Futile struggle to obtain ultra-lite hiker status

“When I awoke it was daylight. The inside of my tent was coated in a curious flaky rime, which I realized after a moment was all of my nighttime snores, condensed and frozen and pasted to the fabric, as if into a scrapbook of respiratory memories.” ― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Ultra-lite hiking philosophy emphasizes optimum comfort on the trail at the expense of comfort in camp.  As the name implies, with ultra-lite hiking, the goal is to keep your pack base weight as low as you can stand.  For most, this is under 10 – 12 lbs, though some go as


Not ultra-lite!!

low as 6 lbs.  This is accomplished by looking at every single item in the pack and deciding if it is needed, discarded or if it can be reduced in weight, say by trimming off excess material or is replaced by a lower mass equivalent item.  Also, more money is usually required to find the lightest weight gear that will still provide, at least at some minimum level, the targeted function needed.  Ultra-lite hikers often do without stoves, cameras, extra backup clothing, sometimes they will even do without a tent. This contrasts with more traditional hiking that allows much more carry weight allowing for more luxury items like camp shoes, lots of clothing layers and backups, large double walled tents and thick sleeping pads.  Traditional hikers can pay less for the big three items, tents, sleeping bags and backpacks but will get gear made with heaver fabrics and materials.

Thru-hikers spend the majority of the waking time hiking.  In fact, they often will hike more than 12 hours/day.  This type of hiking is well suited to ultra-lite gear selection.  It becomes a higher priority to make yourself comfortable while hiking, even though you’re not so comfortable in camp and sleeping.  If you are only traveling, say, less than 10 miles/day, you may be willing to put up with more discomfort on the trail as you will spend most of your time in camp.  I have been known to carry a camp chair, pillows and a frying pan on short hikes. Testaments on packing light are given fairly universally by most thru-hikers.  You see the ultra-lite hiking philosophy so often that it seems that it must be the only way to go.

REI Mars 85 — 6 lbs

REI Flash 62 — 3 lbs

ZPacks Arc Blast 60 liter — 1 lb

I too have gone down this path in my equipment preparations.  Unfortunately, I became much more educated on ultra-lite gear after I already purchased all the high ticket items.  Even though my tent and backpack purchases significantly reduced my pack weight from my previous hiking experience, at about 26 lbs base weight, it is still a far cry from ultra-lite, or even just light.  I have been agonizing over this for some time.  By web research and other hikers blogs, I have found much lighter solutions for the big three or four pieces of equipment.  My pack is about 3 lbs.  My previous pack was 6 lbs!  But I have now discovered a very nice light pack that is under 1 lb.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 Tent — 2.6 lbs

ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tent — 1 lb

My Tent is 2.6 lbs.  It’s a very nice tent actually designed for two, very friendly, people.  I didn’t like the single person tents as they don’t leave much room for anything but you.  I have now discovered a very nice single walled tent that is about 1 lb.

Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller — 31 oz

ZPacks 10 Degree Down Sleeping Bag — 21 oz

My sleeping bag is actually a down quilt and is already light coming in at about 1.9 lbs, which is pretty good given that it is rated at 5-10 deg F.  But, alas, I have found a ZPacks sleeping bag rated at 10 deg weighing only 21 oz, which I did not purchase, drawing the line on new costs.

Exped DownMat Lite 5 Air Pad with MiniPump — 26 oz

Thermarest Z-Lite SOL Sleeping Pad — 14 oz

Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad (small) — 8 oz

My sleeping pads are not so light.  I have an Exped air-pad that has down in the baffles that weights a massive 1.9 lbs.  I have discovered the NeoAir Xlite air pad that only weighs 8 oz.  It is a small so it will only cover my torso, but I can put something under my legs to insulate them and raise them to the height of the NeoAir.  I have a Z-Lite Sol waffle pad that comes in just under 1 lb.  The Z-Lite has several purposes.  It can be used for a sit pad while taking a break or in town.  It is a backup if my air pad springs a leak in the middle of the night, and it adds an extra comfort thickness and thermal barrier.  Most light weight backpackers use one foam pad or an air pad that weighs less than 1 lb.  I have 3 lbs just in the pads!  I could just skip the air pad but I’m not a good sleeper and need more comfort in order to get good rest.  Also, I’m a side sleeper, which requires the air pad.

So for the big ticket items, I’m already about 5.5 lbs overweight. Most of the other heft in my base weight comes from clothing and bad weather gear.  I have a hard time skimping in these areas.  I don’t know how cold I will be on the trail or at night.  For rain gear, I have a rain coat, pants, parka, pack cover and an umbrella.  This weighs about 2.5 lbs.  I recognize that some of these are redundant, but I can’t decide what to leave behind.  First on the list to go is the pack cover (0.3 lbs), as the parka will cover the pack.  I have a very light weight (4.5 oz) wind shirt which will block wind and light rain, and leave the raincoat at home most of the trail.  Some people use a very light plastic bag for a rain skirt rather than rain pants.  The rain coat and pants weight about a pound together.  I plan to keep the umbrella for rain and sun.  Probably the likely compromise will be to drop the raincoat, pants and pack cover, in favor of the poncho, wind shirt and umbrella for the CA sections and add the other rain gear for OR/WA.

My electronics weights about 1.8 lbs, which includes a Bluetooth speaker, an iPod, an external backup 15 A-h Li-ion battery and a solar panel.  I’m leaving the solar panel at home.  The battery should do the job and there’s no sun in OR/WA anyway. No extra camera as I will use my phone camera.  The phone doesn’t count as it won’t be in the pack.  I also could add a luxury item here by bringing my 7″ kindle fire, which weights 0.77 lbs.  It may be worth the weight to see a TV show or movie once in a while… I wrote the above section months ago but didn’t finish the post as I was busy with other things.  I’ve now replaced my tent, backpack and air pads with the following:

  • ZPacks Arc Blast” Backpack, 60 liters, 17 oz with lots of optional straps and attachable bags.

  • ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tent w/ Screen, Extended Beak, and a Solo Cuben Fiber Groundsheet, 15.9 oz

  • Neo Air Xlite, small, sleeping air pad — 8 oz

  • 1/2 of the Zlite Sol sleeping pad for my legs and for a sit pad. — 8 oz

C-Pap conundrum…

Transcend AUTO Portable CPAP — 23.5 oz

Transcend P8 Battery (two nights) — 18 oz

Universal AC Power Supply — 7.9 oz

I’ve also decided to take my cpap breathing assist equipment for my sleep apnea.  I tried to sleep without it, but it’s a no go…  There’s quite a cost and weight penalty for this decision, but I don’t seem to have much choice.

Transcend II Portable Solar Charger — 10.3 oz

 Deciding how to do this has been a daunting set of decisions that I can’t seem to resolve.  I purchased a portable, battery operated cpap machine ($ ouch) with one battery (two nights) and a solar panel.  The solar panel in direct sunlight can charge the two day battery in 12 hours, same as plugging in the wall.  In order to use the cpap with one battery, I would need to get 6 hrs of direct sunlight on the panel each day.  This may happen in the deserts, but unlikely in many other places, especially OR/WA sections.  Also, the panel is HUGE!  I can’t seem to find a good way to mount it to my pack to get direct sunlight.  Seems I would need a large superstructure above my pack to hold the panel.  It’s light but large.  The other problem is that I’m traveling southbound.  Since the sun sits toward the south during the day, it would not do to have the panel draped across the back of my pack, as it would be shaded by me and my hat/umbrella. If I rely solely on batteries, I would need to charge them when in town for resupply.   Four batteries ($300 each!!) and four power supplies are required to last 8 days.  The four power supplies are required, as it takes 12 hrs to charge each battery and they need to be done in parallel.  The batteries are bulky and weigh 1.1 lbs each.  That’s an extra 4.4 lbs just in batteries!!  The power supplies are even more bulky with  long cords and weigh 7.9 oz each.  Most hotel rooms don’t have a lot of outlets, so I would also need a power strip.  Another problem with using batteries is I must charge them within 8 days.  That means a hotel stay every 8 days.  I don’t know if that’s possible, or financially feasible. As you can see, this is getting crazy for cost and weight/bulk.  Some compromise is in order to sort this out.

  • I can probably survive if I only use the cpap for 4 hrs/night.  It would suck waking every night to turn it off after 4 hrs, but doable.  So that’s 2 batteries and 2 power supplies, plus one power supply to use for the cpap in the hotel while the batteries are charging.

  • I can put the power supplies in a bounce box so I don’t have to carry them.  But, this means I must always have my bounce box arrive in towns that I stay at the hotels and it has to arrive in 8 days or less.  This may be difficult tactically.  It’s hard to trust the mail will arrive in time and the cost will be quite high.  In addition, I will have to arrive in town on days that the post office is open (usually weekdays) and arrive before they close so I can have the power supplies before retiring for the night.

  • Since the above plan will likely have hiccups in execution, I can bring my solar panel to charge the batteries whenever possible, like during breaks or while hanging around in town.  It doesn’t seem feasible to wear the solar panel while hiking.  It’s just too big and it would need to face forward.  This option may allow me to use the cpap for more than 4 hrs on sunny sections.  To supplement, I would only need 3 hrs of sun per day.

It’s a tough burden to carry this equipment, jacking up my resupply schedule and forcing me to spend time each day farting around with a solar charger and batteries.  But for now, I will keep it in the plan.  It is possible that some of my sleep apnea is due to being overweight.  In which case I can ship the cpap equipment home once I lose enough weight.

photo credit: Ktoine via photopin cc


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2 Responses to Futile struggle to obtain ultra-lite hiker status

  1. John Fitzgerald says:

    Hi Bill,
    Glad to hear the surgery went well.
    I’m not sure I should even suggest this since I’m not the slightest expert in it but here are my thoughts on packing:
    1. Loose the umbrella: I lived in Eugene Oregon for three years (with about 65″ of rain/yr) and you see umbrellas used very little. Most people only use the hood on a rain jacket. Umbrellas are just more trouble than they are worth.
    2. The CPAP: What are the chances of not needing it after you loose some weight before the trip? After walking 10+ miles a day will sleeping without the CPAP be easier? Will being at high elevation make the need for a CPAP greater? I’ve heard of piezo chargers placed in the sole of a shoe to generate power – perfect solution for you but just not available yet.

    • billweberx says:

      Hi John,
      Good to hear from you. All very good points that I have considered.

      1. The Umbrella is primarily for the hot, desert sections. Since I’m going southbound, I may not need it at all. WA may be the exception as it rains so much at the lower elevations. The deserts will be at the end of the hike and in November, which should be pretty nice weather. But, it may be nice to have a little shade during rest stops as it will still be very sunny all day long. I won’t start with the umbrella, but I’ll have it shipped to me as soon as I think I will need it. People on the trail ahead of me will report conditions on Facebook, so I can decide as I go.

      2. I’m somewhat counting on not needing the CPAP at some point on the trail, at which point I will ship it home. I’m pretty sure I will need it for the start. I won’t lose enough weight before starting to make a difference. I wish I didn’t have to worry about it. What a huge pain.

      I’ve looked at every possible way to power the CPAP, but it seems their $300 batteries are the best choice. I considered using equivalent RC Race car batteries at half the cost, but specs don’t match exactly, and the CPAP has a proprietary plug. I worry that I could damage the unit at about $500 to replace it. I’m a bit tapped out financially.

      BTW, I will need to average about 20-25 mi/day in order to get out of the Sierra’s in Oct before snow arrives, and finish the deserts in Nov. The way this works is hike 30 mi/day in the deserts and flatter portions. .

      Take care,

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