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Two weeks in Alaska
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Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Two weeks in Alaska on 02/08/2011 23:24:58 MST Print View

Trip: Alaska 2011
Type: Combined hiking, base camping, backpacking, and kayaking
When: Late July into early August
Duration: Two weeks
Number of people: 12
UL gear: not an option


We are going on an expedition visiting three parks: Katmai NP, Lake Clark NP, and Kenai Fjords NP in South Central Alaska. Float planes will be used to travel between locations. It will mostly be base camp style with day hikes. Every other day we pack up all our gear and backpack to the next camp location. Distances between campsites is only about 8 miles so we will not be lugging around heavy packs too far. The kayaking portion will not have any backpacking.

To give an idea, this trip here is almost exactly what we will be doing in Lake Clark.

Most of the people going are more traditional backpackers with heavier gear. UL equipment will not be much of an option. I am a lone lightweight guy amongst 40-50lb packs. Heavy boots are recommended, not negotiable. The Aether 70L pack is pretty much mandatory as this is what many in the group will be using, one reason being the big heavy bear canisters issued by the NPS. I have an advantage over most of the guys already.

We will be sharing group gear. Stoves will probably be white gas. We will be using Nemo Morpho 2P tents which are single wall, over built, HEAVY (about 7lbs with everything), small on the inside with no true vestibule (two full sized pad barely fit, let alone much gear), and are bulky to pack (I would prefer my Tarptent or a Pyramid shelter). We will swap personal gear back and forth to equal out the loads and are to expect 40-45lb pack weights. This is concerning as I only weight about 145lbs and the recommended 1:4 safe ratio max load for me is about 36lbs.

I have made suggestions for lightweight shelter and gear options but will probably have to go with the flow of the group. My current gear list for this trip from excel is below.

Modified Alaska gear 1

Also, I am looking for suggestions on a daypack. The top pocket of the Aether converts to a fanny pack but is not very big. Options I have considered are the OR DryComp Summit pack, the convertible to stuff sack REI Flash 18, and the Exped Dry Pack Pro.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated!

Edited by radio_guy on 02/09/2011 15:33:56 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Two weeks in Alaska on 02/09/2011 00:52:52 MST Print View

Ryan, it seems like there are many things that are out of your control. On some trips, you are just one of the team. But on other trips, somebody has to make decisions about cutting down weight. You say that some things are not negotiable. Who set it that way? Why is Aether 70 the pack, not negotiable? I've never heard of a backpack trip where I was told the brand and model of backpack that I had to carry. Now, if somebody said that you needed about XX Liters of capacity, then I can understand partly.

First of all, you can do 40-45 pounds in a backpack. Just get out now and do some training. Start with 25 pounds in a backpack and do laps around the block. Keep adding a little weight each week until you get somewhat over your target load. Then do hills. Don't get an overuse injury during training. That's because there might be a sudden load surprise when you get to Alaska. Whenever I am not planning my trip and somebody else is, that surprise always happens.

Why is that MSR stove required? How many will you have for a 12-person team? I'm guessing three, because if one fails you can get by on two. This doesn't say anything about the weight or amount or type of fuel. Don't get me wrong. I've used lots of MSR stoves in my day. I think I owned six XGK's at one point in time. But there might be lighter alternatives if you are shopping around, weight-wise. For July in Alaska, I would think that a canister stove would be OK. That's what I used there last July. Liquid fuel stoves are cheaper to fuel than canisters, but cost shouldn't be the top priority, I would guess. After all, you are paying a bunch for float plane rides.

Six days of food in eight pounds? That seems a bit low for a brawny bunch of guys. Maybe you are planning on catching fish, but I didn't see fishing gear on the list.

At least you have one camera on the list. That's all that is vitally important.

On any big trips where I was involved with planning, we just put out general equipment guidelines to each individual and then let them select their own gear. We added little warnings of what might happen if they got too far outside of the guidelines. Some of the participants did decide to go far lighter than the guidelines, and they suffered in small respects. Good luck with it.


Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Re: Two weeks in Alaska on 02/09/2011 10:51:10 MST Print View

Thanks for the tips Bob.

Conditioning with increasing loads is a good idea. 25lbs is the maximum I have ever carried for a trip (been backpacking for just a few years, regular base weight is about 10-12lbs).

Using the term "mandatory" may be a little of an over statement. Many of the guys going have the Aether 70 or will be getting them, and the Aether 70 at about 5lbs empty is going lightweight for some of them already (most are the external frame or Arcteryx type). They HIGHLY recommended it as being a good balance between load carrying ability, weight, and volume. It will probably be the pack I would use if I ever got into mountaineering or more serious winter trips. I have tried lighter framed 60L packs with a 45lb load and they were not nearly as comfortable as having custom sized swappable parts(medium sized pack, small shoulder straps, and a small molded hip belt from the Argon series).I would probably get the ULA Circuit if the 70L capacity was not required and we were using shared UL gear.

Regarding stoves, we are not sure yet on what will be used. I much prefer canister stoves for their lightweight efficiency and ease of use. White gas stoves are just too finicky, dirty, and tinkery in the field but they can run on several different types of fuel reliably. The float plane operators will probably be the determining factor based off what kind of fuel they would allow to be carried on board. We could always burn leaded Avgas or Jet-A (kerosene)in the Whisperlite International!

8lbs of food is an estimate on my part. We will be using repackaged icky freeze dried meals all the way for convenience.

The group coordinator is in the process of lightening his pack weight and sees the benefits of it (He even owns a Tarptent Moment as do I). I think that one of the biggest contributing reasons for heavier gear is that many of the guys going come from boy scout backgrounds and like beefy rugged reliable gear. 30-35lbs is ultralight for them. One reason we are using heavy Nemo tents is that they are actually going to be used by the coordinator's boy scout group, we are just borrowing them for this trip.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Two weeks in Alaska on 02/09/2011 11:15:36 MST Print View

I’ll not even mention the pyramid option on this thread, but will suggest your group bring one stove and a couple of large canisters as a back-up for a mid day cup of tea and leave the rest at home. Cook with fire, you won’t have any problem finding fuel where you are going.

I travel a lot in rural Alaska and try to visit the local stores (not the AC stores, but those operated by the Native corporations) to check out what people use for camping gear. Only in the far north and along the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta do I see stoves offered for sale, and they are either Coleman or some large old-school Optimus stoves. Everyone else uses fire.

Do check with the air taxi to see if they are okay with hauling the canisters – and the bear spray. Most are, but you wouldn’t want to be standing on the landing strip when you find out the FAA has ticketed them recently and they are gun (canister) shy.

Good idea to change out to a heavier raincoat. When Skurka called me from Gustavus last June his first question was, “ what do you people wear for rain gear?” Check the long term forecast and if it calls for continuous rain buy something real like Impertech. You will sweat but you won’t drown.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
regrets on 02/09/2011 12:21:25 MST Print View

Ryan, the tone of this post and the previous one on shelters seem to betray serious misgivings on your part about some of the groups choices. I'd encourage you to follow your gut on some things. Footwear and shelter, first and foremost. If you have breathable, fast drying, light Innov8 boots and a nice roomy mid when the others have full leathers and tiny tents, I'll bet 100 bucks you'll be the one laughing by the halfway point.

My philosophy on group trips (which is somewhat controversial) is that everyone acts as a responsible adult. Your boy scout friend follows his best judgement, you follow yours. If someone ends up suffering because of their choice (heavy pack) they do it in silence and learn to do better next time. Of course, some choices can be dangerous and affect the safety of the group, and those ought to be dissected by the group beforehand.

I'd also never used a piece of boy scout gear on a serious trip. I'd have a hard time trusting that those tents were in good shape.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Two weeks in Alaska on 02/09/2011 13:12:02 MST Print View

I've learned a lot from reading the responses to this thread.

I'd want the flexibility of a larger 3 liter Nalgene Cantene or Platy, especially since the ideal sites would probably be farther from water to avoid bugs and bears.

James Moughan
. on 02/09/2011 14:08:38 MST Print View

I'd bring trekking poles to help with carrying a 45lb pack and a pair of inov8 camp shoes. If you end up wearing the camp shoes on day hikes because the boots don't really fit then, well, obviously you didn't plan it that way.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Two weeks in Alaska on 02/09/2011 15:44:26 MST Print View

The list has been updated to include a few changes as noted below. I really appreciate everyone's input thus far!

@Andy: swapped 1.5L Nalgene Canteen with a 3L for a minor weight difference. Thanks!

@James: I forgot to put my poles on there! Added BD poles in worn/carried section.

@David: Going against group majority is eating at me some, especially since many of the guys going have years of extensive experience (including remote places in Alaska)that I cannot come close to. I started lightweight from the beginning and come in with a different mindset. BTW the tents are brand new right now, one only used a few nights. I don't know if the boys will be using them between now and the trip though.

@Joseph: Your input on the pyramid has been very helpful. I am going to do some checking to see how well it may fit in with the rest of the group as it will be shared with one other person. Regarding rain jackets, how well does eVent hold up there? The Helly Hansen gear seems to be standard for Alaska but I could use a good lightweight eVent shell everywhere.

Cassie Thomas
(Kesugi) - F

Locale: Anchorage
Fuel in bottles or cannisters flies in floatplane floats, on 02/09/2011 19:01:13 MST Print View

as does bear spray, which I didn't see on this list. It's not mandatory to bring bear spray but I would not do these trips without it. Nor would I plan to do all my cooking with wood. It may not be allowed in some areas and it's not minimum impact.

You may not need a headlamp, depending on dates. Check sunrise/sunset times and civil/naval twilight.


Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: raingear on 02/09/2011 19:51:42 MST Print View

"Regarding rain jackets, how well does eVent hold up there? "

I'm sure it holds up well under normal conditions and, if you are looking to buy something for "everywhere", it may be what you need. If it doesn't rain for days you will be fine. We have Patagonia and OR (Goretex Pro) rain gear for normal wear here in Southeast -- though I've actually been on a couple of jets and a plane today and am now in downtown Fort Yukon!-- but rely on our Impertech when it is really raining and we are out for longer periods. The brush in both places you are going can be intimidating and will soak you long after a shower stops.

I know of no back country prohibitions on camp fires for cooking, and do know that people who live in that part of the country use them all the time. Our friends cooked exclusively over fire on their trek along the Peninsula. See

Edited by Umnak on 02/09/2011 19:56:02 MST.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Fuel Bottles and raingear on 02/10/2011 23:47:54 MST Print View

@Cassie: Thanks for the tips on carrying fuel. I forgot about the cargo cells in float planes and will check into it. I am leery when I am flying GA planes with fuel on board. Some other airplane campers have suggested to just use Avgas but that Whisperlite International is HEAVY (and the lead can clog the jets quicker). Half the people going have previous backpacking experience in Alaska and we joked a little about bear spray, not sure if anyone will be taking it or not. As far as cooking, I don't see the group using fires. A headlamp will probably not be needed but I always carry a flashlight with me everywhere anyway. The headlamp weighs less than my every day carry light too.

@Joseph: Thanks for the input on raingear. The Imptertech stuff is not too expensive so I'll keep it in mind if the weather looks like prolonged rain.

Hig and Erin's expedition sure is fascinating.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Fuel Bottles and raingear on 02/11/2011 00:06:54 MST Print View

"Half the people going have previous backpacking experience in Alaska and we joked a little about bear spray, not sure if anyone will be taking it or not."

I'm not sure that bear spray is a joking matter, even in Alaska. If you are going to be a tightly knit group, then having one or two cans of Counter Assault would not be a stupid idea. However... some pilots allow that and some do not, so you need to check in advance if you are considering it. I've been in bush planes that did not allow it, and I've been in float planes that allowed it by prior arrangement. However, you have to get there with it, so that might mean buying it in Anchorage.

I've been to two different places in Katmai National Park, and there the park rangers and guides all carry bear spray or else bear flares. But if your group is out on its own, then you have to defend yourselves. At some places there, the grizzlies have an infinite source of salmon, so they don't go after humans much except if they get desperate. Bear spray would be nice to have for that exception.


Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
. on 02/11/2011 03:01:00 MST Print View

I second this. I've been to Alaska three times and been chased by a grizzlies once, while riding a 3-wheeler. Bounced out of the bush and darn near caught up, with the throttle wide open. If they want you, you won't outrun them, and you won't be laughing. Bear spray.

Troy Childs
(tchilds) - F
Re: . on 02/11/2011 21:26:36 MST Print View

Indeed. Those grizzlies are a different kind of animal. Not to mention the other more common problems like moose etc. The bear spray is a good precaution, it seems to work based on stories I've heard. I personally carry the 45-70 guide gun with plenty of grain and hard bullets. The 8lbs is worth it. Don't bother bringing anything else it will just tick the bear off, not exaggerating one bit here. Spray, 45-70, and your experienced friends will likely be the best defense against a grizzly. Not to mention cooking meals at least 3 miles from camp, before dark.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Bear spray on 02/11/2011 23:14:00 MST Print View

I think that I may have left a poor impression of bear spray in my post above. Everyone is right, it is a serious matter. Joking aside, I imagine someone in the group will be bringing something.

What I may be interested in is a small canister for myself to keep on me or in the daypack. I can see where they would not have the range of a larger spray bottle but other than that, are the pocket sized ones worth having?

Edited by radio_guy on 02/11/2011 23:15:22 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Bear spray on 02/11/2011 23:37:00 MST Print View

"I imagine someone in the group will be bringing something."

How will he get it up there? You can't fly with it.

"What I may be interested in is a small canister for myself to keep on me or in the daypack. I can see where they would not have the range of a larger spray bottle but other than that, are the pocket sized ones worth having?"

There really are no pocket sized canisters of bear spray. Bear spray is much stronger than any pepper spray used for humans, and you sure would not want to use ordinary pepper spray on a grizzly bear.

Proper bear spray has a range of about 25-30 feet. That's what you need.

If a grizzly gets well within that range, a bear flare is much better. Think of it like a light sabre.


Troy Childs
(tchilds) - F
Re: Bear spray on 02/12/2011 07:45:38 MST Print View

"I imagine someone in the group will be bringing something.

What I may be interested in is a small canister for myself to keep on me or in the daypack. I can see where they would not have the range of a larger spray bottle but other than that, are the pocket sized ones worth having?"

Okay. I'm not sure you realize the gravity of a situation in which grizzly bears WANT to eat you. A full grown grizzly that is truly charging for blood will travel 30fps. That's right, 30 feet per second! Their head will be bobbing up and down so fast you won't likely have time to even take aim, be it gun, flare, or spray. This is the reality of the situation that KILLS. If you are in this situation, you likely just surprised a bear or got between her and her cubs. Your best defense is avoiding blind corners and staying alert. Since you are in a larger group the chances are even more so in your favor.

Now take all that into consideration, plus the wind, branches, leaves, brush, the bobbing head of a charging bear which makes it impossible to hit them in the face on the first try... etc etc. GET PROPER BEAR SPRAY WITH A PROPER RANGE AND VOLUME. You will not do anything but enrage a grizzly otherwise. It takes more than one good blast to discourage a bear, even if you do manage to stop the first charge with the smaller spray canister they often do and may very well come back with an even more aggressive subsequent charge(s). Hopefully the experienced guys you are going with understand what a feint charge is versus a serious life threatening charge.

Grizzly has up to 6 inch thick bone plates with no weaknesses except for a 4"x4" box centered on the nose and their exposed shoulders as they drop their head during the charge for about 0.5 seconds before they are on top of you. There is no rifle that will absolutely punch through that skull except for the 45 70 with very specific rounds designed to cut into bone, versus glancing off. Many many hunters in alaska have put perfect groupings of up to 7 rounds in bears with 45 cal side arms, to be found half eaten inside a bears corpse miles away from the shooting. Grizzle bears are no joke and will not stop their charge once they are enraged by you. If you don't have proper force you are better off taking the odds that it is a feint charge. Do not assume any gun or anything will stop them.

Not anyone can just pick up a 45-70 high grain round and squeeze off a few shots perfectly, this takes practice. I don't recommend bringing one unless you're proficient with it. Don't bring ANY guns except a 45-70, can't stress this enough. You're better off leaving them at home and going in with just the BEAR spray. Anything smaller will likely cause more problems than solutions in the event of a bear charge. The worst problem being a false sense of security.

These are all facts straight from a guide in Kodiak Alaska (1 grizzly/sq mile). He has had to shoot 3 bears, one of which nearly killed him after he put 3 shots into it with a "high powered" rifle. After this event he never goes back in with less than a 45-70 and never recommends any less to people that ask. He also stated that with one swing of his arm at the bear, it intervened before his fist got even near the nose and had completely ripped all the muscle from his arm. This was in the blink of an eye. The shaking was so violent that he stated it was impossible to even cock the hammer back on a side arm let alone get a shot off. He also mentioned how the bear had cleared all the small trees in about an 8' radius with him, during the violent shaking it was throwing him through trees up to 3" thick. He survived by the grace of God, nothing less. In the other shooting it took 5 shots from a 30-06 and he said even after the third shot took out its shoulder it was still coming at them alarmingly fast on its belly and 3 legs. The final shooting was from the side, while the bear was mauling someone he shot it in the spine.

The exception to the 45 70, if you really must know, would be in the event that you planned only to shoot the bear in the spine. This means it will be on top of someone before you get a chance to take it out. This is often how people are actually saved from grizzlies versus defending during the charge. Many people believe they are better off risking a real charge than turning a feint charge into a real one 100% of the time. This is why you need a gun that can punch holes in 6 inch thick bone, and or blow out a shoulder in one shot. Anything less will just enrage that bear and once that happens there is absolutely no stopping it unless its dead or your friend shoots it in the spine while you're mauled.

I don't mean for any of this to discourage you but I just want you to realize the actual situations we're talking about when we talk Bear spray. Do not attempt to use anything else or you are causing more problems than harm, period. The bigger bears get the more human they become. They are not hunting you, they don't even want to be near you for that matter. If you scare a bear, it will react as described above. If you remain alert, the situations in which people are mauled are nearly 100% avoidable. Not only this but remaining alert will give you the opportunity to observe one of mother nature's most inspiring creations in safety and confidence. Bears truly are amazing creatures and not something to be feared. However, remain prepared.

You're more likely to be attacked by a moose than a grizzly. Moose kill a lot of people and are much much much scarier than grizzly bears in my opinion. A moose charging you is not going to stop until you're dead and they don't bluff charge and they are absolutely NOT afraid of you. Hopefully this won't be an issue during the season you're headed in.

Edited by tchilds on 02/17/2011 23:15:20 MST.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
the way to ship bear spray . on 02/12/2011 11:29:27 MST Print View

"How will he get it up there? You can't fly with it."

ohh.. pish tosh tiddle ...

it is only illegal if it is in the passenger compartment.

if it's a float plane, it will travel in complete and total legality, in the compartment that's inside virtually all float plane floats. so that's easy.

if it's a wheeled rig, you can legally tape it to the landing strut. duct tape will do the job nicely. so that's easy.

if you are not particularly worried about dogmatic subservience to every little rule the smart people conjure up, you can simply tell the bush pilot "nope, never carry it, the stuff doesn't work anyway.." , and bush pilots, whose kid's need to eat too, will, as long as it's not mounted to your pack strap in plain view, professionally look another direction.

you're going to ALASKA son. rules and such snot aren't why people live there.

carry on ..


Diana Vann
(DianaV) - MLife

Locale: Wandering
Bear spray target practice on 02/12/2011 11:43:48 MST Print View

I want to add a couple of comments about bear spray. I've spent a lot of time in both black and brown bear country (or grizzly country if you're 50 miles or more from the coast), and I've always carried bear spray. Sometimes I've been in very remote areas that were very heavily populated with bears. One thing I did very early on was invest in a canister of bear repellent for the specific purpose of testing it. My rationale for this was that if I ever made the decision to discharge my bear spray in the backcountry, I wanted to be confident that I had first had some experience using it in a non-life threatening situation.

For my "target practice" I tied a bandana onto a tree branch, trying to simulate the approximate height of the head of a charging brown bear. I was about 15 feet from the tree when I started spraying. There was a very light breeze blowing (as there may be in real-life conditions), and I was shocked at how quickly the breeze carried the spray away. I adjusted my aim to account for the breeze (and sprayed in a slight fog pattern), and then some of the spray reached the target. What I learned from this practice session is that you absolutely have to resist the urge to fire the bear spray too soon. This is a good idea anyway (as a previous post mentioned), because the last thing you want to do is turn a bluff charge into a real one. I also learned that a slight breeze will make it very difficult to aim the spray. One obvious thing is to hold your breath for as long as you can to keep from inhaling the spray. I was wearing sunglasses, but some of the spray still got into my eyes through the sides. I was able to see, but it was very painful.

When I'm backpacking (or kayaking) in bear country, my bear spray is carried in a holster where I can get to it right away. This stays with me while setting up camp and cooking, and it's in my tent when I'm sleeping. During kayaking expeditions I've spent several nights at beach campsites when we saw the bears on the beach, but we landed and camped there anyway. It was that or face an angry sea (or unfriendly currents) after dark. Between those two dangers, I'll take my chances with bears any day.

On one of those occasions I was setting up my sleeping quarters when a large boar started coming downhill straight toward me. I stood my ground and took out my bear spray, and the bear just kept coming. When he was way too close for comfort (but too far away to use bear spray), I very calmly took one step back to signify that I was not a threat, then I stood my ground again. This may be a controversial action, but the big guy immediately turned sideways and went on his way. I've read all of the suggestions about how to behave during bear encounters, and I always cook and store food away from camp. When I'm out there and encounter a bear, I stay calm and trust my instincts. So far that has worked for me.

On one occasion, while stopped for a quick break on a beach, a young brown bear walked onto the beach and went after my kayak. When he contented himself with pulling on my bow line, we just watched and left him alone. But when he ripped my sea sock out of the cockpit and started to get into my kayak, one of the members of my party suggested that we intervene, and he started advancing immediately. We all followed. We were a party of 4, and 2 of us had our bear spray in our hands. We held our hands (except for the hands holding bear spray) high in the air, talked to the bear in calm, but firm voices, and advanced very slowly, staying very close together so that we would be perceived as larger. The young bear dropped my sea sock, backed up, looked at us, then walked away. The only damage to my sea sock was a lot of bear slobber.Brown bear chew toy

Edited by DianaV on 02/12/2011 18:10:46 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: the way to ship bear spray . on 02/12/2011 12:47:22 MST Print View

""How will he get it up there? You can't fly with it."

ohh.. pish tosh tiddle ...

it is only illegal if it is in the passenger compartment."

Peter, you missed the point, so let me explain it to you. If the party is from the Lower 48 states, they have to fly it (the bear spray) up to Anchorage or else purchase it there.

It is illegal to have it in the airliner at all.

If you purchase the stuff in Anchorage, you still need to fly it out to the destination. Some bush plane pilots forbid bear spray to be transported, but they do allow bear flares. Some float plane pilots allow bear spray to be transported, but only by prior arrangement, because some aircraft have an outboard storage box, and some do not.