The History of Going Light

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The Philosophy of Going Light, Part I, is part of our Stripped Down Series.

Old Fashioned Backpack

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley / Foter / CC BY

Now & Then

Major changes have taken place in the world of backcountry travel in the last half century. Adventurers now rock climb 3,500-foot walls in record speeds and hike thousands of miles carrying backpacks that weigh less than a small dog. Pioneers have questioned tradition and tested boundaries, transforming their adventure sports and the gear they use for those sports.

When Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore first climbed El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, they spent 47 days on the route using “siege tactics.” They hammered in hundreds of pitons and fixed thousands of feet or rope. Nowadays, people regularly climb their famous route, The Nose, in less than 24 hours. Alex Honnold and Hans Florine climbed it in just over two hours in 2012!

Likewise people have been trekking and camping long-distance on horizontal terrain since the early 1900s, regularly carrying one-third of their body weight (50 to 70 pounds). But thru hikers like National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” Andrew Skurka and winter Pacific Crest Trail record breakers, Justin Lichter and Shawn Forry, have revolutionized hiking. They ditched the metal canteens, woolen knickers and cotton sleeping bags, replacing them with innovative, often custom-made equipment that was not only lighter, but also more streamlined, durable and effective. Imagine Skurka trying to hike the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop in 208 days with an external frame pack. No chance. Read the rest of the article!

How to Choose a Campsite

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Echo II TarpBy Max Neale, a former Review Editor for Outdoor Gear Lab

A good campsite can make or break your wilderness experience. When traveling long distances or through remote areas, I break the campsite selection process into two steps. At the macro level I look at maps and identify–based on my average speed and the desired time I want to bed down for the night–a general area to sleep. Here, I look for an area that is: off trail, so you don’t interfere with other people’s wilderness experience; flat, where you’re most likely to find a level place to lay down; near resources such as water and firewood; not buggy, in a breezy area away from breeding grounds such as swamps and slow moving water; not in the bottom of a valley, where the air will be colder and the dew and frost will be greater; not near animal paths or their ideal habitat, which might lead to an unwelcome nighttime guest; and finally, away from natural hazards such as flash floods and avalanches.

Read the rest of the article

Stripped Down: What is Lightweight exactly?

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Evolution of going lite

The Philosophy of Going Light

By Mike St. Pierre, illustration by Steve Graepel

The first few days Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail she could barely lift her pack. Most people reading this likely remember that feeling from early backpacking trips. Each step you took felt crushing, as obscene weight drilled your heavy, boot-clad feet into the dirt. Your hips ached and chafed almost immediately. Your back contorted in multiple directions (despite the fact that you stood up straight, sort of). Those were the days when you went “heavy.”

You didn’t do this because you wanted to; you just didn’t know better. I sure didn’t. Like I said in last week’s post, I practically brought a kitchen drawer full of steel utensils on one of my early pack trips. But, since then I’ve learned a few things, and I’ve adopted a going light philosophy. Less gear equals more adventure!

What is lightweight?

Read more about the going light philosophy…

Community Spotlight: Bayard Russell

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Bayard Russell, Mugs Stump winner to climb Mt. Deborah, Hayes Range, AlaskaPhoto by Anne Skidmore Russell

New Hampshire’s mountains may be small compared to Western ranges, but they offer some ferocious terrain and hearty individuals. We recently chatted with hunter, climber and adventurer Bayard Russell. As we write this, he’s on his way to the Hayes Range, Alaska with partners Elliot Gaddy and Michael Wejchert to make their second attempt on the unclimbed south face of Mt. Deborah (12,540′). The threesome won the prestigious Mugs Stump Award.

Their plan: to climb a giant (i.e. 4500-foot) face, traverse a 1.5-mile ridge “across a classic, horrifying, double-corniced traverse,” to the summit of the mountain, and then descend to the other side of the mountain, and climb a pass and hike “six to ten miles” to get back to basecamp.

“It’s a big new age wall objective with an old-school Alaska mountaineering objective,” Russell explained. “The guys selectively provided me with information to get me psyched,” he added with a laugh. Read the rest of the article!

Stripped Down #3: Weigh Everything

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Mike St. Pierre, Stripped Down Series of educational blog posts about ultralight backcountry travel.By Mike St. Pierre

Most ultralight backpackers, blogs and mags that write about lightweight travel and many alpine climbers recommend you weigh everything before embarking on backcountry adventures. I wish I’d known this in my twenties when I started backpacking. I didn’t realize the benefits of weighing all my gear until after I sustained a knee injury carrying excessive gear up Clingmans Dome (6,643’), the highest point in Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I brought steel utensils from my kitchen drawer, burly hiking boots, and all the ridiculously heavy gear you buy without thinking because “you need it.” As my knees healed, I started to put together my first Excel spreadsheet.

The theory behind weighing all your gear is you can’t possibly know what your weight options are for going lighter if you don’t know how much your gear weighs. I broke down items into categories and then subcategories. For example (not comprehensive):

Read the rest of Stripped Down #3 here

Stripped Down: Community Tips

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    Go light. Hike in your socks :)

Comments moderated by Mike St. Pierre

Thanks so much to our community for providing so many good tips & tricks to lighten your load. We’ll be expanding some of these into blog posts in the upcoming weeks.

  • From Charles Greenhalgh via Instagram (@daily_maple): Use a very large poncho. It provides protection from rain, but breathes really well and covers your pack and your legs to the knees. It can also serve as an emergency shelter. Charles has waited out hailstorms on the trail and made lunch under his poncho.
  • Thanks to Chris (@snow_slog) who advised us via Instagram to take a smaller pack than normal because it forces you to pack less. This brings to mind something I often tell my customers; I recommend you buy your pack last. By purchasing all your necessities first, you can figure out the lightest, best options for you. And then buy a pack that reflects those purchases. Buy a big pack from the get-go, and you’re just going to fill it, often with unnecessary stuff. Read the rest of the community tips…

Stripped Down with Mike St. Pierre, #2

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Trekking Poles are The Bomb

“Trekking poles are the difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive when you’re on the trail.”
-Max Neale, writer & adventurer (@nealemax on Twitter)

Text by Mike St. Pierre, Photo by Cody Cobb.

Photo by Cody Cobb.

Trekking poles prevent muscle damage and soreness. It’s true, and not just because I say so. The UK’s Northumbria University did a study in 2010 and found the test groups that used poles, “demonstrated a reduced loss of strength and a faster recovery immediately after the trek compared to the control group.” They drilled it down even more, finding the levels of the enzyme creatine kinase (indicating muscle damage) were significantly higher in the non-pole group, while “the trekking-pole group’s levels were close to the pre-trekking levels.” I.e. muscle damage was negligible when people used poles. Various studies have shown that using poles can reduce the impact on your knees from 25-40%. Cool, right?

Read the rest of the article…

New Marketing Manager: Lizzy Scully

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear hires new marketing manager, Lizzy Scully.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear recently hired athlete ambassador and long-time communications expert Lizzy Scully as their new marketing manager.

“Her ties within the outdoor industry and her extensive skillset make her the perfect choice for our growing team,” says CEO and founder Mike St. Pierre. “But, equally important, Lizzy travels light and fast in the mountains. Hyperlite Mountain Gear believes efficiency and enjoyment in the outdoors results from stripping your pack of every inessential item. Lizzy embodies our ultralight philosophy on her adventures and in her life.”
Read the full article!

Stripped Down with Mike St. Pierre, #1

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Mike Portrait-030365 items you can get rid of (even if you’re already on the trail)

 Not all backpacking gear is created equal. As recent as last year’s Trail Days, people were still using their parents’ 30-year-old external frame packs on the Appalachian Trail. Even the newest style of these packs weighs five to seven pounds! Your pack should weigh three pounds or less. But, lightweight isn’t just about how little one single backpack weighs. Going ultra is about stripping your pack of every inessential item in order to be as efficient, and as comfortable, as possible. So leave that hatchet at home; you shouldn’t be bushwhacking on the Appalachian highway anyway.
Read the full article!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpacks @ Untamed New England 2014

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HMG Customer Alex Provost reporting on the 2014 Untamed New England Adventure Race.

14283583929_ab28916be4_oWhat is Adventure racing? According to Wikipedia it is “a combination of two or more endurance disciplines.”

While planning our gear for Untamed New England 2014, we came to realize that we would be short on space with our actual packs as we would have to carry our two Alpacka packrafts with our four piece Epic paddles and standard AR gear like food, clothes and first aid for most of the four days. Not only would we have to carry about 40lbs of gear each, we would have to do it in the notoriously thick bush in Northern Maine. To put the icing on the cake, we were told that the middle race bushwack could take up to 48 hours. I needed a solution and fast. I did not wanted to hang our gear outside the packs and risk a hole in our boats, lose paddles and lose time by getting entangled in the bush. I immediately thought about those super slick white Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs that I had tried quickly at this same race two years ago. I remember they were ultralight but did not know how tough they really were. After some researching, I decided to reach out to Dan St. Pierre, co-owner. I was already very late and the only way to make this work would be for Hyperlite Mountain Gear to ship the packs directly to race HQ at Northern Outdoors. Read the rest of the article!