Trip Report: Backpacking Light Wilderness Skills I – Lightweight Backpacking
July 29-31, 2010
Instructors: Chris Wallace, Sam Haraldson
Growing up backpacking, I got used to the idea of carrying heavy loads. Add to that my tendency to imagine every possible way that a trip could go awry, and you can guess what my backpack looked like. I used to have an 80+ L external frame backpack that weighed over 7 lb. empty. Filled, it could easily break the 50 lb. barrier.
Although since getting into climbing I’d reduced some of that weight on my own, and I’d replaced that old backpack plus a lot of other gear, I still overpacked, and I still owned some items that were heavier than they needed to be, just because I didn’t know any better.
I’d known about Backpacking Light (BPL) and their lightweight backpacking classes for a couple of years, but this was the first year I felt really serious about lightening my pack. I quickly sold my dad, Charlie, on the idea of taking the class together. So at 5 AM the day before the class, we started the 800 mile drive to Jackson, Wyoming.
The morning of our first day was spent in the classroom, going over lightweight philosophy and gear. It was very helpful to consult with Chris and Sam, our instructors, about the gear I’d brought. Even though my pack was light to start with (both Charlie and I had bought a lot of new gear to replace heavier items we already owned), I still ended up leaving some unnecessary items in Jackson.
In the end, my base pack weight (without food/water) ended up being about 9.5 lb. With consumables, it was about 14.5 lb. Not bad for a two-night backpack.
The backpacking portion of the trip took place in the Bridger-Teton National Forest east of Grand Teton National Park. Our starting point was the Turpin Meadow Campground. We did a loop following the Buffalo Forks of the Snake River. The pace was leisurely; from 1:30 PM on Thursday to 11:00 AM on Saturday we covered a little over 11 miles. This gave us plenty of opportunity to discuss and practice a variety lightweight techniques and wilderness skills: tarp camping, cooking, food hanging, nutrition, navigation, etc.
A sampling of major items I carried (by weight):
Feathered Friends 20-degree mummy bag (32 oz)*
GoLite Jam 50 L backpack (30 oz)
DriDucks rain jacket/pants (9 oz)
BPL Torsolite inflatable sleeping pad (9 oz)
MontBell down jacket (12 oz)
Titanium Goat sil-nylon bivy bag with bug net window (7.5 oz)
Patagonia wind shirt with hood (4 oz)
Seirus balaclava (2.8 oz)*
Darn Tough 1/4th length merino wool socks – extra pair (2.5 oz)
Mini first aid kit (about 2 oz)
Platypus 2L water bottle (2 oz)
Seirus thin weatherproof gloves (1.9 oz)
BPL Titanium 475 mL mug/pot (1.7 oz)
Petzl coin battery headlamp with extra batteries (1.3 oz)
* overkill – could have gone with a lighter item
Charlie carried a 1-oz alcohol stove that we shared. We borrowed a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp from Sam and Chris for our shelter (about 11.5 oz with titanium stakes).
Charlie and I found that there was very little that really had to be given up to go lightweight, and a lot to gain. We both loved tarp camping; Charlie told me it was his most comfortable night yet in the outdoors. We loved the feeling of getting into camp without sore shoulders and hips. I feel like I can now begin to lighten down my pack for climbing trips (a lot of multiday alpine climbing is glorified backpacking). Many climbing trips demand gear that is more heavy-duty than some of the items I carried, so I won’t be getting rid of heavier items in my gear closet anytime soon, but having a range of lightweight gear means I can pick the lightest items that are appropriate for the outing I’m going on.
It was fun to get to know Paul & Laura, Jim & Jessica, and Michael, the other students in the course. Every person brought some cool experience and interesting perspectives to the discussions. Thanks for the great time together, guys!
On the drive back to Jackson, I drooled at the sight of Grand Teton… I’ve got to come back and climb that thing. Back in town, we had a good-bye lunch together at the Snake River Brewing Company (there’s nothing like a buffalo burger and beer after a couple days in the woods), we had a short debrief in the classroom, and parted ways.
After hosting my photos on various sites, I’ve decided to take the plunge and build my own photoblog. I’m still in the process of figuring out how Wordpress works, and how to customize things. This blog, at the moment pretty bare, will hopefully be filled with great photos soon.