Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ounces or Pounds?

I've met people who were "serious" about cutting pack weight. They cut labels out of their clothing, trimmed the corners off maps, drilled holes in their tooth-brush - it was intense. They put a lot of time and effort into those few ounces that they saved. Sadly, they didn't put a whole lot of thought into it. If they're "serious" why were they still using a five pound synthetic sleeping bag, a seven pound backpack and a twelve pound tent?! Ok, I might be exaggerating a little but when it comes to making serious reductions in pack weight, you need to look at all of your gear as a whole. Eventually, trimming maps might make sense but ONLY after every other option has been exhausted.

The Big Three

To see the biggest return on your reward, begin with your backpack, sleeping bag and tent (shelter). These are three pieces of gear where you can cut pounds - not ounces. And it's also important that these three pieces of gear work together. You can't switch to an ultralight backpack before you upgrade your other gear because the old stuff simply won't fit and the pack won't be comfortable with all that weight in it.

On my PCT thru-hike, my backpack (a modified GoLite Speed), sleeping bag (a Nunatak Akula) and tent (custom, home-made) weighted less than three pounds. All three of those pieces are about as light as you can get with a good balance of quality. Even though I was hiking 2,658-miles that summer, I didn't need over-built bomb-proof gear. And you won't need it on a weekend, week-long or multi-thousand mile hike either. Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you.

While you will spend more for an ultralight sleeping bag, you will actually save money with many ultralight packs and (sometimes) shelters. Yes, some ultralight gear gets ridiculously expensive but by making an investment in this gear up front, you will be able to make progress without spending a fortune.

Remember - begin where you can cut pounds, not ounces. Then if you still want to go further, I'll share some tips and tricks later on to make smaller adjustments.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Julie wants a Puppy...

In a totally unrelated post, I think Julie is coming around to the idea of getting a puppy. Prayers are being answered.

Here, she shows me a picture of a "Golden Doodle" at the breakfast table. It's dark in the picture, but the face she's making is even cuter than the puppy.

Julie asked me what I'll blog about after the 30-day series on pack weight (I have 30 topics identified at this point). Maybe then we can blog about owning a puppy??

Brands - Good or bad?

In my previous post, "What to look for..." I talked about what I always look for in a piece of gear. Something I didn't mention was brand names. I'm not against them, but when it comes to gear, I find you can pay a lot of money for something with a fancy name that doesn't actually function well in the wilderness.

There are some great brands in the outdoor industry, for sure (and I do have my favorites). But it seems the companies that "make it big" and cross into the mainstream culture often lose focus and begin adding features (and weight) that don't matter in the outdoors.

Also, when shopping for gear, don't write off store brands too quickly. EMS and REI both make some great gear. If you look at the tags and compare apples to apples, they make some sleeping bags that are right up there with brands like Marmot and Mountain Hardwear, but they cost significantly less.

Do I believe you get what you pay for? Sometimes. But by really knowing what you're looking for, you'll be sure you have the right gear - with or without the fancy name brand.

What To Look for Every Time

It doesn't matter what I'm looking for - a new backpack, stove, tent, sleeping bag - I always look for the same three things. I want the piece of gear to be high quality, low weight and low cost.

Now if spend more than five minutes in EMS, REI or Adventure 16, you'll notice it's almost impossible to find one piece of gear with all three of those qualities.

If it's low cost and low weight - it's probably going to be low quality (think: disposable poncho). If it's high quality and low cost, it's going to weigh a lot and so on...

So the real question is - what's the perfect piece of gear for you? If you're going to be car camping with the kids and a dog, weight won't be an issue, so go for the over-built Coleman gear from Walmart. :)

But for the sake of cutting pack weight, I'm going to suggest you find balance between quality and cost. A lot of my gear is high quality but it's also pricey stuff. I love my Snowpeak Ti Spork (I've had it for ten years and have eaten literally gallons of Ben & Jerry's with it. We're close.) but it cost significantly more than a plastic spoon you could probably pick up for free at your local Wendy's (and that might come in a pack with a napkin, fork, knife, salt and pepper!).

I'm also always on the look out for good deals on gear. I recently invested in a new winter tent (Nemo Tenshi). It's very high quality and low weight so you can be sure it wasn't cheap - but I got it on sale from EMS, so that made the price a little easier to justify and now that I'm married, I won't be using my Bibler bivy as much as I used to - so really, I bought the Tenshi for my wife... I don't know if she appreciated it as much as she should.

No matter what you're looking for, quality, weight and cost are the things you need to take into consideration. Ask yourself where your priorities are and what makes the most sense for what you want to do.

For good deals on quality gear, check out, Sierra Trading Post, eBay, and Campmor...