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Sierra layer advice
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Randall Spratt

Locale: Minnesota
Sierra layer advice on 07/08/2009 14:57:23 MDT Print View

Ok, I’m taking the plunge.
This is my first post and my first attempt at lightening my load so be kind!

Sorry for the ‘book’, I do have a question at the end if you want to skip my introductions!

Up until last year my base weight would have been around 50 lbs. Not really sure since I never weighed it!

I have done a lot of short trips over the years and a couple of weeklong trips.
As I started to plan an upcoming weeklong trip to SEKI (Rae Lakes Loop with side trips to Charlotte Lake and East Lake), I decided to try to get my pack weight down.

Starting at the first of this year, I replaced most of my gear with ‘lightweight’ versions.

Pack: Old External frame --> Osprey Aether 70
Bag: 5 LB Down --> 3 LB Big Agnes +15 Lost Ranger
Tent: 6 LB 2 person --> 4.5 LB REI Quarter Dome T2

Also bought a ton of other gear including a 'lightweight' camp chair, lightweight clothes including Primaloft Jacket and a Fleece Jacket.

I was feeling pretty good. My base weight (although I didn’t call it that) was down to about 35 LBS.

I wasn’t sure what else to do. I had just spent a bundle on the lightest gear available, so I must be near the limit for comfortable and safe backpacking, right?
I knew there were fringe extremists called Ultra-Light who probably ate grubs and bark beetles and had hiked so many miles their feet were solid callous so could hike barefoot, all in the name of bragging rights to some silly sub 10 LB base weight. But there are extremists in any sport so I wasn’t interested.

Then I made a HUGE mistake. I found BPL. I joined after a week or so, and have been reading the articles and forums for WEEKS.
Guess what, there are much lighter alternatives that what I had JUST BOUGHT! Finding this resource for going lighter is taxing my wife’s limits on her support of my hobby/obsession (my term/her term). Does everyone get hooked into this as much as I am???

Safety for me was defined in packing for every conceivable scenario (be prepared!) and comfort was having a base camp that I could relax in.
You all had me start to question these foundational premises. I really wanted to bring that ‘lightweight’ camp chair. You made me weigh the ‘cost’ of carrying that chair for 48 hours of hiking versus the 2 hours I would realistically be sitting in it.

OK, so there are ‘normal’ people who somehow manage to carry light loads and still are comfortable and safe. (still think some of you are fringe though!)
I realized that being comfortable for the miles and miles of hiking would also make the entire trip more enjoyable so perhaps I needed to see how you did this…

I found that I didn’t need to carry a 4 season load in the summer, and I could do without a lot of the little things that REALLY add up.

Based on your many helpful posts and articles, I have been working feverishly on getting my base weight down. I leave on my trip in 3 days so I am out of time, but am happy to say my base weight is now down to 22 lbs for a 7 day trip in the Sierras in July. I know that for a lot of you this is more than you would carry for a total pack weight, but I am at my limit for cutting (for now!) and out of money as well, so I will have to give this a try next week and re-evaluate and lighten up based on what I learn.

Here are the major changes I made in the last 2 weeks!
Pack: Still the Oprey Aether 70. Have been looking at the Exos but need to get my weight down further.
Bag: Picked up the Montbell SS UL 30
Tent: Just got my Contrail yesterday. (Thanks Henry for the FAST shipment and late night emails) Seam sealed it last night and an excited about giving this a try!!!
Lots of other smaller changes as well, from ground covers to rain gear etc.

I’ll post my gear list and ask for ideas once I get back and digest my experience from my first foray into ‘somewhat light weight’ territory.

This is a long way of introducing myself and saying thanks to everyone and BPL for all the help.

I do have one question (for now) and would appreciate advice.

Given the trip will be next week for 7 days, in the Sierras with camps at 10,500 feet and a max elevation of about 12,000 feet, can I go with this for upper body?
Looks like the expected temps will not go below 32, but I don’t want to be unsafe either.
I had planned on bringing a Primaloft Jacket at 17 oz, but really would like to leave it behind, and can’t afford to replace it just yet…

Driducks Rain suit 10.5
REI Woodland Fleece Jacket 13.5
Silk LS shirt 3.8
RailRiders Eco-Mesh LS Shirt 7.2
Patagonia Capilene 2 tee 5.3

I know I can wear all of the above if needed for layers and warmth. Will it be enough?

Thanks again!

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Sierra layer advice on 07/08/2009 15:51:21 MDT Print View

Hi Randall, and welcome!

You've taken some mighty whacks at your pack weight and have come quite a way (despite the wallet-lightening side-effects). If that's your entire clothing list it probably needs more scrutiny; for one thing, I'd consider swapping the rain pants for more versatile long pants, &/or packing longjohns. Even though the primaloft jacket is heavier than the fleece, you might swap the two--the Primaloft will be warmer and will probably compress smaller for packing.

Forecasts aside, I'd expect it to drop below freezing above 10k feet, but if it doesn't rain I'd guess you can be comfortable with what you've outlined in your post. I presume you also have hat and gloves in the mix.

I'm sure others will chime in. Feel free to develop your list further as planning proceeds.



Millette Jones
(ttaboro) - F

Locale: Southeast
Layer advice on 07/08/2009 16:43:17 MDT Print View

Hi Randall,

I'm new here as well. I think you will enjoy the Montbell SS bag. I love mine...I sleep cold so it doesn't take me to 30 degrees though. You may want to bring some wool long johns if you're expecting temps at freezing.

I personally find that for me down and wool keep me warmer and pack smaller than fleece and other synthetic materials. I know your budget is thin right now but you might want to consider a Montbell down jacket and pants to stretch the limit of the sleeping bag a bit more in winter. I managed to find the Montbell down pants and the ul dwon jacket on clearance for about 50% off. In fact the Tarptent Rainbow is the only piece of equipment I've paid full price for.

Since January 08 I have gone from 35 pounds base weight to under 9 pounds in the summer and around 14 in the winter...and I still have a few more purchases to go. I try to get one thing each month or so and have found some good deals just being patient and buying things off-season. It is addictive once you get into it!

Have a great trip!!!


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Sierra layer advice on 07/08/2009 17:10:07 MDT Print View

Hi Randall

Welcome to BPL.
I will give you one general rule: do not expect to go the whole distance in one jump.

Take what you have on this trip, but look carefully at what you use, how you use it, whether you really need it, and whether you could be as comfortable without it. *This* shift in attitude is the big jump, away from the 'take everything just in case' position.

From here on it is a case of very enjoyable 'refinement' or 'tuning'. There are years of fun ahead of you!


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Sierra layer advice on 07/08/2009 17:31:55 MDT Print View

"Given the trip will be next week for 7 days, in the Sierras with camps at 10,500 feet and a max elevation of about 12,000 feet, can I go with this for upper body?
Looks like the expected temps will not go below 32, but I don’t want to be unsafe either.
I had planned on bringing a Primaloft Jacket at 17 oz, but really would like to leave it behind, and can’t afford to replace it just yet…

Driducks Rain suit 10.5
REI Woodland Fleece Jacket 13.5
Silk LS shirt 3.8
RailRiders Eco-Mesh LS Shirt 7.2
Patagonia Capilene 2 tee 5.3

I know I can wear all of the above if needed for layers and warmth. Will it be enough?"

Hi Randall,

Welcome to BPL. The Eco-Mesh shirt is not a particularly good insulating layer. You could substitute a Capilene 1 LS
for your daytime hiking layer, eliminate the silk shirt for summer conditions, and just layer the Capilene 2 over it in the evening. This would save you about 5 oz and one less piece of gear to fuss with. With either jacket you mention, you should be warm enough in the Sierra during the summer. In the event you are still cold, just retreat into your sleeping bag or wear it like a cloak around camp.

Randall Spratt

Locale: Minnesota
Re: Sierra layer advice on 07/08/2009 18:35:55 MDT Print View

Thanks for the comments.

Rick: Yes, I am also bringing layers for legs...
REI Sahara pants, Capilene 2 long johns, and the rain pants.
I also have a fleece cap and wool light weight gloves on the clothing list.

It's amazing how I have been agonizing over the list and never considered switching the fleece for the Primaloft. Great suggestion.

Millette: I sleep hot but I am bringing a layer for sleep along with the bag. I'm excited to see this bag in action. It's hard to believe such a light bag could work down to 30!
I just started looking at alternatives like the Montbell jacket but will have to save that for next trip.

Roger: Thanks, I am about at the limit of my comfort level for cuts without actually experiencing how everything holds together. I will certainly review after I get back! I do know that this trip will already be a VERY different experience from any trip I have done before. I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Tom: Thanks for the advice. The silk shirt was just for sleeping, but I'll look at the Capilene 1 as a base layer.

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: Re: Sierra layer advice on 07/09/2009 11:25:07 MDT Print View

I think you'll be fine with those insulating layers. At worst, you might get chilly on a really cold night, but you won't die. I'll +1 on the Montbell when you can afford one. They go on sale alot. Keep your eyes on, they seem to go on sale alot there. Great jackets for the price. My UL down parka is a constant companion now backpacking. Warmth around camp, sleeping bag warmth booster, or pillow when it's not needed.

Looks like you've done a good job on two of the Big 3(pack, bag, shelter). You won't be disappointed in either. While the Aether 70 is going to be too big and too heavy for your eventual kit, hold off on replacing the pack until last. As Roger said, you can't do it all in one jump. . . or you can try, but you'll waste money and regret it.

Coming into UL, everything you see is going to look so great you'll want to add it to your kit immediately, until a week later you realize there was a better option. At least that happened to me.

Then I put everything into a spreadsheet to try and see my kit as a whole, and looked at dollars to ounces ratios to try and decide what to replace next.

This is why you should buy your pack last. . . you won't know what size pack you need until you get the rest of your gear. I bought my pack in about the middle of my gear purchases, a Gossamer Gear Gorilla that weighs 1.5lbs, I great pack and a nice step down from my North Face Skareb at 3.5lbs. I was worried that 2800 cubic inches wouldn't be enough though, and I wasn't ready to make the jump to frameless. Turns out when your packweight is only 15 lbs for a 3 day trip, you don't need a frame, or 2800ci. I could've gone with the GG Miniposa and saved another 10oz, or even with the Mountain Laurel Designs Revolution for the same price and had a 7oz backpack. Ah well.

Congratulations on your start. I know where you're coming from.

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
gear list on 07/10/2009 05:57:04 MDT Print View

Roger has good advice. Gear lists are fluid. Leave behind what you do not use. For othe threads here at this forum, search for "JMT Gear Lists".

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
"Buyer's Remorse" on 08/08/2009 00:49:35 MDT Print View

Yeah, I came to 'Vegas in '04 with my "standard" backpacking kit that I'd used for many years all over the east. Then, like you, I found BPL and other UL sites and had "Buyer's Remorse - well, almost. My heavy gear is just right for winter backcountry ski camping.

Now I own the following:

PACK> REI Cruise UL 60
TENT> TT Contrail (soon to be TT MOMENT - wanna buy my Contrail?)
MATTRESS> Thermarest Lite ( their original light mattress)
STOVE> Vargo Jet-Ti(canister)or Vargo Triad EX(ESBIT tabs)
POT> either JetBoil 1.5 L or a 1 L. pot


Edited by Danepacker on 08/08/2009 00:51:18 MDT.