Words & Photos by Paul Burbidge // Videos by Dylan Stewart
We’d made the Mackenzie River and the trip was over. We still had 100 kilometers of river to paddle but the unknowns were behind us and we started paddling by ourselves, in our own heads. We were already partly home and tied up with future activities, work, spouses etc. Or maybe this was just me. I struggle with being able to see my future. The Mackenzie River is wide, slow and straight. Wide means two kilometers wide and straight means sections long enough that the river has a horizon line- like the ocean. There is no unknown. Our next few hours were laid out in front of us. They would be long and hot and we’d have to paddle to make up for the lack of current. Our paddling didn’t seem to have any effect but we moved along.
“I don’t think a thru-hiker would much enjoy the Greater Patagonian Trail,” Neon, a Triple Crowner and my hiking partner in tackling the length of the Andes, mused. We were taking a yerba mate break about a month after hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail over the course of two seasons. “Thru-hiking is a balance between total suckage and astounding beauty and there are some long, sucky sections,” she completed the thought around long draws on the metal straw.
The Greater Patagonian Trail is a succession of routes created to enable distance hikers to immerse themselves in Patagonian landscape and culture. You can’t fully appreciate one without the other. This means you have to know how to handle yourself on long, remote distances AND communicate in Spanish while being able to adapt to Patagonian social standards. Any combination of these and you will enjoy large segments of the various routes but a straight thru-hike kinda sucks.
Video by Luc Mehl // Photos by Luc Mehl + Eric Parsons
The Nulato Hills are a relatively unknown area of Western Alaska, even to experienced ambassador Luc Mehl, who has grown up in the state and is well versed on what it has to offer. But, after researching any satellite imagery he could find, he decided that the region looked ripe for a bikepacking route. So, Luc teamed up with Revelate Designs founder/owner Eric Parsons to come up with a ~100-mile route along Muskox trails from the village of Nulato. We recently caught up with him for a quick chat about the trip and some insight into exploring such an untravelled wilderness.
Our first foray into the world of backpacks (circa 2010) was the Windrider Ultralight Pack, which has since become the pack that has helped us refine our goal of building durable, ultralight gear that excels on any backcountry mission. And after repeated testing over the years, it is still our go-to pack suggestion for anyone looking to go lighter.
With mesh pockets that are perfect for drying out gear, and three volume options (40, 55 and 70L), the Windrider is ready-to-go on anything from weekend overnights to a 2,000-mile thru hike or Alaskan expedition. But you don’t have to take it from us. We receive tons of customer feedback and work with an experienced group of gear testers to help provide honest feedback to anyone exploring pack options on the World Wide Web, and below you’ll find a few of our favorites snippets.
Taking care of and storing our outdoor gear is an art we’re still trying to master. After all, outdoor gear is an investment, and for the sake of the environment (and your bank account), you want it to go the distance to avoid repeatedly replacing items. Here’s a break-down of a few of the essential things we consider before packing gear away for the season.
Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is awe inspiring- it is big, wild, remote country. Mountains are stacked upon mountains, interspersed with free flowing rivers. The Refuge stretches from the south side of the Brooks Range, over the glaciated high peaks of the range, and across the coastal plain to the Arctic Ocean. I often marveled at the remoteness, as I realized how far we were from the nearest village or road. Continue Reading
To celebrate the launch of our newest product, the River Rescue Throw Bag, we asked Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Mark Oates to put together a comprehensive guide to technical paddling—call it packrafting 101. A certified whitewater instructor and outdoor educator, Mark regularly leads trips through the remote Tasmanian wilderness near his home zone. Ever detail-oriented and meticulous, Mark produced a thorough treatise on how to get the most out of any day on any creek in your boat, and get home in one piece. Huge thanks to Mark for sharing vital expertise that is sure to make us all smarter and safer as packrafting continues to blow up.
Words by Mark Oates // Photos by Dan Ransom + Mark Oates
You’ve got the latest and greatest packraft, you’ve got the cool hardcore creeking helmet—call it a complete kit—and you even have some decent river miles under your belt. So, now you want to take it to the next level. But wait…
Is there something else that you still need? Why do others make paddling hard rapids look effortless, while you come close to swimming? Why can some packrafters hit that particular eddy every time but you consistently struggle to catch it? How come your friends can easily surf waves for ages, yet you find it challenging to simply paddle across strong currents?
Is it the boat? Is it the river? Is it you? Do you simply need more time on the water?
Your daily food intake should include a mix of complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Breakfasts are no exception. Breakfast is commonly believed to be the most important meal of the day because you need to resupply the calories that you consumed while you were sleeping. Of course, if you’re on a trip, you also need to lay a solid foundation of calories for your upcoming aerobic endeavors. That means finding backpacking breakfast recipes that are delicious and pack a nutritional punch.
Annie MacWilliams is a Triple Crown hiker (AT09, PCT11, CDT13) who is lucky enough to call Utah home. Recently, the five month trips have morphed into overnights, weekends, and the lucky week here and there. But the list of quick hitters keeps getting longer. She’s also a new dog mom to a lazy pit mastiff mix who likes to walk slow and nap a lot. And that’s okay too. Here she explains that the really important part is just being out there—by any means necessary.
For me, not every trip needs to be epic, #sponsored, or Type 2 fun.
In fact, they rarely are.
Often just being there, outside, feeling small and exposed to the elements, with nothing more than the belongings on my back, is all I need to be filled with satisfaction. I’ve been lucky enough to spend months in the wilderness, both domestic and abroad, all months of the year, and now I’ve developed a strong infatuation for my backyard. Some of my favorite trips include nothing more than a Daybreak daypack filled with the essentials, a headlamp, and 12 hours. I wish I had weeks, months, years to wander, but the critical part is that I still wander.
Stripped Down Backpacking Stuff Sacks for Waterproof Redundancy & Organization
Most backpackers and thru hikers use stuff sacks, sometimes almost by default. A lot of gear comes with them—tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and even stuff like stoves. More often than not, what comes straight from the manufacturer is more of an after thought than anything else. Most backpacking stuff sacks are out of the technological orbit of the products they are made to contain. Cheap-o nylon, poorly constructed, outdated: they aren’t as light as they could be or as water resistant as they should be.
So I always recommend that people who are just getting started with ultralight stuff sacks begin by replacing the less-than-ideal standard stuff sacks they’re already carrying. It’s a great way to drop sometimes up to a pound of weight, just by switching materials from nylon to Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF, formerly Cuben Fiber). If you’ve already invested in a high tech product like an ultralight sleeping bag, quilt or pad, why not protect it from the elements and wear-and-tear with an equally high tech product that is lighter, waterproof and will also last longer than any other alternative?
The May long weekend is the year’s first real chance to get out in the mountains and paddle. In 2016 our plans had been thwarted by a faulty river gauge that was reading 10 times the actual flow. In 2017 our plans weren’t looking good due to too little water in the rivers we wanted to paddle and too much snow in the mountains we needed to cross.
Our last minute substitution was to paddle the Kaskawulsh River in Kluane National Park. Access would be up the Slims River Valley and out via the Alsek River Trail. None of us were really excited about the amount of flat hiking involved in this route and we knew the Kaskawulsh would be pretty tame, so we decided that we’d use fat bikes in addition to our pack rafts.
Dave Gonda, Dylan Stewart and I got out of town on Friday afternoon, stopped in Haines Junction to register our trip with Parks Canada, and were underway at the Slims River by 6 pm.
When you’re first learning the ins-and-outs of how to pack light for backpacking, it’s important to understand that it’s a process. I still constantly refine the gear I take on trips, and learn something new every time I pack my pack. That’s because I aspire to adhere to what I think is one of the most important precepts of ultralight backpacking, one I learned from Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Roman Dial. His philosophy is not just to buy and carry lighter stuff, but rather to travel as simply as possible and use gear for multiple purposes (you can read more about how another of our ambassadors, Forrest McCarthy, applies Roman’s ethic in our previous post, “The Soul of Minimalist Backpacking“).
Generally, the more skill and experience you have, the less gear you need. Similarly, the more information you gather pre-trip, the better prepared you’ll be when you set out. Know where you going and what you’re doing, and you’ll be able to choose exactly the right gear for the conditions (and leave behind what you don’t need). For example, if I’m going for an overnight trip in the fall in New England and the weather is clear, there won’t likely be bugs. So I might not need to bring a shelter, or I might take something very minimalist like a Flat Tarp. It’s a versatile option that can be pitched in an amazing number of configurations, and can also serve multiple purposes. It’s also very, very light (10 oz.).
A critical component of every trip into the wilderness is food. Whether going out for a couple of hours or a couple of months, some attention needs to be paid to nutrition in order for your physical output to be sustained for the duration of the activity. With that in mind, I’ll share how I developed my own personal nutrition strategy and pass along some lightweight backpacking food ideas that satisfy my cravings and metabolic needs.
My personal approach to backcountry nutrition is system driven. As Steve House said, “eating with a purpose is key to increasing your capacity for any sport.” My strategy is built upon a set of modular menus that are pre-prepared, scale-able and simple. They are primarily made of readily available ingredients that can be procured in bulk from stores online or in most major cities. My menus are rotated, combined, and modified to meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the trip objective, season, activity, and duration. I definitely don’t reinvent my menus every trip and I don’t recommend that you do either.
How does one determine the right amount of food, with the appropriate type of calories, for a trip? Below I will outline three strategies for determining your baseline nutritional needs. This will be your starting point for all trips into the wilderness. Ultimately, I would recommend combining these three strategies to determine a tried and true baseline that works for you.
Each spring, the global hiking community converges on a tiny town in southwestern Virginia. Day hikers, section hikers, thru hikers past and present crash like a wave on Damascus—seemingly all at once.
Overnight, the population of “Trail Town, USA” multiplies many times over. Tents appear, mini, mobile gear shops interspersed among them, with enough food carts slinging enough high-calorie grub to cure all the hiker hunger in a hundred miles.
Trail Days, like the Appalachian Trail itself, is a celebration of humanity in its many forms. There’s a how and why and reason for everyone who hikes, a story behind every pack. It’s joyous and solemn, wholesome and debaucherous, entirely sane and yet a little bit out there.
As much as possible, we tried to grab time with people who stopped by the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth–especially when they were carrying our gear. Learning a little bit about them and their hike helps us all complete the circle on why we do what we do, in turn.
Here’s what we gathered from a random assortment of thru hikers (a lot of whom ended up being from our home state of Maine):
York, ME—On the trail since April 4th
AT Highlights? Pretty much all of it. That’s why I’m here; living it, adventuring it.
Forrest McCarthy seeks big adventures in remote, wild landscapes. He learned to rock climb, eventually going on to work for Exum Mountain Guides, so he could more completely explore the Grand Tetons; he learned to packraft so he could wander the Colorado River Basin and Alaska’s backcountry; and he combines sports—alpine climbing and ski mountaineering or thru hiking and boating—so he can travel across wide open landscapes. Minimalist backpacking principles are the ties that bind his adventures together.
“Curiosity has been the driving force throughout my life,” he says. “What’s that river like? What’s over that next mountain range? What’s that ecosystem like?” In order to travel to ever more distant places in a world where untrammeled landscapes have become rare, McCarthy brings only what he absolutely needs on his adventures to stay warm, dry and protected from the elements. For example, he uses his dry suit as rain gear and his throw bag, trekking poles or paddle as hardware to put up his UltaMid. He even shares a toothbrush sometimes, though only with his wife, he adds with a laugh. And he uses the most technologically advanced equipment he can find.
“Often I see manufacturers trying to out-design each other,” he explains. “They are trying to sell end users gear with too many bells and whistles because that’s what the magazines tell the end users they need. There’s a certain level of dysfunction in this. How do we educate people that they don’t need the super high-tech suspension systems? It comes back to keeping it simple.”
Whether your objective is to lighten your load for more comfortable hiking, reduce your pack weight for a long distance hike, or prepare for the most challenging alpine climb of your life, a lightweight approach can have tremendous long-term benefits. With good information, skill and high-quality gear, you can engage in more enjoyable and more rewarding outdoor adventures. We compiled our best big-picture long distance hiking tips here in one convenient package to help you build your own ultralight philosophy and methodology.
Over the past several years, we’ve been lucky enough to build a pretty substantial community around Hyperlite Mountain Gear as the business has grown. Making gear that people really connect with has translated to a lot of relationships and a lot of stories—a major side-benefit of doing what we do.
Bryan Carroll, a young guy with a serious bent for getting out and into it, was an early-adopter of our take on ultralight design. He bought a pack early on, and soon the pictures followed. He lives in an adventure-rich zone in the Cascades in Washington, but even people with incredible access out their backdoors don’t do as much as this guy in a given week.
At the same time, it’s been a pleasure to watch Bryan build a professional life for himself, sprouted from his passion for the outdoors. Somehow, in addition to basically living in the mountains, he’s also managed to rack up an assortment of degrees and certifications, plus seven years of experience in his field. At the end of some long hours off-trail and in school, he’s now a Physical Therapist with his own practice. He tailors his services toward holistic, full-body health, using his clinical skills to help active people mend existing injuries and prevent future ones with nutrition counseling and movement therapy. Continue Reading
Say you were given the unfortunate choice of having only one place in the world to explore in your life; what would it be? Not a scenario that I would ever want to settle for, but if forced my answer would come without hesitation. Southern Utah.
After nearly 20 years of living in the desert Southwest, I am continually awed by the intricacies of its impossibly complicated landscape. This place can cradle you like a baby or torture you relentlessly.
On any given trip you may find yourself in calm serene pools of crystal clear water surrounded by budding cottonwood trees or, around the next bend, the wind might unleash a mental and physical beating of unbelievable force.
You can look out from a high point and find your destination seemingly only a few miles away, yet it may take hours or even days to navigate the maze of canyons hiding below the rim. It’s a mysterious place full of forgotten corners, lost arrowheads, baffling rock art, and it pulls at my soul in ways I can’t describe.
April 1 Snow Pack Update: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Isn’t Getting Any Less Interesting
It’s not like hiking the trail, it’s more of a winter ice endurance event. It doesn’t relate to thru hiking.
–“Don’t Panic,” 2011 PCT thru hiker
Five weeks ago we published a Pacific Crest Trail 2017 preview, and it turns out that we’re not alone in having a mean case of trail brain right now. The post caused quite a stir simply (we think) because it accurately related the insane reality of the Sierra snow pack at the end of February. A quick summary: if you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year, be prepared for snow. Lots of it.
Now for the update: As of April 1, the snow pack for the entire Sierra region of California is at 164% of normal. Break that down regionally and the numbers get even more staggering. We’re talking 147%, 175% and 164% for north, central and south, respectively.
We first published this guide to making your own ultralight first aid kit a little over a year and half ago. In the lead up to this year’s backpacking and thru hiking season, thought we’d revisit it to see if anything we’d learned in the meantime might be worth adding. That, after all, is the first rule of traveling safely in the backcountry; pay attention, build experience and expertise, embrace learning and above all, be open to adaptation.
The good news is that the original piece—written by our friend and long-time Hyperlite Mountain Gear supporter Andy Dappen of www.WenatcheeOutdoors.org—holds up. After consulting some other backpacking buddies who also happen to be medical professionals, we’ve got a couple new suggestions, and an edit or two.
All-in-all, the message is still the same: You can save yourself some clams and some weight by building your own ultralight first aid kit. Read on to learn how, and figure out what should—and shouldn’t–go into it.