My son (new boy scout) and I just completed our first backpacking trip - a quick overnight with his Troop that involved a thankfully short 1.5 mile hike in and out of the Birkhead Wilderness in the Uwharrie National Forest. I don't know what the proper BPL term is but I suppose we are no longer backpacking virgins... The best part is that in spite of the weather (details below) my son and I both left with smiles on our faces and his desire to "do more backpacking with just the two of us to practice". That is a big thumbs up across the board.
The trip started in 32 degree weather with snow/ice/rain - which turned to almost entirely snow after about 2 hours or so. It was cold and damp. Finally broke around 4pm, then got pitch black and sleeted tiny balls of ice for about 10-15 minutes like someone tipped a bucket over on top of us (we had long since setup camp). Then finally gone for good. Temps dropped to roughly 22 or so Sunday morning and the hike out they'd risen to maybe mid 30s or so when we got to the trailhead and our cars.
After months poring over threads and information on this site I'd tried to pare down our car camping excesses slowly but surely in anticipation of having to put it all on your back. That proved to be very helpful on a lot of levels, including acquiring gear over time which permitted taking as much advantage of gear swap as I could (particularly compared to some others who found themselves two weeks out dropping $1500 at REI) and focusing on the essentials to try to minimize pack weight (their list - if you used all of it - would weigh 45-50 pounds and not fit in a youth pack). So thank you all including those on the Scouting sub forum who shared packing lists.
I have so many comments on what I've learned and things I need to improve on for both of us it is hard to know where to start.
Some general observations first.
First, despite our best efforts it felt like both of us were carrying more weight than I'd have liked. We were far from the worst in this regard no question, but still I'd like to trim both of us down. Some will happen over time and there are some limits that could not be avoided (the wet and very cold weather dictated more clothing, for example, than we otherwise might take). Next trip I'm going to have a scale and start actually weighting everything...
Second, the happiness provided by good rain gear can't be overstated. My son had a coated nylon jacket that, while not really breathable (less critical given the short distance and temps) kept him bone dry underneath. I had my RAB Latok which performed flawlessly and really made a big difference. We both had basic Columbia pants over base layers. Particularly in those temperatures you don't want to mess around with being wet. The Latok was worth every penny.
Third, the issue with canister stoves in cold weather is no joke. Breakfast was being prepared in conditions which pushed the limit of the Jetboil canisters - ambient temps probably around 24-25. Most everyone had a canister stove and they were all sluggish. I didn't sleep with the canister (probably should have...) or otherwise warm it. I will consider placing it in water next time ... or bring the white gas if I'm really concerned. In the southeast given the relatively low elevations we are likely to attempt in winter 20s are always possible but the average lows are the low 30s.
Gear MVPs (other than aforementioned rain gear).
Exped Synmat 7. Not the UL version so a bit on the heavy side but I stayed warm and had the best nights sleep I've had camping despite the conditions. I'm a believer and may have to keep my eye out for the UL version...
Golite Feather 20 sleeping bag. I managed to get my clothing just right given it was my first time trying out this bag. 800 fill down is the bees knees, lofty, light and comfortable. I was toasty warm despite the low 20s temps in the bag with midweight base layers, dry wool socks, a fleece beanie and during the night I added a microfleece pullover.
Costco Merino Wool socks. Dang these things are nice and comfortable-particularly for $8 for 4 pair...
It was a struggle to fit everything into our packs - even ignoring the weight. I had to abandon my REI Flash 65 in favor of a much heavier Alps Mountaineering 85L pack. Some of it is gear choice and some of it may be packing technique... so here was my complete gear list other than the pack:
LL Bean Microlight FS2 tent. Stated weight 3 lbs 12 oz. Packed size 20x6. I really like this tent and it is obviously roomy for one person although not ridiculously so. Setup is easy and it is, for the size, pretty lightweight. But it was darn hard to pack in and around it - or so it seemed. I ended up removing the poles and stakes, and packing the tent and fly in a OR compression sack and shrinking it down a bit. This is the biggest question I have - whether to continue with this tent or look for something even smaller - Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 or MSR Hubba... not quite ready for a true tarp or tarptent setup...
Golite Feather 20. Stated weight 2 pounds 2 oz. Packed in it's stuff sack, no compression sack used, and put in a plastic garbage bag given the weather. For the temps I'm not sure I can get much smaller than this for a bag...
Exped Synmat 7. Stated weight 31 ounces. I really liked sleeping on this pad compared to my equally heavy Alps Lightweight self inflating pad that packs larger and is less comfortable. It packs relatively small but seemed to be the most problematic item.
Alite Monarch camp chair. Yeah I know it was my true luxury item (well some here would probably consider a lot of my stuff luxurious but still). On Scout trips there is a fair amount of downtime and a chair of some sort is really nice... packs pretty small as well - this was fairly easy to stuff somewhere in the pack.
Snow Peak Gigapower
Primus ETA 1L power pot with fry pan lid (gigapower and canister stored in pot)
220g Jetboil Fuel
Light my Fire spork
GSI 20oz nesting bowl/mug
3L Osprey Hydration bladder
Terramar lightweight base layer shirt
C9 duo dry shirt
RAB Latok Shell
C9 lightweight base layer bottom
Columbia rain pants
Seirus lightweight gloves
Packed (All clothes other than the pants were packed in a dry sack - REI jacket in its own dry sack):
Terramar midweight base layer top (sleep)
Terramar midweight base layer bottom (sleep)
C9 running pants (sleep)
Mountain Hardwear Dom Perignon (sleep)
Marmot heavy weight fleece gloves (backup)
Columbia nylon hiking pants (for when rain stopped)
2 pair extra wool socks (1 for sleeping; 1 backup)
REI midweight quarter zip base (backup - probably superflous)
REI Spruce Run synthetic jacket (extra insulation either in camp or sleep)
Repair kit (1 tube tenacious tape, 3 safety pins, 3ft duct tape wrapped around an old athletic tape tube, 1 tube seam grip, all packed in a small nylon bag)
Fire starter kit (altoids tin with Light my fire starter, mini Bic and 4-5 cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly)
50 feet 3mm utility cord to hang food bag
Zebralight H30w headlamp.
Benchmade mini griptilian
2 Photon Freedom microlights (backup)
1 Leatherman Style PS
Cheap ground tarp for a footprint (need to buy an actual footprint or maybe get a tyvek ground cloth...)
Trowel (MSR LNT), 4x6sheets toilet paper, 2x scent free wipes (in own small ziplocks) all packed in a gallon ziplock
First Aid kit - 1 tube neosporin, 1 tube sting eze, 8 bandaids various sizes, 2x large gauze pad, 2x small gauze pad, 8 steri strips, 8x Pepto Bismol, 8x Immodium, 8x benadryl, small tube Ibuprofen all packed in a quart size ziplock
Personal toiletries - small microfiber cloth, toothbrush, travel toothpaste, small tin with allergy meds in a quart size ziplock.
Food (packed in a nylon sack):
1x Mountain House meal
4x instant oatmeal
4x Starbucks Via
2x Clif Mojo bar
2x mini bagel with pb&j (lunch on hike in day)
1x apple (lunch on hike in day)
1x 32oz Nalgene
I think that is all. I was surprised it all didn't fit into the Flash 65... I know there was some fat in that mix - but given the wet and very cold conditions (and I carried a little extra as a backup for my son...) I think part of the problem was everything was packed in its stuff sack - including clothes which meant I had a bunch of cylinders that don't necessarily fill all the available space. I did separate the tent/fly from the poles and compress it but would not normally thing that was necessary. I could move the tent to the pack bottom straps I suppose but would rather have it in my pack. I'm thinking a pack liner with clothes in particular stuffed wherever may help rather than a bunch of little stuff/dry bags... Still puzzling that one out. I'm also as noted questioning the tent choice as well....
Time to get a scale and start really figuring out how to make this work better for both of us...