Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - The Big Four



Lightening my load seems to be a continual process. Leading up to my hike last year, I was evaluating options, deciding what to leave in, what to leave out ... When I limped home from my nobo attempt, I tore thru my pack, took some stuff out, and replaced other stuff with lighter stuff. After all that, I still sent stuff home from the trail.

Spring is coming, and I'm looking forward to getting back on the trail. I've been going through my systems, and have cut an additional half pound of stuff out of my first aid kit and my charging system.

Of course it didn't cost me anything to take stuff out of my pack, but what could I achieve by looking at the heaviest, big ticket items?

What I looked at, what the weight savings are, and what'd cost me after the break!

The "Big Four" usually refers to the four heaviest/most expensive pieces of equipment - The pack, shelter, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Usually the place to get maximum weight savings as long as the items meet one's needs.

Pack - As you get rid of stuff, and scale other stuff down in size and weight, you might be able to use a smaller, lighter pack.

I'm currently carrying Ultralight Adventure Equipment's (ULA) Circuit backpack. It's a 4200 cu in, roll top design, weighing 39 ozs and a max load of 30lbs. By the time I got to Vermont, I had reduced the volume of my stuff down to where even with a full food bag, I was not filling the bag to the point I was getting up into the collar area. That was not a true summer load. I was carrying my summer weight bag, but I had some cold wx layers I wouldn't be carrying in the summer.. I was beginning to believe I could scale down to their Ohm pack. That's a 3960 cu in bag, max weight of 30lbs, and weighing 29 oz - A 10oz reduction with a fairly minimal reduction in pack volume, and no reduction in weight carrying capability! The penalty? $200

Sleeping Bag - You can carry a mummy bag with a hood and full zipper, or you can go with a backpacking quilt for significant savings in weight and packing volume. Once you laydown in a sleeping bag, the insulation underneath you is compressed and looses virtually all insulation. So why pack it? Quilts also have no zippers, most have foot boxes for warmth. For side-sleepers like yers truly the quilts make it easy to draw your knees up, and changing sides is much easier than in a mummy bag where one inevitably wakes up sucking a face full of nylon.

During the summer, I carry a Mountain Hardwear Phantom +32 Long mummy bag. It's 23 ozs, and packs up pretty small. Enlightened Equipment makes nice an 850 fill down, 6' quilt weighs 19.25 ozs for a 3.75 oz savings for $280. Katabatic Gear, makes a 14.6 oz quilt for an 8.40z for $370! Hammock Gear straddles the two with a 15.25 oz quilt for a 7.75 oz savings for $199.

Sleeping Pad - Younguns and back sleepers can live with those really thin, light foam pads. I'm neither young, nor a back sleeper, so I want a pad that will keep my hips off the ground. That means an inflatable. Because I'm hiking in the mountains during shoulder seasons, it needs to be insulated.

Right now I'm carrying an ExPed SynMat UL7 Short. It's 64" long, 20" wide, 2.8" thick, R 3.1, and weighs 15 ozs. I also carry their 2.25 oz Schnozzel Pumpbag that fills the pad without all the humidity from my breath ruining the insulation. It doubles as a dry bag for my sleeping bag. A Thermorest NeoAir XLite Short is 48" long, 20" wide, 2.5" thick, R 3.2, and weighs 8 ozs. Now that's considerably shorter, and would not neccessarily be something I'd want to use in the snow, but it represents a 7 oz savings with otherwise minimal lose of function. There's also a 72", 12 oz version, and a 66", 11 oz women's version. The NeoAir Pump Sack provides the same functionality as the schnozzel at 3.4 oz. The total system weight of the pad and bag is 11.4 oz for a 5.85 oz savings. Penalty? $160

Shelter - There are a lot of options here - Freestanding double wall, non-freestanding single wall, tarp tents, tarp/bivy systems, hammock/tarp systems ... All made from any number of materials, and all with some serious pros and cons ... We're getting into religion here.

I carry a LightHeart Gear Solo. It's made by one of the US cottage industries making the increasingly misnamed tarp tents. It has a bathtub floor, full mosquito netting enclosure and an integrated rain fly. Mine is made of silnylon. It uses my hiking poles to hold it up. All that and only 27 ozs. But LightHeart Gear makes the same tent out of cuben fiber weighing 18 ozs for a 9 oz weight savings. Penalty? $532!

Out of interest, I worked the numbers to see what the cost per ounce was for the savings...
Item Ozs Saved Cost Cost/Oz
Pack 10 $200 $20.00
Bag 7.75 $199 $25.68
Pad 5.85 $160 $27.35
Tent 9 $532 $59.11
Swapping out the pack, sleeping pad and sleeping bag gives the most bang for the buck, and I feel are worth pursuing ... An almost 25 oz reduction for only (gulp) $529, and at a cost of $23.60/oz. But I'm not ready to spend over $500 on a tent for 9 ozs at $59/oz ...

Last week I lightened my load by taking 9 ozs out of my pack. One could argue that cost me $0/oz.  Of course, it costs one a lot less to get it right the first time.

Good luck with that!