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 →
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.
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Well, maybe not that fast. But once you have slashed the weight of your multi-day gear, you can carry less for day trips as well. With both Washington’s Cascades and Olympics in day trip range, I have many wilderness outings available. But it is wilderness and in a day you can get just as far away from trail head as you might on a short backpack. The 10 Essentials still apply.
Last summer one of the authors of a new epub “Guide to 100 peaks at Mount Rainer National Park (not including the big one)”introduced me the wonderful world of all the other places in the park. While some of these 100 peaks are well known favorites, many don’t get visited often. The guide takes you to parts of the park that lie in between the popular entrances. Some of the peaks are hikes. A few are technical climbs, but most are what get called “alpine scrambles”, like Barrier Peak shown in the photo. The route may be a boot track or simply cross country. Early season, there may be snow, and sometimes rock scrambling happens. A 3,000 ft. elevation gain is typical, so lightweight gear is good. I have gotten seriously hooked on these peaks. Barrier was number 41 for me.
I 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 →