• Facebook
    • Google+
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
    • Get new posts sent to your inbox!
      Enter your email address below:

  • Monday, February 20, 2017

    My $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List: Sleeping Gear

    This is part three in a series of posts about my $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List (Click here for part one.) Part three, is all about my shelter and sleeping gear.
    Grand Trunk UL          Cost: $13.99          Weight: 11.464 oz
    I have backpacked hundreds of miles with a Grand Trunk UL hammock, so I can attest that durability is not an issue. Hammocking isn't for everyone, but it offers a lot of benefits. You don't need a clearing to setup camp; you stay above sharp rocks, sticks, thorns, mud, bugs, and critters; they are easy to setup; they are lightweight; you don't need a ground cloth or sleeping pad; and best of all, they give you a very comfortable place to sit at the end of the day. 
    I slightly modified this hammock by replacing the ropes and metal hooks that are used for attaching it to a tree. I instead used lightweight weaved nylon ropes. This saved nearly 2 ounces. 

    Rain Tarp
    DIY, Window Shrink Wrap Plastic          Cost: $2.00          Weight: 4.40 oz
    Braided Mason's Cord and Elastic Cord          Cost: $5.48          Weight: 0.847 oz
    Other than its lightness and cheapness, my favorite thing about making a rain tarp out of window shrink wrap, aka polycryo, is that it won't block your view of the swaying trees, starlight, and wildlife above you.
    Considering how lightweight this plastic is, I've been surprised by the durability. That being said, reinforcing the edges is a must. Use the double-sided tape that comes with the window shrink wrap kit to fold over the edges on all four sides.
    For securing the guylines, I've tried many things, but my current favorite method is using duct tape and soda can pull tabs. The pull tab sandwiched inside the duct tape keeps it from tearing (see photo). 
    I'm yet to get a tear in the plastic, except the cut I intentionally made to test what would happen, but as with any lightweight material with enough use, a tear is inevitable. The edges reinforced with the double-sided tape keep most of the tension from a small tear turning into a large one. Duct tape adheres to it really well, so if you do have a small tear, repairs are easy. Heavy duty window shrink film is also available, but that will add a couple ounces. So far, I haven't felt a need to use the thicker plastic.
    If your hiking destination lacks trees, this can be setup on the ground using hiking poles or sticks. For a ground cloth, I use a rectangle cut from a piece of Tyvek. Tyvek is primarily used in construction as a home wrap. It can be purchased online, but home builders will usually have no problem giving you the scrap from the end of a roll if you ask. As it is lightweight, waterproof, breathable, tear-proof, and sew-able, Tyvek is the most useful material you will ever find in a dumpster.
    Another Option
    A slightly heavier option, is to use Tyvek for your rain tarp. It's about 3 ounces heavier than the polycryo, but it offers some advantages. 
    First, it's more durable. Second, as much as I like the clear view under polycryo, on a hot day the Tyvek will reflect heat and provide extra shade. Third, there is very little work involved in making it.
    My preferred method for hanging this tarp doesn't require grommets or tools. I ran a ridge line of braided mason's cord between the trees and draped the tarp over it. To keep the tarp from sliding up and down my ridge line, I tied a loop in each side of the line, poked a hole in the Tyvek with some duct tape for reinforcement, and pulled the loop through. I slid a stick through the loop so it's easy to take down (see photo).
    To tie down the corners without grommets, I wrap a small item in the corner of the Tyvek. Anything that doesn't have a sharp edge will do. I've used acorns, pebbles, or balled up pieces of paper. I slide a slipknot over it with braided mason's cord, thin elastic cord, or fishing line (see photo). I tie the other end to another tree, a boulder, or a stick stuck into the ground. You could also use tent stakes, but that just adds weight, so I prefer utilizing objects in the environment.

    Sleeping Bag
    Bear Butt 41-Degree Bag          Cost: $32.97          Weight: 29.98 oz
    I'm an avid backpacker, so I'm not afraid to invest in good gear. Proven by the fact that I sold my beloved junker car for less than I paid for my Z Packs sleeping bag. If going on a summer trip in warm weather, however, there are a lot of cheap lightweight options.
    This particular bag has two zippers, which works great with a hammock. Unzip the bottom, slide it over the hammock, and you're insulated above and below.
    When you lay in a sleeping bag, you compress the insulation underneath you. This causes it to lose nearly all of its insulating properties, because it's the loft of the insulation that keeps you warm. Sliding the sleeping bag over the hammock will prevent this compression and make it much warmer.  It also keeps it from falling onto the ground while you sleep. Ideally, you'll want to purchase a longer sleeping bag than you'd normally need.
    See my previous post about packing to see my super-ultralight sleeping bag stuff sack made out of the same polycryo plastic as my rain tarp.
    Next Monday: I'll show you how I make dinner with my super-ultralight, super-ultracheap, cooking gear.
    Please email any questions or comments to ryan@abackpackerslife.com. If you have an alternative idea for a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list, let me know. I would love to share them in future posts.
    Related Posts:
    My $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List: Packing

    Monday, February 13, 2017

    My $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List: Packing

    This is part two on a series of posts about my $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List (Click here for part one.) Part two, is all about backpacks and stuff sacks. 
    Ozark Trail Atka          Cost: $18.97          Weight: 10.649 oz
    I risk losing you by suggesting a dirt cheap Wal-Mart pack, but hear me out. With weights being equal, a high-quality pack will be more comfortable, but on my first trip, I carried a total weight of about 35 lbs in a pack that cost ten times this much. My shoulders started to ache after the first few miles, but it was one of the best times I had ever had. This Atka pack with my super ultralight gear would have been more comfortable to carry than that first pack. So if you go super-ultralight, you don't have to let the expense of a great pack keep you from hitting the trail.
    When you keep your weight this low, you can get by without some of the features of an expensive pack, such as, an internal frame, thick shoulder padding, load lifters, stabilizer straps, suspension, or a hip belt. They can make a pack more comfortable, but nothing makes a pack more comfortable than going super-ultralight. 
    I've tested this pack up to about 14 pounds. That's 5.25 lbs for the gear, enough food and stove fuel for 5 days, and a bottle of water. That's about the maximum weight you'd want to carry with this pack. Or course, as your food weight drops, the pack becomes much more comfortable. By the last day, you'll barely notice you have it on.
    To lighten it a couple more ounces, I removed the zipper pulls, cut out the hydration sleeve and other excess material, and removed the back padding. The foam padding in this pack absorbs a lot of heat. Removing it will save a few grams and a sweaty back. In fact, the padding absorbed so much heat, I had to cut it out on the trail. It worked great as sit pad, however, so I still take it along anyway. I could have replaced this with a less insulating type of foam padding, but if you pack it right, it's not really needed. 
    Packing Tips 
    You can increase the comfort level of any frameless pack by packing it right. Keep your heaviest items close to your body and near the small of your back to give you a better center of gravity. Also, it's important to keep the weight evenly distributed.
    Making custom stuff sacks gives you more control over how items fit in your pack (see below).
    Should You Upgrade?
    • If you plan on doing a lot of backpacking, it's worth investing more on a backpack. A quality pack, properly cared for, could last a lifetime. A lifetime of stories get embedded into an old pack like so much dirt and grim. I've carried my Gossamer pack over 4,000 miles in ten different countries. It's covered in mud stains and dental floss stitching from numerous field repairs. I love it more for that.    
    • If you do upgrade your pack, make sure it's properly fitted. Don't be tempted to buy a pack that isn't the right fit no matter how good a deal it is.You'll find some great advice about how to choose a properly fitted pack at sectionhiker.com.
    • If you don't mind investing a little more, but want to stay super-ultralight, consider Z Packs Zero backpacks, starting at $95.  Also, check out their bargain bin for occasional deals.  

    Pack Liner
    DIY Polycryo Plastic Bag          Cost: $0.00 - $2.00          Weight: 0.35 oz
    Save money and weight by skipping a pack rain cover.  Since you can't rely on them to keep your gear dry, you'll need a pack liner anyway, so don't bother. 
    In the winter, I weatherproof my windows with shrink film plastic, also called Polycryo.  In the spring, I pull it down and used it to make durable super-lightweight bags. Cut it to size and seal it together with the extra double-sided tape that comes with the window sealing kit. Customize the size to fit your pack perfectly. 
    Tip: Make sure the plastic is pulled tight as you apply the double-sided tape. Wrinkles under the tape can prevent an air-tight seal. To do this, I use scotch tape to secure the plastic to my table or floor before applying the double sided tape. 
    In the spring, just in time for preparing your summertime hikes, you can often find window shrink film at a fraction of the cost. Wal-mart sells theirs for $2 a box in April or May. One box can make you two rain tarps and loads of durable plastic bags.
    Other Options
    If you're not up for making your own liners, a heavy-duty trash bag or trash compactor bag works just fine.
    Should you Upgrade?
    There really isn't a reason to spend extra money on bags and liners. And I'll say it again, don't let an outfitter sell you a pack rain cover. They are useless. 

    Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack
    DIY Polycryo Plastic Bag          Cost: $0.00           Weight: 0.30 oz
    Avoid a wet sleeping bag and shave a few ounces from your pack by leaving your sleeping bag compression sack at home.
    Making your own stuff sack also gives you control over its size and shape, allowing you to organize your pack for the best weight distribution and comfort. When all the air is squeezed out of the sack, it's like a "space bag" that you can sort of mold into shape. To close, just twist the top and use a rubber band or hair tie to seal it up.

    Small Waterproof Bag
    DIY Polycryo Plastic Bag          Cost: $0.00          Weight: 0.14 oz
    I carry a small version of the sacks above for items I want to have extra protection from rain: socks, thermal layer, underwear, camera, book, or fire starter. I've spent a decent amount of money on lightweight waterproof bags, but none of the lightweight ones last very long and they just add unnecessary weight. Use that money for something else, such as upgrading your backpack.
    These also work great for doing laundry in the backcountry.  
    Other Options
    If you don't want to bother making your own bags, recycle plastic bread bags or use ZipLoc freezer bags. There are plenty of free super-lightweight options.
    Next Monday: I'll show you how I sleep at night with my $100 super-ultralight pack.
    Please email any questions or comments to ryan@abackpackerslife.com.  If you have an alternative idea for a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list, let me know. I would like to share them in future posts.
    Related Posts:
    Cleaning Clothes in the Backcountry

    Monday, February 6, 2017

    My $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List

    Some of the best moments in my life happened when I had the very least. Whenever I stress about money or work, I remind myself of that. When I was spending a majority of each year backpacking, hitchhiking, or cycling, people would ask me if I was a self-made millionaire or a trust-fund baby. I’d laugh it off and assure them that living like a hobo was dirt cheap.
    I used to have a motto back then: “A dollar saved is a mile hiked.” I’d see something I wanted to buy and think, "is it worth 200 miles of trail?” Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things about how to have a great adventure without spending a fortune.
    A reader on a budget once asked me how cheaply they could buy a set of gear for their first backpacking trip. I worked out a sample gear list for them, but I kept finding new ways to go even cheaper and lighter.
    While waiting for the end of winter, I thought I'd pass the time by compiling everything I’ve learned and come up with a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list for those who think you need to be a trust-fund baby to live a life of adventure.
    I’ll be writing all year on this topic, but I’m going to start it off with a simple gear list that can get you out the door and on the trail for just under $100. I'll also disprove the myth that cheap gear means heavy gear, as this gear list weighs just over 5 pounds.
    My Goals For This Gear List
    1. It can't cost a penny over $100.
    2. It has to have a base weight of about five pounds, which is the weight of the pack not including consumables like food, water, and cooking fuel. 
    3. Any DIY gear had to be easy to make without having any uncommon tools or skills (i.e. by people like me)
    4. I could use common household items as long as they were so common that any first-time backpacker would already have them.
    5. I had to maintain my normal level of safety and comfort on 3-5 day stretches in summer temperatures, between 60 and 90° F (16 to 32° C).
    Why $100? 
    An avid backpacker would never limit their budget to $100. Obviously, a budget of $1,000 or more will get you a better set of gear, but I think it would surprise most people to learn just how little they have to spend.
    I love shopping for new gear as much as any backpacker, but setting extreme limits is a great way to force yourself to get creative and learn something new. For first-time backpackers, those on a budget or not, this is a great way to start learning about what gear you need, and what you don't, before an outfitter tries to sell you everything including the kitchen sink.
    Why 5 Pounds?
    There's nothing inherently special about five pounds, except that your enjoyment on a hike generally goes up as your pack weight goes down. You'll have more energy, you’ll hike faster and further, and you'll have less aches and injuries. There's a point, however, when shaving off that last ounce will actually decrease your enjoyment or make you less safe. You may find, for example, that 7 or 8 pounds works better for you.
    That being said, challenging yourself to get as low as five pounds will force you to get creative and learn something new. With this knowledge, you'll make better gear choices and you'll know if and when an upgrade is worth the money or carrying the extra weight. 
    Finally, minimalism on the trail is liberating. Not only will you minimize your impact on the environment, when you head into that green tunnel of trees you’ll find that the less you require, the freer you'll feel. Later, when you're working hard to buy the next thing, you'll remember that the best times in your life were when you had the very least. Discovering that could change a life. And I believe if enough people make this discovery, it could change the world.
    The Gear List 
    Alright, on to my $100 super-ultralight pack. For now, I’ll just give the gear list then I’ll dive into the details in my next posts.
    Check back over the next several weeks for DIY instructions and other tips for super-ultralight, super-ultracheap hiking trips. 
    Packing Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Backpack Ozark Trail Atka 27L, modified 18.97 10.649
    Bag Liner DIY, Polycryo Plastic (Window Weatherproofing Shrink Film) 2.00 0.35
    Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack DIY, Polycryo Plastic  - 0.28
    Small Stuff Sack DIY, Polycryo Plastic - 0.14
    Sleeping Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Hammock Grand Trunk UL, modified 13.99 11.464
    Rain Tarp DIY, Polycryo Plastic - 4.4
    Guylines Braided Mason's Cord and 1 mm Elastic Cord 5.48 0.847
    Sleeping Bag Bear Butt, 41-Degree Bag 32.97 29.98
    Cooking Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Stove Soda Can Alcohol Stove w/ Windscreen and Pot Stand - 1.411
    Cook Pot Steel Coffee Can - 2.36
    Pot Insulator DIY, Windshield Sunscreen 1.00 0.282
    Fuel 4 oz. Eye Dropper Bottle for HEET 1.59 0.494
    Lighter Mini Bic Lighter 1.00 0.388
    Spoon Heavy-duty Plastic Spoon from Wal-Mart 0.57 0.28
    Food Bag DIY, Polycryo Plastic - 0.14
    Water Treatment Bleach in "Breath Drops" or Eye Drops Bottle - 0.25
    Water Storage Soda Bottle - 0.81
    Large Water Storage 2-Liter Soda Bottle - 1.728
    Hygiene, First Aid & Gear Maintenance Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Gauze Roll Dollar Store Roll of Gauze 1.00 0.141
    Duct Tape/Pen Tape Wrapped Around Pen Ink - Carried
    Antiseptic Single-use in Fused Drinking Straws 1.00 0.04
    Medication Excedrin &  Ibuprofen in Mini ZipLoc - 0.07
    Hand Sanitizer In Eye Dropper Bottle 1.00 0.76
    Toilet Paper Partial Roll, Cardboard Tube Removed - 0.3
    Toothbrush Travel-Size from Dollar Store 0.50 0.247
    Toothpaste Travel-Size from Dollar Store 0.50 0.71
    Sewing Kit Needle and Length of Thread - 0.00
    Storage Baggie DIY, Polycryo Plastic - 0.07
    Miscellaneous Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Headlamp Ozark Trail from Wal-Mart 1.00 0.95
    Spare Batteries Batteries from Extra Ozark Trail Headlamp 1.00 0.21
    Blade Razor Blade - 0.07
    Safety Pins For Hanging Wet Clothing on Pack - 0.04
    Sit Pad Back Pad Removed from Atka Backpack - 0.56
    Waterproof Matches Wooden Strike Anywhere Matches with Heads Dipped in Candle Wax - 0.14
    Bug Repellent (If needed) DEET Spray, 1 oz 2.99 Carried
    Notebook DIY Waterproof Notebook - Carried
    Map (If Needed) - Carried
    Clothing Cost (US$) Weight (oz)
    Pants/Shorts Non-Cotton Shorts from Thrift Store 1.98 Worn
    Shirt Non-Cotton T-Shirt from Thrift Store 1.98 Worn
    Bandanna DIY Buff, from Thrift Store Material 1.98 Worn
    Socks Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred - Worn
    Extra Socks Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred - 1.80
    Underwear Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred - Worn
    Extra Underwear Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred - 2.787
    Shoes Start out just using what you have, Trail Runners preferred - Worn
    Rain Poncho (If Needed) Frogg Togg Poncho 4.99 3.99
    Thermal Layer (If Needed) Thrift Store Fleece, Cut Into Vest 1.98 5.00
    Totals, If Packing Everything $99.47 5 lbs 4.1 oz
    Next Post: A closer look at my backpack, DIY pack liner, and stuff sacks.
    Please email any questions or comments to ryan@abackpackerslife.com.  If you have an alternative idea for a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list, let me know. I would like to share them in future posts.
    Related Posts:
    Financial Responsibilities  
    How to Make a Wicking Alcohol Stove
    Safe Drinking Water in the Backcountry, Part 1: Using Bleach