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Everything Weighs Something

We asked, you answered: Lightweight Testimony Contest Runner Up!

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by Charles Hill | 2010-05-04 00:00:00-06

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 1
Kelty Redcloud loaded with forty-two pounds for a weekend in the Smokies.

I began backpacking as a teenager, typically going on four or five hikes a year for the past forty years. Now in my fifties, I considered myself well seasoned in the science of backpacking. I felt pretty confident that I knew it all when it came to planning, outfitting, and executing a successful backpacking adventure.

My first serious pack was a Jansport D2 external frame. It was state of the art - in 1977. I loved that pack and carried it for nearly twenty years before it finally wore out. I replaced it with my first internal frame pack, an Arc'teryx Bora 95 that fit like a glove. It was the most comfortable pack I had ever put on my back, but once I used it, I realized it was just one big sack. Having to dump everything out on the ground to find anything was total foolishness. I hated it! I was accustomed to the D2’s multi-compartmented, everything-at-your-fingertips, instant access. The Bora had to go, so I replaced it with a Kelty Redcloud, basically an internal frame version of my beloved D2 with about elevendy-seven more pockets. It was the best of both worlds!

For a two- or three-day hike, my pack’s trail weight, including a tent, has usually hovered around forty pounds. In the past, I wasn’t too concerned about the weight. I’d always been able to carry it with no problems, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become more of a burden, especially on my knees. Over the last couple years, it has become normal for me to drag into camp with aching feet and knees, barely enough energy remaining to pitch my tent, eat dinner, and crash. I’d begun to think that I might be about done with this backpacking thing. It wasn’t as much fun any more; the rewards weren’t worth the suffering.

The wake up call for me came during a rainy, foggy, January ‘09 hike with my friend Scott and a couple of his hiking buddies. Scott and I were both backpackers, but this was our first time hiking together. Our hike was on the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia, up Trey Mountain and over to Deep Gap Shelter. Scott and his buds ran shuttle, hitting the trail about an hour behind me. I was, as usual, plodding along, huffing and puffing, with all my winter gear on, chilled from my sweat, but making decent progress. Or so I thought. Suddenly all three shuttlers passed me like I was standing still. They flew up the trail where I was crawling step by step. They looked like cross-country skiers with their poles pinging and clanking against the rocky trail.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 2
Fording Hazel Creek in the Smokies on a four-day hike with my forty-five-pound Kelty pack.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 3
Getting passed on Trey Mountain by a whippersnapper shuttler carrying his twenty-pound pack while I lugged my forty-two-pound pack.

I knew something was wrong with this picture, but I wasn’t sure what.

At the shelter that evening, over the sounds of wet wood sizzling from our smoky camp fire, I began questioning them. I wanted to know more about their packs, their lightweight equipment, and how it was possible for them to hike so quickly. Scott told me about Ray Jardine’s book Trail Life - Lightweight Backpacking. In the book, he said Ray details how to choose lightweight gear, food, clothing, boots, shoes, and so on to bring the trail weight of your pack down. Less weight equals less burden, meaning more energy for more enjoyable hiking. It all sounded reasonable.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 4
Lightweight hiking guru Scott's alcohol/beer can stove.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 5
Map reading over the campfire at the Derrick Knob Shelter in the Smokies.

I’d already been hearing about this newfangled fad, “ultra-light hiking” from another hiking bud, Patrick. But I hadn’t really bought into it yet. He’d told me about BackpackingLight, about all the useful information on the website, and what he’d done to reduce his pack’s weight. I thought, “Yeah, that’s great, but I can’t afford to just start over. And besides, I’m not about to give up all the comfort accessories I’ve been accumulating all these decades.” I needed them to survive, right?

But somewhere in the back of my consciousness, the wheels had begun to turn. Could reducing my pack weight make that much difference? I wasn’t convinced. After all, I’d been doing this for forty years and I was so well seasoned. However, it seemed a pattern was developing. Maybe I didn’t know everything after all… naaah, that couldn’t be it!

When I got back home I bought Trail Life and read it cover to cover… it was like everything I knew was wrong! This book just made sense. The “Ray Way” is his philosophy of what really works on the trail. His vast knowledge and experience is without question, so if he says it works, then it probably does, at least for him. At first I thought, “Well yeah, maybe I’ll try a few of these suggestions.” But when I began weighing out each piece of my equipment and saw just how much each item really weighed, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe, for example, the heavy duty REI mug I’d been carrying since, oh-I-don’t-know, the 80s, weighed 4.6 oz - and I only used it for hot chocolate at breakfast. That’s the weight of a meal! My Kelty Redcloud pack weighed seven pounds empty!!! It was at that moment I realized I really could make these changes... and had to make these changes if I was going to keep hiking.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 6
My old MSR Hubba Hubba is too heavy (5 lbs) and awfully big.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 7
New Tarptent Rainbow (2 lbs 2 oz) at Camp #48 in the Smokies. This is just right.

To quote my friend Scott, “everything weighs something.” Those words never rang more true for me. No matter what I was looking for, if I researched long enough, I always found a lighter (and probably more expensive!) version. So over the past year with a lot of advice from Trail Life, a little common sense and many hours on the interwebs, I’ve whittled my pack’s trail weight down to around twenty-eight pounds. All this with no real sacrifice in comfort and with room for still more savings. I’ve gotten so obsessed with saving weight I bought a digital scale that measures grams… yes, it’s that bad!

Changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Replacing my 7 lb Kelty Redcloud 6650 with new Golite Quest pack, 3 lbs 3 oz (-3 lbs 13 oz)
  • Replacing my MSR Hubba Hubba, 5 lbs with new Tarptent Rainbow, 2 lbs 2 oz (-2 lbs 14oz)
  • Replacing 1 lb 4oz. 4’x 8’ Home Depot tarp with new Tyvek Rainbow foot print, 5 oz (-15 oz)
  • Replaced 4.6 oz REI mug with cheap-o plastic cup from old mess kit 1.6 oz (-3 oz)
  • Lighter rain gear (-11 oz), lighter boots (-1 lb 5 oz), lighter clothing (-1 lb 8 oz)
  • Trimmed weight from straps, tags, clips, cooking utensils, water bottles (-10 oz)
  • Tossed out camp pillow, now use sleeping bag’s stuff sack packed with clothes (-8 oz)
  • Replaced old Olympus digital camera with new Sony Cybershot (-4 oz)
  • Lighter food and snack choices (-1 to -2 lbs)
  • Smaller lighter pocket knife (-3 oz)

Swapping out my heavier pack and tent alone reduced trail weight by almost seven pounds. Then after all the other weight trimming I’ve done; now it’s like hiking with a day pack.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 8
Transformation in progress: Golite Odyssey pack, Leki poles, lighter gear in pack and on feet, packed weight twenty-eight pounds.

Another revelation was the use of trekking poles. All my friends already used them. I always just made a hiking pole out of the first decent stick I found along the trail. It worked for me all those years. Besides, I considered trekking poles were for wimps, sissies, and fools. So this past November, just before hitting the trail for a three-day hike in the Smokies, my hiking buddy Rod Campbell (see December BPL Calendar) offered me the use of a spare set of his trekking poles. I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give ‘em a try and see what the fuss is all about.” Well, all of you who use poles already know what the fuss is about, as I soon discovered. I was amazed at how much they helped me. I couldn’t believe the confidence and stability they added to my hike, plus a better overall work out. I related it to how a four-legged animal distributes its weight and energy evenly over its four limbs. Now suddenly, I was motoring up ascents, fifteen fewer pounds on my back, hiking farther and longer, arriving at camp less tired than before. I was stunned! As it turned out I was the wimp, sissy, and fool! My wife and kids bought me a set of Leki poles for Christmas. They’re so awesome (the family and the poles)!

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 9
Using new Leki poles on the ice covered Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.

I’m pleased with the changes I’ve made so far, but I’m already planning my next move - replacing my sleeping bag. I love my Mountain Hardwear 0 down bag, but it weighs 4 lbs 6 oz. My old North Face Rabbit’s Foot three-season bag isn’t much lighter either. I’m considering a Ray Way quilt, which weighs less than two pounds, but haven’t made that move yet. Another area where I could lose a pound or two is my stove. This is where I’m an old school stick in the mud. I have an Optimus Svea 123R white gas stove I’ve carried on almost every hike since 1978. It and the extra fuel bottle weigh about 2 lbs 8 oz, but it’ll cook anything, anywhere, at any altitude, in any temperature. I’ve been on winter trips where it was the only stove that would light. It’s a real life saver. I also own an MSR Pocket Rocket which weighs something like negative three ounces. I often carry it in the summer to save weight, but I prefer my trusted friend the Svea. Ray Jardine suggests using a cook fire, eliminating the weight of a stove altogether. Don’t know if I’m that committed just yet.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 10
Breakfast on Gregory Bald in the Smokies with my old trusted friend Svea 123R stove and some new friends in the back, on a 12 F morning. My Svea is a two-pound lump of old school dependability. You can hear it a mile away at full song, and I just can't part with it (yet).

It’s been just over a year since I began this transformation from my 1970’s mind set about backpacking to where I am today. With the lighter gear, smarter choices about food and equipment, and the acceptance of trekking poles, I’ve given myself a fresh start. I’m enjoying the hike and seeing the world around me again instead of wishing the day would hurry up and be over. It’s still tough, but the difficulty comes from the steepness of the trail, not the burden on my back. As a result of this amazing journey of discovery in my backpacking life, I’ve gotten my groove back. Now, with a renewed spirit, more knowledge and lighter gear, I’ll be able to extend my hiking well into the new millennium. Funny thing - this old stick-in-the-mud know-it-all actually likes playing with all his wimpy newfangled toys. Who’d a thunk it?!

Hike on!


"Everything Weighs Something," by Charles Hill. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2010-05-04 00:00:00-06.


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Everything Weighs Something
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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yipes! on 05/08/2010 06:33:14 MDT Print View

An XGK with gray pump, huh?

I even have the older Model G and GK stoves with yellow pump.

Larry Penberthy was kind of a weird guy.


Charles Hill
(chuckster) - F

Locale: Georgia
Re: Re: Svea 123 on 05/08/2010 08:22:46 MDT Print View

Lighting a Svea, no doubt, takes some practice but when done correctly it works every time. There are very few things that can go wrong since the stove is as simple as a stone hammer. But if the valve hasn't been cleaned or it's not been primed properly you'll have problems. I use the angled mini-pump too, it takes about 8 pumps, open the valve, allow enough fuel to seep out to fill the bowl at the base of the burner shaft, close valve, light fuel, wait till the fuel is almost burned off, open the burner valve, perfect flame every time. If one part of that procedure is done incorrectly it won't light or it'll belch huge flames in your face. I see the stoves others carry and marvel at their convenience, instant igniters and super quick boil times but why be in such a hurry? You're at camp, you're not going anywhere, what's the rush?

Edited by chuckster on 05/08/2010 08:53:10 MDT.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Re: Yipes! on 05/08/2010 08:32:01 MDT Print View

I remember the first time I used my MSR Model G -- I kept thinking "This thing can't be safe", but it was a great stove. As was my SVEA 123...

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Everything Weighs Something on 05/08/2010 12:34:44 MDT Print View

Never had any problems with my 1973 era Svea, never used the pump. Kept it clean, replaced the wick every 10 years or so, along with the nipple. Poured a small amount of fuel into the little depression at the base of the burner, lit it, waited a bit, then when the fuel was almost gone I turned the stove on. Worked every time.

Also used an XGK purchased around 1980. Didn't know it but got a small nick in the o-ring that sealed the fuel tube (from the fuel tank) to the burner body. Pumped it up, looked for leaks, none. Turned it on and lit it. Noticed fuel leaking out rather quickly from where you insert the fuel tube. Luckily there was slight slope and the fuel ran downhill, away from the burner. Otherwise it would have been quite spectacular, and perhaps even deadly if the full fuel canister exploded.

After that I was meticulous about checking that o-ring and replacing it regularly! Haven't used the stove in ages, though...

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
re white gas stoves on 05/08/2010 17:43:10 MDT Print View

And people wonder why I am scared of white gas stoves ...



Locale: New England
Sharing the gospel/Spreading the word on 05/09/2010 07:12:33 MDT Print View

Great Article. Like others I felt like I was reading my own overnite conversion story back in 2006, after years of old school boy scout overpreparedness mentality backpacking/camping. (No bashing intended!). Once you get the concept, the wheels start turning and the addiction begins.

Perhaps this is a good short starter article to offer to newcomers to "Spread the Word", "Share the Gospel" of UL Backpacking. It's short enough to "set the hook" and packed with enough details to illustrate the benefits to a newcomer. I also like that it illustrates the concept of individual choices and lightening your load need not mean immediately going to extremes. Nice Job!

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: Re: Svea 123 on 05/09/2010 08:14:35 MDT Print View

"...but why be in such a hurry? You're at camp, you're not going anywhere, what's the rush?"

I'm hungry!!! Even though I'm snacking properly, the last one was two hours ago. Time for dinner. After setting up camp of course.


PS. I cook on ESBIT, so no priming whatsoever for me.

Rick Horne
(Rick778) - M

Locale: NorCal - South Bay - Campbell
Everything Weighs Something on 05/09/2010 10:38:49 MDT Print View

Very enjoyable!
Like others have mentioned, this was like reading my life story. I started backpacking in high school in 1972 and still have my SVEA stove. Don't use it backpacking, but still use it family car camping. Last summer my nephew and I hiked from Tuolumne Meadows to White Wolf via Benson Pass. Thought I had lightened my load sufficiently to a base of 35 lbs (including food), but I was wrong. A work in progress!

Edited by Rick778 on 05/13/2010 18:56:00 MDT.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Everything Weighs Something on 05/09/2010 11:56:24 MDT Print View

Charles, Great article! nicely written depiction of how the transformation takes place.


Charles Vandenbelt
(chuckwagon) - F

Locale: Nashville
Everything weighs something ... on 05/09/2010 16:47:41 MDT Print View

Thanks, Charles. Great article and very inspiring. I've got a walk on this weekend and I'm going to be going over my gear with a fine tooth comb today. I'm about halfway through the transition and, like you, still can't cut loose the "old faithful" stove mentality. Thanks for sharing your insights. Regards.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: Yipes! on 05/11/2010 08:31:55 MDT Print View

An XGK with gray pump, huh? I even have the older Model G and GK stoves with yellow pump.
Nice! I've got a little collection of older MSR stoves, but no G or GK (and certainly no Model 9). My old Firefly and my original Whisperlite both have yellow pumps.
Larry Penberthy was kind of a weird guy.
Maybe. But his stuff worked. The old yellow pump is a much better pump than the four generations of pumps that followed it including today's "duraseal" pump. He also revolutionized stoves. Stoves then were generally made of brass and had an integral tank. The integral tank was small, so everyone carried extra fuel in a Sigg bottle. Penberthy, in a flash of genius, got rid of the integral tank and just used the Sigg bottle that everyone was already carrying.

Recall that, in it's day, the unpressurized Svea 123 was considered a lightweight stove, unsuitable for high altitude use. Mountaineers were carrying huge things like an Optimus 111 which was a brass stove that came in a steel case. Imagine lugging that up the side of an 8000m peak.

Penberthy, with his flash of genius, changed all that. In a way, he was a forerunner of today's UL movement.


Edited by hikin_jim on 05/11/2010 08:40:15 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yipes! on 05/11/2010 13:20:18 MDT Print View

Yes, Larry Penberthy was the guy who thought up and founded MSR. Some of the early hardware products were really innovative, like the MSR stoves. The MSR newsletter was a periodic "applications note" to customers. He tried to solve the problem of altitude sickness, but his methods were considered wrong. I mean, Rainier climbers reaching Camp Muir were being asked to urinate on pH test paper! That's OK. He wrote it up in his next newsletter.

I still have pieces and parts from MSR stoves going back to about 1978. At one point in time, I believe I had purchased six of them in all, and I was cannibalizing them to keep three in operation for group trips.

In those early years, the complexity of an MSR stove was too much for the average backpacker, and any user who was thermodynamically challenged would throw it against a tree out of frustration. But after you had used one for a week in difficult conditions, you had it figured out.

Once in the early 1980s, I led a ski group to a snowy backcountry hut in the middle of winter. This hut had an indoor sink, but no water source. Once we started cooking, we discovered that the sink drain was clogged or frozen or something. No problem. I set my hottest MSR next to the cast-iron drain pipe at floor level and turned up the flame to "blowtorch" setting. Twenty minutes later, "gurgle, gurgle" and the frozen pipe was frozen no more.


Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Everything Weighs Something on 05/11/2010 13:30:50 MDT Print View

I still have many of Penberthy's catalogs/application notes. He championed Lithium batteries before anyone else, and had many other good ideas. Not all of his ideas were good, however. The MSR single-use climbing helmet harness, and his ice climbing tools (Ice Hawks?) come to mind, although I expect some people will defend them.

He famously tested ice axes and came down very hard on unreliable wooden shafts and poorly designed picks (as far as self-arrest was concerned). I suspect many lives were saved due to his innovations.

I still have an Optimus 111B, and take it car camping. I used to haul it around winter camping. It worked great, was a veritable blowtorch, but boy did it weight a lot, maybe four pounds!

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Optimus 111B on 05/11/2010 23:30:17 MDT Print View

The 111B is a great stove. Careful though with one thing. If the rubber pip in the valve at the end of the pump shaft hardens up, fuel can leak into the pump shaft, possibly causing a fireball. If you ever see the pump handle start pushing out on its own, even slowly, shut 'er down immediately.

They're awfully good stoves though; extremely dependable and rugged. (but darn heavy)

I've still got an old MSR Ice Axe ("Thunderbird?") -- all orange. It's actually a good axe, but pretty heavy by today's standards.


michael hildebrand
Everything Weighs Something on 05/12/2010 06:12:27 MDT Print View

Hiker/BikerVery nice article.

I enjoyed reading it so much as I have been going through the same process for the last year. Selling old, heavy stuff on E-BAY or just giving it away or throwing it out. I have had such an excellant time researching the newer, lighter, more compact etc. gear now available for backpackpers (including the new mini-titanium tent stakes that come with Nemo Meta Tents and the Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite---WOW. Have you seen these ?).

Thanks again and now no more 65 pound packs for me. Mike

Edited by on 05/12/2010 06:18:27 MDT.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
i agree on 05/12/2010 07:26:56 MDT Print View

i agree with the previous poster about bodyweight, just as much a factor as pack weight, seems kinda silly to cut off grams from a pack when you could cut more significantly more off in other ares. For example, i used to be a powerlifter, weighed 205 at 5"8 shredded, was a tank. Had a low baseweight, but still found it difficult to keep good mileage. Now im 155 with a pack that weighs about 22-23lb with 4-5 days of food, and i fly.

Ioan Jones
(ioanj) - MLife

Locale: UK
stoviness on 05/13/2010 14:27:05 MDT Print View

re priming the 123 I too never use (indeed don't own) the pump; after all the only thing that's ever failed on my nova is the pump, it's the simplicity I love.
I carry fuel in the Trangia 0.5L bottle. a. it's light compared with metal (pressurised) bottles and b. with that handy little safety top it's ideal for fueling the svea. My prime: trickle just a little bit of fuel on the top of the burner, just enough to half fill the indentation on top of the tank, light, and wait. About 10 seconds later open the valve and you're cooking on gas!
It's quicker to get going than the XGK / nova (no pumping) though about 10 seconds slower than gas. I can live with that!

Anyway going back to backpackinglight esbit (actually hexy) is the lightweight option for me too, again for the simplicity (a 3"x3" square of baking tray, a Ti metal stand from Ti Goat, a Ti windscreen also from them and a SP900). It's rubbish for melting snow, rubbish in strong wind unless you really shield it in addition to using the windscreen, but it does save about 500g.

This article along with Ryan's have inspired me to sell kit. What am I thinking?

Edited by ioanj on 05/13/2010 14:31:01 MDT.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 05/25/2010 10:04:40 MDT Print View

Nice article Charles. It mirrors a lot of what I went through.

Isn't it ironic that so many people here (including me) are devoted proponents of trekking poles while Jardine has always railed against them? IMO that was (is?) one of Ray's big problems: if it worked for you but not him, you were wrong.

Andy Howell
Poles on 06/25/2010 06:34:04 MDT Print View

There is no proper answer to the question what is the right it?

For me poles have been a big help. I do find Jardine's extreme stuff a bit over the edge. After al, this is the man who thought the world would have ended by now!

Gregg Meyer
(oscar52) - F
Every thing weights something on 08/25/2010 21:17:21 MDT Print View

You folks are a total inspiration. I have begun again after being away since the 70's myself. It will take so doing but what fun.