Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer is here, let's ULBackpack!

Me (reflection) Backpacking at Green Swamp last year
What I want to talk about today is Ultralight Backpacking, and what things you need and what you need to know to get out there.
The base weight of my gear is currently 9.5 pounds.  That includes the tent, sleeping pad, quilt, clothing, spares, cook gear, first aid, grooming, empty water bottles and the the pack itself.  That is everything I carry EXCEPT food, fuel & water.  I pack about 1.5 pounds per person per day (ppppd) for food, plan for 4 ounces (3 Esbit tabs + 1 spare) of fuel used per day and typically carry 2 liters of water at a time, unless the route requires I carry more between refills (water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter).
Let's start with a backpack.  For up to 3 days, a 35 liter/2130 cubic inch backpack is more than enough space for carrying your ultralight gear.  Some UL Backpackers can hike many more days with this pack.  Aim for a pack that weighs about one pound.  Expect a total loaded pack to weigh under 20-25 pounds including food, fuel & 2 liters of water.  Be sure your backpack can carry the weight before you overload it.  My pack is the Gossamer Gear Kumo and it is very comfortable for all-day long backpacking.  The GoLite Jam is also a very good choice in both the 35 & 50 liter sizes.
Gossamer Gear Kumo - 35 Liters, 1 lb.
For much longer hikes and areas where bear-proof canisters are required, a 50 liter/3050 cubic inch backpack is plenty of space with room to handle resupply stops and 5-7 days of food.  This should weigh about 2 pounds.  You may carry up to 35-40 pounds of gear in your pack for a few days including food, fuel & 2 liters of water.  This would be the right size pack for a through-hiker on the Appalachian Trail.  I like the REI backpacks like the Flash 45 shown below, but there are several other backpack manufacturers you should look at before deciding.  Just remember to keep the weight of a 50 liter bag to as near 2 pounds as possible.

REI Flash 45 - Lg 50 Liters, 2 lbs 3 oz.
Do carry enough clothing to keep warm at night like a polar plus jacket or sweater, long underwear, and a hat.  Remember the temperature drops 3.5 degrees for each 1000 feet you gain in elevation.  So if your trail will climb to the camp site at 3500 feet, and if it is forecast to be 40 degrees tonight down here at sea level, your temperature would be closer to 28 degrees at camp, cold enough to freeze your water bottles (or 3.5 degrees x 3.5 for each 1000 feet).
So with my ThermaRest Alpine 35 degree blanket (quilt) and wearing all my clothing, I would be quite warm and comfortable.  A 20 degree bag would be overkill in the summer and way too hot and sweaty for most nights.
Let's talk about water.  I always plan to carry at least 2 liters of water, unless I am familiar with the water sources along the trail.  For most backpacking trips I have the ability to carry 5 liters at one time using a combination of my two 1 liter Gatorade bottles outside the pack in the side pockets, 2 Platypus 1 liter soft water bottles inside the pack plus 1 liter of unfiltered water in my Sawyer filter bag (filter later).  While that is 11 pounds of water (more than my base weight), it is a full days supply of drinking water for me, counting cooking and cleaning needs.  That would cover me if I had to "dry camp", as long as water was an hour or two down the trail in the morning.  Desert travel may require more, Northeastern US travel may require less.  Just remember it is as important to carry enough water as it is important to not carry too much water.  Research your route and talk to others who have backpacked there recently (last week, this time last year) to get a hikers take on available water flow.  Remember the words from Andrew Skurka, who said that if you reach the next water source and still have water in your pack, you have made a mistake.
To review what you need to know:

  • Your base weight is the total weight of everything in your pack EXCLUDING food, fuel & water.
  • Plan to carry at least 1.5 pounds (ppppd) food per person per day, maybe more.
  • 1-3 night backpack size 35 liters and weighs 1 pound.
  • 5 day+, bear canister capable, through-hike backpack size 50 liters and weighs 2 pounds.
  • Temperature drops 3.5 degrees each 1000 feet of elevation gain.  Carry adequate clothing and plan to sleep in everything you have when it is cold.
  • Water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter.
  • If you don't already know, learn how much water you need to drink per day, include cooking & cleaning.
  • Have the capability to carry one day's supply of water, talk to previous hikers and study the maps and make your best guess at the next water source.  Try not to overload yourself if it is unnecessary.

Next week, we'll cover more about what to expect when backpacking.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Restoring Myself

Friday's Sunset
The weather outside is great for Florida in May, the sun is out with few clouds, the humidity is low and the temperatures were in the mid-60's this morning.  So why am I inside, typing on the computer?  I am restoring myself.
Somehow, I cut my toe and it hurts to walk on it.  Since walking is what I do, I decided to sit back and let it heal, and not make it worse by hiking on it today.
I did some household chores and took my wife out for a short day trip and we enjoyed fish tacos outdoors. Yes, I walked a little, but I really enjoyed myself.  By slowing down and not pushing to check off everything on my to do list in the scant daylight left to me, I can enjoy some peace, and even be surprised at what I do find.
A nice break at a trail head.
On Saturday I rode my bicycle along the Seminole-Wekiva trail for 16 miles and spent the rest of the day watching movies.  Nice and relaxing!
Hopefully, I'll be able to walk better next week, maybe even ride my bicycle again, take some more photos and just enjoy being outdoors.
Next weekend, I will be back outdoors again, shooting video and having a blast!  And feel renewed because I spent some time restoring myself.  Isn't life grand?
A mom Raccoon with 2 babies along the trail

Friday, May 16, 2014

So I hiked along the Econlockhatchee River in the Little Big Econ State Forest last week.  The forest is north east of Orlando and this trail follows in an east-west direction from the Barr Street trailhead to Snowhill Road.  Both the Little and Big Econlockhatchee Rivers are in this forest, and the trail passes along both of them.  I hiked a little more than three quarters of the way out and back.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I shot video along the trail using my Ultralight Filmmaking equipment and iPhone 5C.
The weather was hot, nearly 96 degrees.  The sky was mostly clear and there was a light breeze, which made the hike bearable.
Even though it was hot, I had an excellent time!  I was so busy setting up shots and making camera moves that the time just flew by, and I actually ran out of time to finish the hike.  Also I ran my camera battery down to 17%, using the FILMIC PRO App, so I had to shut my phone off on the return trip to conserve power for an emergency phone call in case I needed to make one.  The next time I'll bring my Solio Bolt backup battery.
And the trail was excellent!  Traffic noise died down pretty quickly and I didn't hear anything mechanical except a couple boat motors in the distance and an occasional airplane overhead.  A lone trail runner guy passed me twice, but that was it for people outdoors.  I really enjoyed walking by the river.  The trail was well-marked, the bridges were in good shape (can be an issue in super-humid Florida), and there was lots of wildlife.  I did come across a large turtle, found some cardinals flitting in a bush, followed squirrels along tree branches and heard lots of splashes in the water and bird whistles in the air.  
I got into the rhythm of setting up, practicing a move, getting the shot and moving on.  I did miss not having wide angle, macro or telephoto lenses for some shots, but I will get them later.  I missed having full manual control over the camera like I used to use, but the video came out fine.  I didn't use the lavaliere microphone yet, but that will come soon.
When I returned home and recharged the batteries, I loaded the clips into the iPhone's camera roll, opened Adobe VideoBite and began editing.  After a few minutes I was intuitively using the App, trimming and dragging clips around.  It was cool to edit within the phone.  It was very, very easy and it is very, very limited.  But I do like how it came out.  The finished product is below, and it gives you a feeling of what it is like to hike this trail.  I hope you enjoy it.
On my Facebook page Lite Packer Lifestyle, there is a shorter version of this video.  Facebook limits you to two minutes for your video, You Tube does not.  Plan on seeing more videos from me in the future.
Many years ago in a previous life I was a TV news photographer.  I really liked what I did, I was respected by my peers and I was welcomed to work on the other side of the crime scene tape daily.  Though I am many years out of practice, I felt a little bit of that goodness today, and it was wonderful!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ultralight Filmmaking Hike

Map of the Econlockhatchee River
Since last weekends weather was exceptionally wet,this will be my first weekend to shoot video and stills outdoors with my iPhone.  I'm really looking forward to getting out, even though the temperatures will be in the mid to upper 80's.  I may go toward the Econlockhatchee River which is just a few miles from my home, but I'll make that decision in the morning.
My plan is to hike and document flowers, foliage and wildlife along the way in both video and still photos.  Shooting along water would also be nice.  I won't hike very far, the idea is to spend most of the time capturing the outdoors digitally.
When I return home, I'll begin to edit these video clips and photos into a few short videos on my iPhone (if they are any good) to post on Facebook and this blog.  I'll write a brief word or two on editing with Adobe Videobite once I use it.  It is a free app I downloaded.
Tripod on backpack ready to go
Here is a photo of the new Tiffen Fusion tripod attached to my day pack for a day shooting video outdoors with my iPhone 5c.  It weighs a little over 3 pounds 7 ounces and works very well to shoot smooth pans and tilts.  Mounting the iPhone to hold it steady is critical to getting good videos and photos, and is just as critical as having good lighting.   Since I'm shooting outdoors there should be no issue with the latter.
Tripod mount at 8.8 grams
The iPhone mount I purchased is also lightweight and so far under test has held my camera very securely.
My years of media experience will have me record voice-over audio on site, on camera.  I'll be using my new Audio Technica lavalier microphone for all voiced shots.  Wild and natural sound will be captured from the built-in camera microphone unless there are noise or wind issues.
I may look a bit weird with headphones and a microphone clipped on with the tripod suspended from my pack and my iPhone in a case on my waist, but I have looked much weirder and heavier before when working in the media industry.  This time I will be shooting video for myself.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ultralight Filmmaking

iPhone 5C

I have been assembling camera pieces over the past few weeks to record videos and shoot photography outdoors with my new iPhone 5C.
My older Cannon Vixia HF R20 video camera weighs over 10 ounces, so the i-Phone is currently the best bet at 3.95 ounces for carrying a lightweight camera that also shoots HD video.  It is also a better camera choice for stills since it has an 8 megapixel camera (Canon = 3MP).  There is also the fact I can edit and post videos using the cell phone, something else I cannot do with only the Canon camera.  Plus GPS, maps and all the other fun apps that can make life seem a little easier.
Some of the apps I will be using include Filmic Pro for shooting video and Adobe VideoBite for video editing on the iPhone.  For photography I have been looking into the Camera+ app and a few others.  I will download other photographic and film-effect apps over time.
If you have any question about using an iPhone for making a professional quality video,  watch this film onlineYou will see what I mean.
Tiffen Fusion fluid head tripod

To improve the photo and video quality I have also purchased a fluid-head tripod (think smooth moves), a tripod mount with a unipod handle for light hand-held work, and an Audio Technica lavalier microphone for recording quality audio tracks and interviews.
The weights:
Tripod - Tiffen Fusion, 3 Pounds, 7 ounces.   I could not find a lighter weight fluid head tripod.  Most weigh 7 pounds or more.
Mount - First2Savv tripod mount.  No weight given, but expected to be around 12 ounces with the unipod handle.
Microphone - Audio Technica ATR-3350 lavalier mic, .02 ounce.  Plus a couple spare button-size batteries.
There is also an audio converter cable with both mic and headphone jacks at about .03 ounces.
This is a good start and I'll be looking to get Olloclip lenses and will be testing different mounts like SteadyCam as I go.
For hiking and backpacking, the tripod hooks onto my daypack or backpack easily, and the iPhone  lives in its belt case.  The microphone gear stays in a small waist pack or the backpack belt pockets. 
It is all very lightweight, and some parts are Ultralight.  It all gives me the power to create quality hiking, backpacking and travel videos & photos without having a lot of stuff to carry.  I believe the total rig will only add about 4 pounds to my current 9 pound base weight when backpacking.  That's far less than my 11 pound Nikon and lenses.
BTW - I call it "FILM MAKING" because I am old school.  I started with a 35 mm camera at 10 years old, studied in the film program in college and have worked in various media and television industries for about 40 years.  My Filmmaking life is much like Ultralight backpacking, where the most important stuff you use is in your head.
Watch for upcoming short videos on this blog, on the Lite Packer Lifestyle Facebook page and on a new You Tube Channel coming soon!