Philip Werner over at sectionhiker.com is raffling off a Golite Ultralite Down Quilt and part of the entry is answering a series of questions. I thought it be fun to take a stab at the raffle, so here's the answers to the questions I'll be submitting:
1. 1. How long have you been backpacking and what's the longest trip you've taken?
· I grew up camping and in my junior years we started going to the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) in northern MN. The typical group canoed the lakes and carried all their gear including the canoe over the portages (between the lakes). We packed very heavy with lots of gear and luxuries... but that was all we knew and I'm sure that's the only way “the dad's” would be willing to go. Fresh out of college, my brother and I went out for our first official backpacking trip. We did a 13 mile loop called the Angleworm trail up in the BWCA. Again, way overpacked with heavy gear, we stayed 1 night on the trail, almost started a forest fire and got lost! Yet still, it is one of my fondest memories of backpacking! After that trip, I started buying traditional backpacking gear. The longest trip I have made to date is 5 days.
2. 2. When did you realize that you needed to reduce the amount of weight that you carried in your backpack? Please explain the circumstances which led you to this conclusion…did you have a bad trip experience, or just figure it out?
· In the summer of 2006, myself and five of my buddies set out for a 4 day trip on the Superior Hiking Trail. I had accumulated a fair amount of gear between 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".
· I don't know for sure, but I think our packs were probably at 50-60 pounds each... About half way through the second day, my knee started to have some throbbing pain. Not wanting to swallow my pride and ask for help, I kept pushing right through the pain. By the end of the third day, I was moving very, very slowly and every downhill slope was pure torture.
· Upon returning home, I went to visit a sports doc and was diagnosed with Patellofemoral Syndrome. Basically, my knee cap doesn't ride right over the end of my Femur. 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 on the trail (my own interpretation). This experience motivated me to quickly get some inserts and then put me down the road of transitioning to lightweight backpacking. And the journey began....
3. 3. What is the total weight of your big three: backpack, sleeping bag/pad, and shelter? Please include manufacturer, make and model names, unless homemade.
· 3-Season set-up: Backpack - ULA Ohm (24 oz); Sleeping Bag - JRB Sierra Sniveller (25F - 24.3 oz) or Lafuma Extreme 600 Bag modified into quilt (45F - 18.8 oz); Sleeping Pad - Nunatek Luna Pad (12 oz or less depending on season); Shelter - SMD Wild Oasis (13 oz) - Also have a Tarpent Squall (2 Person @ 27.0 oz) and a Tarptent Rainshadow (3 Person @ 41.0 oz) for when not going solo.
· Winter set-up: Backpack - Golite Pinnacle (22.1 oz); Sleeping Bag - Combine JRB Sierra Sniveller (25F - 24.3 oz) with Lafuma Extreme 600 Bag modified into quilt (45F - 18.8 oz) plus insulated clothing as needed. Sleeping Pad - 1 or 2 Nunatek Luna Pads depending on temps (12-24 oz). Shelter: SMD Wild Oasis (13 oz - but probably not a good idea in heavy snows) and an Oware Heavy Duty Pyramid (4 person - 90 oz) for group.
4. 4. Do you own a scale for weighing your gear? If so, what kind? How often do you use it?
· I have a food scale (up to 5 lbs) and a fish scale (up to 50 lbs). I have pretty much all my gear weighed and entered into a spreadsheet. I obsessively pour over my spreadsheet every trip I make to try and figure out ways to lighten my load without spending much money. Planning for a trip is as much fun as the trip itself for me.
5. 5. Where are you in the process of going lightweight? What have some of the notable weight reductions in your gear list been? Is there an example of a choice you made between two different alternative gear choices you can explain, or are pondering?
· I'm pretty much where I would like to be. Now I just need to find more time to get out and use it. Most of my adventures are with a group, so I have purchased much of my gear with that in mind. My backpack and shelter were the two biggest reductions by far. I am currently trying to find a smaller and much lighter winter shelter than my Oware Pyramid and am looking at an Oware Pyramid, vs an Oware Alphamid vs the MLD Duomid. I can't for the life of me decide which one I want. So, I may end up making my own out of tyvek.
6. 6. How much has cost constrained the rate in which you reduce your gear weight? Can you cite an example?
· It's taken about 3 years to get to where I'm at now. I sold off all my old gear and have bought and sold several renditions of each piece of gear since then. Almost everything I have for gear was previously used/purchased or on sale. This has saved me a ton of cash.
7. 7. What was the largest amount of pack weight you dropped by replacing or eliminating a piece of gear?
· This is a toss-up between my pack and shelter but the “biggest loser” is the shelter. My solo shelter used to be a 4-season 7 lb Walrus Rapeede that I sold to buy a 1.5 lb Floorless Tarptent Contrail and then in turn sold and now have SMD Wild Oasis (13 oz + 1.5 oz ground sheet). Over 6 lbs savings. My pack evolution has given me a 5 lb savings.
8. 8. What's your view on the trade-offs between the following types of backpacking gear, for your specific climate conditions and needs? Are you at the stage where you want to try different options or not interested and why?
a. Down vs. Synthetic sleeping bags?
o I have both and there are certainly pros and cons to each.
b. Backpacks with an external frame, internal frame, or no frame?
o I have an internal frame and a frameless. Both function great for me. Normally I use a closed cell foam sleeping pad and this provides the structure (frame) for a frameless pack. I bought the internal frame because sometimes I use my Big Agnes Clearview pad that would not provide a frame structure for a frameless pack. My GoLite Pinnacle (Frameless) has a larger volume which I need for my winter camping. The smaller and compressible volume of the ULA Ohm (internal frame) works great for the low volume packing of the summer.
c. Double walled shelters, single walled shelters, and tarps and bivies?
o I don't really see the need for a double wall shelter anymore after using single wall shelters. With proper ventilation and/or steep walls (pyramid style), condensation can be minimized and/or avoided. My bivy use is isolated to cold weather to minimize drafts with my quilts and for sleeping on snow on floorless shelters.
d. Full size sleeping pads vs. torso sized?
o Depends. Full size is necessary in cold weather and in Minnesota, most of the year constitutes as "cool" weather needing full padding for the northern part of the state. I combine a torso sized with the backpad in my ULA Ohm pack to give me the full length in the summer.
e. Boots vs trail runners?
o Trail runners hands down for all but really cold and snow. I've even used my trail runners down to 25F and snow. I use Steger Mukluks for colder weather. The Mukluk is a light boot with a flexible bottom that feels like walking in slippers.
9. 9. What would you say are the biggest benefits of carrying less gear? Dig deep here. Have you had any spiritual or personal breakthroughs by going lightweight? Has it affected your relationship with nature, for example?
· It is easier to connect with and observer your surroundings when you don’t feel burdened by a huge pack on your back. My gear is much less simpler and easier to use which frees me up to relax and enjoy nature more. I also bring a lot less stuff which means it is easier to find and use the stuff I do have. Knowing that I have the bare minimum to survive, forces me to sharpen my survival skills and heightens my adventure experience. Lastly being minimalist with my gear has spilled over into my running gear/footwear and overall general lifestyle and diet.
10 10. What advice would you give to someone else who wanted to start reducing the weight of their backpacking gear?
· Start by weighing all of your gear and enter it into a spreadsheet so that you know where you are starting from. Then focus on buying used gear or highly discounted gear because you will probably end up selling it anyway to get something different. The Gear Swap forum on BackpackingLight.com is where I found most of my used/pre-purchased gear. Be patient for gear to show yet be quick to buy. Pour over the info on this website and others to get a good background of what is available in the Ultralight and Lightweight world of gear. Everybody has a different style, climate, and environment that they hike in and thus the gear needs are different. Find a blog of someone that lives in a similar situation as yours and follow it for ideas.