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…

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