There have been fantastic comments on both UL Beginners Guide articles (1 & 2) so far, for which I would like to thank all my readers - you're great and keep me writing better and better with every comment!
A point which slipped my mind, which I wanted to mention already in the first article, is that if you decide to go UL try to buy 2nd hand. Its not only cheaper but also better environmentally, as less stuff is thrown away and hence less garbage is produced. I bought for example my Scarp 1 used, and it was over 100€ cheaper as if I would have bought it directly from Tarptent. Also my NeoAir was bought 2nd hand, and saved me over 40€. Both items are in perfect condition, like new to be exact.
The best spot for buying UL 2nd hand gear is backpackinglight.com 's Gear Swap Forum, where you find almost everything you might need - be quick though, good offers are usually fast gone! Signing up at BPL.com is for free for a normal account, so no worries. Also check your national selling & buying forums, and see what you can find. and if you can't find it, post a "WTB" (Want To Buy) thread where you say what you want!
Finally, because I will be off till Monday, have a look at Brad Groves' Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet article, its for free (no Membership needed). He writes beautifully about how he started with UL backpacking and how he thought about the purchases he needed to make to lighten his load, balancing money vs. lost weight.
After having covered the big three yesterday, lets look today at clothing, another possibility to safe kilograms on your skin and in your backpack. The first principle in an UL approach to clothing is to take less. Yes, a very easy step to take - carry less clothing around with you. On my trip last autumn I carried everything at least in double quantities with me - "In case something goes broken or it rains" was the idea. Of course nothing went broken, it rained but you can dry clothes on the trail, so no need to have five shirts and two hiking pants + a rain pants with you - one of each is fine.
Clothing and footwear are a very individual area, as everybody is different. Some like natural fabrics, others swear on synthetics, some have long legs and others have small torsos - every body and person is different. Obviously you need different clothes in winter than in the summer, so be safe in your choices - better too warm than too cold! I'll give some ideas on clothes which work for me and what I would like to try. Too keep the prices in reasonable boundaries is the idea here again.
I still am wearing my Fjällräven Greenland Trousers when I go hiking - leftover from my non-UL times. They are not especially UL at 537 g, there are lighter pants out there, but I walk in forests and fjells and this pant is made for this area. The Greenland pants is completely wind resistant and holds water off fairly long, and if it doesn't it dries quickly. No mosquito is able to penetrate the G1000 material, and the many pockets are very handy. I'm not planning to replace this pant, as I am very comfortable in it. If I would replace them, I would try the Rab Alpine Trek Pants. My reasoning is that they're light (320 g in a Size S), quick drying, is reinforced in the important places and is cheap at 45£ (51€). The Montane Terra Lite Pants is another candidate I could try. Finally, for the MYOG Faction I would like to put your attention towards the Koruoma Pant from Shelby. A very nice pant, which you can customize to your liking, and Shelby sells all the fabrics and materials needed to very good prices. This is going to be MYOG project of mine in the future, so stay tuned!
I'm usually wearing a longsleeve or T-Shirt made of a synthetic material, as it wicks sweat quickly away from the body and dries quickly. Living in Scandinavia I like Scandinavian manufacturers, and in this case that is Haglöfs. I wear Haglöfs since I moved to Finland in 2002, and it never has let me down. My Dryskin shirt weights 130 g and I feel very comfortable in it, and it looks casual enough to walk into a store or Café after a day on the trail and not stand out. However, in the last year or two Outdoor manufacturers have found a new material for shirts, and that is Bamboo. I have a few Bamboo button down shirts which are superb, they never smell even if walking for hours on end in the sun. Trekmates make a Bamboo Long Sleeved T-Shirt and a Short Sleeved T-Shirt which I really would like to try, because besides the good properties Bamboo is an environmentally friendly material. Those Trekmate shirts cost 16£ (18€) for the short sleeved one, and 20£ (23€) for the long sleeved one.
A fleece jacket is, I believe, the most common garment you will find in any backpackers closet. Mine is from Haglöfs and weights 403 g. I haven't really used it lately, because I got a Rab Microlite Vest which is nearly half the weight (214 g) and packs very small, plus its a lot more comfortable as a pillow than the fleece jacket. I wear it in the evenings in camp, as I am warm enough while walking (in the summer). For the autumn and winter I am looking at something with sleeves for walking on the trail and in camp, and the Klättermusen Liv looks like a very promising candidate. 290 g light, of which are 90 g goose down, its recyclable, and packs very small. Another great Scandinavian outdoor manufacturer, who knows what we need up here.
I know a lot of folks like to wear Smocks. The most common one seems to be the Montane Featherlite Smock, light at just over 100 g and not overly expensive at 40£ (45€). The Norrøna bitihorn aero100 Jacket undercuts that by 20 g, but costs a whopping 120€. However, the jacket is made completely from recycled materials, so if you're an environmentally conscious shopper this is a very good alternative - and hey, its 20 g lighter than the Featherlite!
That leaves us with long underwear. A lot of folks seem to use Icebreaker, however, I again trust our Nordic manufacturers. Smartwool, Woolpower and Devold are the companies I let close to my skin. Merino wool is the way to go for me, I like the feel and its properties: warm with low weight, wicking moisture quickly away and not smelly.
Finally, rain gear. A real necessity in Scandinavia (and Scotland, so I hear =), you need reasonable rain gear. There is a new kid on the block, and that kid's name is eVent. This very breathable fabric is highly waterproof and makes it at the moment the best material for rain gear on the market. My choice thus is a lightweight eVent jacket like the Rab Momentum, (340 g) together with a lightweight eVent pants like the Rab Drillium Pants (275 g). A Scandinavian alternative would be the Lundhags Atlas Jacket (290 g) and Atlas pants (315 g), which are made of a similar material as eVent - both have a 10 000 mm water column and a 8000 G/m2/24h Vapour permeability.
I look down from top to bottom, and see trailrunners at my feet. Yes, jogging shoes some call them. I walk faster and just as confident as the folks in their Meindl boots, if not even more. Inov-8 and Montrail are the shoes you'll find on most UL backpackers feet, or Adidas like on my feet. Less weight on your feet = more energy, faster and longer walking, more exercising of your ankles, feet and legs, and less prone to injuries.
Alright, now I gave you a list of a ton of clothing, you're confused and need clarification, I get it - I'm confused myself by now. So, in a easy list, here is what I will wear and take with me on a trip in the autumn:
Wearing: - Fjällräven Greenland Pants, 537 g - Berghaus longsleeve, 169 g - Bamboo boxers, 54 g - Socks, 60 g - Adidas Supernova Trailrunners, 745 g
In the backpack: - Smartwool Lightweigh longsleeve, 209 g -> I put this own as soon as I arrive at camp after I washed myself. I'll wear it to bed as well. - Smartwool Lightweight bottoms, 193 g -> if going to sleep, I will wear these long johns. Warm and comfy. - Rab Microlite Vest, 214 g -> Put it over the longsleeve at camp to insulate. - Socks, 68 g -> fresh, warm woolen socks, I put them on once I arrive at camp after I washed my feet.
Easily accessible on the trail: - Rab Momentum rain jacket, 340 g -> if it rains or if I get cold at camp as extra insulation. - Rab Drillium Pants, 275 g -> if it rains, I might switch these for the Greenland pants. - Klättermusen Liv, 290 g -> if I get cold or its windy. Could leave the vest at home and just use this. Some take a smock instead.
Equipped like that you should be warm and protected. If something starts to smell, wash it, let it dry over night and wear it again the next day - no need to have three shirts with you, you will only wear one, believe me! Some new, light clothes and shoes will slash weight from your back and body, and make your outdoor experience more enjoyable.
Next week I will look at the kitchen and other little necessities on carries on the trail in the next installment of my UL Beginners Guide. Enjoy the autumn - its finally here!
Starting out with UL - ultralight - backpacking is often a decision because one doesn't enjoy lugging around 20 or more kilograms of weight on ones back, or because its physically not possible anymore to carry that much in the outdoors. So where and how does one start? There are many different opinions on this, and this is my subjective take on it.
Because a weight scale which measures in grams isn't a common household item, such a scale might be a good first investment. Also the book "Lighten Up!" from Don Ladigin is a very good investment, and if its just for the fantastic illustrations from Mike Clelland! A subscription to backpackinglight.com is a smart choice if you're into MYOG and in-depth gear reports. Also otherwise its a superb website for finding information on all things UL.
But lets talk some gear. Going UL I would start with replacing the big three: backpack, shelter and sleeping system. These are the most heavy items of a normal backpacker, and give the UL novice a very good opportunity to slash unnecessary kilos left and right. For comparison I will list my own gear as I was a normal backpacker, so we can add up in the end and I can show you how much weight you can lose. So, I had a Gregory backpack which was 2,9 kg, a sleeping bag which weights 2 kg, a Therm-A-Rest mat which is 730 g and no tent, but lets say I would have had a tent of 2,5 kg. That makes a weight of 8,13 kg. So, lets start with the backpack!
Nowadays I have an ULA Ohm backpack which I can recommend without a doubt to anyone who is looking for a sturdy and functional UL backpack. However, while not expensive at 130$ you will pay postage and most likely customs which can make that number grow easily to 170€, and you can't try it on. A backpack which you very likely will find at your local outdoor shop for trying on is the GoLite Jam. Its 753 g which is usually a quarter of what a conventional backpack weights, and its cheap as well at 125$. It also comes in many different colours, of which I like the black one best. Ultralight Outdoor Gear, which have superfast delivery times and good prices, sells the GoLite Jam for 70£, which is 80€ at the moment.
Next is the shelter. I just read about a guy who is carrying a 5 kg tent with him, alone. I believe normal tents nowadays are around 2 - 3 kg, but also that can be substantially decreased, as there are just as functional and storm-prove UL tents out there. However, the first question you should ask yourself is if you want a tent or a tarp. I will go with a tent in this Guide, but a tarp is just as good, and they are ridiculously light, so decide for yourself. I have a Tarptent Scarp 1 which I again can recommend. However, today I would go for a Tarptent Moment. Its 810 g and sets up very quick, and the design is beautiful - a small Scarp 1, I would say =) The Moment costs 215$, which is not expensive in my opinion considering that it is made in the USA, and an added benefit is that you know to whom your money goes (Henry Shires that is, the owner of Tarptent - great guy). 215$ are around 150€, on top come shipping and customs.
That leaves us with the sleeping system. Lets start with the mat, an important part of your sleeping system, as it isolates you from beneath and ensures that you are lying comfortable. The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir is a real revolution on the market, but at 71£ (80€) for the small one its not really cheap. However, the Small NeoAir weights 260 g and packs very small; and I firmly believe in the principle of buying good quality once instead of crappy quality many times again. That leaves us with the sleeping bag. I guess a quilt is maybe to experimental for the UL novice, so you can pick up a RAB Quantum 250 Down Sleeping Bag. At 630 g you get a very light three season sleeping bag, filled with 250 g of goose down. It will set you back 152£ (173€).
So, your average weight for backpack, sleeping system and shelter would have been 8130 g, and after an investment of 483€ (plus shipping and customs) you would have decreased that weight to 2453 g - less than one third of what you've carried before! That's over 5,6 kg off your back, and you are now just as comfortable, warm and safe on the trail than previously, but most likely will be able to walk more kilometers, climb more mountains and take along a little extra weight which you wouldn't have taken before (like the DSLR camera).
Tomorrow I will continue my little UL Beginners Guide and look at some lightweight clothes and shoes, until then I am looking forward to your suggestions for decreasing the big three!