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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.

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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.


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The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear
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Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The SUL Wanderer (Video Series) - Episode 1: Gear on 05/22/2013 13:56:41 MDT Print View

I think, like never carrying bear cans, going with a hatchet instead of stove and fuel is location dependent SUL technique.

I don't know that some of my favorite areas could support mass adoption of a cook fire. Other areas could be just fine.

How are new people to get the experience to know which trips are hatchet safe and which are irresponsible? Even within some large wilderness areas the appropriateness varies with microclimate.


Edited by redmonk on 05/22/2013 13:57:24 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 14:13:01 MDT Print View

Well, Ryan's comment was: "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."

He was not including the hatchet in the gear list.

But it is a good example of a single luxury item that you *can* take and still be UL. I am sure it broke the SUL weight budget.

This is true of most SUL packers. I add my fishing rod usually. About 8oz of rod, line, a few premade tippets in a couple different weights, some flies & nymphs and a spare leader is all I need. This will break the budget for most SUL trips I take. But, this is strictly recreational type gear. Like food, it will vary with the trip. Sometimes I take a camera. Sometimes I take my wife, hey ha ha.

Anyway, you can certainly go hiking with the gear he recommended in his list. But this is minimal gear. Personnaly, I get a bit bored with only hiking to occupy my time after the first week. Even if it is a reading book for taking a zero day at one of the campsites I am at.


Locale: NE
SUL on 05/22/2013 14:19:45 MDT Print View

I am inspired by the mention of the word "discipline" at around 5:29.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The SUL Wanderer... navigation gear? on 05/22/2013 14:39:36 MDT Print View

Maps and compass were left out. I think the list could handle some primary navigation items :)

Daniel Goldenberg
(DanG) - M
Re: Hatchet vs. folding saw on 05/22/2013 14:39:56 MDT Print View

In my opinion a folding saw is much more useful for making a campfire where you are cutting larger diameter wood. If you watch the video however Ryan is not really making a campfire, it's more of a tiny cook fire with much smaller wood pieces. The hatchet is much better than a saw for that, especially for splitting wood into small pieces and making kindling.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
hatchets on 05/22/2013 14:47:15 MDT Print View

"I think, like never carrying bear cans, going with a hatchet instead of stove and fuel is location dependent SUL technique"

Yes. Folks need to keep in mind that the whole of Montana has about as many people as the city of San Fran. Especially outside the national parks it's a different world up here.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Emergency Fires and location on 05/22/2013 15:06:15 MDT Print View

"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."

My reasoning behind carrying a sturdy folding knife was (is) that it allowed me to carve up wet wood and get to the dry stuff on the inside. That usually works but I had a situation where that didn't work. The wood was very knobby with a twisted grain so trying to split it or make shavings just wasn't working.

I'm probably going to carry more/better tinder next time. Of course out west you can normally find some dry wood or wood that will split. Its harder in the east with our knobby hardwoods that don't drop lots of nice little twigs all over the ground.

As a last resort I've doused most of my toilet paper in alcohol gel and burned that. It works.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: hatchets on 05/22/2013 15:16:24 MDT Print View

"Yes. Folks need to keep in mind that the whole of Montana has about as many people as the city of San Fran. Especially outside the national parks it's a different world up here."

That process works both ways. One look at the member map will show you where the largest audience is. It's not Montana.

Stevie Patrick

Locale: Adirondacks
SUL Wanderer on 05/22/2013 15:40:20 MDT Print View

I'm very stoked on this video series! Can't wait to see more.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: hatchet alternatives on 05/22/2013 16:02:46 MDT Print View

"That process works both ways. One look at the member map will show you where the largest audience is. It's not Montana."

But they may go to Montana :)

Other than the weight, that nice Gransfors Bruks hatchet that Ryan was packing is a cool $100 or more. Elegant and shown in trained hands, but it is this really practical on a SUL diet? That hatchet is about 20% of the remaining base weight!

FYI, Vaughn makes a light hatchet that you can find for $20 or so, but I think all of these small axes are miserable tools. They bounce and slide around, and if one ricochets off your cutting target, it can make a righteous mess of your shin or lop off a finger with great ease.

For a small cook fire, there are plenty of lighter and actually more useful alternatives.

Show below:

Gerber sliding saw. 4.8oz and about $12. The blade is 6" long and cuts very quickly with light effort. A tired or inexperienced user won't do major body damage with one far from help as they might with a hatchet.

Mora Robust knife. 4.8oz and about $16. Useful enough for preparing fire wood alone, but I think it makes a perfect paring with the sliding saw. You can use this one to clean a trout or pare an apple, which would be interesting to try with the hatchet. I'm not a fan of heavy batoning with a knife (where the hatchet excels), but I would by fine splitting the small stuff shown in the video with it.

Victorinox Farmer knife. 3oz and about $32. I think this is the most elegant alternative in the pile. You get a saw, a rather thick folding blade (thicker than other 91mm models), a very good awl, and the typical SAK can opener and bottle opener. If you want tweezers and toothpick, you can get the very similar Hiker model at about the same weight and less expense. You could baton small, dry straight-grained stuff with it within reason. This knife with scissors would be incredible. I carry a 3/4oz SAK Classic to get scissors, nail file, etc.

Wenger Handyman. 3.2oz and $35-$40. Much like the Farmer above, but a few more tools--- notably a nice pair of scissors, and you get tweezers and toothpick too.

Victorinox Trekker. 4.6oz and about $35. You get the larger saw, a locking blade, plus awl, bottle and can openers, tweezers and toothpick. Big on my go-to list for an all-around trail knife. The plain blade version would be better for fire building. I wish Victorinox would dump the screwdriver/bottle opener and add ***scissors***. BTW, the blade on the one hand model is much thicker than the other 111mm models.

Hatchet alternatives

Cutting tools aside, I do applaud the incredible simplicity of this setup: go for a nice walk in the wilderness on a summer day, throw your bivy down, have a nice little fire, cook your dinner and sleep under the stars, just the way the Creator made you. Good stuff.

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/22/2013 16:05:42 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
simple on 05/22/2013 16:40:56 MDT Print View

"go for a nice walk in the wilderness on a summer day, throw your bivy down, have a nice little fire, cook your dinner and sleep under the stars, just the way the Creator made you. Good stuff."

Yup, the best way to camp! So simple and peaceful.

Edited by justin_baker on 05/22/2013 16:46:05 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: simple on 05/22/2013 17:10:22 MDT Print View

I do like to hang my hammock instead. I like swingin' in the trees with the birds singing and the little animals running around-- 2' below :)

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
tools on 05/22/2013 19:37:00 MDT Print View

thanks Ryan- I like episode 1 :)

I have to agree w/ Dale, for the weight a Farmer SAK (or if you can find one- Bushcrafter-blade, saw, awl) is a pretty darn good tool for a small fire or a wood stove; the saw works surprising well and the blade can whip up nice fuzz sticks and holds up to light batoning w/o issue

the gear list shown should more accurately reflect what you're showing in the video imo- so what if it doesn't meet the 5# mark, it's just an arbitrary number that has no real meaning

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - MLife

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: list on 05/22/2013 20:08:12 MDT Print View

Nice list that's inspired me to simply try taking fewer items next weekend. I already don't take very many big items, but all the little stuff adds up and is where I have some trouble. For example, some things I see missing from your list that I might take are:

Water bottles
First aid kit
Sleeping socks
Leg rainwear
Hand sanitizer

I get the gist though and like the goal. In addition to packing fewer items, I'm trying to just own less gear. Even though it may end up a little heavier, I'm slowly getting together a kit that works for most conditions I hike in. I only own one pack now. It will work for day hikes and winter trips. I could go lighter, but at 31 oz, I'm pretty happy and I like the satisfaction of knowing it's all I need and that it should last me a long time.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: list on 05/22/2013 20:37:43 MDT Print View

Everyone's list is going to vary. There are few universal items, to include the so called 10 essentials. For example:

I often hike in familiar areas without a map or compass. I can find east, west, north and south without one. But when I need a compass, mine is heavier than most folks.

My first aid kit is a few bandaids, a few Advils, and some antiseptic.

I don't always bring gloves.

I sleep in the one pair of socks I hike in.

I almost never have rainwear for my legs.

I have never used hand sanitizer in my life.

I always bring a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Those Aquamira bottles in the video are huge. I always just bring AquaMira tablets.

My list isn't best, nor is Ryan's. What matters is that each of us bring the gear we need for each particular trip.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: list on 05/22/2013 21:14:12 MDT Print View

But when I need a compass, mine is heavier than most folks

Either that is one hell of a heavy compass, or folks themselves are getting SUL these days. Cuben skin implants?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: "heavy" compass on 05/22/2013 21:56:19 MDT Print View

I threw all caution to the wind and carry a Suunto MC-2G that is a whopping 2.6 ounces-- without the batteries mind you ;) I use magnetic flux batteries, so they don't weigh much.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
SUL is so fun on 05/23/2013 00:44:07 MDT Print View

This is super fun.

Because we all have different approaches that we can learn from, but we all pretty much agree on the same things: seek simple, go light, take less. I love that.

Erik: the bear canister thing with SUL. Just add 2lb to your SUL limit, so 5+2=7 lb. No big deal. It's like taking a mulligan. For an SUL pack that can accommodate a bear can, I just sew a top strap to my packs and strap it over the top. It works even on tiny packs, and I do this in some parts of Glacier and Yellowstone. My choice for an "SUL" bear can is this. Because it's smooth, you have to add some epoxy or tape "runnels" so the strap doesn't slide side-to-side causing the canister to slip out from your top cinch strap.

Also, don't get caught up on the whole XL clothing thing. They're just numbers, you know. I said 5 lbs in 2003 because I was a medium. Adjust accordingly. It's just a number.

I can't believe how much discussion there is on the hatchet.

OK, so the hatchet is either:

1. Valuable as a cutting tool.
2. Totally fun to use.
3. A neat middle finger to the "UL" establishment.
4. All of the above.

I like 4.

I carry a saw in the winter when I'm building snow shelters because it's more useful for cutting long bowed blowdowns that I use for my snow shelters. See here for details.

I use the Laplander. Great choice, beautiful saw. Light enough.

A knife is as useful as an axe for batoning limbs into dry kindling (see here) but is not so hot for limbing dead twigs off of trees, which is where the best dry wood is. And see #2 above.

Map & compass: I leave them behind when I'm visiting an area I know. I also leave them behind when I'm game for a rousing adventure. Sometimes I replace them with a sat phone so I can call my wife and say, "Hey, can you pull up the mapping software for a second...?" or "Can you pick me up? I'm on a dirt road by a red house..." Maybe we should write an article about that relationship dynamic. It makes for good stories and gives my mom and wife common ground to meet on.

Really excited for coming episodes. Filming a bunch in the Tetons this weekend for upcoming ones...


Edited by ryan on 05/23/2013 00:55:41 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: SUL is so fun on 05/23/2013 01:13:16 MDT Print View

To tame a slippery bear can, cut some "ranger bands" from a large inner tube. Remove them when "deploying" the can and put therm inside so they aren't lost.

The Laplander saw is good (same as a Kershaw), but it is 2 oz heavier than the Gerber.

As far as fun, the SUL puzzle is fun, although your video showed ideal conditions with a lovely bed of pine needles and a clear sky. Add three days of drizzle, rocks and mud with a little stream running under your bivy and it turns into a bathtub whenever you need to get out. NOT SO MUCH FUN NOW, EH? :)

How about a new lable and paradigm to match? I propose ALAP: As Light As Practical. That promotes packing for the conditions rather than an arbitrary weight, sending the Innocents afield with the right gear rather than just the light gear.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
SUL and Rain on 05/23/2013 01:17:47 MDT Print View

Dale --

My camp on that trip was a dry bed of pine needles under a spruce tree.

It rained 2.5 inches that weekend.

SUL is still about skill -- with a bivy, I opted out of expansive views of big sky and into dry shelter under nature's tarp.