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First UL trip experience
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Jeff N
(Newtrout) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
First UL trip experience on 09/07/2012 10:57:31 MDT Print View

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.
Contrail on Fortune 2

Fortune Peak in the center of the photo.
Route down from Fortune

The Contrail looking southeast toward Ellensburg.
Contrail on Fortune

Roomy TT Contrail!

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.

Edited by Newtrout on 09/07/2012 11:57:59 MDT.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
First UL trip experience on 09/07/2012 11:48:35 MDT Print View

Great review, and very nice photos!

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
First UL trip experience on 09/07/2012 13:40:55 MDT Print View

Congrats on the lightweight trip, Jeff.

Going lighter just seems to change one's perspective about backpacking, doesn't it?

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: First UL trip experience on 09/07/2012 14:17:57 MDT Print View


Thanks for taking the time to share your lightweight story of transformation.

Sure that a lot of us can relate to your experience and appreciate that first, "Ah Ha!" moment when it all worked out well going lighter and realizing that you are not sacrificing all that much to go light.

Great photos too to show us what you did and where you were. think of all the other places you can go and can enjoy more with a lighter pack!


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Good review on 09/07/2012 16:36:14 MDT Print View


Interesting review. Nice to have your photos to illustrate the story. Beautiful country too.

I had a Contrail and liked it a lot then sold it to get a TT Moment and love it esp. because of its wind-worthiness and more useable vestibule. But it doesn't have the floorspace of the Contrail.

As for ESBIT cooking I've done it for years but never knew how efficient it could be until I got a Caldera Cone Sidewinder W/ a 3 cup pot. That stove is SO efficient with ESBIT tabs that I used 30% less fuel every day. But yeah, it's an expensive stove. However as well, it is (IMHO) the best gassifier wood stove out there.

Keep on working with UL and you'll be backpacking into your 80s with good knees.

Edited by Danepacker on 09/07/2012 16:40:15 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
First UL trip experience on 09/07/2012 17:58:25 MDT Print View

Good report.
As you discovered it does not need to be all that expensive , neither you need to give up a lot of comfort if any.
In fact to me the more weight one has, the more 'comfort" that one needs to make up for being tired .
keep having fun

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Light on 09/08/2012 12:33:51 MDT Print View

Now your going to have the itch to go even lighter, and lighter, and lighter.

Edward Z
(Fuzz) - MLife

Locale: Sunny San Diego
Thanks for sharing on 09/08/2012 17:35:00 MDT Print View

That was a great report. Glad to hear you have seen the "light". I smiled while reading because your gearlist is essentially what I had on my first trips light. how liberating huh? Here's to many more miles walked, pics taken, and memories made....


Clint Hollingsworth

Locale: North Central Wa State
Great report! on 09/12/2012 11:55:50 MDT Print View

Awesome trip report. I am still approaching lightweight and your story is inspiring.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Awesome on 09/15/2012 21:09:27 MDT Print View

Great report. Getting lighter just lets you have more fun since you spend less time hurting. Thanks for sharing.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
Love it! on 09/16/2012 17:08:00 MDT Print View

I loved your trip report...I've been going through the same process as you, and I smiled too, because my setup is getting closer to yours. I decided on a 2 lb. solo tent instead of tarp. Thanks for the inspiration!

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: First UL trip experience on 09/16/2012 18:31:30 MDT Print View

This is what BPL is all about! Welcome to the light side.
P.S. great photos

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
First UL trip experience on 09/16/2012 18:54:20 MDT Print View

Reminds me of my firts UL trip. TT Squall, home modified pack, trail runners, 2.5 lb sleeping bag, home made stove. After 25 years of backpacking it was a revelation.

joseph peterson
(sparky) - F

Locale: Southern California
First UL trip experience on 09/16/2012 19:59:09 MDT Print View

My first trip was awesome. My pack felt like a fluffy cloud.


Edited by sparky on 09/16/2012 20:00:53 MDT.