Essential to our company, our athlete ambassadors test, critique and tell stories about our ultralight outdoor gear. They are the top guides, ice climbers, pack rafters, multi-discipline adventurers, ski mountaineers, thru hikers and backpackers in their fields. They provide us with invaluable input as they put our gear through its paces, and they shape the final results of our purpose-driven packs and shelters. We build minimalist, ultralight gear designed to be used, hard. Because we know where gear that doesn’t meet their needs and expectations ends up. And that’s in a corner somewhere, gathering dust.
Angela “van stein” vanwiemeersch, ice/mixed climber, explorer
Going light isn’t always glamorous, says hardcore mixed and alpine climber Angela VanWiemeersch, especially when you’re sleeping in a bush wrapped up in a tarp like a taco. “But when your pack weighs 12 pounds, the places you can hike to are limitless, and your adventure becomes worth more than the tangible.” VanWiemeersch adopted a lightweight philosophy early on in order to bike 1400 miles solo, from Michigan to Canada and paddle 430 miles, unsupported on the Mackenzie River, Canada. More recently she became the first woman to free solo Ham and Eggs on the Moose's Tooth, Alaska; and she’s put up first ascents in Zion National Park and on Mount Hayes, Alaska. Her advice, “Keep it simple so staying in transit is easy.” Read about VanWiemeersch’s first ascent on Mount Hayes.
Trail Ambassador Ashley Hill lucked out when she started thru hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. Various mentors taught her lightweight principles from the start. So, although a beginner backpacker, she didn’t suffer, much. “I’m usually lighter than everybody else, and now I constantly get even lighter,” Hill says. In fact, late in 2015 she lost her rain jacket while thru hiking the Te Araroa, New Zealand. “But I won’t get a new one,” she says, laughing. “I was able to use the Echo II Beak as my poncho. There’s nothing more I need.” For Hill, it’s all about having a positive mental attitude. “No matter how difficult a trail is, I realize I made this choice to be here, and it’s the best decision I ever made. I’m here, by myself in nature. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be!” Read about Hill’s adventures on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Bayard Russell keeps it simple. He lives in a 1500-square-foot home that he and his adventure-loving wife, Anne, built in a tiny town of 2500 in New Hampshire. Coffee gets him up in the morning, and working as a climbing guide for the business he owns (Cathedral Mountain Guides), travel, new climbing lines and exploration inspire him. “I love ending up in cool places that nobody else has seen, and where there’s just not a lot of information about the climbing,” Russell says. He regularly puts up first ascents on ice and rock on tucked-away crags in the woods of the Northeast. He never consciously adopted a minimalist philosophy, he says, and at times he’ll even bring a case of beer on big expeditions, at least when helicopters drop him off in the middle of a snowy nowhere. “But when it comes to climbing, it’s like a ham sandwich in my pocket kind of thing,” he says. “I keep it simple and just bring things that have a good use and that’s about it. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to.” Read our profile on Russell.
Beau Fredlund, ski mountaineer, photographer
It took about ten years, starting in the mid 1990s, but the deeper Beau Fredlund skied into his favorite snowy, mountainous landscapes, the more he lightened his load. “I enjoy exploring further afield—where extra gear slows you down and limits what you can get into,” he explains. Fredlund lives light as well, residing in Cooke City (population 140) in a one-room cabin that “helps keep extra equipment and other things to a minimum.” And he works close to home, operating a ski guiding business in Yellowstone Park (Yellowstone Ski Tours) and is "inspired by the landscape on a daily basis.” When asked what he wouldn’t leave home without, he says: “I don't think there are any absolute necessities. Sometimes it's nice to even go without a pack.” View some of his photos.
bethany “fidgit” hughes, thru hiker, explorer, story teller
How does Bethany Hughes reach her Zen moment in the backcountry? When her socks are finally soaked through. “Once they are wet, I don't care anymore and move forward freely.” On the other hand, while she admits you have to be a masochist to be a backpacker, she doesn’t purposefully seek out suffering. She walks light. “When you’re shooting for thousands of miles, heavy makes for harder when it’s already hard enough.” As well, she considers difficult experiences a positive thing, approaching them with curiosity and humility. “Something not going as planned is a great exercise; it opens up space for all sorts of lessons and surprises,” she says. “Sometimes it is impossibly challenging. But that is when I get to redefine impossible.” Her advice to aspiring hikers: “Carry less, eat more.” Follow Fidget’s trek from the southern to the northern tip of the Americas at Her Odyssey.
Brad Meiklejohn, the conservation fund’s alaska director, president packrafting association
Brad Meikeljohn’s passion for wild places drives him and inspires him to lead a minimalist lifestyle. “Conservation runs through my entire life, and there has never been a point when I wanted more, more, more,” he says. After all, living with less means he can give back more. Motivated by a sense of urgency for the losses occurring in the natural world, he’s following the legacy of his grandmother who fought for women’s voting rights and a great uncle who stood up against McCarthyism. He’s currently working on a dam removal project to restore salmon to Alaska’s Eklutna River, and he has been instrumental in protecting more than 300,000 acres of wild lands and rivers in Alaska. His passion for preservation means he has also explored those wildly inaccessible landscapes via packraft, adventure skating, backcountry skiing and alpine climbing. “I am driven to make a difference even if it only lengthens the life of one warbler, one salmon or one bear.” Learn more about Meiklejohn’s first descent in Alaska: “Pile it on: A Packrafting First Descent in Alaska.”
Cecilia Buil, climber, explorer, guide
It’s a cold winter morning in the Cajon del Maipo Valley, and Cecilia Buil and her partner, Anna Toretta, are on their way to do what will be the first ascent of the ice climb, La Gioconda, on Cerro Marmolejo (20,039’). The sun rises, the sky turns from orange to blue, and the only noise they hear is the sliding of their skis over the snow. Buil remembers this moment perfectly, along with dozens of other adventurous experiences. They drive her to put up new routes on rock, snow and ice in the wildest high places in the world, and they inspire her to always give everything she’s got. “If I go climbing, the summit is not the only thing that makes me feel good; it’s the experience, to have made a big effort and then to feel empty afterwards,” she says. “The same applies to the rest of my life—to be in the moment and to live everything deeply.”
Forrest McCarthy, explorer, packrafter, guide
What gets Forrest McCarthy up in the morning? “The prospect of exploring big and wild landscapes,” he says. In order to do so, McCarthy adopted a minimalist philosophy in his twenties, he says. “To successfully climb and ski in big mountains and wilderness areas I needed to be limber and move fast. To achieve this I learned to take only what was absolutely necessary and invest in the lightest, most durable equipment.” And in life, like in the mountains, on the river or in the wilderness, being light and nimble allows him to focus on what really matters—experiencing a place and spending time with interesting people. McCarthy says he often feels as if he’s chasing rainbows, “when seeking ephemeral moments where light, landscape and emotion collide in a spectrum of magic and beauty.” However, more outside time means a greater likelihood of experiencing those moments. “As far as I know I only get one ride on the oasis we know as earth,” he says. “I plan to take full advantage of it.” Read our interview with McCarthy: “The Soul of Minimalist Backpacking: Forrest McCarthy's Ultralight Philosophy.”
Though he’s skied most of Colorado’s gnarliest backcountry terrain for decades, Jayson Simons-Jones immediately changes the subject when asked to list his personal accomplishments. “My goal is to influence and inspire people to be better, happier human-beings,” he says. He does that by providing one-on-one educational-based experiences through his work as an IFMGA/American Mountain Guide. “I’m an advocate and a voice for these places and their protection and conservation,” he says. Because he’s made a life and career of living in high, remote and sometimes difficult to get to places, Simons-Jones naturally adopted a minimalist philosophy. “My experiences in the mountains are richer and more enjoyable if I’m able to travel light and trust and rely on myself and not the gadgets and trinkets in my pack.” On the other hand, there are some “heavier” things he won’t do without, he says of the most important thing that gets him up in the morning: “A quad shot of extra strong dark roast espresso, brewed in an Italian Bialetti stovetop espresso maker.”
Kt Miller, skier, photographer, film maker
Kt Miller takes photos. Lots of them, and all over the world. One of few female adventure photographers, she captures people and animals in action on the wildest corners of the planet. When not photographing polar bears and receding glaciers, she hunts for steep, unskied couloirs. She claims first descents from Montana to the fjords of south Greenland. Miller uses efficiency as a tool to compensate for being small. “It’s about carrying what you need, but absolutely nothing more,” she says. Her philosophy: the lighter your load, the more you can free your mind and enjoy what you are doing. Miller applies her minimalist philosophy to everything; she lives light, buys little and resides in small town, Montana. “Less is always more. That’s what it’s really about in the end. To go light is to live more simply, to live with less, and as a result, be able to experience more.” Read Miller’s blog post, “Live With Less, Experience More.”
Kurt Ross tries hard at everything he does, from working as a motion graphics artist to climbing big ice and snow lines in Alaska. Yet he’s not attached to success. “It's okay to fail in life because I can always just go dirtbag,” he says, smiling. Really, his primary goals are simple: to live as minimally as possible in order to climb as much as possible. “I bounce around from place to van to place, living as frugally as I reasonably can to be able to save enough dead presidents to fund trips,” Ross explains. “I don’t have nearly enough bandwidth to do everything I want, but I like my life more when I’m pushing hard, regardless of what I’m doing.” Check out Ross’ blog post, “How To Pack Your Ice Pack For Lightweight Alpine Climbing Trips".
Life is good, says Alaskan Luc Mehl: “I like my Cheerios, I like my bike commute to work. And my main goal right now is to continue connecting swaths of Alaska that I haven’t seen.” Mehl is lucky; his three-quarters time work schedule allows him to spend more time mastering his sports and exploring the backcountry. “Most of my ‘in the zone’ moments are quick hits on the weekends, landing technical features on my bike or making sweet turns on skis,” he says. However, he gained confidence and backcountry skills while on his long adventures, such as the summer and winter Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classics. “I never would have considered trying a 150-mile route without a sleeping bag or tent, but that’s what the hotshots were doing, so I did it too,” he says. “I remember at one point falling asleep in the middle of a talus slope, curled up on football-sized rocks and instantly falling into a deep sleep. When your body is that run-down, anything is comfortable.” That confidence, he says, extends into his daily life, relationships and work. “Maybe it’s as simple as knowing that it always gets better. It does.” Read Mehl’s blog post, “How to Prepare a Lightweight Backcountry Ski Repair Kit.”
Madaleine Sorkin, climber
As Madaleine Sorkin started ascending bigger, more difficult rock climbing routes on El Capitan in Yosemite, in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere, she knew she needed to learn to move faster and bring less. However, it took a while for her to balance lightweight and bringing the absolute necessities. Leaving her rain jacket behind while climbing in British Columbia left her dangerously cold, and she wouldn’t do it again. “But, the experience reminded me how invaluable upbeat, can-do attitudes are at these times,” she says. “And while going minimalist can lead to discomfort, we pulled off the first free ascent of the route!” Sorkin cultivates this positive attitude by being outside, setting inspirational goals, free climbing (with ropes) big, challenging rock faces, meditating and developing strong friendships and climbing partnerships. Her advice: “Laugh and be gentle with yourself and others, take care of and respect your needs and limitations on any given day and make your adventures as fun and silly as possible.”
Mark Oates, skier, packrafter, outdoor educator
A passionate outdoor educator, Mark Oates strives to inspire teenagers to explore outdoors with a real sense of adventure. A qualified whitewater kayak instructor, top rope and abseil/rappel instructor and sea kayak instructor, he regularly takes students on challenging two-week educational adventures in the wilds of Tasmania. In order to do so, he has adopted and promotes ultralight backpacking philosophies. “Going light allows me, despite my getting older, to stay one step ahead of my 15-18 year old ‘mountain goat’ students,” he explains. “Lightweight philosophies also allow students to enjoy their outdoor experiences better and more safely.” Oates finally realized he was carrying too much unnecessary weight while he and his twin brother were completing a 43-day winter traverse of the Australian Alps Walking Track. “Traditional backpacking equipment just didn’t cut it anymore,” he explains. As well as enjoying exploring the Australian backcountry on skis, Oates avidly packrafts and loves to espouse to fellow kayakers, his students and anyone who will listen, that: “Packrafting and going ultralight are the future!” In order to inspire others to undertake their own lightweight outdoor experiences Oates regularly films his and his wife Jen’s adventures.
Matt Graham, survivalist, reality tv star, author
What gets survivalist Matt Graham up every day? “The sun,” he says. “I sleep on the horizon, and so I wake up most mornings to this gorgeous, magical red sunrise.” But what gets him juiced for the day is that he can do whatever he wants, whether that’s take a long run, forage for food, go on a long thru hike (wearing just his loin cloth) or hunt with his atlatl. “Being able to establish some type of connection to the land every day gets me pumped,” says the TV reality star (Dual Survivor and Dude, You’re Screwed). Graham never consciously adopted ultralight philosophies; he just lived simply and outside from an early age. “Being minimalist with all aspects of my life gives me the freedom to explore a big portion of what it means to be alive; it gives me a direct connection to the wilderness and to relationships. It gives me more time to live.”
Matt Ritter, climber, guide
Matt Ritter is happiest when he pushes his limits in natural environments. “Life is an opportunity to grow,” he says, “And anything that scares me inspires me.” He believes the world would be a better place if more people got out of their comfort zones and into situations where the outcomes are not guaranteed. And, better yet, if they lived more simply, with less. After spending two winter months backpacking alone in the Catskill Mountains, he realized he just didn’t need much. “I crave simplicity,” he explains. “All the stuff that most people prioritize simply isn’t on my radar. I prefer experience over wealth, and I like to suffer a little bit. Too many comforts distract me from personal growth.” He also strives to make people smile, which he often has the chance to do through his work as a climbing guide. “I want to climb, travel, etc,” he says. “But more important than all that is just simply to be happy and spread joy. Without happiness all this other stuff is worthless.” Check out Ritter’s review of our Summit Pack.
Mike Curiak, explorer, packrafter, maker of fat tires
Mike Curiak’s adoption of ultralight techniques and philosophies evolved slowly, he says, as garage gear and his own DIY stuff became increasingly available. “I'd be out on a multi-day ride, would think of some way to evolve my gear so that it was lighter but no less functional or durable, then I'd go home and either make it myself or get in touch with someone that could,” he says. But now, he simply lives light. It allows him to packraft or bikepack deep into the wilderness, where he experiences what he refers to as “white moments” from trail/situation-induced highs. “These moments are, to me, so priceless and so rare that it's difficult to find words for them and photos do nothing to bring them back,” he explains. “They merely get enjoyed in situ and then you move on, glowing.” Curiak owns and operates LaceMine29, a company that builds high-end, hand-built wheels for 29-inch bikes, fat bikes and 650b bikes. Check out our Q & A with Curiak, or read about his bike & packrafting trip to Cataract Canyon.
Maurice “Moe” Witschard, explorer, photographer, film maker
Most of Moe Witschard’s backcountry Zen moments happen when he runs the wildest, most remote rivers in the world. He experienced “perfection” while packrafting miles of continuous moderate whitewater on the Okpilak River in the Brooks Range, accompanied by a nearly constant fragrance of wildflowers that were blooming off the hook and balls of caribou fur that swirled in the eddies. Witschard always wants to know what’s around the next bend. “One of my goals is to spend as much time as possible traveling through the highest quality wilderness that I can find,” he says. In order to do that, he lives with “less stuff, less clutter,” and he continually hones his lightweight techniques. Witschard has educated thousands of students through his work at the National Outdoor Leadership School and now guides in the Alaskan Arctic for the company, Arctic Wild. “I’m passionate about preserving open spaces in developed areas and wildlife corridors everywhere.”
Quinn Brett, climber, ranger, wilderness medicine instructor
Quinn Brett used to poke fun at friends who constantly counted the grams in their packs. “To me they just wanted the newest, shiniest things,” she says. “I was wrong. They wanted longer lives out of their knees and back. And they wanted to be back in time for happy hour.” Nowadays this big wall climbing speed record holder (she’s climbed El Capitan twice in 22 hours) and triathlete finds balance by simplifying her life. Too much travel, and she loses her rhythm; not enough yoga, climbing, learning and suffering, and her inner dialogue becomes too noisy. What’s a gal to do? “Focus,” she says. “I am motivated to try harder as a climber, an educator, a rescuer and as a human.” But most of all, she’s determined to be a good person. “We can always be better people,” she says. “I choose to make my mark in this world by spreading positive energy and helping others, whether it be through education, my search and rescue or wilderness medicine work, or just introducing friends to friends. The world is our oyster.” Read more about Brett’s adventures on our blog.
Rich Rudow, slot canyon expert, explorer
Rich Rudow’s first pack had an external frame. “I was young and dumb,” he says of his early backpacking days. But as he started adventuring off trail, it became harder to move, scramble and climb with an open frame pack. “So I started working slowly on lighter and smaller systems,” he says. “And eventually, when I started doing first descents of technical slots in the Grand, a hyper fixation on lightweight, lower volume, systems became required for everything.” It was insidiously transformative over a long period of time, he adds. But it led to his successful, first descents of more than 100 Grand Canyon slots, as well as his 57-day 2015 thru hike below the rim. This 2012 Outside Mag “Adventurer of the Year” says he’s both passionate and extremely confident, but it’s those really special moments that keep him coming back for more. “Most Grand Canyon slots are beautiful, but once in awhile we’ll find a truly unusual, magical, drop dead gorgeous place,” he explains. “The feeling of being the first to see it is indescribable; it motivates me to keep looking for more.”
Roman Dial, “father of packrafting,” explorer, author
Roman Dial’s ideal life moments arrive when he’s on game trails or whitewater, as far from roads, motors and towns as possible. Called the “Father of Modern Packrafting” and an author of a definitive book on the subject, Dial travels as light as possible in order to walk and boat further and deeper into the remote places he loves. Early on, he says, “I realized a pound on my back meant I went a mile less per day.” Whether packrafting or “hell biking” in Alaska, exploring the backcountry with his family or just living life in general, Dial continues to shed the unnecessary. “We buy less, make do with what we have, fix what’s broken, eat less and forage for our own food,” Dial explains. “We have traveled light through life; that means having less and doing more with it.” Read about Dial’s first descent of Alaska’s Pile River, or learn how to prep for a day-long packrafting trip.
Ryan Vachon, climber, climate scientist
“We’ll all die someday,” says Ryan Vachon. “So if I don’t wake up, I miss out on something awesome!” Vachon already claims a “lifetime of immensely positive and transformative experiences in the backcountry.” And these, he says, hooked him not only into being an ice, mixed and rock climber and mountain biker, but also a climate scientist and photographer. In gratitude for his adventures and his life, Vachon is motivated to share what he knows with whoever will listen. “If I can do anything to inspire or facilitate these experiences for others, I can go to bed happy,” he says. His advice to aspiring alpine climbers: Pair down, simplify and execute one thing at a time. And get out of your own way. “The processor between my ears is my greatest obstacle,” he explains. “I yearn to release anything that I have learned if that means living in the moment.”
Samuel Martin, thru hiker, photographer
Samuel Martin is passionate about telling stories of the mundane and often overlooked aspects of backpacking, specifically through his outdoor photos. “Through photography, backpacking is often made out to be a glamorous and clean affair when in reality the exact opposite is often the case,” Martin explains. “My goal is to show more true to reality photos of the gritty and uncomfortable side of life on the trail.” As well, Martin strives to always learn new things and push himself. “I’m naturally a goal oriented person, so once I set out to hike X amount of miles or reach a certain campsite I usually push until I achieve it,” he explains. In order to realize maximum efficiency, he constantly evaluates his trips and strips the necessities down to their bare minimum. “I want to be more present and aware while on the trail,” he says. “Material things are cancerous to my goals (traveling more).” Read Martin’s blog post, “Ultralight Photography for Thru Hikers & Backpackers.”
Scott Adamson, climber, alpinist
Gravity plays a big role in the sport Scott Adamson pursues. “Alpine climbing makes you go minimal,” he explains. “The less stuff you have, the less you have to haul up, down or across.” But it’s not just on his adventures that Adamson travels light. “Everything I own fits in the back of my truck,” he says. This allows him more time to be outside, which is just where he needs to be. Adamson has developed more than 100 ice and mixed routes in his home state, Utah, plus first ascents of hard ice and alpine lines in Alaska and Nepal. But it’s not those ascents that make Adamson happy; it’s his passion for the unknown. “Cutting edge alpine climbing allows me to push my mind and body to a point of purity,” he says. “Sharing this same passion with a community of good friends makes it all worth it at the end of the day.” Check out photos from a climbing, bikepacking and packrafting trip Adamson, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Angela Van Wiemeersch embarked on.”
Seth Timpano, guide, explorer
Seth Timpano lives like a nomad, following the seasons north to south—guiding in Alaska and Washington in the summer and Antarctica in the winter. “And by definition, a nomad can only carry a limited amount,” he says of his simple lifestyle. “I also want to have memorable experiences in the backcountry and to be safe and successful. And it just happens that going with a lighter, more minimal style translates into greater success.” On the other hand, he’s also a mountain guide, which means he must often bring more gear in order to create a safe and successful experience for his guests. However, regardless of how he travels through the backcountry, Timpano says, his main goals are to continue to be in the mountains, whether it’s sharing his love of climbing with clients or doing first ascents of unclimbed ice and mixed faces. There, he’s able to enter the zone of complete concentration and heightened awareness of the self. “For me it’s not a single moment; it’s the duration of a good climb, two to five days on the go and then the sleep that is had when you finally allow your self to shut down. Read about Timpano’s ascent of the Cotter-Bebie Route in the Cascades.
Steve “Doom” Fassbinder, photographer, explorer
For his 14th birthday, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder wanted a backpack, tent and sleeping bag so he could get out in the woods on his own. Armed with a setup from Walmart, he was stoked. “But it didn't take long to figure out that these items were not cut out for long distances or hard use,” he says. Since then he’s honed his system, finding a direct link between pack weight and distance traveled. And he’s embarked on some serious multi-sport adventures equipped with the lightest, most technologically advanced bikes, packrafts, climbing gear and backpacking equipment. “I'm passionate about creative, human powered, low impact travel,” Fassbinder says. “And I want to be proficient at any given sport that I'm participating in. That only comes experientially for me. I can't learn from a book, so I'm motivated to get out there to get better.” Check out our Q&A on the toxic sludge he documented on the Animas River, or check out photos from his 2015 multi-sport Utah adventure.
Around 1990, mountaineer and book author Tom Turiano attempted to ski various new routes on the Grand Teton in his home mountains of Wyoming. During a big rappel on one failed attempt, he had so much weight on his back that he nearly flipped over backwards. “That’s when I realized I had to pack differently, and start working out,” Turiano says. Lighter and lighter loads evolved into the desire for cleaner and quieter gear—less hard nylon and fewer bells and whistles—and ultimately more time spent exploring the backcountry. Turiano’s passions extend beyond purely enjoying the outdoors. He’s a “conservation-minded recreationist,” actively lobbying in favor of legislation that would require Yellowstone and other Parks to do a feasibility study and open some rivers at some times to paddling. “In the bigger picture,” he explains, “I will always fight for the freedom to roam with primitive tools, developing each recreationist’s personal responsibility to care for wild places, and holding every recreationist accountable for damages and rescues.”
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