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.

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