Last weekend I went hiking with Franco to a place called the Bluff in the Victorian Alps here in Australia. It was a pretty tough hike. The route rose 1400 meters on the first day and then descended back to our staring point on the next. Franco is the first ultra light guru I have met and I learnt quite a few things from him.
Firstly, even though I carry a lot of light gear eg 550 gram sleeping bag, BMW tarp and bivy etc, I also tend to carry quite a few items that boost my pack weight. These include fresh vegetables, steak, a personal locator beacon, reasonable first aid kit scotch, and on this trip, 6-7 kg of water. This probably took my pack weight up to 12kg which was too much for my frameless Starlite to handle. At these loads, I have always experienced some soreness in the shoulders and felt the pack was generally uncomfortable. However I persisted with it because I just had to be an ultralight hiker. After all, since my pack was lighter, I must be better off, right? Franco pointed out the source of my shoulder soreness – light weight frameless packs aren’t meant to carry these sort of loads well. This was confirmed by Mark Verber’s excellent article on packs http://www.verber.com/mark/outdoors/gear/pack.html Out of sheer lightweight obstinacy, I have stuck with my Starlite (maybe I should add the stays???) on trips when I should have been carrying something more substantial to make the trip more pleasant.
I tried on an Osprey Ariel 60 and the awfully un-ultralite Aargon after the trip and added 15kg of load to make sure I could get a decent comparison between the two packs. Without doubt the Aargon was definitely more comfortable. So it seems to me there are three packs you should own to maximise comfort:
Up to 8 kg – a frameless pack will do
8kg – 15kg – a lightweight pack with a complete frame
15kg+ - a well padded framed pack
I have owned a few alcohol stoves in my time but I have never seen them work efficiently under any wind. Franco lit his Caldera Cone on the very windy summit of the Bluff and I was amazed to see it boil a generous pot of tea. The Caldera Cone is quite incredible and is definitely the lightest stove you can carry when you are merely boiling water. Unfortunately, I am moving toward cooking such things as Béarnaise sauce and scones on the trail and probably won’t be heading in that direction.
Franco’s Contrail was also quite impressive. I am the long time owner of the first version of the Cloudburst. In fine weather, there’s nothing wrong with this shelter (or any other) but I have found the large unsupported panels to be quite poor in high wind and when it gets extremely wet the silnylon sags substantially. Franco’s Contrail pitched very tightly and looked MUCH more storm worthy. After a wet night there was virtually no sag. I would have liked to have seen its shape after a more substantial dousing but at this stage, I may consider getting one subject to his review of the Sublite which he considers stronger under high winds.
I was ruling out Tarp Tents after my experience with the original Cloudburst but I seem to haven forgotten that things evolve pretty fast in the UL world and new gear should prompt us to revisit our views.
There aren’t too many ultralighters down here in Australia so its good to get out with fellow forum posters and see what others are doing.