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NOLS Trip Advice
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Lisa Frugoli
(alfresco) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
NOLS Trip Advice on 04/19/2009 19:33:16 MDT Print View

My 16 yr old niece is going on a 28 day backpacking trip with NOLS this summer in the Wind River Range. It will be her first multi-day backpacking trip. I took a look at their gear list and almost fell out of my chair! Here's a link: Scroll down for the PDF.

They will be resupplied 3 times, but suggest an average pack weight of 45-55 lbs. YIKES - this on a 128 lb 16 yr old!

Does anyone have experience with NOLS? I was asked for advice, but being a lightweight backpacker, I'm having a hard time coming up with a happy medium. I plan to call NOLS and ask a few questions, too.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: NOLS Trip Advice on 04/19/2009 22:16:37 MDT Print View

I don't have any real advice. Last year before hiking the PCT I spoke to a NOLS-taught woman. She really could not understand my style of hiking. It made absolutely no sense to her. I'm sure she thought I would get lost and die a horrible death.

40lbs on a 120lb person is 1/3 their body weight. To me, that is unacceptable.

But if your niece can look at the gear list and find ultralight versions of the things that are required and leave home whatever isn't absolutely required or needed, perhaps she can strike a happier medium. For one thing, that is an awful lot of excess clothing. Is it really all absolutely required? If she shows up with a 1lb down bag and a 6oz bivy sack instead of a 4lb synthetic bag, will they still let her participate?

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
NOLS Trip Advice on 04/19/2009 22:28:18 MDT Print View

Several NOLS instructors on here, I'm sure they'll chime in soon.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: NOLS Trip Advice on 04/20/2009 07:41:04 MDT Print View

From a Mike Clelland Post:

Here's a really good "intro" gear list from the summer NOLS lightweight courses. A lot of work went into this list to make it helpful to the first time user...

LINK: Here


From the first page of the document:

"Remember, the ultimate goal is a full backpack (that's with food, water, fuel, group and personal gear)that weighs less than 25-30 pounds!"

Edited by greg23 on 04/20/2009 07:51:39 MDT.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: NOLS Trip Advice (lightweight list) on 04/20/2009 07:48:56 MDT Print View

Unfortunately I'm 99% sure the lightweight list only applies to the lightweight courses and can't be used on the traditional courses.

Courtney Waal
(d0rqums) - F
Re: "NOLS Trip Advice" on 04/23/2009 00:12:06 MDT Print View

Wow- I'm about 130 pounds, female, fit, and in my 20's and I couldn't imagine carrying that happily for 4 weeks.

A few things jump out at me:

-They're assuming a Walmart style sleeping bag by specifying 3 pounds of Quallofil or Hollofil. If they really are going down to 5 degrees (like they spec the sleeping bag for) then a 3/8" foam sleeping pad isn't going to cut it. I'm a little curious about why there's a discrepancy there.

-The real crapper is that you're expected to haul group gear. Of course, you have no choice over this and pretty much have to beef up the backpack so that you can handle it.

I do think that things like scouts and NOLS have their place. I just know from seeing these groups on the trail that the students look miserable while hiking and that when people are asked about the great experiences they had once they get home, the times they mention always are when they were in camp. Nothing good is ever said about the hikes, just the friends, swimming holes, and shenanigans.

Not that there's anything wrong with shenanigans, of course.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Re: "NOLS Trip Advice" on 04/23/2009 08:02:05 MDT Print View

Courtney, that seems like a pretty unfair generalization to these programs. I can't say I know much about Scouts, but having taken a course at NOLS, I can say that one person I know out of over twenty who have taken courses there has had anything bad to say about it, especially that the only good times are during camp. In fact, by far the most negativity I hear about NOLS comes from people with no firsthand experience (mostly rock climbers who object to the high degree of safety measures on the climbing courses).

This is not to say there are probably some people who have less ideal experiences. But to say that the only good times on these courses come from the camping is the same as saying that college is useless except for the dorm life experience. A student's experience on a course depends on instructors, other students, and the initial attitude toward the course in the first place.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
NOLS Trip Advice on 04/23/2009 11:15:32 MDT Print View

My girlfriend did a few months in Patagonia with NOLS and although she complains to this day about how heavy the gear was she still had a wonderful time.

Mike Clelland! is a NOLS instructor as well as a BPL Wilderness Trekking Course instructor and he has a great perspective on this topic. Searching the forums for his posts regarding NOLS you will find some good advice and opinions.

Jon Rhoderick
(hotrhoddudeguy) - F - M

Locale: New England
Re: NOLS Trip Advice on 04/23/2009 12:43:01 MDT Print View

I did a 3 month NOLS trip that included a 19 day trip to the Winds, and I have to say that the gear lists are not completely down the line. for example,
Windshirt (I carried a cap 1 shirt, R1 hoody, micropuff, and 10 oz OR celestial jacket)
T shirt (I was actually thinking of bringing one and instructors said I shouldn't)
Pant layers (I brought wool LJ's fleece LJ's, nylon pants and wind pants, soft shell pants would have replaced the nylon and wind and brought it down to 3)
Headwear (beanie, balaclava, sunglasses and maybe a sun hat and your set)
Share disposable lighters, Insulated bowl not too important, same with watch, knife, gaiters (despite NOLS' unadulterated love for them, string around pants is much better anyway)

Shred the toilitries down to some Deet sunscreen and tooth care and sanitizer. I like the little sunsticks for sunscreen, lighter and cleaner. Everything should me small sized.
Binoculars?? make someone else carry that ......
Vitamins, get lost every time
Backpackers chair handy, but there will be others around,
Hydration, you should carry at most 2L of water in the winds, plentiful water and so on.

I think the average winds course for a smart student can be about 40 lbs, and with coordination from others even lower, my canyons course i think we were running between 25-35lbs, and the lighter packs were definitely much more fun.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: NOLS Trip Advice on 04/23/2009 14:32:05 MDT Print View

While MikeC!, RyanH, and other NOLSies here have contributed a lot to the NOLS Light & Fast / Lightweight Backpacking Programs, these programs are such a tiny part of NOLS that they are not representative of the NOLS style or culture.

Unfortunately, that gear list - 45-55lbs - that's pretty light for NOLS. I enjoyed with great entertainment browsing pack weight logs from Wind River NOLS courses while teaching NOLS instructors about lightweight backpacking a few years ago.

A lot of the males were carrying 70-80 lb packs, a lot of the females in the 50-60 lb range. These were common weights, not anomalies.

NOLS group gear, and NOLS standard issue gear (eg if you have to rent), including packs, sleeping bags, BOOTS, clothes, pots, stoves - they're HEAVY.

The NOLS Lightweight Backpacking program is a different (and better!) animal, and it's insulated from most of the restrictions NOLS puts on other courses for gear.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
NOLS Trip Advice on 04/23/2009 15:16:44 MDT Print View

I work for NOLS and the WInd River courses can be really powerful and life changing experiences.

If you want to make a real deal effort to go lighter - IT CAN BE DONE. It will require some dedication up front by the student. A lot of the weights listed are for the rental gear, and the reality is that for an institution like NOLS, the gear they rent has to last for years, so they make choices based on durability more than weight.

If she makes an effort to get some of her own LIGHTWEIGHT gear ahead of time, she'll be fine. Especailly a lightweight pack and sleeping bag and pad.

Remember, these are 30 day expeditions, and there is a lot of excellent teaching that requires extra gear (baking, mountaineering, natural history, leadership, cooking)

She should be able to go out with a pack weight of UNDER 40 pounds if she makes an effort to arive in wyoming with some of her own purchases. They are getting better about weight, but it seems silly in the context of this very specilized web-site.

Edited by mikeclelland on 04/23/2009 15:17:25 MDT.

cameron eibl
(cjeibl) - F

Locale: San Diego
NOLS on 04/23/2009 15:27:56 MDT Print View

I did the Waddington Range Mountaineering trip last year and I observed that my instructors made a real effort to reduce pack weights through proper gear selection. When we left via float plane and met the group just starting their trip, I observed pack weights that easily averaged several pounds more than ours. Remember to cross your fingers and hope for instructors who have embraced a lighter philosophy. Your nols experience could also be better if you followed Mike's advice and purchased most of your own gear.

Edit: Btw I weighed 130 and carried a 50+lb pack and had a great time with the hiking part. I think with talking to a lot of other students that most people have a bad experience because they underestimate the required fitness.

Edited by cjeibl on 04/23/2009 15:31:24 MDT.

Lisa Frugoli
(alfresco) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Thank you all for your Comments on 05/04/2009 18:45:04 MDT Print View

I did contact NOLS. You can bring your own gear and the first day is spent one on one with an instructor going through each and every item. If they don't like what you have, you can leave it there & use their gear (for a cost). They don't recommend down bags because they are harder to take care of in wet weather. There didn't seem to be much compromise with boots, either. They want you to have the heavy leather ones for support.
They will have 3 re-supply points & the kids can send things ahead, too.

They were very nice and took the time to explain their reasoning. They said they try to limit pack weight to 45 lbs. and will take body weight into consideration when dividing the shared gear.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply. I'll have to get my niece into the backcountry & convert her to the BPL way!