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.
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.
Innovative, cottage manufacturers continue to offer great new ultralight products to make your life better in the backcountry. Here are a few I have added to my pack recently.
For Better Cat Holes
I do enough off trail travel to camp at spots without established toilet facilities. That means digging cat holes. For a long time I carried a standard orange plastic digging trowel that weighed about 4 oz.. Mike Cleland’s Ultralight book converted me to carrying an extra aluminum “Y” tent stake – 0.6 oz. It’s much lighter and can scratch out holes after a fashion. But where there is dense vegetation root structure, the resulting holes leave something to be desired. I found a new supplier of ultralight gear who makes some nice products. Now a Lawson Equipment aluminum Potty Trowel – 1.3 oz. – comes on all trips. It has a nice grip. The blade cuts roots well and it really moves dirt to make a hole that is big enough to work properly. That’s a lot of improved function for an extra 0.7 oz. and a best buy at $10.
Multipurpose titanium tent stakes
There was a time when I felt the cost of titanium tent stakes was not worth the weight saved. 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 →
Some 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 →
This spring I am helping with our outdoor club’s courses on wilderness travel and backpacking. To practice what I am preaching and prepare for an upcoming trip, my wife and I took a leisurely backpack up a wilderness river valley in Olympic National Park. Snow remains in the high country, but we had spring flowers, fresh bear scat just before camp and evening Harlequin ducks feeding in the river.
Since this was just an overnight family outing, I felt I could pack some extras. I even brought a small can of chicken! Still, playing Sherpa, my walk-away-from-the-car weight was only 28 lbs. and my wife carried 15. With two people, this was a trip for the Bilgy2 tent. We had a large camp site all to ourselves and were joined at supper time by another couple who set up on an adjacent river island.
Late fall in the Pacific Northwest brings rain and darkness. It is a good time for projects. This one modifies a Black Diamond Mega Lightsil-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 →
You’re lost. You’re cold. You’re wet. You’re not going to get out of the woods soon. What’s your plan? Of course, you need to build a fire! Good idea? Bad idea?
Making an emergency fire has long been one of the pillars of wilderness survival response. The ability to do this is codified in the Mountaineers 10 Essentials List. After watching big chunks of the west burn during our exceptionally dry summer, it might be time for a “reboot”. Continue reading →