The Myth of Backpacking Ultralight: It Doesn’t Make You Less Safe, Colder, Wetter & Hungrier
Text & photos by Alan Dixon.
In fact, I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear. This is true for three reasons:
Good camping skills: Good camping skills rule! They are far more important than the weight of my gear for keeping me safe, warm and dry. And I don’t mean fancy skills—just the basic, garden-variety skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—like putting on rainwear or a warm jacket when needed, selecting a good campsite, and doing a decent job of pitching a tarp or pyramid shelter, etc.
Light gear appropriate for the conditions: I pick the lightest fully-functional gear appropriate for the actual conditions I backpack in. E.g. my light down sleeping bag/quilt, down jacket, and 6-8 oz rain jacket work as well as conventional (heavy) gear at 3 times the weight. I take gear that is appropriate for actual conditions for the time of year and location I am backpacking. E.g. I don’t take a 4-pound, 4-season dome tent, a +20F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm May trip on the Appalachian Trail with expected lows in the 60s—you’d be surprised how many people do!
Nutritious high-calorie food: Intelligent selection of my food, gives me 3,000 nutritious and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pounds/day. This is the same number of calories provided by 2 pounds of average backpacking food. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost twice the food weight.
In summary: It’s not the weight of your gear but poor camping skills, poor gear choices and uniformed food selection that will make any backpacker more prone to being cold, wet and hungry. This is just as true for conventional (heavy) backpackers, as it is for lightweight or ultralight backpackers.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Beau Fredlund takes spectacular photos from his home turf, the backcountry around Cooke City, Mont. Beau ski tours extensively (often using his favorite backpack, the 4400 Porter Pack).
Photos by Beau Fredlund
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassadors are the team of elite athletes, guides and adventurers who help test and refine our gear. They also send us some spectacular pics and stories from their expeditions and adventures with our gear. And they remind us that outside it the place to be, and light and fast is the way to attack it!
Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s account of his Grand Canyon thru hike is coming to a close with this third and final installment. This week’s post will contain his journal entries from day 10 to 15, which feature a flash flood, extreme rain, a summit attempt and a sad goodbye.
Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. Read Days 1-4 and Days 5-9.
Day 10–Today was supposed to be a layover day, but we are skipping it due to getting behind while the other two gentlemen were with us. Instead, as a reward for the hard push to just get here, we are forgoing the 4:30a.m. wake up call and sleeping in. On the move by 9:00 a.m., we are all sore and tired but welcome the sleeping in.
We traversed saddle canyon, 49 Mile and 49.9 Mile canyons. Super hard, but exhilarating day traversing three huge canyons; these things are big and take hours to hike around. Came across some rock art that dated back to 800-1000 years old, cool to find and see. Downclimbed from the top of the Redwall to the Little Nankoweap drainage and then down to the Colorado River. I felt like I was in “Lord of the Rings” on the route down; it was jaw dropping, technical and steep. We got off the Redwall after four days and camped at Little Nankoweap on the river.
6:30 p.m. Washed clothes inside a Hyperlite Mountain Gear large roll top stuff sack in the river by adding a little gravel and soap and swishing it around. It worked really well. Sipped margaritas and inhaled 1500 calories for dinner. I’m too tired to write right now, but it was an amazing day.Read the rest of the article now.
Continuing on last week’s post about Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s 16-day thru hike adventure through the Grand Canyon, St. Pierre shares his journal entries from day five through nine. This week features destroyed gear, hyponatremia, two members of the crew dropping out and getting sick because of bad water.
Note: Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. To Read the first installment of this series, please click here.
Day 5—4:15 a.m. wake up. We hiked two miles to 25 Mile Rapid and arrived at 8 a.m. Filled up on water, and there was a discussion to stay there due to one of the crew not feeling well. Not the best of ideas as we would have been totally exposed to the sun. We thought we were at Cave Spring (which we were not) and agreed we really needed to get a few more miles in before the heat was too unbearable on top of the Redwall Limestone (This layer averages about 335 million years old and is composed of marine limestones and dolomites). From 25 Mile Rapid, we left the river to hike up above the Redwall. We hiked two miles to Tiger Wash. There was a break in the Redwall that allowed access to the river via a steep 500′ downclimb. We rested during the hottest hours of the day with plans to push on to Fence Fault, another break in the Redwall with river access 3.5 miles down river. Two of the crews feet are in total disarray and not sure how they are going to make it 10 more days. My shoes are falling apart and will need serious repair when we get to our next cache. We are almost a full day behind.
7:45 p.m.—we came 1.5 miles short of our destination of Fence Fault as night came over us. We are still 400′ above the river on top of the Redwall. By headlamp we downclimbed into the top of a slot where we found some potholes of water in one of the drainages that cut into the Redwall layer. We made camp here. We followed the slot and it ended up being a non-technical canyon that ended at a 400′ drop straight down to the river below. Two of the crew decided to bail on the rest of this leg at South Canyon due to severe blisters and continual heat exhaustion. That’s the right choice for these two. We are logging about four to six river miles per day, which equates to eight to 10 miles on foot. Hard, hard miles. All our shoes are seeing severe wear. My sole has a four-inch split running down it, and the sticky rubber sole layer is starting to peel off. Not good! I’m totally whipped tonight and starting to get more and more sore.
It’s truly hard to wrap your head around the scale and magnitude of what has, can and does happen in this place. When you have a chance to reflect, even on what we get to see each day, it’s truly jaw dropping.
Walking the length of the Grand below the rim takes years of planning and significant backcountry navigation skills. Our CEO Mike St. Pierre accompanied slot canyon expert Rich Rudow on part of his more than 600-mile thru hike below the rim. In this series of blog posts, we will explore the nature of this extreme thru hike, plus share St. Pierre’s diary entries from the trip. In parts of this series St. Pierre details the path they took. However, readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album.
Only two-dozen people have hiked through the Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to Pearce, and those who have all did it differently and at different paces, says Tom Martin. Martin, the author of “Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: From Lees Ferry to South Cove,” hiked the trail over 42 years. Twelve have done it as a thru hike and 12 as a section hike, two have walked the south side in a push, and ten the north side. Only three people have done the distance on both sides of the river: Robert Packard in segments; Andrew Holycross as a thru hike on one side and in segments on the other; and Robert Benson as a thru hike on both sides. Park Ranger Todd Seliga, who has done the north side twice, is the only person to do the thru hike on the same side more than once, and holds the record for hiking it in 24 days.
“Any way you look at it, that’s a mighty small number of people,” Martin explains. “To attempt to put this in perspective, about 5,000 folks have made it to the top of Everest, and over 300 have climbed K2.”
As reported by Outside Mag’s 2012 Adventurer of the Year and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow in our post, “Below The Rim: Extreme Grand Canyon Thru Hike,” the terrain is just too difficult, complicated and devoid of water. It takes years of experience and careful planning and preparation to hike the 500 to 700 miles along the river and up, down, through and across the canyon’s different cliff bands.
On the other hand, says Martin, while it’s an extremely difficult endeavor, the key reason it’s rarely done is that it’s been off most peoples’ radar simply because there is no trail for the journey. “Yes, it is true that in places there are trails going the length direction in Grand Canyon, the Tonto Trail being the most well known. As more people make the journey, a trail will no doubt be created, making the walking and the very nature of this journey much much easier.” Rudow and Chris Atwood are currently trying to become the 13th and 14th people to finish this extreme thru hike. Dave Nally accompanied them for 24 days and 300 miles, and Pierre joined the adventurers for 16 days and 200 miles. Both Dave and Mike plan on finishing the trip in upcoming years. Read Mike St. Pierre’s Grand Canyon Thru Hike Diary!
Editors Note: NOLS instructor Andrew Altepeter regularly contributes educational articles to our blog on how to teach ultralight backpacking skills. We got the chance to chat with him about his personal transition to lightweight, techniques to lighten your pack weight, some of his favorite equipment and the inspiration he continues to find as a instructor. Read Altepeter’s other articles here.
Andrew Altepeter fell in love with the outdoors at a young age after a transformational hike up to Knapsack Col in the Wind River Range. Pushed past his limits by his father, incredible views of the northwestern Wind River Range awed him. He was hooked. This passion stayed with him through four years at Whitman College, where he regularly participated in the school’s outdoor program. Next came work in the energy industry as a drill-site geologist, but still he managed to find time to adventure when not at work. However he soon moved on, taking an instructor course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). There, he started to learn about lightweight hiking. “By summer of 2010 I had worked a few courses, and I was hooked,” he says. And five years later he shows no signs of slowing down. He says the the chance to be an instructor has “provided an avenue to support transformational experiences for others” and helps him appreciate the importance of the wilderness. Plus it has given him the opportunity to hone his ultralight hiking skills and how he teaches these skills to others.
What do you appreciate most about your transition to ultralight backpacking? My first experience with maximizing efficiency of all systems involved with backcountry travel was in 2009 on the instructor course that I took at NOLS Southwest. The instructor team that facilitated the course emphasized lightweight hiking principles to help us think critically about everything we put in our packs and on our bodies. What I love about going light is the mindset of thinking systemically about the group and personal gear that you bring. This practice of being hyper-aware of your abilities, yourself, the group, the environment, and what you have with you to make it all happen is very satisfying and translates into rich experiences. Read the rest of the article here.
Stripped Down Ultralight Gear List (3-season), By Mike St. Pierre
by Mike St. Pierre
Going lightweight is not just a goal for my backcountry travel; it’s how I live my life. I believe embracing lightweight translates to going further, faster and suffering less in general. Less gear (and ultralight gear) equals more adventure. In terms of outdoor escapades, the first thing I did to lighten my load was address the “Big Three” (aka “Three Heavies”): my pack, shelter and sleeping systems. This article outlines what I take with me on the trail during the warmer months. Plus, I offer some recommendations for stoves, clothes, filters, shoes and more.
Photos & text by Mike Curiak (republished from 2013)
About a year ago I was introduced to the wonders of multi-day whitewater packrafting. When I returned, glowing, from my trip, I spent lots of waking moments searching out other rivers for future trips. Thanks to a writeup I found, Oregon’s Chetco River rose to the tip-top of that list.
Doom (aka Steve Fassbinder) and I had planned to run it last spring, but the bottom fell out of the flows a few days before we were able to get there.
I spent the next few months watching weather patterns and the gauge, hoping that the water would come up before the season was too far advanced to enjoy it. Jeny’s need to burn a heap of vacation time before October 1st also hastened the desire to head north. When I called Bearfoot Brad to arrange our vehicle shuttle he protested that there simply wasn’t any water. Unlike Brad, I’d been methodically checking the forecasts, and within hours of our arrival in Oregon the fall rains began, taking our target from 60cfs to over 800.
Highlights of the trip are many. Top of the list has to be the impossibly clear water, followed closely by the carved-through-bedrock gorges, both ensconced within the remotest feeling place I’ve yet experienced in the Lower 48. Both of us are lifelong mountain bikers and agreed that we’ve never been able to get anywhere close to this ‘out there’ by bike.
Jeny and I completed our trip in four days. That was a bit ambitious for a first time down, and given a choice I’d add an extra day next time. The hike is easy and takes half a day rain or shine–I’d want the extra time to savor and photograph the gorges and canyons once floating.
We get asked that question from the media, friends, and customers all the time. So we thought we would take a moment to give an update on what we’ve been doing at Hyperlite Mountain Gear to make our products even better!
We have rolled out NEW features across our entire pack range in the 2400(40L), 3400(55L) and 4400(70L) sizes. These include taping all of the packs critical seams for improved water resistance, a double-reinforced 150d pack bottom, re-designed hip-belt pockets for improved utility, and extended hip-belt length for better wrap around support allowing improved weight transfer capability from the shoulders to the hips.
Also on our large 4400(70L) sized packs we are building the entire pack from our Cuben/150d Poly hybrid material and we have added an additional back panel frame-sheet allowing an increased carrying capacity of up to 60 lbs.
Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s seventh post from the trail . . .
The Four State Challenge
It was tough getting back on the trail after taking four days off. My body had realized it was time to relax and allow the aches and pains to come to the surface: my feet were swollen and I hobbled up and down the stairs because I couldn’t bend my knees. It was even tougher getting back on because the first day we did 44 miles.
When I first heard about the four state challenge, I thought it was something that everyone did; one of those rites of passage on the trail. I decided then, at the very beginning of the trail, when an 18 mile day was a bit of a push, that one day I would walk 43.1 miles. Once the end of Virginia came into sight, I realized the magnitude of what I had committed myself to: I had yet to even do a 30 mile day. Thanks to peer pressure and my own mental obstinacy, there was no turning back. Read the rest of the article.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Ambassadors are the testers, critics and storytellers of our products. They put our gear through the paces in the worlds toughest playgrounds and give us critical feedback which helps us drive product development. They also help us spread the good word about our backpacks, tents/shelters and accessories — while regularly making us jealous of what they’re doing in the field. This past winter Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Forrest McCarthy traveled to Tasmania with his wife Amy McCarthy to take on the Overland Track — one of Tasmania’s premier hiking routes. Read on for the report . . .
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Seth Timpano is a world class mountaineer and guide. He has led him on climbing trips throughout the globe including: Antarctica, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Alaska, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Thailand, Nepal and New Zealand. We recently found out that Seth took a pretty bad fall into a crevasse, 55 feet, but luckily walked away with it with minor injuries and a mild concussion. Seth told us the Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack he was wearing might have helped pad his fall — we’re not sure about that, but we psyched that Seth is fully recovered and planning some exciting new expeditions for this coming year. Read on for Seth’s report on a new route he, Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten put up this summer on Reality Peak, a 13,100 foot satellite peak of Alaska’s iconic Denali. Awesome photos by Jared Vilhauer.
In late May I left Seattle early in the morning and flew to Anchorage, Alaska. From there I hopped a shuttle van and was on ski-equipped plane by late afternoon. The flight into the Alaska Range was as memorable as the previous dozen, and my excitement for alpine climbing was high. Paul Roderick with Talkeetna Air Taxi flew by the impressive Mount Hunter and Mount Huntington and spiraled down into the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier, one of the three large glaciers pouring from the south aspect of Denali. There I met my friends Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten. They had been skiing around for a few days scoping out different lines and route conditions and that evening we all agreed to attempt an unclimbed route on the east face of Reality Peak.
The next day we skied to the base of the route and started climbing. We climbed about 2000 feet of steep snow and easy ice before entering into the heart of the route, a narrow winding passage of steep granite and ice. We found 1500 feet of perfect steep alpine ice conditions. Once through this crux section we found more moderate snow and ice to the where our line joined the previously established Reality Ridge. We setup a bivy, ate, re-hydrated and slept. Poor weather kept us tent bound for nearly 24 hours but this also gave us a chance to rest before attempting to summit Peak 13,100 (Reality Peak). The ridge to the summit was typical Alaskan climbing; bigger, harder and scarier than expected.
Difficult snow and ice conditions put us on the top in about 8 hours from our high bivy. The three of us were all very excited to have succeeded on this difficult climb, but we also realized we had a lot of work ahead of us. We tediously down climbed the ridge back to our camp, tired and exhausted. Nevertheless, we all knew we had to keep heading down before the intense sun hit our route, which would create a dangerous situation with rock and ice fall. We rappelled through the night, chasing the sun with each 200 feet decent. 27 double rope rappels found us at the base of our route. A few hundred feet of easy down climbing and we were safely back at our skis. We skied, tired but satisfied, back to camp, 4 days after we had left. Later that afternoon we were on a plane flying out of the Alaska Range and back to civilization.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are without a doubt the best alpine climbing pack on the market. Durable, light, waterproof and made with climbing in mind, I continue to be impressed by my Porter Pack w/ Ice Feature. I look forward to using Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs on my expeditions to Patagonia and India next year.
Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s sixth post from the trail . . .
I had been looking forward to my time after Trail Days because I figured I could relax and not worry about getting anywhere by a certain date- my only deadline was the cold weather in Maine. The first day out of Damascus we walked through the Grayson Highlands, one of the sections that I had heard so much about. As soon as we walked through the gate into the highlands, a wild pony started trying to bite Turbo’s backpack. We had heard the ponies can get aggressive and when he came after me, I put my hand on his head to hold him off and wielded my trekking pole like a weapon. Once we got farther into the highlands, we saw more and more ponies grazing in the fields. They brought these ponies in specifically for this reason- the highlands is a large open area devoid of trees and with large rock formations. They want the ponies to graze there in order to maintain the grassy areas. The rest of them were friendlier than the first and let us pet them without trying to bite us.
Since so many people had either slowed down or sped up to make it Damascus for the festival, there was a huge bubble of people leaving at the same time. There was also a lot of rain in the week following the festival and so everyone wanted to stay in the shelters to avoid getting wet. Every night the shelters were full and there were sometimes up to 20 tents set up around them as well. The rain was starting to get frustrating- wet boots and clothing for days on end was getting old. Every time I started to complain in my head, I started to think about Jennifer Pharr Davis. I was reading her book about the endurance record and she is a badass. She got hypothermia, had shin splints for 1000 miles, and overcame a bunch of other problems to finish the trail in record time. Every time I felt down, I reminded myself that if she could deal with all that, I could deal with a little rain.
I was also starting to make up for my lack of trail magic before Damascus. In Troutdale, VA there was a hiker feed put on by a local church. They put up flyers at each road crossing telling hikers about it and about 35 people showed up. All the churchgoers brought in food and there was enough so that everyone could stuff themselves. There was some intense preaching after the meal and I’m not sure the preacher realized that the hikers were a different audience than he was used to, but it was worth it.
The next night we made it to Partnership Shelter, one of the shelters on the trail that you can order pizza from. There was a big group of people and it was this girl Smokey’s birthday so we ordered a bunch of food, ignored the no alcohol signs, and went into town to get some beer.
Turbo and I were settling into a new kind of hiking- one that involved a lot more drinking. The next day we were walking along the trail when we came upon two hikers, Twoper and Bait, who were handing out beers on the side of the trail. We hung out with them and then walked along into Atkins, VA. Turbo and I were planning on doing a few more miles but decided to hang out in town for a bit. We were being classy as usual and decided to sit behind the gas station with a couple tall boys. The longer we sat, the less we wanted to keep hiking. Luckily, Lumber came by and said he had gotten a hotel room and had extra room if we were interested. We definitely were. Also staying in the hotel were Red Velvet, Predator, Hagrid, E.T., Promise, and Gigs. We hung out and I ate an insane amount of candy- 1 snickers ice cream bar, 1 bag of Doritos, 1 bag of cheese puffs, 1 package of Twizzlers pull n peel, 1 bag of Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzels, 1 sleeve of double stuff oreos, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
We got breakfast in the morning and then started hiking. Before we could get very far though, we came upon some more trail magic. The mom of someone hiking had a cooler full of soda and beer and a table full of fruit salad, hot dogs, chips, candy, taco salad, and more. I had ordered two breakfasts at the diner that morning and then ate a lot at the trail magic so I had to lounge around until noon before I could walk again. I was walking with Hagrid and we were planning on doing about 20 miles, but we got to a camp spot with a bunch of people that we knew and decided to stay there. Squirrel had packed in some whiskey to celebrate us getting 1/3 of the way and passed it around while someone else cooked up hot dogs for the group. I was excited to have gotten that far, but there was still a long way to go. I was also starting to get the “Virginia Blues”. Virginia is over 500 miles and much of it is just green tunnel; hiking in the trees with no views. It is easy to start thinking about how far you still have to go and get overwhelmed by the length of the trail.
While the hiking might have been boring, the bubble was still together and we were having a lot of fun. There were about 30 of us who had been seeing each other consistently since Damascus. We would get split up, but then a hiker feed or stop in town would bring us back together. In Bland, VA there was another hiker feed that we all went to and then we planned a birthday party for Fresh Step at Dismal Falls in two days. Dismal Falls was supposed to be an awesome campsite and swimming hole and it was also just a few miles past a road crossing with a grocery store that sold beer. We all packed in food and beer, swam, and hung out by the fire. Before I had started the trail, I had a vision in my mind of what the trail would be like. I had underestimated the social aspect of the hike, but Dismal Falls was the kind of picturesque camp spot that I had envisioned beforehand. Simply put, the trail was even better than I had imagined it.
For the past four years Hyperlite Mountain Gear has been making some of the best lightweight shelters, tarps and mids available anywhere. But we were only able to offer then in white. We love the white, but we know that a lot of our customers would like a little more choice in the color department. Well, we’ve finally done it. We’re now able to offer our full line of shelter systems, tarps and pyramid tents in Spruce Green. The material used is the same as the white — ripstop, waterproof and ultralight cuben fiber. And unlike other manufacturers who have offered colored cuben fiber, our products are absolutely color-fast — no bleeding, no staining of your other gear.
Here’s Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s current line-up of Spruce Green shelters, tarps and mids:
The Echo Shelter System — a tarp based system featuring a removable bug mesh insert/tub and “beak” (vestibule). The system is available one and two-man sizes and can be purchased as set or as separate pieces.
Glenn Charles one of a rapidly growing group of outdoor enthusiasts using ultralight gear and fatbikes to take them to new places in the outdoors. Read on for Glenn’s thoughts on why a ultralight tarp makes the perfect shelter for these multisport adventures.
Just back from another spectacular bikepacking trip on my Salsa Mukluk, I can honestly say that for 90% of my trip needs, a Tarp is the perfect shelter. For the last five years I have experimented with tents, bivies, and a number of different Tarps, so I believe that for me, I have acquired a fair bit of experience through a multitude of conditions.With the exception of some very specific situations and scenarios, the Tarp has ruled the roost. With a bike, I can string a tarp anywhere I want, including the middle of nowhere. Using my technigue for anchoring the bike with line and stakes, it serves as the perfect highpoint for one end of the tarp. The other end can be anchored to some other fixed object, or with the aid of your helmet or stick, stood on end, you have enough lift to comfortably sleep without and contact between your bag and the tarp.
Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s fifth post from the trail . . .
After the Smokies, I was looking to get away from Ramon and hike on my own. I enjoyed spending time with him and having a hiking buddy but I also wanted to hang out with other people. He was also very slow getting ready in the morning and I was sick of waiting up to an hour each day for him. He was planning on going about 13 miles that day with Briton, so I decided to keep moving. That day I passed over Max Patch; the first of many balds along the trail. I have never experienced winds like that in my life and I can only guess their speed. 150 mph is my guess. A more realistic person might say 60 mph; either way they were insane. I had to walk at an angle, my body leaning into the wind so that I didn’t fall over. Then a gust would come and I would get blown sideways and have to dig my trekking poles into the ground to regain my position. It was awesome.
That same day day I got to talking with a section hiker about my experience and she asked me if I was still enjoying myself. I answered with great conviction that I still got up each day and was excited to hike. The trail was continually changing and each day still brought me something new.
At the shelter that night I had my first encounter with yellow blazers (people who skip part of the trail by hitching a ride). Two of the hikers there had skipped the Smokies. It was early in the trip and most everyone was still committed to walking to Katahdin so there was an awkward moment when they said they had hitched ahead and skipped the Smokies. I didn’t know how to react, this time anyway. The farther north I got, the more people I met that had skipped at least one section. Instead of getting off the trail when people got tired of hiking, they hitch to meet their friends so they can still get some of the experience. Many people don’t have the time, money, or desire for a full thru-hike, but for me yellow-blazing did not mesh my motivation for doing the trail.
The next night I was discussing my lack of a trail name with Stealth. At this point, he was still just Matt and I was still Brenna and we were both feeling left out since most everyone else already had names. I suggested Stealth for him because he wore all black and had a habit of walking quietly and sneaking up on people on the trail. We decided, based on my bright orange Crocs and yellow rain jacket, that Neon might be good for me. I hadn’t met anyone else by that name and it was short and easy to remember. That next day I started signing Neon in the shelter logs and introducing myself as such. There was a strange transition period where I had to get used to going by a different name but after a while it started to seem alright.
After a couple days of cold, rain, and wind, I did a 3 mile “nero” (nearly zero miles) to Hot Springs, NC. Hot Springs is the first town through which the trail passes directly. Stealth and I somehow got lost going into town, despite the fact that the sidewalks were engraved with the AT symbol in order to show the way. In typical thru-hiker style, if there wasn’t a blaze every five feet then we were lost. We stopped at the first restaurant we came to, Smoke Mountain Diner, and got some excellent food- including the best cinnamon roll I have ever had in my life. There were a bunch of hikers there, most of whom I knew and we all hung out while we gorged ourselves.
My oldest sister, Sarah, was flying in that day to do the next 70 miles to Erwin, TN. Seven of us decided to split a room at a local hotel, the Iron Horse Station, and bummed around all day and watched TV. When Sarah got there that afternoon we got a few beers at the Spring Creek Tavern where they had live music. Sarah had talked about doing a thru-hike at some point and I wanted her to get a the full experience; crowded hotel room, trail town, and the trail.
The next day, we set off early for the trail but before we could even get started someone told us that the trail was flooded. It wad been raining like crazy for days and they said the water was waist deep and we would have to hitch around. Sarah and I decided to go see for ourselves and the trail was flooded, but not up our waists. I bushwhacked around while Sarah took off her boots and walked through the water. Eventually though, we got to a point with an overhang where the water was deeper and the current stronger. Instead of wading out and possibly getting swept away, we took a blue blaze trail up the side of the overhang and came down the other side about 50 feet beyond where we had left the trail. Where we returned to the trail we could see a tent floating in the river. It was tied down and there was a bunch of stuff strewn about. I took off my boots and stepped into the water to look into the tent just to make sure there was no body floating inside. It seemed like someone left in a hurry; there was ramen and all sorts of gear floating inside, but no body. The trail was still flooded there, but we walked just to the side of it, knowing that soon the trail would climb up and out of the valley.
We did 11 miles that day and Sarah seemed to be hurting a bit. I had told everyone that she was going to come and visit and they all told me she wouldn’t be able to handle the miles. Eight to ten, they all said. I thought she would be fine doing more and we had to average 14 per day in order to make it to Erwin on time. Watching her that first day made it seem like it wouldn’t end up being as easy I thought, but I knew she would suck it up and do the miles either way.
The next few miles were uneventful as far as hiking goes, but it was really nice to spend some time with Sarah. The first few days I hiked ahead, but I realized I was wasting our time together. For the past four years I had been at school in Missouri and since she is seven years older than me, we hadn’t lived together in about 12 years. While we saw each other reasonably often, it was usually in the presence of other family members and so it was unusual to have time together just the two of us.It turned out that Sarah had no problem turning on the miles and did a couple 15 miles days and a 16.5 to finish off her trip. We got into Erwin on time and went to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel which is is right on the trail. It is overpriced and dirty, but known to be a good time. The group renting the nice cabin with the kitchen invited us over for a feast with steak, garlic bread, ice cream, salad, beer, mashed potatoes and a fritatta. A bunch of people were also having a bonfire outside and everyone seemed to be making the most of their night in town. Ramon and Briton had gotten in earlier that day and had tried to hitch into town for a resupply. The guy who picked them up asked if they wanted to go rafting on the very swollen Nolichucky River and so they went down the river all afternoon. Ramon got his trail name that day, Turbo, because the guy kept yelling at them that they were his turbo on the river. While I had previously been looking to get away from him, now I was looking forward to hiking with Turbo again. We planned to leave the next morning with another friend, Quinoa, and begin the race to Damascus for Trail Days.
Two hours from Boise, but a world away from the daily grind, the Snake River cuts through the narrows bordering Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It’s here where over 60,000 Cubic Feet per Second of water has carved the deepest gorge in North America. Yes, Hells Canyon cuts deeper than the Grand, plunging 8,000 feet inside the 10-mile gap. Yet as best the record showed, this plumb-line remained un-run as an out and back inside a single push. Mike James and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Steve Graepel ventured out on a whim to set the first known Rim-Rim-Rim. Read on for Steve’s report.
The Snake serves as the lifeline for southern Idaho, bridling fertile ground and power where there would otherwise be neither. The canyon is no different, only here its always taken more than it provided. Dry and inhospitable, traces of man’s eagerness to eek out a living has been preserved in an arid time capsule scattered along the route to the canyon floor. At 8,000′, the Seven Devils reference back to Nez Perce Indian lore, where the “devils” traveled West yearly to feast on the tribes newborn. At 6,000′, the McGaffee summer cow camp decayed under the conifer canopy. A trophy elk was entangled in the remnants of wire fencing at 4,000′. Fruit orchards grew ferial and tangled at 2,000′. A prehistoric rock shelter and ancient pictographs etched the canyon walls at its low point at 1,400′.
While cleaning debris out of our shoes on the McGaffee winter cabin’s porch, a cackle of voices broke the din of wind and water. The most common way to see the canyon is by water; rafters float downstream from the dam while jet boats hurdle upstream over the rapids from Pittsburg Landing. We strapped our shoes and stumbled out of the hackberry thickets and out onto the pebble beach to see a flotilla of rafts pulling out for lunch. A Wilderness with no bridge for miles, we eagerly thumbed a ride into Oregon with their scout boat. Our captain asked about our itinerary; we shared our plans, pointing fingers and arching necks to describe our progress and intent. “You boys have a good time”, he shook as we eddied into Oregon.
On the West side of the Snake parallels the manicured and historical Nee-Me-Poo trail—the same route Chief Joseph led his people into Montana while fleeing General Howard in 1877. We followed it south until we saw the sun-weathered Hat Point trail sign, marking our route to the Oregon rim. We stocked up on water and began to negotiate the heat of the day with the pain of the climb. The trail quickly turned to game trail quickly turned to runnels between bunchgrass and brought us up a stringer canyon, rotten with volcanic choss. The canyon took back half of every step we made. The angle eased and we picked up the pace as we ducked under Ponderosa pine for the final climb.
6 miles, 5 hours and 5 liters of water later, we eventually broke the rim’s crest and climbed out onto the fire tower’s observation deck to review our day’s progress. With thunderheads on the horizon, we anxiously retreated towards the river with a shuffle, slipping down a series of grassy fells and into darkness.
We cautiously navigated the route mostly by braille. The angle of the slopes, the shadow of adjacent slopes, the crossing of a stream indicated by the map. We were actually making reasonable progress until I heard the friction of rubber skid over gravel. Mike slide maybe 5 feet, righted himself and gingerly walked down to my perch. He flashed his headlamp, revealing probably 200+ cactus spines studded down his right side. We spent the next 45 minutes extracting the barbed quills … some buried deep past fascia and into muscle.
After pulling most the of the damage, I pulled my sleeves over my calves, draped the map over my torso and drifted into sleep as the glow of the Sheep Fire illuminated the sky behind the Idaho ridge.
I awoke to find Mike still pulling barbs from his ass. He stuffed a glove between his shorts and leg and snorted, “you ready to go?” Mike James—toughest man in America.
We strolled lazily down to the river, knowing that we would likely not get the same luck as the day before. We carefully chose a placid stretch of water, well above the next rapid set, stripped down to our shorts and shoved everything into our packs and dove into the current. Taller and stronger, Mike held a line into Idaho. I found myself washing out downstream a few hundred feet below. I pulled myself out over the river rock, collected myself and resumed the climb out of Hell.
With a day behind us and the steepest portion ahead, there was no racing out of the canyon. We each slowly picked a line and wrestled our own devils to the Idaho rim. Once on the plateau at Dry Diggens, we still had 8 miles and 3 hours to the trailhead—plenty of time to temper any celebration of success in snagging one of the North America’s greatest trail running challenges.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassadors are the testers, critics and storytellers of our products. They put our gear through the paces and provide critical feedback. The Ambassadors help us build our products with confidence that they will perform in the world’s toughest playgrounds … because that’s where they start.
Like our other Ambassadors, Nick Truax has been putting Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s packs and shelters to the test. He recently shared a report on his last 12 months as an Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador. Check it out on Nick’s blog “Nick on the Mountain” — great photos Nick!
Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s third post from the trail . . .
After our stay at Blueberry Patch, Ramon and I felt we were ready to start doing some bigger miles. Everything I had read online before the trip said to take it easy starting out. People said that pushing yourself in the beginning would lead to an injury, but the past six days we had been averaging about 12 miles and it was boring me. We would get to our destination at 2 pm and sit around until dark. In some ways it was nice to relax, but I also wanted to see what I was capable of.
The day we left Hiawassee, Ramon and I set out to do 18 miles to Standing Indian Mountain. The miles felt surprisingly doable. My feet were sore by the end and I was so hungry that I didn’t even wait for my broccoli and cheddar pasta to finish cooking before scarfing it down, but I was satisfied. We were the only people camped at the top of the mountain and so had the best view on the trail thus far and an awesome sunset all to ourselves. We kept up that pace, crossed into North Carolina, and three days later walked down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). After being in the woods for a few days, it was a welcome relief. From miles away I could smell fried food and catch glimpses of brightly colored objects. I couldn’t wait to eat good food, drink beer, take a shower, and sleep in a bed. It turned out that that weekend was the US Freestyke Kayaking Team Trials and there were a bunch of kayakers milling about and practicing in the water. Upon arrival, Ramon and I rented a couple bunks and took showers. I was learning that as a small form of trail magic, someone always left behind shampoo in the showers. I checked myself out in the mirror for the first time on the trail and realized I had lost close to 10 pounds. Eating becomes part of the trail experience for thru hikers. On the trail everyone eats processed, high calorie foods because they are light. People eat trail mix, honey buns and snickers bars as snacks and usually Ramen, Knorr pasta sides, or some other easy meal for dinner. Then in town it is time to pack in the calories. All you can eat buffets, ice cream, and often a large pizza. I couldn’t wait to eat like a hiker and started off by buying a bag of chips and an ice cream.
I sat in the laundry room in just my rain gear (no other options) and shared a six pack with Ramon. Later we hung out with a couple other hikers (Hangnail and Law Dog), ate some barbecue, drank some more beer, and called it a night around 9:30 (way past my bedtime these days). The climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for being tough. It is 7.5 miles long, 3000 vertical feet, and the first good climb of the trail. Climbing out when hungover made it feel like 15 miles and 6000 vertical feet, but eventually we made it. The next day we walked to Fontana Dam, NC; the town before the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was raining all day long and the trail was filled with water up to my ankles. I was starting to notice a pattern with the weather- it rained all the time. We got a shuttle into town for resupply and the driver said they were already 9 inches over the average precipitation for the year. I wasn’t surprised. We got all the food we needed and hiked to the Fontana Hilton; a shelter right on the lake which fits about 20 people and has showers and a real bathroom. There were a number of people already there and I lounged around with Titty Bar Naked Yoga (TBNY for short), Tank Tank, Briton, Ramon, Runaway, and Candyman while the rain pounded the tin roof.
After walking in the rain all day, the idea of getting up the next day and doing it again seemed horrible. So we took our first zero day. Most other people had already taken their first and so I didn’t feel too guilty. We bummed around town, went to the gas station bar, and watched the rain outside. That night at about 11:30 pm, Candyman got up, started grumbling about something and left the shelter in the rain. We found out later that the mice had been crawling all over him and chewing at his sleeping bag. It was no surprise to the rest of us since he had been keeping candy in his pockets to munch on throughout the night. It is generally expected that there will be mice in the shelters and you can hear (and sometimes feel) them scampering around most nights. For this reason, people hang their food bags on strings in the shelters (or from trees/bear cables like you should do). He had previously been known as ‘Sharkbait’, but Candyman seemed much more fitting after that.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Steve Graepel is about to leave on a fatbiking expedition on Oregon Coast. In this post, he gives us his approach to gear selection and going light when planning a multisport expedition like this one.
Thanks to the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill, the public has unrestricted easement to the Oregon Coast, where uninterrupted miles of beach are periodically punctuated by the western slope drainage and rocky capes. In a few days, a buddy and I are heading west with fatbikes to pedal and paddle a rough cut of the coast between Port Orford and Florence. During the trip, we’ll be employing some familiar and some orthodox strategies.
Awkwardly enough, to save weight, we needed to put on a little “fat”. While lugging a 30 pound bike with monster truck wheels the size of Montana seems far from light, sometimes the terrain dictates the gear. And in sand, size matters. With 3.7” of volume, I’m actually on the terminal edge of the fat movement (new tires are breaking into the 5” barrier). While I’d probably appreciate the extra float, the loss of over an inch trims a weight in rims and tires while still providing sufficient float.
I’ve cut additional bike weight with a few aftermarket upgrades. The stock crankset was replaced with a 36/22 crankset and a single 18 cog in the back. For the layman, this means I have two rings in front but one ring in the rear, enabling smooth pedaling in soft sand and an efficient gear for the hard pack. I swapped in a titanium handlebar and seatpost; it is corrosion resistant and “softens” the ride in the cockpit – which the prostate will appreciate after miles on the John Deere tires. Lastly, we’ve stripped the front brakes. Salt and sand is hard on brakes and cable gets in the way of handlebar bags. Removing the brakes also simplifies the constant removal and mounting of the front wheel and it lessens the chance of a fatal snag during the inevitable bushwhack. In the end, all these trimmings cut about 7 pounds off the market bike.
When cycling, weight on the body fatigues the body. And carrying an additional 30 pounds of supplies wreaks havoc on the ischial tuberosity (read as saddle sores). So most supplies will be loaded on the bike, not in the pack. A bevy of Revelate Designs frame bags bought us some real estate on the handlebars, the seatpost and inside the frame triangle. We’ll strategically pack gear to keep the bike’s center stable and squirreliness minimized: lighter, bulkier gear will go on the handlebars; heavy and incompressible (food) will pack in the frame bag; bulky electronics will stow in the seatpost drybag.
The route isn’t all sand. As I alluded to, we’ll fjord the inlets and rivers that cross our route. Traditionally, bikes are precariously strapped to packrafts to navigate water crossings. We’ll be doing the same. But the packraft market has seen some radical enlightenment. Last year Klymit (mostly known for inflatable pads and jackets), threw its design in the pool with its LWD, or Light Weight Dingy. The material is a 210D ripstop nylon–something you would find in an inflatable pad–has 6 lash points, an ingenious unidirectional valve, and comes with an inflation bag/dry bag. As you would assume by the name, it’s light and is best suited for flat to mildly wavy water with minimal rock or exposure to pokey things; entirely within the scope of our route. Finally, the LWD weighs 35oz – nearly 4 pounds lighter than my skirted Alpackaraft Yukon. A few test rides look like it’s a winner and can support a fully loaded bike and paddler. It will be wet, but it’s Oregon after all.
We’ll use a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider Pack and a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack to stow what we can’t fit on the bike, which won’t be much. Water, supplies for the day, paddles and the boat. The theory is to keep it light, but have enough volume to carry all our supplies during hike-a-bike section. Hell biking can be, well, a slice out of purgatory when you have to push unwieldy loaded bikes. By comparison, hauling supplies on the back lets big tires virtually float over the terrain.
Bike and boat aside, the real savings starts to accrue in the traditional ways. Just like when backpacking, we’re going light where we can afford to and cutting what we don’t need: shared camp equipment, one set of pedal clothes, one set of camp clothes and lightweight rain gear to cover over it all. The weather will still warm – 55 degrees at night – so we can cut a significant amount in insulation weight. I’m using a warm weather quilt by Katabatic gear and a lightweight parka. We’re using Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s new 2-man UltaMid pyramid tent, and our ½ length 6 oz. ‘skeletal’ Klymit pad will double as our PFD.
Stripping a kit down its raw bones integrates gear into the fabric of the pursuit. And you’d be hard pressed to find a pursuit that exemplifies this more so than multisport. It requires creativity, a savvy approach, and a measure of moxi. The challenges are proportional but the rewards are exponential. The Oregon Coast should be a great proving ground for our bikepacking strategy.