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Lightweight Backpacking for Couples


by Alison Simon and Alan Dixon | 2003-09-03 03:00:00-06


Most of us do not venture into the backcountry alone. Sharing the outdoors with another person heightens our outdoor experience. That person can be a good friend, parent, brother, sister, or our children. Going into the wilderness with a partner (that special and intimate friend) may be the ultimate expression of togetherness. This article will focus on the delights and challenges of going into the backcountry with that special person in your life.

OK, so this is an ultralight backpacking magazine and you’re expecting this article to jump right into the good stuff - gear selection - right?  And yes, there are a lot of cool things you can do with ultralight gear for two but you’ll need to wait a few paragraphs while we cover the true basics of couples backpacking.

First, we’ll cover the most important thing about traveling with two:

“Traveling together is a partnership.”

Nothing can make a trip better or worse than the dynamics between two close people. Nothing is more delightful than when you and your partner are in sync together. When you’re in a groove, even a rainy day’s hike can be a delight. But nothing is less fun than when you and your partner are in a funk. When you are irritated and squabbling with each other, no amount of natural beauty, clement weather or fancy ultralight gear can do much to improve the situation.

To keep the joy in our backcountry travel we have one simple rule, “If either of us is not having fun, we stop and make a new plan.” Each of us has the unilateral right to invoke it; each of us has trust in the other to know that the request will be gracefully honored. This rule has stood the test of time. Nobody is in charge and nobody abdicates responsibility. Backpacking is a joint effort that requires flexible and synchronized input from both of us. If one of us is having a slow day, doesn’t want to do that class 3, 13,000 ft col, or maybe one of us wants to bag an unplanned summit; or possibly we just need a day to swim, fish and relax, we stop what we are doing and come up with a new plan. Without exception, the new plan is much better than what we were doing before. Not every trip is what we expected from the start, but each trip ends up being the best trip we could have.

Jubilation. Alan Dixon and Alison Simon at the top of a 13,000 foot summit: Not much suffering here—just jubilation. Note our light windshirts. Even at noon in full sunlight it was windy and cold enough that we needed them to stay warm while climbing up the mountain.

Other Couples

Herein, we offer only one of many ways to backpack as a couple. We thought readers would like to look at some other approaches, so we’ve invited perspectives from other experienced backpacking couples, Jim and Amy Lauterbach and Ryan and Stephanie Jordan. We’ve received excellent advice from them and much of what we do originated from these sage veterans, who offer a combined 34 years of experience backpacking as couples. You will find a section on each of them at the end of this article.

Overview and Gear Selection

Click here to download Alan and Alison’s Gear List (Adobe PDF Format)

Enough philosophizing on traveling together! On to gear and technique. One of our biggest shared pleasures is doing the gear thing. Both of us enjoy researching, testing and selecting just the right gear for a trip. For example, we spent a whole afternoon setting up different shelters at a local playing field before picking just the right one for our last trip. Our criterion for equipment is that it must be as light as possible, but also keep us happy and comfortable. Neither of is remotely interested in going on a suffer fest.

Our combined base pack weight is usually less than 16 lb. For a 5-day trip in the mountains, loaded with fuel, food, full sized GPS, camera, fishing stuff and miscellany, Alison’s pack weighs less than 15 pounds and Alan’s weighs less than 18. With this gear, we expect to be warm, comfortable, amply equipped to cover difficult cross-country terrain, and capable of camping above the treeline in inclement conditions. We can even catch fish for dinner. We always have a great time and do not lack for much in safety, comfort or enjoyment.

We selected our gear for a typical summer to early fall trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We like to do as much higher elevation cross-country travel as possible – especially through high cols and over peaks – but we stop short of technical climbing that requires ropes! We love to camp above treeline, enjoying the exposure to the winds and cooler temperatures of higher elevations. As such, we do like warm clothing and a lofty sleeping bag. But because it’s the Sierras in the summer, we don’t expect much rain. The most likely precipitation is a strong afternoon thunderstorm and we’re equipped accordingly. We have enough clothing and gear to stay warm overnight and hike out the next day if we get a freak summer snowstorm. Also, since one of us has a very low tolerance for bugs, our shelter has to be a mosquito proof haven for our lower elevation camps.

The benefits of a light pack. Alan on his way to the summit. Since the mountain was on our way to the next drainage, we carried our full packs to the top. No sweat!

Sleeping Bag

On our first backpacking trip together we took two single-person sleeping bags, but eventually migrated to a single narrow mummy bag (a Western Mountaineering Ultralight) used quilt-style, which proved to be an adequate arrangement for a close couple down to about 40 degrees. A single small mummy bag like this might not be the best choice at cooler temperatures due to its inability to control drafts.

After that trip, we considered getting a wider semi-rectangular bag that unzipped all the way around the bottom to make a flat quilt. After some research we got a 45 oz, 600-fill-power semi-rectangular down bag with about 3.5 inches of loft, a North Face Chrysalis (sadly, no longer in production). This arrangement works out to less than 1.5 pounds per person. We purchased the bag on closeout for $150, which kept our wallet shrinkage to a minimum. The Chrysalis keeps us warm in below freezing temperatures, at over 11,000 feet, under a tarp, and in windy conditions. What more can you ask from a couples bag?

Our sleeping system. A semi-rectangular bag spread out as a quilt. A ¾ Thermarest pad and a Mt. Washington foam pad linked by Thermarest Couplers, and a Campmor Emergency blanket as a ground pad. Warm, light and comfortable.

An option that should be considered by any serious backpacking couple is the 26-ounce down-filled Back Country Blanket from Nunatak. It can shave a pound or more – each – off your sleep system and would cost about $315. For a more couples-friendly, semi-custom blanket that is wider (approx. 32 oz), you could expect to pay $400 and wait three months, so plan early! Nunatak also makes a more traditional two person bag, the Dual-Person Alpinist, which weights 50 oz and runs $533. Yet another Nunatak bag is the lighter Dual-Person Arc-Alpinist, which could easily come in at under two pounds.

For those of you looking for a bargain, Campmor’s +20 semi-rectangular bag is only $125. Be warned that it has less loft than the Chrysalis and probably will not meet its +20 F spec unless you and your partner are hardy sleepers. Some couples have used a Western Mountaineering semi-rectangular bag and sewn a simple 1.1 oz nylon sheet on the bottom. There are plenty of other semi-rectangular mummy bags on the market. One of them may work for you. Try to stay clear of zipping two bags together unless they are very light bags. Most zip together bags tend to be heavy and you’ll have the expense of two bags instead of one. Obviously, there are even more options if you want to get creative and are handy sewing baffles or dealing with eiderdown clusters all over your house.

Sleeping Pads and Groundsheets

Pads: Couples immediately notice that ground pads tend to slowly drift apart during the night. One or both of you will end up in the cold, hard rift between pads. Cascade Designs has a simple solution: Thermarest Couplers. A pair of these light and simple straps will keep most 20-inch wide pads closely attached. You can mix and match pads, including Thermarests, Ridgerests, Z-Rests, and most other 20-inch pads on the market. Other people have sewn special pockets and holders onto the bottom of their sleeping bags. Yet a third option is to use two Link Rests. These pads lock together with puzzle piece shaped edges and require no straps. They are, however, a bit heavier than most foam pads.

Pad selection depends primarily on an individual’s tolerance for comfort. Some can sleep fine on a 3/8” thick foamie the size of a jockey’s torso (< 3 oz) while others demand the comfort of a full-length inflatable (20+ ounces). After Alison bruised both hips sleeping on a foam pad, she selected the new ¾-length Thermarest ProLite 3 at 13 oz. An even lighter inflatable solution: Bozeman Mountain Works’ sub-9 ounce torso sized inflatable, which will hit the market in Fall ‘03. Alan still loves his now-discontinued 7-ounce Mt. Washington foam pad. The Thermarest Couplers do a great job of keeping our disparate pads together.

Groundsheet: Since we use a floorless shelter, our groundsheet needs to be wide and reasonably water resistant. We use Campmor’s Emergency Blanket. This huge groundsheet weighs only 5 ounces and has proved over numerous trips to be extremely tough. Another benefit is that it is soft and flexible, and stows to a small size.


In addition to their obvious protections, shelters provide privacy and a sense of home in the backcountry. We are keen on simple and light shelters. On our first trip, we used a floorless shelter with a center pole (GoLite Hex 2). Structurally, a center pole is a great idea and provides tremendous wind resistance for the shelter. However, the center pole is a curse for couples who like to sleep close. We ended up angling the bottom of the offending pole towards one side of the tent and sleeping cramped together on the wider side, placing our gear on the narrower side.

A bit wiser now, we use Henry Shires’ Squall TarpTent. This shelter, at 1.5 pounds including stakes and guy lines, is almost as light as some two-person tarps but offers more advantages. The Squall has room for our packs and us, gives us sufficient privacy, provides adequate (as opposed to stellar) protection from a mountain thunderstorm, pitches more easily than a tarp, and offers excellent mosquito protection. The Squall is more stable in the wind than a tarp and does not rely on trekking poles or sticks to pitch. Since the shelter has no floor we use the 5 oz Campmor Emergency Blanket under our pad and bags. Shires’ larger Cloudburst, at 33 oz, with more room and rain protection, would be our choice for trips in climates with more rain than the Sierras.

Our beloved nest. a Henry Shires Squall Tarptent. Only 90 seconds were required to get this catalog photo pitch. As you can see from the tautness of the pitch (in part due to a catenary’s cut ridgeline),  the tarp spills wind well. The mosquito netting preserved our sanity on the previous night when darkness forced us to camp in a lower, wetter, and bug- infested valley.

You can save a lot of weight if you use a tarp. An 8x10 tarp is airy and roomy. If you don’t think you’ll be in driving rain and can handle a few mosquitoes, it may be an ideal choice. GoLite’s Cave 2 is the cult favorite of couples’ tarps, offering plenty of room with great protection from inclement weather for the skilled tarp pitcher. We are excited about some new catenary-cut tarp designs (from Oware and Granite Gear) hitting the market right now. Another intriguing option is to take two poncho tarps and use them together to make one 8x10 tarp. Use your ponchos for both rainwear and shelter, and you can save even more weight. Sleeping under the paired tarps is the Ritz of two-person tarping.

There are many other options for couple’s shelters. Six Moon Designs makes the Europa II, a 33 oz single walled tent (add a bit more weight for stakes and a front pole unless you carry trekking poles) that is getting high marks from reviewers at for its storm resistance and livability. GoLite’s Den 2 and forthcoming Trig 2 are additional options. Double-walled tents for two haven’t reached the sweet spot for light weight yet, but look for emerging offerings from Mont Bell which should weigh less than 3.5 pounds. When we interviewed other couples on this topic, we found that most enjoyed added rain protection, resistance to high winds, and simplicity of a single walled tent over the proposed major benefit of a double-walled tent, breathability and condensation resistance (which is a highly debatable benefit).

New single walled tents made with light breathable fabric, like Black Diamond’s EPIC Firstlight, are closing the weight gap. At a bit over 2 lb (with custom, after market, carbon fiber poles) this tent has nearly the structural integrity of a double walled “dome” tent.


Since we often travel cross-country above the treeline, there’s a good possibility of a pack ripping in an accidental “butt slide” down scree or talus, or any other manner of mishap with sharp granite. We need packs that can take some abuse and still hold their contents. For instance, the thinner fabrics of a GVP Gear Spinnaker or GoLite Dawn may not survive close encounters with sharp granite. We  are evaluating Granite Gear’s new line of ultralight packs for our more rugged backpacking endeavors.

Pack Features. Alison finishing a class 3 section of a difficult col. A great place for a light pack to help you keep your balance.  Also a good place to concentrate on where you put your hands and feet. And not the place you want to worry about babying your pack.  Her light and rugged pack was a winner on all counts.

Alison, like many women, has tender shoulders and hips. She needs well-padded shoulder straps and a hipbelt in order to comfortably carry the weight of the pack (even ultralighting!). She also needs enough of a frame to her pack so she can distribute most of the load to her hips. Grantite Gear’s Vapor trail pack at 2 lbs works well for her. The pack has a good compression system (which allows the pack to remain stable towards the end of multi-day trips as load volume decreases) and it has tough fabric in most areas prone to encounters with granite. Alison has a short torso (but a tall personality) and the small size Vapor Trail provides a good fit. Another benefit is the external hydration pocket between the pack frame and pack bag. Easy access to plenty of water improves relationship dynamics on hot, dry days!

Alan has tough shoulders and has successfully (not necessarily comfortably) carried close to 30 pounds all day in his hipbeltless GoLite Breeze Pack (yeah, it was a long day in the desert!). The Granite Gear Virga at 21 oz is considerably more durable, has more comfortable shoulder straps, and a simple webbing hipbelt. The pack’s good compression system, when wrapped around his rolled up ground pad inside the pack, provides an excellent structure/”frame” for a frameless rucksack. Alan has to admit that for carrying over 20 pounds, the Virga is more comfortable than his Breeze. Even so, for lighter loads and more moderate terrain, of if he is just plain feeling lucky, Alan may still opt for his Breeze.


We both run a bit cold and have colder than normal hands and feet. Since we expect to be at high elevations where it is cold and windy we bring plenty of clothes to stay warm. The warmest pieces of gear we carry are our very light down jackets. The other piece of gear that you’d have a hard time prying from our cold dead fingers, is a very light windshirt. For 90% of cold dry weather above treeline, we’ll hike in our baselayer and a windshirt. If it’s really cold we’ll add our fleece layer. No combination is better for keeping you warm and sweat free!

Since down is useless when wet, we use our wicking top base layer and a fleece layer under a rain jacket in the unlikely case of precipitation. Also, we don’t expect to be in the rain all that long. In foul weather we intend to quit hiking and pitch a shelter at the earliest opportunity. We have softshell pants that shed rain reasonably well and have a napped inner surface for added wicking and warmth. Our pants are warm enough that we don’t bring a bottom base layer or rain pants for summer trips.

For colder and/or wetter climates than the Sierras we might switch to a synthetic parka like GoLite’s Coal and bring a more substantial rain jacket and pants.

Cooking, Food and Water

For us cooking is an integral part of the mutual mountain experience. Sharing a hot cup of tea in the morning or a warm homemade dinner is a crucial part of the esprit de corps. Also since both of us are fond of fish, we bring a fly rod intending to catch some mountain trout for lunch or dinner – so no skimping on cooking equipment or fuel for us! We take a 3 oz canister stove, a pair of titanium mugs, a 1.5L titanium pot and plenty of fuel.

From experience, we know that Alan needs about 1.7 pounds of food a day and Alison about 1.5 pounds. We both aim for around 120 to 125 cal/oz from our food. When we pack this much food we usually have enough breakfast to make it out on the last day by early afternoon – not starving – but with a healthy appetite for a hearty restaurant dinner.

Note: Alan can pretty much eat the same food day in and out. Alison enjoys a much greater variety of foods. We each pack our own breakfasts and lunches but carefully plan our shared dinners to have enough variety to please us both. Tea in the morning and hot chocolate at night is a must for us.

We carefully choose our food to be compact so that we can store our food in a single bear storage device (canister or Ursack depending on land agency regulations). Getting all of our food into one container saves us pounds (2 to 3 of them) and volume when using a bear canister. In areas that do not require a bear canister we use an Ursack TKO food sack that weighs only 5.8 oz. It’s far easier to tie the Ursack to a tree than to fiddle around bearbagging late in the evening when we camp below the treeline.

We sometimes carry up to 7 liters of water between us. We find this amount adequate even for the driest sections of the Sierras. Alison likes to drink a lot of water. For her, a hydration system is an essential piece of gear. Alan is something of a camel and is fine with taking large (sometimes up to 1 liter) swigs from his Platy from time to time. Alison carries a 3 L Zip Platypus with a hydration hose and drinks smaller quantities more frequently.

The Zip Platypus makes for easy collection and treatment of water. Alan carries two 2 L Platypus bags but has been known to take a few hits from time to time from Alison’s hydration hose.  We use the 3 L Zip Platypus or our mugs to fill the narrow opening of the 2 L Platys. We chemically treat with Aqua Mira and gave up on water filters a long time ago. Aqua Mira excels for its light weight, ease of use, good taste, lack of maintenance, and effectiveness.


Both of us enjoy route planning (and finding!) on our trips. For us, figuring out just how we’ll make it over some remote 13,000 ft col is one of our favorite parts of the trip. We always do our best navigating when we put our heads together.

We use mapping software, National Geographic’s Topo! 1:2400 state series, to plan many of our trips. This software is a boon to the cross-country traveler. With it we can get reasonably accurate mileages and elevation profiles for our routes. We can print up to a few days of travel on a single side of an 8.5x11 sheet of waterproof map paper. This saves a lot of weight from carrying a complete set of USGS 7.5 minute series maps in a waterproof container. As a backup, and in case our plans change, we usually carry a USGS 15 minute series map of the area we’ll hike in.

An admitted luxury, we carry a GPS receiver, a Garmin eTrex Legend. We started using one in Scotland and found it to be so much fun and so useful (we navigated to two summits in complete whiteout) that we’ve carried it on all of our trips since. Yes, we could save weight and navigate just fine with maps and a compass, and have done so for years, but for now we like the all the benefits of a GPS. With a GPS, we know exactly where we are and just how far it is to the next waypoint or location.  This helps us make better decisions, like how far we’ll comfortably go in a day and where we’ll most likely camp at night. We think we gain more than the weight of the unit back in good decisions and trip logistics.

To be safe, the person not carrying the detailed maps and GPS receiver usually carries a 15 minute USGS map and a small compass. Each of us is capable of independently navigating without the other’s help, maps or navigation equipment.

Note: We are aware of Garmin’s lighter Geko series of GPS units. Limited screen resolution, a reduced feature set, low battery capacity and lack of lithium batteries (the Gekos use 3 AAA’s) keeps us with the slightly heavier but far more useful eTrex series.

Shared Miscellany

We’ve already covered the obvious ways to share equipment and save weight, sleeping bag, shelter, cooking equipment, water storage, and navigation equipment. When there are two, of you it makes sense to share as much equipment as possible and save even more weight.

We love to take pictures on our trips. A recent purchase was a 5 mega-pixel digital camera, an Olympus C-50. It’s compact and weights only 8.1 oz. In our experience, it runs for 4 or more days on a single lithium ion battery. Alison usually carries the camera and extra battery. Alan carries the GPS unit, its extra batteries and the detailed maps. We also share a single 1 oz LED headlamp (each of us also has a button light) and of course, the fishing equipment.


If you’re like us, you’ll find that each has tasks during the day that they like. These routines make the trip efficient and fun. In setting up camp for the night, we both pitch the tent. Alison finishes putting the pads and bags in the shelter and getting everything arranged inside and outside. At the same time, Alan gets and treats water, cooks dinner and makes our evening hot chocolate. We finish our tasks in time to enjoy our cocoa and meal together. If there’s scouting to be done for the next day’s route Alan usually goes out while Alison cleans up and gets things ready for bed. Both of us find the best spot to view alpenglow before settling in for the night. In rare instances alpenglow and moonrise happen simultaneously!

Perspectives: Jim and Amy Lauterbach

Click here to download Jim and Amy’s gear list (Adobe PDF Format)

Jim and Amy Lauterbach have been backpacking together for 20 years. Most weekends, they take an all-day hike together. As such, they are in great shape to pull long (sometimes +20 mile) days in the High Sierra with some cross-country trekking mixed in. Jim and Amy are self-admitted hardcore back-country travelers – they like to do difficult routes that get them off trail and into remote places. On their Southern Utah canyoneering trips, it’s not uncommon for them to do a bit of class 5 climbing.

Their routes are hard on equipment. You’ll notice sometimes they have to make the difficult decision between lightweight and durablility. For example, in Southern Utah they take heavier packs to withstand the abuse of being dragged across slickrock.  Jim and Amy also take a four-pound double walled tent to withstand the extreme weather of their trips. Finally, they do not sleep happily on foam pads and take Thermarest ¾ Ultralight pads to sleep on. They like comfort and a good nights sleep.

Jim and Amy enjoy longer trips than most couples. A normal trip for Jim and Amy is 8 to 10 days without re-supply. They don’t cook on their trips so they save weight on cooking gear and fuel. At a 2 mph pace they are extremely efficient and don’t need more than 1.5 lb of food a day each, even on 20 mile days.

Of special note, Jim and Amy use a Nunatak semi-custom Back Country Blanket (BCB). Their BCB is 67 inches wide at the shoulder, has 3 inch high baffles (2.5 inches is standard), 5 inch baffle spacing, and 6 extra ounces of down to give it 3+ inches of loft. They ordered the BCB with a custom down draft flap at their shoulders. In addition, Amy sewed a nylon liner/foot box on the bottom half of the BCB. They use Velcro straps to secure the upper half of the bag to their Thermarest pad couplers. These straps keep the bag edges near the ground and control drafts well.

Jim and Amy are avid birders and wouldn’t dream of hiking anywhere without their fancy full-sized German binoculars. We’ve tried to convince them to look at some of the newer compact binoc’s with asymmetrical lenses, but no dice. They want the best optical performance possible for their avian pursuit.

Perspectives: Ryan and Stephanie Jordan

Stephanie and Ryan have been backpacking together since 1989. Their couples’ experience was incubated on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and their travels took them alpine climbing on the glaciers of Mt. Olympus, beach head scrambling along the wilderness coast of the Pacific Northwest, and trail hiking into the remote alpine beauty of Enchanted Valley. Since migrating to Montana, of course, their backcountry travels have been ocean-starved, but mountain-rich.

Stephanie suffers from lower back anomalies that seriously limit her ability to travel long distances or carry much weight. She has two herniated disks, spondylolesthesis, and osteoarthritis along her spine. For Stephanie, lightweight hiking is not a style of choice, but a style of necessity.

Stephanie and Ryan’s typical backcountry outing is a three-day weekend trip. Unintentionally, nearly 90% of the trips they have taken together, even in summer, have been under the throes of lightning, rain, or snow. “How Ryan manages to go hiking solo and bring back these beautiful photographs of blue sky in the mountains is beyond me,” says Stephanie. “But I’m now pretty much tuned into the fact that he might actually be taking me on these inclement weather trips as a covert means of testing new gear, like rain jackets and waterproof stuff sacks…” In June 2001, Ryan and Stephanie took a weekend backpacking trip to a little known Montana alpine lake. They started the trip in heavy rain and ended it in sub-freezing conditions with snow and a crazy hip-deep ford of a stream that had risen during the storm. “Remarkably, we stayed warm and comfortable. We’ve developed a level of trust between each other that allows us to tackle challenging situations together and come out on top,” Ryan says. Stephanie follows with “that was one of my favorite trips, even though we ignored the winter storm warning on the Weather Channel and tackled the elements anyways.” By the time they reached the trailhead, the storm was in full force with nearly 30 inches of snowfall accumulated.

Ryan and Stephanie are small people – 5’8” and 5’6”, and are lucky enough to get away with a single two pound sleeping bag between them – a Western Mountaineering VersaLite. They complement this with high loft insulating jackets (Stephanie, a GoLite Coal, and Ryan, a Western Mountaineering Flight) and sleep under a tarp, or in winter weather, a Stephenson 2RS tent. In buggy conditions they like the comfort of a tent, but stick to a single wall silnylon shelter such as a Six Moon Designs Europa II.

Stephanie tries to limit her pack weight to 15 pounds, carried in a lightweight internal frame pack that provides uncompromising stability to her load, even on rough terrain, so as not to put undue stress on her spinal musculature. Her choice: a custom-fitted McHale Subpop. Dual frame stays keep the pressure off her spine and the wide hip belt helps distribute weight. A Therma-Rest ProLite Long is her sleeping pad of choice, while Ryan’s is a torso-sized foam pad. On a typical 3-day weekend, Stephanie carries between 10 and 12 pounds, which includes her water, tent, sleeping bags, and clothing.

Ryan carries the balance of the weight for them, which usually totals about 15 pounds, and includes his clothing, cooking equipment, food, and remaining gear.

Ryan and Stephanie share a 1.3-L titanium cookpot, and a set of titanium mugs and sporks for eating. They usually cook over a small canister stove. For water treatment, they are diehard Aqua Mira fans, and simply filter murky waters through a bandana and their own silt filter homemade with open cell foam.

Montana winters can get pretty long, so the Jordans have adapted to snow travel well. In the winter, they use an MSR Simmerlite white gas stove and a 2L titanium pot in conjunction with larger titanium mugs for meals and drinks. A Stephenson 2R is their shelter of choice, which cuts the biting evening winds so common in the mountains of the Northern Rockies and eliminates blowing spindrift from Montana’s cold smoke. They travel on Northern Lites snowshoes, using summer weight footwear (fabric boots give more kick leverage when snowshoeing than trail runners) in conjunction with neoprene overboots for warmth and waterproofing, and RBH Designs Vapr-Thrm fleece socks for warmth and vapor barrier protection. For sleeping bags, they replace their Spartan single WM VersaLite with a pair of mating-zip North Face Cat’s Meows and Patagonia DAS parkas. Ryan adds a long Ridge Rest Deluxe for a pad, with Stephanie putting a torso-sized Ridge Rest under her Therma-Rest UltraLite Long pad for additional insulation. They go totally synthetic for clothing and sleeping bags in the winter because, as Ryan says, “we get wet after a day of snowshoeing,” or, as Stephanie says, “we get wet because of this ‘hike-with-Ryan-means-inclement-weather’ phenomenon.”

When asked what advice they had for new couples learning to backpack together, Ryan and Stephanie gave us a top ten list:

10. Schedule a night at a bed and breakfast after the trip.

9. Turn a memorable photograph from a trip into a postcard and mail it to your spouse the next time you travel and have to be apart.

8. Always give the girl the warmer jacket.

7. If she wants to bring Wet Ones for hygiene, don’t argue.

6. Most satin in women’s lingerie weighs about 1.6 oz/yd2, but real silk can weigh as little as 0.8 oz/yd2

5. Don’t try to split the weight equally or turn weight distribution between the two of you into a formula. Men, carry the heavier pack. It’s been that way for thousands of years, don’t try to fight the system.

4. Be flexible. This is an exercise to allow you to enjoy your relationship, not accomplish mileage records.

3. Clear a sitting area of pine cones and sticks before your wife sits down at a rest break.

2. Pick a bundle of wildflowers and use a rubber band to secure them to a titanium tent stake. An instant dinner bouquet.

1. Have a sense of humor. The weatherman is not always right. And your spouse may never be.


Sharing the outdoors with a loved partner can be a pinnacle experience. Unfortunately, normal heavy packing (carrying 40 to 50 lbs of gear each) sucks the pleasure out of backcountry travel and turns what should be fun into a long and miserable trudge. With ultralight backpacking equipment, the strain and discomfort go away. For us, ultralight backpacking puts a spring in our step and brings the joy back to sharing the outdoors. We hope it will do the same for you. Just remember the most important axiom that we introduced at the beginning of this article: “traveling together is a partnership.”


"Lightweight Backpacking for Couples," by Alison Simon and Alan Dixon. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2003-09-03 03:00:00-06.