depots, to provide yourself with comfortable and exciting backpacking experience.

Clearly the above is a joke. There is no such thing as extreme-super-ultralight backpacking. Yet. However, in this post I hope to speak to a very real issue that I have encountered in the pursuit to cut weight.

I am a big proponent of weight reduction, and I think more specialized forms of backpacking like ultralight and super-ultralight have lead to the development of great technology and techniques which help us towards that end. The problem that I keep encountering however, in doing research about such forms of backpacking, is that I keep running more and more into what I see as “disingenuous weight reduction”.

What I mean by that is that way too often I encounter people who speak of how light their gear is, only to discover that they have only managed to achieve the weight savings by sacrificing the ability to actually go into the woods. Here are a few examples of typical conversations I have with ultralight backpackers (ULB):

  • Me: That’s a very interesting set up. It looks light. How much is your base weight?
  • ULB: Base weight is 6 lb (followed by an explanation about how not everyone can go that light because it requires a lot of skill)
  • Me: That’s amazing. What type of shelter do you use?
  • ULB: I use my poncho. It’s a multi-use item-rain protection and shelter. Weights 8 oz.
  • Me: How does it perform in more serious storms, or rain? Does it offer sufficient protection?
  • ULB: Well, I usually stay in shelters along the trail. This is just for emergencies. I also don’t go out when it is going to rain.
  • Me: :/

Here is another example:

  • ULB: I used to use a large pot like you, but now I have this SUL set up that weight only 4 oz. I never need more than two cups of water anyway.
  • Me: That looks great. How much fuel does the alcohol stove consume during winter? How much time do you spend each day melting snow for water?
  • ULB: Oh, I usually don’t go backpacking in winter. When I do, I bring a white gas stove.
  • Me: :/

Weight reduction is great. Ultralight backpacking is great. However, I thought the whole point was to have the same capability as a “regular” backpacker, only do it in a better and smarter way, utilizing different gear and a wider set of skills. But let me be clear, being able to look at the weather channel and decide to stay home because it might rain, is not the type of skills I am talking about here.

What has happened in many respects is that we now compare apples to oranges. Instead of seeing how we can reduce the weight of different components while maintaining their functionality, we have simply removed the need for the function itself.

If you told me that you developed a shelter that weighs 1 lb instead of my 2 lb shelter, and that you could weather the exact same conditions with your shelter as I could with mine, then that would be a great achievement, and we should all take notice. However, telling me that your shelter weighs 0.25 lb because you actually never use it, while using cabins along the trail each night, then we are really comparing apples to oranges. You haven’t made the shelter lighter, you have simply “cheated” by staying in someone else’s shelter instead of carrying an adequate shelter. This is “disingenuous weight savings”. Similarly, telling me that you have this great super-duper-ultralight kit that you get to use this one perfect weekend in June, but then can’t use the rest of the year, really doesn’t show us much, nor does it translate into actual weight savings.

None of that is any different from carrying an extreme-super-ultralight kit comprised of a credit card. Sleep at a hotel each night, eat at restaurants, and then take a cab back to the trail. You hardly have to carry anything. It kind of misses the point though. Can we get back to the days when going ultralight meant reducing the weight of your pack, but still having all of the functional components necessary for traveling through the wilderness? How did we get from that, to cutting weight by sleeping in cabins and not going out when the conditions are less than perfect? Seems like we took a left turn somewhere and missed the point entirely.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Naked and Afraid Season 2: Casting Calls

Do you want to be a reality TV star? Do you have a strong desire to curl up naked under a tree and cry because you are hungry? Are you skilled at creating drama even though you are in the middle of nowhere with only one other person? Do you enjoy having your skills be judged by undisclosed experts. If so, then you are in luck. Naked and Afraid is now holding casting calls for season two of the show.


In all seriousness though, if you have seen the show, and ever thought that you can do better that the people on it, this may be your chance.

For those not familiar, Naked and Afraid is a reality survival show where one man and one woman are put on a remote location (usually tropical or desert environment) completely naked, and with only one tool each. They then have to survive for 21 days together.

From what I understand the casting calls are being handled by Metal Flower Media. They are looking for applicants over 18 years of age. If you have any interest in being on the show contact Naela Duarrani-Linday at naela@metalflowersmedia.com.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trip Report: Conklin Cemetery and Pine Meadow Lake Ruins 8/17/13 – 8/18/13

For some time now, during my research of different mountains here in NY, I’ve been seeing some sporadic pictures of ruins surrounding Pine Meadow Lake in Harriman State Park. Through some reading, I pieced together that there were two sets of ruins in those mountains. The first was what people refer to as the Conklin Cemetery, and the second, the Pine Meadow Lake Pump House Ruins.

The history of the area that I was able to find goes a bit like this: In 1779 the Conklin family came to this area in the mountain. At the time there was no lake there, but was rather a valley. They built a house, farm, etc. What has come to be known as the Conklin cemetery was the burial site for members of the family. Over the years the land gets transferred several times. In 1935 the Civilian Conservation Corps floods the valley, creating Pine Meadow Lake. Several structures are constructed for the task, and abandoned after the lake is created. In 1963 the land is acquired by the park.

So, I decided to go to the lake and see what I could find. I would mostly follow trails, except for when I reached the lake. My plan was to travel along the southern side of the lake, where the Conklin cemetery was supposed be located. After passing the lake, I would camp in the vicinity of a lean-to shelter. The next day I would return along the northern side of the lake where the pump house ruins are located. The southern section of the lake would require bushwhacking.

The trip started out following along a river, which would take me a good part of the way to the lake. Just like last time, I had with me my trekking poles, which have been proving to be very useful.

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There were some mushrooms along the trail.

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… and a frog…

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For those of you who may be interested in repeating the trip, I started from the parking are on Seven Lakes drive. I then followed the Red trail to the White trail, to the Black trail over Raccoon Mountain, and then a short piece of Yellow trail, which got me almost next to the southern section of the lake. 

There was some good climbing up Raccoon Mountain. I am still getting used to doing it with the trekking poles. It’s actually not bad, offering good balance points.

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After reaching the summit, I descended down the Block trail until I reached a short section marked as Yellow. I followed it briefly until it ended in an unmarked path that seemed to follow along side the lake. I started following it, but it soon started moving away from the lake. From what I knew, the cemetery was right next to the lake, so I decided to bushwhack along the coast. That was easier said than done. The are was so overgrown with dense vegetation that moving was impossible in most areas. I zigzagged through the bushes, following whatever game trails I could find. On the upside, some of the huckleberry bushes had started to produce fruit.

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After spending quite some time in the area, I gave up on trying to find the cemetery. I figured the undergrowth was too thick and everything would have been covered up. I could be ten feet from a monument and I wouldn’t know it. I just pushed ahead along the lake in an effort to intersect a trail and follow it up the mountain where I would camp.

However, just as I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t locate the site, I emerged into a small clearing in the brush. It was the Conklin cemetery.

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It was a small area, that had clearly been maintained. At first I wasn’t sure how anyone had reached it at all, but that I noticed that there was a small trail leading out the other end. Eventually it proved to lead out to the unmarked path on the side of the lake.

The older head stone I was able to find was of Ezekial Conklin, who served in the Orange County Militia during the Revolutionary War. He died November 29, 1811.

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I followed the small path out of the cemetery heading due east. I soon reached another opening in the woods under a group of large pine trees. A bit to the side, I noticed the remnants of an old shed of some sort. I assume it was used as part of the pump station.

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I decided to stop at this spot and have lunch. I noticed that on all of the pine trees were remnants of the exoskeletons of what appeared to be cicadas.

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I figured I would stay away from the upright pines and found a nice rock to sit on.

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I’ve been experimenting with different foods, so today for lunch I had some tortillas with pepperoni and a mixture of bacon, dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese. I also brought some ketchup in a small hand sanitizer bottle. Very happy with the results.

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When I was done with lunch, I decided to spend some time by the lake. I was making good progress, and since I had brought my fishing kit with me, I decided to try my luck. After looking around for a bit, I found one location where I was able to reach the water through the bushes. I set up, tied a roostertail to my line, and on the first cast I hooked something.

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It was an eight inch Blue Gill. They are not particularly good eating, and have a lot of bones, but will do for dinner in the woods.

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Since luck was on my side, I figured I would try for a few more. On the second and third cast I ended up hooking the lilies and losing the lures. I decided to cut my losses. I gutted the fish and stored it in a plastic bag from lunch. I then set out again.

At first my plan was to follow along the lake. I was about half way along it by this point. Unfortunately the same old problem popped up. The brush was too thick to move through. I again started following small unmarked paths, until I reached a decent size one. Along it there were several ruins, which appeared to be from the pump house complex.

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Unfortunately, all of this following of unmarked paths and looking for ruins, got me completely turned around. I had lost sight of the lake, and without realizing it had completed a good size semicircle, actually moving back west from where I had come. At this point I decided that it would be too difficult to try to follow the lake. I decided to backtrack to the north side of the lake and follow a path that ran there. This turned what was supposed to be five miles of backpacking on the first day into about seven miles. There was no time to waste. I just pushed along until I got to the area where I had intended to camp for the night. I only stopped for a bit near a small stream to fill up with water.

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The area where I wanted to camp for the night was over the other side of a mountain. When I passed over the peak, it was one of the first good views I was able to get that day.

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I set up camp, and got the fish cooking.



I also made my usual instant mashed potatoes, and finished a few snacks I had left over from earlier that day.

When the sun went down, I went to sleep. The next morning I fired up the stove and made some oatmeal. I didn’t want to start the fire back up again because I didn’t want to waste water putting it out when I was done.


After breakfast I headed back. As I was leaving, I noticed an unmarked path that was cutting across in the direction I intended to go-the north side of the lake. I decided to follow it instead of the trail. I figured worse case scenario, I would have to bushwhack until I reached the trail along the lake. I was in luck however, and eventually this path intersected the Red trail, which I needed to reach the lake. It appears that a bear had the same idea.


… and some more frogs…

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Eventually I reached the north side of the lake. This time i was able to slow down and look around. There were much better fishing locations here, and the coast was easily accessible.


By the side of the trail you could see the ruins of the actual pump house, along with some other structures.



After that it was just a matter of making my way out. The overall trip ended up being twelve miles.


I was using a new GPS unit on this trip, the Garmin eTrex 20. I’m still trying to learn how to use it. I was able to record the track, but wasn’t able to get a picture of the full elevation profile.


The trip was great. Other than getting turned around a few times, there were no difficulties. There were however some interesting gear developments. Recently I have cut down the weight and size of some of my gear, most notably my cooking kit and my sleeping bad (I’m using the NeoAir XTherm now). As a result, my 62L backpack now sits almost a third empty, without me even using any of the pockets. For this trip I ended up taking my REI Revelcloud puffy jacket just so I can fill up some of the room. The extra space will be welcomed during winter when I have crampons and other gear to fit in, but right now, the pack seems to large. I’ll have to think of something.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mykel Hawke vs. Joe Teti – The Next Round of TV Survival Show Host Drama

On Wednesday, a fellow blogger and writer of  Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, who seems to have his finger on the pulse of survival show drama, published a post about a war of words brewing on Facebook between former host of Man, Woman, Wild, Mykel Hawke, and co-host of Dual Survival, Joe Teti.


It is unclear to me how all this started, but seems to have been going on behind the scenes for some time now. It became very public when Mykel Hawke published a post about it on his Facebook page. The post vaguely spoke about how Joe Teti has been attacking him, and as his former commander, Myke knew things about him he would not want made public. (Sorry about the poor screen shot)

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By the time I decided to make a post about this so you guys are in the loop as well, there was a massive amount of information. It is too much for me to post here, as Myke goes on for a number of posts about misrepresentations made by Joe Teti and things he has done wrong. The last post on the subject as of the time I am writing this discusses how Joe Teti allegedly failed to show up for combat duty after 9/11 and instead tried to make money by starting his own private security company.

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As far as Joe Teti, he seems to have gone silent since Myke started posting all of this information on his Facebook page. Prior to that point however, he did publish several cryptic posts, which now make much more sense.

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I am sure there will be further developments. Something clearly went down between the two of them and has devolved into an all out war. Regardless of the the cause, I can’t imagine this will be good for either of their careers. Considering all of the publicity issues some networks have had with less than credible survival hosts, I don’t imagine any of them will want to do much business with people who have this much baggage… or maybe that’s exactly what they would want. Stay tuned for the Myke and Joe Survival Hour. :)

All that being said, what really blows my mind is that this is all happening on Facebook. It seems like a communications medium more suited to teenage girls than grown men, especially considering that both of them have websites, publicity teams, lawyers and publishers. I suppose sometimes people just can’t help themselves. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gear Update: Reducing the Weight of My Cooking Kit

For some time now, I’ve known that my cooking gear was heavier and larger than it needed to be. I carry a 2L pot, but virtually never have to boil two liters of water any more. I carry an 8oz fuel canister, but have never come close to using it up on a single trip. However, I have kept the kit because it has functioned so well for me. The Open Country 2L pot, the Kovea Spider stove and a 8oz MSR fuel canister fit perfectly together and offer all season cooking capability on a stable and easy to use platform.


With deer season coming around however, I have finally gotten more motivated to put my cooking kit on a diet. My goal was to reduce the weight, but more importantly the volume of the kit.

I considered several options. I thought about using a kit based around an alcohols stove and a cup. I do in fact have such a minimal kit, which I will share at a later time. I also considered a small canister mounted gas stove. I didn’t use any of those options for one reason-they do not offer good all season operation. I like to use as much of the same gear year round as possible. I don’t like having one stove for summer, another stove for fall, winter, etc. I want my cook kit to use the same set up no matter what time of year it is. Unfortunately, both alcohol stoves and canister mounted gas stoves do not function well in winter. With care they can certainly be utilized in cold weather, but they are far less than ideal.

The solution was the same one that I used in my last cooking kit. That is to use a remote canister stove. My favorite in that category, as you guys already know is the Kovea Spider that I currently use. It is light and compact, yet offers good all weather performance as it can utilize a wind screen and liquid gas operation due to the remotely mounted canister.

So, once I decided to stick to the same stove, my weight and volume reduction strategies became limited. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the pot and canister are the major places where weight and volume can be cut.

Here is a side by side comparison between my old and new systems.


The 2L pot (left) had to go. I replaced it with a 1L titanium pot from Snow Peak (right) that I have had for many years. They haven’t made this model in a while. It came with handles on the side, which I have removed. I’ve also added a small knob on the lid so it is easier to remove. The lid can still be used as a plate, although I have not had the need for one.



The smaller pot wouldn’t accommodate the stove as well as a 8oz fuel canister, so I switched to one the 4oz MSR fuel canisters that they released in the beginning of this year. The result was a smaller, lighter cooking kit that was still self contained, keeping all of the components within the pot. The kit is completed with an aluminum foil wind screen, a Mini BIC lighter, and a bandana. It is closed off with a rubber band.


Here is a table with the weights of the two cooking kits.

  Old Cook Kit   New Cook Kit  
  Type/Brand Weight Type/Brand Weight
Pot 2L Open Country Pot 7.7 oz 1L Snow Peak Pot 4.7 oz
Stove Kovea Spider 5.9 oz Kovea Spider 5.9 oz
Canister 8 oz MSR Canister (Empty) 5.0 oz 4 oz MSR Canister (Empty) 3.5 oz
Lighter Mini BIC Lighter 0.4 oz Mini BIC Lighter 0.4 oz
Bandana Cotton Bandana 1.1 oz Cotton Bandana 1.1 oz
Windscreen Thick Aluminum Foil 1.3 oz Thin Aluminum Foil 0.4 oz
Total Weight   21.4 oz   16.0 oz

As you can see, the weight of the kit has been reduced by 5.4 oz, bringing it down to 1 lb total. More importantly, the volume has been reduced from 2L to 1L. Now, I know this is not a drastic reduction. Initially my intention was to do a much more significant reduction of both weight and volume. Unfortunately, I could not figure out a way to do it yet still have all season performance capability. I could easily reduce the kit for three season outings, but this is as small as I can go with a kit that would still allow me to effectively melt snow for drinking water during winter trips.

A downside is that while the new 4oz canister is lighter, it is actually heavier in terms of canister weight per fuel stored. It stores half the fuel of the 8oz canister, but weighs empty more than half the weight of the 8oz canister. That is typically the case. A larger contained can hold more volume while weighing relatively less. So, if I had to bring 8oz of fuel using the smaller canisters, their empty weight would be 7oz as opposed to the larger canister’s empty weight of 5oz. It is indeed a downside, but since I very rarely need more than 4oz for a weekend trip, it’s not a problem. It is also necessary to keep the volume down.

Since my new pot doesn’t have handles or bail, I use the bandana to lift up from the fire. Also, due to the lack of a bail, it can’t be suspended over a fire. It’s a minor downside, although there is little need to suspend a small pot like this one. I just use it directly over the fire.

The only other thing I will look for is a light nylon bag in which I can put the pot. That way I don’t have to worry about any sooth getting on my other gear when i have been using the pot over a fire.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ice Fishing Photograph, Early 1900s

This photograph was taken in the early 1900s. It shows a woman ice fishing.


I like the technique she is using, utilizing the two stocks to retrieve the line without touching it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fire-Making Apparatus in the US National Museum, 1890

A few days ago a fellow blogger, Master Woodsman, posted a very interesting link to a document written by Walter Hough and published in 1890, cataloging and explaining in good detail different friction fire methods that were documented by the museum at that time.


This document is one of the best sources of information I have ever seen on historical use of friction fire making techniques and equipment. Not only does it provide illustrations of the tools used, it offers accounts of exactly how these tools were used and stored.

If you have any interest in friction fire making, this documents is a must read. It offers many nuances and details that have been largely forgotten over the years. You can read and download the document in different forms for free, here, or just view the PDF here (takes time to open).

Friday, August 2, 2013

DIY Backpack Rifle Sling Attachment

You guys may remember a turkey hunt I went on a few months back. There I complained about the shotgun sling I was using. The problem was that I was using a regular over the shoulder swing. While that was adequate when walking on level ground, one I started going up and down hills, and through the brush, it started to become a serious problem. Every time I would try to use my arms or lean forward, the shotgun would swing around.

When I returned, I started looking at different sling options. Unfortunately, none of them struck me as particularly impressive; certainly not enough for me to pay money for them. The best designs I saw attached the gun to the backpack itself, but even those looked like they would allow the gun to swing around when traveling over rough terrain. Kifaru has a sling that attaches one end to the backpack and then passes the rifle under your arm for stability. That was the best option I saw, but I didn’t want to have the rifle impede my arm movement.

Anyway, I was heading into the woods the following week, and I decided to put something together. I pretty much looked for a way to attach the shotgun to my backpack, much like I would a pair of snowshoes. It wouldn’t be a quick release attachment, but it is something I was willing to put up with. The result worked well enough for me, and I have been using it for some time now.

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The main problem with attaching a rifle or shotgun to a backpack is the length of the gun. Most full size shotguns and rifles will be fairly long. This prevents them from being strapped to the backpack the same way you would with snowshoes, trekking poles, etc. Typically, the way you would strap any heavy item to the side of a backpack is to place the end of the item in the side pocket at the bottom of the pack, and then use the straps on the side of the pack to tighten down the item. If I did that with the shotgun you see above, it would be sticking several feet above my head, making traveling through the forest very difficult.

The solution was to attach the lower end of the gun to a point below the backpack. That way it would be better centered on the side of the pack. I accomplished that just by using a piece from the over the shoulder sling I was using earlier.


The sling attaches to the rifle or shotgun using two swivels that connect to the bolts at the front and back of the gun. What I did was to use the swivel and portion of the sling that attaches to the stock of the gun, and then instead of using the rest of the sling, I just attached it to the frame of the pack. On my backpack, near the area between the hip belt and the back of the pack, there is some exposed frame. I just looped the nylon webbing through there and threaded it back through the buckle, which attached it very securely. The webbing can be adjusted using the buckle to lower or raise the swivel mount.

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To attach the gun, just clip on the swivel.

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Then secure the gun to the pack using the straps on the side of the backpack. To remove the gun, undo the pack straps and unclip the swivel. It is not something you can do while the pack is on your back, but takes only a few seconds after the pack has been removed.

This attachment holds the gun securely in place and keeps it out of your way while walking through various terrain. I’m sure I will find a better method in the future, but it has been working well for me so far.