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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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Frank Oslick
(franko1946) - F
Penberthy on 09/01/2010 22:08:18 MDT Print View

Interesting story behind the first MSR stove, as told to me by Penberthy himself. It seems that he was on top of Rainier with a friend when the friend developed altitude sickness that turned into pulmonary edema. The friend died & Larry became somewhat obsessed with finding a way to avoid altitude sickness.

He decided that dehydration was the major problem and that climbers became dehydrated because carrying enough water to stay hydrated was way too heavy, but the stoves of the time were too slow to melt enough snow to keep a team in water. He designed the original stove to be a quick snow melting machine, not a camp cook-stove, although many of us used it for both.

In 1978 I climbed Rainier as part of a group that he put together to test his theory of the cause of altitude sickness. By that time he had decided that the problem was a combination of dehydration, acid buildup in the blood, and loss of electrolytes. So we all drank lots of water, peed on litmus paper & ate Rolaids to keep our urine alkaline, and popped salt tablets.

One of the other climbers was a Doctor and he confided to me that he thought Larry was right about the dehydration, but full of it regarding the other stuff. All I know for sure is that I made the summit feeling better at 14,411 feet than I had on St. Helens at 9,677 feet. These days it's widely accepted that a climber needs to stay well hydrated & replace lost electrolytes.

Penberthy was a little different, as others have noted. It's a good thing there have been and are people like him though. If not we wouldn't be posting opinions on web pages; we wouldn't even be using fire or the wheel.

Phil Winterling
(flipp51) - F
Re Everything Weighs Something on 02/24/2011 01:55:00 MST Print View

Great article the only thing that gives me concern is the rather large camp fire contained in the attached images. Is it a case on marked trails in the US of wood supplies being provided for, or is it case of foraging close to the track for fuel? Many of us in Oz are keen to follow a leave no trace philosphy, as well as a lighter and subsequently more pleasant approach to walking.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Re Everything Weighs Something on 02/24/2011 03:22:05 MST Print View

Phil, in the US, it depends.

I'm a big LNT proponent too, and I feel that sometimes it's ok to have fires. This guy was in the east, in a forested area. But he's also at very heavily used campsites. I'd suspect that big fires are inappropriate in such a situation. Many hikers in the US don't know or don't care about reducing fire impacts. The camps that he was at probably see to many people collecting wood.

We also have large forested areas that see few people and can definitely support fires. In fact, the government spends huge amounts of money to clear out wood and do controlled burns to help forest health. Sometimes I feel like I'm helping the forest by having a large fire. Surely not helping the air though. Nor do I build new fire rings, or create new fire pits that will ever be found.

Michael Supple
Wood fire cooking. on 12/18/2011 14:34:59 MST Print View

Regarding the wood may want to consider the Emberlit wood stove at . It weighs 5.4oz, folds flat, is very efficient and best of all it does not require carrying fuel. I'm amazed at how long it burns with just a miniscule amount of wood. Nothing is burned that can't be broken easily by hand. I can bring two cups of water to a full boil in about six minutes from lighting it.

I've recently switched from alcohol and have used it successfully in both dry and wet conditions. It's great for melting snow etc because you don't have to worry about running out of fuel under almost all conditions. You can burn fuel tabs in it and it also acts as a great windscreen for any alky stove.

I've even used it as a mini campfire under my hammock tarp when set up in porch mode. It's one my most favorite oieces of new gear. No more trying to judge how much fuel to bring or where I'm going to replace it on a long hike.

It's worth a look.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: Re Everything Weighs Something on 12/18/2011 19:46:05 MST Print View

"We also have large forested areas that see few people and can definitely support fires. In fact, the government spends huge amounts of money to clear out wood and do controlled burns to help forest health. Sometimes I feel like I'm helping the forest by having a large fire."

Most of the ADKs is like that.

There are simply not that many people out in the woods. Mostly they are at state campsites or on the more well known trails: The High Peaks Area's(east and west), the NLP, The Finger Lakes Trail/North Country Trail. Many are out for the day from a state campsite, but, most of these campers BUY wood.