After a blissful- and equally painful- two days tearing across the massive Beartooth mountains in Montana, I found myself just shy of Fossil Lake, and out of time. There was nothing left but to turn around, and return the 27 miles I had come from. This time, in one day.
I had long since given up on petty speed-setting goals. With my time constraints, what was the point? I was back to the basics: a destination far away, and many miles of happy running. The rhythm of running was a soothing meditation for my mind- even if my body was breaking down.
Its so hard to leave the comfort of a warm sleeping bag on a crisp morning, when the grass is frozen into tiny crystal formations. But, I had little choice. I needed to get to my car before dark so I could drive home 12 hours away, and prepare for the next work day.
Leaving the main Beartooth Plateau, with its strange rock formations rolling across the horizon, I found pockets of colorful- and yet unidentified- duck populations. I did not have my bird field guide with me this trip.
Once I reached the top of High Pass, I knew the uphill climbs were all but over for me, and I bombed it down hill. Apart from typical third day physical pain, the return was anti-climactic. I zoned out, and let my legs do their thing, step after step after step…
MY GEAR LIST:
I wont exhaust my readers (or myself) with a tedious, detailed list of every single item I brought on my trip. I will, however, gladly share some of my key items of gear that helped me reach that next level of ultralight mobility.
As I’ve said before, ultralight travel is not so much about spending money on gear, as it is a mentality; and successfully mastering it usually requires years of gradual experience. I would not recommend a first time backpacker carrying the small amount of items I did this trip- simply because they might not be comfortable in rough weather conditions, or experienced enough to stay warm and dry. But for the sake of answering those that keep asking me what items i brought, this is where my ultralight packing (and ultralight mentality) currently stands:
Where most people usually end up carrying the most weight on a backpacking, or fastpacking trip, is in the shelter and sleeping system. A tent, sleeping pad, and big puffy sleeping bag do not have to be necessities. On this trip, I used a Brooks Range Mountaineering Elephant Foot “Sleeping Bag”- Its not what you would call a traditional sleeping bag. It only comes up to my waist, filled with down insulation, and has no zippers- making it only 15 ounces (And is rated for 20 degrees Fahrenheit). That is less than half the weight of a similar lightweight sleeping bag. Since I usually carry a big, puffy down sleeping jacket, it only seems practical that it would make a good pair with my half sized bag. In other words, its the best way to optimize my gear to weight ratio. It is important to note- down insulation material is always much lighter than synthetic insulation; the negative side to this is when down gets wet, it can no longer insulate- but when synthetic is wet, it still has insulating properties. It rained one night on my expedition, but luckily, I was able to stay dry and well covered under my tarp shelter.
Next, I did not carry a conventional tent with me. In grizzly country, even the small psychological comforts of an enclosed shelter can make a big difference when travelling alone- but as usual, saving weight became more important. I used a 5′ x 8′ section of Tyvek home wrap construction material as a tarp, suspended by my trekking pole where my head rested, and tied down on all for corners. I found the structure to be taunt, and very solid, even in pretty heavy wind and rain. A tent obviously offers easy access to a dry home for the night, but with the right experience, sleeping under a tarp can be just as comfortable. My tarp weight about 7 ounces, and cost a few dollars, making it almost 2 lbs lighter than my $400 ultralight two-person tent.
Instead of carrying a sleeping pad or a section of ground cloth to sleep on top of, I used my laminated map as a sleeping pad/ground cloth. I like to find double or triple purposes for each item of gear, to better optimize their weight efficiency.
Some other ultralight features of my kit:
I did not carry a GPS unit, and instead, relied on two small compasses to navigate. Since I mostly traveled in the alpine with landmarks all around, I did not need fear getting lost like I would in dense environments.
I carried all dehydrated food, and cooked with a tiny titanium stove, fueled on the smallest fuel can I could find. My kitchenware consisted only of a titanium spork and cup. Titanium is more expensive, but way lighter, and not to mention bomb proof.
I did not carry backup undies and socks like conventional backpacking guides suggest (Gross, I know… )
My Buff brand (neck gaiter) paired with my mesh Patagonia duckbill cap, created the perfect all weather head protection. In heat, I could wear the mesh hat alone, and use the gaiter to shield my neck from the sun; when it got really cold, I could wear the Buff on top of my hat, covering my ears, like a beanie- thus, satisfying any needs for other headwear.
( backpacking , photography , montana )