Get Lost Offroad

Steve's Ultra Light page                                                                                                    Trip Reports



  I guess I better start off by saying that whatever you read here, whatever info you take from here, its yours... its not a class I'm teaching, its not a method to teach you, or make you into something your not. I want to say you are on your own, I am not responsible for anything you learn, try, or do. So there, that's the disclaimer. Now go out and hike somewhere!

  I've been backpacking since I was in High School. I've always loved the freedom of wandering. For almost 35 years I combined backpacking with a love of technical climbing. Those were the days of heavy loads, but of exceptional adventures! Many of our trips and climbs forced us to travel into remote and trailless areas. These experiences were almost always incredible. The skills I learned are what allow me now to push into a new and exciting realm of hiking that is referred to as Ultra Light hiking, or UL hiking. With my "retirement" from the climbing scene, I now have the ability to explore the high country for the sheer joy of being there. I've begun to pursue UL hiking with a passion and it is opening up new and amazing avenues for me and the friends who accompany me.

  Defining Ultra Light hiking is like explaining a beautiful vista; we each have our own opinion and our own view of it. However, there are a few basic guidelines that will help those who are interested in lightening their loads.

Most UL'ers define their craft by using these base weight benchmarks:

Standard backpackers carry base weights over 20 lbs.
Lightweight backpackers carry base weights under 20 lbs
Ultra Light backpackers carry base weights of 10 lbs or under
Super Ultra Light backpackers carry base weights under 5 lbs

  So what's a Base Weight?  Simply put, a base weight is all of your equipment, or gear, that you have hanging off your back, with the exception of Food, Water, and Fuel. There are a couple of ways that the UL community use their weights and measurements. One of the most common is to have a base weight used in conjunction with separate weights for the clothing and equipment that is either worn or carried (like trekking poles and camera), and another for total trail weight which would be the total of base weight, food, water, and fuel. Finally there is a term called FSO or full skin out. This is a total of everything that you wear and carry. A complete total of your gear, clothing, food, water, and fuel.

  One basic tenant of UL hiking is the philosophy of moving towards simplicity. Gone are the trappings of carrying gear for every conceivable emergency. Many UL'ers (myself included) feel that the most important piece of equipment is the one perched between their ears! Many items of equipment are designed for multiple use, ie. trekking poles double as tent poles, cooking pot is also your mug and bowl. With this simplicity comes a freedom that is hard to explain, but easy to experience.

  So how do I manage and decide on my own personal gear? Below is a list of my gear, and some explanations on my opinions and choices. Take from it what you can, and adapt it to meet your own specific requirements. Have fun with it! The ability to roam the backcountry with light loads will change your experience for the better. Remember, Light is Right!

  Setting up a gear list is specific to your intended trip. Living in Idaho most of my hiking is done in the high country of the Sawtooth Wilderness. This area is spectacular in its beauty; but an added benefit is the stability in its temps and weather. This allows gear to be pared down to minimums and still be well prepared and safe.

  Most of the UL hikers are infatuated with gear lists. Typically they are put into spreadsheet format, and have sections of use, descriptions, weights, and other notes to enable each trip to be accounted for. So check out the following sections as I work on getting my gear choices listed. This will be a work in progress, and will probably also have duplicate items as I go on different styles of trips. I also hope to upload my gear lists into a spreadsheet format to show my actual lists that I am currently using.

The First Step!
  The first step in lightening you load is to weigh all of your gear. I recently wrote a brief introduction to UL hiking in the Boise Weekly. You can read it here. After weighing your gear you can then begin the process of using the data to further your lightening process. We'll go into that in more detail later.

  Next, begin the evaluation process of the gear you are currently using. This step involves looking closely at each and every piece of gear, then evaluating its function, weight, and priority. Initially the biggest gain in weight savings will come from clothing. Most hikers consistently carry extra clothing that is not needed, and often times is not even used! Discretionary items, or luxury items are next. Many items seem crucial while packing, but have no real bearing on the outcome of your trip. With time and close scrutiny you will be able to pare down to essential gear. There is a great freedom in taking only what you need, and then needing only what you have taken!

 Here's an earlier piece; An Ultralight Primer if you will.

 Personal Gear Selections (ALWAYS under construction!)
  These lists reflect a base selection of items that I usually use, but are not limited to what I might actually take. Each trip has its own parameters and the lists will reflect that. These lists are based on a scenario of stable weather and 2-3 days out. Base weight will typically range from 7 - 10 lbs. I've laid them out in the general sections that I use in my spreadsheet database. I will have copies of my spreadsheets available in the Gear List area of the page which you can go to by clicking here.

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 Worn or Carried items

Base layer top: I currently use a variety of wicking T-shirts by North Face and Mountain Hard wear (MH). A wicking shirt is critical for the movement of moisture from your body. Mostly made of plastic, non absorbing materials, these initial layers are a critical piece of gear.
Base layer bottom: I don't bring a bottom layer unless I'm into the colder seasons.
Underwear: Another critical piece of gear IMO. I like the boxer briefs style of cut, and any of the major mfg's can provide multiple choices. I'm currently using REI and Under Armour models, and they both seem to work well.
Pants: I wear  Mountain Hard wear Mesa zip off pants/shorts. I use the pants as bug protection and warmth. I rarely wear the pants on the trail.
Headwear: I wear either an REI safari hat, or a lightweight runners style ball cap. Sun protection is critical, and shading the eyes and face is often an afterthought. Stay ahead of sunburn at altitude!
Watch: I count on my Sunnto watch for mostly for elevation info. Reading maps and having altitude info is critical for cross country travel.
Eye wear: Having eye protection from the sun at altitude is critical. Make sure your glasses are up to snuff. I currently am using a pair of Smith  "slider" style glasses with multiple lens colors.
Shoes: The change in footwear is shocking. Many UL'ers are now hiking in very lightweight running style shoes. These reflect the change with lighter loads. I have a couple pairs that I'm trying. One by Salomon, another by Asolo. So far both have held up well, and have provided the support and grip needed for all my hikes. Recently I have used a pair of La Sportiva Wildcats for over 400 miles of difficult hiking and found them to be fantastic. I do wonder about overall durability as they are a mesh style of body. Time will tell.
Socks: A lightweight wicking style of sock is just as critical as the other layers. REI and others carry a huge array of socks, and you can try out various styles, lengths and thickness' to find your best combo.
Trekking poles: My poles are Komperdell Trail Lite adjustable, not the lightest out there, but very strong and they double as my tent pole or poles depending on my shelter. They also are a 3 piece adjustable style, which is nice for strapping to a pack, or putting in a bag to get on an airplane. I also picked up a pair of REI 3 piece adjustable at their garage sale and they have worked well. For the cost conscious, Wally world actually sells some "exercise" poles that work fine and would allow you try them out if you have never used them before.

Everything I wear on the trail is designed to be comfortable and adaptable. I don't want to have to stop constantly and rummage around in a pack to find something. Over the years I've found items that work for me, and I use them hard. Get your own system set up and you will have a tremendous advantage on the trail.

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 Other Clothing

Rain jacket: I always bring lightweight rain protection of some kind. (You know if you bring a rain jacket, it won't rain! An old Mountain Axiom) I have a Marmot Precip jacket that I picked up on E bay for cheap, and I've also got some other coated lightweight jackets. They double as bug protection and an outer shell for warmth over an insulated jacket or fleece.
Rain pants: Unless really anticipating rain, I usually don't bring any rain pants. Exceptions would be if I traveled to an area where afternoon thunder storms are common. I have a matching Marmot Precip pair of pants that work well.
Insulated Headwear: A small light fleece hat is critical even in summer temps. I use a Mountain Hard wear light fleece cap that is a live saver when the nights are cool, or I'm extra hammered from a long day. It is an easy way to get an even better night of rest!
Socks: Most trips I bring an extra pair of light wicking socks to replace the pair I'm currently wearing. They can also double as a pair of gloves for that unsuspecting snow storm in August! A clean pair of socks at bedtime is a luxury, and an additional pair will allow for washing a sweated out pair from the days' mileage, and drying them on the back of your pack the next day. Swapping out socks is a great technique to keep your feet and your trip in good shape.

The additional items that are in my pack are very few. But they are exactly what is necessary to protect me in case of weather, bugs, or temperature. I can only wear so many items before it becomes redundant! Standing or sitting in camp is one of the coldest times beacuse you are not moving around. Don't hesitate to use your sleeping bag as a big quilt and throw it around your shoulders while hanging out to watch the stars come out!

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Pack                                                           Six Moon Designs Starlite
Pack                                                           Golite Jam Pack
Pack pad                                                   Gossamer Gear Thin light 72"

Stuff Sacks                                                silnylon
Pack liner                                                  garbage bag

  Like most experienced hikers, I have a quiver of backpacks. I have spent the last summer hiking with this pack from Six Moon Designs. Its their Starlight model, and its designed to handle larger loads. I wanted the ability to go for extended trips, and felt that this was the best bet for my first true UL pack. It weighs 28 oz, with two aluminum stays. The stays are removable, and for most of the season I've had them out. It carries like a dream, I rarely have any weight on my shoulders, has a couple of pockets on the hip belt where I carry my camera and some snack bars. For a complete description and specs check out SMD's site here.
There is a lot of room in this pack, and as I lower my base weight I can see myself downsizing to one of the true UL packs by SMD. I am very interested in their new model called the Swift. I'm become a big fan of SMD and over the past season I've had only positive results with their products.
I also picked up a used Golite Jam pack, one of the originals, not the Jam 2 or other style. I'm really loving this very simple and cheap pack!  I have been able to put all I need for 8 days into this pack, and it has performed just fine. I have bought three of them now, and I keep looking for them on the gear swap sites. This is a great way to go for the first time UL pack buyer; cheap, and really a great pack. Too bad Golite couldn't re-introduce them!
  I use a couple of lightweight stuff sacks to collect items, mainly foodstuffs. I've quit using stuff sacks for every little thing or group of items as my kit has shrunk. I now use a couple of heavy zip lock style freezer bags to handle things like first aid, or my small collection of accessories. I can see the items in question, and the bags are tough and super light. Plus when they finally wear out, they are easily replaced.

  In winter weather, or other dubious forecasts, I will take a small garbage bag and use it as a pack liner to keep my gear safe from becoming wet. Ultra light, inexpensive, this is a great way to go!

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Sleeping Bag                                            Mountain Hard wear Phantom 32
Sleeping Pad                                            Neo Air long
Sleeping Pad                                            Therma Rest UL
Sleeping Pad                                            Ridge Rest long and short
Sleeping Pad/Backpack Pad                    GG Thinlite
Pillow                                                        Cocoon inflatable pillow

  A few years ago we were planning a climbing trip to the Bugaboo Range in BC Canada. I had a down bag that was about 20 years old, still working, but really it was about done. I decided that I was going to buy a high quality bag that would perform, last, and keep me happy! I did some research and decided on a Mountain Hard Wear Phantom 32. The bag uses 800 fill down and has a half zipper. Over the last 5 or so seasons I've been really happy with this bag. I love its ability to stuff to the size of a nalgene, and I have been able to push its insulative qualities with some extra layers into some pretty cool temps. I use it  quilt style when really warm out, just drape it over me unzipped, and I don't hesitate to wrap it around me while sitting outside at camp on cool evenings to watch the stars or BS with my friends.

  There are lots of incredible bags and quilts to choose from out there. Just start digging around and you will find what suits your needs. Make sure to keep checking out the year end sales, and other special events as these can really drop the price on some nice high end sleeping bags! Don't forget to look at the gear sales and used gear opportunities at places like as well!

  I have slept on all manner of pads, and one thing for sure; a good nights sleep is paramount to a successful trip. On climbing trips, the sleep and rest you need at night is essential to being able to perform the next day. It is the same with hiking. If you rest well, you will recover well, and chances are you will be able to cover more ground with less effort and less chance of injury.

  I have used every foam pad out there, most of the Therm Rest air mattress styles, Ridge Rests, and now I have a Neo Air. I love the thickness, I sleep on my side and on my back, and my hips never touch the ground. But I also realize the limitations with an air based pad. I will change out pads dependent on what trip I am undertaking. Sometimes i just want the bare minimum for a simple overnite, or I want the lightest weight possible. One night out or such. I can deal with a bit less in those situations. I slide my GG Thinlight from my backpack under my air mattress for more protection, and for under my feet. Just recently I also added an inflatable pillow to  my sleeping system. It has proven to be a fantastic addition.

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Tent                                                            Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo
Tarp                                                            Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis
Ground Sheet                                           None
Guy lines                                                   Kelty Trip tease
Stakes                                                       Easton nail style, titanium shepherd hooks

  This year I began to research and investigate the new UL tents that are made out of silicone impregnated nylon, or silnylon. They are extremely lightweight, singlewalled, and seem to be perfect for our high country weather. Initially I looked for a 2 person design, complete with floor and bug netting. I wanted the ability to have my wife join me and for us to have a place in which to hide out from the bugs, if necessary. I settled on a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. The tent is a palace. It has plenty of room for two, two huge net doors, two vestibules, a floating bathtub type floor, and sets up with my trekking poles. Check out all the specs by clicking on the tent names below.

  I do not use ground sheets with any of my tents that have floors. I prefer to be careful with site selection, and just allow the tent to do its thing! This upcoming season I will begin to use my Wild Oasis, and that is a floorless tarp style shelter. I am currently checking out a bunch of different choices to try out with it. I want to be careful with my air mattress, but I don't want to add any additional weight either!

  I like the Easton aluminum "nail" style tent peg. I feel that the wide diameter and head make for easier placement and removal. I use the 6" lengths for my corners, and two of the 9" for my pole tie outs. So far so good in the areas I've used them. I can also lay them between two rocks and tie off to them. The small loop of cord at the top make removal much easier too. That being said, I also have a set of titanium shepherd style stakes as well. They are lighter, and will work just as well while cutting weight to a minimum.

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Stove                               Custom Gram Weenie Pro                        Stove                    Snow Peak Lite Max
Wind screen                  Cut down MSR wind screen                      Wind Screen      Cut down MSR wind screen       
Pot                                   Heine Pot                                                       Pot                       GSI Soloist
Fuel Bottle                      REI dropper bottle                                       Fuel                      Iso Butane Canister
Utensil                            GSI                                         

  I've made more of a change in my cook kit and stove than I have in any other facet of my gear. From old school to the fringe, I have changed my stove and fuel, my cook pot and mug, and even my spoon! I have dropped over 3 POUNDS from these changes alone. My original cook kit used to weigh 43.4 oz WITHOUT fuel! I'm now at 4.1 oz. That is truly a weight savings that I can appreciate. I do not feel that I've given up anything with regard to my food or my cooking habits. Some changes are only boiling water that I actually need. I don't boil liters of water now for each meal. I no longer cook meals that need to "simmer" for up to 20 minutes. All of my meals now are capable of being eaten in 7-10 minutes after boil.

I use a different set up when I take my wife, or my younger son with me. I will use my Snow Peak Lite Max cartridge stove. I really like the ease of use, and the ability to cook for two. This is also a stove I take for my desert canyon canoe trips. When I have the ability to enjoy more luxury, or don't have to worry about carrying the extra weight, I'll use a GSI Soloist cook set. Its plenty big enough for two people.

Check out how to make your own alcohol stove below.

As the trips become longer, and I mean over 5 days, the savings of an alcohol stove over a  canister stove become less and less. When you get to 14 days, the cannister stove becomes a better choice based on ease of operation in my opinion. Here is a great spot of info on stove comparisons and other great bits of info!

Don't forget the importance of the pot cozy! These simple insulated covers will save you tons of fuel, and cook your food while the stove is off! I have cozies for not only my GSI cook pot, but for my IMUSA cup as well. Make one for your pot and you will be very pleasantly surprised at the performance you gain.

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 First Aid

  No one should go out into the field without some sort of first aid kit. But being reasonable about what you can actually treat in the backcountry is another aspect that has a direct bearing on what you carry. I just don't believe that trying to carry a first aid kit capable of performing minor surgery is really a prudent and justifiable action. I want to be prepared, but I also don't want to bring items that I have no business trying to use.

  My feelings are this; I should be capable of performing basic first aid, and have the equipment to treat minor injuries that I might inflict upon myself. The list would include items to tape up, patch up, or otherwise support or isolate a sprain or cut, and the supporting cast of pills that would help with inflammation, stomach issues, and headaches. After that short list it becomes a guessing game. I can make do or come up with enough ideas to keep me together until I make my way back to somewhere where a professional can take over.

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  I am currently using a Canon A560 Powershot 7.1 megapixel with a 4x optical zoom. Its a simple camera, good with batteries, takes great images, and is pretty lightweight. I tend to beat up cameras, and in my climbing days went thru quite a few of them! I've beat up this model, and then when the first one failed I went onto ebay and bought another for cheap. I always shoot at the highest resolutions I can get, and then I use a web resizer to make the pics usable for online or email. But I always have the original image at high rez. I store all my pics on a seprate external hard drive that is "hot swappable" so as to minimize the chance of something crashing and losing my hard fought for images. I have a neoprene candle lantern case that I use for the camera, but since I started using my new pack with hip belt pockets, the camera fits in there perfectly and is pretty well protected without the case. 

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 Mapping & Navigation

  I'm addicted to maps! I love maps and what they tell me. I am as at home reading a topo map as I am standing outside and looking at the terrain. I spend a good deal of time off trail, so being able to read maps is a critical skill. With the advent of available mapping software, there is now at my fingertips all the info I could ever wish for! I use National Geographic TOPO Series software, and have been very pleased with it. Like all software, it's not perfect, but I understand its good and bad tendencies. I now have 6 states, which is about 30,000 maps?! I print custom maps for all my trips, and make notes, and other informative marks as needed. Each state costs about $100 new, but again, ebay typically has them from $40-$60 regularly.

  Along with maps, I use my altimeter, which is on my wrist in the form of a Sunnto watch. I've had it for many years, mainly for climbing and skiing. I can't remember the last time I used a compass. My method is more based on terrain and altitude contour than direction.

  GPS is a big thing these days, and I've got a couple. I don't take them into the backcountry very often, but I do use them for all of my off road bike trips and river trips where weight is not such an issue or concern. I wrote my Get Lost! guidebook (shameless plug here!) with an emphasis on GPS coords and the ability to follow them. See my home page if you were not aware of my guidebook! I use a simple Garmin E-Trex for many simple tracking functions, and then a Magellan Triton 400 loaded with topo maps that interface with my software. This brings about a very cool real time real location scenario. I can actually SEE where I am on the screen in front of me. This function comes with a price. Any screen and color resolution uses power! Batteries are heavy! So I limit my use of these when hiking.

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 Water treatment

  Over the years there has been a ton of discussion about water, or rather clean water over the years, and there are many views on how to go about making your water clean and drinkable. There are bugs out there in the water. There are bugs out there in the water that can end up in you. There are bugs out there that can end up in you and make you feel like you know what. 

  I have used a few different brands and types of filters. While climbing I always carried a filter, and used it constantly. As I have transitioned to a lighter load, I have been more interested in different ways to treat or otherwise make my water safe. My filter weighed in at about 20oz. so the idea of something lighter was pretty exciting. There are a couple of thoughts on the process, mainly on how the water is treated. It can physically go through a filter, be treated chemically, or a combination of the two.

  After thinking about where I actually spend most of my hiking, I decided that I would drop my filter in exchange for Aqua Mira drops. I spend a lot of time off trail, and the water that I use for drinking is far from hikers, horses, or other typical pollutants. I felt that this would give me a super light alternative to my heavy filter. The drops are easy, take a few minutes to work, and enhance the taste of the water. I purchased a set of ultra light dropper bottles to use on trips so I don't have to take the entire set.

  I did decide after some more research to purchase an actual water filter as well. I bought a Frontier Pro water filter. This filter is for areas that I'm not sure about my water sources. It can be used by itself, or in conjunction with a gravity style set up. The best part, it only weighs 2 ozs!

I finally had a chance to use this filter on our 16 day JMT hike, and I must say that it really did work well. It would have worked even better had I done my homework and read the instructions! Two things; clean the pre-filter regularly, and extra tubing to lengthen the distance between filter and collection help flow rate! Worth the effort if water is easily available. A wide mouth attachment would have been nice, but it still worked.

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  I am always on the prowl for more and better ways to eat on the trail. I've done pretty much every style of cooking on the trail, from making full on gourmet meals with appetizers, entree, and desert, to stoveless trips where bars, nuts, and flavored drinks are the norm. Its just an ever evolving search for ideas. I keep trying to find that happy medium.
Here is a great link to get som FAQ answered! 

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  Fishing has always been, and is one of my favorite passions. The solitude and beauty of high mountain lake fishing is unsurpassed. I have been fortunate to sample some of Idaho's finest fishing in the remote mountains. There are a few tricks and a few things I've learned to enhance my success.

  I practice catch and release exclusively in almost all the high lakes. Fish growth and reproduction is slim to non-existent in the majority of these locations. Large fish are old fish, and quite frankly, its my opinion that there are not many in any given lake regardless of what one might think or see. The growing season in these locations is so short that the fish are almost always under stress. The more remote lakes are a haven for larger and less pressured fish. The results are usually pretty spectacular. I regularly catch fish on as high as 50% of my casts! It is not unusual to catch fish up to 20" on a trip. Most of the fish caught are Cuts, with Rainbows and some Brookies thrown in. There are lakes in Idaho where Goldens are still available, and Grayling were stocked in some lakes as well. Location is always a key factor in the quality of the fishing. The farther you go off trail, and the harder you work to reach any given lake, the higher the probability of quality fishing for larger fish.

Equipment and Techniques:

  Typically I fly fish using a myriad of either pack rods or two piece rods in the 7' to 9' lengths, and in the 5-7 wt line range. I'm not a prude about super expensive rods, reels, or other gear. I have learned that what I NEED is equipment that will take some abuse, be adaptable to current conditions, and be reasonably performance oriented. I do not carry rod cases, or tubes. I will be climbing, falling, and catching tree limbs on a constant basis while hiking, AND fishing. The gear is used, so I take that into account. Reels are the lightest and simplest I can find. Minimal or no drag, as almost all the fish are played off the rod and the line. Again, I'm trying to keep weight and issues at a minimum. I don't need anything complicated to ruin a trip.

  Flies and leaders are also basic. I usually use leaders in the 2lb test range. I sacrifice length and tippet size for control and strength. Winds can be brutal on a lake above treeline, with nothing to slow them down. I look for durability in both leaders and flies. Fish love to wrap you up on submerged logs at lakeside. Tree branches are always trying to catch my flies, and the talus will quickly abrade leaders as they bounce off rocks. I tie almost all my own, and tend to lean towards earthy, base colors in general or basic patterns. I stick with "larger" flies, so I can see them on the water, and  so that I can attract fish. Again, the fish I am usually fishing over are not very picky. Almost all of my fish that I cast to are fish that I can see. Its not uncommon to see fish fight over my fly, and to see swarming fish attacking the fly while in the lip of his brother on the way to shore to be released! Sizes generally range in #10 - #16's in dries, and from #4- #14's in wets and nymphs. I also fish a lot of attractor streamers, like the Little Brook Trout in sizes #6 -#10. I love fishing streamers as high mountain trout can be quite aggressive! 

  Another favorite method of mine is using UL spinning gear. I will often bring a 5' two piece UL rod into the backcountry. A basic ultra light reel with 4lb test works perfect with respect to durability and cast length. Swivels and an assortment of spinners, spoons, and a few bubbles are the perfect recipe to counter act any conditions that make fly fishing impossible or impractical. I've also been known to use my UL reel on my fly rod to save bringing two rods. However, when I am making the effort to reach some hoped for high quality fishing, I tend to bring both set ups! It never hurts to have a backup if fishing is your main purpose of all that work.

                                                                                    Beautiful Cuts

  Idaho has such an incredible opportunity for high lake fishing. There are thousands of lakes here in our state, and most are full of fish. There are truly hundreds of lakes off trail that rarely get fished. I know of lakes in the Sawtooths, that even with high hiking pressure, might only get fished 3-4 times in any given YEAR!

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 Off trail hiking
                                                                     A perfect off trail granite "road"!

  Taking off on a cross country hike to me is the epitome of what backpacking is all about. Using map and compass, reading topo maps, and making my own way into the wilderness brings an unsurpassed joy. There is really only one way to become proficient at traveling off trail. Do it. Practice it. Do it again. Start with small bites and extend your reach as you become comfortable. Reading a topo map should become as easy as if you were actually looking at the terrain in 3D. Keep after it, you will get there. There are many levels of off trail hiking. Some will be easy, such as hiking thru a meadow as you follow a small creek to its lake source. Some will be intensely difficult, with talus and car sized boulders to negotiate. Ultimately you will find spectacular sections that just take your breath away and you will see it is worth the effort.

  Off trail hiking will open up opportunities to link areas that you are interested in getting into without the constraint of having to go the "long" way around! Instead of hiking 20 miles around the mountain, might there be a way to go "through" it? Only by looking at maps and by experimenting can you determine just what is available off trail. Every area has a particular manner in which they are represented. I've found that once you discover how you can travel off trail in the area, it can often be recognized on the topo map. Then, by looking at other areas of interest, I check to see on the map if there are similarities, and if there are, chances are better than good that I will be able to access that spot as well. I have rarely been stymied trying this method. Many of the best areas in any given range do not have trails going to them. There is a reason it's call the backcountry! Off trail wanderings allow you to link together trails and make loops that otherwise might take more time than you have at your disposal. Coupled with a light pack, a trip that you might think needs a five day window could now be done over the weekend!

  Technique for moving thru difficult terrain is ever changing. Balance, pace, pack weight all play a part in it. What looks impassable from a distant might be completely different when you arrive. Talus slopes might have a very moderate "sneak" around its edge. Slabs and grassy ledges will take you around a band of cliffs. Greenery might point the way to a stable hillside that stays out of the ball bearing scree. Goat trails and animal trails are always a welcome sight. They don't want to expend any more energy than needed. As your eye becomes attuned to the subtle changes, your skill and confidence will grow too. Its a whole new world when you walk off the trail and into the wild.

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 Making an Alcohol Stove

                                                                You can never have too many stoves!

  This past season marked an extreme change in my stove and cooking set up. I've been an old white gas user for so many seasons that I've lost count. I really never realized the sheer weight of my set up until I put it all on the scale. I was dumbfounded. What looks like a very light stove is not. I had been using an MSR Whisperlite, and with the stove, the bottle, the windscreen etc, I was carrying a very heavy item! I changed to a Snow Peak Lite Max Titanium cartridge stove. I was thrilled with the weight - 2 ozs!- and its performance was fantastic! As I further refined my kit I became intrigued by the widespread use of alcohol stoves in the UL community. I started by checking out Andrew Skurka and his "cat can" stove. It was after I read an article on what became known as a "gram weenie" stove that I decided to take the plunge and actually try one out.

  I built my first gram weenie stove using aluminum spray bottles that I found at the Dollar store. They measured about 1 7/8" diameter, and had a screw on top portion, which is pretty critical as you will see. My finished stove measured about 1 3/8" high and weighs less than an ounce! with a priming pan.

  Hints and things to think about before you build:
Decide on how big your pot is first. The larger the diameter of your pot, the easier it is to find a suitable bottle to build your stove. If your pot is narrow, there is the chance that the stove flame blossom will be outside the pot, and you will have most of the heat being wasted. The diameter of your stove has a direct bearing on the stability of your pot! Don't' build a tiny narrow stove and then put a wide pot on it. You are asking for disaster! Experiment with hole diameter and how many holes to adjust flame blossom. I've seen the gram weenie with two alternating lines of holes as well. Fine tune to your desired or specific cook pot and cook set!

Here is the sequence for how I made my gram weenie stove:


1) measure up about 1" from the bottom and score a light line with an exacto blade or other razor blade. This light line will be your reference point for drilling the holes. I braced my blade against a block of wood, and rolled the bottle against the blade. This gives an almost perfect mark around the circumference. Do this again where you expect your stove height to be, in this case about 1 3/8" high. I used whatever was handy to get the height.


2) drill small (tiny !) holes (I used the smallest drill bit I could find, like 3/64") at evenly spaced intervals around the line. I just drilled every little bit, keeping the spacing by eye. I ended up with a dozen or so holes. This will be your flame pattern. (Some experimentation is necessary to find out what pattern will work best with the diameter of your cook pot. See notes below.)
3) take a small file or blade and make a cut across the top opening, almost like dividing the top into fourths. This will be a small cut into the thickness of the bottle wall to allow gas to flow thru into the inner chamber. Just a small 1/16" cut will work fine. Now make a mark 1 1/2" up from the top. This is your cut line. Cut the bottle top off at this point.
4) now make a mark at 1 1/2" on the bottom, and cut this off as well. You now have the three pieces of bottle like shown above. One piece of advice. Double check heights as to where you drill to make sure that when the top piece is inserted into the bottom, it doesn't close the holes. There should be some space between the inner wall and the other piece. Its better to check it before you drill the initial flame holes. You can trim off the threaded top to likewise lower the piece.


5) take the top piece, and turn it upside down, inserting it into the bottom piece. It will not slide in, as they are obviously the same diameter. Push the top down evenly, so it binds somewhat level. Taking a piece of wood, lay it across the top and carefully hammer the top into the bottom until the threaded top comes up against the bottom of the bottle. Make sure to keep the assembly basically level. This will ultimately be your pot stand.
6) take the assembly and cut at your original height line  to achieve a smooth level edge of both pieces. 
7) using emery cloth or sandpaper, sand smooth and level. You can fix an unlevel line by sanding the soft aluminum on a piece of sandpaper on a flat hard surface. Just work the high side down until level. See above. Sand the inside edge as well to prevent any sharp edges from cutting you as you handle the stove.


8) Fill the stove with alcohol, I usually use about 3/4 of an ounce to boil 2 cups of water. Light the alcohol and after about 30 seconds or so you will see the flame begin to blossom out of the holes. Set your pot on to boil!

I have learned that by adding holes you can reduce the diameter of the flame blossom. The diameter of the drilled hole will also affect the blossom. A slightly larger diameter will cause the blossom to narrow as well. Just make sure that the holes are offset from each other. Do not stack them over each other! This is not a difficult project, and is a lot of fun. Experiment! Get yourself dialed in and save weight at the same time.

I've used my gram weenie now on the last 3 trips, and I absolutely love its ease of operation, and its performance. There is not anything that I can't cook on this stove that I wasn't cooking before!

I've finally been able to narrow the flame blossom to fit my Heine pot setup really well. This gives me the confidence to use it on my upcoming SHR trip. I used a 1/16" dia drill bit, and did two rows of holes, offset and about 1/4" apart all the way around. Seems to be just perfect, with very little flame rising up the side of the pot!

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 Gear List Spreadsheets

  I keep an assortment of gear lists on a spreadsheet. I use Excel because I am used to it. I am not an expert on spreadsheets, and I know that many other functions are available. My lists are designed to do a couple of things. 1) I want a gear list that I can use as a check list to actually pack with. 2) I want my gear to be specific for a given trip. 3) I want to know the exact weight of my pack when I take off for my trip. Take a look and customize your own to give you the desired function you need for you and your trip.

  I also have one specific page on which I keep an "inventory" of every piece of gear, clothing, and equipment that I own, or use, or sometimes even think about using! This gives me the ability to do a "what if" scenario using all manner of gear selections and equipment musings. I've found that it helps me to think outside the box in many instances.

Here are my latest gear lists, including the list I used for my last trip.

My original gear list that came to a whopping 30+ lbs base weight!
Traditional Gear List

Here is my basic Sawtooth hiking gear list from this last summer. Base weight avg around 10lbs.
Sawtooth Gear List

Projected lighter list that I've  been working on; this one comes in at under 7lbs base weight.
Super light Gear List

Gospel Hump Gear List (last trip, see trip reports Preaching the Gospel)
Gospel gear list

Here is a file from Backpacking Light that is really valuable. This file is from their Wilderness Class, and it pretty much goes over every piece of gear and gives examples and weights that will transform your load. Use it as a reference. It is in a pdf format.
BPL gear list overview
This is the link to the online info on BPL.

I came across this gear weight tool on the BPL website. This is another method to track your weights of all your gear, and then be able to pick and choose for each trip.
Text style gear spreadsheet tool

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 Links for Mfgs. and other sites to help lighten the load
I'm always looking to learn from others. These links are a help in that regard. If you find a cool link, let me know!

Backpacking Light - community of UL hikers, TREMENDOUS resources!
Six Moon Designs- ultralight packs, tents and other gear
Gossamer Gear - ultralight packs, tarps and other gear
Titanium Goat - ultralight equipment
ULA - lightweight backpacks and equipment
Oware - lightweight shelters
Bushbuddy - lightweight stove designs
enLightened Equipment - Cuben quilts from Tim Marshall
Jacks R Better - Down quilts and hammocks
Tarptent - Henry Shires tarps and shelters
Katabatic Gear - lightweight Bivies and Quilts
Hyperlite Mountain Gear - Cuben fiber outdoor gear
Kooka Bay - inflatable air mattress
LightHeart Gear - ultra light tents
Mini Bull Designs - stoves and other resources
Nunatak - ultralight sleeping bags and other accessories
Packafeather - innovative alcohol stoves
Ursack - bear deterrent container
Warbonnet Outdoors - Hammocks, Tarps, & Quilts
Gofastandlight - lightweight backpacking items
Anti Gravity Gear - lots of UL gear
Wild Ideas - mfg of Bear Cannister Bearikade
Trail Designs - mfg of well known Caldera Cone stove systems
White Blaze - Appalachian Trail community site
Vargo Outdoors - ultralight weight titanium gear
Mountain Laurel Designs - mfg of packs, tarps and other UL gear
Alpinlite Gear - lightweight tarps and accessories
Z Packs - Super UL packs and shelters

Looking for materials to make your own gear?
Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics - awesome supplier for materials etc. Make sure to tell them Steve sent you!

Guys who are out there "doing it"!
Ray Jardine - one of the original go light guys!
Andrew Skurka - tremendous hiker, great planning resource - another site touting the change to UL
David Loome - some great trips
Alan Dixon -
Ryan Jordan - author and UL advocate
NimbleWill Nomad - long distance hiker and author

Trail - this is a great resource of many long distance journals to read and use

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