Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Scale

Scale Heaven!
My new digital postal scale arrived the other day.  Now I fell like a real ultralight backpacker!  By the evening I had weighed my day pack and some gear.  During the weighing, my wife is teasing me that I will have to choose either not to eat or not to sleep with a 20 lb. lightweight pack, that there won't be room for the both the food or tent.  Then I told her about ultralight backpacking at a 10 lbs. base weight.  Now she is saying I won't eat or sleep so I better get good rest and eat hearty on the way to the trail because there won't be room for either food or a tent in a pack that small.
I've been carrying 6.6 pounds on my day hikes in my REI Flash 18 backpack including 3 liters of water, lunch and fuel.  For Florida hiking in the summer, that's about enough water for half a day without refilling.  The bad news is the weight of a few items is way too much to be considered for "Lightweight or Ultra-lightweight Backpacking".
My favorite (for 25 years) Swiss Army knife (3.7 oz) weighs more than any other item except rain gear/shelter and my cook pot.  I knew that it was heavy and would have to go at some point.  I'll surely miss it.
My compass also seems light at 1.1 oz but I have a lighter one at 0.4 oz that will work for everything except cross country travel.
I have also been carrying a rain poncho as an emergency tarp with rope and stakes but they total 26.3 oz.  My current 12 oz rain jacket will be just fine.  I'll get a SOL emergency bivy at 3.8 oz for that emergency overnight I never really expect to have.
My first aid kit also grew from 2.3 oz to 4.3 oz due to adding extra medications, bandages and a small pocket knife with scissors. I'll just replace my heavy knife with this smaller one for all but Western sojourns and through-hikes.
I also have an ounce of carabiners I love but do not use.  They mainly jingle while I walk so I'll reduce them to one for clipping my Platypus water bottle on my pack straps (no side pockets).
Then there is a micro backup flashlight at 0.6 oz (go ahead and call me an Eagle Scout, I earned it) and a 3.7 oz monocular I rarely use.  Since I already have a small headlamp with new batteries, I'll leave the backup micro light at home and will only bring the monocular when accompanying my birding friends (or looking at peaks in the Rockies).
As for the rest, I'll continue to carry Micropur tabs for emergency water purification, 50 feet of line and my cook kit (in cooler weather) and can now reduce my pack weight about 2 pounds to an easy 4.5 lbs.  I will reweigh it for you at the next outing.
As for my old pocket knife, I'll get over it.  Just don't tell my wife!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Elk Crossing and backpacking ultra-lightweight

Like my previous backpack at 5.5 lbs empty
What does lightweight backpacking mean to you?  Hopefully it means a much lighter load on your back and ease of overland travel.  For me, it means I can actually now carry a backpack again.  It has been years since I hiked on a multi-day trip with a backpack when I lived in Colorado.  It was my second backpacking trip there to the Flat Tops wilderness area with a friend.  We encountered fairly heavy snowfall late in the season and attempted to backpack a loop trip in it.  We didn't get more than 5-6 miles from the car and reached a creek that was overflowing.  We couldn't cross it or continue the trip.  We walked back from the creek and pitched the tent in what became "Elk Crossing".  After dinner we lay in our sleeping bags and listened to all the elks bugle, for hours.  When morning came, the area was full of elk track crossings just outside our tent.  Hunting season would start on Monday and this was the Saturday before, so we figured the elk were enjoying one last "fling" before hiding in the woods for the next several weeks.  Those are the things you miss by not backpacking.
The main thing was I couldn't continue with the pack on, it was a struggle just to get back to the car, and my friend Owen even packed the tent.  That huge backpack and tent are now gone and since then I have day-hiked, until my son joined a Boy Scout troop and we began "car camping" at Florida state parks.  On our few backpacking trips during Scouting I used a day pack and a one-person tent.  It was painful because the pack couldn't carry the weight of my old sleeping bag and pad, plus the stove, cook gear and toiletries.  BSA camping was a group event and I still really enjoyed being out (I slept great!).
Like my REI Flash 18
So my reason for lightweight backpacking is just to get out "there".  To follow a trail until sunset, to get up and hike again the next morning and the next.  To eat and sleep outdoors and to enjoy the views and the peace.  And to be able to do this much later in life.  At a base weight of 10 pounds,  a pack weight around 25 pounds is "carry able" by me, even up to an occasional "through-hike 35 pound-er".
This winter, I purchased an REI Flash 18 day pack, a Platypus 2-liter hydration bladder and an Esbit mini-stove to seriously reduce my day hike weight.  My wife pitched in with a Snow Peak 700 titanium cooking pot at Christmas (very nice).  I added the ten essentials and recently a Marmot Precip rain jacket (on sale) this spring.  I generally hike about half a day locally on trails a quick drive away and am back home nightly.  I used to pack for an accidental overnight using a poncho and my hiking poles, but am planning to change to a lightweight bivy to save weight.
The problem with living in Florida is the heat during the summer and the daily thunderstorms, not to mention the bugs.  That cycle has been underway since late May with no breaks until October.  I will only get out a few times to actually hike over the next 3-4 months.  Once October/November arrive, we can start discussing camping out locally.
My daughter's REI Flash 18
In the meantime I ride my bicycle weekly on the local rail trails, and walk for exercise early in the mornings before work.
I recently bought a new version of the Flash 18 pack and Platypus hydration bladder for my daughter for college graduation.  Now she can hike with me locally on her days off and we can enjoy some of the outdoors together.  We will cover the trails mentioned in this blog and she may even grace a picture or two along the way.