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Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again?
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Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/14/2010 18:23:21 MDT Print View

Hi, I need some advice from you sages/gurus on gear. I"m sure this topic has been asked to death. Nonetheless... please help.

I'm a complete beginner with not much gear and a credit card. I'd like to be like you folks: wander into the wild, foot-loose and fancy fear... responsibly.

I"m reasonably fit. 5'7" 150 lbs, live in Vancouver BC (read: west/wet coast). Although I am going to be camping locally, I have access to cheap flights through work (will go to Rockies, Utah/Arizona, California, Quebec/Maine etc). Winter desert camping interests me. So I'm thinking 3+ seasons. I"m an avid snowboarder, so full winter camping would be something I'd like to try... eventually.

10 lbs base weight is my goal. Though, I'd like to be comfortable and safe...obviously. I'm likely going to attend the 3 day BPL course in July to try out tarp tenting. Although, to be honest I think a tent with full bug protection is more my thing, as much as I value airiness and views (no claustraphobia). Also, just for the sake of versatility, I"m likely looking at a 2 man tent for now. Although suggestions are welcome. I've given hammocking some thought.

I've never used a single wall tent. I currently have a small two man double wall (not sure make). Around 3-4+ lbs.

I"m thinking either the:

Tarptent Double Rainbow

-like its 3+ seasons
-two openings
-relatively light packweight/volume.


SMD Lunar Duo

-supposed roominess.
-smaller volume when packed.

However, I don't plan on using poles. Any other suggestions? I"m intrigued by the Cuben Fiber shelters from ZPacks (10 oz for two man tent!)

How is the condensation on single wall tents? what should I expect? Has anyone use Cuben Fiber/Zytek etc....

As far as bags, I'm thinking either:

"Jacks r Better Stealth"
- versatility of quilts, in case I go hammock
- light weight


"Montbell Spiral #3"
-warmer/bang for buck

I"d say I'm a warm sleeper. I sleep on my side, toss and turn. I really don't look forward to breathing into a hood and can't use my down comforter I have because it's too warm. I don't want to make that expensive mistake again. I"d like to avoid redundancy.

I do currently have some brand new gear: a 45 litre Lowe internal frame pack (3.5 lbs), and a MEC down bag... drake.. rated to 0/36 degreees (2.5 lbs). And my older two man double wall tent.

What would my best course of action be? Specifically the tent issue.

- Should I stick with what I have and try a 1 lb cuben/tyvek tent if I "need" to spend money?

- Is down a good choice, even though I really really want it to be?

What would you do if you could do it over again?

Sorry for the essay. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I just returned a 6lb Nemo Losi 3P, double wall palace. My 5'3" girlfriend is going to kill me.


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/14/2010 18:45:19 MDT Print View

I don't know that anyone can advise you. The journey to UL is different for everyone. Some folks swear by quilts, others wouldn't be without a full mummy bag. Some folks find the JRB quilts too narrow, others are just fine with them. Some folks are happy with just a tarp, others need/want a fully enclosed mesh tent, some folks need a double wall tent. Any of the single wall non-breathable tents will give you condensation, so if you go that path, the best option is to get a tarptent where it is hard to touch the walls. this could be a Double Rainbow, a Lunar Duo, or maybe even a SMD Haven.

Sleeping gear...I'm always recommend down, but if you are new to backpacking, you may not yet have the experience to keep your down bag dry in all conditions.

I think that, until you've tried different options you will not know what works
best for you. So not sure how to shortcut the process for you.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/14/2010 21:06:07 MDT Print View

What I would suggest is if you do not have enough gear right now to go backpacking, that you simply choose some items to complete your gear. You have listed several good items, so pick the ones you think will meet your needs best.

With enough gear to go backpacking, you can look at the gear lists posted here or post your own for feedback. If you post your own, you might say that you're interested in replacing items, but what you want is the feedback about the other stuff, not so much about the big ticket items. Do you carry too many extra clothes? Is the quantity of toothpaste, soap or other personal items too much? Do you load up your pack with excessive, unnecessary stuff sacks? Do you bring a lot of "what if" stuff that never gets used? Do you try to practice the principle of multiple use? Is your cooking system total overkill?

You might be able to save enough weight on the little things without even spending any money to make your backpacking experience significantly improved. I know it's not as sexy as buying new stuff, but gear is just a tool. It's about the experience, about getting out into the wilderness and enjoying it, not so much about this brand or that.

Edited by sbhikes on 06/14/2010 21:07:29 MDT.

Brian Ahlers
(bahlers7) - F

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/14/2010 21:31:32 MDT Print View

I'm new to UL too, not so new to backpacking. What I'm finding out is that I'm constantly researching new techniques and testing them to see if they fit my 'style' of backpacking. Like Piper said, some people go one route and others go another. In the past 3 months I've switched packs, bags, tents, cook systems, clothing, etc etc etc. And to be honest, going UL is actually cheaper than you think. Except if you buy all cuben fiber of course :) But I've sold a lot a of 'name brand' gear for cottage gear makers and have actually gotten money back from the name brand stuff.

One thing that you might keep in mind: Keep it simple. It makes the journey so much more pleasing. I used to pack a 50lb pack for 3 nights and found I only used 1/10th of the gear I took.

Piper said it best, pick out some things you think you'll like and try them out. If they aren't your cup-o-tea, go with something else.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/14/2010 22:42:03 MDT Print View

If you watch for used gear on this site, you can test a ton of gear for not much money, and know if it fits your style. You can usually flip it fast and get most of what you paid for it back.

And the Double Rainbow with the liner eliminates a lot of potential condesation hassle. GF might like the size of the Lunar Duo better though.

Zachary Zrull
(zackcentury) - F

Locale: Great Lakes
basic needs on 06/14/2010 22:48:07 MDT Print View

I found Roger Caffin's FAQ - - very helpful.

It might help to take a few short trips before investing a lot in your gear, to find out what conveniences you'd really like to have, and what you can leave behind. I spent my money on sleeping bags, a decent stove, and some thermal underwear. I figure I'll be miserable if I'm cold and hungry, so I made sure get decent gear for those purposes. In the interest of conserving resources, I'm reusing or making most other gear that I need. I think you can enjoy the wilderness the same whether you've spent $100 or $10000 on your stuff.

chris arvin
(kychris) - F

Locale: Red River Gorge Area
Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/16/2010 10:18:11 MDT Print View

What I have done in my journey in going light has been to focus on one piece of gear at a time.

In your case, it seems that a new tent would probably save you the most weight. I think a Double Rainbow would be a great choice especially considering that you don't use poles. I use poles but actually accidently broke one on my last trip so I really like shelters that aren't reliant on them. If you're not sure I'd call up Henry Shires at Tarptent and let him guide you on your decision.

It's so easy to feel like you should just be able to ask what gear to buy but there are so many variables. Everyone has a different style, comfort level, and experience. IMO the cottage manufacturers do the best job of providing the gear that you really need.

You'll also find that as your style, comfort level, and experience changes, your gear will also evolve. As you change gear, other gear will change. It is a constant process.

For example, I started off backpacking with one night trips and carrying water from home because I was squeamish of creek water. Next I went for weekend trips and bought a Katadyn Hiker Pro. Then a ULA gravity filter to save some ounces. Now I just use Aquamira drops. I would never have started with Aquamira although now they are the best option for me.

What would I do different? I can't think of anything. It's been a fun journey just researching and buying gear.

FYI, I'm on my third backpack (each one smaller and lighter), switched to a quilt, went from tent to hammock to now a Tarptent Moment, and have reduced my weekend backpack weight with food and 2liters of water from 35 pounds to less than 15 pounds.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/16/2010 14:32:28 MDT Print View


Welcome to the adventure of obsession over gear!

I agree that the Double Rainbow would give you the best bang for your buck to save weight.

My friend has one and is very happy with it, plus it is well rated in the BPL review of it.

If your goal is to cut weight and get as low as you can, then I would say save your money and take the leap of faith into the world of tarps, bivies, and quilts.

I did that with the MLD poncho tarp and MLD Soul Side Zip and I have not looked back. (I still have my Contrail Tarptent, but have not used it in well over a year). And I have recently purchased a JRB Sierra Snievler.

All very light and the quilt does give some flexibility to you in warmer weather to vent....that said, I think that it is a fair argument to say that a sleeping bag can be turned into a quilt by unzipping it. (My initally impressions after two nights of use are that a quilt is definitely not as warm as a sleeping bag, but offers freedom of movement. I am a cold sleeper).

Note: in hind sight, I would have been fine with the Superlight, which is half the weight of my tricked out Soul Side Zip.

Buy your backpack last, once you have dialed in your gear, you will know how much space you might want to need.

Advice: if you are going into the Sierras a lot, you probably want to account for the need/requirement for a bear vault, which might restrict your choice of backpack or maybe it means you have two for bear vault trips and for non bear country trips.

Sure that I speak for everyone here, but this is more than a matter of buying a list of UL gear. As your experience and knowledge increases, you will feel more comfortable going lighter and lighter, which leads to buying different gear.

Think it is an evolution that all ULers go thru.

Increase skill/knowledge = opportunities to go lighter.

For cooking you might want to consider which direction you might want to go: Canister, esbit, alcohol, or woodburning.

Convience vs. weight.

Midlayer/insultating layers: synthetic or down.

Down is lighter, but if it gets wet, you are screwed.

I chose to go with the "heavier" synthetic as a margin of safety, just in case...despite that most of the conditions that I have been in have been without a drop of rain.

Ask yourself how far are you willing to pushing your UL limits...what is your acceptable margins of safety that you are comfortable with.

Once you know that, it might reduce your buying replacement gear.

Example: My Montbell thermawrap jacket has been the only UL insultating layer that I have it, no plans on replacing it with something lighter.

Anyway, ranting a bit, hope this helps you out.

Enjoy the adventure in gear!


Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Thanks for the info.. on 06/17/2010 02:07:50 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the suggestions/input, appreciate it. I've been really busy with work lately, ending soon, and obsessively reading content from this site has been my downtime activity.

I've been dying to go out, live in beautiful British Columbia and realize I have everything I need right now to figure it out for myself.

I'm going to do that in a couple of weeks. I think the best plan of attack will be hold off on purchases until I gain more has been suggested. Patience is a virtue.

Thanks Tony and Chris for relaying the evolution of your gear choices. I"m just glad I found this site and able to return some big ticket items before I had a sense of my options and spent a ton of money. Weight and bulk/minimalism was always a consideration for gear choices. But what a resource this site is.

And thanks for the suggestion to buy used gear.

Haha.. you guys remind me of the members of the audiophile sites I sometimes frequent. Cottage industry manufacturers/obsessive types, but very informative, passionate and well educated.

BTW if anyone is looking for kick ass stereo/two-channel home theatre gear... don't even think about buying full retail or "Best Buy".. go to and buy used for 30-50 cents on the dollar, try it and then re-sell if you don't like it. No loss.

Anyone want to buy a Rega Planar 2 Turntable?

Hammock or single wall, tube or solid state, quilt or bag, cabinet or planar speakers.... too many choices.

Thanks everyone..

James D Buch
(rocketman) - F

Locale: Midwest
Lighten UP ! on 06/17/2010 05:23:27 MDT Print View

I'd buy this book.

"Lighten Up!; A complete handbook for Light & Ultralight Backpacking" By Don Ladigin with illustrations by Mike Clelland. ISBM 978-0-7627-3734-5. It is $12.95 and weighs only 8 ounces.

Your first purchase should be a nice digital scale capable of about 10 or so pounds, maybe 20. You want to weigh in lb-oz and in grams and kilograms. This will be the best way to maintain control of weight.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
A couple of suggestions on 06/17/2010 05:47:01 MDT Print View

1) What seems "beyond your comfort zone" today may become status quo tomorrow. I couldn't imagine using a bivy, tarp and quilt three years ago. I evolved into it.
2) Especially as you evolve, buy used equipment. It will save you now and you can sell it for close to what you buy it for as you evolve lighter and smaller.
3) As for tarp/bivy trial. Do some trips where you take a tent but don't use it. You may find that the security blanket (tent) isn't needed. Or you may learn like I did that Sierra mosquitos die down after dark and that bug screen protection isn't as important as you thought.
4) If you hike with kids/wife etc. you can outfit them with your second generation gear. For example my old lightweight sythetic bag is used by my son when he does trips with me. Likewise early on he took second generation pad and pack as well. The gear was a couple of lbs heavier but it work for the infrequent trips he does.
5) Concentrate more on philosophy than grams. Things that can be eliminated don't need to be lightened.
6) Finally, there will always be a lighter tent/tarp/quilt etc. It's not about about the gear, it's about using that gear to get into the woods further/faster/easier etc.


Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Lighten UP ! on 06/17/2010 07:28:51 MDT Print View

yes- that book is marvelous.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/17/2010 09:50:48 MDT Print View

This doesn't address your specific gear questions, but does answer your broader question.

Buy a cheap digital scale... to the tenth of a gram amuses me, because it reinforces the concept of how significant fractions can be. Once you get the scale, weigh every single thing you think might go in your pack. Then find the lightest options of each. By that, I don't mean the big items... not the tent, pack, etc. I mean the odds and ends, the socks, etc.

I meet a lot of people who buy light gear but still carry way too much clothing. That's one of the biggest things you can do (eliminate excess clothing) and it's free!

Andrew Mazibrada
(cohenfain) - F

Locale: UK and Western Europe
Evolution on 06/17/2010 10:35:13 MDT Print View

There are some brilliant articles by Ryan Jordan and the other creators of this site which are pitched at the right level. You should check them out - "Backpacking 101" and "Superultralight - Breaking the 5lb barrier" which represent opposite ends of the evolution process to a certain extent but are both excellent reading. Also, should you want to, have a look at my blog which has a reasonable resume of my evolution as well (

I would suggest that you do whatever it takes to get out and trekking. Your gear will evolve as you do - you cannot really take advice from loads of people who have different desires, different comfort zones, different objectives and will be hiking in different environments until you have some sort of baseline of your own. You will end up selling some stuff because you'll try and not like it, but you can lessen the effect of that by getting out there yourself and trying out different things. For example - you might not like using a tarp, or you might find quilts are not to your taste but mummy bags are and so on. Just don't set your heart on a tremendously expensive piece of kit only to find you don't like what it represents.

Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
JRB on 06/17/2010 13:12:39 MDT Print View

I'd say the ability to wear the JRB quilt gives it about the same bang for the buck as the Montbell bag since, with the latter, you'll probably end up purchasing some sort of insulation just to wear around camp. With the JRB option you probably come out about the same or even save money depending on what you decide. Plus you save weight and pack space. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Also, I think the Stealth is about a 40 degree quilt and the Montbell #3 has about a 30 degree rating. Someone correct me if I'm wrong but you should be looking at the No Sniveller if you're interested in a 3 season quilt from JRB.

Edited by veriest1 on 06/17/2010 13:17:17 MDT.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/17/2010 14:42:07 MDT Print View

"Buy a cheap digital scale... to the tenth of a gram amuses me, because it reinforces the concept of how significant fractions can be."

For UL purposes, you should really encompass the use of grams, but I'm biased. Seriously, a gram scale will measure down to 1/28th of an oz in nice, whole units, and can be a real eye opener!

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Will do.. on 06/17/2010 18:27:56 MDT Print View

I'm going out the first chance I get. I usually have a lot of free time, but work has kept me down 9-5 for the past 3 weeks so all I've been doing is reading reviews.

I've always waited for others to go with me, but I'm tired of doing that.

I think I"m just going to pack up my stuff and head out to the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. I think it's 500K, with trailheads beginning/ending in numerous towns. Kind of a tourism/B & B initiative (I think) along the coast, no bears or cougars, mammoth peaks and little chance of getting lost or too cold...maybe wet.

That's what I'm going to do, rain or shine, solo or with company.

I was going to get the book, but I figure a practical experience like the BPL Wilderness school might cover the same content as the book.

Thanks again everyone.

Thanks again everyone.

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England
re: Advice for Neophyte ULer: If you did it all over again? on 06/17/2010 18:52:13 MDT Print View

Yes. Do the wilderness school. I did it last year July 2009, and I haven't looked back. You can even try out different tarps & bivy sacks & packs if you don't want to buy a UL one before the school, or take the individual advice from the instructor... Mike C! was the instructor on mine and I left committed to no TP, using a quilt and tarp camping all the time. The only add since the school was a pair of LT4 trekking poles (on the suggestion of a fellow student), which I completely love.

I now have a MYOG down quilt, MYOG Cuben bivy, MYOG Cuben tarp, use cheapie sneakers, a caldera keg stove, 1/3 of a z-lite glued to 2/3 of a gossamer gear thin lite pad, and a Golite Ion as my main pack. My base weight hovers around 7.5lbs. I have to say, I started by buying a new pack (GoLite Jam2) and working to fit all my gear INTO the pack, versus planning the gear and then finding a pack to fit. This REALLY crystalizes the mind.

You never know where your journey will take you, so go with the school first and get yourself educated on the possibilities, then experiment and try stuff until you have built all your little systems...

Welcome to the community & good luck with your adventure!

Peace, James.