The Less is More School on Backpacks

I've been distracted of late because I'm excited over this weekend's holiday hike to Mammoth. I'm definitely more nimble on my feet (and some would say with my gift of gab, but we'll leave that aside for now). I've been preparing my pack, and yes, playing with my new tarp in the backyard.

I'm definitely of the "lighter the better" approach recently profiled by Daniel Duane in this month's Sierra Club Magazine, mastered oh-so-well by the perpetually wandering @andrewskurka. I've got my pack down to 12 pounds and am wondering what else can be shed...

Why do I believe so in packing light?  My bottom line in the woods is comfort and adventure.  I have found that carrying a heavy backpack is uncomfortable and limits my roaming range. And because I have replaced gear with skills and ingenuity, I can move through the mountains more like a Indian scout and less like a walking recreational vehicle.

Replacing gear with skills and ingenuity has been evolutionary and episodic. Up until about 2005 I bought into the "take stuff just in case" school of pain.  More weight meant I was more macho with more comforts along the way. Six to ten miles a day seemed doable with 50+ pounds.  That two person tent sure was roomy.  Plenty of pots and pans and cooking utensils for gourmet dining.  Extra clothing, books, full-sized sleeping bag and a full-length thermarest gets you campfire comfort while costing real pain all day long on the trail.

So I learned to go lighter, especially last year hiking in the Sierras with Ryan Snyder, who, it is rumored, carries a three pound hatchet in his 50+ backpack.  Experimenting with sleeping tent-less made me see the possibility of losing about 5 pounds of shelter and replacing it with a lightweight tarp that would only be used as a tent when it rained or threatened to rain which is rare in the Sierras in August. 

Learning to use a bandana as a coffee filter has freed me from the burden of plastic coffee maker and filters.  Getting used to not reading while in nature, and simply being with nature, not only saves backpack weight but frees the mind to explore other interesting things.  That heavy multipurpose knife is replaced with a simple sharp blade that can do a serviceable job on just about every task. 

Food has gotten light, easy and tasty with a wide selection of instant oatmeal breakfasts, freeze dried dinners, and energy replacing trail snacks.  Ripping open an almost lighter than air package of food and adding hot water to create a delicious hot meal goes a long way toward homely comfort and calorie replacement.  Lunch is where my current dilemma resides.  I like fresh sandwiches and accept the weight that comes with them.

As I mention, my progress has evolved and is episodic.  This summer I am starting an adventure in truly lightweight camping and trail running.  I have lessened my load considerably with the acquisition of a 45 degree rated, goose down sleeping bag, my velcro customized tarp which will work as a tent and rain poncho, and a half length lightweight thermarest.  Leaving behind the rain jacket will be hard but will save weight and space.  I found that I can use my large bear canister to carry not only food but also miscellaneous equipment.  So it really works as a liner in my pack.  I can fit all of this in my camelback peakbagger day pack that I have carried up lots of mountains and fits like a glove.

My conditioning is good for this time of year.  I am in good shape from 46 miles, (rim-rim-rim), in the Grand Canyon recently and almost weekly hikes/trail runs.  Usually ranging from 15-22 miles and 5,000-8,000 ft. elevation gain. Looking forward to testing gear and conditioning July 4th weekend in Mammoth Mtn, late July in Colorado bagging 7 or 8 14'ers, then back to the Sierras in August to take on some harder California 14ers.  I'm closing in on my goal to hike the entire collection for both Colorado and California combined.

What is missing is the next level of ingenuity for me against the challenges ahead.  Last night I bought the rope and helmet.  Already have the harness and hardware.  It is time to hit the "Rock Gym" in Signal Hill to learn how to use this equipment to create some insurance while climbing exposed rocks later this summer. Stay tuned as the adventure continues...