Category Archives: Colorado Trail

Lessons From The Colorado Trail

As of June 19th 2013 I officially finished the Colorado Trail. I finished the last stretch from Molas Pass to Durango in three and a half days starting out around 1pm on Sunday June 16th.

I just read over my previous posts and it amazes me that no matter how many hours I put into researching what I needed for the trail, it always takes getting out there and hiking to learn the things that work best for you.

Lessons From The Trail:

1. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that wool socks are great in winter but awful in summer. My feet were way too hot and the hotter your feet are the more likely you will sweat and get blisters. My biggest life savers ended up being a pair of Darn Tough socks. They were made of wool too but have much tighter stitching, are thinner, and more durable. They fit more like a tight glove on your foot then any other sock and that is exactly what you need on the trail.

2. I didn’t necessarily follow my original food recommendations. I ended up eating granola for breakfast as I was hiking (although I still enjoyed pop tarts). I switched to my special trail mix that had peanut M&M’s mixed with the Archer Farms Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix you can buy from target. I’m still pretty fond of that trail mix. A Clif Bar and some type of fruit bar while hiking depending on my appetite. And Ramen noodles with Sun Dried Tomatoes and olive oil that I would carry in those little applesauce pouches you can buy for kids. I still followed my plan on eating dinner around 5pm or so then hiking a few more miles before camp. I usually finished by having some dark chocolate just before bed to help give me some energy in the morning (and as a treat for a good day of hiking) Be sure to take dark chocolate because milk chocolate melts too easily in your pack. Lastly, I may try to go without a stove on a few upcoming trips to see how it works for me.

3. I also learned a very important rule about water. For me, I could go about five miles on just one liter of water. If my next water source was 10 miles away I had to have two liters with me to start. I did two separate sections where the water supply was 20 miles apart therefore I carried a gallon of water (8 pounds of water). This is a rule you discover for yourself. A CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker told me he could get by on one liter of water for every 8 miles. Some people may need a liter of water for every 3 or 4 miles. It just depends on how much you are carrying, the terrain, how hot it is, etc. Also I think I may start using Aqua Mira tablets instead of a filter.

4. Always carry a smile. We need to be friendly on the trail. As I mentioned in my Final Thoughts post I had a lot of help from people giving me needed items to hitches into town. Being friendly helps a lot.

5. I just met a guy hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for his 4th time. He is really making me think about pushing the ultralight limits. I went the cheap way which isn’t really the light way of buying gear. I could use a smaller pack, a down sleeping bag, an even smaller pad, and possibly a smaller shelter system. I feel like I take too much unnecessary gear too. I dumped a lot of stuff after my first week of hiking. As of right now I’m thinking the two most mandatory second clothes items are a change of socks and a change of underwear. You can wash those almost every day and keep cycling them out. Yes, your pants and shirt may get dirty and smelly but you are hiking and don’t really need to worry about having a second set. That being said I feel like having a lightweight pair of running shorts is worth it in case you want to wash those pants. And you can always wear your jacket while you wash your shirt, etc. A guy I met on the trail did just that when he went to do his laundry in town. I also learned from him that soap is very polluting and is another thing that attracts animals so it isn’t really worth taking. Rinsing with water seems to do just fine.

6. I think I am having a hard time justifying carrying around my Nikon D40 with a 55-200mm lens. It does let me capture some great pictures, but the vast majority of pictures I take on the trail are landscape pictures. I mainly take the zoom to get wildlife pictures, but I am rarely fast enough to capture the wildlife I do see. On future trips I may just rely on my smartphone camera (My iphone 4 has done a pretty good job), or get a small pocket camera that is easy to carry and lightweight.

7. It’s about hiking. For me, I don’t do really well sitting in camp for a long time, even if it is in a great place. If I am going to be on a long trail, I am going to hike the majority of the day. If I am going to go sit in a place and camp I am going to backpack in a very different way. If I am just going to hike into a location and stay a night or two, and hike out again a lot of these things go out the window. If you are going to hike the miles you have to go as lightweight as possible. For me, going more miles means I get to see more and possibly do more. If I want to relax somewhere then I do a completely different trip. I think its just good to think about your reasons for doing a long hike in the first place. A lot of people go to just get away from it all, and I don’t think that is a good reason. You have to go cause you want that type of experience. Pushing your limits and really joining with natures rhythms and cycles. When you hike those long miles it is hard to think about anything else then where your next water is or where you are going to sleep tonight. You learn that if you work with nature, she will treat you well. If you don’t work with nature, if you try to do things your way, it won’t work out so well. It is an overall very humbling experience, and yet empowering at the same time if you let it be.

Below is a picture of what I got to wake up to one day on the trail. These kind of experiences make all the miles and pain worth it.

Waking up to Mule Deer on the Colorado Trail

Colorado Trail – Final Thoughts and Photos

Well I had thought I could post more on my website during the Colorado Trail, but I spent little time in towns. And what precious time I had was spent getting food, calling loved ones, and figuring out logistics.

I posted a lot on Facebook and the pictures from my iPhone are posted there.

The pictures from my Nikon SLR turned out pretty good and I decided to make them available on Google Plus. You don’t have to be a Google Plus member to view them, but you do need to be if you want to comment on them at all.

My Colorado Trail Photos on Google Plus.

Here is one of my favorite photos…

Overall I would say that my trip has been a success, as far as fulfilling the reasons why I went.

I wanted to challenge myself in a unique way physically. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted to explore more of Colorado. I wanted to have a good time with friends and possibly meet some new ones. I wanted some alone time to think. All of these things were fulfilled.

I like to think that the Colorado Trail was everything I thought it would be and nothing that I thought it would be.

It was a true adventure.

For those wondering, I didn’t quite finish the whole trail. I skipped Segment 12 because of downed trees. And I didn’t finish the last 74 miles from Molas Pass to Durango because my friend hurt his knee. I couldn’t push him to do the mileage in the time we had, and I certainly didn’t want to finish alone.

The point where I decided not to finish the trail this year was an emotional one. I hate to admit it but I cried at this point. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because this was the second time a friend of mine injured himself on my trip and I felt guilty. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to be alone. Perhaps it was because I saw my goal of finishing the trail this year fade into nothing.

Perhaps it was everything and more. Either way I learned a few things through this experience and that might be the main reason I went on this journey. To learn more about myself and the world around me.

I learned that I need people more than I ever realized. I have always considered myself a pretty independent person, and I truly am. But just because I am independent doesn’t mean I don’t need people.

My faith in the goodness of people was also renewed on this trip. It seemed like every time I needed help someone was there right away. To give me camphor oil (for my shin splint), a mechanical pencil (cause I lost my pen to journal with), and a ride to town (cause every hiker needs a burger and a beer).

Lastly, I think this trip just helped me to dream a bit bigger… To travel a little more… And to truly enjoy everything that life has to offer…

Hiking the Colorado Trail – Final Preperations

Today is the big day. I am having a big breakfast at the Bagel Deli and then I will be on my way.

Most of my final preparations have revolved around food. I decided to replace my oatmeal with granola. I just wanted to be able to hit the trail early and not have to worry about cooking oatmeal in the morning. I know a lot of people would prefer a hot breakfast in the morning, but I think I would rather have less mess and no clean up.

I also bought about three times as much dark chocolate as I originally had. Ounce for ounce it has more calories and tastes better than just about any food out there.

My final pack weight with my first week’s worth of food is 29 pounds. I am pretty happy with that weight. I have about 12 pounds of food so that makes my base pack weight around 17 pounds. My projected pack weight for this trip has always hovered between 16 and 19 pounds, as I mentioned in earlier posts, so I am pretty ok with how it turned out.

On weekend trips I know I can easily get my pack weight down to around 12 pounds with only about 4-5 pounds of food.

Basically I took out an extra shirt, a camp towel, and camp trowel. I added a stainless steel wood stove and my new knife. Seems like when you take something out something else replaces the lost weight. Going lightweight is kind of hard after a certain point.

In any case, I am very excited to start this journey. I have never done anything like it and that is part of the appeal. The other part of the appeal is the self sufficiency in it all. I have always loved the idea that everything I need is on my back. It is a lovely simplicity.

I am looking forward to the alone time, but I am also looking forward to spending time with two of my good friends in the great outdoors. I have considered taking my Kindle to do some reading while I am out there, but I think I am leaving it behind. To focus on my own thoughts instead of other people’s thoughts. To have my entertainment come from the natural world rather than the digital.

Seems best to end this post with a few quotes…

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” -Steven Wright

“But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.” -Gwyn Thomas

“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” -Charles Dickens

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” -Ellen DeGeneres

Backpacking Food for the Colorado Trail

I can tell you one thing. There is nothing like a good meal when you have been hiking for days and you need to regain your energy.

Before I get into some of the foods I will be eating on the trip there are just a few little tips that it is good to be aware of when you do your food planning.

Food Facts for Backpacking:

  1. Protein and Carbohydrates have 100 calories per ounce and Fat has 240 calories per ounce. If you want to go lighter with your food you obviously want to pack fattier foods, but you can only go so far.
  2. Aim for 125-150 calories per ounce. This means about a quarter to a third of your calories should come from fat.
  3. Take from 1.25 pounds to 2 pounds per day of food. Everyone is different and the amount of calories you need depend on how long you are going, how many miles you cover, what elevation gain/loss will occur, etc. It takes some experience to get it just right.
  4. Fruits and Vegetables are water heavy and have much less than 100 calories per ounce. Unfortunately the most nutritious foods are water heavy. Take dehydrated substitutes when you can.
  5. It is good to get your protein and fats early in the day, and always eat a few carbohydrates before and during the hiking parts of your day.

With the above facts in mind, here is a basic breakdown of what I am eating while I am on the trail.

Breakfast Foods:

  1. Oatmeal with Dried Cranberries/Blueberries
  2. Pop Tarts of many flavors
  3. Breakfast Tea

Breakfast for me is going to be quick and easy. I plan on packing up camp and hiking right away on most days without really eating a cooked breakfast of oatmeal. On those days I might have a pop tart or an energy bar of sorts. If I start hiking by 7am or earlier I will have a mid-morning breakfast of oatmeal and tea somewhere around 10 or 11am when I reach a good water source.

Snacks:

  1. Sunny Cranberry trail mix (Cranberries, almonds, golden raisins, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds) plus Peanut M&M’s. I love this combo. It is a great mix of protein, fat, and carbs and tastes great.
  2. Regular Granola Bars
  3. Fruit Bars (Pomegranate, Raspberry Cranberry, etc.)
  4. Snickers (Backpacker food for years)
  5. Clif Bars and a few other types of bars for variety.

I am trying out a large number of snack foods that aren’t even listed here as well. My plan is to eat a little bit every hour or two as I am hiking to keep me well fueled. Depending on how the day is going and what the weather conditions are I will probably skip lunch on most days and basically just snack all day.

Lunch:

  1. Breakfast for Lunch or Dinner items for Lunch
  2. Summer Sausage and Cheese
  3. Grits with Dehydrated Peas
  4. Tortillas with Peanut Butter
  5. Tuna wrapped in a Tortilla with various toppings

Lunch for me needs to be easy to prepare and have plenty of fat and protein to help give me that steady energy level for hiking the rest of the day. I most likely will not break out the stove for lunch and try to eat something that I can put together in 5 minutes, rest a little while I eat, then continue on the trail. Again, the time I stop and whether I eat lunch or not will depend on arriving at a water source, if it is rainy or sunny, and how hungry I feel if I am just eating my snacks.

Dinner:

  1. Ramen with dehydrated veggies and/or sun-dried tomatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Instant Potatoes with Gravy or Bacon Bits and Olive Oil
  3. Tuna with Angel Hair Pasta or Couscous.
  4. Lunch Items for Dinner

Dinner is the main meal where I plan on cooking. All other meals and snacks don’t need to be cooked, but it is good for the soul to have some hot meals every now and then. I also plan on having hot cocoa at night just to warm my spirits.

I plan on eating dinner around 4-6pm every night, depending again on when I reach a water source. My goal is to eat around water sources because it makes clean up and hydration easy. My goal for sleeping is to camp as far away from water sources and signs of animals as possible.

Last but certainly not least I plan on eating some 90% cacao chocolate before I go to bed to stoke the furnace and keep my metabolism high and just as a reward for the end of the day. And if I go to bed well fed then I can more easily get up and start hiking right away in the morning with just a little food.

This is the last of my topical posts for now. I leave in exactly one week from today so my next post will probably be titled “Final Preparations” and every post after that for the next month or so will be telling of my story and experience hiking the Colorado Trail.

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

The 10 Essentials of Backpacking

So we have covered all the big items and all the clothing you normally bring on a backpacking trip. Now it is time to cover the 10 essentials of backpacking and all the other little items that you might bring on a camping trip.

The 10 essentials are mainly described as survival items. For reference I will simply list the 10 essentials here as they are listed on Wikipedia.

1. Map
2. Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen (Sun protection)
4. Extra food
5. Extra water
6. Extra clothes
7. Headlamp / flashlight
8. First aid kit
9. Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
10. Knife (Cutting Edge)

To these you can add even more things like water purification, insect protection, repair kits, and signaling devices. Instead of describing how each thing works and what it is for I will try to keep it brief and try to just list all the odds and ends that I have in my pack.

So map and compass are pretty self explanatory. But learning how to use them takes time. You want a simple lightweight compass that allows you to do declination using your map. Most good backpacking maps are topographic maps and you should have a map that provides enough detail for where you are going. I will also be carrying the Colorado Trail Databook which lists all the way points and water sources on the trail.

As far as sun protection goes I already mentioned in my previous post that I prefer to just use clothing to cover most of my body and sunglasses for my eyes. I just don’t use sunscreen at all but it is a personal preference.

There is a reason you should have extra of everything. You never know when you are gonna be stuck outside for longer than you expected. Remember the rule of 3’s. 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours of weather exposure, 3 days without water and you could die. Extra water is more important than food and extra clothes is more important than water. Always have an extra layer for whatever weather you expect to encounter.

It is always good to have an alternate source of light, just in case you need to navigate in dark or find an item in the dark. I personally love LED lights that use those flat small lithium batteries. The best one of the market as of this writing is the Photon Freedom Micro LED. These things are small and inexpensive. You could buy 2 or 3 and have them in different places (pocket, backpack, around neck, etc.) If you feel the need to have a hands free model you can always use a headlamp as well. I will be carrying two small LED lights.

The subject of a first aid kit could have its own blog post, but I figured I would talk a little about it here. Whether you are buying or making a first aid kit it is good to think about how each thing in it will function. You need something to clean wounds (high pressure syringe, antibiotic wipes, ointment, etc.), something to cover the wound (dressings, etc.), and something to hold it on (bandages, gauze, athletic tape, duct tape, etc.). If you break something a splint can be made out of wood or other things found in the wild. You simply need a decent amount of tape or an article of clothing to stabilize the effected area. You should also have some moleskin for blisters.

Lastly you need good medicine. Ibuprofen for pain. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions. Loperamide (Imodium) as an anti-diarrheal (Diarrhea causes too much dehydration while you are in the backcountry and must be controlled). Hydrocortisone cream for burns, cuts, bruises, etc. Depending on your trip you may want to take some stronger prescription strength medicine, but you obviously need to consult your doctor first. Lastly, lastly you should always gain training in first aid before you try to use some of this stuff.

Now to talk about fire starter. I am a big believer in having multiple ways to start a fire. Matches, lighter, flint, firesteel, magnesium, camp stove, etc. I would say that matches are the cheapest, easiest way to start a fire. Specifically you should invest in waterproof and/or strike anywhere matches. You can be in trouble if you have matches that only strike on the box and you don’t have the box or it is ruined from water or something else.

I am just now getting good at using steel and magnesium to start a fire. Magnesium shavings burn really hot and fast and will light practically any tinder very easily. All you need is steel grinding on steel to get the sparks you need to start a fire. Like most things, practice makes perfect.

I don’t plan on starting any fires right now because of the open fire ban, but in an emergency situation I have what I need to get a fire going to warm myself up and dry out my clothes.

And the last of the essentials is a cutting edge, otherwise known as a knife. A knife can do so many things for you. It can help you build a shelter, it can help you get together tinder and fuel for a fire, it can help you produce sparks to get a fire started, it can be used to help you prepare food, and it can be used in self defense. One of the best survival knives out there is the Swedish Mora Knife. Many people swear by it, and the one I bought only costs $15. You won’t find an equivalent knife for the price, weight, sharpness, and durability as this one. I also have a pocket knife with scissors among other things, a paraframe blade, and a SOG Seal Pup. I am not sure which combination I will take but I will definitely be taking more than one.

Here is a quick list of the last few odds and ends I have.

Mosquito net to keep the bugs away from me. Whistle for signaling help. Cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly for tinder. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (A backpacking classic). Camp towel that is small and like a shammy. Extra 550 paracord. Some extra plastic wrap and aluminium foil for various random uses. And a camp trowel for burying human waste. Feel free to use rocks and sticks for that purpose but having a trowel is much easier and better in my opinion. Oh, and don’t forget toilet paper. 🙂

Now that we have talked about what comes out of the body (oh, and all the other essential things a backpacker needs), we will talk about what we put in the body to fuel it on these long journeys. Until next time…

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

Hiking the Colorado Trail – Clothing Considerations

In my last post I covered some of the bigger items that you need when backpacking. A backpack, sleeping bag, shelter, water filter, and stove. Today I figured I would cover clothes.

Clothing deserves its own article because there are a ton of things to consider when choosing the right clothing for the environment you are going to be in.

Clothing Rules for the Trail

1. Never wear cotton – The caveat to this rule is that you can wear it if you want to be cold. The problem with cotton is that once it is wet it loses all of its insulating ability and takes forever to dry. This can be inconvenient in warmer situations and deadly in colder situations.

2. Dress one layer warmer than you need – This is mostly a mental or subjective consideration, but you never know when the weather is going to drop 20 or 30 degrees within an hour or two. It can and does happen so always be prepared with an extra layer of clothing.

3. Long sleeves and pants for sunny weather – A lot of people rely on sunscreen to protect them from the sun, but clothes are 100 times better. If you have loose fitting clothes you shouldn’t be any hotter in them than shorts and a t-shirt.

4. Bring proper headgear – Whether it is hot or cold what you wear on your head is probably your main clothing consideration. You should have a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a bandana to wear around your neck to protect you from the sun. If it is cold you should have a wool or fleece cap, sunglasses to protect you from snow blindness, and a balaclava or scarf to keep your neck warm.

5. Layer, layer, layer – In almost every instance wearing proper layers is better than wearing say a jacket that does it all. Layering is a lighter and more flexible solution than an “all-in-one” jacket. Layering also helps you control your temperature better.

These aren’t all the rules but they are a good start to help you think about what clothes you should plan on wearing. With that being said here is my list from the bottom up…

Shoes – Saucony Peregrine Trail Runners. Most hikers seem to be moving toward lighter trail running shoes as opposed to boots. If you feel the need for extra support you can get boots but make sure they are breathable. You may also want to think about using hiking poles. Also a lot of thru hikers talk about Inov-8 shoes. I haven’t tried them yet but I plan on trying a pair in the future.

Socks – Most hikers swear by sock liners for blister prevention and I have to agree with them. You should be able to buy cheap sock liners from any major store. I bought a 4 pack of sock liners for $5 from Kmart and I love them. Sock liners should be ankle length or not be seen when the shoe is on, and should be as thin as you can get. They can be 100% polyester or a blend. I wear wool socks over my sock liners.

I am convinced that wool socks are the best for any situation, and the colder it is the closer to the knee they should reach. I had wool socks on the other day in 40 degree weather where it was alternatively hailing, snowing, and raining, and where I was walking through snow and puddles. My socks were soaked by the end but my feet were still warm which goes to show you how well wool can still insulate even when wet.

Convertible pants – I prefer pants when hiking, but I know some people like shorts in warmer weather. Convertible pants solve this problem. I can take the bottoms off if I am hiking through an open area when it is warm. If it is cold, or if I am walking through some brush I prefer to have pants on to keep me warm and free from scratches, etc.

My pants also serve as a wind pant, and a rain pant. So far they seem to do a good job at both, and I will let you know if I regret not bringing rain pants. My current solution is to use my ground cloth as a rain skirt if I feel the need, but my pants have gotten wet before in cold weather and they still keep me dry.

Underwear/Shorts – As of right now I have a pair of lightweight running shorts that have a liner, and a pair of polyester underwear. The verdict is still out on which is better to wear under my pants, but I like having something decent I can wear while I wash my pants. I think I will take another warmer pair of shorts to sleep in as well. All of these are made our of polyester. As mentioned before stay away from cotton if any cold, wet weather is possible.

T-Shirt – At this point I am still thinking of whether I want a t-shirt as a base layer or not. The reason is that I can take a long sleeve shirt and roll up the sleeves to stay a little cooler. And it is nice to have long sleeves for sun protection and to stay warm. You can find out what I decide in future trail reports.

Long Sleeve Shirt – Currently I am thinking of taking two long sleeve shirts. One will be a polyester synthetic wicking shirt. The other will be a wool shirt. Both have about the same thickness and weight. Seems like the wool stays warmer when wet, but the polyester one dries way faster. Should have a final verdict by the end of the trail.

Jacket – My current preferred jacket is a simple grey fleece insulating layer. It keeps me warm even when wet, and dries very quickly. Again, I want to emphasize that this is a layer than isn’t trying to do too much.

Outer Shell – This might be a good time to say that there are three basic layers. Your base layer, and insulating layer, and an outer shell. An outer shell basically is what protects you from wind and rain. That is it. In my humble opinion, it shouldn’t be part of your insulating layer. I currently use a very lightweight nylon rain jacket made by Burton. It is made for snowboarding, but holds up well to all types of precipitation. Many jackets are made of polyester, but I feel that nylon is much more lightweight and durable, and packs down smaller.

Gloves – I am just not sure if I really want or need gloves for this trip. But I would probably want some wool or fleece gloves for all the same reasons listed above of why fleece and wool are great materials. When it comes to gloves you only really need them to stay warm and do tasks. If I just want to stay warm I can put an extra pair of socks on my hands. Obviously a sock isn’t great for completing a task like lighting a fire, but I think I prefer to go without gloves till I complete the task, then put the socks back on to stay warm. Those are my current thoughts but they may change.

Headwear– I put this all together because it should be thought about together. Your head is your most important body part to be protected. As I mentioned above, I have a wide brimmed hat for sun protections, a wool hat to keep warm, sunglasses to protect my eyes, and a balaclava to cover my nose, mouth, and neck. A balaclava is also known as a “buff” and can be found at most sporting goods stores. I also have a bandana, but I use it for all kinds of things, not just to put on my head or around my neck.

That about covers it. I know it seems like a lot, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple things. Choose the right materials. Choose the right layers. Make sure you can adequately cover every area of your body. With that in mind you should do just fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

The Final Gear List (With Price and Potential Upgrades)

I think I finally have my gear in order for hiking the Colorado Trail. Here is a list of everything I have, what I used to have, what they cost, and what I may replace them with in the future.

Backpack

Used to have the REI Morningstar (5 pounds, $99 on sale), bought a GoLite Quest (3 pounds, $79 on sale), wish for a Gossamer Gear G4 (around 1 pound, $125 or make your own G4 with $40 kit).

Sleeping Bag

Used to have an old Slumber Jack 15 degree sleeping bag (weight?, $50) that treated me well. Also have a Northface 0 degree bag (probably up around 5 pounds, $99), and I barely use it cause it is too warm. Currently using a Ledge Featherlite 20 degree bag (3 pounds, $40). Wish for some type of 20-40 degree quilt, probably GoLite’s Ultralite 800 fill 1 or 3 season quilt. (1.2 – 1.5 pounds, $125-$150 on sale).

Quick Update: Just found what is perhaps one of the best makers of backpacking quilts out there. They are called Enlightened Equipment and specialize in quilts for backpacking. The quilt I am looking at starts at $165 (Revelation X) and can weigh under a pound! So for the extra money I might buy one of these instead. Especially if I am not ready to buy when GoLite still has a sale going on.

Shelter

Used to have an REI 2 person half or full dome tent (5-6 pounds, $200-$250). Switched to Etowah Gear 8×10 urethane coated nylon shelter (1.5 pounds, $45). Also bought a $10 “ground cloth” from Walmart, the Outdoor Products 5×7 nylon tarp. It weighs a half pound and can double as a rain jacket, bivy sack, etc. Wish for a cuben fibre (4-8 ounces, $250 plus) or silnylon tarp (13 ounces, $85 plus). If I had to buy a tent again I would probably buy Tarptent’s Double Rainbow which weighs 2.5 pounds and costs $275.

Pad

Still have a full length Insulmat (2 pounds, maybe $40?) which is equal to their current Adventurer SI. I just decided to switch to a Thermarest Ridgerest 3/4 length which is 9 ounces and cost $20. So far the reflective surface keeps me really warm.

Water Filter

Have always used a Katadyn Hiker (10 ounces, $70) and never plan on giving it up. The price for tablets don’t convince me to buy them for the weight savings. A filter can be used for up to 500 gallons and even at 2 gallons a day I will only filter about 60 gallons altogether on the Colorado Trail. The equivalent in tablets would cost at least $70 so the filter wins at cost savings hands down. For those only doing a few weekend hikes a year, you might want to think about just sticking with some chlorine dioxide tablets.

Quick Update: I just found out about this new filter called the Sawyer Squeeze. Basically it is a filter system that weighs under 3 ounces and can be put on your pop bottle to drink out of like a straw. Or you can just used the supplied pouches and the filter to squeeze water into your clean container. Costs $50 so if I was in the market right now I might buy the Sawyer Squeeze over the Katadyn Hiker.

Stove

Primus Alpine Micro which they don’t make anymore. Equivalent to their Express Stove Kit with Titanium Pot. $75 for the kit, stove weighs 3 ounces, titanium pot weighs just over 3 ounces. Fuel canister weighs 8 ounces for a total of around a pound. Yes, alcohol stoves are lighter, but if you are out for a week or more this stove begins to win out. In cold winter weather you should switch to a white gas stove.

Well that is about it for the major stuff. So with a $79 pack (3 pounds), $40 sleeping bag (3 pounds), $45 shelter (1.5 pounds plus a couple ounces and $10 for rope and stakes.), $10 for a ground cloth (8 ounces), $20 for a pad (9 ounces), $70 water filter (10 ounces), and $75 for a stove kit (about 8 ounces without fuel), that brings the total price to $350 and the weight up to about 10 pounds.

If someone was just getting into backpacking and wanted to go cheaper I would recommend that they buy the Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack at Walmart for $30. At 2.2 pounds it is probably the lightest and cheapest pack, and most functional pack as far as size goes that you can get at that price. It is big enough to roll your sleeping pad (20 inch width) in and you can stuff your sleeping bag in the inside of your pad. I would use the same $40 sleeping bag, and buy a cheap blue 8×10 poly tarp ($5) and some rope ($5), and stakes ($5). I would also buy the $10 5×7 tarp for a ground cloth and the maybe buy plain blue foam padding for $10. You can buy some chlorine dioxide tablets for around $10, and use esbit tablets with a bought or custom made stove for $7. Or just eat food that doesn’t need a stove at all. So going the cheap way will get you started for about $120 or so.

I have a little over 3 weeks left before I leave for the trip and during the next 3 weeks I will dedicate a whole post to clothing, emergency items, and other miscellaneous items such as knives. Until then…

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

How to Go Lighter by Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear

While checking out the gear that Gossamer has on their website I ran across this well put together article on how to backpack lighter by the founder of Gossamer Gear, Glen Van Peski.

How to Go Lighter

Out of all the things he mentions this little section is perhaps some of the best advice I have ever heard…..

“Changing your hiking schedule

For people who get this, it can be a significant weight savings, simply by changing the way you hike. Most people like to hike all day, or most of the day, get into camp, set up their tent, cook dinner as night falls, and sit around until its time for bed. This means you are sitting around, not generating any heat from activity, during the coldest part of the day. In turn, this means you are probably bringing long underwear or a puffy jacket that is too warm to hike in, and the only purpose is to wear it around camp. Consider instead:

No breakfast or later breakfast

The early morning will be one of the coldest parts of the day. It makes no sense to stand around in the cold. The best bet is to pack up quickly, throw a food bar into your pocket, and start hiking. The activity will quickly warm you. Then, when the sun is shining brightly and you come to nice sheltered or scenic place, stop for breakfast.

Do the main break in the late afternoon

In the warmth of the afternoon, it’s great to take a long break. It gives you a chance to dry out any damp gear, and it breaks up the day. You can pick a scenic place, near water, which may not be good for sleeping at, but is perfect for cooking the main meal. You can enjoy the meal without shivering. Heck, you might even take a little nap if so inclined.

Hike on, and dry camp

Then, hike on. You’ll be fueled by the meal, the cooling evening is great for hiking, and the miles will pass easily beneath your feet. As daylight wanes, you can pick a stealth camp without worrying about cooking. You don’t need flat rocks, logs to sit on, or water. You don’t need to worry about cleaning up in the cold and dark. You don’t need to worry about attracting bears from the smells of cooking. You hop into your sleeping bag warm from walking. And best of all, you saved the weight of the clothes you didn’t need to bring because you weren’t standing around in the cold!”

I have tried this and it works. You will be amazed at how well this works even on the coldest and rainiest of days. I have been out on days where it was 45 degrees and rainy with just a pair of shorts and a performance tshirt (not cotton) on, and have felt perfectly warm just because my activity level was so high. If you can get into a nice dry warm sleeping bag with dry clothes on you should be perfectly fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

Gear Testing

So I went up to the mountains last night to test out all my new gear. At least half my gear is new as of right now. Meaning it hasn’t been field tested yet. I recently bought new GoLite zip off pants, a pair of Merino wool socks and a Merino wool long sleeve shirt, a new GoLite backpack, a 20 degree ultralite sleeping bag, and a new tarp shelter.

Of all my new gear the tarp shelter is the cheapest and possibly the best! I bought a 8×10 blue tarp for $5, eight stakes for $3, and some rope for $3. It is super spacious for one person, even pitched down to ground, and could easily fit two people, especially if the sides are pitched a few inches off the ground and you use side pull-outs. Best thing is it only weighs two pounds total. If I spend the money on some more expensive silnylon then I can get the weight down to a pound.

My new pants worked great to keep me warm all the way down to 32 degrees. I was actually surprised. I brought some spandex long underwear just in case, but I don’t think I will need them. Actually thinking of pulling those out and replacing them with a lightweight runner’s short I can sleep in.

I am a little disappointed in the Merino wool. I put all my clothes in the wash the other day and let them air dry. My fleece jacket and my performance t-shirts dried extremely fast. I was actually impressed with the fleece jacket which was a Columbia gear jacket I bought on sale for about $35 if I remember correctly. The Merino wool socks and the shirt took forever to dry. They say that Merino wool still performs well even if it is wet, but I think I prefer gear that dries quickly. They also say Merino wool doesn’t hold body odor so maybe I just need to field test it more.

The temperature did get down to 32 degrees at night. It was about 45 degrees when I went to bed and 31 degrees when I woke up. I kept my pants, t-shirt, and fleece jacket on to sleep in along with a beanie hat. I stayed very warm in my 20 degree bag which I am pretty happy with. I’m sure I would have been fine sleeping in the proposed runner’s shorts and a long sleeve shirt instead of the pants and jacket. I guess I need a little more field testing in cold weather to see where my comfort zone is.

I bought the Ledge Featherlite 20 degree bag because it was an inexpensive deal at $40. (If you haven’t figured it out I am trying to go as light in my gear as possible for the least price.) I also bought the GoLite Men’s Quest backpack for $79. It is hard to go cheaper on something that needs to hold up well and hold all your gear and food and everything. I am pretty happy with the bag expect that I wish it had some bigger side pockets, and possibly some extra pockets up higher on the side. At the same time, I think it forces me to pack a little lighter than what my 7 pound expedition pack allowed.

So my shelter system weighs about 2 pounds, my backpack weighs a little over 3 pounds, and my sleeping bag weighs a little over 3 pounds giving me a total of about 8.5 pounds. The problem is that I have a 2 pound Thermarest that I may also need to replace to get the weight down more. My other gear including my stove, water filter, knife, compass, first aid kit, etc. weighs about 4 pounds, and my extra clothes weigh about 4 pounds. This brings my total up to almost 19 pounds. Adding in my camera and lenses adds about 2 more pounds bringing the total up to about 21 pounds base weight.

My longest resupply on the Colorado Trail might have me carrying as much as two liters of water (4 pounds) and about 12 pounds of food bringing my highest possible pack weight to about 37 pounds. As of right now I feel that this is still a little too high so I need to come up with a few ideas to lessen the weight.

The most obvious place to reduce weight is in my sleeping pad. Most inflatable pads weigh 1.5 to 2 pounds. You can shave off a few ounces by going with a 3/4 length option, and there are some “Prolite” versions that go down to a pound or just below. The problem is that they all cost almost $100. I refuse to spend more on my sleeping pad then every single other item that I carry.

The key is probably to switch to a foam pad which is both lighter and cheaper. Gossamer Gear makes the lightest pad which is their NightLight Torso length pad weighing about 3.5 ounces and it currently costs $21 plus $4.99 ground shipping. Thermarest makes a Zlite and a Ridgerest that are anywhere from $20 to $35 and weigh anywhere from 9 ounces to almost a pound. Looks like I just need to field test some of these, especially the Gossamer Gear one. So depending on the option I pick that is at least a pound or more less weight.

I don’t plan on changing my pack, sleeping bag, or tarp shelter at all. Of the three I would have to change to a lighter down sleeping bag or quilt as I mentioned in the last post before I switch to a lighter pack. I also have to get better at this whole ultralight backpacking experience. Meaning I need to learn a more few tricks of the trade before I go with a down sleeping bag (which is useless when wet), and a lighter pack (need to clear more things out before I can go lighter).

Next up would be my extra clothes. 4 pounds actually isn’t too bad when it comes to having extra clothes in a place where I could get snowed on, even if it is June when I will be going. I plan on wearing my 10 ounce GoLite pants most of the time, unless it gets too hot in which case I will zip off the bottom portion. And again, with my wool socks on they kept my legs pretty warm down to 32 degrees. I also will be wearing a very lightweight performance t-shirt, both of which don’t count towards the 4 pounds of extra clothes I will be packing.

The extra 4 pounds includes a fleece jacket (just under a pound, essential), rain jacket (just under a pound, as of right now essential but maybe can go without or be replaced by something lighter), extra socks (couple ounces, essential), extra performance tshirt (around 3 or 4 ounces, non essential but nice to have as backup), extra merino wool longsleeve shirt (6 ounces, probably essential on cold nights), a heavier longsleeve spandex athletic top and long underwear combo (just over a pound, I think these are nonessential on all but the coldest of nights (sub 32 degrees plus wind) or if my other gear gets wet and I can’t dry them by bedtime for some reason.

I think I am going to drop the extra heavy spandex gear and throw in a 3 ounce running short for backup and to sleep in. I just can’t see needing more than 5 layers of clothes (2 tshirts, plus longsleeve, plus fleece, plus rain jacket) even in the worst of conditions, but I may be wrong. In any case, this solution would also drop a pound.

The extra 4 pounds in my gear include a Katadyn Water Purifier plus a 3 liter Nalgene bottle (14 ounces, essential unless I go with tablets, but the problem there is that I will need $40-$50 worth of tablets to have enough water on the whole Colorado Trail), my stove system which includes a primus stove, fuel, and titanium pot (just over a pound with fuel or a few ounces just counting the stove, and essential because I do want some hot foods and drinks along the way), a first aid kit which I need to go through still, a gerber 4 inch blade (4 ounces, always need a knife right?), a lexan spoon, emergency poncho (4 ounces), matches, compass, led light, dr. bronners soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, camp shovel, and duct tape.

Starting over with my shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag we get 8.5 pounds plus maybe half a pound with a Gossomer Gear pad which brings me up to 9 pounds. Adding 3 pounds of extra clothes instead of 4 brings me to 12 pounds. The extra 4 pounds of random gear may be hard to reduce especially when I feel like the water purifier and stove are essential. If I use the emergency poncho in place of my rain jacket I can save almost a pound there or get rid of the emergency poncho altogether. In any case, my total pack weight will be about 16 pounds instead of 19 pounds. About 18 pounds with my camera and lenses.

Here is the thing though. When ultralight backpackers talk about their gear they often list it in a way that makes the weight look smaller than it really is, especially when talking about base weight. Technically my base weight is only 15 pounds with this new setup because I counted my pound of fuel in the equation. Fuel is normally counted as a consumable. A lot of ultralight backpackers also don’t count their “extra” clothes as base weight if they can wear them all at the same time. Besides maybe my extra socks I could wear all my extra clothes and count my base pack weight as 12 pounds. Going to a down sleeping bag, a lighter pack, and a silnylon tarp would easily bring me down into the elusive sub 10 pound ultralight backpacking range, but it just isn’t worth it at this time.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

The Ultra Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy

To hike the Colorado Trail within the time limit I have I needed to go lighter and faster than I have ever gone before. Well that isn’t entirely true. I have gone lighter and faster before, just not for this length of time. In fact, whether I was going heavy or going light, I have never gone on a backpacking trip this long.

The natural way of thinking would be to say that a long trip should equal a lot of gear, but the reverse is actually true. To travel a lot of miles you need to travel as light as you can. Many people would say that you need a lot of gear for all the different conditions you will face, and you will need a lot of food for all those days out in the wilderness. Well that isn’t true either.

No matter how long your hike is you always need to come back to civilization to resupply. This usually happens every 3-4 days and no more than a week. The more often you resupply the less you need to carry a ton of food.

For a very long time the whole backpacking industry was based off of what the military was doing. Taking long expeditions into foreign territory carrying all kinds of gear ranging from guns to radio equipment. And so the backpacking industry took a very similar “expedition” style approach. Gear was made heavy and durable to follow suit. What you ended up with was fully loaded 50-60 pound pack for a week long adventure.

Ultra Lightweight Backpackers (ULB’s) often talk about the Big 3. These are the heaviest items that you carry and they are your pack (carrying system), your sleeping system (sleeping bag, bivy, pad, etc.), and your shelter system (tent, tarp, hammock, etc.).

Notice that each is called a system. ULB’s have what is called a systems approach to backpacking. Everything must work together as a system. The most important system is your sleeping system. A well thought out sleeping system can count as a shelter system as well (ex. hammock with tarp, or sleeping bag with a bivy).

When I first started backpacking my Big 3 added up to about 22 pounds. I had a 7 pound expedition style pack, a 9 pound shelter system that included a heavy tent, and a 6 pound sleeping system. I now have a 3 pound pack, a 2 pound shelter system, and a 4 pound sleeping system giving me a total weight of 9 pounds. Big difference right?

I also learned some other ways to cut weight…

I had an eating system (stove, mess kit, etc.) that weighed over 3 pounds. I even had a fork, spoon, knife set that was made of stainless steel. I certainly wasn’t thinking about reducing weight at all when I first started. Some people are so minimalist that they don’t even take a stove or anything. They only eat foods that don’t need any cooking, or rely on fire when they can make one. Some take an alcohol stove which is really light. I prefer to stick with a canister stove, a titanium pot, and a cheap plastic spoon that weighs over a pound when the canister is full of fuel, and will weigh less than a pound as it empties.

I have heard that a lot of ultralight backpackers don’t filter or treat their drinking water at all. They simply choose their water sources wisely. Some are lucky, and some aren’t. Many people take either iodine or chlorine dioxide tablets. These are really great to use, but I haven’t decided yet if I want to take tablets or my trusty Katadyn water filter that weighs a pound.

Shoes are another big choice to think about. I made the graduation from hiking boots to running shoes a few years ago just out of experience. Trail runners work great, are much lighter, and much more breathable than hiking boots. The only advantage hiking boots have over trail runners is that they last a lot longer. All shoes will only last a certain number of miles though. 500+ for trail runners. 1000+ for hiking boots.

Tents are just plain heavy. Tarp Tents are a great move in the right direction. Remove some of the heavy poles, heavy wall material, make the roof tarp like, make the walls mesh, and the floor minimal and you have a nice light tarp tent. Well designed ones are expensive though so I bought a simple 8×10 urethane nylon tarp. Silnylon (silicone impregnated nylon) weighs about half what the urethane nylon does, but it also costs twice as much.

Which brings us to the real problem with always striving for ultra lightweight solutions. Currently the hottest lightweight material out their is cuben fibre. This is literally lighter than anything else on the market and is just as durable. The problem is that is costs anything from double to triple what similar gear would cost made out of other fabrics like silnylon.

So you can almost always go lighter than what you have, but it starts costing a lot to do so. My simple and cost effective solutions have been to buy a pack for $79 that weighs 3 pounds (GoLite Quest), buy a lighter 3 pound sleeping bag (Featherlite 20 degree) that cost $40, and buy a $45 8×10 tarp system (Etowah) that weighs 24 oz (about 1.5 pounds).

For comparison, if I wanted to spend the money I would buy the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus pack for $170 that weighs just under 1.5 pounds.

A lot of ultralight backpackers use quilts in place of sleeping bags. A quilt is basically a sleeping bag that still has a footbox but it has no zipper or hood that a lot of sleeping bags have. Instead you would use some type of hat or headcover when sleeping in colder weather. I would buy the GoLite 3 season quilt for $229 which weighs about 1.5 pounds, try to find a similar quilt on sale, or make my own. A common acronym in ultralight backpacking is BYOG (Build Your Own Gear).

Finally I would either buy a silnylon (around $100) or cuben fibre (about $200) tarp (8-13 oz) or splurge on the TarpTent Double Rainbow for $275 which weighs about 2.5 pounds.

So my new gear cost $165 versus the $675 I could potentially spend.

As of right now my gear choices aren’t solidified because I still plan on testing a few things out on weekend backpacking trips, but they are pretty darn close.

The only other piece/s of gear I haven’t discussed is the clothes I will be wearing. And they of course deserve their own article…

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…