The essence of going lighter in the woods is not so much about gear, as it is about the adoption of a simpler, less cluttered approach to one’s time backpacking. Insofar as this philosophy relates to shelters, tarp camping fits the bill both tangibly and intangibly.
In the following article I’ll examine the benefits of tarp camping, as well as share some tips and techniques to minimize the perceived negatives. I’ll end the piece with an overview of environments in which the hiker is better off leaving the tarp at home, and going with a tent.
(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.
In additions to endorsements from some of the most hardcore, mile-bagging, wilderness-dwelling customers out there, the Ultamid got some outstanding official recognition from a few exceptional media outlets as well.
Just in case you’re on the fence about joining the club, we thought we’d see if maybe this little nudge would help. We get it: our pyramid tents are a major investment. But without getting all sales-y, we wouldn’t make them if they didn’t represent the best damn balance of lightweight performance with exceptional durability out there. “Set it (up) and forget it” applies to things in the backcountry, too–and in the case of an Ultamid, you’ll be doing exactly that for years and years to come.
The Brooks Range has always intimidated me as a logistical 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 Gates of the Arctic backpacking 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.
“If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus.” – James Maxton (1885-1946)
Text by Cam Honan
One of many ways in which a hiker can lower his or her pack weight is by using multi-purpose gear. A standard backpacking kit is literally full of such items.
Before heading out into the wilderness on your next big trip, try the following exercise. Clear the living room floor and spread out all of your stuff. Examine each and every article and ask yourself three questions:
Do I really need it?
What will happen if I don’t have it?
Am I already packing something that would do the same job?
SNAP! The sound of a baseball bat hitting my shins was a pain I will never forget. Except there was no baseball bat, I was a month into my Appalachian Trail thru hike and dealing with shin splints that made every step a nightmare. I remember it so well because it was the week of my 26th birthday, and my only wish was for the pain to go away.
To set the story straight I know the problem was my pack weight, which was largely due to my camera gear. I was quite new to backpacking and surely wasn’t the type of guy to brag about my knowledge when it came to the great outdoors. I was determined to keep going and willing to do anything to help ease the pain I had put my body through, but was I ready to take the steps to become an UL hiker?
Bushcrafters Love “Classic” (aka Heavy) Gear: Brian Trubshaw Wants To Change That
Text and photos by Brian Trubshaw
I started my outdoor life with Bushcraft. A naturalist at heart, I don’t just enjoy being in nature; I believe in being one with nature. Bushcraft is the art of being able to spend time outdoors with very few items because you have a better understanding of the natural world. In other words, you have excellent “wilderness skills.” Englishman Ray Mears popularized the term “Bushcraft” here in the United Kingdom in his TV show, “Wild Tracks.” His show brought his survival research across the world to the big screen and left a lasting impression on my seven-year-old self.
Like Mears, when I walk in my woodlands, I don’t just see trees and plants, I see food I can eat and resources that I can use to do tasks. For example I very rarely carry tent stakes with me, as I know that I can just use branches with a carved point on the end. However, I also have a set of tent takes I have carved out of Hazel straights for when I’m in mossy areas. Wood work, fire lighting, shelter building—with the right knowledge the possibilities are endless.
Most people don’t know New Zealand for its backpacking. Native New Zealander Greig Caigou explains how to make the most out of your time visiting.
Text & Photos by Greig Caigou
Far flung from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s home in Maine, my Southwest 3400 pack travelled via CB postage (cabin baggage) to the land ‘Downunder’, to the bottom of the world . . . to New Zealand!
I’m a NZ’er by birth – 60 years young, and an outdoor educator by profession and a wilderness hunter by passion.
Named after our iconic native bird, we ‘Kiwis’ (New Zealanders) are an adventurous lot, with many like myself having had a rural or ‘outdoorsy’ upbringing. As such, we’ve prided ourselves on a rugged lifestyle birthed by pioneering forefathers who just 175 years ago travelled tenaciously half-way round the globe to settle amongst the impressive and varied landscapes of these islands at 41 degrees South.
That not-so-old legacy of past pioneers meant I grew up with a bold spirit, always keen for expeditions into the wild unknown, well beyond the back fence. In addition it meant I was raised on country fare . . . home grown vegetables matched with wild meats hunted from the local hills, and resided in a generous community where such produce could occasionally be exchanged for a fat mutton (sheepmeat) or some homebrew with a kick!
My new pack has been an integral part of my recent adventures, helping me stay ‘ultralight’ during my work and in my Kiwi-style hunting. Maintaining that simpler and stripped down approach resonates better with a wild experience for me, in touch with the rhythms of nature, but which has been somewhat counter–culture for many who take on the rigors of traversing the backcountry of New Zealand.
There are thousands of kilometers of formed trails here, many more established ‘routes’ and perhaps unquestionably the best network of public accommodation ‘trampers’ huts in the world. Let’s say you are planning on heading to this country with your very own Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and hoping to walk one of our Great Walks or the ‘Long Pathway’ – Te Araroa (TA).
So what are some tips for the trail and how could you add some extra pizzaz and design your adventure for something differently wild and uniquely ‘Kiwi’?
Ambassador Bethany Hughes Raises Awareness for Women’s Issues on major America-to-America Thru Hike
When the rainy/winter season came, the two-woman hiking team of Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Bethany Hughes (aka “Fidgit”) and Lauren Reed (aka “Neon”) completed the first stretch of a 20,000-mile hike from the tip of South America to the top of Alaska. They finished the hiking season in Bariloche, Argentina after walking an estimated 1553 miles from November 23, 2015 to April 19, 2016, covering 13 degrees of latitude since starting in Ushuaia, Argentina.
“Taking a break will give us a chance to structure the next leg of our journey, which will run longer as we should, by next winter, be far enough north to hike through the winter season,” Hughes says. “Plus, it means I can put more time and effort into writing.”
“We are particularly interested in highlighting the abilities and accomplishments of women we meet by featuring their stories,” Hughes explained. As well, she stated, with domestic violence recently becoming a more prominent topic of conversation in South America, their trek offers the opportunity for fostering discussion.
“Taboos are being broken just by having these conversations, especially with an outsider,” Hughes added.
Hughes began planning this trek, dubbed “Her Odyssey,” five years ago after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and subsequently learning that it formed part of the longest contiguous chain of mountains in the world. Reed, a “Triple Crowner,” is accompanying her on the South American portion of the journey.
Light, Flexible, Easy to Fix Packrafts: The Perfect Vehicle to Navigate the Narrows
Text & photos by Dan Ransom
This Trailhead is a Total Yard Sale: Packrafts, Paddles and Drysuits Hanging Out to Dry. A couple tents looked haphazardly pitched, and the trucks are caked in thick mud. Our arrival is probably not a very welcome alarm clock.
Kind of an odd scene I thought, when a voice calls out from one of the tents: “You guys running the narrows?”
This is the start of Utah’s Zion Narrows, one of the most beautiful canyons on the entire Colorado Plateau. It’s an incredibly popular destination, one I’ve descended all or in-part nearly a dozen times either as a backpacking trip or an exit to a nearby technical descent. But today we aren’t here to hike it, we’re here to float. And I’m using a packraft.
The guys we are waking up–they paddled this stretch yesterday. It’s an incredible trip they say, one of the best ever. But the approach. It’s miserable. There isn’t enough water. Takes way longer than anticipated. Beats the hell out of the boat. And by the time they got off the river and rallied back up the hill to snag their shuttle vehicle a quick moving thunderstorm blasted through the area and turned the road to complete shit. Hence, this morning’s yard sale.
And now, a little bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, they are looking curiously at our small packs, and wondering if we aren’t about to make some poor decisions ourselves.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador and well-known ice and alpine climber Angela VanWiemeersch recently visited the Hayes Range, Alaska, in order to put up a couple new lines. (i.e. alpine climbing routes). During a trip to the area in 2014, she spied the two formations. “I was blown away by their beauty and steepness—blue ice drooling from the magnificent faces.” She decided then that she’d have to come back for these peaks. She and Anna Pfaff spent a month there, but got denied by snow and bad weather. But, as she says, a failed expedition is just another learning experience. We recently chatted with her about what she learned from her third big adventure up north.
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.
Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.
Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.
What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.
Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
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.
Gear & Clothes That Can Make the Difference For Your Wilderness Packraft Adventure
Text by Moe Witschard // Photos by Moe Witschard & Mike St. Pierre
Maurice “Moe” Witschard is an experienced explorer, photographer and a filmmaker who loves packrafting and adventuring. Like all adventurers and packrafters he knows that it is key to stay safe and dry. In this blog post he shares 10 tips for your packrafing attire that will make your packraft adventure as safe and fun as possible.
Making smart choices as to what to wear often means the difference between joy and misery on a packraft trip. After packrafting extensively over the past 10 years, I have tried many different clothing systems. My present strategies are based on principles that I have taken from years of whitewater kayaking and backpacking. I apply them to my trips in what I believe is the most elegant of wilderness watercraft: the packraft. Here, I share my tips.
Cam “Swami” Honan’s Tips for Hiking in the Rain (Cold, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Fog and Basically Anything Else Nature Can Throw At You)
Tasmania’s Arthur Range is arguably Australia’s most spectacular mountain chain. Unfortunately for hikers there’s a catch. It’s called the “weather.”
Backcountry trips in the Arthurs are a meteorological roll of the dice at any time of year. When it’s fine you’ll be treated to sublime views of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier carved lakes. If a big storm front rumbles through, all you will likely see is horizontal rain, thick fog and the brim of your baseball cap pulled all the way down over your forehead.
When coupled with the fact that much of the hiking is done on open rocky ridges exposed to the full brunt of the Roaring Forties (i.e. gale-force westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between between 40° and 50° latitude), the Arthurs is not a place you want to be without good backcountry skills and the right equipment.
If faced with these sort of extreme conditions, a hiker’s #1 priority should always be safety. Preset itineraries and/or mileage objectives should run a very distant second.
In such circumstances, I try to focus on core temperature management and sound choices. In regards to the latter, I find it helpful to put myself in the role of “objective observer” rather than “subjective participant.” In other words, take emotion out of the decision making process. Admittedly, this is sometimes easier in theory than it is in practice, however, in my opinion it represents one of the most important, as well as most overlooked, wilderness skills that a hiker can develop. Click here to learn about Cam Honan’s tips.
The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.
Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.
Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review. Find out more about adaptability
3 Explorers Embark on a DIY Multisport Adventure to Alaska’s Mountains using Packrafts, Skis & Their Feet.
Not everyone can handle spending three weeks camped out on an Alaskan Glacier putting up first ascents of rock, ice and snow routes on unclimbed spires and peaks. Even fewer can then handle skiing out on handmade skis with 100-pound loads, over high mountain passes and across unknown terminal moraines to a river of unknown difficulty. But the trio of Craig Muderlak, Drew Thayer and David Fay did. Supported by the American Alpine Club through the Copp-Dash Inspire Award and various sponsors, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear, they climbed, skied, hiked and packrafted on the adventure of a lifetime. We recently chatted with Muderlak about their wild, multi-sport adventure and the reasons for their success.
What did you do exactly?
In the second week of May we flew into the North Fork of the Pitchfork Glacier in the Neacola subrange of the Aleutian Range in southwestern Alaska. We established a base camp and explored climbing routes on neighboring peaks, including two attempts on the NW Ridge of Citadel Peak, two new rock routes and an additional attempted route on Dogtooth Spire on Peak 7235, a new route up an unclimbed mountain adjacent to Peak 8909 that we call ‘Spearhead’ at the head of the North Fork of the Pitchfork, and a new route to the summit of a rock spire we call ‘The Wing’ on the W side of the Neacola Glacier across from Triangle Peak.
After spending 21 days climbing, we made a human-powered return to Cook Inlet via ski, foot, and pack-raft over six days. This part of the expedition proved to be very arduous and fraught with uncertainty. We descended the Pitchfork glacier with 100-pound loads on skis and reached the terminal moraine the second day, which we crossed by shuttling loads. The next day we descended the Glacier Fork of the Tlikakila River on pack-rafts; this eight-mile river was flowing strong with Class II and III whitewater and we ran all but one rapid. Read the rest of the article.