The Soul of Minimalist Backpacking: Forrest McCarthy’s Ultralight Philosophy

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.”

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Double Duty: Lightening Your Backpacking Load with Multi-Purpose Gear

“If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus.” – James Maxton (1885­-1946)

Text by Cam Honan


One of many ways in which a hiker can lower his or her pack weight is by using multi-purpose gear. A standard backpacking kit is literally full of such items.

Before heading out into the wilderness on your next big trip, try the following exercise. Clear the living room floor and spread out all of your stuff. Examine each and every article and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. What will happen if I don’t have it?
  3. Am I already packing something that would do the same job?
CamHonan Umbrella
Umbrellas provide protection from both the sun and rain. The wind? Not so much | Death Valley, Lowest to Highest Route, CA, 2014

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Adventure Adaptability: The Key To Succeeding on Your Thru Hikes

Bethany Hughes

Words & Photos by Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes + Lauren “Neon” Reed

Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.

The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.

Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.

Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review.
Find out more about adaptability

Carry a Lighter Pack: 3 Tips To Reduce Food, H2O & Fuel Weight

Streamline Your Consumables to Carry a Lighter Pack & Enhance Your Adventure.

Carry a lighter pack: always make sure the water you are drinking is safe.

Text by Philip Werner

Ultralight backpackers spend a great deal of time and effort reducing the weight of their gear, or base weight. But reducing the weight of your consumables, (food, water and fuel) is just as important and can lead to significant weight savings with little extra expense.

For example, when I started hiking the Vermont’s Long Trail eight years ago, I filled a three liter hydration reservoir with water every morning, carrying six liters of water, even though water was plentiful along the trail. It took me about 100 miles, but I figured out that I never needed to carry more than a liter at a time, shaving four pounds off my pack weight just like that, without spending a cent.

It takes a little bit more planning, but this is a good example of how to skills and experience can help you reduce the weight of your consumables.

Here are a few more strategies that I use to reduce the weight of my food, water and fuel: <!–more Check out the 3 tips to carry a lighter load.”

#1 Food

  • Remove all excess packaging.
  • Replace low-calorie foods with calorically dense foods like nuts, olive oil or ghee.
  • Bring less food per day. There’s no need to pack 5000-6000 calories per day like a thru hiker if you mainly take overnight or weekend backpacking trips. Try bringing 3000 calories per day instead. This should still be sufficient to keep you satisfied and alert, and you’re unlikely to starve to death, even if you burn more energy than you consume. The goal is to come home with an empty food bag every time.

Read the other two tips now.

A Woman With a Tarp

Ambassador Ashley Hill braves the mosquitoes, embraces the Flat Tarp

Each month Hyperlite Mountain Gear will feature one of its ambassadors. This month we’re highlighting Ashley Hill (trail name, Bloody Mary). A thru-hiker, lover of life and avid user of the Flat Tarp, Hill recently finished hiking the Te Araroa. Stay tuned this month for a blog post about what it takes to hike New Zealand’s most famous trail, plus a feature Q&A with Hill. This article reprinted from Hill’s blog.

EDIT-Ashley-Hill_PNWT-DSC_2310

Text & photos by Ashley Hill

I remember it vividly, the moment I saw her, a solo female hiker named Mountain Spice. She was sheltered beneath a flat tarp at a mosquito infested lake on the PCT. I thought to myself, “Wow… I want to be like her one day. A woman with a tarp. She’s extreme. She’s bad ass. She’s doing it like one should.” How romantic, only using a small square piece of material for protection from the wilderness.

Now, I rarely sleep in a shelter, even when it rains. There’s nothing I love more than closing my eyes under the shooting stars, when you’re alone in the open… Vulnerable… Cowboy camping… Like a fresh little baby drinking it’s first breath of air. I know, it is more than necessary to have something to protect yourself from the elements. My little hypothermia scare taught me that. Even if I camp in a sleeping bag on the dirt, I’ve always carried my tent, just in case.

For my Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) trip, I decided to be “that women with a tarp.” Now, this hike is not comparable to the Pacific Crest Trail. I skirt a constant latitude similar to that of the Nordic climate, (at least it is in my mind): rain falls daily, if only for an hour or two, mosquitoes swarm in the millions, creek and river fords are a common occurrence, and I’m always on watch for the wild animals. Perhaps a tarp isn’t the ideal gear choice, but I don’t care, I want to be her, and after making it 400 plus miles, I think I can say that I am.

Ashley-Hill_PNWT

 

I’m using a 10 ounce 8.6′ x 8.6′ cuben fiber tarp for my shelter, crafted by my friends at Hyperlite Mountain Gear… and by golly, I love it. It takes time and experience to learn how to set up this kind of ultralight system, but once you’ve got it down, you’re gold. Tents might be easier to rig and protect you better from the bugs and rain, but when you wake up and start hiking, everyone is on the exact same page… The only difference is that I’m lighter and I’m cooler… I’m that bad ass women with a tarp.

EDIT-Ashley-Hill_PNWT-DSC_2861

Why Cuben Fiber? It Just Makes Sense

Stripped Down Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber),

CF8 green Cuben Fiber.

By Mike St. Pierre

When I first delved into the world of ultralight backpacking, I combed the Internet trying to find a technologically advanced material that would change my backcountry experience. The fabrics used at the time had major limitations. For example, Silnylon, the primary lightweight fabric used, absorbed moisture and swelled and sagged, requiring constant re-tensioning. The slippery material also forced people to put liquid glues on the floors of their tents to keep their pads in place. Worst of all, silnylon is made when both sides of a thin, woven nylon fabric are saturated with liquid silicone, and there were no standards for these silicone coatings. So basically every batch was different. So when I discovered a small cottage industry outdoor company using Cuben Fiber I did some more research. Read the rest of the article here.

Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Going Ultralight

Stripped Down Ultralight Backcountry Travel, By Mike St. Pierre

going Ultralight doesn't mean freezing your butt off or starving
Going ultralight doesn’t mean freezing your butt off or starving.

People new to thru hiking and backpacking often don’t realize they need far less than what they think or what their local big box outdoor store salesperson tells them they need. They base what they bring on their fears. Don’t fall into this trap. Understanding what you need is the secret to knowing what you don’t. You absolutely need something to sleep on, to sleep in and to sleep under. Plus you need insulating layers, waterproof layers, some kind of water treatment, a knife, a headlamp and the right kind of food at the right time. Anything else is gravy. I’m not saying you must leave your nonessential, favorite items behind; I simply recommend you strip down to the bare essentials, and then rebuild your list from there with your wants.

These are some common fears or questions we’ve heard over the years:

  • How warm is that tent?
  • I’d better bring 2 layers of fleece in case I get cold!
  • What if I don’t have enough food?
  • I need a stove to cook.

These fears are misplaced, and here’s why.
Read the rest of the article here.

The History of Going Light

Stripped Down: The Philosophy of Going Light

Old Fashioned Backpack
Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley / Foter / CC BY

Now & Then

Major changes have taken place in the world of backcountry travel in the last half century. Adventurers now rock climb 3,500-foot walls in record speeds and hike thousands of miles carrying backpacks that weigh less than a small dog. Pioneers have questioned tradition and tested boundaries, transforming their adventure sports and the gear they use for those sports.

When Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore first climbed El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, they spent 47 days on the route using “siege tactics.” They hammered in hundreds of pitons and fixed thousands of feet or rope. Nowadays, people regularly climb their famous route, The Nose, in less than 24 hours. Alex Honnold and Hans Florine climbed it in just over two hours in 2012!

Likewise people have been trekking and camping long-distance on horizontal terrain since the early 1900s, regularly carrying one-third of their body weight (50 to 70 pounds). But thru hikers like National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” Andrew Skurka and winter Pacific Crest Trail record breakers, Justin Lichter and Shawn Forry, have revolutionized hiking. They ditched the metal canteens, woolen knickers and cotton sleeping bags, replacing them with innovative, often custom-made equipment that was not only lighter, but also more streamlined, durable and effective. Imagine Skurka trying to hike the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop in 208 days with an external frame pack. No chance. Read the rest of the article!

My parents went ultralight

FamilyGrandCanyon3By Amy Hatch

Large external frame backpacks protruded over their heads. Bungee cords lashed to them a frying pan, heavy foam sleeping pads and an extra daypack. A bulky backpacking shower, full books, and eggs, bacon and hash browns added to the unwieldy load.

This is how backpacking used to look for parents, Nancy and Cleve Schenck, back in the ’70s and early ’80s, before I was a twinkle in their eyes – and, for that matter, even once I became part of their outdoor adventures.

“Packs used to not have sternum straps, so we’d jerry rig the sternum straps,” my mom reminisced.

Read the rest of the article!

Why and how to get light?

A trail report from Yellowstone and thoughts on “going light” from two of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s favorite customers, WK and DK.

Hiking light with the Porter Pack at Mystic Falls, Yellowstone.

Our initial outing with the Porter Packs was a familiar three day two night trip.  Yellowstone offers amazing scenery and terrain best enjoyed by the freedoms provided with a light pack.

Several years ago, after sustaining a knee strain on day one of a seven day hike from Yellowstone’s south entrance station with the goal of reaching the park border east of the Thoroughfare region of Yellowstone on the other side of the Absaroka Mountains we decided to change our hiking techniques.  By day four, the 60+ pound load had taken it’s toll on my knee, forcing an abandonment of the trip deep in the Thoroughfare region of Yellowstone.  Instead of proceeding East to our planned exit, we had to detour directly north along the east shore of Yellowstone Lake.  Miles from assistance with an injury that rendered flexion of the knee almost impossible, we made the decision to lighten our load for the emergency hike out by jettisoning as much weight as possible.  That night, having arrived at the southern tip of the Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake, we built a campfire and burned all our excess food and supplies.  Only the M&M’s were rescued from the Gorp.  Carefully calculating the exact rations we’d need to reach the trail head, we burned any and all fully combustible items to eradicate weight.  The following morning we successfully completed our emergency evacuation.  Rehabilitation of the knee took several months.  We realized at that point, that a lighter load meant increased enjoyment, safety and ability to mobilize in event of an emergency.  We began our journey to never carry more than twenty five pounds again.
Read the rest of the article!