When You Carry Too Much Stuff

October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

I started this recent adventure the way I have started all previous adventures. I just start pulling stuff out and putting it all together. This time we were heading into the Canadian Rockies for a mid September romp in the back-country and because of the potential for snow, I had to make sure that both myself and my companions were prepared for the whatever mother nature could throw at us. While the threat of a heavy snow is always present, generally the high country gets smaller accumulations this time of year. We were hailed on twice in 2014 when we spent a week in The High Uintas Wilderness in NE Utah. Though we were about 4000 feet higher in average elevation then, we would be about 400 miles further north in latitude at the same time of year. Anything could happen.

So, what is needed? The basics include layers of synthetic material based clothing. That means a thin wicking base layer, followed by a wicking intermediate layer, followed by a thicker layer that can be topped off with a water and windproof shell. Two thin base layers, and perhaps a packable down vest or down sweather. Perhaps 2 or 3 pairs of good hiking socks. In my case I brought 2 traditional pairs and a 3rd pair of Alpaca Wool socks that I thought would be a warm sock to wear in my Crocs while in camp. Weight is always a concern, but having alternative footwear for camp is a must, and Crocs make a good, comfortable lightweight choice. In addition rain pants would be useful, and if we got snow, then gaiters would be a good thing to have as well. For myself, I have been backpacking with the same tattered quilted shirt/jacket that I received from my mother-in-law for years, and I wasn’t going to stop bringing it now. Cold weather means gloves, and something for the ears, maybe a small wool cap. Personally I bring a couple of pairs of thin glove liners, and for this trip I also brought some heavier gloves that weren’t water proof. When you start adding it up, no individual piece of clothing weighs that much, but when you add it all together, pretty soon you have pounds.

A sleeping bag and pad are a must, and for this adventure the choice of bag would be important. I had taken my 40 year-old LL Bean down 0°F bag to Utah and it was just enough. 40 years had taken a lot of the warmth out of the bag, and if I had to honestly assess its current rating I would say 25°F was more like it. What I like about the bag is it packs so small, and for that weight it is still pretty warm, but I was worried about moisture on this trip. What if we did get a lot of rain, and what if the bag got wet? It just wouldn’t do to try and stay warm in a wet down bag, and I own a perfectly good North Face 0°F synthetic bag. I haven’t used it much in recent years, but I always had it stored correctly, so it should be capable of stepping up and keeping my warm. The problem with it is that I need it to pack smaller so it will fit inside my backpack. Since I had migrated to an internal frame pack, simply strapping the stuff sack to the outside was no longer procedure. Today however you can buy compression stuff sacks. Get the right size, stuff your sleeping bag in, and then pull the compression straps and watch your load shrink in size. I was able to compress my synthetic bag enough to shove it all the way to the bottom of the pack. For Utah I had switched from my old Therma-Rest self-inflating pads to the newer lighter Therma-Rest Ultra that weighs less than a pound. It takes more hot air to inflate, but for the weight savings, it was worth it.

Food weighs a lot. For this trip we would assemble an assortment of dry goods for breakfast: Quick Oats, Raisins, Dried Cranberries, Dried Blueberries, Pecans, Granola, Brown Sugar and other assorted nuts. For lunch we would snack on energy bars, gorp, and jerky, and for dinner we would all bring dehydrated meals prepared by Mountain House, Alpine Aire, Backpackers Pantry or a new company in Maine: Good2Go. Breakfast and dinner would require only hot boiling water to prepare. Nothing more would be needed.

Energy bars varied from Cliff Bars, to Kind Bars to my own personal bars which are quite tasty, however they do seem to weigh a lot. Some how, rolled oats, honey, peanut butter, sesame seeds, cashew powder, candied pecans, cranberries, figs, chocolate and sea salt add up to weigh a ton. Everyone loved them, but a small baggy with 6 bars felt like it weighed a pound or two.

However, that wasn’t the weight limit for food products added to our burden because we also brought along Pat’s Back Country beer concentrate. Each packet weighs about 1/4 the amount of a full beer, so that for the weight of 1 beer, we could carry 4 beers. I put together a large ziplock of 4 Pale Ales, and 4 Black IPAs as well as activator packets for each brew and finally a paper towel to wipe out the activation chamber between batches. Each ziplock felt like it weighed 3 pounds, and I carried two of these packages.

Did I mention scotch? Yes, we have to have scotch. Many moons ago when I first started going into the woods with Larry, he said to remember to bring a small flask of “something special” to drink. I knew what he meant. I was the first one in his group of friends to bring scotch (Single Malt of course), and it went over well. I always brought scotch there after, but scotch became institutionalized thanks to my brother-in-law. When he planned his Grand Canyon trips, the choice wasn’t left up to individuals, he simply went into the liquor establishment and bought as many bottles as he thought we needed. I took that practice and applied it to my own adventures, and we purchased 4 750ml bottles of Glenfidditch and Glen Morangie. That went with Scotty’s Balvinie, and Walt’s Oban and we had our scotch.

While you can boil water on a camp fire, it is highly recommended to use a lightweight camping stove, and for a trip like this where we are only boiling water, we carry pocket rockets and butane fuel canisters. For a week out, we need 1 pound per person per week. Not everyone needs to carry a stove, nor a cook set, but we do need at least two cook sets so that we can get enough water to boil to handle everyone’s needs. I always bring a cook set. What everyone does need is a cup for a hot beverage, something to eat their oatmeal out of and a spoon, preferably with a long handle. Mixing/stirring the re-hydrated dinners works better with a long handled spoon.

Another item of need is something to handle the water. These days in even the highest country, it is always recommended to treat water. The old days of using iodine tablets are out, and it takes too much fuel to boil all of it, so we used to bring filtered pumps. MSR and Sweetwater used to be the models of choice, you could pump a liter in about 70-90 seconds depending on the state of your filter. Lately we have adopted the Steripen which utilizes ultraviolet light to sterilize any bacteria. While a 6 micron filter should get everything, anything that gets through could cause extreme discomfort, whereas if everything was sterilized, then nothing bad was going to happen. Steripens though needed expensive lithium batteries, and you would need extras.

While the beer concentrate, and the scotch don’t really count as essentials everything else I have described so far is pretty essential. There are more essentials that can be summed up as toiletries (brush, toothpaste, TP, floss, and a new addition – baby wipes), maps, valuables, a pocket knife, replacement batteries and a head lamp.

What else did I always bring along? I usually bring my phone, and to keep it charged, an extra battery. To keep the extra battery charged I brought a solar panel that attaches to the top of my pack. The phone is good for some kinds of pictures, and it has GPS if we needed it. Though I brought Mike’s real GPS unit, I left it on and ran the batteries down and no one had replacement AAs. That was unfortunate. I brought my Sven saw to cut wood, my A-Lite Mayfly camp chair, and a fairly lightweight tripod. For food hanging I had two carabiners and some rope, as well as two food bags.

I also chose to haul along a large sheet of Tyvek that I had purchased for Utah and then upgraded by putting grommets in the right places so that it could be erected as a tarp using my hiking poles (Oops, always bring poles too) and some guy lines. I slept under this every night in Utah, but for this trip I wanted it so that should we get some weather after making camp, then we would have some place to retreat to. The total weight of this was about a pound. After the first night on this trip I offered my 1 pound tarp and associated tie downs to Mike in exchange for his 7 pound 4 season tent. I should have insisted that Mike bring his 3 season tent, but I didn’t know he had two tents.

Lastly I had a dromedary to hold water in camp, my camel bladder for hiking into which I carried never more than a liter of water, and I had one additional 1 liter Nalgene bottle which I would use in camp for water. All told everything added up to 50 pounds I think. At least that is what it felt like.

There is something else that affects the weight you carry. Moisture. Moisture gets into the tent, and the fly and the ground cloth, and unless you have direct sunlight in the morning you can’t get that dried out. Moisture collects inside the tent from exhalation. It collects inside the sleeping bag, and gets on anything that is left out. Condensation outside under the vestibule collects on your boots. However, the greatest moisture contributor is weather and if you can’t keep the weather out, then wet is inevitable. The first guard against that is a decent pack cover. After Utah, I should have thrown that pack cover away, but I didn’t and here I was with it again. It was effective in keeping primary moisture off the pack, but it leaked. The pack is fairly new but if it is treated for resistance to moisture, that breaks down over the years. The next level of protection is to put your valuable clothes in a water tight bag. In fact, you should probably buy a new water tight bag every journey, or at least every other. Some people also insert a plastic garbage bag inside for the extra protection. What is the net result of this paragraph? Your pack gets gains weight. Tuesday when we decided to attempt Pusatila Pass in the snow, we packed up wet tents, and our moist bags and then we got snowed on for 4 hours while we hiked through the forest and up against snow laden trees. By the time we called it quits and headed back to Wildflower, I could swear my pack was 10 pounds heavier.

What have I learned? At 57 there is still room inside my brain for new knowledge. What not to bring is gaining a lot more attention with me after this trip, and I think I am going to make some positive strides towards reducing my burden.

As nice as it is to have a group picture, carrying a tripod is just a waste of calories. With Jim along, I end up in just as many pictures in his camera as he does in mine. No more tripod.

While I may still bring my phone along, and perhaps a single charge smaller battery, the solar setup is also a waste of calories. For that matter, in Canada even though I had the device on top of my pack all day, it took 3 days to fully charge the battery. If I really need to recharge while camping I should replace my cookset with one of those thermo-coupled cooksets that makes electricity from boiling water.

This trip I could have left my camp seat at home, however it is nicer to have then not have, so I am going to keep it.

I carried 4 camera batteries, when in reality I only needed 2.

For the next trip I am going to upgrade my sleeping bag to a water-treated down bag that is light and small to pack.

No more Pat’s Back Country beer concentrates.

I am going to have to test the water proofness of my shell and rain paints. The shell fabric was really wet, and while I am aware that the waterproofness comes from the Gore-Tex layers that is layered between the inner and outer fabric layers, it just doesn’t feel right for the shell to feel so damn wet.

The Tyvek is good for another trip at least, and weighing in at 1 pound, it is hard to beat that for a shelter. As often as I get up at night, it is damn convenient to simply rise and step out from under the tarp, then it is to unzip an inner fly, unzip and outer fly, and then maneuver to extract oneself from a tent without bothering a tent mate.

I am a photographer. I cannot give up my camera.

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