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 →
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.
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 →
It wasn’t an emergency situation. But the reason we all carry (or should carry) The Ten Essentials is that some days do not go according to plan. The previous summer we seriously underestimated the length of a long alpine scramble in Mt. Rainier National Park and turned around at 2 in the afternoon with a lot of mountain still above us. This year we started up from base camp much earlier and had better luck with the obscure route finding challenges. It was still 3 pm when we got on top. At 7 pm my partner announced that we were at a good spot to bivy. We were in open woods by a little stream. I was still intent on getting down that day, but he was correct. We found a couple of nice level spots for “camp”. He often does “day and a half” outings, so he just got out his overnight bivy gear. I got out my Ten Essentials stash. For 40 years I had been having this conversation on outings – “What if we had to spend the night? Would you be O.K. with what you are carrying right now?” Now I was actually going to find out. Continue reading →
Mt. Rainier is now wearing a new coat of snow and the high country is making the transition to winter. Days are short, the rain is arriving and it is time to look ahead to ski season. This is a good time to reflect on this year’s outings. What worked well? What didn’t?
Comfort light delivered for me this season. Good, light weight equipment continues to open opportunities. My wife and I are backpacking again, without me as the mule. I am able to do grab and go trips to support climbs requiring a base camp. Bake a load of Logan bread. Take a quick shopping trip and I am off. With less gear, packing is quicker. In the past even overnight trips seemed to have packing drama. Continue reading →
I 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 →