Monday, April 28, 2014

Low Cost Ultralight Winter Backpacking Gear List

Recently I’ve posted examples compiled by others which feature ultralight gear lists. The last one I provided pointed out how an ultralight weight can be obtained at relatively low cost. It was however correctly pointed out by some readers that all of these gear lists are three season lists, i.e. for temperatures down to 32F (0C). This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Even many experienced ultralight backpackers, consider ultralight gear to be reserved for three season use. For winter use, the heavy gear once again comes out.

Now, as you have seen from my personal gear lists, it is very possible to bring the total weight of your winter gear down to nearly 10lb. For one such example, you can see the video here. Of course, it was once again pointed out that bringing the weight of winter gear down is relatively easy to do when you spend lots of money on it. That is certainly true.

So, it go me thinking; can one create a low cost, ultralight winter backpacking gear list? I figured I would play around with the offerings from some manufacturers with which I am familiar, and see what I can come up with. It would be roughly based around my Beginner’s Guide to Affordable Buschraft and Camping Gear. You may also want to check out my Beginner’s Guide to Winter Camping and Bushcraft.

The big problem that we immediately face is the one with sleeping bag insulation. All other gear transitions fairly well from three season to winter use, but the sleeping bag does not. We will need a new one. The problem is that the lower the temperature rating is, the harder it is to make a good, lightweight, and cheap bag. We can do lightweight, and we can do cheap, but not at the same time. You can get a –40F (-40F) sleeping bag that weighs just over 3lb, but it will require high quality down, and will cost nearly $1000. On the other hand, you can make a –40F (-40C) bag that costs $150, but it will weigh 8lb. There is no way around it. If you want to go out in temperatures like those, and do it with lightweight gear, you will need a high quality down bag, which will cost you. However, it is possible to find well priced, fairly lightweight bags for more moderate winter temperatures. So, for this post, I will assume that the camper wants to go out in winter in temperatures down to 0F (-18C). For many readers, this would be a more accurate representation of the winter conditions they will encounter. With some skill, those ratings can be pushed down quite a bit further as well.

Now, this is a somewhat strange exercise because people typically do not just go out and purchase a whole “winter gear kit”. Usually you use a lot of the three season gear you have already accumulated, and just supplement what you have so you can start going out in lower temperatures. In many cases, simply adding a warmer sleeping bag and some warm clothing will get you there without any additional gear. However, for purposes of this post I will pretend that we have a situation where a person who had decent experience with three season backpacking wants a brand new winter gear set up, and wants it to be low cost and light weight. Can it be done? Well, here is my crack at it. Please keep in mind that here I am only discussing the core gear that one will carry. There will be many small odds and ends that will get added to this list by each individual user.


My pick for a backpack is the GoLite Jam 70. This is a 70L pack, which has a functional load transferring hip belt and a foam insert for a frame. It costs $130 and weighs 1lb 15oz. Ordinarily, I would never recommend such a large volume pack which does not have a more solid frame. I typically do not like using frameless packs, or packs with foam insert frames which are over 35L and have to carry over 20lb of weight. This however, is a peculiar situation. As you will see, the final weight of our gear will be fairly low, yet the volume might end up being large. Since we are being price conscious, we will probably end up with some bulky clothing items, which can quickly fill up the pack.


If this one seems like too much volume for you, check out the Golite Jam 50. It will save you a few dollars as well as few ounces. Another good alternative is the REI Flash 62. It is more expensive at $180, and it weighs more at 2lb 14oz, but features an aluminum internal frame, which will cope much better with heavier loads.

I use both the REI Flash 62 and the Black Diamond Speed 40 pack, which weighs 3lb (2lb 10oz modified) and costs about $150. I have not recommended the Black Diamond Speed 40 because it is only a 40L pack, and with some of our gear options, it may not be large enough for all of the gear listed here.


For shelter I would go with the GoLite Shangri-La 2 (without the nest). Am I being sponsored by GolIte, you ask? No, it’ just that ever since they moved their distribution in house, they have cut their cost almost in half. They make good products at a good price. The Shangri-La 2 is no different. It is a floorless shelter that will stand up to just about any winter weather you can throw at it. You will probably find it deficient if you want to climb Annapurna, but for the use it will see with most of us, it will do admirably. The shelter weighs 1lb 10oz and costs $160. It gets pitched with the use of two trekking poles, which I will address later.


You can still use a tarp in winter, but I would recommend a more enclosed shelter to block the wind. Other good shelter options are the Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid. It will set you back about $215 and weighs 1lb 6.5oz. The Black Diamond Beta Light (without nest) is also a good choice with a cost of $200 and a weight of 1lb 3oz.

I use both the GoLite Shangri-La 3 and the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tents. I use the Shangri-La 3 without the nest, which drops the weight to 1lb 8oz when pitched with my trekking poles. It costs about $300. It is not a bad way to go if you need the extra room. The Direkt 2 is too expensive to recommend for this list at around $400. It weighs 2lb 8oz, and is rated as a mountaineering tent; overkill for the type of trips we are discussing here.

Sleeping Bag:

Here we come to the big obstacle. As I mentioned above, if you want to go out in extremely cold weather, you will need to spend the money on a high quality down bag, or just put up with the weighs. For our purposes however, for moderate winter temperatures, i.e 0F (-18C), I would recommend the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 0 sleeping bag. It is a synthetic bag, utilizing ThermalQ fill insulation. It costs $280 and weighs 3lb 3oz. It is relatively light weigh and at a good price.


Another option to consider, which prioritizes cost over weight, would be the Marmot Trestles 0 sleeping bag. It is also a synthetic fill bag, but it costs only $140. On the other hand, the low cost results in heavier weight of 5lb 8oz. If money is your primary concern, it is not a bad way to go.

If you are willing to think more outside the box, another good option is to forego the sleeping bag, and use a quilt. Enlightened Equipment and several other manufacturers make quilts which will suit the purpose. For example, the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 0F quilt with 750 fill down weighs 1lb 10oz and costs $260. I am personally reluctant to use a quilt in temperatures that low, but if you can make it work, it is a great option.

I use the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF sleeping bag. It is rated to about 0F (-18C), weighs 2lb 7oz, and costs an eye watering $575. It is an amazing bag, and I have slept in it at temperatures down to –15F  (-26C), but the cost keeps we from recommending it for this list.

Sleeping Pad:

A well insulated pad is very important during winter camping. Generally a pad with a R-value of 4 and larger is considered appropriate for winter use. My choice would be the Big Agnes Air Core Insulated Pad. It comes both in rectangular and mummy shape forms. It has an R-value of 4.1, costs $80 and weighs 1lb 4oz.


If you already have a sleeping pad with a lower R-value, a traditional way to use it in winter is to pair it up with a closed cell foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, which costs only $20, weighs 14oz, and will add additional 2.8 to the R-value of your ground insulation system.

I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. The pad weighs 15oz, has an R-value of 5.7, and costs around $150. It is a great, very warm pad, but the cost is a bit too high for this list.


My pick for a pot is the Open Country 2qt Aluminum Kettle. It is hard to beat for the weight and price. It will cost you only $16, and weighs 8.2oz.


There are many good options out there. The only thing I would say is that for winter use try to go with a post that is at least 1L in volume. During winter you will very likely have to melt snow for water, and being able to make enough water at once to fill up your water bottle is a good idea.

I use a 1L SnowPeak titanium pot. I used to use the above Open Country pot, but didn’t need that much volume. The SnowPeak pot weighs 4.7oz, and while I don’t remember the cost (they don’t make it any more) I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.


The stove you choose for winter use is very important because, as I mentioned above, you will very likely have to melt snow for water. My choice would be the Kovea Spider. It is a remote gas canister stove, which allows for inverted canister use in liquid fuel mode. That lets you use in cold temperatures where other canister stoves will not perform well. It is a bargain at $54, and weighs only 6oz.


I would leave out alcohol stoves because while they do work in winter, they do not produce enough heat to melt snow effectively. Some upright canister stoves like Jetboil Flash and the MSR Reactor get used during winter, but you will have to come up with a way to keep that canister warm. The MSR Windpro II is a good alternative. It also allows for inverted canister use. It weighs 6.6oz and costs $100. White gas stoves like the MSR Whisperlite (in all variants) work very well in winter. One will run you about $100 and weigh around 11oz.

I use the Kovea Spider. It is not a well known stove, but I have used it in many different conditions, and it has always come through for me.

Water Bottle:

Two Gatorade bottles. They are light at 1.8oz each, cost about $3 (with the Gatorade) and have a wide enough mouth to delay freezing during winter use.


A Nalgene bottle is always a good alternative, and they even have collapsible wide mouth Nalgene bottles. A Nalgene bottle weighs 6.2oz.

I use one Nalgene bottle and one collapsible 2L wide mouth Nalgene bottle.

Water Purification:

During winter your filter is not going to be a good option for filtration. Once you get it wet, the likelihood of it freezing and getting damaged is too high. I would recommend carrying some Katadyn Micropur Chlorine Dioxide purification tablets. They cost $10 for a pack of 20, and weigh about 1oz. Since you will be most likely be melting snow for water, the tablets should get used only occasionally if you can find flowing water somewhere when the weather is warmer.


I mostly melt snow for water, but have a few of the above tablets as a back up. There are several other manufacturers who make similar products such as Aquamira. Avoid the liquid versions, as they have a tendency to freeze in cold weather.

Trekking Poles:

My pick, heavily considering cost, would be the Black Diamond First Strike trekking poles. They weigh 13.9oz, cost $55, and are rated for winter use. The down side to the poles is that they collapse only into two sections rather than three, which means they are not as compact when collapsed, but I think the $100 in savings is well worth it.


I use the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. They weigh 16oz and cost about $140.


My pick is the Black Diamond Gizmo. It is not the brightest, but at only $20 and with a weight of 2oz, it is hard to go wrong with it. 


An alternative would be the Petzl Tikka. It costs $30 and weighs 3oz.

I use the Black Diamond Gizmo. It has covered all of my needs so far.


Even if you don’t plan on processing any wood on your trip, a knife is something you should always have. My choice would be the Mora #2. It weighs just 3.3oz (with the sheath), and costs under $15.


I use a custom Mora #2 full tang clone made by Mark Hill.


During winter it is also a good idea to have a saw with you in case you do want to process any firewood. Huge bon fires are not necessary if you have the proper gear, so a small saw will cover most of your needs. I would go with the Bahco Laplander, which weighs 6.2oz and costs about $30.


An identical saw is sold by Kershaw. It is marked as the 2550X. If you can find it, you may be able to get it for about $20.

I use the Bahco Laplander saw. It offers great capability for the weight.

So, where does that leave us in terms of weigh and cost? According to my math, the above list gives us a weight of 10lb 11.2oz, and a total cost of $741. Add a few accessories and necessary small items like a map and compass, fire kit, first aid kit, small repair kit, etc (check out my pocket carry kit video for ideas here), and we can say that we have a 12lb gear list for about $750. If you go with the Marmot sleeping bag instead of the Mountain Hardwear one, you can bring the cost down to about $600, but the weight will go up to 14lb 8oz. It may not be a bad tradeoff. Shopping around for discounts will easily drop that price down even further.

And lastly, clothing for these conditions is not all that tricky. It will largely be your three season clothing with the addition of a big puffy jacket on the outside, along with a hat and gloves. If you are still unsure, the most cost effective option is fleece. It is bulky, but you can get fleece shirts for $10 at Wal-Mart. The 70L pack from the list should be more than capable of dealing with multiple fleece layers. For more of my thoughts on witer clothing, check out Winter Clothing – The Layering Theory Revisited.

All of the above gear will function fine in even lower temperatures. The main change you would have to make is to invest in a good sleeping bag rated for the temperature you are likely to encounter. I use the Western Mountaineering Puma MF –25F (-32C) bag. It weighs 3lb 7oz, and costs $825.

A common urge for many people when buying a winter sleeping bags is to go for the warmest bag on the market. Many times people end up with extremely expensive –40F (-40C) bags that are rated for arctic use and cost over $1000. In my experience such an approach is often unnecessary. Look at the realistic temperatures you are likely to encounter, and get a bag appropriate for those conditions. 

Anyway, this has been my attempt to offer an affordable unltalight winter gear list for temperatures down to 0F (-18C). The result is a gear list that weighs 10lb 11.2oz and costs $741. You will certainly need to add other small items and personal gear, and for more specific conditions, you will need additional gear like snowshoes, crampons, ice tools, etc. I do think however that this is a good starting point. Hope it has been of some use.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Marooned – New Survival Series on the Discovery Channel

Last night at 10pm, after the premier of the new season of Dual Survival on the Discovery Channel, a new show aired, called Marooned. It is a series featuring Ed Stafford. You may remember him as the guy who walked the length of the Amazon river, or more likely from his show Naked and Marooned, or Naked Castaway as it was aired in the US. Just like on that show, this new one, Marooned, focuses on Ed Stafford being dropped off in a remote location with absolutely nothing (including no clothing), and leaving him there to survive for 10 days. There is no camera crew. Ed has to film himself in a manner similar to Survivorman.

marooned-discovery-tv-show (1)

Last night’s episode saw Ed stranded on a small island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. In many respects, the show was very interesting. In the 10 days he was able to make a fire, build a shelter from the rain, make shoes, and even set a few traps. I like watching Ed Stafford, and he reminds me of the early days of Survivorman, when Les was still excited to do the shows.

The downside of the show, at least for me, is that it is filled with comments about how he is setting himself up to “thrive” long term in that environment. Instead of focusing on the very admirable task of successfully making it through the 10 days with no tools, he has to end the show with grandiose statements about how he has made it a long way towards thriving long term in that environment, as he had set out to do from the beginning. I don’t know what it is with the obsession Brits have with “thriving” in the wilderness; perhaps they have all grown up watching too much Ray Mears, who likes to toss around the phrase. The result is unfortunate, naively optimistic, and quite misleading.

Why do I say that? Well…

First, Ed was intentionally dropped off in that area at the back end of the dry season. When he tried and succeeded in making a hand drill fire on the first day there, the materials he was using had not seen any moisture in many months. I would be interested to see the task completed two months into the rainy season, or him repeating the task if he had remained there during the rainy season and his fire had gone out.

Second, his conclusion that he had come a long way to long term “thriving” was largely based on him finding a handful of nuts and stealing a corner of old honeycomb from a bee hive on the last day of the show. Oh, and he spent a day making three traps that didn’t catch anything. Understandably, his clams about thriving are rather perplexing, considering that all of the food that he found probably adds up to about a third of a day’s worth of calories, spread out over a 10 day period. His starvation was evident as he was very lethargic by the last day…and that’s not the result of all of the thriving.

Third, during the entire time he was there, Ed was drinking unpurified water from the marsh surrounding the island, which was densely inhabited by hippopotamus. It is an absolute certainly that there is hippo dung in that water and that it contains a whole range of pathogens, not the lest of which is Giardia. If he had stayed on the island for another week or two, he would have been dropped by one of those pathogens, and would have spend the rest of his time there with severe diarrhea and vomiting, preventing him from doing absolutely anything.

So, the claims about him being able to thrive there long term are quite ridiculous based on what actually happened on the show, and detract from the actual value of the show, which demonstrates quite realistic and good quality survival over a 10 day period.

If you can get past the “thriving” delusions on the show, it is quite good, and worth a look. It looks like it will be airing on the Discovery Channel on Wednesdays at 10pm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Under $350 Ultralight Backpacking Kit

There is a concern often expressed by people that if they want to reduce the weight of their gear, they must spend huge amounts of money. Those concerns are certainly justified, as many of the ultralight gear lists obtain maximum performance through very expensive, top of the line gear.

It doesn’t have to be that way however. The current state of the market is such that by removing unnecessary gear, and making some smart choices, one can easily create a very light weight kit on a budget.

You may have seen my Beginners Guide to Affordable Bushcraft and Camping Gear, where I was focusing more on low cost than low weight, but the resulting kit was under 13 lb, including a hatchet and saw, and cost a bit over $400 with all of the small accessories.

Well, Lightweight Backpacking has put together another gear list, titled Under $350 Ultralight Backpacking Kit, which I think is well worth a look.

You can follow the above link to the full article. I probably wouldn’t have made all of the same choices. For example, I would prefer a DIY alcohol stove over an Esbit one, and I would rather have a tarp than a one person tent, but overall, the gear choices are solid both in terms of weight and cost.


I think the choices for backpack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad are excellent, and surprisingly cost effective. Of course, this is not the and all and be all gear list, but it goes to show that with some careful gear selection, and by leaving behind a lot of unnecessary equipment, the weight of your pack can be brought down significantly without braking the bank.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dual Survival Clarification by Cody Lundin and New Host Announcement

Many of you have seen the previews for the new season of Dual Survival which is scheduled to premier April 23, 2014, and have undoubtedly noticed that Cody Lundin is in the previews despite his earlier announcement that he has been fired from the show. The previews have also made it seem that Cody left because of irresolvable conflict with co-host Joe Teti. Well, Cody just released another statement to clarify the issue. In summary, he specifies that he only filmed four episodes for the fourth season of the show. He confirms that he was fired because conflicts with Discovery over health and safety issue, and that he will be replaced by another host for the remainder of the season. He announced the new host as being Matt Graham from the show Dude, You’re Screwed.

True, False Road Sign

Here is his full statement:

Dear Campers,

Unfortunately, flurries of season four press releases by Discovery Channel have caused unnecessary confusion. Initial press releases implied that I was returning for the entire fourth season of Dual Survival. Not true. Later releases featured quotes from a new Discovery executive producer implying that I quit the show. Not true. Further releases implied that I couldn’t “hack” the show anymore and that I was unable to handle the survival scenarios. Not only are these implications completely false, they question my professional experience, expertise and integrity in a manner that I will not tolerate.

Given the promotional approach chosen by Discovery, I am left with no choice but to speak out to defend my reputation and career as a professional survival instructor with 25 years of experience. To be clear, the implications of my involvement in, and departure from, season four of Dual Survival in the network’s public statements have been inaccurate, uncalled for, unacceptable and untrue. It’s shocking to me that Discovery would treat anyone in this manner, and I am disappointed that this media organization would put its own reputation at risk by choosing sensationalism over facts.

Discovery is well aware of the actual circumstances that led to my firing from the show – circumstances that in no way resemble the message that the network has chosen to present so far. While I have not yet felt the need to address our differences in a much larger public forum, I won’t hesitate to do so if that is what is required to protect my integrity and my career. If the network continues to put forth a narrative regarding my departure, I expect it to do so in a respectful, fact-based way that allows us to part in a professional manner that will not harm either of our future interests.

The network should be aware that programming of this nature must be produced and marketed in a responsible manner with the highest level of regard for the safety and health of the hosts, production personnel, and members of the viewing public. I have shared this message with them many times. Failure to observe this standard could have tragic consequences that, with proper precaution, can be avoided. There can be no compromise when dealing with people’s lives.

It is true that I was scheduled to shoot all episodes for season four, but as I was fired due to differences over safety and health concerns, I filmed only four shows. The shows I participated in were filmed in Sri Lanka, Oman, and Norway. Matt Graham, one of the people from “Dude, you’re screwed” was hired to replace me. As Discovery moves forward with launching the new season of Dual Survival, I hope the network will choose a different tactic for the presentation and marketing of the show that is not at my expense.

On a brighter note, my farewell post was shared more than 720,000 times on Facebook alone with thousands of supportive comments from fans. I very much appreciate the continued support and hope this letter clears up any confusion.

Stay true and never waiver.
Sincerely, Cody Lundin

I find it sad that Discovery keeps taking the low road when it comes to its hosts. They keep trying to cover things up and manufacture drama. I suppose that is what sells to the larger public, but it is disappointing for those of us who watch the shows for the information they provide rather than the stunts they show.

On the other hand, I am very happy that Matt Graham will be taking over. I like the guy, although I am sad that he will be entering the same drama factory as some of the now gone presenters.

For more recent development on the subject, have a look at Cody Lundin States That Discovery Channel Lied About Why He Was Fired From Dual Survival.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Cook Kit

I’ve been asked a few questions about my complete cook kit, so I figured I would put together a short post about it.


Over the years I have tried to simplify my cook kit and carry just the items that I need. My cooking is not complex. I usually just boil water and mix it with dry stuff like stuffing or mashed potatoes.

I wanted a cook system that was light and compact, but could also be used on an open fire rather than with a stove when the opportunity presents itself, and I needed it to be able to melt snow for water during winter, requiring a stove that can function in cold weather, and a pot large enough to melt enough water to fill my Nalgene bottle. The result was the cook system you see above.

My main pot is a SnowPeak 1L titanium pot. They don’t make this exact model any more. I’ve had it for at least five years now. The pot did not come with a lid handle because the lid was intended to be used as a plate, but I tapped it and put a handle because it is more important to me to have a good lid than a plate. I prefer a simple pot like this one when compared to ones with thermal exchangers like those you see on integrated pot/stove designs like JetBoil because I can use the pot directly on a fire without melting anything or having to clean sooth out of the heat exchanger. The pot weighs 4.7oz.

As you can also see from the picture, I have a cup as well. It is the 700ml Stoic Ti Kettle. It comes with a lid and some other accessories which I don’t use. It nest together with my Nalgene bottle. I use it to mix drinks, but I also keep it as a back up pot in case I damage my main pot. The cup weighs 3.1oz.

The next item is the stove. I use the Kovea Spider, which is a remote canister stove. It allows for inverted canister use, so I can use the fuel in liquid feed mode when the temperature is low. The stove is also very stable and relatively light weight. It weighs 5.9oz. I use it with the smaller 4oz canisters because they allow me to fit everything within the pot. An empty canister weighs 3.5oz.

The above are the main components of my cook kit. In addition to that I have a few smaller item. I have a bandana which holds everything together in the pot. It weighs 1.1oz. I also have a mini BIC lighter which weighs 0.4oz and an aluminum foil windscreen which weighs 0.4oz, although I am thinking of getting a slightly thicker windscreen. 


Everything together weighs 19.1oz and allows me to take care of all my cooking needs in the woods. If this type of stuff interests you, you may want to check out my minimalist cook kit.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gear Weight and Physical Fitness

I noticed an interesting phenomenon recently. It has been popping up all over the place, both on blogs and YouTube channels I follow. At first I brushed it off, but it is as if though there was some type of secret meeting where a party policy was set for how to answer certain questions. I guess I wasn’t invited to the conference.

What am I talking about? Well, it is the phenomenon of justifying the weight of a person’s gear by saying that the person is in good physical shape, so the weight doesn’t matter. “Does my 60lb pack look heavy to you? Well, if you were in as good of a physical shape as I am, you wouldn’t even notice it on your back!”; “Yes my gear is heavy, but that’s where physical conditioning comes in.”; “If you go in the woods, you have to be in good physical shape, so pack weight is not an issue.”, and so on and so forth. All of those statements imply, or outright state that if you are a burly woodsy type of MAN, then the weight of your pack does not matter. The only people concerned with the weight of their pack are out of shape girly-men.

Copy of Backpacker-BIG-pack

Once we get past their horribly offensive nature, all of those statements contain a grain of truth, but sadly they use that grain of truth to mask impractical gear choices and lack of careful planning. I strongly believe that physical conditioning is very important. Being in good shape minimizes injury, it lets you go further and do more, and many outdoor pursuits and terrains demand peak physical shape. Not all of us can achieve that, but it is a worthy goal none the less.

That being said, using brute physical force to overcome impractical gear choices does not actually make the gear choices any better. With the application of enough force you can use a completely dull axe to bash through a tree. That however, does not make a dull axe just as good as a sharp one, and neither does the choice to carry such a dull axe make the user more of a man, and it certainly does not make him more of a woodsman. It simply makes the user someone who either through hubris, lack of knowledge, or convoluted rationalization after the fact, has made an impractical gear choice. 

Physical strength is great, but using it to overcome poorly selected gear does not make those gear choices any better. It simply compensates for them, sometimes effectively, sometimes not, but either way you pay a price.

Just like carrying a dull axe instead of a sharp one is a poor gear choice from a practical stand point, regardless of whether the user has the physical strength to bring down a tree, carrying an unnecessarily heavy piece of gear is an impractical choice regardless of whether one can compensate through the use of greater physical force.

It is a fine line between a man with a backpack and a pack animal. The former can quickly turn into the later through the gear choices he makes. More weight on your back means higher risk of short term and long term injury, higher energy expenditure requiring higher water and food consumption, decreased maximum duration of your trips because of the higher food consumption and the decreased amount of food that can be carried, decreased speed and ability to travel over difficult terrain, and ultimately it means having to sacrifice additional equipment. Replacing your 8 lb shelter with one that is of equal strength and size, but weighs 3 lb, will free up weight for other items. With the 5 lb you saved, you can bring a full size axe, or a rifle, or an additional three days of food, or you can simply have a lighter pack so that with your manly physical conditioning, you can now move much faster, travel over harder terrain, hunt over a larger range, and do more while in the woods. The difference is considerable, especially when you imagine taking the same approach with respect to all of your gear.

Now, I know that at this point someone will jump in with a comment about how the gear they carry is their personal choice and is based on intangible factors like aesthetics, childhood memories, etc, so who am I to tell them what to carry. Please note that I have no interest in telling anyone that they shouldn’t carry a particular piece of gear just because the choice was based on aesthetics. I think that is great. There is nothing wrong with selecting gear based on looks, nostalgia, or any other intangible factor. What I am commenting on here is the inexplicable need people have to then try to justify those aesthetic choices in terms of practicality. In particular, I am addressing one of the justification strategies, i.e. “if you are in good shape, the weight of your gear doesn’t matter”. Here I am speaking to the validity of that justification, and am asserting that it is a very poor one.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Trip Report: Bear Mountain 4/5/14 – 4/6/14

The weather here continues to be all over the place. This past weekend my friend John and I got together for a little trip. John has a lot of experience climbing, but not so much with general woods travel, so we decided to take it easy, and stay at lower elevation, where the snow has mostly melted away, and the temperatures are not much below 32F (0C). We picked some terrain in the northern portion of Bear Mountain and got started.


In this area you get above tree line fairly quickly even at low elevations. The winds were strong, blowing at about 45 mph, and it was cloudy and overcast the whole day.


Oh yeah, and if you look at the above picture by my right trekking pole, you can see Rhea hiding behind a rock. I brought her along.

Before long it was noon, and we stopped for lunch.

Copy (2) of IMG_8715

Along the way we passed by few 18th century mines.


We quickly made our way to the ridge of the mountain, and kept going along it, heading for the spot where we planned to overnight.

Copy of IMG_8718

Both John and I were moving at a very good pace and we arrived at our intended overnight area way sooner than we expected. The sky was darkened by clouds, but it was still only 2pm. We got busy selecting an area to camp and setting up. A Boy Scout troop had set up their overnight camp in the same area, but for some reason they had selected to camp right on top of the ridge.


With the strong winds I can’t imagine they had a comfortable night. They were lucky the rain held off. On an exposed ridge like that, even a small storm can be brutal. John and I decided to go into a small valley which was sheltered from the winds.


We quickly gathered firewood for the evening and got the fire going. Even though it has been warming up lately, in the evening the temperatures were getting close to 32F (0C). We sat around, cooked food, and killed time until sundown.


Rhea spent her time in the tent trying to stay warm.


The night was chilly. It dropped down to 28F (-2C). Both John and I had overdone the sleeping bag insulation, so we were nice and warm. Again, surprisingly, I had no condensation at all in the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent. I only had the small vent open, but there was no condensation at all.

In the morning we woke up to some wonderful sunshine. I warmed up Rhea, got the fire going again, and made some breakfast.

Copy of IMG_8797

We then packed up and made quick time down the mountain along a different route. The trip wasn’t particularly challenging, and the weather cooperated the whole way. We did about 10 miles all together with about 500 ft of elevation gain.


It was my first trip with John, and he was a great partner. I’m looking forward to much more challenging trips in the future.

Friday, April 4, 2014

CampSaver One Stop Shop Ultralight Gear List

Over the past few weeks, Hendrik Morkel from Hiking in Finland has been posting a great series which him and his friend developed a series titled One Stop Shop. The theory behind the series was to challenge some well known suppliers of outdoor gear to provide a complete ultralight gear list for three season backpacking from items they have in stock. You can see the challenge in Hendrik’s introduction to the series here.

To summarize, the requirements for this theoretical three season trip are:

  • Day temperature of 50F (10C) to 59F (15C)
  • Night temperature of 32F (0C) to 41F (5C)
  • Rain is possible every day
  • Mosquitoes aren’t there yet
  • Tours are 10 - 14 days long

The gear offered must include Backpack, Sleeping bag or quilt, Mattress, Shelter, Pot, Stove, Cutlery, Knife, Lamp, Trekking poles, Shoes, Fleece jacket, Insulation jacket, Rain pants, Rain jacket, Base layer (Boxers and T-Shirt), and Long sleeve shirt.

Most of the distributors participating so far have been European ones. One of them however, CampSaver is a US distributor, and I thought it would be useful to look at their recommendations for those who may not be following bloggers from across the pond. You can see the original post from Henrdik here.

Backpack: Exped Lightning 60


In all honesty, the pack is probably too large for this particular gear list. The Exped Lightning 45 would have probably done just as well, but it is not stocked by the store. Still, coming in at 2 lb 6.8 oz for a 60L pack is not bad at all. Interestingly this pack has gone out of stock since the post, but when they re-stock, it will be priced at $248.95.

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardwear Mtn Speed 32


The Mountain Harwear Mtn Speed 32 is an excellent minimalist sleeping bag. It is rated to 32F (0C), has 850 fill down, and weighs 15.5 oz for the regular size. It will set you back $479.95.

Mattress/Sleeping Pad: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-Lite


The pad weighs 12 oz for the regular size and will cost you $159.95. I’m a fan of the NeoAir pads. I carry around a 15 oz XTherm because it is warmer and I use it year round, but this is a good choice.

Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum


This semi free standing tent is a popular choice that weighs 1 lb 15 oz and costs $549.95. To be honest for a three season ultralight set up I would go with a tarp instead. It will not only be lighter, but much cheaper. Sometimes to cut weight you have to spend the money. However, this is not one of those times in my opinion.

Pot: Evernew Titanium UltraLight Deep Pot 


This pot comes in several sizes. The one recommended by CampSaver is the 0.9L version, which weighs 4.4 oz and costs $63.95. It is not a bad way to go, although I prefer shorter and wider pots. I just find them easier to use.

Stove: Esbit Titanium Solid Fuel Stove


The stove is certainly ultralight at 0.38 oz. It only costs $11.96. I’m not a fan of solid fuel stoves. I always have a hard time getting two cups of water to boil with it. It works, but it always feels like a hassle.

Cutlery: Alite Cloverware 2.0 Utensilss This eating utensil set costs $9.95 and weighs 0.1 oz. I can’t say I am crazy about it. I would much prefer a simple spoon.

Knife: Gerber Ultralight LST


It looks like a nice little knife. It somewhat resembles the Fallkniven F1 in shape, although the blade is barely 2 inches long. The knife weighs 0.6 oz, and costs $20.60. As you know I like a more robust knife, and if I was going to go with a small blade, I would probably chose the Leatherman Micra, which is heavier, but gives you a set of pliers.

Lamp: Petzl e+LITE Headlamp


This tiny headlamp weighs 0.95 oz, and costs $29.95. I would personally prefer a headlamp that runs on more readily available batteries. This one use CR2032 batteries, which I imagine would be challenging to find and expensive.

Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles These trekking poles feature a three section carbon fiber collapsible design. They weigh 9.2 oz and cost $104.97. They are light weight, but I prefer trekking poles with adjustable section. I find it easier to use them to pitch a shelter. Otherwise, I generally like Black Diamond equipment.

Shoes: Salewa Firetail EVO Hiking Shoes The shoes weight 26.4 oz for the pair, and will set you back $118.95. I haven’t used them, so I can’t say much more than that.

Fleece: Patagonia R1 Hoody This is a great choice for a fleece layer. I have the R1 pullover, and it works well. The hoody weighs 12.6 oz and costs $159.00.

Insulation: Mont Bell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket I think this jacket is an example of overdoing it. It is a wonderful product, featuring 1000 fill down insualtion, and weighs just 4.8 oz. The downside for such extremely high fill is that it costs $269.00. I would personally go with a heavier but much cheaper jacket like the Patagonia Nano Puff.

Rain Pants: Patagonia Torrentshell Stretch Pant The pants weigh 10.8 oz and cost $169.00. They have full length side zippers which I find important, and seem to be a well priced for what they offer.

Rain Jacket: Marmot Super Mica Jacket The jacket weighs 8.7 oz and costs $224.95. I haven’t used this material (NanoPro MemBrain), so I can’t say much about the durability or performance.

Boxers: Patagonia Lightweight Briefs I’m a boxer-brief man myself, but I suppose these will do. They weigh 1.9 oz and cost 24.00.

T-Shirt: Rab Aeon Tee The t-shirt weighs 3 oz and costs 34.95.

Long Sleeve Shirt: Arc’teryx Phase SL Crew Longsleeve The shirt weighs 3.8 oz and costs $68.95. I’m not a fan of long sleeve shirts, but it was part of the criteria, so here you have it.

All of that gear adds up to 11 lb 11.5 oz, and will set you back about $2748.00. The weight of the gear is not bad at all, but the price surely hits hard. I think there are a lot of examples of gear that is more expensive than it needs to be for the weight savings. For example, replacing the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum with a tarp will save not only a bit of weight, but also more than $400 is cash. Same thing goes for the Mountain Hardwear Mtn Speed 32 sleeping bag. Granted, it is hard to find a lighter bag with that rating, but by sacrificing literally only a few ounces of weight, you can save hundreds of dollars. Even going for another high end down bag like the Western Mountaineering Highlite will save you $150. If you are willing to sacrifice some comfort, you can save even more weight and over $100 by switching to a closed cell foam pad. An REI Flash 45 backpack will save you another $150 without adding any weight. 

All that being said however, I think it is an interesting exercise, and a lot of the recommendations are top of the line products. Considering that the list covers both gear and clothing, the price tag is not all that extreme. If you are looking for a high end set up, this is not a bad place to start. The one piece of gear that wasn’t part of the requirements, but I consider important is a water filter like the Sawyer Mini Filter, and a water bottle. 

Anyway, if you are interested in the lists, check out the One Stop Shop at Hiking in Finland.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gear Versatility: Kit Mentality vs. Item Mentality

The versatility of gear is a topic I’ve discussed before. I’ve talked about theoretical versatility as opposed to practical versatility. In this post I wanted to offer a different perspective on the potential methods for evaluating versatility of gear. To that end I want to propose that there are two different ways to look at gear versatility. The first is to look at it from the perspective of each individual item, or piece of kit. The second is to look at the versatility of your kit as a whole. I believe this second method to be more productive and practical when it comes to outdoor gear.

It has been ingrained in us that each piece of gear has to be versatile; that it must have multiple uses, otherwise it is not worth carrying. This is nothing new. This criteria for judging each piece of outdoor gear has been gospel for a long time. Popular exercises of recent years such as “what three items would you bring” have reinforced that approach. The result has been that many people tend to evaluate the versatility of their gear based on how many tasks each individual item can perform.


In my opinion, that approach is not practical for selecting outdoor gear. When we carry gear into the woods, the number of items we bring is never a practical constraint on what we can carry. The practical constraints are weight and volume, not the number of pieces. So, an approach designed to minimize the number of pieces carried rather than the weight or volume of the total gear misses the point in terms of practicality.

I propose that we need to look at gear versatility from a kit perspective. Instead of looking at the potential uses of each items, we need to look at the potential uses afforded by the gear as a whole. I’ll try to explain through a few examples.

Let’s take as an example a blanket as a piece of gear. Using the first approach, and simply evaluating the versatility of the individual item, we would easily conclude that the blanket is a versatile piece of gear. It can be used as insulation while sleeping, it can be used as a coat when wrapped around you, and it can even be used as a tarp in an emergency. When compared to a sleeping bag, which has only one use as sleeping insulation, the blanket comes out on top as being more versatile. So, if we use the item mentality when evaluating versatility, the blanket turns out to be more versatile than a sleeping bag, and conventional wisdom dictates that it should be carried over the sleeping bag. This method for evaluating the value of items would be spot on if we had some random restriction on the number of pieces of gear we could bring.

However, that is not how things actually work in the woods. Other than in armchair-bushcraft exercises, we never have the restriction of number of pieces we can bring. The practical restrictions are ones of weight and volume. So, if we look at versatility through those practical constraints, the outcome is often different. If we look at our blanket, we will see that a blanket that will offer sufficient insulation down to 32F (0C), weighs about 5 lb. We will also see that a sleeping bag rated to 32F (0C) like the Mountain Hardwear Speed 32 for example, weighs 1 lb. So, leaving aside the artificial constrain of number of items carried, but rather using the practical constraint of weight, we can quickly see that for the same weight, i.e. 5 lb, we can bring the Mountain Hardwear Speed 32 sleeping bag (1 lb), a Patagonia DAS Parka (1 lb 8 oz), and a Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent (2 lb 8 oz).

So, if we look at versatility from kit perspective under realistic constraints, the options look rather differently. We no longer have a comparison between whether a blanket is more versatile than a sleeping bag, but rather we have the question of whether one set of 5 lb of gear is more versatile than another set of 5 lb of gear. Which kit is more versatile, a 5 lb blanket, or 5 lb worth of a sleeping bag, a parka, and a tent? In this case it’s clear that the second set of gear is more versatile. You can have insulation while at the same time having rain protection, and you can use your jacket inside your sleeping bag so you can sleep comfortably in even lower temperatures.

Let’s look at another example. Take for instance an oil cloth watch coat. If looked from an item mentality stand point, it is a versatile piece of kit. It can be used as a rain coat, and can also be set up as a shelter. It is certainly more versatile than a simple rain jacket which only serves one purpose. However, if we look at it from a kit mentality stand point, we see that the watch coat weighs 3 lb. For that weight you can bring a rain jacket, rain pants, and a tarp. When looked from that stand point, you get far more versatility from the same weight and volume of gear by going with the second option.

My point here is that we need to move past the obsession with whether each item has multiple uses, and need to start focusing on whether our gear as a whole can efficiently cover those same uses. Multi use items are great. However, if that item weighs as much as a group of single use items which do a better job at covering each of those uses, then from a kit stand point, you get more versatility from the group of single use items than the one multi use item.