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Working at going UL
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Michael Baker

Locale: Minnesota
Working at going UL on 10/21/2009 23:25:28 MDT Print View

I will start with an introduction. My name is Mike. I am 30 years old and live in Burnsville, MN. I am also a disabled veteran (Marine Corps).

A few years ago I got the urge to go backpacking. I never camped growing up and my only experience camping as an adult was car camping in state parks. I knew from my experience in the Marines that heavy packs were no fun. I initially planned on going UL at the start but most of the gear I was looking at was too expensive for me and me and sewing did not mix. So I went about getting the lightest gear I could afford. Though my tent was a bit pricey(Big Agnes SL2) I wanted something to protect me from the bugs that are in the north woods.

I have been getting out as much as I can the last few years and am quite obsessed with fine tuning my outdoor skills. I am proud that I can get a campfire going in most conditions and I always know where I am even when traveling off trail.

I must confess that I have strayed from my initial goal of going UL. My first trip this year in May had me worn out. A 45 pound pack did not work well with my soft body. I went about fixing that in the most economical way I could. I started working out hard core. I think I made the right choice at the time. On my last trip in September with my buddy and his son(his first hiking trip) I would kinda get in a zone and just take off. At least in doing that I got to take a lot of rest breaks waiting for them to catch up.

This winter I am going to get a tarp, trekking poles, a lighter down bag, a wood stove and a bivy sack. I figure that since I can easily handle a heavy pack I will fly down the trail with an UL pack. I would also be able to go on much longer trips with my Virga. My big pack is also a Granite Gear pack(Stratus Latitude).

I am having a great time backpacking. Here is a picture of me from my last trip.Mike section 13 SHT


Jeff Antig

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Working at going UL on 10/21/2009 23:38:22 MDT Print View

Mike, thanks for sharing your story with us. I went into the philosophy of UL backpacking due to the fact that I don't have the physical capacity of handling a heavy pack well. Even if I were able to, I wouldn't be hiking more than say, 8-10 miles a day.

If you were in the marine corps, you would have no trouble with a cheap UL setup. I say this because you might have a higher tolerance for nature (whether it be the elements or critters) than the average person. A tarp can be had for fairly cheap and cookware as well. Alcohol stoves and beercan pots are practically free. If you search this website with terms such as "cheap", "cheap gear", "SUC (super ultra cheap)", etc. you would find some helpful threads. From then on, you could just ask us about questions pertaining to specific pieces of gear.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Working at going UL on 10/22/2009 05:00:02 MDT Print View

Mike, If you are starting with the perspective of a 45 lb pound pack you will be truly amazed at the difference a lightweight load will enable. First thing is you will want to get a scale and will want to list everything with weights. Next the cheapest thing to do is start getting rid of stuff. Ask how bad would I be without this item? pitch it. That is free.

If you post you gear list here (under gearlist forum) you will get some of the best advice in the world as to what to do with each and every item. Again this is free.

Next start replacing things that will have a big bang for the buck. One of the cheapest is to replace a tent with a tarp and bivy. I'd recommend an Integral Designs siltarp at the cost of ~$65 or the silponcho tarp. Then add a bivy, equonax bivy is cheap at $65 or buy a ti goat bivy with bug net (~120). With tie stakes you will have a sub 1 lb shelter that can handle a lot of weather with the right skills.

The place to spend your money is on a good down bag. Watch the gear swap for deals, but they go fast. If not try to get a good bag on sale like a Marmot Hydrogen or Helium. The WM bags are top notch but are almost impossible to find on sale. A new 3 season bag will cost around $300+ (250+ on sale).

The granite gear virga is a great pack. It is under 1.5 lbs and has a great set of shoulder straps. I'd recommend a gossamer 3/8" thinlight pad for cheap sleeping. Now you have insulation to sleep on and a great pad to frame out the virga.

If you need any ideas or help just ask.


Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: Working at going UL on 10/22/2009 12:21:24 MDT Print View

Jamie Shortt wrote
"I'd recommend an Integral Designs siltarp at the cost of ~$65 or the silponcho tarp. Then add a bivy, equonax bivy is cheap at $65 or buy a ti goat bivy with bug net (~120). With tie stakes you will have a sub 1 lb shelter that can handle a lot of weather with the right skills."

Being a native Minnesotan who backpacks regularly in the Northwoods I would recommend against using a bivy in the summer for bug protection. No matter how well they breathe a bivy becomes very warm and has a good deal of condensation at temperatures in the 75-90 degree mark. Nothing is worse than being stuck inside a bivy during a summer downpour with high humidity and temperatures around 80 degrees.

If I were you I'd try using a dedicated bug bivy from Alpinelite or Mountain Laurel Designs. Combined with a siltarp and you've got a three season shelter with a bathtub floor and bug protection for around 18 to 22 ounces (depending on how much you're willing to spend.

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England
Working at going UL on 10/22/2009 13:54:24 MDT Print View

Sounds like your making all the right moves, mate. I agree with both the previous posters, except on one thing - you could consider going with a lightweight quilt rather than a sleeping bag. There's tons of articles on these forums on quilt sleeping rather than sleeping bag sleeping.

This style of sleep system really helps in terms of 1) not over heating / over sweating in your bivy, 2) being lighter than a comparable sleeping bag, 3) being cheaper than a comparable sleeping bag. Check out the BPL quilts - they're great quality and very competitively priced. There are also good ones out there by GoLite and some of the smaller cottages too. I replaced my North Face Cat's Meow in the summer with a Pro 90 and I absolutely LOVE it.

Anyway, just my $0.02. Good luck!

Cheers, James.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Working at going UL on 10/22/2009 16:36:09 MDT Print View

Chad, Great catch on the equinox are right on to say not a great option for warm bugy weather. I was too focused on the cheap that I missed it. I agree 100%...when the night time temps are 50 of above I use a MLD bug bivy. Once the night time temps are below 50 I switch to a MLD superlight bivy.


Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
Equinox Bivy on 10/23/2009 13:10:52 MDT Print View

You're right about the Equinox bivy in bug infested areas... unless he's willing to use one of these nets or something similar. At $30 it's hard to go wrong and adds another option to use when needed in the system.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Working at going UL on 10/23/2009 18:21:04 MDT Print View

I tried the Equinox bivy on a recent, COLD trip. Unfortunately, it appears that my WM Ultralight sleeping bag has a bit too much loft for this bivy. The bivy definitely was compressing the bag a bit, and I was definitely warmer after I took the bivy off! I don't think this would be a problem with a less lofty bag.

The silnylon bottom of the bivy is also mighty slippery, even on top of a CCF pad (which I put outside the bivy because it was such a snug fit). In other words, some non-skid treatment with silicone-based sealant might be in order. I suspect this might be true with any bivy with a silnylon bottom?

This is the only time I've used a bivy, so I'm hardly an expert, just reporting my own small experience.

Michael Baker

Locale: Minnesota
thank you! on 10/23/2009 21:52:07 MDT Print View

Thank you for all the advice. I really like the quilt idea. I found two I like so far. Both Jacks R Better they just have different temp ratings. The Stealth and the Hudson River. I am considering the stealth because I am a warm person. My nickname is "The Human Furnace." My buddy Dan is usually amazed with what I can wear and be comfortable since if it gets below 50 F he always wears long underwear.

Chad I understand totally about a bivy in warm humid conditions. While in the marines in Okinawa during the summer I used a sleeping bag with bivy only once. I could not sleep and ended up taking the sleeping bag out and just used the bivy. My one concern with a tarp and down bag without a bivy is rain. I imagine there are multiple ways to set up the tarp and stay dry depending on the conditions. Is this correct?

I am going to get to work on my current gear list and post it in the appropriate section. I am all about going lighter. Heavy packs hurt.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: thank you! on 10/24/2009 16:13:22 MDT Print View

I love using a quilt. I think you'll like it, too. I have the Golite Ultra 20. If I did it again I wold get a Jack's R Better, the one you can wear like a serape.

John Roan
(JRoan) - MLife

Locale: Vegas
Re: Working at going UL on 10/24/2009 17:30:20 MDT Print View

I use the Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp.

At about 9oz and $175 for a two person tarp, you have allot of options to pitch it and stay dry without a bivy (it's very roomy). I use a down quilt (Nunatak - very nice quality but pricey!), no bivy, and have not had any problems keeping dry.

For bug protection, try the GG Bug Canopy...

At 30 bucks and 3oz, it's cheap, lightweight, and roomy.

I'm also a fan of their backpacks...I use the Mariposa, and my wife the Miniposa. Mine is larger than I need for my usual 1-3 night trips, but when I purchased it I carried more stuff. That said, you should consider figuring out what gear your are comfortable with before you spring for a new backpack. Reduce the amount of gear you carry first, then get the smallest pack that works for your style.

My two cents...John

Troy Ammons
(tammons) - F - MLife
Working at going UL on 10/24/2009 18:19:13 MDT Print View

You can get to 25-30# total loaded with food and 2L of H20 for pretty cheap.
(at least its a lot better than 45#)

You should eventually shoot for a 5-6# or lighter big 4.
12# or lighter base is a good number.

That said if you like tents a decent and fairly cheap setup would be ...

Campmor 20dF bag for - 36 oz
Spitfire tent with new stakes - 46oz
Thermarest pro 3 short - 11 oz
GG Miraposa plus with the internal frame - 24oz

7.5# total for about $400

Add 6# for everything else, 4# for 2L h20, 10# of food for 5 days for a total of 27.5#. 17# lighter.

If you spend $120 more on a tent, like a moment your big 4 would weigh 6#

If you spend substantially more on everything...

MB #2 SS UL bag, gatewood cape, bug tent, regular neoair, GG Miraposa your big 4 would weigh 5.4# but your rain gear is covered too with the gatewood cape which saves another pound.

Trade out the MB #2 for a ultra 20 quilt and your big four is right at 5#.

Over time reduce all your other gear to 6# or less.

This will take some work and some more $. Clothing is a lot of that and just cutting misc crap you dont need than anything. Again 4# for 2L h20, 10# of food for 5 days for a total of 26#.

Food and water are so heavy you sort of hit diminishing returns as you go lighter and lighter but if you can skimp by on 24oz of food a day and gorge at a resupply then it gets lighter still at 22.5 fully loaded.

Some People go even lighter still, like 5# base etc which is really lean and very specialized with a lot of cuben.

Too sparton for me, but a 17# total pack weight for 5 days it sounds nice.

As everything gets lighter it takes less volume, lighter pack, etc. At 17# total you can go to a 4oz Cuben pack so you save another 20 oz from a GG mariposa plus.

Edited by tammons on 10/24/2009 18:23:38 MDT.

Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
re: Working at going UL on 10/24/2009 18:56:03 MDT Print View

Mike Baker Wrote:
"Chad I understand totally about a bivy in warm humid conditions. While in the marines in Okinawa during the summer I used a sleeping bag with bivy only once. I could not sleep and ended up taking the sleeping bag out and just used the bivy. My one concern with a tarp and down bag without a bivy is rain. I imagine there are multiple ways to set up the tarp and stay dry depending on the conditions. Is this correct?"

You are correct Mike! Typically a flat 8' x 10' tarp is able to be pitched in various ways depending on the weather. I'd take a peek at youtube or search this site for some different styles of pitching.

While the flat tarp is rather popular there are a good number of shaped tarps that are very storm worthy and do a great job keeping you dry. The drawback of shaped tarps is that you can only pitch them one way.

Michael Baker

Locale: Minnesota
wealth of knowledge on 10/27/2009 21:12:42 MDT Print View

Thank you everyone for your input. I wrote down my gearlist and I have to say I sure carry a lot of stuff. My current way of backpacking is very inefficient. I have not weighed everything yet so I am waiting to post my list until I get actual weights.

I think I will do much better with a rectangular 8' x 10' tarp. Not only will it be much lighter than my tent it will take up far less pack space. I can fit enough for a weekend trip in my GG virga but for longer trips I bought my big pack (GG Stratus Latitude).

Is it still worth posting my gear list without weights?

Troy Ammons
(tammons) - F - MLife
Working at going UL on 10/27/2009 21:16:23 MDT Print View

Sure, post away.

Darin Butler
(darinbu) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Working at going UL on 10/31/2009 19:19:38 MDT Print View


Thanks for serving in the Marines. I'm glad you weren't disabled to the point you can't enjoy things like backpacking!

Michael Baker

Locale: Minnesota
you are welcome on 11/05/2009 08:05:05 MST Print View

Darin you are welcome. I would like to thank you also for appreciating my sacrifice. No matter who you are it always feels good to be appreciated.

In relation to gear I found a tarp I plan on picking up. It may be a little small but that is the main thing I like about it. It is the mountain laurel designs monk tarp. Not sure about material.

For a pad I like the GG nightlite torso pad. I will be fine just laying out my pack under my legs.

So between the tarp(if I get the lightweight fabric) and pad it would be about 8oz. Now I just need to pick out a good bivy. I like the look of the MLD superlight bivy. So bivy, tarp and pad would be just under a pound by my math. I am not including stakes in this weight. I will probably just use my aluminum tent stakes. I think getting these things would be a good start. I do admit price is a factor in these choices but I know I would be totally comfortable with these items. All critique is much appreciated.

Troy Ammons
(tammons) - F - MLife
Working at going UL on 11/05/2009 09:35:19 MST Print View

If you have never tarp camped, you really should get a 8x10 tarp to start.

Campmor makes a sil UL version that is $70 and weighs 13oz.

If you really want a small tarp you could consider their extended poncho tarp for double use that is 5'x9', 9oz and cost $50.

Michael Baker

Locale: Minnesota
tarp on 11/06/2009 05:11:21 MST Print View

Why should I get an 8 x 10 tarp to start?? In the Marine Corps all I ever used was just a bivy. So a smaller tarp would be more than I ever had.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Working at going UL on 11/06/2009 06:27:05 MST Print View

Mike, The question on tarp size really comes down to weight, comfort, and skill. A larger tarp will require less skill to keep you dry and for comfort you can pitch it high enough so you can really sit up under it.

Here is why I don't use a 8x10 tarp. Heavier..almost twice the weight, I don't hang out under my tarp. I setup my tarp at dusk, cook dinner, then usually go to bed not long after dark. In the morning I crawl out of my bivy and cook breakfast lying flat. I eat then pack up. With a bivy and the right setup I find a 5x8 foot tarp to shield my from the just just fine. Also a 5x8 fits into smaller places, nice for stealth camping. Lastly a 5x8 tarp is better in wind...there is less surface area to catch the wind.

MLD is my favorite shop. My current setup is a MLD superlight bivy and a MLD grace solo in cuben. The cuben is pricy but weighs less. Yes the grace is a tad over 5x8 but I have a fair amount of experience with 5x8 ID tarp and 5x8 poncho tarp (ID and golite). I admit I do like the extra inches the grace provides so if you are looking for a compromise consider a grace tarp. If you want versatile setup though you can not beat a rectangular tarp like the Monk tarp.

Bottomline is if using a bivy and dont care about sitting up comfortably you are good to go to get a 5x8 tarp.