Bozeman Mountain Works SpinPoncho in the Uintas, Utah.
Last summer and fall I explored the fringes of lightweight backpacking by taking a series of SuperUltraLight trips - base pack weight of 5 pounds or under. (Base pack weight, or “base weight,” is the weight of your pack and everything in it except consumables - that vary with trip length - such as food, water, and fuel.) I reported on my adventures in the Notes from the Field series (links to the right). During the same time, Backpacking Light Editors Doug Johnson and Will Rietveld were also testing SUL worthy gear from various manufacturers. Below I discuss our favorite SUL gear and end with a complete gear check list suitable for summer conditions - overnight lows to freezing with rain possible. As you’ll see, we each have our own favorites, but we all include these items in our personal SUL gear kits: Gossamer Gear NightLight torso pad, Bozeman Mountain Works Cocoon pullover, Platypus water bladders, and a wind shirt when conditions warrant.
|Seasons:||Summer - lows to freezing, rain possible|
|Trip Length:||Up to a week if dry camping is not required|
|Terrain:||On and off trail|
Rationale for Selected Gear
As Will discusses in SuperUltraLight Backpacks Review Summary, a SUL pack weighs less than half a pound, typically has a volume of about 2000 to 2600 cubic inches, and is constructed of strong, yet light materials. With typical carry weights of 15 pounds or less, an internal frame and hipbelt aren’t needed, but a good SUL pack is more than just a stuff sack with straps. A shapeless 15 pound sack flopping around on your back isn’t comfortable after hours on the trail or conducive to any kind of scrambling. The pack should be constructed so that a virtual frame can be created with the sleeping pad and careful loading to provide some stability and load transfer over the surface of your back.
Can you do this with your backpack? The new Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation pack is made of Cuben Fiber and weighs just 2.75 ounces!
Will prefers the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 30 due to its light weight, wrap-around front mesh pocket, and multiple removable features such as a hipbelt and sternum pocket. Doug prefers the Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation with its super light Cuben Fiber construction for late spring to early fall trips. He finds the size to be just right for his SUL loads. When more insulation is needed, he too goes to the Prophet 30. My choice is the Gossamer Gear G6 Whisper Uberlight. It’s the lightest pack at 2000 cubic inches, and I really appreciate the wider shoulder straps when I’m carrying extra water - a frequent need when backpacking in Arizona.
I’m still waiting for the perfect SUL pack. It’ll have wide shoulder straps like the G6, a hipbelt like the Prophet, a short right side pocket for a trail-accessible water bottle, be constructed of a fabric requiring less babying than spinnaker, and still be killer light. New company, Zpacks, is offering a pack that looks very close to these specs and at a very reasonable price. Our staff has not tested one yet so I can’t comment on actual field performance. Gossamer Gear is developing a Whisper Plus that may also be close to my ideal.
Another personal favorite I want to mention is the Fanatic Fringe Alpine Trail. The quality of construction is so fine I enjoy just looking at this pack. I chose the Alpine Trail for a two-night dry camp trip when I carried 13 pounds of water. Other than the narrow shoulder straps I love this pack. It’s a lot tougher than silnylon and spinnaker packs so it can be overloaded when necessary without concern over bursting seams, yet still weighs only 7 ounces. Chris Reedy of Fanatic Fringe modified an Alpine Trail for me with a half height side pocket. That is the pack I grab when I can spare a couple of extra ounces and don’t want to worry about pushing through thorns or throwing the pack on the ground.
On top of Arizona with the Gossamer Gear G6 Whisper Uberlight pack and Lightrek poles.
Doug and I choose the Bozeman Mountain Works SpinPoncho Lite for our shelter and rain gear. Doug uses the T Lite (no hood), while I prefer the hooded version for extra rain coverage. We both carry a Bozeman Mountain Works Bivy (the BMW Vapr NANO Bivy weighs 4.6 oz) to compliment the tarp with some added warmth and spray protection. I like the small size - less prone to snagging on trailside cactus - and great ventilation of the BMW poncho/tarp.
Will takes an entirely different approach with the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. When on summer SUL trips, he typically camps above 12,000 feet where wind-driven rain and hail are common. He notes that the Gatewood provides better rain protection and shelter than a poncho/tarp and is easy to set up. The Gatewood Cape is heavier (11 oz versus 4.4 or 4.7 oz for the SpinPoncho), but makes up most of the difference since the fuller coverage compared to a poncho/tarp allows Will to skip a bivy and just use a Gossamer Gear Polycro ground cloth instead.
Will, Doug, and I all choose non-traditional bags for SUL backpacking - quilt, top bag, or a hoodless mummy bag - but, our particular choices are all over the board. Doug likes the Nunatak Arc Ghost quilt (14 oz), Will likes the Rab Q-Top top bag (17 oz) or GoLite Feather-Lite (20 oz), and my top picks are the Jacks ‘R’ Better No Sniveller quilt (20 oz) for colder conditions and the Mountain Laurel Designs Devotion 40 top bag (11 oz) when it’s warmer. I prefer wearable bags since I like to sit around camp in the evening and be nice and cozy. I get horizontal as late as possible since my creaky body can only tolerate 8 hours on the ground. Doug likes the Arc Ghost since its girth is adaptable to adding extra insulation layers. Will likes the enclosed bottom of the Q-Top and Feather-Lite to keep drafts at bay.
A birds-eye view of the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape set up as a shelter.
I love hammocking, especially when I’m going SUL. Carrying a pack so light I barely notice it into the wilderness deepens my feeling of adventure. Then, spending the night in the comfort of a hammock enriches the experience even more. Hammock systems weigh more than on-the-ground setups since more insulation is required beneath you, which shortens the season for SUL hammocking.
The Hennessy Adventure Racer is a complete hammock system including full bug netting that weighs about a pound, and I highly recommend this system. It’s not the only SUL hammock system though. I used an inexpensive open top hammock, The Traveller, with a lightweight tarp or long poncho/tarp and a mosquito headnet with great results. In addition, Mountain Laurel Designs has recently launched a hammock line that may give the Adventure Racer a run for its money. The complete system can weigh as little as 14 ounces, and the Epic hammock bottom may offer a good blend of breathability and water resistance. Ron Bell, of Mountain Laurel Designs, has shaped the hammock bed with curves at the ends and sides to reduce pinching while maintaining side walls.
SuperUltraLight hammocking in Pennsylvania: Hennessy Adventure Racer hammock, Jacks 'R' Better Weather Shield Bottom, and Sea to Summit Tarp-Poncho.
The Gossamer Gear NightLight and medication (Ibuprofen, Aleve, or Tylenol PM) is our unanimous choice for sleeping comfort. The NightLight for its incredible comfort to weight ratio and medication on the advice of Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear. Will and I both admit to taking the Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite as our “luxury item” if we can spare the extra weight.
Pole editor, Doug, picks the Bozeman Mountain Works Stix since they are light, durable, and super stiff for long days. An inexpensive alternative are the Gossamer Gear Lightrek poles. They are super light, have good anti-shock properties, and are stiff enough for light loads.
Another unanimous pick for extra insulation is the Bozeman Mountain Works Cocoon pullover. It is simply the lightest-for-the-loft synthetic insulated top available.
When we carry a stove on SUL trips, all of us normally take an alcohol stove, although I use a homemade Esbit setup when I want to take the lightest cook kit possible. (I save half an ounce over an alcohol system - the alcohol fuel container weighs 0.6 oz - using a 0.2 oz hardware cloth pot support and beer can pot.) Will’s stove choice is the Gossamer Gear Fire Fly since it is very light and reliable with great gas mileage. Doug picks the Mini Bull Designs Stealth since it is efficient and fast, lights quickly, and is lightweight. My preference is the Mini Bull Designs Mini-Sith which doesn’t require a separate potstand or primer disk - no extra parts to keep track of in the pack. (If I need to melt snow I take the Stealth and a Snow Peak titanium bowl with added bail.) The Stealth II is now available with a wick, removing the need for a primer disk. I haven’t tried this stove but if it burns as hot as the Stealth, I’d still choose the heavier Mini-Sith when using a beer can pot.
Doug and Will now lean toward stove-less SUL backpacking to save weight and time. For them, it especially makes a lot of sense on fast and light one or two night trips. They don't mind eating cold dinners, and have some good ideas for making them taste decent (but that's a separate subject). I've tried no-cooking trips, but prefer cooking my evening meal for a change up in food texture after eating snack foods all day.
Sleeping out in the Nunatak Arc Ghost in Washington.
Heineken 24-ounce beer can with top removed using a side cut can opener for a smooth edge. It’s very light at 1 ounce, sturdy, and easily holds 2 cups of water.
Platypus of course.
Aqua Mira is great, but KlearWater is even better. No mixing and only one bottle to keep track of. We use small dropper bottles to repackage the water treatment and carry only the amount needed for a specific trip.
Photon Freedom. Incredibly lightweight for the output and no switch to break. Doug and I use the Doug Ritter version which is painted yellow to make it easy to find, and has a small tube to cut down on side scatter. Will wears the standard Photon Freedom on a neck lanyard.
Gear List and Weight Summary
A complete gear list follows. Some examples of brands and models/styles are listed below for reference only. They neither represent an endorsement of that particular product, nor suggest that the product listed is the best choice.
The baseweight in the following list is 4.3 pounds, leaving room for a few extras like a Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad (1.7 oz), MontBell U.L. Thermawrap Inner Vest (5.0 oz), and Backpacking Light Ultralight Headnet (0.4 oz) or substituting the TorsoLite self-inflating pad for the Gossamer Gear NightLight closed-cell foam pad for example.
|Clothing Worn While Hiking||WEIGHT|
|hiking hat||full brim||Tilley LT5||3.3||94|
|hiking shirt||warm for hiking and sleeping||SmartWool Lightweight Zip-T||7.7||218|
|sport top||comfortable||CW-X Sport Support Bra||2.7||77|
|underwear||synthetic briefs||Moving Comfort Microbrief||1.3||37|
|pants||nylon||Columbia PFG zip off||10.3||292|
|hiking socks||thin merino wool blend||SmartWool RBX Racer socks||1.3||37|
|hiking shoes||lightweight and supportive||Inov-8 F-Lite 300||23.4||663|
|Other Items Worn or Carried||WEIGHT|
|trekking poles||lightweight, carbon fiber||Bozeman Mountain Works Stix Pro||5.4||153|
|bandana||protect neck from sun||bandana||0.8||23|
|torso insulation||in camp and sleeping||Bozeman Mountain Works Cocoon Pullover||8.3||235|
|wind jacket||water resistant, full zip, hooded||GoLite Helios||3.3||94|
|warm hat||warmth for sleeping under a quilt||GoLite Snow||1.9||54|
|gloves||thin and light||Outdoor Research PL Base gloves||0.7||20|
|extra socks||thin merino wool blend||SmartWool RBX Racer socks||1.3||37|
|Shelter and Sleep System||WEIGHT|
|overhead shelter||poncho/tarp||Bozeman Mountain Works SpinPoncho LITE||4.7||133|
|tent stakes||titanium skewer stakes||Bozeman Mountain Works Hi-Vis Ti Stakes (6)||1.3||37|
|guylines||20 feet, thin cord able to hold a tautline hitch||275 lb EZC spectra-core line||0.3||9|
|bivy sack||breathable top, waterproof bottom||Bozeman Mountain Works Vapr NANO Bivy||4.6||130|
|sleeping bag||down quilt||Jacks 'R' Better No Sniveller Quilt||20.1||570|
|sleeping pad||closed cell foam||Gossamer Gear NightLight torso||3.5||99|
|backpack||small volume frameless||Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 30 with waistbelt||4.9||0|
|waterproof pack cover||keep pack contents dry||Gossamer Gear Pack Liner (medium)||1.3||37|
|Cooking and Water||WEIGHT|
|stove||alcohol||Mini Bull Designs Mini-Sith Stove with alcohol measuring cup||0.8||23|
|wind screen||wind screen||oven liner windscreen and paper clip||0.4||11|
|fuel container||squirt||Platypus Lil' Nipper with red spout cap (lip trimmed for leak proof seal)||0.6||17|
|cook pot||lightweight, at least 16 oz capacity||Heineken beer can with top cut out||1.1||31|
|cook pot lid||aluminum foil||foil cut to size, doubled||0.1||3|
|ignite fuel||matches||book of matches in tiny zipper bag and lighter||0.7||20|
|utensil||spoon||GSI Lexan soup spoon||0.3||9|
|water container||1 liter||1 L Platypus Water Bottle||0.9||26|
|water container||2 liters||2+ liter Platypus Water Bottle||1.2||34|
|water treatment||container for KlearWater||Bozeman Mountain Works 0.35-oz Capacity Dropper Bottle||0.2||6|
|food storage||bag||plastic grocery bag||0.2||6|
|personal hygiene||toilet kit||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) - in food bag||0.9||26|
|ditty bag||miscellaneous||paper cutter, headlamp, wound kit, firestarting kit, sunscreen, keychain compass, DEET in silnylon bag||2.6||74|
|light||LED headlamp||Doug Ritter Photon Freedom on string with whistle||in ditty bag||n/a|
|first aid||minor wound care, meds, repair||ibuprofen, duct tape, butterfly bandages (2), DEET in tiny bottle, safety pin||in ditty bag||n/a|
|firestarting||emergency, firestarting||storm matches (2), no-blow out birthday candles (2), whistle, Spark-Lite firestarter, book matches||in ditty bag||n/a|
|sunscreen||SPF 30, sunscreen and lip balm||Banana Boat Kids repackaged (0.6 oz) in Bozeman Mountain Works balm jar, OraLabs Lip Sun Shield (0.2 oz)||in ditty bag||n/a|
|Consumables (3-Day Trip)||WEIGHT|
|fuel||alcohol||3/4 oz/burn, 2 burns||1.5||43|
|food||2.5 days||24 oz / day||60.0||1701|
|water treatment||KlearWater (excluding packaging)||0.5 oz||0.5||14|
|toilet paper||soft but strong||1 oz/3 days||1.0||28|
|(1) Total Worn or Carried While Hiking||3.5||1.6|
|(2) Total Base Weight in Pack||4.3||1.9|
|(3) Total Weight of Consumables||5.9||2.7|
|(4) Full Skin-Out Base Weight (1) + (2)||7.7||3.5|
|(5) Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3)||10.2||4.6|
|(6) Full Skin-Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3)||13.7||6.2|