So you’ve decided to enter the wonderful world of DIY (do it yourself) / MYOG (make your own gear) because the result will be lighter, cheaper, better, just what you want, or all of the above. But a lot of the materials for these projects don’t show up in your local stores. This post shares my favorite suppliers for a wide range of projects I have completed.
Certainly one of the revolutions in ultralight gear is the availability of new fabrics. Dynema Composite Fiber (DCF) may be the hottest, newest, lightest thing on the block, but it is also quite pricey. I am very happy with the new silicone impregnated polyesters. Ripstop By The Roll has become my go-to source for fabric, with a great selection, good prices and fast service. I currently use their Membrane Silpoly, weighing 0.93 oz./sq.yd., for waterproof applications. For breathable fabric with a durable water repellent finish, Membrane 15 poly taffeta, 0.9 oz./sq.yd. works well. The standard 1.3 oz./sq.yd. silicone coated nylon ripstop is still a good choice for a waterproof and slightly tougher fabric. Plan to buy a little more than you need to cover mistakes and build your collection of small pieces that are great for stuff sacks, etc. If you don’t want to start from scratch, check out their selection of kits or project plans. Ripstop By The Roll also carries batting insulation, and a selection of bug netting and other components such as webbing, buckles, zippers, velcro and thread. Continue reading →
After a new ship is launched, it gets to meet the ocean for the first time with “sea trials”. As our parks reopen and snow leaves the high country, it was time to get out for gear trials with recent projects. I headed for a Park camp adjoining a couple of sub-alpine lakes at about 4700′. The forecast was for a nice day, followed by a weak front overnight with a chance of rain in the morning. As the first backpack of the season, I wanted to reality test my current set-up. I had finished a new tent – the Hex-Lite. My ultra-light bivy would serve as a quilt and air pad cover. I was planning to Esbit cook with a single pot. It was time to test a new Therm-a-Rest NeoAire Xlite air pad. My Big Agnes pad no longer held air overnight and was 6 years old. New gear keeps betting better. The Therm-a-Rest, with pump sack weighs only 15 oz., a 5 oz. improvement.
My claim for Comfort light backpacking is a 15 lb. base weight. For this trip, my actual was 16 lbs. – close enough. With overnight food and water, I left the car at 21 lbs. (I don’t really count fuel separately anymore, since for this trip it was 3 Esbit tabs – 1.5 oz.) Everything packed easily into my 2800 cu. in (46 L) RayWay pack, with the extension collar almost completely rolled down on top. Now over 7 years old, it is still a very comfortable pack to carry. Continue reading →
YouTube videos for tarp tents often show a 3 meter x 3 meter tarp being pitched a number of different ways. One makes a single pole, hexagonal tent with a large interior and overhanging entry, It is described as a great emergency shelter, roomy and quickly pitched. I wondered if it could be made as a stand-alone lightweight backpacking tent.
I experimented with a cheap 10′ x 10′ blue plastic tarp to visualize the design and interior space. Using some of the new, reasonably priced, lightweight coated polyester fabrics now on the market, how light could it be? Well, it’s finished and what’s not to like about a final overall weight of just 1 lb. 14 oz., including a 42 sq.ft. floor, 49″ center pole, stakes, bug netting door, and stuff sack.
In the past, on some multi-day climbs, I slept under a tarp, with my quilt and air mattress inside a bivy sack. I also had other nights in a tent, in alpine country, with condensation wetting out my exposed quilt. Sometimes in shoulder seasons, my quilt isn’t quite warm enough. Then this year I discovered a great source of ultralight fabric. These were all motivations to try another project – an ultralight bivy, with options for bug protection and a cold weather liner. I finished it and have now tried it out successfully on a cold night.
I continue to be a big fan of titanium for ultralight applications. A cylindrical titanium windscreen might make a ultralight, minimalist cooking kit. This one was easy to build, weighs just 52 g. with two titanium stakes that serve as pot support and pin the windscreen closed. It is sized to work with a Toaks 750 ml. titanium pot and either an Esbit tablet or alcohol burner. On the trail, it seems a rugged and solid performer
I started with some titanium sheet from Ruta Locura. The windscreen has 5/8″ holes around the base on the handle cutout side. When the windscreen is rolled and pinned, 3 of the 8 holes overlap to give adequate combustion air inlet. Stake height is set at 3″ to place the pot high enough above the tablet for good combustion. Overall, the windscreen is 6″ tall by 24″ long, with a 5″ diameter as assembled. In use, place the handle cutout and combustion holes away from any wind.
A bottom sheet of folded kitchen aluminum foil completes the combustion space. The Esbit tablet sits in a Trail Designs Gram Cracker holder. Under the holder is a little Ti pan, folded out of Ti scrap from the windscreen stock to contain any Esbit flare ups. Continue reading →
I have a friend whose backpacking kitchen is only a single small Titanium mug and a folding Esbit stove. He pretty much always cooks the same one pot meal. By the end of a trip he is pretty tired of it, but his set weighs little and he doesn’t spend a lot of time cooking. Sometimes this is a good answer, and sometimes you want more. As I have accumulated kitchen stuff, the goal of having it all (or most of it) in a light weight, compact package has been an itch. This post presents the current state of that quest.
So here is my 16 piece compact, complete kitchen, all packed up sitting beside two gas canisters for scale. It is versatile, light, compact, complete, and rugged. With it I can boil, simmer, bake, mix, hydrate, cozy, measure, prepare multi course meals, serve and clean up. All together, without fuel, it weighs 22 oz., and is about the volume of two 8 oz. fuel canisters. But of course you only need to bring the parts you are planning to use with that trip’s menu. Further, by swapping out the stove and windscreen combination, it has multi-fuel capability. So what’s in it? Continue reading →
Tarp shelters are a common solution to ultralight camping. They are simple, light and easy to build. But they only provide a roof. Walls (bug protection) and floor are extra or missing. “Almost tarp” tents address this. My Six Moons design Night Wing tent is a good example.
The Night Wing is basically a tarp with netting closing the ends and edge. It couples with a custom Tyvek 1443R floor. But on a recent alpine climb approach, I was bothered by a lot of condensation that was wetting out my sleeping quilt. Adding a bivy bag over the quilt or bag would give me both warmth and separation from condensation. But that’s another pound!.
Alpine tarp bivy
The next outing involved two nights at a high camp at 7500′. I decided to go lighter taking only an old sil-nylon tarp I made a few years ago and my very old Early Winters Gore-Tex bivy bag, to which I had recently added a waterproof zipper. It worked, but the tarp had been designed only as a cooking shelter and was really not long enough to fully cover the bivy bag. In practice this should not be an issue to have a waterproof bag sticking out into the rain, but…. In thinking about it, I wondered if I could easily improve things. A few hours of sewing and an ounce of fabric later, problem solved.
The Kovea Spider remote canister stove looks like a pretty neat concept. It is compact and lightweight at 6.1 oz. The remote canister setup works with a cone style wind screen. Invert the canister for a cold weather liquid feed mode, enabled by the stove’s preheater tube. Use two medium size binder clip handles support the inverted canister – a trick gleaned from the Internet. With the legs folded for storage, it is compact enough to fit inside my titanium pots.
The stove is not widely available in the US, although Jon Fong at Flat Cat Gear carries it and sells integrated cooking systems for it. My stove was made for the domestic home market and came with Korean language instructions. No big deal, it works just like a canister stove. But it shines in its ability to integrate with ultra light cooking gear, pulling off tricks likes making pancakes and bread! I had tried both these cooking chores with alcohol stoves getting somewhat mixed results. The Kovea Spider adds just the right final touch to make it all work.
Backcountry dry baking is a craft I learned from Jon Fong’s website and his YouTube videos. I have used it with alcohol and Esbit cooking in the past, most successfully for biscuits as discussed in my old post: Dry baking. But for good pancakes and bread, you need some additional help. Continue reading →
No matter how I pitched it my Night Wingtent from Six Moons Designs came out with a big wrinkle in the side. I thought it was my fault. The tent is built from plans but I added some features. Like all center ridge tents, the side walls sag claustrophobically into the volume of the tent. So I added side pulls both at the bottom and midway up the side panels. In a hurry to finish the tent, I did not get the pulls even on both sides.
Oh, well, the wrinkle was mostly an aesthetic issue. But on a recent trip, I tumbled on a solution.
It turns out that the location of the middle stake loop on the panel lower edge is critical to getting a tight pitch. I moved one loop on one side of the tent. That aligned things so that now the the wrinkles are smaller and symmetric. And I still have the interior volume I like.
Here it is pitched on trekking poles. Now I have my go-to solo tent, with 26 sq. ft. of floor space, good bug screening, an integrated Tyvek ground cloth, stakes and stuff sack all weighing in at 1 lb. 14 oz and fewer wrinkles
While it may be spring in the lowlands, there is still 14 feet of snow on the ground at 5,000′ elevation in the Pacific Northwest. A brief 2 day weather window provided a great opportunity to test a lot of snow camping gear and ideas. How do lightweight backpacking solutions translate into this environment? Are the solutions still lightweight?
As the Black Diamond Mega Light tent project progressed, I started a planning spreadsheet to see what the weight penalty would be adding a 4th season to comfort light backpacking. The answer looked like it might be about 10 lbs. But there were questions. Would I be warm enough sleeping? Could I use an alcohol stove to melt snow?
Snow cover transforms the wilderness experience. Summer trails exist only in concept, sometimes continued between storms as well used trenches. But otherwise you have freedom to go elsewhere. Camp sites are no longer limited to established locations. Adequate snow depth provides opportunities for creative site preparation. And of course, in nice weather the scenery is stunning. But the level of commitment is higher. Weather windows and daylight hours are shorter. Travel is slower and cold is the ever present concern. None the less, my friend and I felt we had done our preparation well and were ready for some field time. Continue reading →