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Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter
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Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter on 03/27/2008 18:51:36 MDT Print View

Hi Folks,

I am new here, and certainly new to backpacking as well. I have done day hiking for many years, and a few "traditional" backpacking trips with other folks gear. I would like to by my own gear, and especially in light of this website, the more I am hoping to go ultralight from the get-go. In the reading I have done, I do understand that safety is an issue, and I don't want to be overzealous, but at the same time, I 'd love to be light as possible so I'm not buying new gear a year from now. I also can't quite get my arms around the thought of going the tarp and quilt route quite yet, though I am still open to the idea. Below is the list of things I am thinking thus far. Those folks that backpack around me are still of the traditional mindset (30 lbs baseweight is light) so I'm hoping you folks might have some input, especially as I'll be shelling out some good money to get started. I'm also open to used equipment, but would prefer to keep the weight down.

Here's what I have put together so far:

ULA Conduit/Golite Jam2 (I can't decide)
Montbell DH #2 Long (or something lighter while the same price or cheaper?) or if I went quilt - Golite Ultra 20
BMW Torsolite (or GG Nitelite Torso?)
Tarptent Contrail

Montbell Thermawrap (or cheaper)
Golite Wisp
Golite Virga
Shell or insulation Pants? Really necessary in the spring in a temperate climate?
Mountain Hardwear Butter Balaclava
Possumdown Gloves

Caldera Cone
Firelite 550
Firelite Spork (or taco bell spork if I spend too much on everything else)
Soap in a dropper bottle
Light my fire scout
Platypus 60oz Hoser
Spinaker stuff sacks
Gerber Ultralight LST
Brunton 7DNL
Homemade first aid/whistle in Aloksak
TP - Scott
Duct Tape
Trash bag
50' Spectra cord for bear bag
Photon X-Micro
Princeton Tec EOS (Im not sure I can wrap my head around a small LED only - no pun intended)
Contact Case and Solution
Insect Repellant
Cell Phone

On Person:
Gossamer Gear Lightrek
Pants? (yes I know I need them but cant decide on cheap vs light)
Hat? Tilley? Outdoor Research? Burger King crown?
Icebreaker Tech T 140
Golite Sun Dragon
Socks? Smartwool? Other?

Right now I think I'm hovering around 9 lbs baseweight in the pack, but would love to get this down.

Many thanks for any input!


Joshua Knapp
(Joshjknapp) - F

Locale: Northern Mn, Superior Hiking Trail
Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter. on 03/27/2008 19:11:14 MDT Print View

Hi Chris,

Looks like you have done your homework! I'm pretty new to the ultra light crowd as well. I have made many of the same choices that you have. I went with the Jam2, but wanted the conduit. I bought an Ultra 20 in January and have to say I love it for temps above 20. I love my mont bell thermawrap.
I have done a little tarp camping, and highly recommend it. Try it out with a Walmart blue tarp for about $7 to see if you dig it or not. I just got my Tarp Tent Double Rainbow. I went with the D.R. with the intention of using it when I'm with my girl friend. ( don't think she would be comfortable with tarp camping yet) and for winter camping. The D.R. stands up to snow pretty well. In that respect it kills two birds with one stone.
Just some suggestions, but it looks like you have put together a pretty solid list.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
beginning ultralight on 03/27/2008 19:19:10 MDT Print View

Look at Western Mountainering sleeping bags. Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape that doubles as a tarp. Nice light gear that is worth the penny. Also support ULA! Brian makes wonderful packs!!!!!!!

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter on 03/27/2008 19:47:37 MDT Print View

Looks like a well thought out list. A few thoughts...

> ULA Conduit/Golite Jam2 (I can't decide)

Personally I like a framesheet or some stays... but if you want a frameless pack, both of those are well regard

> sleeping bag

Both good options. If you want a traditional bag I would also consider WM.. especially if you are comfortable in one of their 59" wide bags.

> contrail

Lots of people like it. You won't go wrong. If you want to give a shot of using a tarp try using a cheap blue tarp that you can pick up cheap. The SMD Gatewood Cape is also an interesting option.

> torsolite

if you can live with than minimalism, either would be fine. I wouldn't sleep well with either one... but I am a wimp.

> Shell or insulation Pants? Really necessary in the
> spring in a temperate climate?

Unless it's raining I rarely wear more than my nylon hiking pants. Unless you run REALLY cold, or are planning to sit around (be completely inactive) in the middle of the night outside your sleeping bag / quilt, I don't you would need insulated pants.

> Firelite Spork

I would suggest going with one of the more mainstream lexan sporks. Cheaper and they don't break.

> Light my fire scout

Works well. In most cases I find the spark-lite is easier to use for day-to-day lighting of stoves. If it's about starting a wood fire, I have found that the Magnesium Firestarting Tool is 30% heavier... but also provides firestarting materials if you are patience. I use the nail file on my swiss army knife as the sparker.

> 50' Spectra cord for bear bag

Make sure it is a spectra core with a smooth shell. Otherwise it will get tend to damage the bark.

> Homemade first aid/whistle in Aloksak

I like having my whisper more accessible (in breast pocket or around neck). You might want to think about something other than aloksak. I found aloksak a bit tempermental to close, and the aren't that durable. For something I was sealing and and not intended to open on the trip (like my wallet) it's great. Fire aid kit I one and close too frequently. They died on me.

> Deodorant

I would skip it... but I mostly hike solo :-)

> Cell Phone

In most cases I would leave it behind.

> Pants? (yes I know I need them but cant decide on cheap vs light)

Typically there are nylon hiking pants made by columbia, ex officio, etc at places like STP which are about as light as anything "expensive" you might might look at for around $30. Compared to the cost of your other items that's pretty cheap. If you get the non stretch ones, they will last forever... until you slick them open on sharp granite.

> hat? Tilley? Outdoor Research? Burger King crown?

I like sunday afternoon hats. Looks of good choices. I find Tilley and the WPB OR hats too hot in most conditions.

> Golite Sun Dragon

I don't know if they have fixed them... but the lugs have a tendency to fail pretty quickly. Mine only went 100 miles before the first lug broke off. The shoes reminded me of riding in a 1970s GM car... a comfortable suspension that gave me no road feel. I didn't like it, but some people do.

> Socks? Smartwool? Other?

I like Injinji... but I am very prone to blisters between my toes. If you don't have that problem that smartwool are nice. So are lots of others.

Edited by verber on 03/27/2008 19:51:54 MDT.

Max Hoagland
(maxhoagland) - F
Ultralighter on 03/27/2008 20:16:09 MDT Print View

I would go with the Conduit. Even though the top closure system is a little more complicated, it's worth it for the mesh rear panel, so that you can see the small items that fall to the bottom. Also, the hip belt pockets are amazing. I have the Jam2, and am starting a project to sew on some hip pockets. Just think - not having to stop to eat your morning or lunch snack.

I don't know anyone who has taken hand sanitizer backpacking. I'd just stick with Dr B's. Also, deodorant attracts bears and the combined smell of your stench and the deodorant will be worse than just your regular smell.

You could also ditch the contacts and just wear glasses?

And only newbie backpackers bring toilet paper.

Timothy Foutz
(glad777) - MLife

Locale: Virginia
Shoes on 03/27/2008 20:25:03 MDT Print View

Shoe wise Garmont Nasty is exellent and cheap at Sierra Trading post.
I like my Gregory G-Pack alot. I also have a ULA Circuit that is really very good. Carbon Komperdel C-3 are very good as are the Life Link Ultralites I have both and I think give the C-3s a small edge but I am not really sure why. Depending on your size and and like or dislike of mummy bags go with a WM. I have the Alder MF from WM and it can be used as a quilt or a bag so it gives me options. Shelter if solo go with a hammock for comfort. Hennesys are good so are Clarkes I have one of each and they each have some advantages over the other. I tend to like the HH a little more just for the coolness factor.

Mark Bishop
(mark_b) - MLife

Locale: Northwest (WA)
Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter on 03/27/2008 20:41:47 MDT Print View

Whether to bring a knife or not is a personal decision and one that's been discussed a lot in the BPL forums. After many years of carrying a small Gerber knife myself I really couldn't remember ever using it for anything other than cutting moleskin and things like that. A single edge razor blade, weighing a few grams, works well enough for most cutting needs so you might want to consider if this trade-off in weight vs. functionality would work for you.

Andrew :-)
(terra) - F

Locale: Sydney, Australia.
looks good on 03/28/2008 01:47:15 MDT Print View

I don't own the Gatewood Cape but might choose that instead of a Contrail as it allows flexibility at this early stage of your backpacking hobby. You could combine it with a nano/momentum bivvy bag or purchase the inner tent/floor for it later on and have a range of weather set-ups without too much gear in your cupboard. Plus it has the cape function. May as well buy Ti stakes up front too.

Try the cheaper foam mat first and see if you really like the minimal sleep mat. Then you can go up to the thicker self-inflating style of mat if you want.

Get the Ti caldera cone 3 in 1 set, I wish this whole set was available before I collected various other things.

Consider that you might use a light MYOG quilt in future so select a sleeping bag that you will still use for certain trips even if your gearlist evolves in the future.

In fact this thought would be go for just about any expensive first gearlist purchase. Select things that will still have a good use should your paradigm shift up or down the lightweight spectrum. If that makes sense.

Use a PET bottle(s) instead of Platy - at least for now.
Use plastic bags instead of spin stuffsacks – at least for now.
Razer blade instead of Gerber.
(3 Simple money and weight savers).

If you are also buying a larger headlight then get one that is bright enough to be useful around the house/car etc. You would probably leave it at home after a few hikes and only take the Photon. Better still buy two Photons to start with.

Deodorant and toothbrush β€˜can’ be left at home.
Suncreen I now carry in ziplock - 5grams.
Insect repellant can do something similar depending on formula.
Cell phone – only if it works out there in majority of locations.

For a hat I find a cheap peaked cap with a bandana/triangular bandage tucked in as neck skirt works well.

How about BPL cocoon hoodie or similar for insulating top?

Hope this helps.

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
RE: Ultralighter on 03/28/2008 01:56:48 MDT Print View

Take the TP. After 25 years experience, I can tell you the trip WILL come, where your bowels and what you've put in them go to war. When that day comes, if you've not brought TP, I pity you.

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
RE: Beginning as an Ultralighter on 03/28/2008 09:59:01 MDT Print View

Where do you live Chris? The big trail festivals are all coming up in the next 4-6 weeks I'd say. If you could make it to one, you'd be able to really get a feel for ultralight gear. Alot of the small companies will have displays of their gear and probably some products for sale as well. I know companies like GG and SMD will be at the big ones.

Check out EBAY! Couple months ago, there was an SMD Lunar Solo E tent that went for $150. SMD Starlite pack for $90. You can definitely find great ultralight sleeping bags and clothes for cheap. Campmor and STP are great for clothes, esp. baselayers.

Think about buying your pack last. Try lots of models on, as the fit and comfort of your shoes and pack will have the greatest impact on your overall physical comfort. Once you have the big items on your list, you'll have a better idea of the pack volume you'll need.

Have a great time shopping, light is the right way to start! See ya on the trails! We'll be the guys and girls with the LITTLE packs, so we'll be easy to spot!

Jaiden .
(jaiden) - F
beginning... on 03/28/2008 10:14:05 MDT Print View

I'm newish too, so my advice isn't worth what comes from others here, but in my opinion your list looks good. Don't remove anything until you've seen if you can go without it. Not everyone has the same style, and some folks here are downright spartan. That doesn't mean their advice is worthless, but you have to consider what works for YOU. You'll only know this for sure after you try it out.

Don't worry TOO much about making a mistake and swapping something out. Most folks here have done this 2-3 times with every piece of gear, so if you only do it once with a couple pieces you're ahead of the game.

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Some revisions... on 04/02/2008 17:59:29 MDT Print View

Thanks all for your comments and help. I have been reworking somethings and I have posted what I have so far:

As you might see, my attempts at cost savings have been overrun by my innate tendencies to spend money faster than Barack Obama will spend my taxes. Based on the gear swap thread, it looks like resale in UL backpacking is pretty good, so I think I'm okay here if I go off the deep end.

Still a few areas I can't figure out (highlighted in orange):

A sun hat that doesn't look like my grandfather bought it, and weighs under 3 oz.

Convertible pants under 10 oz that will hold up.

Briefs under 1.5 oz (am I crazy?)

And I am still on the fence about sleeping. I've narrowed it down to these 3 options:

Golite Ultra 20 (19oz)
Montbell SSDH #4 Long (23 oz)
WM Caribou MF (20 oz) (wider than the highlite and summerlite with the full zip and more breathable)

Where is the super stretch 16 oz 30 deg. sleeping bag?

At this point I think my luxury item will be the tarptent. I still am not quite there with the tarp thing. Maybe it is a ridiculous fear, but I have this issue with having a copperhead decide I'm the warmest thing around in the middle of the night. Would something like the GG spinnshelter or the SMD wild oasis serve this purpose?

Unfortunately, I am stuck in Chicago for the next few months and I am likely headed to southern Indiana soon - I think the hiking will be better there.

Thanks again for all the input.

Be Well,


Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
My advice... on 04/02/2008 21:14:26 MDT Print View

Hey Chris,

My advice, for what it's worth...

Go with the Ultra. I love it. I read about the concept about a year ago and was very skeptical. But it's a lot more normal than you would think. For me it's more like sleeping at home on my bed with my down comforter. It offers a lot more flexibility as well (girth for extra clothes, temp ranges, etc).

For baseweight pants, do you really need them under 10oz? I know some people on here weigh the clothes on their body and all, but IMO, that's what you do after you shaved your BW to 4 pounds and you are shooting for 35 miles a day. The Cloudveil Inertia Peak pants are great, they have a cool convertible system (roll up the legs and snap), and they are durable. The fabric is fairly thick and the DWR rocks. They are for slightly cooler weather though. For temps above 75 I probably wouldn't use them if I had a cooler alternative. (I plan on getting the RailRiders Eco-Mesh pants for hot desert hikes). The good thing is that you can roll them up to let a breeze in, and at night they work great for lower body insulation. Weight is 15.5 per their website. I honestly haven't weighed mine. (I do weigh absolutely everything in my pack though).

Briefs... again, you are wearing them, so I wouldn't stress with the weight. Like the pants, you will never have to put them in your pack. I use ExOfficio briefs from REI. They dry real quick, and they aren't too bad on the stink. I haven't weighed those either.

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Ultra on 04/06/2008 18:11:07 MDT Print View

So if you use the Ultra (or any other quilt for that matter) with a nightlight torso, don't you get a draft in the section below the pad above the footbox?

Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
Drafts... on 04/06/2008 19:14:39 MDT Print View

My Ultra fits me all the way around when I have the straps snugged up. Plus, with the use of a bivy, drafts are minimized. I use the Mountain Laurel Designs "Superlight Bivy".

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Beginning Backpacking as an Ultralighter on 04/07/2008 18:25:05 MDT Print View

I agree with Mr Verber about the backpack. I have used both the Jam2 and the Conduit (currently use the Conduit mainly and prefer it to the Jam2), but if you're new to backpacking in general, I think it's a much better call to go with a fully framed pack that's designed to take all of the weight off your shoulders. Also, tarptents are great, but keep in mind it's still a tarp and tarps tend to be an acquired taste. Definitely make sure you love tarps before shelling out $200 on a tarptent. The best time to try out tarping is right now, while it's still too cool for too many bugs to be crawling around. I don't worry about snakes when I'm tarping because they tend to be nocturnal hunters. They bask in the heat during the day and would probably be suspicious of a warm place at night.

If you would like to hike at night on a trail that's anything less than a clear "highway&quot cleared of leaves and distinct from the deer trails; then it's worth the weight to just bring an 8 ounce super bright headlamp like the Petzl Myo. Otherwise, if you see yourself stopping at nightfall (certainly nothing wrong with that, especially in the summer), then a lightweight LED would definitely be my choice.

My favorite pants are a pair of Cloudveil polyester/nylon stretchy pants that are not made anymore. I don't remember the model name, but the important thing is that they dry quickly, are a little stretchy (not like sweatpants, but not like blue jeans either), and have zippered pockets. Light weight is also a good indicator of how breathable or warm the pants are. Mine weigh about 10 ounces. One pair of pants that still is being made (I think) which would be comparable is the Arc'teryx Gamma LT pants. They are made of Schoeller Dynamic, which is quick drying, lightweight, and stretchy. I am not a fan of convertible pants, but then again I've never thru hiked. I usually just wear pants the entire trip if the evenings will be below 45 or so and I wear running shorts and bring thin fleece tights if the evenings will be above 45 or so.

I personally would go with a sleeping bag (in fact I personally do). The Western Mountaineering bags are the best out there and compare very favorably with quilts in terms of weight to warmth. For instance the Summerlite is a 32 degree mummy bag that weighs 20 ounces. It has a full zipper to unzip into a 32 degree quilt with a small footbox (and WM hoods are the least bulky I've ever seen so it's essentially a quilt). At first glance, this does not compare favorably with the Golite Ultra quilt, which weighs the same but is rated 12 degrees lower. However, you'll need a pretty beefy insulated hood (perhaps an additional 2-4 ounces) to get the Ultra down to 20 degrees (and that's given the probably erroneous assumption that it's accurately rated to 20*F), and if you want it to be truly draft-proof, you need a bivy sack as well (6-7 ounces more weight). Now compare that total weight with Western Mountaineering's 20 degree bag, the Ultralite Super, which weighs 27 ounces, is accurately rated to 20 degrees, includes a hood and zips up for complete draft protection. Now that Golite Ultra starts to look a lot less ultra light.

Also, Jaiden's got some good advice. The Gear Swap here on BPL gets such a high amount of activity for a reason! We all have to re-buy gear, even after doing lots of research, even after we think we've found the best piece of gear there possibly is or could ever be. Don't be afraid to buy used.

Edited by artsandt on 04/07/2008 18:35:10 MDT.

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
new to UL on 04/12/2008 15:23:11 MDT Print View

The tarp tents are good, but the SMD Oasis is better. I use the Gatewood Cape, but only as a shelter, not a poncho. The Oasis has mosquito netting. It works fine with a fixed length hiking pole, sets up quickly, and has plenty of room for your gear, and has good headroom. SpinnTwinn Tarp form Gossamer Gear is another excellent option. Spincloth is extra lightweight and dries very fast. What's on your feet? Use low cuts.