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Light Weight Backpacking Series: The Big Four

Defining a light weight backpack varies from hiker to hiker. Some weigh their pack to the gram, often sacrificing the comforts of a heavier pack, while others carry lighter versions of all the gear they like to have in the backcountry. Remember that no approach to backpacking is better than another as long as you achieve your goal while enjoying the experience. This means that options for reducing the weight of your pack may not suit your needs. Most of my suggestions apply to a hiker who desires to cover ground more comfortably and is not focused on a camp oriented experience.

With that in mind I would like to introduce this as part 1 of the lightweight backpacking series. I will cover my own path towards a lighter pack, “The Big 4”, and list a few companies that make excellent gear for backpacking.

After the first 100 miles of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, my pack went through a rapid evolution. Many of the items I carried did not Over packing.contribute to my comfort or ability to stay moving. For example, spare clothes, kitchen equipment, extra layers, an extensive first aid kit, books, and unnecessary food. Realizing that maintaining a comfort level similar to being back home was costing me comfort while moving led me to go lighter.

The fastest and most effective way of reducing the weight of your pack without sacrificing comfort is through the Big 4. Of all the items in your pack, the heaviest tend to be the following:
1. Shelter
2. Sleep System
3. Cook System
4. Pack

There are a couple options when choosing to reduce the weight of your shelter. Tarps are the lightest choice, but often not the most comfortable when one is used to the feeling of security a tent offers. Tents, on the other hand, provide absolute coverage from weather, wildlife, and insects at the cost of weight from extra fabric. That’s not to say a single walled tarp cannot provide protection, its just a bit harder IMG_3384to pitch and may require some adjustments throughout the night. Check out companies like Big Agnes, Six Moons Designs, and Tarptent for some incredibly light and incredibly awesome shelters. I choose not to mention hammocks because they are very limiting shelters. Tents can be pitched practically anywhere, but a hammock can only be set up around trees. A hammock that provides all around protection often weighs more than the traditional tent or tarp. Remember, there is no perfect shelter. There are always trade offs between comfort, weight, and weather protection.

The sleep system has one of the widest ranges in choices. With so many bag styles and temperature ranges, it’s often tricky choosing the right one. Knowing all of the features of a bag and why they are there will help you decide. What’s the benefit of a mummy bag over a square bag or the full length zip versus the half zip? Should I get a bag with continuous baffles or not? Read through Outdoor Gear labs article for an in depth look at sleeping bags.  http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Best-Backpacking-Sleeping-Bag/Buying-Advice burrowtop2 I recommend quilts for 3 season use because of their higher fill power, lower denier fabrics, fewer zippers, and trimmer fit. While sleeping, the bottom of your bag becomes compressed and does not provide much insulation. A quilt removes fabric from the bottom to shed weight while still providing warmth. Most quilts do not feature a hood because wearing a hat provides the same warmth. Quilts are also the most versatile bags. You can open them up on warm summer nights or cinch them tight for colder temperatures. But just like a tarp, using a quilt requires a bit more attention to maintenance. If your goal is to have a hassle free evening at camp, don’t sweat the weight and enjoy the comfort of a mummy bag!

CookingIncluding the cook system as one of the main ways to reduce pack weight may seem a bit odd. I choose to include this because it is one of the cheapest ways to shed a few ounces or even a full pound. While on the AT, I saw many hikers carrying Whisperlites or Jetboils that weigh 11 or more ounces. With fuel added, they may weigh over a pound. An alcohol stove that you make yourself can weigh just one third of an ounce. The fuel also weighs much less and can be found anywhere there is a gas station or super market.The downside of the alcohol stove is that it does take longer to bring water to a boil. The stove I use takes up to 10 minutes to boil water, but if you’re already at camp, 10 minutes isn’t  such a big deal. Andrew Skurka has a great video on how to make your own alcohol stove. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pajkt594Ruw

Of all the items you choose to purchase, make your pack the last. How much weight you’re carrying and how much volume you need will determine the pack you choose. A roll top is the most versatile option. When the amount of food/gear is minimal the pack can roll down or roll out to fit more. backpackAlthough a frameless pack is lighter than any internal frame pack, they are not the most comfortable or suitable for many hikers. Any load above 25 pounds in a frameless pack will be unbearable for an extended period of time. Check out ULA packs or the Osprey Exos 58/48 for an internal frame pack that does not have many bells and whistles.

For great lightweight equipment, check out these companies: Mountain Laurel Designs, ULA, Tarptent, Enlightened Equipment, Montbell, Outdoor Research, Gossamer Gear, YAMA Mountain Gear, Platypus, Zpacks, Six Moons Designs, Big Agnes, Sea to Summit, and Western Mountaineering.

With the concept of going lighter introduced, I am left with going further in depth about how to go lighter in an efficient and safe manner. Stay tuned for future posts on moisture management, determining camp sites, diet, foot care, first aid, hypothermia, hydration, and Leave No Trace ethics.

Please reply with any suggestions, comments, or questions!

 

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Sea to Summit UltraLight Mats

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Don’t worry, we’ll test these guys out and get you a full review on the product soon. Until then be sure to check out Sea to Summits full Sleep System options including pads, liners, and sleeping bags. Stop by RRT and check them out today! RRT has a trail shelter in the store to get you in the mood before lying down with one of these ultra-light pads (also available in insulated models).

 

 

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Gear Review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2

Best Tent on the Market
Gear Review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Written by: Robby Hansen

Gearing up for an outdoor adventure is often harder than what most people think. With the expansive amount of gear at our finger tips and the always evolving technology trends, finding the right piece of gear is challenging. I’m here to tell you that RRT has your tent covered. The Copper Spur UL2 from Big Agnes is the best 3 season tent I have used, and my favorite piece of gear in my tool shed. From climbing 14ers in Colorado to lazy nights in Damascus, Virginia at the annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival, this tent has been everywhere with me. Its favorite location by far is down at the crags in Red River Gorge.

The Copper Spur UL2 was redesigned in 2012 by Big Agnes, making it even lighter on the trail at only 3 lbs. and 1 oz. Some of my favorite features about the tent include:

• The tent is free standing and ultra-light.
• The DAC Featherlite NSL pole system with press fit connectors and lightweight hubs results in easy set-up and take down. (You can set up this tent blindfolded!!)
• The mesh upper body of the tent provides amazing ventilation as well as opening up your view to those starry nights.
• The double rainbow door system with two vestibules makes it really easy to get in and out of, while providing a great amount of comfort for two people.

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The greatest thing about this tent is its versatility, and durability. Last summer I ended up on a month long road trip out west, and many nights were spent in the Copper Spur. The tent comes with 8 superlight aluminum stakes (eco-friendly), which worked great during 60 mph winds in Wyoming. Both the floor and fly of the tent are silicone treated nylon rip-stop with a 1,200mm waterproof polyurethane coating. This was perfect when camping at 11,000 feet at the base of Grays and Torreys Peak with a couple inches of snow on the ground.

The durability of this tent is unquestionable, but I would still advise using a footprint whenever you can. I find that using a footprint gives you just enough protection to help your tent life last substantially longer. The footprint weighs a mere 5 oz. and easily stuffs into the tent sac which is only 6” by 18” big. Don’t be fooled by the extremely lightweight and compact features of the Copper Spur. The tent still offers 29sq feet of floor area and 9sq feet of vestibule area. It also has a 42” head height and tapers down to a 22” foot height.

Some important tent tips to help make your adventure as comfortable as possible are to limit the amount of moisture you bring into the tent and maximize the air flow. Big Agnes makes this easy by including guy lines on the Copper Spur to increase body and fly separation. They have also included one or more pop-up vents on the rainfly to help with air flow. The vestibule zips from top or bottom and can roll back and toggle open if needed. If you unzip the top zip of the vestibule a few inches, you can then use your tent splint to hold it open as an additional vent. I also try to bring a separate stuff sack just in case we have a rainy night, and I need to separate the tent body from the fly.

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Even though I find myself spending most nights alone in the Copper Spur, it still offers plenty of room for 2 people. For the solo camper, this tent has enough room to bring all of your gear in with you and then some. I found it very comfortable during rainy days, when I was stuck reading books and playing cards. The interior mesh pockets were extremely useful on those days when trying to organize my gear in the tent. If you have any questions or are interested in checking out the Copper Spur for yourself, make sure to stop by Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford, OH. The best way to learn about gear is to set it up and test it yourself, and that experience can only be found at the best local outfitter in Cincinnati.