I've been a backpacker for years. Lots of off-trail scrambling/peak bagging in the Cascades and Olympics in Washington. I always tried to get lightish gear, you know: 4.5 lb tent, 3.5 lb pack, 1.5 lb inflatable pad, etc. With the kind of hiking I like to do, I typically centered my trips around a base camp so I could drop gear and then go do the fun stuff.
In the search for a new tent, I stumbled on BPL. My first thought was that going ultralight would be an uncomfortable, ritualistic experience that was more about bragging your 'base weight' on the internet... I figured that most of the gear would be over the top expensive, and result in primitive experience where you pretend to enjoy spending a cold, wet night under a grocery sack after wiping your behind with pine needles.
I started with a Contrail tarptent. To my surprise, it was as roomy as my last '2-person' freestanding tent, and much lighter (and cheaper!). I fell in love immediately. Next was a GG Gorilla Pack. Wait a second, this thing is 2 lbs lighter than my old pack, and just as comfortable? Then came a lighter Hyalite inflatable pad and an Esbit solid fuel stove ($10!!??). Hmmm. So far there was no sacrifice in comfort. None. And the gear swap here was making this relatively inexpensive.
Next was a closer look at my gear; shed some clothes I never used, cut down on some excess container sizes, etc.
Last weekend was my test trip. My overnight gear list is something like this:
-TT Contrail w/ SOL Emergency blanket for groundsheet
-GG Gorilla with Sitpad back
-Hyalite mummy pad
-Big Agnes Pomer Hoit 0* (I'm a cold sleeper, so I'm cool with an extra pound here for now).
-Esbit folding stove with 6 fuel tabs and MSR Titan
-Steripen (classic version that is reliable and takes AA batteries)
-Montbell Alpine Light Jacket
-Cheap 8 oz rain shell
-Baselayer top and bottom, extra socks
-Three freeze dried dinners, instant oatmeal, trail snack food, two smartwater 1L bottles (one full)
-Assorted first aid, repair, Via coffee packs, Emergen-C packets, lighter, head net, touque, mini cabelas leatherman, mini toothpaste, toothbrush
-smartphone for camera, reading, gps
-a spot of good tequila for... ummm... medicinal needs
I'm sure missing some little stuff, but you get the idea.
I chose Esmerelda Basin, adjacent to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, as my test location. Lots of options depending on how I was feeling. Anyway, at the trailhead was the first time I'd slung the pack on my shoulders fully loaded. It was lighter than what I've used for some longish dayhikes! My little postal scale had me somewhere south of 19-lbs with food and one full 1L water bottle.
I quickly realized how this could change my typical hiking routine. Instead of looking for a base camp to dump some weight, I was free to keep everything with me. I ended up taking a nice off-trail scramble route to Fortune Peak and spending the night on the summit. It was beautiful at dusk and dawn, but pretty cold and windy overnight. Everything functioned perfectly. The Contrail is palatial for one person, the Esbit setup is perfect for my hot-water only needs. My pack was so light, that I didn't hesitate to fill my other 1L bottle and pack it the last 1500' of vertical for dinner and breakfast needs.
The Contrail with Mt. Rainier in the Background.
Fortune Peak in the center of the photo.
The Contrail looking southeast toward Ellensburg.
On a side note, I switched to trail runners last year, before I made the lightweight move. They worked fine with my old gear, but now I'm completely sold. With the light pack, I had no issues with my Inov-8s through boulder fields, loose scree scrambling on the ascent and descent. No need for camp shoes anymore. No blisters, and my feet are still comfy at the end of the day. No desperate desire to get out of the heavy leathers...
Thanks to BPL for some great gear swap deals and great info.