Tag Archives: ultralight

Lost then found then lost again

Favorite Southwest resupply options. I love them vegan chili ramens – which I haven’t seen since Said Valley on the PCT in 15. Also, once you get far enough spin every bodega & grocery has instant dehydrated refried beans – perfect cold soak food with Fritos!

Made a fancy custom rain cover for my fancy Brooks saddle… dodging afternoon rainstorms our of Taos.

Branching with the best of them in Cuba, NM. It’s interesting coming back after hiking thru on the CDT last year and seeing how my perspective has changed.

Steel horses and dirtbag cowboys. Riding through the American West reminds one of many conflicting narratives – black cowboys, soldiers paid cash for scalps, a million miles of barbed wire, shooting bison from the train, the violence and genocide that surrounds how these spaces are occupied & my privilege in being here. It’s a lot to digest, but the long views lend themselves to meditative thoughts and potentially change… tho there are still uranium mining railings outside Grants (the largest federal SuperFund site) and endless ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs.

Good luck finding this or yourself – spiraling ever inward & outward simultaneously, away from and into an invisible center.

Borders & Reflections


Done & done – 2900 miles border to border, triple crown, and 11,000 trail miles down. What’s next?


The southern terminus is a Crazy Cook, a nowhere place in on the NM/Mexico border, just a little bump on the panhandle 85 miles away from any roads.


Life is harsh out in the desert. Everything is sharp, the sun intense, and the bones bleached dry.


I was skeptical about the southern terminus, expecting another anticlimax. I’m happy we were there at sunset, where the light turned spectral over the western mountains. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but as the sun descended behind the hills there was intense pink and blue banding fading into a perfect butter yellow sky.


We waited for hours at the road after walking the 85 miles back – no luck hitching, only a couple of cars. Finally we got a ride from border patrol – we didn’t bother telling him Huck was a Danish national on a dubious visa.


Gear Hacks: Ultralight Dental Floss

As mentioned in my previous post, I really like flossing on trail. My moms and I have had endless discussions about my dental health, and maybe this reminds me of her when I’m in the backcountry. Or maybe the act of keeping my mouth clean allows me to forget that the rest of me is so stinkin’ dirty. Regardless, I try and floss every day, and also use dental floss for gear repairs and sewing on punk rock patches… it’s great to have an adequate amount around. The problem is, like most conventional products, it’s value is defined by excessive packaging making it seem ‘fancy’. Here’s a simple hack that will allow a hiker to carry an almost full roll of floss at 1/2 the weight.

Above left is a conventional, full roll of OralB Glide dental floss, weighing in at 16.5g, on the right is a sample floss (easily obtained from any dentist’s office) weighing in at 5g. Why not just carry the sample? It only contains about 3 meters of floss, or enough for 3 days of regular use or 1/3 of sewing on a Minor Threat patch. The Glide, which contains 20 meters of floss, weights so much mostly because of its packaging. The key is to repackage the Glide in the sample container to reduce the carried weight.


It’s clear that the sample pack just isn’t enough floss to sew on that AT patch, much less the 2000 miler bottom rocker. The problem with the full sized roll is all the extra packaging

Remove the roll from the sample container. There are typically 4 plastic tines securing the small roll of floss in the center. Break off two opposing tines – this is necessary because ultralight, duh! Actually, as you can see from the photo above, the center spindle of the full roll of Glide is much smaller to accommodate the extra floss. Next remove the full roll of Glide (or floss of your choosing, this trick works with any brand – I only use the OralB because this is the one moms gave me. Thanks Lynn!) and remove about 2 meters of floss from the roll. The full size roll is, in fact, slightly too large to fit the sample container, so we need to reduce its diameter slightly.

Once you have replaced the sample with the full sized roll, thread the floss around and over the right post, then under and around the left post, leading it thru the dispenser opening. Then close the package and you’re done! This is a super simple, if not slightly neurotic way to save a few grams on trail. Based on the photo below, you’ll notice the new floss system weighs in at 8.4 g, which is 8.1g less than the original full size package. Happy flossing!


Sample package with full size roll of Glide, minus 2 meters. One of these guys is usually good for me for about 2 months of daily use. I keep the sample container after I’ve used up the full roll during a thru hike, and repeat the hack with a new roll purchased in town…

Gear Shakedown: Mountain Laurel Design SPIRIT 28 Quilt

IMG_0216Last week, Groucho and I tested our new quilts for the PCT. I recently upgraded to a 28 degree, “regular” size spirit quilt from Mountain Laurel Designs.

I love quilts. Or at least I love the idea of quilts.

A backpacking quilt is basically a sleeping bag with no back. The insulation in the back of a traditional bag is compressed as you sleep, compromising it’s insulating properties. This is more pronounced over time, as all insulation eventually loses it’s insulating loft after repeated compression, and on a thru hike happens for 150 days straight or so… So you end up with extra weight an no extra warmth.

The MLD SPIRIT quilt is a shell of lightweight black ripstop nylon filled with Climashield Apexa insulation. The bottom of the quilt has a cinchable elastic base, velcro closure and snaps which form a temporary toe box, keeping the feet toasty with a small breeze blocking pillow – the quilt can also be used fully open during warmer weather, as a flat blanket. The SPIRIT comes with a nylon ‘waist’ belt (one elastic, one nylon – choose based on your preference) which keeps the edges of the quilt tucked – a handy feature. The neck opening is cinchable with a snap closure, allowing adjustable thermal regulation, and also allowing you to wear the SPIRIT as a camp cape (see photo.).

For my SOBO AT I ordered a 28 degree bag. I was totally convinced I ordered a 28 degree bag. I realized I actually a 38 degree bag while looking at my old order receipt. Ha ha ha. No wonder I was sleeping cold…

I found the 38 degree quilt worked great when it was warm. Once the temperature got to the 30’s I paired it with a liner which kept it fairly comfortable, especially as I modified combinations of base layer, puffer and wind pants and jacket. In November on the AT we had a month of 20 degree nights with at least one sub zero. These nights not ‘comfortable.’ Folks say you can wear more clothes to make a 3-season bag work in the winter… in this case each night I wore my hiking dress, two base layer tops and bottoms, a fleece hoody, puffer, silk balaclava, wool hat, XL fleece hat, wool socks fleece booties gloves liners and fleece mittens. EVERYTHING I had.

I didn’t die AND as a bonus, I kept all my toes. But the gram-counter in me thought there must be a better way, weight wise and comfort wise to stay alive…

For my Southbound PCT hike, I’m starting with cold weather in the north, then encountering 14,000 foot peaks, and early fall desert nights. Sleeping at below 20 degrees is unlikely tho, so I aim for a system comfortable to 25 degrees. I thought a 10 degree upgrade might do the trick, so in February I ordered a 28 degree SPIRIT quilt from Mountain Laurel designs.

MLD can take up to 8 weeks to deliver in peak season. They’re a small shop, so I ordered early.

We hiked up to Goat Lake (elevation 3200) in early April, the pm forecast predicting 30 degree weather. Perfect. I slept in my hiking dress, lightweight base layer, fleece booties and hat, puffy jacket, and the new 5oz fleece smock I jerry-rigged from a goodwill fleece sweatshirt (more on that later). So at least half of the clothes I needed to sleep in with the 38 degree bag.

And I was super comfortable. In fact, I was the warmest I’ve slept outside. I felt heat radiating from my core. I took off my gloves. And I’m psyched to say I stayed that way all night, even when we woke up 10 hours later to 6 inches of snow. I actually slept and entire night without doing sit ups.


Mountain Laurel Designs 
Spirit Quilt – 28 degree – size “regular”
21 oz


The Weight of the World

Goat Lake, July 21, 2012, 10.4 miles, 1400 ft

Goat Lake, July 21, 2012, 10.4 miles, 1400 ft – from our AT training archives

Now that we’re officially preparing for the trail, the battle with the postal scale has begun. This is what arguing with an inanimate object looks like, and what the results are for a 2 day winter weight training trip looks like for one person:

System Pack Weight in oz
G4 13
liner 1.3
chrome dome 7.8
MLD 28 24.6
MLD 38
zlite torso length 7.9
Tarp 21.6
Tyvek footprint 4.3
Clothing worn
Patagonia Baggies shorts 4.7
Icebreaker 100 wt t-shirt 4.1
Trucker hat 2.4
DarnTough ankle 2.1
Timex ironman women’s 1
New Balance 610v3 19.6
Clothing packed
Patagonia Houdini wind pants 3.1
Patagonia Houdini wind jacket 3.6
Icebreaker Anotomica baselayer pant 5
OR zip top baselayer 6.8
DarnTough crew 2.5
Smartwool balaclava 1.7
bandana 1
Homemade fleece hat 1.9
Homemade fleece booties 2.3
REI sysnthetic puffer 11
bamboo spoon 0.5
smartwater bottle (empty) x 2 2.8
pot, coozie, stove, windscreen, bearhang 15.5
Toiletries / 1st Aide / personal
hand sani 1.4
brush, floss 0.8
toms 1
weed / biz cards / sticks / marker 1.8
1st aide kit (band aids, gauze, gloves, tape) 3.9
self care kit (hydrocortizone, 2nd skin, aleve, arnicare,gold bond, chapstick) 3.7
cords – ipod, garmin, cube 2
iPod 3.1
garmin GPS 7.8
steripen 4.8
Baseweight 168.5  10.5lb
Food for 2 days 41.7 2lb 9oz
Packweight 210.2 13.13 lb

Catching Up with the Boss

Preparing for our upcoming PCT hike Harpo and I have been revisiting some of Ray Jardine‘s books. Ray was the single biggest influence on how we chose to hike, and his practical (not to mention anti-corporate, DIY) attitude remains totally resonate with where we’re at today. We’re looking forward to exploring the trail where he developed the basis for contemporary lightweight backpacking.

Harpo-Mane and I sewed a tarp tent (with help from our friend Zoe) for the AT and it’s still kickin’ after over 150 nights out – including 6 weeks I recently used it in Northern Cali. I’m looking forward to putting together one of his packs for this journey…

Ultralight Beach Soccer – Gooooooaaaaaaalllllllllllllllll!

It’s amazing what you can do with a light pack. Baseweight under 9lbs (with winter gear) helped offset the 2.7 lb bear canister required by the Olympic National Park… and we could still play some games with beach garbage! Fortunately with only 1.5 PPPPD of food, we could fit everything for two hikers for 3 nights / 4 days in a single Bear Vault so only the halfback had to suffer…

Gear Shakedown: GoLite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella


Groucho using the Chrome Dome as a sun shield just over Constance Pass in the Olympic Mountians

Harpo and I followed Ray Jardine’s model and started hiking with umbrellas before we walked the AT last year – it made sense, living in the Northwest it rains every time you step outside. Or at least it could…
We started with free collapsible umbrellas, but the cheap metal hardware would rust and/or fall apart… Jardine modified his umbrellas to remove extra parts, and fitted them with mylar panels functioning as solar shields attached with dental rubber bands. In the era of cottage industry ultralight backpacking gear, we saved the effort by purchasing GoLite’s Chrome Dome trekking umbrellas. Weighing in at 8oz, with a 45″ canopy and offering 50SPF sun protection, the Chrome Dome offers substantial coverage as a rain and sun shield. I don’t think there’s any going back.. .
On the AT we forfeited conventional rain gear, favoring lightweight wind-breakers and wind-pants – 8oz total + the 8oz brolly, rather than a 11oz or heavier rain jacket and 11oz pants – offering a lighter overall solution for the long haul. Not to mention the umbrella is faster to deploy in sudden showers, and keeps it breezy, meaning better ventilation. Recently on the PCT and in alpine areas of the Olympic mountains, we’ve been happy using the Chrome Dome as a sun shield, allowing us to skip the sunscreen.
Of course, the umbrella fails in some conditions – dense, low forest like some in southern Maine snags the canopy, and it was impossible to use in the high winds atop Mt. Washington and in Goat Rocks. Outside of these extreme circumstances, the umbrella works great – the polyester canopy has never collapsed and resists tears, and the fiberglass spokes seem indestructible… we have hiked over 3500 miles with our original Chrome Domes, and are only now considering buying new ones.
Overall, this is one of my favorite pieces of gear to own. Every time I open it, it’s something in between Marry Poppins and a clown show – and it’s definitely the most commented on accessory I own, bar none. Harpo & I enjoy the umbrella hiking experience so much we formed our own umbrella gang – the Brolly Bunch.


Harpo keepin it breezy in light rain hiking next to the Housatonic River in Conneticut