Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear

The first episode of Backpacking Light's new video series, "The SUL Wanderer" tells stories and teaches techniques about "SuperUltralight Backpacking" - the style of backpacking that focuses on the extremes of light weight, compactness, and simplicity for wilderness travel.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Ryan Jordan | 2013-05-21 00:00:00-06

The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear


I’m really excited to be able to introduce a new video series at Backpacking Light - “The SUL Wanderer”.

The purpose of this series is to explore (at least on the surface) - the art of “SuperUltralight” (SUL) backpacking - considered by most to be the practice of backpacking with a base weight of less than five pounds.

However, I won’t necessarily hold to that performance standard (weight) or extreme (five pounds) in this series. Instead, I’m hoping to promote a more reasonable definition of “SUL” that simply embodies what we do at the very extremes of ultralight backpacking in terms of weight, simplicity, and compactness of our gear.

Episode 1: Gear

In this episode, I simply wish to introduce you to some gear that I commonly use in Montana for three-season SUL backpacking. The idea is to focus on a kit that I use for three-day (long weekend) backpacking between about St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, on routes that are snow-free.

This introductory episode simply gives you an idea of what I might take on such a trip. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive thesis on SUL gear. Gear will be featured in future episodes as well, and my gear kit will certainly change as we go, and in response to unique conditions I expect on any particular trip.

Watch Episode 1 below. If you don't see the Vimeo video player window, please click here to refresh this page.

Episode #2 will focus on some basic techniques I use in my style of SUL:

  • Bivy sack camping in inclement weather without a tarp;
  • Cooking over fire;
  • SUL bear bagging;
  • SUL water treatment strategies;
  • SUL essentials...and nonessentials;
  • and more...

Look for future episodes on SUL tarp camping, SUL gourmet cooking, SUL packrafting, SUL mountaineering, SUL fishing, SUL photography, and more (heck, maybe we'll even do a bit on SUL RV camping). Many of these ideas are being generated on Twitter: send your feedback to me @bigskyry if there’s something you’d like to see, and note it with the hashtag #SUL.

In the meantime, enjoy the Episode #1 video, and have a peek at my one of my “base” SUL gear lists, which outlines the items that end up as part of my SUL pack for nearly every trip in the mountains of Montana (note that it's a little bit different that the SUL gear kit featured in the video).

SUL Gear List

The following gear list is a little different from the one shown in the video. The video features a gear kit that includes some minor "nonessentials" that I don't necessarily bring on every trip. The gear list below illustrates primarily those items that go with me all the time, and at minimum. Often, I'll add somewhere between four and twelve ounces of additional gear (see the video) as needed.

Item No.ItemDescriptionWeight (oz)Weight (g)
1backpackHyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack10.4295
2stow sackHyperlite Mountain Gear CF8 Size XL0.514
3sleeping bagKatabatic Gear Chisos Quilt14.6414
4sleeping padKlymit Inertia X-Lite6.1173
5parkaGoosefeet Down Parka8.1230
6shelterMountain Laurel Designs eVENT Soul Bivy14.5411
7food bag liner12.5” x 20.0” O.P. Sak1.440
8bear bag cord2.2mm x 40 ft braided Spectra1.132
9cook potFireLite 900 ml x 2.5mm titanium pot with lid3.291
10utensilLight My Fire titanium spork0.617
11cook pot stow bagdisposable grocery store bag0.13
12ditty bagHyperlite Mountain Gear CF8 Size S0.26
13firestarterLight My Fire Firesteel1.645
14firestarting tinderTinder Quik tabs in small plastic bag0.13
15water treatmentSteriPen Adventurer3.394
16rain jacketPatagonia M108.1230
17base layer*Beartooth Merino Hoody7.5213
18underwear*Patagonia Silkweight Capilene boxers2.262
19pants*Thorofare Pants4.5128
20socks*Smartwool Trekking Crew2.879
21shoes*Altra Lone Peaks22.0624
22hat*Lights of the Sky nylon crushable hat with brim (ca. 1995)2.057
Total Weight (FSO)7.1 lb3.2 kg
Base Weight (FSO minus “*” Items)4.6 lb2.1 kg


"The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2013-05-21 00:00:00-06.


Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Remember my login info.

The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/21/2013 20:04:54 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/21/2013 20:25:10 MDT Print View

I chuckled a bit when I saw a hatchet attached to a tiny cuben pack. I thought I was the only person in the world who would do something like that.

Sebastian Boenner

Locale: beautiful Rhineland (Germany)
going bushcraft? on 05/21/2013 23:50:31 MDT Print View

At first glance I was worried that the hatchet may come loose when Ryan throws the pack in the air. Had to watch it a second time to check if it has still been on the outside then... Gladly not.

Somehow this setup seems to have more in common with a modern version of bushcraft than with the "old" SUL setups. Best of both worlds?

As I'm using a similar setup from time to time I was wondering about the combination of a quilt and the Klymit. Maybe it's only me or temperatures over here are slightly lower, but the holes give me a good chill when using the pad on its own. That's why I add a really thin EVA pad to cover them up. Or are you using natural resources to compensate the lack of insulation?

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/22/2013 02:59:23 MDT Print View

Good video clip. SUL is the way to travel! All except the hatchet...

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Bivy on 05/22/2013 05:42:45 MDT Print View

I love the simplicity of that set up. None of that gear is even all that fragile. No cuben ponchos that have to be taken care of, no spinaker packs that have to be babied, etc.

I'm curious how the bivy works with a down sleeping bag. I would have been concerned about condensation. Or is it not such a big deal since you're only out for a weekend? I'm guessing you don't us the bivy if there is a lot of rain in the forecast?

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/22/2013 08:14:01 MDT Print View

Hatchet? Funny that you can include that and be so lightweight

After watching I reviewed my gear list - what can I not take?

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
SUL Trail Runing? SUL Thru Hiking? on 05/22/2013 08:28:34 MDT Print View

How about SUL trail running? How well do you think running with a pack like that would work? I would also guess that you would not want to bother with cooking over a fire after a day of running.

How about SUL thru-hiking (or just hiking for more then 5 days at a time). For that I think you'd want something other then a bivy for a shelter and your pack would need to be a bit bigger and more substantial.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
The SUL Wanderer on 05/22/2013 09:23:03 MDT Print View

Excellent stuff.. Less is truly more. The hatchet is a multi tool for sure and go with it!

Erik Dietz

Locale: Los Angeles
What about... on 05/22/2013 10:35:10 MDT Print View

I really like this series, it helps me focus on what's really needed and what's a luxury. There are two ideas I'd like to address though. First, I backpack in CA where I have to carry a 2lb bear canister almost all the time. This is never brought up in SUL discussions and honestly it feels like most of the guys who are going SUL are able to because they don't have concern themselves with a canisters weight or volume. Secondly, I'm a bigger guy and I have to buy XL clothing and a larger sleeping bag, bivy sack, etc. Is it possible to go SUL when most of your clothes, your bag, shelter, etc is a bit bigger and, therefore, heavier then for a guy who's shaped like an ultrarunner?

Any ideas?

Edited by erikdtz on 05/22/2013 11:01:45 MDT.

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/22/2013 10:44:56 MDT Print View

What BPL should be!

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: The SUL Wanderer on 05/22/2013 11:18:05 MDT Print View

Ryan, your videos always get me psyched about getting outside, which is high praise. I'm looking forward to future installments. I think I'll take your challenge and try a SUL trip with essentially the same gear as you next chance I get. I think the least base weight I've ever had was around 8 lbs, so it should be educational.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: What about... on 05/22/2013 11:48:52 MDT Print View


Edited by kthompson on 08/09/2014 23:54:00 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: What about... on 05/22/2013 12:15:19 MDT Print View


Good point about the requirement in some places to have to carry the "evil"/heavy bear canister and for the added weight of bigger/taller people.

That said, maybe the important take away from any SUL discussion is to see if there are any ideas/practices that you can take for yourself to simply lighten the load that you currently have.

Watching the video has made me question some of the gear that I have been contented to carry now and I am sure will help me shed a few more ounces or one pound.

Won't get me anywhere near SUL as I have a 10.5 lbs base weight, but I can see some wisdom to be gained from the SUL people.

Also, I think that people who are warm sleepers have a natural advantage in going SUL vs. those of us who are cold sleepers.

I loved seeing the simplicity of Ryan's setup.

Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks???


edited for spelling

Edited by Valshar on 05/22/2013 12:16:19 MDT.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 12:35:28 MDT Print View

I love these kind of videos and after my "conversion" to MYOG I've been able to substitute most of my old equipment for lighter (sometimes much lighter) items and I'm sure that -one day- I'll reach the SUL limit. Not easy though in my favorite playground: high altitude mountains above treeline.

Just one question: I understand the idea behind taking a hatchet when cooking over a fire but...... wouldn't a folding saw like the Bahco Laplander serve the same duty at less than half the weight??? (they're only about 6oz. against 13oz. for the hatchet).

Edited for spelling and adding weights.

Edited by theflyingdutchman on 05/22/2013 12:42:14 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 13:00:21 MDT Print View

He knows how to go very light. But Ryan likes his hatchet.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 13:29:09 MDT Print View

Another benefit of a folding saw or mini hatchet in an SUL kit is you can use it as an emergency tool in bad weather. A heavy duty cutting tool lets you build a solid natural shelter quickly that can stand any kind of weather. I consider this important if you hiking in areas that can experience random extreme weather and you are using only a light tarp.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 13:35:59 MDT Print View

Oh, I'm sure Ryan knows how to go light - very well. I used to take a folding saw (different brand than the one I mentioned though), but I’ve never been tempted to go as far as a 13oz. hatchet, so I was just wondering whether I was overlooking something that makes the hatchet that much more worthwhile.

In the near future I’ll be leaving behind the folding saw as well, because I'm in the middle of making myself a bow saw (just bought a blade and after cutting this to the desired length, the weight is only 34,8gr - just over 1.1oz). The blade will be attached to my trekking-poles which I'll take anyhow so the only further increase on weight will be the "attachers" (don't know how to call these). If there is interest I might post some pics when I finish same.

Edited by theflyingdutchman on 05/22/2013 13:37:58 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 13:40:39 MDT Print View

These cutting tools are anti Leave No Trace and hatchets are just plain dangerous in the hands of inexperienced users. Although I fear the potential damage by those who don't understand LNT, I do agree that a light folding saw is a very good survival tool. The Gerber 22-41773 sliding-style saw is one of the most effective tools for it's weight. It is a heavier (of course) update of the Sportsman's saw and it gained 1.2oz to bring it up to 4.8oz. BTW, it is the same as the Bear Grylls model in plain black and minus some rubber on the grip, at half the price.

But how do you justify such tools where a Swiss Army Knife is considered "heavy" and single edge razor blades are touted?

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Re Hatchet on 05/22/2013 13:51:26 MDT Print View

The weight of the hatchet is (partly) offset by the fact that he's not carrying a stove or fuel.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 13:52:30 MDT Print View

Yes, emergency only of course.

If you consider that some cutting tools allow you to build a fire in any weather (wet/frozen) and that having a fire in the evenings allows you to leave behind warm camp gear and you don't have to carry a stove + fuel, I think the weight is well justified.
You just need to consider if the cutting tools you bring are really necessary to build a good fire easily and efficiently. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't.

The only thing I would add to the gear list is some long underwear and maybe some wind pants.