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Going from Traditional to Lightweight
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Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Going from Traditional to Lightweight on 12/29/2012 21:32:13 MST Print View

First post here at BPL.

I'm 6'3'' and 165 lbs, a side sleeper, and athletic. I'm trying to get back into backpacking (Eagle Scout with Philmont and lots of other hikes under my belt). A few weeks ago I did my first overnight hike in about 10 years, a 2 night hike up Mt. Mitchell. Unfortunately, I didn't weigh my pack, but I would guess I went past 35 lbs with water, fuel, and food. Since that trip, I've made a few changes, which I'll post below.

The biggest concern I have isn't necessarily going ultralight. My number one concern is sleeping comfort and my second concern is budget. Lastly, if budget allows and I don't sacrifice comfort, I want to go as light as I can. Most of my hiking will be 2-3 nights and no more than 10 miles per day. So I don't really mind carrying 35 lbs...but also wouldn't mind avoiding it. I had no problem carrying my pack up Mt. Mitchell.

I have a luggage scale, but no kitchen scale to weigh individual pieces of gear...but I'll be looking for one soon.

I'm also becoming proficient in using a thread injector. Here's the gear I've made:

1.1 double gathered-end hammock with end channels, whoopies, tree straps, and bug net (seperate from hammock)
DIY 1.1 double

Silnylon Night Wing tarp using Six Moon instructions, w/ integrated sil bathtub floor
(no picture yet)

For reference, the tarp and hammock fit into the same stuff sack. Here's the hammock with suspension wrapped around the bishop bag:
Hammock in bishop bag

Okay, on to the gear list:

Pack: Gregory Baltoro 65
-Bought at REI and considering replacing it with a lighter pack. I used gift cards to buy it so I think I'll be locked in to a pack from REI if I return it.

Shelter: DIY Nightwing Tarp w/ DIY sil bathtub floor
-I'm considering adding doors to keep wind and rain out

Sleeping Bag: Alps Clearwater 20 long
-It packs down really well considering its synthetic and long. It'll go into the bottom of my Baltoro with no problem at all. Since this is an expensive category, I'm fine with this for a while unless there's a good, cheaper alternative that's lighter and more compact.

Sleeping Pad: REI Stratus long
-It's pretty comfortable. I've spent two nights on it, but wondering if there's something with more comfort but still lightweight. Since this is my biggest concern (my hips were killing me after the second night) I would love some insight here. I'm going to put my sit-pad beneath my hips next trip.

Stove: Primus EtaExpress system
-It's shipping to me now. I chose this for the versatility, price (CHEAP on Sierra Trading Post w/ a coupon), and good reviews. I know it's not the lightest system, but it's also a lot better than what I have now.

Clothing: (I'm comfortable in the low 20's with this)
-REI Kimtah eVent rain jacket
-OR synthetic jacket
-Patagonia midweight quarter-zip
-longsleeve and shortsleeve running shirts (these are interchangeable depending on weather)
-Colombia zip-off pants
-midweight and lightweight long underwear (these are interchangeable depending on weather)
-underarmor for underwear (or small running shorts w/ mesh)
-hiking socks and liners
-Garmont Zenith Goretex shoes

Other gear:
-REI waterproof matches
-REI lite core sit-pad - super light! love this thing
-walmart pocket knife - locking, a little heavy, could be replaced if I can find a cheap/light knife
-simple first-aid kit - put together from home
-old plastic compass from my scouting days
-cheap, light headlamp - no brand name on doesn't weight much and it works well
-long REI spoon
-Steri Pen
-Iodine tablets and iodine taste reducer - backup for the steripen
-old orange plastic shovel for when nature calls
-50 feet of utility cord for bear bagging
-25 liter silnylon roll-top bag for clothes and bear bag
-a few assorted stuff sacks - I'll either use these or zip-loc bags (especially for clothes)
-3 liter camelback bladder
-2 nalgenes (if I need them)
-bandana for my hair (not gonna use it for anything else, like a sediment filter or dish rag....seems a little gross to me)

Need to buy:
-Trekking poles (my knees need them, as does my tarp)

I think that's it. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for your time.

Edited by FightingTheTide on 12/29/2012 21:38:41 MST.

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Couple of big ones.... on 12/29/2012 22:08:00 MST Print View

Like yourself I bought a pack at REI and essentially locked myself into finding something there that got me from traditional backpacking weights down into the lightweight category. I recently returned my Arcteryx Atmos 50 after 3 weekend trips using it because it was uncomfortable but also could lose some weight. Your best lightweight option at REI is probably the Osprey Exos series, which by comparison to your Baltoro can save you close to 3 pounds just in pack weight. Plus it'll actually be a solid $100 cheaper possibly!

As for sleeping bags, I'm going from a 50oz synthetic bag to a 25oz down quilt by Enlightened Equipment and only getting dinged for about $200-220 depending on specifics. You can spend a small fortune on a single lightweight down bag however, but Enlightened Equipment is a fantastic value (RevX quilt) with really solid reviews from everyone who has one.

Lastly, as a 6'4" 230lbs side-sleeper myself I can attest to the absolute [personal] necessity of my Exped air mats. I use a SynMat 7 LW and think it's worth every penny, and indeed more than every penny, that I paid for it gently used via the Gear Swap forum here. Keep an eye out for them because they tend to come and go quickly, but if you can get away with being tall but using one of the smaller sizes you can get really good results at a decent weight, that way. I started with their SynMat 9 DLX mat purchased through REI a few years ago before I knew of lightweight backpacking so when I switched to the UL model I cut off about 1.5 pounds in that one item. Still though, it's a great product.

Others will pick apart the particulars of your kit for sure so I'll leave that to the weight vultures. ;-)

EDIT: I have REI shipping me an Exos 58 and have read almost nothing but positive reviews of the pack. The size (volume) is down to what you want to fit in there and I know when I was first pairing down my gear from more traditional stuff to this lightweight business, volume, not weight-capacity, was the biggest problem. That said I do a lot of dessert camping so need to be able to haul tons of water, which is a drag but hadn't been a real problem yet for my 50L Arcteryx.

Edited by aeriksson on 12/29/2012 22:14:37 MST.

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Pack and Sleeping Pad, on 12/30/2012 07:14:48 MST Print View

Thanks! That's some great insight. I'll look into the Exos 58 when I get a chance to run by my local REI. I think I tried it on but my initial impressions were that it didn't have any lumbar support. The hip belt was grabbing the side of my back rather than my lower back and it wasn't exactly comfortable. But I'll give it another shot. Comparing it to a Baltoro might not be fair. It's like comparing a Cadillac to a Civic.

As for a sleeping pad, I saw that Big Agnes Q-Core SL is 3.5" thick and it seems comparable in weight to the Exped UL's, if not a few ounces lighter. The extra inch of thickness is really compelling right now. On my last trip, I inflated my REI Stratus to almost full and had aching hips and knees both nights. Anyone have input on the BA Q-Core SL? And could I go with a narrower pad if I sleep on my side?

Lastly, a good quilt will have to wait for now because of the price.

Side note - I've been reading The Backpacker's Handbook by Townsend and I'm learning a good bit. Some of it I already know from prior experience, but his stories and advice/life lessons are invaluable. Good stuff.

Edited by FightingTheTide on 12/30/2012 07:21:36 MST.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
welcome! on 12/30/2012 07:49:41 MST Print View

Hi Tyler,

Thanks for sharing your kit. There are so many great people here that can give you feedback. I went through the transition this year to ultralight (my base weight is now under 10 lbs now for summer trips in the Rockies- yeah!), and I was able to do it inexpensively.

Now winter backpacking, that is a different story....I may have dropped a couple thousand in gear there. :)

Let me share some of my favorite budget ideas-

1. Become a member of BPL and start reading all the great articles- they will give you a ton of ideas. It's worth the money!

2. Look for alternatives outside of the outdoor gear world and post what you find for us. I loved this one from Dale earlier this year about some cheap wind pants from the dancing world:

3. If you haven't already- check out Mike Clelland's book from the library (or have the librarian order it in for you). Book link here:

Mike also has some good free videos here- he has a whole series of them- check them all out:

4. Some gear from the military surplus stores could be a good fit. For example- puffy pant liners on the cheap!

5. Trash compactor bag as your pack liner - ditch pack covers.

6. +1 Exped Synmat is the way to go if you are a side sleeper. Bring an extra foam sit pad for under your hip area. This is an expense that is hard to get by without if you are looking for comfort. I have the Exped Snozzle that I use as my pack liner. My friend has the BA core and loves it, but you will pay the price in weight.

7. Look around your house and see what you can repurpose for backpacking. If you need a pillow (since you are into comfort)- this was something I found in my house-

8. Make your own alcohol stove or there are some inexpensive sets you can buy. Like this one from Ultralight Design (whom- btw- has great accessories)

9. Check GearTrade and Craigslist regularly for used gear.

10. Do a knife search on the forums and you will be quickly overwhelmed. I settled on the Little Vickie for food prep (under an ounce) , and I have a 3 oz. Buck knife if I'm worried about survival stuff for the trip.

11. I bought a Steripen before I knew about Aquamira. I still have the steripen that I would use for group trips, but the Aquamira is lighter and just as effective. You could sell your steripen and use that money to buy other gear.

12. Get a good scale and create a spreadsheet... This is your new hobby and it's worth the cost. :)

13. Most ultralighters are hiking in trail runners that do not have Goretex or other WPB fabrics. The more breathable your shoe, the better. Goretex does not breath as well.

I really hope some of these tips help. Have fun!

Edited by flutingaround on 12/30/2012 07:56:21 MST.

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
Investigate on 12/30/2012 09:43:48 MST Print View

+1 on Rachel's suggestions-- especially purchasing a scale, weighing everything, looking around your house, and reading up on the subject.

Ultralight is a road, not a destination. ;-)

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
One more thing on 12/30/2012 10:16:59 MST Print View

if you are into reading- Andrew Skurka's "The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide" is also very excellent with gear knowledge and advice. He actually recommends specific brands and it was published in 2012 so it is very relevant. Libraries should have this one too.

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Couple more suggestions... on 12/30/2012 10:24:49 MST Print View

Here's a few suggestions less specific to gear that I wish I had known sooner....

+1 for getting a BPL membership. The $25 even on a yearly basis is going to more than pay for itself the first time you avoid multiple purchases because of some info you read in the really solid reviews.

Gear Swap wills ave you hundreds of dollars. Use it. Most people tend to sell their stuff for about 50% of retail if it's in good shape. You should familiarize yourself with the "Recent Threads" link and keep an eye on what comes up. So far of my dozen or so Gear Swap purchases I can say everyone's been really easy to deal with and trustworthy. Another reason why a BPL membership pays for itself.

If you're like me at times there will be a gear-mismatch period where some of your stuff is all light and fast, and other bits decidedly aren't. There was a point when my pack was definitely designed for a sub-30lbs load and I was well above that so the whole endeavor was a tad frustrating. It gets better (that campaign was about UL backpacking right?).

It's okay to not agree with some of the UL concepts championed by more than a few people in this forum. It can at times feel like dogma but look past that to what makes sense to you. Frankly I see no point to exceptionally small first aid kits consisting of duct tape and a few NSAIDs and carry a *gasp* small kit with enough narcotic pain medicine to knock out a horse....or in most cases, drug up my in-pain companions who didn't bring first-aid. Another example: frameless packs don't work for me, neither belly-crawling my way under a tarp, but do I pay attention to 1, 2, maybe 4 pounds I can save by swapping tents wisely? Yeah totally.

Stay away from alcohol stoves lest you become addicted. Alcohol addiction is no laughing matter. Seriously, there's so many little cooking setups out there once you fall down the rabbit hole you'll never be satisfied. That said I love my Caldera Cone with Stoic Ti I just want a Pack-a-Feather XL so I can simmer. See what I mean?! Help. Me.

Oh yeah, and Nalgene bottles are beasts. Get yourself some Platypus bottles or similar and save a remarkable amount of weight, and also store the empty ones a helluva lot easier.


Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Thanks for the insight! on 12/30/2012 13:53:06 MST Print View

Thanks again for all the input and time you guys have given! I appreciate it.

I'm taking this all in and I'll take steps into this process of going lighter. Like Harrison said, I see this as a journey. I'll post with an update once I get all of my gear together and weighed.

If anyone else has suggestions, I'll gladly take them.

Edited by FightingTheTide on 12/30/2012 13:58:37 MST.

Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Careful on the pack size on 12/30/2012 18:14:06 MST Print View

You have some very good lightweight (not UL) choices for packs at REI and I would recommend you look at the Osprey Exos 46 or Osprey Talon 44. Both are very comfortable and both come in larger sizes that I have found to be just too large but tempting because they don't weigh much more. Resist the urge! Bigger bags just mean you'll shove more in it than you need.

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Careful on the pack size on 12/30/2012 18:24:16 MST Print View

Thanks Steve. In a few days, when I get home from traveling I'll weigh all of my gear and try to get an idea of how many cubic inches it takes up, as well as try on some pack at REI.

BTW - I dont necessarily have to get a pack at REI. If I can find a pack under $200, I don't mind using my REI credit on some poles and some other gear. I just know once I trade my Baltoro in, I'll have the store credit to use on SOMETHING...whether or not it's a pack.

Any suggestions for packs that I can buy online under or around $200?

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Packs, packs, and more packs.... on 12/30/2012 19:16:59 MST Print View

You're in a bit of a bind here, as so many of us during the transition from traditional to lightweight the ultimately to UL...

You can save serious poundage by getting a lighter, smaller pack...but unless your other stuff is small enough, your other gear isn't going to actually FIT in the smaller, lighter pack. Most here will recommend that you get the pack last...

Having said that, I completely understand the temptation to drop from an 8 pound Gregory to something <2 pounds...I'm on my 4th pack in 3 years now. On one hand a serious waste of money, but on the other it is a good learning experience.

Check out the cottage manufacturers: I finally went with a Gossamer Gear Gorilla (the Mariposa would probably be a more appropriate size for you during your transition) because it can be frameless or not, has excellent hip belt support and for me, was a great way to have some pack that can change with me along my UL journey.

I've never used one, but I really looked at the ULA packs as well before I went with the gorilla...and you can get them with full suspension if you want. The GG and the ULA packs will generally run you $200-250, give or take.

I don't remember what you have for your sleeping bag, but that was, literally my biggest problem. Older, synthetic, cheaper bags are simply huge and will take up 2/3rds of your new, lighter pack. As Alec mentioned earlier, sometimes it's the volume that is the main culprit during the transition time. Focus on your big 3: tent, bag, pack, then work on the other stuff.

Good luck!!

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
Re: Packs, packs, and more packs.... on 12/30/2012 19:26:27 MST Print View

Although I understand the rationale of replacing your pack last, there has been som talk (I think, in Backpacker magazine) that replacing it first is just as smart. The argument is that forces you to critically think about the gear you have on hand, and make serious decisions regarding what gear you really need to carry.

Mind you, I don't advocate one or the other...

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: Packs, packs, and more packs....S on 12/30/2012 19:30:42 MST Print View

So true about the larger sleeping bags. I had no idea how small even a totally affordable, 550 fill, down bag could be compressed until I bought one as a christmas present a couple weeks ago (a Kelty Cosmic 20). Imagine my shock when it was at least 1/3 smaller than my 40 degree synthetic. With an Enlightened Equipment quilt on the way I fully expect to halve the volume my bag occupies inside my pack.

I can see the wisdom in doing pack last. However, a large part of my motivation to cut weight and volume came that first time I loaded all my gear into a too-small 50L pack I bought guessing my volume needs, and realized "oh sh*t I don't have room for food!" I'm actually on my third pack: an REI Crestrail 70, then an Arcteryx Atmos 50, and now the aforementioned Osprey Exos 58. I'm not sure if I should have gotten the Exos 46 but I figured I could use the extra space because I frequently desert camp where I could be carrying 4L+ of water. We'll see though once it shows up. If I need to exchange (before using it) REI is always there!

I wouldn't go frameless until you have your kit well established and trimmed down though.

Edited by aeriksson on 12/30/2012 19:33:10 MST.

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Pack first or last? GG Gorilla on sale.... on 12/30/2012 19:32:03 MST Print View

Yeah, I see wisdom in both ways here. I'm not sure what I'll do, but I WILL measure my gear when I get home in a few days.

The GG Gorilla is on sale. Should I grab it? Or is that jumping the gun? The price is right!

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Buying the pack last... on 12/30/2012 19:38:49 MST Print View

I made the mistake of buying the pack first, thinking 1) it would save me close to 6 pounds right off the bat and 2) that it would force me to bring less stuff.

Yes, saved me a ton of weight, not just because the pack itself weighed so much less, but also because the only thing that could fit in it was my sleeping bag. Tada!! Streamline your gear the EASY way!

About the frame vs frameless, I agree that going frameless isn't for everyone, especially not until you get your gear dialed in a bit. That's actually why i like the gossamer gear and the ULA packs are so much...they actually ARE framed packs...but you can take out the stays if you want. So the point with those is that they are flexible. And you can comfortably carry upwards of 30# in them, so they can be useful even as you get the rest of your kit in place.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
Agreed. on 12/30/2012 20:02:39 MST Print View

I still haven't bought my pack, I have an older cheaper Golite Pursuit that I'm using. But I have my eye on several 3 season backpacks that I want...and I'm waiting for the right moment.

Kevin Garrison
(kgarrison) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area
Going Lightweight on 12/30/2012 22:57:07 MST Print View

I've been working on the same problem for the last year (i.e., going from traditional backweight to light weight). Unfortunately, once I got to 12 pounds base weight I just had to drop it another 2 pounds to get to ultralight. You've embarked on a difficult path. I speak from experience.

My best suggestion is to read the boards for gear advice. It's invaluable. I'd also recommend that you do ALL of your shopping on Gear Swap. I've bought a ton of stuff and the quality has been outstanding and the prices are incredible.

I also recommend starting with the big three (i.e., pack, bag and tent). I started with the pack, then downsided my bag and then transition to a tarp. If I could do it again, I would buy my bag first, then my shelter and then a pack to fit it all.

I transitioned from a MHW synthetic bag to a WM down bag. Weight savings were worth a few pounds but the space savings were enormous. My next big purchase was a MLD trailstar. I love this shelter. The weight to space ratio is amazing. I quickly realized, however, that i just do not need that much space. I've subsequently transitioned to a HMB Echo I tarp with beak. The space is perfect and the additional weight savings are nice. You'll need a bivy however to keep your down bag dry. I went with a TiGoat.

Other suggestions, look at the small stuff. If you're like me, you'll want a pillow. I purchased 3 different ones before I found the Exped. It's great. Unfortunately, I realized that i could buy a Marmot Zeus puffy that can replace my fleece and also my pillow for another 3-4 oz of weight savings.

I also recommend that you consider your cook kit carefully. I started out with a Jetboil, then transitioned to a alcohol stove, and then a backcountry boiler. They all have the strengths and weaknesses. The BC boiler is a lot of fun and I love the fact that I do not have to carry fuel. Alcohol stoves are nice but they take forever to heat water and the I don't have the patience to allocate my fuel to make the weight savings significant. If I had to do it again, I'd buy the Ti Jetboil. It's incredibly light and you don't have to spend a ton on various UL Ti pot combonations to make it all work out.

It's a slippery slope. I'm down to less than 8 lbs on base weight and I'm starting to add back things that increase my comfort level. The more you read on BPL, the less you'll spend. Enjoy the experience.

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Big 3 on 12/31/2012 08:31:02 MST Print View

It makes sense to get my bag first. The one I have now probably wouldn't fit properly into a lightweight pack like a GG Gorilla.

Focusing on the big 3:
Pack - I can easily get a lighter pack from REI at no loss of money
Shelter - I have a MYOG sil Nightwing with bathtub floor
Bag - This is where I'll spend my money first

So with that, I have two questions:

What should I look for in a down quilt that won't break the bank? I usually don't camp below 20 deg. F

My MYOG sil tarp has a sil bathtub floor. It's a Nightwing Tarp (Six Moon) and doesn't have doors. Should I add doors and forget about a bivy? Or get a bivy and forget about doors? Not sure if there's a general consensus, especially if I get a down quilt.

Edited by FightingTheTide on 12/31/2012 08:32:43 MST.

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
Re: Big 3 on 12/31/2012 09:48:35 MST Print View

I can't comment on the tarp (as I've only used tents), but your best buy in quilts is Enlightened Equipment's Revelation X-- the 20 degree quilt currently goes for less than $200. Tim Marshall is the proprietor, and he's very pleasant to work with. As I understand it, Tim is modifying the design, and will be raising prices in he near future. Jacks R Better carries quilts specifically meant for hammocks, and while their quilts cost a little more, I've heard the quality/customer service are superb.

And you can (and should) continually visit the Gear Swap-- bargains galore!

Edited by carpenh on 12/31/2012 09:51:26 MST.

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Big 3 on 12/31/2012 09:58:14 MST Print View

Edit - nevermind, I found the sizing guide.

Edited by FightingTheTide on 12/31/2012 12:05:32 MST.