Ok, I don’t feel like writing a whole bunch as I just sat 3 hours editing this video. In anycase, just in time for TGO Challenge 2019, I finally got around to editing the last part of my 2018 crossing. In this video Niels and I wander into Braemar, up through the Caingorms, down into Tarfside and finish up in Stonehaven.
My final thoughts on the TGO Challenge 2018
From start to finish the TGO challenge was probably one of my favorite trips. Maybe it was the nature, maybe it was the company, maybe it was the social hiking aspect of it all.. It’s hard to say, but there is something special about walking in the wilds, scrambling on mountain tops, and trudging through deep rivers during the day and finishing up at a pub with a burger and a beer at night.
I liked the journey so much that I had entered the 2019 crossing as well, unfortunately I had to cancel my crossing as I am currently in Zambia adopting a child. However, 2020 is definitely on the cards for me.
Complete gear list for TGO Challenge 2018
Last year I bought the new Zpacks tent – after much internal debating, as I’m not a huge fan of the duplex (too small, too exposed for my tastes), I was a bit slow to pull the trigger on the Plexamid. However, after seeing a few initial reviews of how big the tent was, I decided to go for it. I don’t normally worry too much about cost as it easy to get the money back when selling.
My initial impression when I received the tent was “damn this is light” – followed by, shit it’s going to be too small. After setting up the plexamid and playing with it for about 20 nights out and 7 months later, I can say that it’s not too small. In fact, the tent gives me more liveable space than the Duplex. Even when I slept in the Duplex diagonally, it was too small for me. Meaning I had to basically use the entire internal space of the Duplex, just for my sleeping pad. Kind of sucked.
Anyway, this is not a review, but simply an overview of the Plexamid, as I want to give this tent a thorough beating before I give a true review.
A video overview:
What is it:
The Plexamid is the newest ultralight solo tent by the Florida based cottage company Zpacks. Zpacks specialises in ultralight, dyneema made gear. The tent weighs just 439grams on my scale, with guy lines without tent pegs and center pole.
It’s a big solo tent – I’ve actually slept with my son in the tent a few nights and there is plenty of room for us.
Performance so far:
One of the reasons I am not willing to do a proper review yet is that the weather and conditions I’ve had the Plexamid in have been relatively mild so far. 15mps winds (34 mph) and two days of rain. In those conditions, it has held its own, and the size of the tent makes the heavy rains bearable. Though, in prolonged rains, the condensation does become an issue. However, as the tent is quite large and the sides sloped as they are, the condensation just runs down the sides and out through the mesh onto the ground – and not onto your gear and sleeping bag.
I have used this tent enough to confidently say that If I were to do the PCT, the Plexamid would be the tent I bring – no doubt. I am confident enough with the tent to have it as my only tent for the next 6 months while in Zambia. It’s big, light and stable.
Strange title I know.. first off let me start by saying thank you! Thank you for following Ultralight and comfortable for so many years, and making this one of the most visited lightweight blogs around on the internet. It has been an honor to keep this site going and to keep it going in the future. With that said, I find that I have less and less motivation to write as I am enjoying the other formats better. Namely Youtube and very soon Podcast format. Most of the updates on this site will probably be in the form of Video or podcast moving forward as my time is getting rather limited these day with Backpackinglight.dk taking off.
So here is a look at my different projects:
- Backpackinglight.dk and .se
- Designing own gear – soon to be announced within next few months under new brand name
- New Podcast coming – where I move this blog into audio format with interviews, travel stories and more
- Adoption – Moving to Zambia in a few weeks to live for 6 months
Video is a blast to work on, but takes an amazing amount of time. Each video I produce takes a minimum of 4-8 hours when all is said and done. While I certainly enjoy the format, it does take far more time than writing blog posts.
Backpackinglight.dk is growing and is now a full time job and more – Thank you for the support! We are working hard on taking it to the next level. Cleaning up the format and re-writing a lot of product texts in both Swedish and English as well as adding gear reviews and so on to each product.
Along with this I am also writing articles for Backpackinglight, as a guide for customers.
ISPO Munich is coming where I have a few meetings, interviews, podcasts and Video projects in the works
I will write a more detailed article on the new Podcast series coming – I can say that it won’t solely be gear discussions and more about what makes people tick. What gets them out of bed and do the things they do day in and day out. How can we deconstruct what they are doing and apply it to our own lives? These are the kind of discussions that I love to have and I hope that shows in the series!
My day and morning routine:
For me, nothing is more important than a good morning routine. To set a standard so high in the morning that you can’t help but be productive the rest of the day. I have had some form of morning routine for the most part of my adult life.
With that said, how does my day look? I am working on a video, but decided here on a Saturday night to just write a bit before I go to bed!
5.00 – I wake up do 10 quick pushups or burpees..
meditate for 10-20 minutes
Write in a journal for 5-10 minutes – usually about what I’m grateful for.. or if I’m in a shit mood than I write a few pages about how everything sucks.. but 99% of the time it’s a grateful exercise
10 minutes of writing a plan for the day – usually a quick list of different items I need to get done for the day
20 minutes of reading – usually books about philosophy, stoicism, self help, investing..
15 minutes of brain training – puzzles, math, science, language
6.30 – start my day!
Here I wake up my little boy and wife, make breakfast and take the little one to school.
8.00 – 9.00 I’m sitting at my desk, turn on my computer, phone and mail. first hour or so write back to customers
next hours go through inventory
rest of day – burning questions or action items. Right now: Product text and format. 1000 products of re-writes takes time.
Sometime after 15.00 I start working on videos, Podcast ideas, ULcomfort and so on.
16.00 My boy comes home and my evening starts!
21.00 my evening routine starts.
All electronics off, warm tea on the stove and papper book in my lap
21.30 warm shower/bath and audio book
On top of this I have a full time life outside of just sitting in front of a computer screen 🙂 So
Sleeping good in the winter
Keeping warm is essential to sleeping good. Hypothermia and freezing to death is not a fun past time. In the summer it’s easier to get along with Ultralight gear and probably survive.. Chances are good… In the winter however, things are different. Especially in areas like northern Sweden where I live – here the temperatures can easily drop to -30c in the winter. It’s important to be prepared and have a relatively good idea of what your doing. Here I will go over some of the details that helps keep me warm and comfortable during the winter months on longer treks:
- Sleep system
- Food before bed
- Run around for warmth
- Pee bottle
- Extra bottles for foot warmer in the morning
A also made a video of this article that you can watch below:
First on my list is the sleep system – this is by far the most important aspect of sleeping warm and safe in the winter. All parts of the sleep system must work in order for the whole to work. With a sleep system I mean of course the Sleeping mat and Sleeping bag.
My system for winter hiking looks something like this with an example of a week long unsupported trip in minus 20 to 40 degrees:
- Thick evazote mat – 14mm – this I usually have directly on the ground as I use floorless shelters most of the time. I can also use a double wide evazote mat which can also work as a nice wide ground sheet as well.
- Thermarest xTherm sleeping pad – added warmth and comfort. The xTherm isn’t really necessary when using a thick 14mm evazote mat, in fact I know a few people who use their summer pads or xLite in the deep winter without any problems. The 14mm evazote is warm enough on it’s own. The blow up pad is an extra comfort. Don’t skimp on the sleeping mat – it’s just as if not more important than a proper sleeping bag.
- I have three bags in total – known of them are meant for extreme weather. So I stack them. I have a Sierra designs cloud 800 0c degree bag, an As Tucas sestrals synthetic quilt – rated at about 0c as well, and a Sierra designs nitro 0F (-18c). In Sweden, anything warmer than a 0c bag has very little use except for in the warmest two weeks of the year unless summer is just extreme. With the Cloud 800 and As Tucas Sestrals, these bags are fantastic for the Swedish climate. In anycase, if I know I will be in – 30c or colder for extended periods than I stack my Nitro and as tucas quilt giving me a warmth that stretches down to about -35.
Here is a rather decent stacking guide that I stole from Enlightened Equipment:
This is in Farenheit, for our purposes it works – just keep in mind that Celcius and Farenheit meet at -40, 0 Fahrenheit is equal to -18 Celcius. 32 Fahrenheit is equal to 0 celcius.
I rarely use my Sierra designs nitro -18c bag – I prefer to stack as it’s usually a warmer option in almost every situation.
For temperatures between 0c and -20 I usually go with my two summer quilts – Cloud 800 and As tucas sestrals.
xTherm on the bottom, Sierra designs cloud 800 35 in middle and as tucas sestrals apex 167 quilt on top. A great winter layering system
No matter which solution I choose – I always have the synthetic quilt on top of the down bag as synthetic handles the extra moisture much better than down does.
Picture stolen from the interwebs – Hyperlite mountain gear Ultamid 2
Shelter systems in the winter, much like summer can vary – my main recommendation is to find a tent that can handle everything. Wind, rain, snow – and is relatively easy to set up. I prefer the Hyperlite mountain gear Ultamid 2 or 4 for winter use. It’s the most solid winter tent I’ve ever used and gives me a lot of space to really live like a king. I know a few people such as Jörgen Johansson over at Fjäderlätt who likes his Black diamond Firstlight – even though it’s a tad small for him. I also like the Firstlight, but I don’t like how my head and feet mush the sides creating a lot of extra wetness on my bag and clothing. There are of course advantages to a free standing tent in the winter. If you don’t care too much about weight than there are tons of solutions out there with Hilleberg Suolo coming to mind among others.
In anycase, while a shelter is certainly important with a winter system, you could just as well bring a shovel and build a snow cave, or find a large pine and sleep under the snow drift. I prefer even the beauty of sleeping under the stars if weather permits.
If planned properly, your winter clothing can easily be a big part of your sleeping system – allowing you to leave one of your sleeping bags or quilts at home. This is a great solution for shorter trips where condensation is not going to be as big of a problem. If I’m leaving a quilt at home, which I can normally do in temperatures down to -10c. Than my winter sleep gear might comprise of the following:
- Wool long johns and long arm shirt
- Thick wool socks
- Fleece or wool sweater
- Down puffy jacket – something like the Cumulus incredilte – a great lightweight down puffy
- Down/synthetic puffy pants – The Omm Mountain raid pants are excellent synthetic pants as well as the Cumulus down basic pants
- Down/synthetic puffy socks
- Down/synthetic baklava or fleece beenie
This layering system gives me a lot of flexibility and warmth in camp – sometimes I even have two puffy down jackets with me depending on how low temperatures are expected to drop. This setup easily keeps me warm and comfortable walking around camp, as well as being part of my sleep system at night.
Food before bed
In the winter, keeping food and water in your system before going to bed is vital. Keeps the furnace burning hot for many hours. I try to load up on carbohydrates before bed, usually while lying in bed getting ready to sleep. This is usually in the form of pasta.
The way insulation in your sleep system works is that it keeps the warmth in. The more insulation the more warmth the sleep system is able to keep. The system itself does not create any warmth on it’s own. There is no heating element in your sleeping bag. This means that if you go to bed frozen, chances are the insulation will work more like refrigerator, keeping you nice and cold. This is why it’s important to get out and run a bit, or do jumping jacks, create a lot of internal heat before climbing into bed. Not so much that you are sweating, as the moisture will have an opposite effect.
This also falls in line with make sure you are ready for bed, before you actually climb in. Once you are in your sleeping bag or bags, body is warm, belly is full – make sure you stay in your bag. I have made the mistake a few times of being way too warm in my bag, got panicked and opened up the bag only to start freezing again.
Staying tight in your sleep system is vital for overall comfort and warmth. This is also why a pee bottle is essential. Make sure you get a wide mouth bottle as this will help take away the guesswork and leave less room for error. The important aspect is to not open up your bag and climb out in order to go out and pee. Also, remember to keep a large volume bottle for this purpose as bodily fluids coming out in the winter are usually much more than at other times. It’s not unusual to pee close to a liters worth of fluid in the winter.
In the winter, one of the biggest problems facing all hikers is keeping our feet and shoes warm. Some people place their shoes in the sleeping bag with them, others not so much. I fall into the category of “not so much”. I don’t want any moisture coming along with me into my sleeping bag. Not to mention, the wettest part of my entire system – my shoes. It is possible to keep your shoes in a water tight bag and put them in your sleeping bag with you. But then they are still wet in the morning. What works for me is a rather simple system: In the morning when I wake up, still tucked nice and warm in my sleeping bag, I cook water for my early morning coffee and breakfast and with that I cook extra water for two small water bottles. After I shake out as much of the frozen moisture as possible from my shoes, I then place the hot water bottles, one each, into each of my shoes. While I am eating breakfast, my shoes are getting nice and toasty – when I put my shoes on, my feet are encompassed with a warm and lovely feeling. Later on I have the added benefit of having two extra filled water bottles that I can drink while hiking.
Small bottles are filled with warm water in the morning and used as feet warmers while I break down camp and eat breakfast. The bottles are then just regular water bottles during the day. Picture stolen from http://www.fjaderlatt.se
Before heading out on your trek across antarctica, it’s important to practice first, find what works for you and get comfortable with all the nuances of winter camping. Winter camping is both hell and joy at the sametime. Dangerous and fulfilling. Be smart and don’t take anything for granted. Just because you have this checklist doesn’t mean you are an expert – Theory and practice are two completely different things. This list will help you maximize your chances of success – but this is only a guide and not a guarantee. What works for me might not work for you.
A good place to practice is your backyard och nearby forest. Car camping is also a great starting place or in wind shelters. I spent a season or two just camping around in my local forest. My first backpacking trip in the winter once I was comfortable with my gear was a fairly popular mountain trail and I setup my tent about 50 meters from the different cottages. This way I could practice without putting myself in any major danger.
Over the years I have gone through dozens of cameras. Different purposes, but mainly because I have a serious problem with GAS when it comes to cameras. I have become a freak with gear, much like backpacking gear, I go through gear until I find what works best for me in the variety of situations that I use my gear in. A quick run down follows:
1st camera and one I’ve used until about 2004 – Canon AE-1 Program with a 35-70mm zoom lens. While it quit being my daily camera in 2004, I actually still use it even today. It’s not really my camera, which is probably why I’ve never gotten rid of it. It’s officially my moms camera that she bought back in the early 80’s new. I have used that camera like crazy and love it. Unfortunately, film is not very practical for everyday use so I eventually went over to some Kodak digital camera that had an amazing 5 megapixel camera.
I used that Kodak for a couple of years on my various trips to Australia, Thailand, Greece and Italy. I have a lot of pictures and video from that time, but, the quality is so bad I never got around to posting any of it. My photography lust cooled down a lot after that camera.. The pictures sucked, the video sucked.. the camera was boring..
Eventually I picked up my AE-1 Program again and started using it. My lust was reignited in 2012 when I bought a Sony NEX-7 then a Sony A7 Full frame and right after a Sony A7R. I liked the Sony cameras, and in a way they reignited my love for photography. Though they both seemed like unfinished masterpieces. Video was not great, lenses limited, software terrible, menu system lacking and with the Sony A7R it was nearly impossible to get sharp images handheld, on top of that, the Sony’s are extremely boring to use (I am used to the feel and look of the AE-1 Program which is rather fun). I also had a problem with the Sony business mantra of selling half finished products, and releasing just newer models every year. I traded my Sony A7R and Zeiss lens for a Fuji x-t1 with a few lenses. I loved the Fuji.
I used the Fuji on a few backpacking trips but found it to be a little on the heavy side and the video was still lacking. Fuji also started raising the prices of the lenses – they were getting heavier and more expensive than full frame lenses – and still are to this day. I upgraded to a X-T2 – though more of the same I thought. So I went over to an Olympus OMD EM-5 mark ii with a few lenses that I got really cheap, so I sold my Fuji and was perfectly happy with the OMD as it was better for video. IMO.. With a flipout screen, cheaper lenses, built in stabilization and in my opinion just as good if not better picture quality than the Fuji, I was more than happy to be an Olympus fanboy.
It was at this time I started to play around with video – last year, and this is when I realised that the Olympus was sorely lacking. With it’s less than optimal autofocusing and in non-perfect lighting conditions the video just looked terrible. And even in perfect lighting conditions with the most expensive lenses, video had artifacts and just all-around looked very amateurish. Don’t get me wrong, I am an amateur, but I figured there had to be better for the money.
This is when I went over to a Canon M50, In general I have been against Canon, because it seemed to me that while everybody else was innovating and pushing the boundaries, Canon has a board room filled with monkeys stuck in the 80’s. Warren buffet once said “I buy companies that can be run by idiots, because eventually it will be.. ” this is where Canon is – a company run by idiots. However, the Canon M50 while being the worst camera on the market for so many things does a few things very good.
- Great video autofocus – it works no matter what
- Flip out screen
- Great colors from the camera – don’t have to color grade for my purposes
- Mic input
- Decent, cheap, light lenses.
Now I really like the M50 but it has a few things I don’t like that have made me sell it for my current camera a Canon 6D mark ii
- Lenses are not great
- Battery life is lacking
- Camera is boring to use
- Not weather sealed
- No depth of field
- Low light performance is horrific
Everybody bashes on the M50 because it does(nt) have 4k- or at least not useable. But who wants to edit 4k video?
Now I have landed on the Canon 6d mark II – This camera has the technology of the Sony a7 from 2013 – if not worse. It’s bad in just about everything – that is Canon at it’s finest – making horrific products that just barely glide by, then pay vloggers and reviews to give it exposure. No 4k, terrible 1080p video codec, bad slow mo, no dynamic range, not very good autofocus for pictures.. so on and so forth. Canon has literally just placed a shit sensor from an Canon 80D and decided to take double the price. It’s these kinds of decisions that will kill this company. The board room asses that know nothing about photography or video and thinks they are competing against cameras from 2010. HOWEVER, there are things I like about this camera:
- I love the feel in my hands – the ergonomics and size is just right for a big guy like myself.
- Full frame – other than the Sony A7R, A7 and a few Leicas, I haven’t had FUll frame digital. I love the depth of field and quality of the video and images coming from the camera
- Weather sealed
- Great, cheap lenses – the EF system is ancient. Lenses are a steal right now as everybody knows Canon is sinking so they are jumping off the Titanic before it goes down – doesn’t make the glass any worse.
- Flip out screen
- Good 1080p for Youtube and internet videos
- Built in Timelapse mode – making completed timelapses in camera
That’s it.. That is why I have the Canon 6D mark ii and why I’m actually pretty happy with it.
Anyway, this is just the run-down of my main camera systems that i have used over the years. I have gone through quite a few Compact cameras as well as Film cameras.
At the moment my film camera of choice is a Ricoh GR21 (a fantastic 200 gram compact camera with an amazing 21mm wide angle lens) – This camera is a beast that takes extremely sharp pictures. A lot of fun for street photography – discrete, wide and sharp
My preferred compact camera is the Canon G7x mark ii. Yes it does basically everything worse than the Sony Rx100 series – all of which I have used a lot over the years. But, it has better colors right out of the camera which means a lot to me.
2019 is going to be a fun year! Starting off with a few weeks in Vietnam, than followed up with 6 months in Zambia! We will be traveling, exploring and above all else living a new life with our adopted child. I am really looking forward to this time to just focus on family and Backpackinglight. I will be backpacking as much as possible in Zambia, but hopefully I can get my family out with me. With that said, this also creates a lot of logistical problems for me and for the family. Being a minimalist in a lot of aspects, especially in travel, I now have a problem. I can’t exactly live in Africa with only one backpack with me. There are now a lot of different aspects I have to plan for.
- Living a day to day life
- Running my business
- Travelling and photography
These different hobbies and aspects don’t fit in one minimalist Minaal travel backpack… unfortunately. While I can normally have everything I need for any amount of time travelling in one backpack including camera gear. The length and goal of this trip to Zambia means that I also need to bring backpacking gear to test and take videos of. It is not possible for me to buy the gear and have it sent to me in Zambia as it is too expensive, and too many possible problems.
Projects during the trip:
- Photography book – Zambia in pictures. Daily life and turists
- Vlog – Daily short stories of some kind
The part of planning here that is easy are the first two:
- living day to day: I would need my computer, clothing, running clothes and shoes.
- Running my business: Easy enough – my computer and bank cards
The harder part in the planning is the last two for different reasons:
- Travelling and photography
- Backpacking and hiking
I will start with travelling and photography – Is there one camera that can be great for video and stills? Vlogging and documentary style video? Sharp pictures for everything from street photography to Astrophotography? Am I willing to bring a lot of weight? so probably a lightweight camera that does everything.. does it exist? I currently own a Canon m50 that I kind of bought to hold me over until I could find the perfect camera for myself. I have had and tested tons of different cameras and like the ease of use, autofocus and colors of the M50. I actually sold my Fuji X-t2 for an Olympus Omd EM5 ii.. A great camera, but not the greatest video – this could be said for both the fuji x-t2 and EM5, But I fell in love with the flip out screen of the Olympus. The Fuji had great stills but not the greatest for video as autofocus was weak. Maybe the XT3 is ready for a new chance? The M50 is great, but, the dynamic range is not great, it’s not weather sealed and high ISO is non-existent.
So for me to figure out what I need and what I want and hopefully find a good camera for that. I will write down my list here
- Good out of camera video colors – I don’t edit colors much or at all
- Good stills – sharp and with decent dynamic range.
- Weather sealed – I am in the elements a lot – I don’t bring the m50 because of this
- A flip out screen (maybe not the biggest need.. but close to it)
- Slow mo up to 60 FPs – but I won’t complain with a 120FPS
- Mic input
- good, fast Autofocus – As I normally film myself autofocus has to be good
- Great battery life
- Good depth of field – I like blurry backgrounds
- I want my camera to look damn good (I see you Olympus OM-D 1 mark II)
- Lightweight if possible
- 4k.. maybe, I suppose it would be useful.. maybe.. not much of a want or need really
- A great wide angle lens
Cameras I am currently looking at:
Canon 6d mark ii – Ticks a lot of the needs, but HEAVY when you count in the glass as well. A bonus here is that I can use my glass on both the M50 and the 6D. The biggest problem I have with the 6D is the company that makes them.. I don’t want to support a lazy, uninspired company. Canon is just pathetic in a lot of ways and giving them my money just doesn’t feel right.
Fuji X-T3 – Ticks also a lot of the boxes for me – though no flip out screen and Autofocus? hmm not sure. Also I really liked my X-T1 back in the day.. Though I do like the company and cameras
Olympus OM-D E 1 mark II – Looks great, ticks a lot of my wants and needs.. but maybe not the greatest depth of field.. not to be underestimated of course, but can’t compare to full frame.
Canon EOS- R – Another uninspiring effort from the company of mediocracy. But light, good colors, Full frame and flip out screen
Nikon Z6 – Because if I’m dreaming I might as well dream of them all..
Last but not least – sell all of it and but a small compact camera like the Sony rx 100.. Nobody cares about the gear anyway.. it’s about the content 🙂
This is where things get a little interesting. While I won’t have time to take week long trips solo, I do have plans to bring the whole family on different trips throughout the country, car camping and maybe even campground camping. But I do want the option to pick up and go backpacking by myself. So the question here is do I bring two tents – one two or three man tent that my wife and kids can sleep in and a solo tent for me. (I don’t like sharing a tent anyway). Or do I bring a big tent that is lightweight to use as a solo tent as well? This same reasoning basically needs to be applied to everything.
So if I’m looking at tents – do I bring something like the The Tarptent saddle, Big agnes Copper spur 3 and a solo tent to match like a Plexamid or Stratospire. Or do I just bring the Hyperlite mountain gear Ultamid 4 with inner-tent? I’m leaning towards the Ultamid as that keeps everything simple, but I really don’t like sharing a tent…
Quilts, sleeping bags, kitchen sets, hiking gear, backpacks so on and so forth.. Am I trying to combine too many hobbies into one trip? Even if we are gone for six months, maybe the better option is a camper van with day hiking gear instead?
As I’ve said.. this really is a pain in the ass.. But I think I answered the question by writing this.. Solo gear, as light as possible and car camping otherwise.
This goes back to my video and camera gear – I am thinking about doing a vlog for during my trip in Zambia. The question is what will it be about? I don’t like reality TV, or Reality vlogs and so on, and I would never want to force my life upon other people in that manner. There needs to be a story, a reason to watch, fun and interesting. I don’t want to only do gear reviews. I want to capture life in an interesting way.
There are many reasons to go lighter, but the most important reason is of course to have a more enjoyable time out in nature. Don’t believe me ? Grab a backpack, pack it with 30kilos and climb your nearest hill or mountain. Now, do the same thing with only 5 kilos in your pack. Which is a more enjoyable experience? My money is on the 5 kilos. Now with that said, it’s easy to cut back weight so much that camp is no longer enjoyable. Say, you replace your spoon with your fingers, you don’t bother with a proper tent, toilet paper is for losers and so on. While it’s possible to be ultra minimalist light, it’s probably not desired or safe for most backpackers.
So what should be your goal as a backpacker? To me, it’s the joy of both the hike and the camp. It’s about the climb and the descent. In other words, it’s about the experience and the joy of the journey itself. If your not loving the hike, whats the point?
Knowing your gear and your needs is probably the most important aspect of your backpacking life. This is regardless of weight or goals. If you don’t know what’s in your pack, then why bring it? In skydiving, every skydiver is expected to pack their own parachute, the process of folding, loading and preparing, this way, the skydiver knows exactly what’s in his pack when he launches himself from a perfectly good flying craft thousands of meters above sea level. I believe the same dedication should be used when packing a backpack for an outdoor adventure. If not more so, after all, the results of a poorly packed backpack could be potentially as bad as a poorly packed parachute.
In my view, the single most important part of hiking and or trekking is packing your backpack. Knowing exactly whats in your pack, right down to the amount of grams every item takes. This means creating a proper journal for your gear. However you choose to document your gear, whether in an excel sheet, word document, on your smartphone or in a paper journal, is completely up to you. We prefer services like lighterpack.com that is a highly configurable, easy to use, free service to document and share a gear list.
Your first purchase:
Start your transition by purchasing a proper digital kitchen scale, than, with deligence start weighing your biggest items first and jot them down in your journal. In excel, your list might look something like this:
The big three
1. Tent – Hilleberg Akto – 1,6kilos
2. Backpack – Fjällräven Abisko – 2,4kilos
3. Sleepingbag – Cheap synthetic summer bag – 1,4kilos
4. Sleeping pad -Exped Synmat – 560grams
Total of big three: 5,96 kilos
Of course you would probably want to add brand of tent and so on, but you get the general idea. For reasons perhaps more apparent later, it’s better to jot everything down digitally in lighterpacks or excel as this will allow you to move around, change, reorganize your gear much easier.
Now, after you jot down your big three, move of to the rest of your kit. We like to organize our list in the following categories:
1. The big three (tent, backpack, sleep system)
2. Hydration and cooking
3. Clothing in backpack
4. Personal item (washing, first aid, teeth care, hygene)
5. Electronics (camera, battery pack, tripod, batteries, smartphone, ipad, computer)
6. Extras (stuff that doesn’t fit in the other categories)
7. Clothing worn (while backpacking)
Once all your items are indexed, weighed and categorized it’s much easier to make educated decisions, rather than just guestimations. You will know exactly what is in your pack, what purpose it may or may not serve and the weight of each item. From here you can place your focus on your heaviest items, which tend to be the big three (tent, backpack and sleep system).
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As I came up over the ridge I couldn’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe, ultralight is not always the perfect solution for every backpacking trip. I stood there, wet, tired and miserable. I had just hiked 15 kilometers on a cold rainy afternoon along the Laugavegur trail in Southern Iceland. The trail stretches roughly 75 kilometers from the north in Landmannalaugar down to the south in Skogar. I made my journey in mid June a week after the trail had just been opened for the season. Snow was still prevalent along this part of the trail from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker. I flew in from Stockholm to Reykjavik and arrived around 9 in the morning. From there it was about a 4 hour bus drive along thin gravel roads, streams and an endless view of mountains and volcanic ash.
After 12 hours of traveling I just wanted to move, I needed to get out and walk and even though I arrived at Landmannalaugar at 4 in the evening, I made the decision to just walk. I couldn’t be bothered by the massive rainfall or the awesome hot springs. I pulled out my rain jacket, adjusted my backpack and made my way.
I arrived at that ridge after about 4 hours of hiking in wet, cold snow feeling like shit. Sure the first hour was a blast, but the rest, not so much. I just wanted to get somewhere warm and pitch my tarp for the night. When I reached that ridge overlooking the campsite the only thought that came to mind was “fuck”. My shitty day is turning out to be only worse, what I wouldn’t give for a 4 season, two layer tent, a thick winter sleeping mat and bag. Perhaps even a warm bed and shower. I looked over at the cabin walked in and requested a bed for the night. Of course I wasn’t alone here, all the beds were taken. I resigned and accepted the fact that tarp it would be.
When I stood there looking over the campsite, dread creeping in on the knowledge that I would now have to walk from the warm cabin down to the campsite about 100 meters away, cold and wet, walking in knee high snow in my mesh trail runners, knowing all too well that my night was about to be much worse than my day. I was unprepared for a winter hike, the thought that I would be hiking in knee high snow in the middle of June simply didn’t occur to me. While I tend to plan well, and pack warm. A tarp, trail runners and a torso pad with a summer quilt are not always the best choices for a winter hike. To make matters worse the campsite was placed at the bottom of a deep valley with no trees or wind shields in place. The wind was screaming down the snowy mountain side.
After a while I was finally able to set up my tarp in the volcanic ash, placed out my torso pad on my plastic trash bag ground floor and in the end, I was longing for that warm bed. The feeling of dread overtook me later on when I was really warm in my bag and had to get out, walk that 100 meters with frozen shoes on because I had to take a raging piss.
The moment of change
It was in that moment lying in my warm sleeping bag, knowing I would have to get up, get clothed and put those freezing cold shoes on and hike 100 meters in that snow in the middle of the night just to take a piss, that my love for ultralight backpacking and hiking altogether started to dwindle. This is how backpacking works, it tests us mentally and physically on all levels. This first days are always the worst.
When I crawled back into my sleeping bag, wet and miserable I started to re-think how I would like to tackle these situations in the future. I started to wonder if the entire trail would be like this or if it’s just here, at the northern end of the trail. In any case I started to write down what changes I wanted to make to my gear. What worked what didn’t and so on. I wanted to find a good compromise of weight and comfort as well as usability in all situations. I found that while my general backpacking weight is very light, a base weight on this trip of about 2.5 kilos (5.5lbs), it was lacking in overall comfort and safety for surprise conditions. When I started to write everything down I found that I made certain compromises that were simply not necessary: I could easily hold the same weight with more comfort and safety without crossing the threshold to “stupid light”.
Some of the bigger changes I had to make was to my torso pad and sleeping mat (I carry both a blow up wide torso pad and an evazote sleeping mat) these together weighed about 500 grams. I also had to re-think my trailrunners. Not necessarily changing from trails runners to boots, more changing to a different form of trail runners.
Why not boots? Well, to be honest that first day I was longing for a pair of nice warm boots, longing for the comfort and warmth boots can obtain in cold, wet climates. Then I made my way into that first hut at Hrafntinnusker and saw that everybody’s shoes and feet were wet and cold. The only difference is that my shoes would be dry in the morning while everybody else will have to put hot warm feet into wet cold boots that would stay wet and cold the entire trip. On top of that I really like when my feet get hot in trail runners that I just plow through some cold water and voila! Cooled down and ready to go. What I wanted to change in my shoes was the sturdiness, I was sick and tired of stubbing my toe along the trail and it hurting like hell afterwards because my trail runners are the equivalent of walking barefoot as far as how much protection they give.
I was also looking at perhaps changing my tarp to a more traditional tent – heavier of course than what I have, but still keep me within my 3 for 3 goal, the 3 for 3 I talk about extensively in my book Ultralight and comfortable. It’s basically your biggest three items under 3 kilos. (Tent, sleep system and backpack)
I also started to re-think just what my goals where, the truth is, backpacking is not a black and white equation. I can’t give you all the answers and what will work for you specifically. I am constantly trying out new variations along new trails. I personally don’t like hikes longer than 14 days, you might like month long trails. More power to you. I also at this moment in my life have zero ambition to climb mount Everest or hike the entirety of the Appalachian trail.
In the end
My gear choices worked very well, but what had me thinking was that I had left very little margin for error. As I stated earlier, I am quite good at planning my trips, and forseable problems that might occur. I had even understood that there would be snow along the northern section of the trail. But for some reason it seemed to have slipped my planning. It turned out that the rest of the trail was more what I planned for, and I had a great time.
I did start to re-think my packing though, and it’s quite easy to go stupid light, and it’s something I still do from time to time and it’s usually in conjunction with arrogance. Sometimes I just take certain situations for granted because I am too comfortable with my own experience and skill. While it’s good to have knowledge and skill, it’s no crutch for making stupid decisions.
With that said, I want to propose a different approach to the ultralight movement, or at least my own movement of the Ultralight and comfortable variation. Just as the heavy miserable community or traditional backpacking community obsesses about “ruggedness, survivor, name brand” and so on. The ultralight community has a tendency to go overboard on the “ultralight, superlight, grams, ounces”. We spend so much time obsessing about weight, that somewhere along the lines we have to lift our eyes a bit and realize that different hikers have different goals. I would also like to suggest that lighter is not always more comfortable. Sometimes a backpack that weighs 1.3 kilo with a sturdy frame, hip belt and good carrying capacity is a much better choice than the 300 gram Ikea bag sewn into a backpack – for any purpose.
So we have to find a good medium, maybe we still have to obsess about the weight, but we have to take into consideration comfort, distance of hike and of course the goals of the hiker. When I made that trip in Iceland I couldn’t help but stare at everybody and think “those poor bastards, they simply have no clue”. I can only assume that everybody looked at me at thought “wow, that guy is simply amazing with his ultralight gear.. Looks like he is flying over the terrain”.
I recently had an outing with a few friends here in northern Sweden up in the Borgarfjäll mountains, about 350 kilometers inland from Umeå. This was the very reason I moved back to Northern Sweden: To get to the mountains! This was a fun trip, and more in line with car camping perhaps than a rough tumble through the wilds of Sweden, but I had fun non-the less.. In fact, there is something to be said about parking the car outside a mountain top, summiting, sleeping over, fishing and coming back down again. I was out a total of two nights and it was well worth the drive.
This trip also gave me the chance to test my Sierra designs Cloud sleeping bag/quilt and using my Samsung 9+ for all video and photography before taking my planned longer fall trips. Video coming eventually…..
The view from Buarkantjahke at about 700 meters
A lot can be said about the Zpacks Duplex – but there are two that define it most: Light and Cold. What you gain in weight, you sacrifice in size and “tightness”. This is a payoff usually worth the cost, but in cold, fall conditions the Duplex should be changed out for tents better situated for these conditions.
The Zpacks and Hilleberg Allak side by side.. both did just fine in the mountains – though the Allak weighs about 2kg more.
My favorite pack: the Hyperlite mountain gear windrider 2400. A great combination or weight, robustness, usability and looks.
David finding loads of chanterelle mushrooms – we filled up several plastic bags with mushrooms.
The view by Saxån overlooking Buarkantjahke mountain. 1235 meter peak and were we camped the night before at around 900meters.
On the way back from Borgafjäll I walked a few kilometers along Lögdeälven and camped right by the water
Down by Öreälven