Backpacking Gear Updates - 2016

Over the last few backpacking posts I've mentioned that my pack has been getting lighter. I'm still pretty new to traditional backpacking, with only twelve adventures over the last year, and it's taking some time for me to understand my gear and comfort level. My first trip out on the Cabin Loop had a base weight of over thirty pounds, Isle Royale was twenty-five, and I recently did a little trip up Flatiron with around four pounds. So yeah, you could say that my pack has gotten lighter.

First, some basic terminology. There is the total weight of all your gear in your bag and then there's base weight. The difference is consumable weight. So if your bag weighs twenty pounds and you're carrying two pounds of food and three of water, your base weight is fifteen. This can be a bit misleading, as you may filter water during the hike and your total weight will go up and down during the route, but details. Also, there is a different measurement called skin-out weight, which includes everything you're wearing too, but again, details. I've been mostly focused on decreasing my base weight this year and have made some great strides.


The old Scheel's tent was the first to go. It's over five years old, weighs four pounds, and takes up a huge amount of room in my pack. I replaced it with a tarp system. A 6.6 oz tarp poncho keeps me covered (and replaces my previous 12 oz backpacking tarp!), trekking poles hold it up, a handful of MSR mini groundhogs stake it down, some Z-Line for cordage, a 2.9 oz bug net keeps me from getting bit up, and I use polycryo for a groundsheet. All together, my 4 lb 2 oz tent is now a 13.4 oz tarp shelter (and poncho).

Now, I've been experimenting with a hammock lately (more on that later). This will probably cost me weight, and the learnings have not been easy, yet I'm hoping it will eventually give me a better night's sleep. And keep me away from the gila monsters and scorpions and rattlesnakes and venomous spiders too, I guess. What's great about the tarp shelter is that I'm reusing these components with the hammock. The tarp poncho can be used for rainy nights and the bug net wraps around it, mostly. This means I can bring along a hammock setup and switch to sleeping on the ground easily if I can't find trees in the desert.

Sleep System

The sleep system I used in ye olde days in the Upper Peninsula was pretty awkward - a 4 lb, 40 degree sleeping bag and 3 lb 14 oz pad and no pillow. For Isle Royale I switched out the old pad with a three-quarters that weighs a whole 6.1 oz and started bringing along a 2.6 oz pillow, plus a new 20 degree bag that weighs 3.1 lb. That bag worked great, yet it didn't pack down well, meaning that I needed a huge (and awkwardly heavy) backpack to haul it around. So I needed a better sleeping bag.

I've been using a Traveller TRI recently, which weighs 16.8 oz and compresses down to a very small size. This means that my sleep system has dropped more than 6 lbs. The TRI is nice, as it easily unzips to a quilt for a hammock, though I've had a difficult time on some outings with temperature. This bag is only rated to 50 degrees and, while I don't carry a thermometer with me, I feel like I've gotten cold before that. I'm still on the fence if it's worth getting a different bag or a liner, or if a full sleeping mat would keep me warmer.


Speaking of huge and heavy backpacks, as soon as I dropped to a more packable sleeping bag and piecemeal shelter, I could finally hang up the 4 lb 10oz, 65L backpack and get something smaller. Something smaller is turning out to be a hard ask, though. Initially I thought that my Camelback would work until I realized how uncomfortable it was stuffed with gear and how heavy it was (almost 10 oz!). If I wanted to be uncomfortable I'd get a lighter daypack, so I found a Snowhale that weighs 3.3 oz and used it for the relatively short Flatiron overnight. I also picked up a more comfortable pack that can carry 25L and weighs 1lb 4oz that I use on longer hikes. I'm still looking for a comfortable 20L-ish pack that weighs less than half a pound.

Water System

Another area that I've saved a ton of weight is with my water system. On Isle Royale I used a MSR Miniworks that weighed a pound and a 1L nalgene that also weighed a pound. So I had 1L water capacity and was carrying 2 lb of weight for it. That, that needed a lot of improvement.

I switched to using a Sawyer mini that weighs less than 2 oz and Platypus bags that weigh around an ounce apiece. On my last backpack adventure I brought the mini, three 1L bags, some cordage to rig up a gravity system for lazy camp filtering, and had 3L capacity for 5.7 oz (including a water scoop and backflush). I'm much happier with this system.

Other Improvements

Cooking is an area that I'm still working on. In Michigan I would simply boil water in a teapot over twigs, and then I upgraded to a pocket rocket and isopro, and now I'm playing with solid fuel. Solid fuel is nice because the fuel itself isn't in a heavy, pressurized container, though it does take a long time to heat up and can be finicky. A convertible stove would be great, something that would work for twigs or solid fuel or alcohol, I just haven't found one that really grabs me yet.

Speaking of cooking, I've been working on getting better at food too. I've read that some backpackers account for two pounds of food a day, which is way too much for my liking. I've been trying to cut it down to one pound of food, aiming for high-calorie snacks with plenty of protein. Even Clif bars don't have the calorie/weight ratio I aim for. This is still a work in progress, as my recent outings end up with 17-19 oz a day.

With an average pack weight now of 7 lb, and a few super-ultralight outings under 4 lb, I'm a lot happier with my gear. There's still some things to work on, and I've been eyeing up better options for a few items (like the hammock vs sleeping on the ground). I also enjoy the increased flexibility that I have now, mixing and matching the gear I carry to the type of adventure I'm heading into. Above all, the type or weight of my gear does not hold me back from ambitious trips (like Flatiron), which is exactly the outcome I was hoping to see with these changes.