Thursday, February 5, 2009

Superior Hiking Trail - Spring 2008

I had discovered lightweight camping, or so I thought.  Much more trial and error than I had originally planned on.  Here's me thinking that I could automatically become a lightweight backpacker.

I had bought I Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Explorer.  Little did I know when I bought it that you still need to bring a lot of insulation for underneath you for any temps below about 55F.  Fortunately I figured that out before my trip and went fairly prepared.  Unfortunately, having to bring all that extra insulation didn't really lighten my load as much as I wished it would, but looking at my picture, my pack looks WAY more comfortable on my back than the previous trip.

Superior Hiking Trail - Summer 2006

It wasn't until several years later, that myself and a few of my buddies decided to take my first true backpacking trip. I had accumalated a fair amount of gear betweeen my boundary waters adventures and car camping, so I felt pretty prepared. I took a lot of time to organize and try to get all six of us guys on the same page as far as our gear. As much as I tried to communicate to them that I had all the essentials covered, they all ended up bringing their own. I guess that meant that I was going to have to carry "more than my share".

We all have a desire to be "real men", so we loaded up our packs with everything we had and away we went, stupidly thinking that this makes us men. I don't know for sure, but I think our packs were probably at 50+ pounds each... About half way throught the second day, my knee started to have some throbbing pain. Being the "man" that I am, I kept pushing right through the pain. By the end of the third day, I was moving very slowly and every down hill slope was pure torture.

Upon returning home, I went to visit a sports doc and he said that I have Patellofemoral Syndrome. Basically, my knee cap doesn't ride right over the end of my Femor. Why does this happen? Doctor said I'm getting old and too out of shape to "overdo" it on the trail. He recommended shoe inserts and basically to get in shape before I try to "prove" that I am a man. has a great description of patellofemoral syndrome and some exercises I should be doing to relieve the knee pain and make it stronger.

This experience motiviated me to quickly get some inserts and then put me down the road of transitioning to lightweight backpacking. And the journey begins....


When I was a kid, I always looked forward to our annual week long camping trip. When I was very young, it was with relatives and we would always go up into Canada to the Lake of the Woods... I remember it being more about the fishing than the camping.

Into my early elementary years, we switched things up and started going with a family from our church up to Voyager National Park or other northern lakes. There was an island on Lake Kabetogama that quickly became our favorite. We would load two boat-full's of camping gear and haul it out to this island that we called Potato Island. It was less than two acres big and we turned it into our very own "war zone" where we had our survival knives, cameflauge pants, shirts and bandanas. It was awesome!! We would play hide and seek, gi's and commies, cowboys and indians, cut down trees, and other fun stuff we as boys could conjur up.

In sixth grade, I went to a wilderness camp with my brother and two cousins. They took us out on my first trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. The camp counselor was very courageous to take 10 sixth grade boys out into the wilderness. Crazy guy! This was a great intro into "you mean we have to carry all this stuff!!"

The next year, my brother and I talked my dad into going to the Boundary Waters and it became a tradition. We typically would go up with a group of guys from our church. Our packs would be 50-75 pounds plus the canoes. I remember how much of a man I felt like having to carry such big loads. Little did I know how much more I could enjoy the wilderness having to carry lightweight loads later on in life. But naivity at that stage in life and just not knowing there was another way, we pressed on. Fortunately, the portages were short and the canoes did most of the carrying of the packs.

This BWCA tradition carried on for many years and after college I started leading groups of people whom of which most had never been camping into the boundary waters. This was very rewarding for me to introduce the "real" great outdoors to people. I found much joy in this, and the value of going lighter started to become somewhat of an awareness as I threw these heavy packs on peoples shoulders that hardly ever left the big city... But we all had a lot of fun and most of them have been back, so I didn't completely scare them away.

Somewhere in there, my brother and I did a 7 mile backpacking loop that turned into about 9 miles as we unknowingly wandered off the trail onto another trail that was not on our map. Fortunately, our map and compass skills were fairly good and we were able to bushwack our way through to the right trail. In the meantime, we came out onto a "mountaintop overlook" (minnesota style) and were able to look over miles and miles of the Boundary Waters in their peak fall colors. Unfortunately, I was wearing a duluth style pack that was extremely uncomfortable and fullly loaded with gear. Why we think we needed so much gear for one night, I'll never know. That was all I had for a pack at the time, so I was quite jealous of my brother's internal frame pack which had all the right padding, support, and straps to carry the heavy loads that we were carrying. It still proved to be great memories and I still desired to do more backpacking.