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Wise Women Go Light, Part 2

Jean and Sue select and test lighter gear from a dizzying array of choices while receiving an avalanche of expert advice - which they accept with trepidation, reject, or take on wholeheartedly - all the while listening to their own self-wisdom gained in their six (or near six) decades of life experience.

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by Jean Rogers and Sue Wright with Cat Jasins | 2006-11-21 03:00:00-07


Wise Women Go Light, Part 2 - 1
Jean (with ULA Circuit pack), Odie, and Sue (with Six Moon Designs Essence pack) near Mt Hood.

It all began at 7000 feet on a backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with this simple question, “How much of this stuff do I really need, anyway?” We, Sue and Jean, had contacted Backpacking Light and found online Editor-in-Chief, Carol Crooker, eager to help us older women lighten our packs. She wanted to document the process so that others new to lightweight backpacking would benefit from reading about our concerns and experiences. Our starting points were a 20 pound baseweight for Jean and 14 pounds for Sue. (Baseweight is the weight of your pack and everything in it except food, fuel and water.)

A storm of emails between Carol and ourselves began, as she answered our questions, pointed us toward additional resources, and solicited the advice of fellow staffers at Backpacking Light and her many corporate contacts. The flurry of emails, articles, reviews, gear store visits, advice, and gear testing hiking trips alternated between inspiring eye opening transformation and fear of being buried under an avalanche of information and change. At times we wondered what we had been thinking to begin this process of going light! But we were wise enough to realize the long term benefits of lighter packs, so we persisted. Join us on our journey.

Tents and Shelters

Jean’s thoughts: I’ve been looking for a free standing, lightweight shelter for two years now. Sue and I came across the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tent, and since Six Moon Designs is located near us, we each bought one. The Solo e is okay, but I’ve continued looking. The Solo e has to be staked carefully, you can't easily move it, and I have never been able to get the pitch taut. The walls sag, and I frequently brush up against them when I am in the tent. Other than that, the tent is fine and I can continue to use it. Tents are my favorite item, so when we started on this project, I hoped I might find another tent. But the weight of the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e is hard to beat at 35.2 ounces complete with poles. Plus, Carol had just let me know that I might be able to use my walking stick for the front pole, which would further decrease the weight.

Carol asked her staff experts about floorless tents to beat the already low weight of the Lunar Solo e, and here’s what they wrote:

Doug: “Nah - I wouldn't do it. The one that comes to mind is a floorless Tarptent (wise women don't want to deal with bugs and this tent has netting) but it's a hassle to set up and, with the required groundsheet, doesn't save all that much weight anyway.

I'd recommend a Tarptent Squall 2 with the floor - the bathtub is so good that they'll never get wet and they'll hardly miss their old tent. An easy transition...”

Carol: “Thanks Doug. Sounds good. Both the ladies have Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tents so I don't think you can go any lighter and still be in a tent. We were looking at the new Tarptent Rainbow, but that's not lighter.”

Alan: “Yeah, that's probably true, Carol. If you are doubling up, the Outdoor Research Nighthaven is lighter and roomier (per person) and provides bug protection and full wind protection. But the Nighthaven is not anywhere near as ventilated, nor does it have the views of the Lunar Solo e.”

Jean: I was really excited to learn there was a lightweight, free standing tent out there that I could use my trekking poles on (Tarptent Rainbow). But, since it didn’t beat the Lunar Solo e on weight, it wasn’t a good candidate for this project.

Sue’s thoughts: My comments about the Lunar Solo e were the same as Jean’s - that it was difficult to get taut. Carol encouraged me to contact Ron at Six Moon Designs and have him set up the tent for me so that I could see how to fix the quirks.

When I read Carol’s message about a floorless tarp, I thought “A floorless tarp and the Oregon damp weather - how do you think that would work?” Washington weather is even worse for moisture. I was glad to not consider something lighter if it would be floorless.

I did wonder if there was something that might be a little bigger, as I’d started taking my dog, Odie, with me on hikes. At 31 pounds, he needs some space of his own in the tent. He is a nine-month old puppy and is a momma's boy, he does not like me out of his sight. I have never had a dog that was so attached to me - it would be difficult to leave him home and he has wonderful long legs for hiking.

Sleeping Bags, Pads, Quilts

Jean: I got an Ultralite sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering. Looking forward to seeing how it does.

Sue: The Gossamer Gear NightLight foam torso pad sounded better then the foam pad I was using and is an ounce lighter, so that was an easy switch.

I have debated using a quilt instead of a bag for several years and have wondered how I would do. I wriggle a lot and most times it seems the bag wins the wrestling match. Carol said that she had used the Jacks 'R' Better quilts and that she turns over a lot. She had found the quilts to be wide enough for her and encouraged me to give one a try, so I did.

Carol also gave me some pointers on using a quilt:

“The advantage of quilts is that they are versatile. You can wrap one around you in camp - the Jacks 'R' Better No Sniveller even converts into a poncho in camp - and there is room to wear insulating clothing underneath so you can use it for its rated temperature or add extra clothing when it's colder. Quilts take more practice to use than a mummy bag. I'm a side sleeper and like to tuck the side under my hip to hold it in place since it's warmer that way. When I turn over, I tuck it in on the other side. You'll need to wear a hat with a quilt since it has no hood, and I like to wear a jacket with hood as well to keep drafts off my neck. Your rain gear can serve for that, or a 4 ounce windshell. You may find that you like to use a bivy sack with a quilt - it helps even more to keep out drafts. If you sew, a bivy sack is easy to make. If not, there are lightweight ones by Equinox LTD, Bozeman Mountain Works, and Fanatic Fringe.”

I’m a side sleeper also, wear a hat even with my bag, and have even worn my rain gear to keep warm, so I wanted to give this quilt a good test.

Boots, Shoes and Socks

There was, from the start, a fundamental difference in opinion about shoes and socks. Carol’s experts weighed in with advice on shoes:

Alan: “Set them up with a pair of lighter non-Gore-Tex trail ‘boots’ (really high top trail tennies) and a light ankle gaiter like the REI Mistrals or an Outdoor Research shortie gaiter. I’m having a hard time understanding what the advantage of Gore-Tex is in a shoe.”

Ryan: “Are they arthritic? The Timberland Gore-Tex Cadions may be ok for them. As women get older, the circulation in their feet gets severely impaired and when their feet get cold, they cease to function due to loss of blood flow. Gore-Tex can keep their feet from getting too cold, but if they don't have problems, I'd skip the Gore-Tex too.”

Will and Janet: “September is dry in Oregon, so non-Gore-Tex boots would breathe much better. Maybe they should look at low cuts by Merrell or Vasque. They are fairly light, but are still a hiking shoe compared to the others we often use, which are really adventure racers or trail runners. Janet personally prefers a low cut trail running shoe for everything. She has tried a lot of mid and full height boots and they don't agree with her feet.”

Doug: “I'd go for a comfy running shoe with a shortie eVENT gaiter from Integral Designs. And make sure they use SmartWool socks - especially if things are wet. I agree with everyone on Gore-Tex - I only use them when trying to retain heat as in snowshoeing. In warmer conditions, Gore-Tex shoes get wet from the inside. But more breathable shoes can get wet from the outside (beginners are always scared of this) and you want the wise women to stay warm following river crossings, so wool socks are critical.

I set my Mom up with trail running shoes that had lots of cushioning (Asics fit her best), SmartWool socks, and stretch shortie gaiters from REI. Those were fine for my Mom’s situation, but the eVENT is better when things get really wet - the stretch is better for the desert. My mom was thrilled with this set-up, and she's in her sixties.“

Jean: I was glad to read their advice about shoes, especially since my favorite of favorites for shoes has always been Asics. I was glad to see these shoes were recommended by Doug.

Sue and I tried the Timberland Cadions, and I liked them, but they might be a little too narrow for my feet. Hard to tell as I didn't keep them on too long. Sue didn't like them because they are high tops and rub her ankle. We found a lightweight Salomon Gore-Tex XCR trail running shoe. I think it weighed 1.3 pounds. The same style shoe without the Gore-Tex didn't fit my foot right. I am so used to the higher boots that I worry about my heel sliding up and down. But, I am willing to get out of my zone and try something different.

I am thinking that Sue and I need to take some different items to compare. She wants to stick with shoes with the Gore-Tex. I am up to trying some without it.

I asked Carol about the SmartWool socks. She let me know I didn’t need a liner with them, and that I could get the crew style for low top shoes. I also asked her about using hiking boots that came above the ankle for ankle support and for keeping out water and my feet dry.

Carol wrote: “What I understand is that ankle support is provided by how your foot fits in the base of the shoe. Taller boots protect your ankles from thorns and scraping against rocks, but do not necessarily provide good ankle support. After using high top boots for a long time, your ankles may be weaker than if you had been using low top shoes all along.”

Sue and I initially rejected Carol’s suggestion of wearing trail shoes as being completely out of the question. However, as more and more people put in their two cents worth, we decided to at least try out some trail shoes - knowing full well that you need boots to hike in the northwest. So, in June, Sue and I did a two-day, one-night trip up Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge.

I owned one pair of low cut shoes (cross trainers, trail runners, whatever you call them) that had Vibram soles, and I wore them. It rained and rained, and we crossed numerous creeks full of snow runoff. Boy, crossing the creeks was something else - my little feet would ache from the cold. I found that a no dilly-dallying philosophy worked well: cross the creek and keep moving. Within twenty steps, the SmartWool socks warmed up my feet and the walking was enjoyable again. Due to the rain, the shoes and socks never got completely dry, but my feet did not look like prunes at the end of the day (which I had experienced in similar conditions with different gear in the past). My feet did get cold when we would stop for a rest on snow, as it didn’t take long for the cold to migrate up through the soles of the shoes when standing in one place.

That trip, by the way, was to be a two-night trip, but Sue decided we needed to do a 20+ mile day, so we did, and eliminated one day. I was amazed that we could so easily go that distance. I credit our lighter packs with this accomplishment.

I was afraid that my ankles would roll without the high tops of my hiking boots. There were times when crossing slopes, that I could feel the lack of support. However, I have switched to Merrell’s “Overdrive” shoes since the Columbia River Gorge trip. They are also low top, but are more supportive for my ankles. I think when it comes to shoes, you just have to be willing to try different types until you find what works best for you.

Sue: “Try low cut shoes,” the experts said. You have got to be kidding! I thought. But, I did read that every pound on your foot is like five pounds on your back, so my high top 41.3 ounce shoes are replaced with 20.0 ounce low cut Gore-Tex shoes. I tried on a pair of Timberland Cadions, but the high top rubbed on my ankle. I wanted to do the lightweight trail runners, and it sounded as though the Timberland Delerion Low with Gore-Tex might just work. I thought it would be wonderful to have the integrated shortie gaiters that come with the shoes. I like wearing gaiters even with my higher cut shoes.

I also tried on a pair of running shoes and liked the Salomon Ortholite Gore-Tex. They weighed in at 22.6 ounces. I told Carol “I guess you know that both Jean and I are leery of not doing Gore-Tex.”

“No Gore-Tex! Don’t you know that Oregon is known for its rain?” the experts cried. Another low cut shoe is purchased with much apprehension and wondering how in the world are my feet going to stay dry and warm. After a 30-mile overnight hike in the Gorge with snowpack, rain, and having to wade through stream after stream, I became totally convinced of the value of not wearing Gore-Tex shoes. The term ‘walk yourself dry’ was proven to me on this wet hiking experience.

I was sure the SmartWool socks wouldn’t work for me - I’d felt they had failed me once before. But, Carol and others recommended them so strongly, that I eventually heeded their advice.


Wise Women Go Light, Part 2 - 2
Odie and Sue approaching Timberline lodge at Mt Hood.

Jean: I overheat a lot when I backpack. My dad, who is a doctor, said my thermostat malfunctions - how encouraging. Sue can be cool as a cucumber and I will be drenched. I give off so much heat that I found that even the lightest hat doesn't let enough air circulate. That’s why I tried the umbrella hat on a whim. It shaded my head/face, let air flow unimpeded over my head, and the band acted as a sweatband.

I had been using my rain jacket to put over my fleece or t-shirt when it got windy or colder. I found that when I took it off, it would be wet inside from all that moisture my body is giving off. I was thinking that putting on a wind shirt, which breathes better, would enable more of this moisture to escape. I asked Carol what she thought, and she said that was the main reason many of the staff wore a wind shirt. I looked at the GoLite Wisp wind shirt. It only weighs 2.5 ounces which is less than a t-shirt weighs. I also looked at the RailRiders Eco-Mesh Shirt - 5 ounces that would provide lots of cooling and sun protection for when it is hot. The RailRiders women's Speed-T weighs 3 ounces which is 2 ounces less than my Duofold t-shirts.

I asked Carol if there was anyone on staff that could put together a good layering system for someone like me and she gave me a general layering system that is commonly used:

Thin wool or synthetic shirt (worn alone if warm enough) and windshirt (added when cooler). These two layers cover most trail hiking even in quite cool conditions. Then in camp or at rest stops add a puffy layer. Choose a rain jacket sized to go over the puffy layer for in camp use.

Carol also provided some advice about the individual layers: “The consensus is that the Integral designs eVENT jacket is the best for hiking in really wet conditions since eVENT it is the most breathable waterproof/breathable fabric and Integral Designs has the lightest design for eVENT rain jackets. Of course, the Integral Designs eVENT jacket is heavier than other lightweight rain jackets, so you pay a weight penalty (it's also sized small and you need to size up if you want to wear it over your insulating clothing).

The lightweight favorite rain jacket now is the Outdoor Research Zealot (although GoLite is coming out with the 6-ounce Virga in the fall). (Editor’s note: The production Virga available as of fall 2006 has gained 2 ounces with the addition of pockets.) Other good options that will save you a couple of ounces over what you have now are the Marmot Precip and REI Ultra Light raincoats that have pit zips for ventilation - or any other 12-ounce raincoat with pit zips.

Keep the fleece - nice and warm and you can wring it out if it gets really wet.

RailRiders has good sun shirts and they dry in a flash. I wear a RailRiders Adventure shirt (same as the Eco-Mesh but with longer sleeves for my long arms) in the summer as a base layer and a SmartWool zip neck long sleeve shirt all other times of the year. For hikes where I might be soaked all the time, a synthetic base layer - but not the Eco-Mesh - might be good. The Eco-Mesh is quite cool with the side mesh panels. Any breeze blows right through so it's great as a sun shirt but won't keep you as warm as a traditional synthetic base layer. The GoLite C-thru Lite-weight tops are very light and nice base layers (although they do snag easily).”

Sue: For years I had been wearing a fishing vest that had pockets galore, and I always stuffed them full while thinking that this is really not pack weight because I am wearing it. “Let the vest go,” was in one of the first e-mails from Carol. Nine ounces gone so quickly. That’s okay because I still have all my pockets in my pants to transfer stuff to. Well, that did not work well at all, as the crotch started to sag toward my knees. Then I discovered pants that only weighed half as much as my 11.9 ounce ones and as the ‘lightening the load’ process continued all those pockets are history, and one side of a closet shelf is starting to fill up with gear no longer used.

I asked Carol about the wool/synthetic layer in her layering recommendation, and she had this to say: “For shirts - I've really come to love very lightweight wool. It is comfortable in a broader range of temperatures than synthetic, and doesn't smell as much. I was surprised wool would work for me, but it does. I hike in a long sleeved wool zip neck shirt (SmartWool Lightweight Zip-T) up to the 70's and it keeps me warmer at night than a thin synthetic. The wool has to be high quality - 18.5 micron or less so it doesn't itch. It has to be thin so it dries quicker. Examples are SmartWool microweight or lightweight, Icebreaker Superfine or Skin, and Ibex Woolies. Although I prefer long sleeves (more sun protection), SmartWool has microweight t-shirts. Check it out. Wool will weigh a bit more, but will also keep you warmer. If you like synthetic, GoLite C-thru Lite-weight is very nice and very light.”


Jean: I still have a canister stove, but had used my home made Pepsi can stove for over a year. I have relegated my canister stove for short trips when I want to bake some cornbread or make an omelet with fresh eggs. To me, going lighter does mean giving up the more gourmet cooking and sticking to the ‘boil water, add food, and eat’ mentality. This is really fine with me. Going lighter means going simpler for many things. I will be experimenting with the Ultralight Outfitters Beercan stove. I am trying to do away with my travel mug for my morning tea and the beer can will, hopefully, double as my tea cup.

Food and Water

Jean: Carol suggested Aqua Mira to lose 12 ounces of weight from my water filter. I am not ready for that yet. There have been times when I have been out of water completely and when I got to a water source, I didn’t want to wait even a half hour before I could get a drink. I am doing away with my old water filter. I have been trying an in-line filter. It has worked really well. I just fill up my Platypus and start drinking. I am having a hard time getting the water into the small opening of the Platypus since Sue and I eliminated the Platypus Big Zip Hoser because the top is too hard to close. I am sure there is a secret to getting water into the bladder and when I am enlightened, it will work just fine. I will also be using the in-line filter to filter larger quantities of water when in camp if we are by a water source. This will save Sue from having to use her Aqua Mira supply up.

Looking at the Backpacking Light website, I was intrigued with the "make your own in-line filter" stuff. I have the Sweetwater in-line Siltstopper. You use the in-line filter for a gravity fed system into a second bladder or cooking pot. By using that, I was able to eliminate the heaviest part of my Sweetwater Filter: the cartridge.

Sue: As a vegetarian, I’m always looking for different types of high calorie, lightweight trail meals. I was using Pack-lite Foods, but Carol also pointed me to Cache Lakes and Adventure Foods. She also pointed out an article on vegetarian foods.

Bear Bags and Tools

Wise Women Go Light, Part 2 - 3
Jean looking happy with her light load near Olallie Lake on the PCT in Oregon.

Jean: Sue has never used or carried a bear bag. I have been carrying an Ursak bear bag. I purchased it when I was going on my first backpack on the Appalachian Trail. Since then, I have always kept my food in it…but not always hanging it.

Carol wrote: “It is about risk assessment and maybe becoming more tolerant to some risks. Imagine driving down a busy highway at 65 mph or through a busy city when you first got your driver’s license. Quite risky. It probably doesn’t feel so risky now. Yet traveling by car is still far more likely to be fatal than going for a backpacking trip with no bear bag for example.”

What Carol wrote is true, and I hope to never see a bear poking around my tent at night. However, my “better safe than sorry” motto comes into play here. So, I am still taking a modified bear bag for “just in case.” I am using a plastic Wal-Mart sack and a Watchful Eye Designs O.P. (odor proof) Sak and AirCore spectra cord. I will keep all of my food, etc. in the O.P. Sak inside the plastic bag. This will eliminate weight. If I am in an area with a lot of bear potential, I can use the cord to hang the sack. If not in a bear potential area, I will sleep more soundly knowing that the little critters of the night can’t smell all the good stuff I have in my tent.

Sue: I wanted to condense my watch and altimeter into one unit as a wristwatch. I asked Carol what she could find out about one with other features like temperature and wind speed that would be nice. I had looked at some, but they were so big for my wrist. I had carried my old one in one of my vest pockets, but now that I’d eliminated the vest and the pockets, I needed a new solution. One of the first things Carol wanted to know was if it was an essential item or a ‘just like to have’ item. She noted that there is no right answer. Even if it's a non-vital item, it may be something a person chooses to carry anyway. As Carol said, dropping pack weight is all about choices and balance.

I thought about this. Several years ago, we did a hike by Mt. Jefferson on the PCT, in fact this was our first overnight. Lots of snow still on the trail in places. We cut across an opening to hit another trail at a lower elevation for camping that evening, but could not find the trail because of the snow. We spent the night on a ridge and in the morning with some exploring we found the trail below us several hundred feet down in elevation. We feel that an altimeter would have enabled us to have found the trail the previous day since our map showed the elevation of the trail. Will this scenario happen again? I can’t say. I’m chuckling to myself as I write this because I really cannot say if this is just a fun item to have or an essential item.

Carol’s expert, Rick, steered me toward combo units that are worn around the neck on a lanyard or clipped to a pack or clothing. Not only are the wrist models all huge - even for many men - but he advised that the interfaces on the wrist models tend to be difficult to learn, and more importantly, to remember how to use in the field.

I finally purchased a lanyard watch, altimeter combo plus other goodies and with the attach ring taken off it neatly fits into one of my hip belt pockets on my pack. At 1.7 ounces I decided it is an essential item, but then again this could change.


Jean: Depending on what I am giving up, my feelings range from excitement to anxiety.

I have looked forward to and enjoyed trying out several different tents. Each tent has been so completely different from one another that it is fun to see how they have compared in ease of set up, room inside, etc. I had wanted to try a new tent for these articles, but since Sue and I both own Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tents - and they are the lightest and roomiest - there wasn’t much to try in going lightweight. The tents we have are OK, but I am still looking for my “ideal” tent. It is somewhere out there and all I have to do is find it. It might not be made yet, but someday it will.

My anxiety was high when it came to trying the low cut and not waterproof shoes. All the articles I had read had stressed the need to keep your feet dry. It took Carol and Gardner from SmartWool to convince me to try out some SmartWool socks and some low cut mesh type shoes. I admit I had pre-programmed these for failure. I was greatly surprised at how warm my feet were when crossing creeks and walking on snow. They did not completely dry, but I think that was because it never stopped raining for long. They made crossing the creeks much easier than with my old boots. I didn’t have to try and not get the shoes wet, they were lightweight, and they gripped the rocks well. The mesh allowed the water to drain out fast and the shoes were very comfortable to wear.

I am not ready for the Aqua Mira water treatment just yet. This is due to my tendency to overheat and when I want water, I want it now, not in an hour or two. I like the in-line filter: sort of a filter as you go type scenario. I also like the idea that you can filter larger quantities of water using gravity when stopped for lunch or in camp. I admit I brought my old water filter along when I first used the in-line filter for a “just in case the in-line filter fails.” I do not carry my old filter as a back up anymore.

I am the type of person who gets comfortable with a routine and when the routine changes or something new is added, it causes anxiety and doubt. I am an old dog that you can teach new tricks to, but I have to see the trick and think about it for awhile.

You could also compare me to a swimmer. Sue is like the person who doesn’t feel the water to see how cold it is, she just dives off the dock. I like to test the water with my feet for awhile, then I get wet up to my knees. If all goes well and I am not an ice cube, I get wet up to my waist. If all is still going well, I grit my teeth and submerge myself. Then I come to the surface and I always feel great.

It has been this way when it came to lightening my backpack weight. I got my feet wet by realizing that I was carrying too much weight. I made a Pepsi can stove as my first project to lightening my load. I got a lighter tent, sleeping bag, and backpack and took less clothes, pots, first aid, etc. and progressed up to my waist in the water. I am about ready to submerge myself, but for now I will be keeping my head above water…which means I am excited about all the changes I have made and am making, but not sure if I will go from my 20 pound baseweight to below 10 pounds. I will watch Sue this year and see how she makes out going sub-10 (her goal), then decide if my head will go under the water or not.

Sue: The past year of browsing outdoor stores, reading articles pertaining to the latest lightweight gear and the frustration of trying to make the right decision on gear is beginning to take a toll on my stress level.

One of our first projects we were asked to do is to weigh everything and this word ‘everything’ means just that. Soon gear is sprawled across counters and table tops and a list of items soon emerges, I am amazed how fast ounces can add up to make a pound and then another and another.

I now take my scales with me to the outdoor stores. Everything I buy is weighed on the spot and I am sure that the little gray-haired lady be-bopping through the store is a source of merriment for all the souls that observe her.

This past spring has just been like Christmas with packages arriving at the door and the kid inside me is excited. Concerns mount within me as I examine the Jacks ‘R’ Better quilt, will it keep me warm? Raincoat and pants seem paper thin and I am afraid to handle them and gently they are hung in the closet. I visit Ron at Six Moon Designs for a 13-ounce Essence pack. This is a long ways from my 6-pound beginning pack four years ago. Both Jean and I receive a lesson from Ron on getting our Lunar Solo e tents taut. I finally get it.

Lightening pack weight entails stepping out of our comfort zone and leaving things home. In this materialistic society that we live in, things mean security. Security is what we want to be assured of as we push out into the wilderness.

My hiking journey still travels the route of counting doubt in the darkness, holding on to some lingering fears, and now adding to it, the thought of leaving some stuff home. What on earth have I started here? Then the sunrise makes its appearance and for a while the fears subside and I dare to venture forth again.

So the first year of gear searching passes and we amass what we think is lightweight gear. On a few overnight trips though we are still hovering around 25 to 30 pounds total pack weight. We recognize that we still have a lot to learn so we confine our hiking to the Oregon country, close to home with those four wall comforts to soothe our sore muscles.

Nervousness rules the days as several times I walk in to admire the closet contents of new gear. Time is drawing near for our Columbia River Gorge overnight hike and the realization that just admiring gear in the closet doesn’t cut it. The pack load feels like nothing as I set foot upon the trail and a panic button goes off - perhaps I am not prepared enough. Our trailhead chauffeur has departed and we have no recourse except to experience what we have put into action.

This earthly body has set forth a new adventure to be experienced, and as my feet tread lightly upon the Earth Mother, I am comforted with the strength that she imparts to me. I acknowledge to Spirit that I shall put my best foot forward and walk with integrity upon this planet.

And the Journey to Lightweight Continues

We started this odyssey with Backpacking Light carrying 20 and 14 pound baseweight packs. We have made considerable progress towards our goals of 14 (Jean) and sub-10 pound (Sue) baseweights. A lot of our work - and it is work - lightening our packs was mind work. But we had to get out there and experience our choices to really lock them in. In our next installment we’ll share our experiences - both good and bad - on the trail and in camp with our lightweight gear.


"Wise Women Go Light, Part 2," by Jean Rogers and Sue Wright with Cat Jasins. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2006-11-21 03:00:00-07.


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Wise Women Go Light Pt. I
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Cat Jasins
(CatJasins) - MLife
Wise Women Go Light on 07/19/2006 01:52:13 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Wise Women Go Light Part 1
Wise Women Go Light Part 2
Wise Women Go Light, Conclusion

Edited by cmcrooker on 12/26/2006 18:06:59 MST.

Carol Corbridge
(ccorbridge) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Wise Women on 07/19/2006 09:08:53 MDT Print View

Hi Jean and Sue,
Thanks for writing this article. I'm a older women living and backpacking in Southern Oregon too. My story is quite similar to yours. I'm a little younger (55) and my base weight is a little heavier (22), but our paths are much alike. I've gone the hammock route and have not yet given up my jetboil or my water purifier.
If you would ever like to get together for a gear pow wow let me know. I run a landscaping business, Carol's Colors, so you can reach me there or my email is ccorbridge4 at msn dot com

Lynda Swink
(llswink) - F
Wise Womean Pt. 1 on 08/08/2006 10:38:19 MDT Print View

Dear Jean and Sue,
Thank you for your timely article. I am 53, new to hiking and back packing, and looking forward to a partial hike through on the AT next summer. One of my major concerns was what to take, and how to make sure my back pack was not too heavy! I look forward with interest to parts 2 and 3. Thanks again, Lynda Swink

Clinton Ohlers
(rcohlers) - F - M

Locale: Eastern PA
Women's Lightweight/UL Packs on 11/22/2006 12:23:29 MST Print View

Hi, Jean and Sue,

Thanks for the articles. I'd be interested in what you (or other women readers) have found regarding lightweight packs for women.

For example, as a guy, I would think that women might prefer going slightly heavier on the pack (rather than frameless) in order to have better load distribution to the hips. What do you think?

I've considered recommending the Granite Gear Vapor Ki, with its internal plastic frame (34 oz.), to a female friend. Of course, the forthcoming Jam2 looks to have better shoulder comfort and weight distribution to the hips with the new shoulder straps and belt.

Any thoughts?



Jane McMichen
(jmcmichen) - F

Locale: Maine, DownEast Coast
Wise Women's views on clothing, etc. on 11/22/2006 21:00:30 MST Print View

Hi Ladies!

Thank you for sharing your adventures! I was curious about the 6 oz pants referred to in your second article. What brand and style did you choose, and why? Also, do you use layering in pants for leg warmth during hiking or sleeping? I tend to have cold legs and would value any insights you have.

Could you post the lesson you had regarding pitching the Six Moons tent to prevent lag, etc?

Thanks again for everything!

Mary Simpson
(maryphyl) - F
Going Lighter on 11/24/2006 20:13:49 MST Print View

I just turned 60 last summer--I started on the road to a lighter pack about 10 years ago. I own nice lightweight equipment but many of the things that lightened my pack were learning how to do the multiple use thing and not trying to cover every possible situation that might occur. I forget who said it first but I work with the idea that in a worst case scenario I will only suffer minor misery. Good luck to you--Mary

Jean Rogers
(Boonga) - M

Locale: Northwest
Packs on 11/26/2006 11:52:17 MST Print View


I agree that women need more support in their packs than men. Weight on my shoulders drives me crazy. I used a ULA Circuit Pack (32 oz) on my planned 8 day backpack. It uses a 1.2oz. carbon fiber and delrim suspension hoop. It transfered the load weight nicely to my hips-where we women are made to carry wt. The fabric is sturdy and can take being bang around.

If you have a REI or EMS near you, take your friend there. Have different packs fitted to her and weight added to the pack. Then have her walk around the store/up and down stairs, etc. for a good 20 min. I found almost all packs felt good during the first 10 min., but by 20 min. you will start to notice anyplace that doesn't feel right. REI had a great return policy: if you take the pack on a trip and it doesn't work out, you can return it.

The frustrating part is that each year they come out with new and improved packs-sort of like purchasing a car...

Jean Rogers
(Boonga) - M

Locale: Northwest
Pants on 11/26/2006 12:00:10 MST Print View


I took along Golite's Woemn's Reed pants. A medium weighs 5oz. They come with taped seams and an elasticized waist with draw cord. No pockets or ankle zips. I take them everywhere with me: daypacks, purse, etc. They work great, but are a no frills item.

I often layer under my rainpants, depending on temperature: trailpants, longjohns or both.

Once I was caught out in 34 degree weather with only a summer weight sleeping bag-I slept with my longjohns and trailpants under my rainpants and that kept my legs warm. As they say "It's all about layering."

Jean Rogers
(Boonga) - M

Locale: Northwest
Tent Pitching on 11/26/2006 12:14:59 MST Print View

Jane: With the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tent, it comes down to finesse. You start by staking out the two front corners (I don't put the stakes in all the way at first). Then stake the center rear corner. Put up the front pole and stake out the guyline. Now stake out the two remaining corners. I loosley stake out the guy lines.

Now you look inside the tent and see what part is sagging (for me it is usually the two rear corners). The finesse part is moving the stakes at the corners (usually the last two stakes) to get rid of the sagging netting. Ron can do this in a snap. It was surprising to learn that all it takes sometimes is to move the stake towards the tent an inch or so. The tendency is to have too much tension on the elastic that is attached to the floating bathtub floor, by removing some of the tension, the sagging netting isn't sagging anymore. Also, snugging down or lettin up on the tensioners helps too.

The more you set up the tent, the easier it is set it up without any (or very little sagging). I have set the tent up several times in the rain. No time for finesse, just stake and dive inside. The sagging netting doesn't interfere with the functionality of the tent. You will still stay dry.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Wise Women Go Light Pt. I on 11/28/2006 21:06:22 MST Print View

This makes a great article for anyone who is trying to get into the lightweight swing of things. You avoided a lot of the more technical jargon that we discuss elsewhere on BPL and focused on simple reasons why things do or don't work for you.

I find that when first getting into a new thing sometimes I just want to be told what to do. I can then immediately begin to form my own opinions once I have a jumping off point to start from.

Jane McMichen
(jmcmichen) - F

Locale: Maine, DownEast Coast
Re: Pants on 11/29/2006 15:03:43 MST Print View

Jean, thanks for your reply. Clothing is an area I know little about as I make the move to lightweight backpacking. I live far away from retail stores, so it's difficult to get my hands on a variety of clothing to determine its trail value.

I see that the Reed pants are rain pants. You also mentioned trail pants - can you elaborate? I'm looking for something light (of course) that doesn't limit my range of motion, and is tough enough to stand up to booty-scooting down numerous granite boulders here in Maine. I am planning to start an Appalachian Trail hike next summer. Any suggestions? Thanks again for your time and help!

Jean Rogers
(Boonga) - M

Locale: Northwest
Clothing on 12/05/2006 08:24:25 MST Print View

It is hard when you don't have an outdoor retailer near you. I have found some great clothes in the Men's side of Wal Mart, etc. They have lots of wicking T-shirts, wind pants, etc.

The top notch gear can be found on the internet: each company has their own size measurements. What is a medium at one company will be a large at another. Try Golite or Outdoor Research. Buy just one item, try it on and return it for a size up/down if it doesn't fit. Once you find your size, it will be easier to order the right size each time. Returns are easy.

Better yet...take a road trip to The BIG City and shop to your heart's content.

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
Thanks for your thoughtful article on 01/02/2007 16:23:14 MST Print View

Nice job with your article. Writing of your "low morale" times, health and other struggles, reminds us that hiking is not all about the gear, the good views, and bonding with the natural world. Your frank realism makes your report that much more meaningful and helpful to others.
Of course, two hours taken out of your hike to round up cows, now that is impessive! PS a cuple of gear points: You mention struggling with the poly gound cover in the wind...that makes me wnat to leave it at home and stick with the heavier ripstop coated nylon piece just a bit wider than the sleeping bag. At this site, the review on the Golite Reed pants suggests adding a 14" or so opening slit at the bottom for easier on and off over footwear. I wonder if the between-the-toes blisters meand that your footwear is too narrow in the toe-box? Sometimes, too, a different lacing pattern can help aleviate pressure points.

b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Re: Wise Women Go Light on 01/02/2007 16:40:53 MST Print View

Thank you so much for that report on a trekker's vision quest. I also have had asthma chronically in the past so know what that means. But, the honest blow by blow descriptions of real people getting out 'there' are wonderful, invaluable for lots of reasons to me. It is not always easy or fun, and gear isn't the only issue, but it sure helps reduce the negative dark side to have good gear when the dark side rears its ugly head. Thank you so much, I have forwarded your venture story to my partner, and still have lots of questions to ask. bd

PS: You are invited, both of you, to visit down here and use our place as a base to trek on the PCT in the Lassen-Shasta area anytime, or head off into the local wilderness areas which are safe and generally bee and wasp free. Georgi H. is a PCT angel who is quite well known, as it turns out, a woman who spent many years teaching camping, hiking, and winter camping to the Girl Scouts in her youth -- I think she is in her 7th decade -- we just met over the holidays and she lives a mile or two from us. She knows about gear, from the 100's of people who stay with her and would be a goldmine of info for you. She also sews and modifies gear for people who need it. Keep on trekkin, and thanks for the article, again. Another person in their 6th decade mode. (Wouldn't it be wonderful to have this gear and be in the 2nd or 3rd decade mode?) bd

Edited by bdavis on 01/02/2007 17:06:48 MST.

Matt DeWitt
(tritan) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Wise Women Go Light Pt. I on 08/03/2008 10:04:34 MDT Print View

I completely agree with you. I read this article with my mouse coping and pasting every piece of gear into Google to find them and see how much they are and where to purchase. I am new to backpacking looking to start out with just 1-2 night trips. I have no gear except my boots. I have been reading(Lighten up) and researching like crazy and this article was great.
I day hike, run, walk ,commute by bike to work and still lack the self confidence to get out there and enjoy an overnighter. I can't get past the fact of " what if" heavy storm, bears,shock, reactions to bees, lost, etc. i thinking finding the right gear might go along ways. I have seen the six moons shelters but thought that "can't hold up in a down pour". Articles like this help others with the gear decision before buying heavy packs and then having to lighten up. I currently am trying to find the best 1-2 night pack for the money and the ULA packs look like a good choice. The Go-lites look like another option.

sage Clegg-Haman
(sageclegg) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Wise Women Go Light on 12/01/2009 01:43:31 MST Print View

This is great! I hope your words and courage to dump excess pack weight will inspire many other women to get out on the trail- there just aren't very many chics who go lite! Sage