Snow camping

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

A 2.8 oz. backpacking chair

Out in the wild I really miss a comfortable place to sit.  So here is my accessory that makes a Big Agnes or other air mattress into a chair.  Complete with a small storage pouch, it weighs 2.8 oz. Some sil-nylon fabric, 3/4″ webbing and two side release buckles, coupled with sewing machine time and presto. Slide the top and bottom sleeves over the ends of the partially inflated mattress.  Fasten the webbing straps together, adjust their length and the inflation level and you have wilderness comfort.

I have used commercial versions in the past that used stays to keep the back rigid.  They were a lot heavier and did not pack down well.  This approach solves the problem by Continue reading

Black Diamond Mega Light Project – Part 2

BD MegaLite finishedSome projects take longer to finish than others.  But here it is, the Black Diamond MegaLight modified for 4 season use.  It now has bug netting, as well as optional bath tub floor and rain awning. While no longer in an ultralight category for 1 or 2 people, it is pretty light for 56 sq.ft. of floor space with a 65″ center height.  It sheds rain well and can be secured against high winds. I can pick and choose elements to include, depending on the trip, and pack a shelter system weighing between and 2 and 4 lbs.  Part 1 of this project covers the tent as set up for winter snow camping. This post describes making it suitable for rainy, summer outings with bugs. Continue reading

Black Diamond Mega Light Project – Part 1

BD ML MORA

Late fall in the Pacific Northwest brings rain and darkness.  It is a good time for projects.  This one modifies a Black Diamond Mega Light sil-nylon pyramid tent to add tie downs, wind guys, insect netting and wet weather features, while still preserving it’s usefulness for winter snow camping.  And of course, doing so with minimal added weight.

So here is the Mega Light, practice pitched on a nice spring day in Mt. Rainier National Park.  The basic tent weighs only 25 oz. and can be pitched hanging from an overhead line or with a center pole.  You can use a pair of ski or trekking poles with a supplied coupling accessory, or the 11.4 oz. carbon fiber sectional pole that comes with the tent.  Tent weight of 2 lbs. 5 oz. for over 50 sq. ft. of interior space and 65 inches of head room is pretty light.

Still some customization can produce  an even more versatile, big four season  tent, in the range of comfort light packing. Continue reading

Staying dry

IMGP0228I was inspired to start writing this entry on a quite rainy February morning. Even if the Pacific Northwest is not known for heavy, sudden rains (think monsoons, Hawaii or Florida) we still have a lot of wet weather. Add to that encounters with wet brush and more moisture generated internally from physical activity and you understand our challenge of staying dry.

Because our typical weather is cool to cooler, wet weather solutions like shorts and dry clothes at the end of the day don’t really work. We must stay warm as well as dry. Since I want to reduce trail weight, I look for a balance between marginally dry, lightweight rain gear and wonderfully dry, but overweight items. Continue reading

Packs

Old school

Old school

Your pack is another of the “big three” weight reduction items . I was using a relatively new Gregory Z55 internal frame pack. It had joined a collection of previously used packs including a framed hatch back pack, an older internal frame pack and even a woven cedar pack basket. 55 liters is a good volume for me and the Gregory pack weighed in at 3 lbs. 3 oz. I used it in Iceland with a 45 lb. trip starting weight. It worked well. In heavy rain, I did use a sil-nylon pack cover to keep things dryer.

Options for pack choices open up when you seriously commit to shave load weight . With growing sewing skills, I elected to make a Ray Way 2,800 cu. in. pack kit. This pack has a 45 liter main bag volume, plus an extension collar that provides at least another 10 liters. In addition there are mesh pockets on the sides. It weighs, as finished, a shocking 12 oz. Continue reading

Beyond the bag

P1010117-001I sleep cold. I have always needed sleeping bags rated at least 15 degrees colder than the conditions I expect. Once I made that adjustment, I have logged a lot nights in a variety of bags with a variety of fills. My current approach focuses on staying just as warm while carrying less weight.

Sleeping equipment is one of the “big three” in moving to lightweight backpacking. So I looked for a lighter solution, and decided to try a quilt. Continue reading

Making a comfort light cooking fly

Ray Jardine is certainly one of the great evangelists for tarp tents. His designs are well thought out and usually feature “beaks”, dropped overhangs to provide rain protection. There are additionally many variations to pitching a rectangular tarp resulting in different shapes. I felt the need to mess around with some of these ideas.

Comfort light cooking fly

Recalling trying to cook between rain showers on a soggy outing, I decided to see what a light weight cooking shelter might look like. I wanted it to pitch with a single support, either a long stick or even a tree. I wanted to incorporate a Jardine type beak. And of course it needed to be light weight. The experiment also gave me the chance to practice creating something with sil-nylon without a full pattern. Continue reading

Tent Evolution

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1Tent design and fabric technology have come along way from the waxed canvas pup tents of my boyhood. This entry shares my approach to and experience with “comfort light” shelters. There are many choices of very light solo and two person tents from major suppliers and a lot of cottage manufacturers. The lines blur when tents start to become only shelters, like tarps or even modified rain ponchos. Beyond that there are bivy sacks. Three tents that I have used in recent seasons illustrate a range of tent choices as well as my search for the illusive “great balance” between weight, function and cost.

I travel in a part of the world where rain and bugs happen. I like to have my stuff inside in these conditions and so prefer tents to bivy type solutions. Mountain tents, built to withstand really high winds and snow seem too heavy for general use. I have gravitated to solutions that are enhanced tarp tents, either modified or sewn from materials and a pattern. Continue reading