(Spoiler Alert) Both trails require the essentials.
Word & Photos by Robin Standish
I finished the Appalachian Trail (AT) in mid December, 2015. Hoarfrost glazed the landscape, icicles lined the slick, frosty trail, and a damp, east coast chill seeped through ever layer I wore. It was time to be done, though it wouldn’t be for long. A few months later, when the feeling in my toes had returned, and my hiker hobble lessened, I headed for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I was confident in the hiking part, but was uncertain about how my gear setup would have to be altered.
Waking to the sound of rain wasn’t what I’d dreamed about. Although honestly, at first, I wasn’t sure that was even what it was. The optimist in my drybag hoped that it was Doom, just outside, slinging handfuls of sand at our tent while taking a selfie and mouthing ‘perf!’ at the camera. Once I scraped the crusted sand from my eyes and focused, I could see a million+ droplets beaded up on the outer skin of our ‘mid, a few hundred of them sliding earthward. Going to be a wet one.
175 miles in 7 days, though the numbers are still irrelevant. I mention them only to provide some context — a framework if you will — to understood what we did in Alaska. I doubt I can explain why to anyone that doesn’t already get it. Highlights included dense fog on the Copper River and its delta, massive swells buoying us along on the crossing of Icy Bay, brief moments of sun (or at least not-rain) amidst all the rain, thousands of seals, mirrorlike beaches near Katalla, millions of berries, and the camaraderie developed between friends attempting a challenging and worthy objective.
The Brooks Range has always intimidated me as a logistic challenge: expensive, remote, cold in the winter and buggy in the summer. But it is the largest swath of Alaska I haven’t seen, and with a lot of planning, we were able to do a long and remote trip within my budget. We had to have the route, logistics, and pace, dialed-in to pull off this ambitious trip. Our route evolved to be: fly to Anaktuvuk, float southwest on the John River, hike west to the Alatna River, float southeast on the Alatna to access the Arrigetch, cross the Arrigetch, float northwest on the Noatak River, hike southwest to the Ambler River, and float west to Ambler. 400 miles in 19 days.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear is proud to be an unofficial sponsor of the unofficial Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.
Words by Luc Mehl
The Mountain Wilderness Classic is Alaska’s premier wilderness challenge, a grassroots event where participants push to their exertion and exhaustion limits. Ultralight is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter is the pack of choice.
The 2016 course started at Galbraith Lake and ended in Wiseman, completing a north-south traverse of the Brooks Range, Alaska’s northernmost mountain range. The course was short by Classic standards, a minimum of 110 miles, half of which was floatable. This was a welcome change from the 2015 300-mile route in the Alaska Range, which was only finished by four of the thirty participants.
The short Brooks Range course and 24-hour daylight allowed participants to cut even more gear from their packs, with many participants expecting to go without sleep. Sleeping bags, shelter systems, and extra clothing were all left behind. One participant even opted to leave his packraft behind, starting with a 13 pound pack (this ended up being a bad decision). Read more about the Classic, and check out a sweet video.
Thru-Hiking & Backcountry Expert Annie MacWilliams’ Easy Mods Add Four Season Functionality to Your Standard Day Hiking Gear
Since it’s not always an option to take five-month long hikes, I have really come to enjoy fast and light day hikes with lots of elevation and long miles. Having a system dialed in makes it easy for me to grab the right gear for the day and hit the trails without much thought, a nice perk when you’re short on time and trying to spend as much of it outside as possible.
For long-distance thru hikes, I’m used to having limited gear options–you essentially pick one kit for five months of travel and hope it works in everything from the desert to the high alpine. With day hiking or quick overnights, it’s different. I modify what I carry continually throughout the seasons to ensure maximum comfort and minimum weight.
My day hike gear list includes “standard items,” which I always carry. Then there are the “conditional items” that I need for the specific season or activity.
Regardless of the time of year or type of trip I’m doing, the first items I throw in my Daybreak ultralight day pack are a medical kit, ditty bag, snacks, water and an insulating layer.
Streamline Your Consumables to Carry a Lighter Pack & Enhance Your Adventure.
Text by Philip Werner
Ultralight backpackers spend a great deal of time and effort reducing the weight of their gear, or base weight. But reducing the weight of your consumables, (food, water and fuel) is just as important and can lead to significant weight savings with little extra expense.
For example, when I started hiking the Vermont’s Long Trail eight years ago, I filled a three liter hydration reservoir with water every morning, carrying six liters of water, even though water was plentiful along the trail. It took me about 100 miles, but I figured out that I never needed to carry more than a liter at a time, shaving four pounds off my pack weight just like that, without spending a cent.
It takes a little bit more planning, but this is a good example of how to skills and experience can help you reduce the weight of your consumables.
Here are a few more strategies that I use to reduce the weight of my food, water and fuel: <!–more Check out the 3 tips to carry a lighter load.”
Remove all excess packaging.
Replace low-calorie foods with calorically dense foods like nuts, olive oil or ghee.
Bring less food per day. There’s no need to pack 5000-6000 calories per day like a thru hiker if you mainly take overnight or weekend backpacking trips. Try bringing 3000 calories per day instead. This should still be sufficient to keep you satisfied and alert, and you’re unlikely to starve to death, even if you burn more energy than you consume. The goal is to come home with an empty food bag every time.
Day Hiking Is Important, too: Stay Ultralight, Even if You Aren’t Going Overnight.
At Hyperlite Mountain Gear, we usually just let our gear just speak for itself. But sometimes people have such nice things to say about our stuff that we feel we just have to share. Check out these daypack reviews from some of the biggest names in backcountry gear, plus the Seattle Times.
Seattle Timeson the Daybreak Pack: Washington’s finest publication recently included our Daybreak daypack in its “Great Father’s Day gifts for dads who love the outdoors” article. “The new high-tech Hyperlite Daybreak Backpack ($220) is a seamless ultralight pack — weighing 19 ounces — that will get you through any long hike or trek without weighing you down.”
National Geographic Adventure Magazineon the Daybreak Pack: “Hyperlite Mountain Gear has built the Daybreak out of Dyneema® cloth, which is known for its extremely light weight, durability, and natural water resistance. Although it holds 17 liters, enough for a full day on the trail, it weighs just 19 ounces. But it isn’t flimsy: The Dyneema® has a structure that helps hold its shape, which lets it sit upright on its own and makes it easier to organize or find your gear. Like we said, sophisticated.” Read the full review.
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!
Hundreds of thousands of people hike the numerous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes each year. And they do it carrying various things. MaryAnn Healey decided to carry a lightweight pack with all that she needed for a six-week adventure from Roncesvalles to Santiago, both in Spain. Unlike thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, Camino pilgrims don’t need tents, stoves and sleeping bags because there are plenty of restaurants and albergues (hostels) along the way. Thus, many people completely forego carrying their personal gear and have it sent ahead via vehicle. But says Healey, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her bag.
“I got so I really loved having it on my back,” she explains. “It was my home. I didn’t feel right if I didn’t have it on.” She brought exactly what she needed and left all the unnecessary items behind. “Most people I hiked with didn’t notice, but the people I stayed with always asked, ‘Wow, is that all you’re carrying?’” I’d say, ‘yep.’ I’ve got everything I need and then some!” (See her gear list below). 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.
Exploration inspires Forrest McCarthy. A geographer by education, he seeks big adventures in remote, wild landscapes. At one point he learned to rock climb and even guided extensively for Exum Mountain Guides, all so he could fully explore the Teton Range. Then he decided he wanted to travel through the Colorado River Basin and Alaska, and so learning to packraft became a necessity.
“The sports I do are more of a means of traveling through an area than just doing the activity itself,” McCarthy says. In fact, he explains, a lot of adventure sports came into existence simply so that people could check out remote backcountry areas.
“People wanted to explore a landscape, and so utilized the technology that allowed them to do so,” he says. “But as sports matured, people got into the idea of being able to climb or paddle just for the sake of doing those things. Then they looked for places where they could just do those sports.” For example, many ski mountaineers are more focused on skiing couloirs and peaks. And, over the last decade, he says, more whitewater-worthy packrafts have led to boaters seeking out bigger, more technical rapids. Read the rest of the article here!
Stripped Down Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber), By Mike St. Pierre
It’s white, it’s crinkly, it’s waterproof and it feels like it weighs about as much as a tissue paper. But what exactly is Dyneema® Composite Fabric (formerly known as Cuben Fiber), and why use it?
When I first delved into the world of ultralight backpacking, I combed the Internet trying to find a technologically advanced material that would change my backcountry experience. The fabrics used at the time had major limitations. For example, Silnylon, the primary lightweight fabric used, absorbed moisture and swelled and sagged, requiring constant re-tensioning. The slippery material also forced people to put liquid glues on the floors of their tents to keep their pads in place. Worst of all, silnylon is made when both sides of a thin, woven nylon fabric are saturated with liquid silicone, and there were no standards for these silicone coatings. So basically every batch was different. So when I discovered a small cottage industry outdoor company using Cuben Fiber I did some more research. Read the rest of the article here.
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.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s new Marketing Manager is heading out on her first, long (seven days) backpacking adventure the week before Trail Days 2015. A long-time rock climber, hiking long distances is totally new to her. Follow her adventures on Instagram or on our blog.
I embarked on my very first backpacking adventure at 18, while volunteering at Grafton Notch State Park, Maine. I planned to trek four days on the Appalachian Trail, with a goal of hitting Mahoosuc Notch and hiking into Grafton. I don’t remember where I started or how many miles I hiked. All I remember is I wanted to hike the “toughest mile” of the AT. My first day in I could barely stand up (remember Cheryl Strayed in “Wild” trying to put her pack on in the hotel; that was me). My pack was so freakin’ heavy; weight just wasn’t something I had thought about. I packed for every possible variable. What if a glass jar of peanut butter wasn’t enough? I’d better bring two. Since I didn’t have a stove, I guessed I should bring cans of soup, right? And I needed at least a change of clothes per day so I wouldn’t stink so badly. Books, steel flashlight, big cotton sleeping bag… I had it all. I unloaded most of my food at the first shelter (two miles in), at which point I made a bunch of ragged, skinny, starved-looking hikers very happy. But, I had to carry the rest of the stuff the whole way back to Grafton Notch. Read the rest of the blog post.
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!
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.
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!
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 Weight Dropping Tips for Ultralight Thru Hiking, By Mike St. Pierre
By Mike St. Pierre, Photo by Nick Ocean
Not all lightweight backpacking and ultralight thru hiking gear is created equal. As recent as the 2014 Trail Days, I saw people 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 ultralight 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. Here are some tips to help you get closer to your ultimate, ultralight thru hiking gear kit: Read the full article!