Slow and Light (ish)

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

Fastandlight! Let’s face it – it’s sexy. When you open up that Backpacker magazine at the Dentist’s waiting room and see some youthful, vibrant Caucasian couple leaping across a flower-crested, gurgling alpine brook, and their packs are all tight, tidy and petite against their backs, and their clothes are colorful and clean, and – get this – they’re smilling! They’re smiling even though they’re backpacking, and so they must be traveling SO light. So light and so fast! Don’t they just reek of freedom? Doesn’t it just make you want to buy a hybrid Subaru, get all hopped up on Mochaccino and go places? Quickly? With very little weight? Mmmm….

That’s a nice little day dream, as I stare down the business end of a summer filled with 70+ nights out in the field, instructing and directing courses for Outward Bound. So take that above image and flip it a little: yes there’s gurgling brooks and flowers a plenty, but clean? Ha! Secluded? Sure, for me and 12 of my closest friends for the moment. Light? Oh god, not between the satellite phone; Armageddon-style medical kit; and a small bible of policies, procedures, and lesson plans. And fast? Forget it. One to two plodding miles per day. I love every minute of it, but I love it more if I’m not breaking my back under a behemoth backpack.

So, while Fastandlight is not in my immediate future, Slow and Light is (you know, “Light” relatively speaking). Despite some non-negotiable professional weight, and some luxury ounces for a bit of backcountry pampering, I do a lot to par down my pack – if you carry an overnight pack for three months a year, you’ve got to be weight weary (save the knees and such). Here are some packing and gear tips I use for my Slowandlight system:

The Pack

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

A true ultra-lighter would snag one of those sill-nylon type tube packs without a frame, stuff their sleeping pad in and call it good. Because I want a pack that has many season’s worth of bushwhacking in it, has the integrity to be a camp chair and climbing step, and has plenty of space to load up clients’ and students’ gear if they’re bonking, I use a sturdy old Gregory Shasta that I scored from the CSU OAP’s rental clearance years ago. But I cut all the damn danglies off of it, and never use the lid. That saves me close to a pound. I never was too interested in cutting superfluous crap off my pack until the middle of a 33-day traverse in Alaska with the most god-awful heavy pack I’d ever toted around. Half way through at our fist airplane resupply I suddenly became VERY interested in trimming superfluous crap, so I got out the medical scissors and my Leatherman and downsized!

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear).

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear). If this were an REI catalog I'd be leaping that creek.

Water

I go for the Platypus: 37 grams for a 2.5 liter capacity. A 1-liter Nalgene weighs in at 175 grams, and a 2.5 liter CamelBak is  around 212 grams. No filter, no water treatment tablets or drops. Just a good ol’ hearty immune system. When I do carry treatment I use a tiny bleach dropper (a couple drops will do). Then I let the bleach evaporate out of the bottle a couple hours later (theoretically speaking, anyway). Sometimes I hose myself, though, by carrying a 1/2 liter thermos (311 g.) – I just love an afternoon yerba mate session!

Sleeping Bag

No need for a stuff sack. Just stuff the sucker down  in the bottom of the bag. Stuff sack = 2 oz. I use a big, light trash bag to line my whole pack instead of individualized stuff sacks to keep everything dry.

Sleeping Pad

When I’m feeling rugged I go for a half-length ensolite pad or ThermaRest. Then I combine it with my pack, or climbing ropes, or flattened clothing to insulate the rest of me.

Ice Axe

Yeah, I hate to admit it, but sometimes lightening the load means buying new gear – I swapped my sturdy, tried and true Black Diamond Raven with Grip (505 grams) for a BD Raven Ultra (348 g.) for a net loss of 157 grams. Aw, snap!

Shelter

Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional.

Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional across the northern Wrangell-St. Elias National Park optional.

For it’s size and weight, I like BD’s circus-esque Mega Light. There are certainly lighter shelters out there, but for two people the Mega Light is downright luxurious. Plenty of space to organize your odds and ends before bed (which, if you’re like me, is very important). The Mega Light comes with a sleek, trekking pole adapter for the middle. What my community affectionately calls the “Chastity Pole” also serves to keep everyone’s ducks in a row, so to speak. You know, no smelly wads of clothing skewing the center line or unexpected midnight spooning. Or, if you’re into that kind of stuff, one side of the pole can be the gearage, and the other can be snuggle town. But still, there are categories and order. This is America, after all.

Well, friends, this is my last Tale From the Midcountry for the foreseeable future. Not too much internet access out in the bush (at least not for a guy with a circa 1999 cell phone). So, until next time, I bid you bon voyage, happy trails, smooth sailing. May your pack be light and your pace slow.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

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