Gear Trials – A Comfort light trip in Mt. Rainier NP

Rain on the new tent

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

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 comfort light trip and a bright idea.

Bilgy2This 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.

LuminAID-PackLite-16-Solar-Inflatable-LanternOne of the packed extras was a LuminAID PackLite 16 solar light.  Continue reading