Never Not Learning: How to Pack Light For Backpacking with Mike St. Pierre

Words & Photos by Mike St. Pierre

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.).

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The Hardest Thru Hike in the World

If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.

Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.

The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow's thru hike below the rim of the Grand.
The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow’s thru hike below the rim of the Grand.

More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years.
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Take a Hike: National Trails Day

Get Out & Hike!

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

On June 4th we’re celebrating National Trails Day! Occurring the first Saturday of June, this American Hiking Society-sponsored day celebrates America’s magnificent Trail System. According to AHS: “The event evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.”

At Hyperlite Mountain Gear we are committed to getting outdoor adventurers onto America’s trails because that’s where they rise to their most optimal selves. In celebration of these paths through the woods, mountains and deserts, we recently invested in two of the most important non-profit trail organizations–the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). As well, we continually bring you new information on trails around the world, hiked by our Chief Adventure Officer Mike St. Pierre and our ambassadors. And we are committed to bringing you the ultralight hiking packs and lightweight shelters you need to use to hike those trails.

Stay tuned, we’ve got some great articles being published in the upcoming months about the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the International Appalachian Trail and more.

On this special day, we’d like to encourage you to do a couple things:

  1. Become a member of the AHS, the PCTA, the CDTC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), or any number of other trail non-profit organizations;
  2. Check out a list of great articles on our blog that highlight trails around the world (see below);
  3. Let us know if there are any trails you’d like us to write about;
  4. Get out hiking!

Great blog posts about various trails:

Long-Distance, Lightweight Thru Hiking Gear List (for the Grand Canyon)

Thru Hiking Gear List for Extreme, Lightweight & Extended Backcountry Adventures

Long-Distance (Lightweight) Thru Hiking Gear List

Words & Photos by Mike St. Pierre

“I used this thru hiking gear list for my Grand Canyon section hike, but minus the technical climbing and canyoneering gear, it’s basically what I’d bring on any long-distance section, thru hike or weekend backpacking.” – Mike St. Pierre 

As an ultralight long-distance adventurer, I dial in my systems to conserve energy with every step I take. The lighter my gear, the further I can go; the less weight I carry, the less the strain on my body and the less food I need. Going light just makes sense. And it absolutely doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable when in the backcountry. I’m always warm enough, well fed and hydrated, and I sleep well at night. In this blog post, I share my thru hiking gear list from my recent 200 mile off trail section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. This extreme adventure incorporates long-distance hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering and serious map and compass skills, and is one of the most difficult thru hikes in the world. Water is scarce, established trails nonexistent, and the terrain is steep and difficult to navigate. It’s a trip that fewer than three dozen people have done (consider that 40 people summited Mt. Everest in one day in May 2016!). However, despite the specialized nature of some of the technical gear I carried, the basic equipment I bring on any thru hike or long-distance backpacking is the same. And my pack base weight is typically 8-15lbs., depending on the discipline. Check out my full gear list below.
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Appalachian Trail Days Roundup

Good times in Damascus, Virginia

For the fifth year in a row, we attended Appalachian Trail Days down in Damascus, Va., aka “Trail Town USA.” Every year, up to 20,000 tourists make their way to this tiny town of fewer than 1,000 people around the middle of May. And every year more and more folks visit our booth. Nearly 400 people attended the Saturday raffle, along with 20 hikers who gathered round for our first “How to Set Up Your Tarp” clinic with our Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre and Ambassador and professional thru hiker Ashley “Bloody Mary” Hill.

“It was rad,” Hill said of the event. “Appalachian Trail Days is the largest outdoor, long-distance hiking event in the country, so there are a lot of veteran hikers and new hikers. People feed off each other; the veterans let the new hikers know they can complete this monumental task. And the veterans and other tourists get to be around the energy of people starting a thru hike; you can feel the enthusiasm and excitement! There’s so much community, culture and love surrounding this event.” Read the rest of the article.

Prepping For a Grand Canyon Thru Hike (a guide to multi-sport expedition planning)

Grand Canyon Route Finding & Logistics

Words by Mike St. Pierre // Photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman

Planning and prepping for any major backcountry adventure, whether the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or a section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon, is logistically challenging. And unless you’re the first thru hiker, canyoneer or climber to map and explore the route, you must rely on information gathered from numerous sources, from Google Earth to the people who first explored the area. I prefer more remote trips as the lack of information makes them more adventurous. Plus, the fewer the resources you have to depend on, the more careful you have to be and the more you have to rely on your own experience to accomplish the feat (so you’d better have a lot of experience for bigger adventures). However, the popularity or the remoteness of your trip is relative; you’ll have a greater chance of success if you know what you’re getting into. You’ll also more likely succeed if you travel simply, use gear wisely and constantly refine and lighten your systems. This thru hiker approach is applicable whether you’re a long-distance backpacker or a climber, packrafter, skier, or passionate backcountry adventurer of any kind.

The Way of the Thru Hiker 

Experienced thru hikers have walking dialed. They know exactly what they need to be efficient and conserve energy because they walk all day long. I took a thru hiker’s approach in very carefully planning the second leg of my section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. I made sure to have exactly what I needed and nothing more. I dialed in my knowledge of the terrain, weather, water sources and resupply points by doing extensive research. And I reached out to more experienced Grand Canyon thru hikers, rangers and other experts.

Subsequently, when I embarked on my 200+-mile thru hike/canyoneering adventure this March, I felt ready to go bigger and further, increasing my mileage and distance. I had already done the first section over two weeks in the fall of 2015 with Rich Rudow, whose decades of experience make him one of the foremost experts of America’s biggest canyon. He spent a full year plotting his path, the gear and his caches for his 57-day, 700-mile thru hike below the rim (Read more). I joined him for his first two weeks. Despite the gnarliest terrain and harshest conditions I had every experienced (or maybe because of them), I caught the bug and immediately started planning the second leg of my journey. I also trusted my own 15 years of experience in ultralight backpacking techniques.

So how did I do it? Of course, I can’t download my life’s experience with ultralight backcountry travel and gear in one article, but here’s an overview of how I planned my trip. It’s not comprehensive, and you shouldn’t assume you can thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon based off what you learn here. But, I’ll share the most valuable things I’ve learned from my backcountry experiences. They culminated in this section hike, which was definitely the most difficult and challenging adventure I’ve embarked on to date.

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The Rebirth of American Manufacturing

Making American Manufacturing Great Again

Happy Earth Day!

“…We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last, an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.” — President Obama, January 2012 State of the Union

Earth Day: And The Rebirth of American Manufacturing I love walking into the shop every day, smelling the lacquer and hardwood of the 180-year-old floors of the Pepperell Mill and hearing the buzz of the sewing machines used by the few dozen stitchers and cutters who work for Hyperlite Mountain Gear. They sit in sun that pours through tall windows built before the days of consistent electricity—windows that used to offer the only light employees would have to work by.

When my brother, CFO Dan St. Pierre, and I started this company we decided to make all our packs, shelters and Stuff Sacks right here on Main Street, USA. As a young start-up, we didn’t really see any other way of running our business. And as we grew, we realized the numerous financial, environmental and social benefits to producing domestically.

We believe “Made in the USA” is a worthwhile endeavor that benefits our customers, our company, the community where we do business and, especially, our employees. Our employees come from all walks of life and are of all ages. Some are expert seamstresses who previously worked for the textile industry, while others are newly trained young folks just starting out their factory careers. All are highly skilled craftspeople who care deeply about the quality of their work. They’re from Maine, after all, a place known for its true grit and work ethic. Really, they are the reason we exist, and I appreciate them every day that I come to work. So, we offer them above-average wages and health benefits. Read the rest of the post.

Backcountry Recipes: How to Gain Weight On Even the Most Grueling Thru Hike

A photo of meals prepared using backcountry recipes developed by extreme hiking expert Chris Atwood.

Text & photos by Chris Atwood.

Chris Atwood did a 57-day thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon with Ambassador Rich Rudow (Read “The Grandest Walk: A 700-Mile Thru Hike Below the Rim“). During the trip numerous adventurers accompanied them, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre. The length and severity of the hike meant that the group had to eat a lot of calories to have the energy to continue hiking. But with proper planning of his backcountry recipes, Atwood managed to gain around five pounds while still exerting himself to the limit every day and hiking a grand total of over 600 miles. In this post, he shares backcountry recipes he used as well as an example daily ration of food.

Gaining Weight on a Grueling Thru Hike? All it Takes is the Right Backcountry Recipes

Before the trip began, Rich Rudow jokingly said he wanted to be the first Grand Canyon thru hiker to gain weight. I thought it a lofty aspiration, considering the challenging food logistics of this fully self-supported trek. We all knew it would be tall order to fuel the two months of hard work required to walk from Lee’s to Pearce in one push. And although gaining weight was not my goal, staying completely full and charged, at all times, by nutritious and healthy food that I loved to eat was. And with an eye toward carrying the lightest load possible, I didn’t want any more food than would be necessary. My idea was ample daily eating with an extra ration or two to cover any delays due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Read More

Dyneema® Fabric & The Ultralight Movement

A silent revolution is changing the outdoor industry. Some call it “the Ultralight movement.” New, extremely light and durable backpacks, tents and tarps, sleeping bags and clothing have been available for a few years now. These products have been winning editors awards from outdoor blogs, as well as being raved about by early adopters. Ultralight gear is radically changing the hiking and climbing experience. This is the first in a series of videos by The Dyneema® Project. It focuses on entrepreneurs of the Ultralight movement, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre. The Ultralight movement is fueled by Dyneema® Flexible Composites, a revolutionary strong and lightweight fabric formerly known as Cuben Fiber. It’s also fueled by innovative companies such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear, that build durable, lightweight, minimalist, design-driven gear.



Adventures Below The Rim: Thru Hiking the Grand Canyon, Days 5 to 9

Thru hiking the Grand Canyon.Continuing on last week’s post about Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s 16-day thru hike adventure through the Grand Canyon, St. Pierre shares his journal entries from day five through nine. This week features destroyed gear, hyponatremia, two members of the crew dropping out and getting sick because of bad water. 

Note: Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. To Read the first installment of this series, please click here.

Day 54:15 a.m. wake up. We hiked two miles to 25 Mile Rapid and arrived at 8 a.m. Filled up on water, and there was a discussion to stay there due to one of the crew not feeling well. Not the best of ideas as we would have been totally exposed to the sun. We thought we were at Cave Spring (which we were not) and agreed we really needed to get a few more miles in before the heat was too unbearable on top of the Redwall Limestone (This layer averages about 335 million years old and is composed of marine limestones and dolomites). From 25 Mile Rapid, we left the river to hike up above the Redwall. We hiked two miles to Tiger Wash. There was a break in the Redwall that allowed access to the river via a steep 500′ downclimb. We rested during the hottest hours of the day with plans to push on to Fence Fault, another break in the Redwall with river access 3.5 miles down river. Two of the crews feet are in total disarray and not sure how they are going to make it 10 more days. My shoes are falling apart and will need serious repair when we get to our next cache. We are almost a full day behind.

7:45 p.m.we came 1.5 miles short of our destination of Fence Fault as night came over us. We are still 400′ above the river on top of the Redwall. By headlamp we downclimbed into the top of a slot where we found some potholes of water in one of the drainages that cut into the Redwall layer. We made camp here. We followed the slot and it ended up being a non-technical canyon that ended at a 400′ drop straight down to the river below. Two of the crew decided to bail on the rest of this leg at South Canyon due to severe blisters and continual heat exhaustion. That’s the right choice for these two. We are logging about four to six river miles per day, which equates to eight to 10 miles on foot. Hard, hard miles. All our shoes are seeing severe wear. My sole has a four-inch split running down it, and the sticky rubber sole layer is starting to peel off. Not good! I’m totally whipped tonight and starting to get more and more sore.

It’s truly hard to wrap your head around the scale and magnitude of what has, can and does happen in this place. When you have a chance to reflect, even on what we get to see each day, it’s truly jaw dropping.

Read the rest of the post here.

2 Calorie-rich, Ultralight Backcountry Breakfast Recipes

Stripped Down Home Packaged Ultralight Backcountry Breakfast Recipes, By Mike St. Pierre

In preparation for 16 days of extreme thru hiking through the Grand Canyon, Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre spent countless hours developing ultralight backcountry breakfast recipes. He weighed, measured and then vacuum sealed all his creations. Two of those recipes are included below. Read more of his recipes in his article “Food Prep & Recipes for Ultralight Thru Hike Adventures.” Share your recipes with us at

Ultralight backcountry breakfast recipes: oatmeal

Thru Hiker’s Oatmeal (620, weighs 4.7oz)

  • ¼ cup dried instant oatmeal
  • 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp. Pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp. raisins or other dried fruit
  • ½ cup freeze dried apples
  • ¼ cup powdered milk

Grand Canyon Granola (600 calories, weighs 5oz)

  • Cup of granola Bulk bins from Whole Foods or your local grocery store
  • ¼ cup powdered whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. raisins
  • 2 tbsp. nuts (pine nuts have a lot of calories)

For more recipes ideas, check out our Food & Recipes blog posts.

Below The Rim: Extreme Grand Canyon Thru Hike

Giant life-saving water pockets on Pocket Point. Photo by Rich Rudow
A giant life-saving water pockets on Pocket Point. Photo by Rich Rudow

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is enormous. Most people look over the rim convinced they’ve seen it all with a long gaze. The reality is much different; they’re looking at a fraction of a percent. Even the few thousand people who raft the Grand or backpack its trails have only just barely scratched its sandy, desert surface. But not so Rich Rudow. A 2012 Outside Mag “Adventurer of the Year” and a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador, Rudow is the foremost explorer of slot canyons in the Park; he’s descended more than 160, including over 100 likely first descents. His latest adventure is an entirely self-supported, 56-day thru hike down river, which he is doing with Dave Nally and Chris Atwood.

“Roughly 3,500 people have climbed Mt. Everest; 250 people have done the triple crown, but fewer than a dozen people have thru hiked the Grand Canyon all the way through in this way,” Rudow explains. “The terrain is just too difficult.” According to Rudow, an absence of trails complicates navigation, especially on the north side of river. While the Colorado river runs 277 miles through Grand Canyon, the hiking routes are between 500- and 700-miles long depending on the route chosen. Rudow’s route will require regular class 3 to 5 scrambling to transition up and down thousands of vertical feet of the different cliff bands. Read the rest of the article!

Ultralight Backpacking Food Prep For Extreme Thru Hikes


Words by Mike St. Pierre

Prep Makes Perfect: Ultralight Backpacking Food Best Practices

I will soon be heading into the Grand Canyon for 16 days with Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow. Rich will be thru hiking about 700 miles down river and then back up the other side, all below the rim of the canyon and all off trail. Even though I’ll only be along for part of the trip, I’ll likely encounter some of the most extreme terrain I’ve ever faced. As a result, I’m putting extra thought into every aspect of my preparation. That goes double when it comes to figure out what I’m going to eat while I’m in the canyon, so I decided to revisit my standard ultralight backpacking food prep practices to see what I could improve.

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Ultralight Gear List for Thru Hiking and Backpacking

Mike St. PIerre - Grand Canyon 2016

by Mike St. Pierre

Going lightweight is not just a goal for thru hikes and backpacking trips; it’s how I live my life. I believe that refining your lightweight backpacking gear list is worthwhile because it translate to going further, faster and suffering less in general while you’re out. In short, less gear (and lighter gear) equals more adventure.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve obsessed about the details and re-invented my approach time and time again. Along the way, I learned the standard ultralight methodologies–specifically how to lighten my load by addressing the “Big Three”: my pack, shelter and sleeping systems.

In the process, I’ve also stumbled upon one very important truth: it’s not just about agonizing over grams and ounces, it’s about choosing simplicity at every stage of the process. That’s why I’ve settled on building my gear lists for trips based on a single, basic three-season list. Using this lightweight backpacking gear list as a starting point, I can subtract items if I want to go ultralight in a given instance, or add items for multi-sport trips

Read Mike St. Pierre’s list here.

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.

Stripped Down: Community Tips

    Go light. Hike in your socks :)

Comments moderated by Mike St. Pierre

Thanks so much to our community for providing so many good tips & tricks to lighten your load. We’ll be expanding some of these into blog posts in the upcoming weeks.

  • From Charles Greenhalgh via Instagram (@daily_maple): Use a very large poncho. It provides protection from rain, but breathes really well and covers your pack and your legs to the knees. It can also serve as an emergency shelter. Charles has waited out hailstorms on the trail and made lunch under his poncho.
  • Thanks to Chris (@snow_slog) who advised us via Instagram to take a smaller pack than normal because it forces you to pack less. This brings to mind something I often tell my customers; I recommend you buy your pack last. By purchasing all your necessities first, you can figure out the lightest, best options for you. And then buy a pack that reflects those purchases. Buy a big pack from the get-go, and you’re just going to fill it, often with unnecessary stuff. Read the rest of the community tips…

How to Use Trekking Poles to Increase Speed and Decrease Fatigue

Photo by Cody Cobb.

Text by Mike St. Pierre, Photo by Cody Cobb.

Why, Where & How to Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles prevent muscle damage and soreness. The UK’s Northumbria University conducted a study in 2010 that found that the test groups that used poles, “demonstrated a reduced loss of strength and a faster recovery immediately after the trek compared to the control group.” They drilled it down even more, finding the levels of the enzyme creatine kinase (indicating muscle damage) were significantly higher in the non-pole group, while “the trekking-pole group’s levels were close to the pre-trekking levels.” That means muscle damage was negligible when people used poles. Various studies have shown that using poles can reduce the impact on your knees from 25-40%. The catch is, you have to know how to use trekking poles to get those benefits.

Read the rest of the article…

Hendrik Morkel Interviews Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Mike St. Pierre . . . Again!

A pair of interviews by Hiking in Finland’s Hendrik Morkel.

Hendrik Morkel was one of the early hiking and outdoor-focused bloggers to pick up on Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  Hendrik first interviewed founder and CEO Mike St. Pierre in the summer of 2010, when Hyperlite Mountain Gear was truly in its earliest stage of development.  He’s followed Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s progress since then and has helped them develop and test some of its its products as one of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s team of Ambassadors.  Now, two years after his initial interview, Hendrik has interviewed Mike St. Pierre again.  These two interviews give a great look at how Hyperlite Mountain Gear has grown from an idea into a product and now into company that is on the leading edge of ultralight outdoor technology.

The initial interview:  Summer 2010

The new interview:  Summer 2012

A little more on Hendrik, who one of the most prolific and trusted bloggers covering hiking with a focus on light and ultralight gear and techniques:  Hendrik is a Wilderness Guide and author based in Finland. An ultralight backpacking evangelist, he doesn’t limit himself to backpacking alone, but likes to mix it up and uses his UL skills and gear for various activities, from bikepacking and packrafting over climbing to skiing and ice-climbing. He likes to build communities and get like-minded people together, and is one of the founders of Nordic Lightpacking, a group of outdoor bloggers from Scandinavia; and is the mastermind behind the Ultralight Summit, a gathering of UL aficionados from across the globe. You can read more about his adventures at Hiking in Finland.  Thanks Hendrik for pushing the light hiking movement forward and helping to build our community.

Hendrik Morkel

Photo by ©hikesinatra aka creep |