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Notes from the Field: Arizona Canyoneering, SuperUltraLight Style

Field notes on perspectives from the field, with commentary on gear and technique in the canyons of the desert southwest.


by Carol Crooker | 2005-07-05 03:00:00-06

SuperUltralight Canyoneering - 1
Lower section of West Clear Creek, Arizona.

I enjoyed my sub-5-pound base weight trip into Arizona's West Clear Creek Canyon. Weather was as expected - lows of 60 °F and highs around 100 °F, no rain. The main thing I learned was that it's really easy to go sub-5 in hot weather - no insanity required. I was able to skimp on weather protecting (cold and rain) gear, which left plenty of ounces to carry luxuries, like a TorsoLite, so I was super comfortable on the trail and in camp.

Gear - How'd it work?

The spreadsheet below has my final gear list. My base weight was 4.5 pounds. An unforeseen safety advantage was that total pack weight was light enough that I usually just kept my pack on when scouting routes, so I automatically had the 10 essentials with me.

Choosing gear for a backpacking trip always involves trade-offs between gear weight and usefulness. For example, on this trip I would have appreciated a hipbelt on the Gossamer Gear Uberlight pack about 10% of the time (when scrambling down a steep canyon or carrying extra water weight). But is it worth it to carry the extra 2 ounces a hipbelt would cost when it's not needed 90% of the time?

Below I've listed selected gear and some of the factors I'll take into account when I decide what gear to carry on my next SuperUltralight trip.

SuperUltralight Canyoneering - 2
The BMW TorsoLite pad easily floated a 12-pound pack and 1-pound trekking poles (not shown).

Gossamer Gear Uberlight Backpack. The small size made it easier to slip between rocks and horizontal, vertical, and slanted uprooted trees during a descent down a debris choked side canyon.

No hipbelt left my waist cooler and made slipping on the pack simple, but let the pack flop over my head when I bent double to scramble down rocks, leaving small items in the back pocket vulnerable to loss.

When I carried extra water for a dry camp above the canyon, the 18-pound pack felt really heavy on my shoulders. I hardly missed the hipbelt at 12 pounds (starting pack weight).

I was very conscious of how I placed the pack on the ground and tried to prevent it from snagging on trees and brush due to the 0.96 oz/yd2 spinnaker fabric. The pack did hang up a couple of times on tree branches but survived without any damage.

I missed a side water bottle pocket. I needed to take off the pack to get a drink of water.

My back was soaked with sweat from spinnaker fabric next to me instead of some absorbent - and heavier - material.

Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite. I really enjoyed the TorsoLite. I slept well at night on it, it easily floated my pack and hiking poles when I swam sections, and it even supported me when I floated down some swift water to cool off. It compressed small enough to fit in the outside pocket of the Uberlight.

Speer Hammocks Top Blanket. As Ed Speer advises, this is a narrow blanket (30") made to be used with a hammock. However, it kept me warm to 60 °F on the ground. I did need to be conscious of tucking the edges beneath me each time I turned over - something I'm not used to doing in a sleeping bag - but doing so became habit by the end of the first night.

SuperUltralight Canyoneering - 3
SUL sleep setup: Gossamer Gear Polycro ground sheet, BMW TorsoLite pad, Speer Top Blanket, Dancing Light Gear Ultralight SleepNet, and grocery bag food sack (inside Adventure 16 mosquito head net) for a pillow.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack. I used a 20-liter Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack (1.8 oz) instead of a mylar turkey roasting bag (0.5 oz). The Dry Sacks are made of sil-Cordura with taped seams and a dry bag style roll top closure. The dry sack kept my bag and extra clothing dry (even when I "accidentally" dropped the full sack in the stream and left it for 20 minutes) and served as a back up emergency water carrier to my single Platypus bottle. The 20-liter size was a somewhat random choice based on what the Sea To Summit rep had available before the first major shipment arrived for the initial US release of the bags. It ended up being very handy. The sack diameter was the right size to nearly fill the bottom of the UberLight, yet left enough space so that I could easily extract the folded up TorsoLite from the pack and then slide it back in after I floated the pack through a swimming section. The Ultra-Sil Dry Sack also had enough volume that I could get all the pack contents into it at the end of the trip when my food volume was reduced.

Gossamer Gear Pack Liner. I used the Gossamer Gear Pack Liner inside the pack to provide double protection for the sleeping quilt and single containment of my food and sundries. It, along with the folded up TorsoLite, kept my pack floating when the pack "accidentally" fell in the water. The Gossamer Gear Pack Liner is proving to be quite tough; it survived this trip (and two previous short trips) with no holes.

Dancing Light Gear Ultralight SleepNet. This net (my size large weighs 2.7 oz) is a large rectangular sack that is intended to fit over your head and torso while in your sleeping bag. It definitely helped my sanity! I wore it over my legs while I ate to keep the pesky bugs from biting my exposed ankles. I used it over the bottom of my quilt and feet for a little extra warmth one night, and on another night over my head and torso while sleeping for the extra warmth. I used it as a head net by tucking the ends into my shirt.

Gardeneer Garden Pegs. These plastic pegs are very light (about 0.1 oz each), but didn't make the grade. I broke two and bent one pounding six stakes in at a camp site above the stream on hard packed dirt.

Grocery bag food sack. The grocery bag food sack survived the trip and enabled me to use my food as a very adequate pillow, although I did question the wisdom of having food so close to my head when I heard some kind of wildcat screaming while I was trying to sleep on my last night in the canyon.

OraLabs Lip Sun Shield. I loved the tiny size and, despite applying it frequently, I used less than a quarter for a four-day trip. I like the taste and its smooth application too.

Behavior Modification

The bottom line is that I didn't need to give up much with a sub-5-pound base weight in hot weather. The adjustments in behavior I made from an 8-pound base weight were minor since much of the weight loss was due to lighter weight gear, rather than less gear.

  • I found rocks or logs to lean or sit on rather than carrying a Therm-a-Rest chair kit.
  • I needed to get in the habit of tucking the blanket under me so I stayed warm at night.
  • I needed to be careful of where I put my pack and be conscious of my pack position when bushwhacking due to the lightweight fabric that was unprotected by mesh pockets.
  • I needed to take off my pack to hydrate.
  • I had to carry more weight on my shoulders and be careful of the pack tipping over my head while scrambling.

Sub-5-Pound Base Weight Canyoneering Gear List

Clothing Worn While Hiking WEIGHT
sun hat full brim Tilley LT5 3.3 94
hiking shirt long sleeved sun and brush protection Rail Riders Adventure shirt 6.1 173
sport top minimal, breathable Patagonia Mesh Sport Top 2.1 60
underwear synthetic briefs Moving Comfort Microbrief 1.3 37
pants hike/swim/bushwhack Columbia PFG zip off 10.3 292
hiking socks thin merino wool blend or synthetic SmartWool Ultra Light RBX socks 1.2 34
hiking shoes lightweight, dry fast Salomon Tech Amphibians 24.2 686
Other Items Worn or Carried WEIGHT
trekking poles collapsible so can be stowed Leki Lightwalk Hiking Staff 16.2 459
Other Clothing WEIGHT
bandana cool off, protect neck from sun bandana 0.8 23
pants dry, bug protection Solumbra Active Pants 6.3 179
long sleeved shirt dry GoLite C-thru Lite-weight 3.5 99
wind shirt extra evening warmth, bug protection Patagonia Dragonfly 3.2 91
Warm hat use with quilt at night Turtle Fur fleece beanie 1.3 37
extra socks thin merino wool blend SmartWool RBX Racer socks 1.3 37
Shelter and Sleep System WEIGHT
shelter poncho/tarp Bozeman Mountain Works SpinPoncho LITE prototype 5.9 167
tent stakes light weight, plastic Gardeneer Garden Pegs (6) 0.7 20
guylines 20' of thin cord able to hold a tautline hitch 275 lb EZC spectra-core line 0.3 9
ground sheet fit under sleeping bag Gossamer Gear Polycro ground sheet 1.3 37
sleeping bag minimal for very warm weather Speer Hammocks Top Blanket 14.5 411
sleeping pad inflatable, used to float pack Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite 10.6 301
mosquito netting upper torso protection Dancing Light Gear Ultralight SleepNet 2.7 77
Packing WEIGHT
backpack small volume, frameless Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight with shoulder strap foam 3.9 111
waterproof pack liner keep pack contents dry while floating it Gossamer Gear Pack Liner (medium) 1.3 37
stuff sack water resistant for sleeping bag and extra clothing Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack, 20 L 1.8 51
Cooking and Water WEIGHT
stove solid fuel, Esbit bottom quarter inch of V-8 juice can 0.1 3
fuel container Esbit packaging packaging for one Esbit tab weighs less than 1 gram and is included in fuel weight 0.0 0.0
cookpot titanium mug Snow Peak 600 2.8 79
cook pot lid aluminum foil cut to size, doubled 0.1 3
wind screen wind screen/pot support pot support/wind screen as designed by W. Kevin Smith, made of oven liner foil 0.3 9
bag for cookpot protect pack contents from Esbit residue on cookpot plastic grocery store veggie bag 0.1 3
utensil spoon GSI Lexan soup spoon 0.3 9
ignite Esbit lighter Scripto 0.6 17
water bottle 1 L 1 L Platypus with sport cap 0.9 26
emergency water carrier back up for Platypus Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack (weight listed under Packing) 0.0 0
water treatment containers for Aqua Mira, measuring cap Bozeman Mountain Works 0.35-oz Capacity Dropper Bottles (2, carried in ditty bag) 0.4 11
food storage light weight plastic grocery bag 0.2 6
Other Essentials WEIGHT
maps trail map none needed, follow canyon 0.0 0
sunglasses clip on clip on sunglasses 0.2 6
mosquito head net bug protection Adventure 16 0.8 23
personal hygiene toilet kit toilet paper, alcohol hand gel, zip bag for used tp, antibiotic cream with pain relief in zip bag 1.1 31
personal hygiene teeth cleaning kit toothbrush, floss, baking soda (in tiny zip bag), mouth guard in zip bag in food bag 0.9 26
ditty bag miscellaneous paper cutter, headlamp, wound kit, firestarting kit, sunscreen, keychain compass, DEET in silnylon bag 3.9 111
light LED headlamp Photon II with mini alligator clip in ditty bag n/a
first aid minor wound care / meds ibuprofen, duct tape, butterfly bandages (2) in ditty bag n/a
firestarting emergency, firestarting storm matches (2), no-blow out birthday candles (2), whistle in ditty bag n/a
sunscreen SPF 30, sunscreen and lip balm Banana Boat Kids repackaged (1.6 oz), OraLabs Lip Sun Shield (0.2 oz) in ditty bag n/a
Consumables (4-Day Trip) WEIGHT
fuel Esbit 0.5 oz/ evening 1.5 43
food 3.5 days 24 oz / day 84.0 2381
water average carried 32 oz 32.0 907
water treatment Aqua Mira (excluding packaging) 0.6 oz/4 days 0.6 17
toilet paper soft but strong 1.2 oz/4 days 1.2 34
Weight Summary Pounds Kilograms
(1) Total Worn or Carried While Hiking 4.0 1.8
(2) Total Base Weight in Pack 4.5 2.0
(3) Total Weight of Consumables 7.5 3.4
(4) Full Skin-Out Base Weight (1) + (2) 8.6 3.9
(5) Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3) 12.0 5.4
(6) Full Skin-Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3) 16.0 7.3

Note: I did not include journalistic gear (camera, paper, and pen) in weight calculations.

Expected Conditions / Context for July Sub-5 Challenge Trips

Dry camping

What Dry camping, will need to carry 1 gallon of water
Where San Francisco Peaks, Arizona including Mt. Humphreys, the highest peak in Arizona
When July
Weather Air temperatures from 45-80 °F, wind, and possibly rain

Hammock camping

What Hammock camping
Where Mogollon Rim, Arizona
When July
Weather Air temperatures from 55-85 °F, possible rain

Look for the pre-trip gear list for both July trips here in the Backpacking Light Gear Lists Forum.


"Notes from the Field: Arizona Canyoneering, SuperUltraLight Style," by Carol Crooker. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-07-05 03:00:00-06.