TrailQuest Ultralight Backpacking Page

- - By Carol "Brawny" Wellman

Updated December 5, 2011

TrailQuest / My Homepage

Now available, My Journey to Freedom and Ultralight Backpackingin E-Book format or Books by Carol Wellman at Barnes and Nobel.
My new book: Everything Except Corn Pasta
--a culinary guide for Ultralight Backpackers
is full of trail stories, recipes, photos, and information for everyone. Published in 2011.

Just Released!

An Ultralighter's True Trail Stories-Beyond the Journey
This book has not been printed in hard copy. It sells as a Kindle or Nook download for $7.99

All of my novels for Kindle encorporate survival skills and trail god lore.

An insiders look at Brawny's Books will give updates and notes.

E-books are available world wide, more affordable than hard copy, and don't take up living space. The Kindle application which makes this possible is free and found at Download for PC There are no shipping or handling fees, and it doesn't matter which country you live in. Within minutes you can be reading e-books.

The Female Survivalist a blog about ultralight gear and techniques I'm currently working on. How to make your own fuel tablets, an easy to make Slow-Burner (Baking) Soda Can Stove are my current projects. Gear reviews, Book reviews,Fuels For the Soda Can Stove, Alternative Gear, a Woman's Survival page, photos, videos and more. Some behind the scenes of my book Project are there as well. A site search box included to make surfing easier.

BrawnyView an ongoing update on my adventures in Zion National Park, Grand Tetons, etc. Special pages devoted to Hobo Gear, Winter Backpacking Skills, Recipes, Gear Sales, Links, and more. A site search box for your convienence.

My YouTube Channel where I demonstrate how to make ultralight gear, nature videos and ultralight techniques.

New! How to Make Silnylon Stuff Sacks-a video demonstration by Brawny.

In 2003, I wrote a book about my journey to personal freedom, my adventures hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail and Appalachian Trail, and ultralight backpacking. There are directions for making 12 gear items in the book, including bag liners, tarps, fleece wear and my famous 9 ounce silnylon backpack, for those of you who want to make your own ultralight gear. A more in-depth discussion of ultralight backpacking, along with the evolution of my final gear lists for each trail are also in my book. Other topics discussed are : Resupply points for the Appalachian Trail, how to do an ultralight resupply, cook systems, water capacity and treatment, winter ultralighting, gear lists, and deep life lessons.

Definitions Philosophy Attitude
Gear Preference Experience Partners
Reality Packs Shelters
Sleep System Clothing Cook System
Water Capacity / Treatment Hygiene Footwear
Ultralight Gear List Socks Luxury Items
Medical / Emergency / Repair Gear Reviews

Ultralight backpacking doesn't have to be expensive. The use of alternative gear can result in substantial savings in both weight and expense. For instance, these sandals cost nothing but time, and only weigh one ounce. You can see the gram weenie sandals with full instructions on how to make them.

Reviews written by other hikers can be read about several brands and types of gear at this link. Each person has his or her own preferences and needs. This ultralight backpacking page is devoted to helping each individual lighten their pack to suit themself. What works for me may not work for you. My hope is that you can achieve the lightest possible pack weight, and still have everything you need for a safe and enjoyable trip. Some of the information presented here is just my own opinion, and based on my experiences. Other information was found by research and observations. Each topic is discussed more fully in my book, My Journey to Freedom and Ultralight Backpacking.

This demonstration uses a flat tarp and 3 yards of no-see-um netting to construct a very good tarp-tent. It is based on my Brawny Tarptent. Any flat tarp can be used, and you can configure the staking loops with tips shown in the above video.


Base pack weight is defined as all your gear without food and water. The systems for carrying food (stuff sacks) and water (water bottles or bags) are included. Some people differenciate with Skin Out base weight, which is another way of emphasizing that the stated weight also includes clothing and hiking shoes which are being worn. Be aware that some people will claim an incredibly low "pack weight" yet do not include all the many layers of clothing they are wearing, the stuff in their pockets and fanny packs filled with cameras and extras.

Gram Weenie is a term coined to identify people so focused on pack weight that even a few grams (28.5 grams per ounce) would be pared from the lightest of gear. Some gram weenie techniques include cutting down one's handle on a lexan spoon, removing name tags and icons, making sandals from shoe inserts, replacing their pot lid with aluminum foil, and even downsizing ziplock bags. This word has now become widely accepted.

The Volume or Bulk of an item is just as important as it's weight for an ultralighter. If you only have 2,500 cubic inches of pack space available, the amount of room various items take up is going to be crucial. The final choice between a synthetic or down sleeping bag might be made for this reason alone.

Silnylon is a 1.1 ounce, siliconized, ripstop fabric. Once treated it weighs approximately 1.3 ounces. Sometimes called parachute cloth or "SoarCoat", it is difficult to find in fabric stores, and it is necessary to order it from companies offering specialized materials. Ultralight gear made from this fabric is very light and amazingly strong. New fabrics are coming out which are thinner and lighter. Carbon fiber and the 20/20 denier Intrepid ripstop are two examples.

A Vapor Barrier is an item designed to trap body heat and hold in body moisture. Vapor barrier bags can be used in emergency and survival situations.They are used inside a sleeping bag, and not as an outter shell. Vapor Barrier clothing can be worn in or out of a sleeping bag, lowering the bag's rating by as much as 10 degrees. Vapor barriers should not be used over down jackets or down sleeping bags. However, used under these types of gear will increase the warmth generated tremendously. Testing in various conditions will tell you whether you need a wicking layer or feel comfortable with it next to your skin.

A system is a set of components that work in conjunction to achieve one goal. These components may change with climate or personal needs.

Footprint refers to the exact shape a tent floor makes. When cutting a custom ground cloth, set up the tent on plastic sheeting and mark its base. Remove the tent, and cut the sheeting one inch smaller than the outline you have just traced.

Tarp A water resistant shelter without a floor. It may have a beak, or no-see-um netting attached. Variable pitch and floor area result from different configurations.

Single wall/double wall shelter A single wall shelter is constructed with one layer of water resistant or water proof fabric. It may have screen doors and vents, with storm doors, beaks or windows. A double walled shelter has much of the top sewn in mesh (no-see-um netting), with a door opening, stitched to a water resistant floor. A fly or tarp is then fitted over the top to protect against wind and rain. A double walled tent is shelter, but will have less condensation problems.

Condensation occurs in every fabric shelter, because the shelter will be warmer than the outside air. As we exhale, moisture from our breath rises to condense on the inner walls. In single wall shelters and tents, this moisture can be wiped away with a bandana or pack towel. With double wall shelters or tents, the moisture passes through the top mesh, collects on the underside of the fly, then drains downward. Generally speaking, the moisture will not fall back through the mesh. Exceptions occur when rain hits the canopy. Condensation is directly related to airflow and location. The more closed a shelter is, the greater the moisture buildup will be.

Zero Day in the truest sense of the word means a day where no time is spent hiking trail miles. Having a low pack weight, and a backpacking system that works, can substantially reduce the need for zero days.


There are many reasons for backpacking. When assembling your gear, those reasons need to be addressed. For some, the excursion into remote areas involves photography. One good friend had a 4-pound camera on his Pacific 2001 Crest Trail thru hike. When teased about its weight, he simply stated, "I am taking photos that will last a lifetime." He won awards and some of those photos were published. I usually take an "outdoor only" non-flash disposable camera, weighing 2.25 ounces. Ultralight backpacking is not about deprivation, but about choosing the lightest weight for your own needs.

With the high tec, inexpensive digital cameras now available, the memory cards can be mailed home, battery charger bounced ahead in bounce boxes and the weight is no longer such an issue.

Backpacking might be the way to get to a remote fishing spot. Some backcountry fishermen I have seen with just line, hook and sinker. Others carry a light reel as well. They find poles in the vicinity. It is not appropriate to cut live vegetation for your fishing pole, however. Do not forget to check about the permits necessary for the area you are traveling through.

Perhaps time is limited and long, high mileage days are critical to completion.Then, paring down every last gram is the focus. This can be quite fun, and looked upon as a personal challenge. I would never criticize anyone who does not want to go this far.

Whatever the adventure, the purpose of this page is to lighten the load of hikers who, for health or personal reasons, recognize the value of less weight.

For those who are minimalists, and recognize the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, of saving our planet from global warming and pollution the creed of an ultralighter can be an inspiration. Visit My Brawnyview Blog for more philosphical discussion and practical thoughts on lifestyle.

The formula that one should not carry more than 20-25% of their body weight is a good starting point. This figure is used with one�s ideal body weight , and includes food and water.

That 25 % would be considered maximum weight, including food and water. As a 120-pound woman, that translates into 30 pounds for me. If I have to carry 2 liters of water (4 pounds) and 4 days of food (about 6 pounds) that gives me 20 pounds of base weight to work with. As an ultra lighter, I would look at getting to a 15% maximum weight, or below. That translates into 18 pounds, maximum. I was able to do this on my Appalachian Trail thru hike in 2002. In Port Clinton, PA, the outfitter weighed my pack at 14 pounds, which is 11.6% That included food for 4 days and 12 ounces of water.

Obviously, one can not determine the sucess or definition of an Ultralight Backpacker in terms of percentage of body weight to total packweight. A 220 pound male carrying 22 pounds packweight is just 10 % of their body weight. A 120 pound female carrying 10 % of their body weight would translate into a mere 12 pounds packweight. I don't think a definition for an " Ultralighter" has been agreed upon universally. I would suggest that a base weight (skin out) of under 10 pounds is definitly achievable for three season backpacking, and that winter and technical backpacking situations require more equipment.

Water can become the single heaviest item, so I have developed certain techniques. Some strategies in well watered areas include carrying two water bottles, with capacity of about 24 ounces each. Drink one as soon as purification is complete. The other one is kept full until another water source is located. When one arrives at the next water source, the other bottle is drunk, and both bottles are refilled, and treated. Continue hiking, and when the first bottle is ready, drink it, and save the next one until you arrive at water again. This way a person stays well hydrated, without running out of water.

In the desert, this strategy changes. Compute the miles to the next sure water, divide the amount of water carried among the hours necessary to reach that source. The most I ever carried, even while traversing the Mojave Desert was 5 liters of water. Try to get started at daybreak, while it is still cool. Then during the heat of the day, it is a good idea to rest in the shade, preferably at a water source. You may have to create your own shade but hopefully there will be a rock overhang or Joshua tree. Cook and wash the dishes, brush your teeth, and wash your body at a water source if possible. If there is still a lot of daylight when that source is reached, you can hike until dark. Whenever you reach water, tank up, that is, drink as much as you can hold, resting and waiting, then drinking more. This method will get you through a lot of desert miles on a daily basis.

Some people will night hike to avoid the heat of desert hiking, thus decreasing the quantity of water carried. Remember that snakes hunt at night, and that trail which is not well marked may become confusing, if not lost. Also, if your light source fails, you may not have a decent place to stop to rest until daylight. A full moon on a clear night may give enough light to enjoy night hiking on a well maintained trail, if thats your passion. It is not something you should plan on doing as a regular coping method.

The food bag is another potentially massive load. I try to keep my food at just over one pound per day. I realize this is very minimal for most people. Men might need twice that figure. A 160-pound man, carrying 15% of his body weight, would have 24 pounds to work with. That would allow for additional food weight. Ration, even if hungry, until you're sure you have enough so that you can eat every day you are hiking. This concept may seem obvious, but I've met people who ended up with no food, and a entire day of hiking until town. They became faint, and had to "borrow" supplies.

Foods which are heavy and bulky, but satisfying on the trail are bagels, whole wheat bread, cheese, and summer sausage (cold weather). I splurge on these during short resupplies. When resupplying for long distances, however, I used high density foods, which are compact, filling, and ususally require water for meal preparation.

I've recently developed a Slow Burning Soda Can stove. Easy to make, only 3/8 ounce (12 grams) a person can now carry buiscut mix, pancake mix, even cake mixes and bake. These powders have a good weight to calorie ratio. For more details see My YouTube Channel where I demonstrate how to make and use one. thefemalesurvivalist blog also shows the hows and whys of this new stove.

Every part of our anatomy receives less stress when our weight is down, and this includes body weight as well as pack weight. We require fewer calories to function well. Our joints and tissue are subject to less strain. Our hearts and lungs do not labor extensively. So, as we work on cutting those extra ounces from our packs, those extra pounds from our bodies should be target as well.

A mathematical chart has been developed to demonstrate the load differences with pounds and miles. Commonly called the Swinky Pound-Mile Chart it graphs the relationship between weight carried, to miles hiked in reference to energy expenditure.


An ultralight attitude can be developed over a period of time. Henry David Thoreau said"How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.�

The idea is that we do not want anything too big. We want enough, just enough. Less does not indicate poverty but the power of personal restraint, a very satisfying concept and practice.

This personal power is reflected in the fact we are self-sufficient. An ultralighter who constantly needs to borrow gear, food, water, fuel, or guide pages from others, is not an ultralighter, but a parasite and drain on the hiking community. I know those are strong words, but I will not advocate that anyone go on to a trail ill equiped or unprepared.

Certainly it is fun and necessary to share food and gear occasionally. The goal though, as an ultralighter, is to have everything one needs. In some areas, a person may not meet another hiker for days or even weeks, making self sufficiency imperative.

This ultralight attitude includes our own body. Carrying an extra 20 pounds of body fat is unnecessary weight and detrimental to our anatomy. It requires additional effort for every mile hiked. Just as we make choices with our gear to eliminate excess weight, choices are made to lower body weight. It's not a matter of totally cutting out items, it�s a matter of reducing portions, improving components (less fat and sugar) and arriving at a weight that best suits our needs.

There are some who, planning a long distance hike, decide to �bulk up�. They intentionally gain weight, knowing that they will be using more calories each day than they could carry. This is a bad plan, because unless the weight is muscle, no benefit can be found for carrying extra fat up those long inclines and steep grades. In fact, that extra body weight will cause more stress as your heart and lungs labor to fill the needs of the extra poundage, and the feet and knees must deal with extra weight of each step. Once the body sheds fat and builds muscle, real progress will be felt in trail readiness. A lean hiker is a healthy hiker. Especially on the Appalachian Trail, where food sources are abundant, no extra weight should be gained in preparation.

A couple of helpful links follows in reguards to discovering and maintaining an ideal body weight.

Metabolic Ideal Weight Page

Amateur Sports Nutrition and Weight Information


Although it appears we have thought of everything, reality sometimes plays a cruel joke. A bad back or knees, or special dietary needs may cause our packs to take on additional weight. Harsh weather and climate conditions also necessitate additional gear. The result is that what we now have is a real workable pack, and not just a "showcase" system. There is no shame in knee braces, back braces, doubled sleeping pads, medicines or vitamins. The mere fact we can do this at all is pretty amazing. Some of the most honored hikers are those the doctors have told to stay home.

Rainmaker has authored a great informative page Methods To Keep Hiking . His strategies have kept me on the trail.

I recommended that you take your ultralight backpacking system on short trip, for a few consecutive nights, to find any flaws before heading out on a long trail. Some problems become apparent only after several days on the trail. Remember also, a fair weather trip, although enjoyable, doesn't properly test a system. Welcome the storm, cold and wind for the worst case senarios that you may encounter.

Set up your new tents, tarps and shelters before heading out. Read the directions, if necessary, in your back yard so you will be ready on the trail.

Remember to always play safe when bringing children or pets, handicapped, inexperienced or older folks with you. Take those extra precautions, and carry some extra weight. A cell phone raises many objections from some outdoor advocates, but without a doubt they have saved many lives by facilitating timely rescues. Let no one tell you what you need, and what you don�t. Your needs always remain your choices. The purpose of this web page is to reveal ultralight techniques, and leave the decisions up to you.


We were nearly done with our thru hikes, sharing a shelter with some friends in the Wilderness in Maine. A young guy thoughtfully asked me, �So how�s your ultra light system working for you?" I told him great, still carrying the same silpack, Tacoma tent, soda can stove, and sleeping bag. He shook his head and reflected, "I carry more weight by accident than you do on purpose."

That was a great compliment. It didn't happen overnight. Trial and error played a large part in accruing the experience necessary to become a minimalist. I have hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail beginning in 2000 , and finishing it the next fall. My journal of the PCT 2001 can be read online . I also did the John Muir Trail in 2001, and thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002. In 2003, I thru hiked the Colorado Trail with Rainmaker. During those years, from 2000-2003, I learned how to utilize everything I had in my pack and surroundings to stay warm in an unexpected record cold. Good and bad experiences helped me shed the standard approach. Experience taught me to ask for information when necessary, and then make wise decisions. But all this took time, and a willingness to learn.

The more trail experience one has, the better tuned the pack becomes. No one may accurately judge what another hiker needs. That comes only by personal experience. My pack and subsequent ultralight gear list is constantly in an evolutionary process. This season's gear will no doubt be replaced by other gear, as technology progresses. I am now working on my CDT gear, which will differ from the previous trails. You may read about our 2003-2004 section CDT hike complete with the new gear list, if you like.

Gear Preference

The changes in pack weights can be largely attributed to the new fabrics and designs now available. Thinking outside the box, a common expression for creative ingenuity, has generated thousands of alternative ideas.

Check out My YouTube Channel for demonstrations with my Teepee and how to make stuff sack with silnylon.

The use of silnylon for shelters and tents, stuff sacks, pack covers and raingear can cut previous gear weights in half. Special care must be used when sewing and cooking near this fabric, but the results are impressive.

Micro fleece, silk, polyester, and nylon have replaced cotton blends and heavy man-made fibers. The results are more vesatile lightweight, quick drying clothing.

Multipurpose gear eliminates duplicate ounces. However care must be taken not to jeapordize one's health or safety. I personally am not fond of ponchos that serve for both rain gear, packcover and primary shelter. As a loose fitting rain cover, they do not offer the protection of a light jacket. With hiking poles, the water tends to drip and run down one's arms. They can be used as a tarp over a bivy bag, or even a ground cloth inside a tarp. In cold, rainy weather, however, the idea of stripping off one's raingear to set up as a shelter is a dangerous concept. Great care must be taken in such weather to stay as warm as possible, even if not totally dry. Rain gear can serve as a very effective wind barrier, and hold in body heat. At the end of the day, after hiking has stopped and camp is being made, there is a serious hypothermic danger. Taking off this important layer and setting it up as a very basic shelter should be carefully considered and tested before making it a part of the daily routine, regardless of how light it is.

However, highly skilled outdoors people have used the poncho-tarp-packcover system with great success, or in combination with a light bivy bag. In the summer, desert, or short overnight trips, a combination such as this might be just right for you.

After testing a poncho extensively on the Colorado Trail, I came to the conclusion that vital gear should not overlap in its purposes. If you need to use a poncho to protect your pack, you can not drop your pack unprotected, while still wearing the poncho as a rain jacket. The same applies as a shelter. When the temperatures dropped dramatically after hail storms, the poncho was needed for warmth, and using it as a shelter would have become problematic.

When scrutinizing any gear item, think about all the ways you intend to use it. How well does it fill that need? Perhaps two smaller lighter items would work better than one larger, heavier item that is "multi purpose".Examples of this idea can be found in the various topics that follow.


Some weight can be saved if your adventure includes a partner. However here are some issues that should be addressed beforehand.

If the journey is long
If your partner decides to go home, gets hurt, or breaks off to solo on his or her own, would you continue? How would you adapt your equipment, and can you get by with only what you now have? Keeping this in mind as the equipment is assembled can alleviate problems later. Especially with shelters and sleep systems, its important to know the degree of commitment to the partnership. And, no matter how committed to the partnership, you may become separated in wilderness areas for a day or two.

When hiking with a partner, divide the shelter so that if you inadvertantly get separated before camping that evening, each would have something to use. One could take the ground cloth, the other the tarp. Each should have guylines to rig a shelter. With a double wall tent, one take the fly, the other can take the tent main body. In case of rain, the floor of the tent can be used to shed rain (turn it upside down). Stakes are not a problem, since there are always rocks and roots, or limbs to tie off to.

When sharing a shelter, sometimes partners decide over the course of a long trip that they need more room. As the weeks pass, the small ultralight tarp needs replacing with one just a bit larger. That might be taken into account before you purchase any gear. This is where a poncho could provide the extra space by attaching to the tarp in the evenings as a vestibule.This is not much fun next morning if you have to pack up in the rain, and your poncho/rain gear is part of the shelter.

A 10 x 10 Tarp makes a versatile piece of equipment. Its inexpensive, can shelter 2 people, and is not too heavy for one person. If one person uses it alone, a ground cloth can be eliminated by using the following pitching procedure:

Some couples share one large sleeping bag. Other ultralight couples use a regular bag, unzipping it quilt style. They sew some extra fabric on both sides of the bag ( silnylon in one particular case) to keep the other one from "stealing" the whole thing during the night. Another couple I met each had their own bags because in cold weather it actually was warmer to zip up alone, instead of snuggling under a quilt. If you are one to toss and turn all night, your partner may not enjoy the continual shifting of body and bedding. To maintain peace, two seperate sleepsystems are then recommended.

If your eating styles are different
Some hikers will cook breakfast every morning without fail. For others, cleaning the pot just isn't worth the trouble, preferring an extra half hour's sleep and a Pop-tart or Snickers as they pack up for the day. There are hikers who will stop and cook during the day. Then, in camp at day's end, some make coffee upon arriving, others holding off until they cook supper just before bed.

If you and your partner have different styles, it should be recognized before the trip and a cooking system developed accordingly. Rainmaker and I always cooked seperately, carrying our own stoves and pots. Sence they are small and ultralight, the versatity was worth the effort. We both use the soda can stove, which will nest in any pot. It is the weight of the fuel that is the consideration.

If you cook together, perhaps it will just be the evening meal. It is wise to carry your own personal food and snacks, even when cooking together.

Will the weight distribution be equal for group gear?
Some couples divide weight evenly, down to the last pound. With others, the guy carries the bulk of the weight. When this happens, the partnership can be put under strain, especially if the woman doesn't pack lightly. As an ultralighter, you should be able to carry your own personal gear. Maps could be shared, but data sheets are a good thing for each person to have. Toothpaste, the comb, and repair kits, all are things that can be shared by couples. But, if each carries their own supplies, the partner's supplies could be thought of as back-up. In towns, always check with each other before resupplying, to avoid running out.

I would carry my own toilet paper, a sanitation kit, purification chemicals, and ibuprofen. If you become separated for a couple hours at a time, these items need to be handy at a moment's notice. Using an ultralight silnylon fannypack which only weighs 1.75 ounces can facilitate this.


Start cutting off extra straps and you will easily see how a few extra inches of fabric make a difference in grams. Then think of the overall size of your pack, and especially if it is made of a heavy pack cloth, you will soon realize why a standard 5000 cubic inch internal pack weighs anywhere from 4.5 to nearly 6 pounds. Even the ziplock plastic bag, commonly used on long hikes for food and gear items, weighs something. By taking the size to fit the need, you can save an ounce or two.

Packs made from 100% nylon ripstop, whether the 1.1 or 1.9, can significantly decrease the weight. Mesh pockets can be sewn to the outside of any pack for carrying water bottles, tarps, and raingear. Care must be taken when stuffing pockets because the fabric is lighter. However just because they are lighter the workmanship should not suffer. A well made pack will have cross stitching and reinforcements.

An 8 ounce silnylon pack which can hold all my cold weather gear, plus food and water, was designed for my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2002. A full report and specs are available on that page.

Beware the pack without a hip belt. Addition of food for a week and water may increase your total finished weight to over 35 pounds.

Here you may read about a different way of using an exterior frame by removing the heavy pack cloth pack, and replacing it with silnylon stuff sacks, firmly cinched on. I have learned the hard way that three large stuff sacks are better than five smaller sacks for this purpose, because three are easier to load and keep balanced. The first one placed on the frame provides the stablizing effect. Loops or a sleeve holds it firmly to the frame. Then the second bag is placed on top and cinched to the first and the frame itself. The third bag is placed below the first,which is now the middle bag, and cinched to it, and the frame.

How to Make Silnylon Stuff Sacks

For a demonstration on how to make your own stuff sacks, including those used in the packless system, click on video link. More how-to films are being planned for my channel at youtube .

Pack covers and/or plastic garbage bags used as liners are highly recommended for essential gear such as sleep systems and food items that must be kept dry. Be prepared to tie your plastic bag on. The packcovers we make at Dancing Light gear have an elastic drawcord, which provides an easy on/easy off. Each packcover also has a windstrap sewn in the perimeter. When fastened, this windstrap prevents the packcover from being yanked off in high winds. Mine stayed on even in the White Mountains, where winds were reported at 70 miles per hours.


While it seems that tarps have replaced tents in the ultralight community, and that a certain status comes with using a tarp, this is not necessarily what I would recommend for everyone. A close scrutiny and personal realization of one's own hiking style should dictate what type of shelter to use, more than the pressure of trend.

All shelters, both tents and tarps, require careful choice of site, to insure a good night's rest, and staying drying during storms. A good site doesn't just mean an outstanding view, or proximity to water. Never chose a site which shows previous flooding, that is a sink hole at the base of a slope. Do not pitch your shelter below trees with dead limbs. Camping in long grass near lakes will increase condensation. Cutting and clearing vegetation violates Leave No Trace Principles. Look for ground which is slightly higher that the surrounding area, which is reasonably level. Many ultralight tents have a silnylon floor which can be quite slippery when pitched on slight slopes.


A tarp doesn't have an attached floor. Some new hybred systems are being developed called tarp-tents, but for the purpose of this discussion, we will just say a tarp doesn't have a floor. Some benefits of a tarp are: variation in pitch, more covered space per ounce of weight, no floor to rip when pets are inside, cooking fuels cannot burn the floor, cleaning and airing is easier with no floor to trap debris. Tarps can be set up on irregular ground, but need care in finding a suitable location so that water doesnt run off the canopy and underneath to the sleeping area. Poles, guylines and stakes may weigh more or less than for a tent, depending on configuration.

Check out the five pitches for the Brooks-Range Ultralight 5 x 8 Tarp I tested this summer in Zion National Park at my channel at youtube .

Tents and Shelters

A solo, single wall two-pound tent was a breakthrough just 5 years ago. Now, two person shelters are in that weight range. My Tacoma Tent weighs just 18 ounces and was used for 5 months on my 2002 Appalachian thru hike.

Some people feel that the handcrafted ultralight shelters are too expensive and instead spend hundreds of dollars on heavier tents found at outfitters. If you are planning a long distance hike, I would suggest putting that money towards an ultralight shelter. You may very well save that hike, or even save money with a reduced pack weight. Fewer zero days of recovery, fewer injuries and less time spent in town will more than repay the expenditure for a good ultralight tent or tarp system.

A double wall shelter has a floor and mesh body. It also has a fly, or canopy, which covers the entire shelter. This set up, while heavier than a single wall shelter, nearly eliminates condensation, and is warmer.

Double wall shelters can be viewed online to give you a better appreciation for various features. Eureka camping tents have several with side orientation, some with front, and all with varying degress of fly coverage.

Check out the lightweight backpacking tents as well to compare weights of fabrics. A 30 denier for floor and fly will weigh less than one with 70 denier. A heavier fablc will be a little heavier but is warmer which means you can use a lighter sleeping bag. I like a full to the ground fly, and side orientation, rather than tunnel style tent. The Eureka Spitfire 1 Tent is reveiwed more fully below in the Gear Review Section.

I tested the new South Col tent by High Peak USA , a four season dome tent. It weighs 9.7 ounces, can fit 3 adults, and a dog in the vestibule.

As a full featured, free standing shelter, it would be hard to beat. I loved the two doors, the generous floor space (6.5 x 7) and large vestibules on each end. Ventilation built in, a snow skirt, easy set up. I pitched this tent myself within minutes. With all the guy out points, gear pockets, gear loft, #5 zippers, winter weight floor, this is my tent of choice for base camping, car camping and family camping.

Check out my blogs for photos, video and more.


I have not used a hammock other than for day lounging, so I can only relate some observances.

There must be trees stout enough to hang the hammock from. In the desert this would be a problem, however, the tarp could be used initially and the hammock used later in forested areas. The hammock could be used directly on the ground, as a bivy bag, too. In cold weather, good insulation is needed below your bag in the hammock. Those I saw using one seemed to be balled up in the middle of it. Be sure you are comfortable with the tarp overhang. Again, I haven't used a hammock on any overnight trips. Those I've seen using hammocks had to change clothes outside. Bad weather cooking was more complicated, especially where there was no shelter for them to duck into. Some hammock users told me that animals came up and nosed around under the hammock at night..

Some folks say they are the best thing ever, not having to sleep on rocky ground. They range from 2.5 pounds down to 1.5 pounds (tarps are from 6 x 10 down to 9 x 6) for one popular system.

One of the most widely used hammock systems is the Hennessy Hammock. (This site contains a lot of information). Gear reviews of this hammock may be read here.


My limited observations of bivies comes from my Pacific Crest Trail hike in 2001. A couple good friends had them. In the High Sierra when the bugs were bad, they had limited options after setting up camp. Their bivies weighed as much as my solo tent. They did not carry a tarp, because of little precipitation on the first 1,000 miles. Once they arrived in Oregon, they planned to buy one. I did not meet anyone with a bivy on the Appalachian Trail.

Ground cloths

Ground cloths are seldom necessary for tents. If used, be sure to cut it smaller than the footprint so that no rain can run down the side of the tent, catch on the plastic or tyvek, and pool under the floor. This will cause your gear inside to get wet, as the weight from the interior presses the water into the fibers, and through the floor.

With a tarp, some sort of waterproof protection is needed on the ground. Hammock users may wish to have something to place gear on, under their hammock. It could be a small plastic bag, no larger than 3 square feet.

A common material used for ground cloths is Tyvek . Tyvek is rather bulky and noisy when it is brand new. After using it for awhile, it will become more pliable and less noisy because of repeated folding and sleeping on it.
To test the often repeated advice of using your washing machine to soften tyvek, I cut two identical pieces of tyvek (Dupont). The first piece was fashioned into a water sack. Then I poured three quarts of water into it, and left it hanging for 24 hours. Not a single drop escaped. However, the second piece of tyvek, which was put through a regular cycle in the washing machine, did not do so well. After it was made into a water sack, and hung with 3 quarts of water in it, leaking was observed after only 11 hours. This led me to the conclusion that putting tyvek in the washing machine will make it softer, but just one washing will destroy some of its waterproofness. Repeated washings would break down the fibers even more.
If you are using the ground cloth as mearly a barrier to protect the floor of your tent against abrasion, this is not an issue. If you are using tyvek as a shelter, or as a ground cloth under a tarp, I would not wash it in the washing machine.

Plastic sheeting varying from 3-1 ml sold at department stores like Wal-Mart can be used to cut footprints. I've used a large black plastic bag ( .9 ml ) on solo treks. Light shower liners (cut off the magnets and reinforced hanging loops) can also be used..

Stakes for Your Shelter

Taking the right kind of stake is important. In rocky or sandy ground, the screw types (18 grams each ) are great. Gutter nails (12 grams each) are amazing. They are lighter, but more difficult to remove when pounded in completely. Use them at an angle away from your shelter, to keep the loop from coming off the head.We found on the Colorado Trail the gutter nails were the only ones that did not bend when subjected to severe stress. We tested 4 kinds, among them the straight aluminum ones from Walmart, the screw type, and thin heavy gauge wire style.

To facilitate removing a stake from hard ground, insert one straight end into the hook of another and pull upward. For the gutter nails, removal is facilitated by placing the hook end of a skewer type stake over the nail head of a gutter nail stake, can opener style, and prying a bit sideways. Using this method, they can be extracted without too much difficulty. Never pull up on your shelter's staking loop or grommet. It could weaken the loop or rip the fabric. Carry the right amount, preferably in their own ditty bag to prevent them from putting holes in your shelter. A lightweight stake weighs from 8-18 grams, which can add up unnecessarily. When packing up in the morning, count your stakes before leaving. Rocks and limbs can be used as tie off points for some stakes should they become lost, or misplaced. I usually carry the minimum required, and use natural items for the non-essential stake out points. This way, if I camp late, I can set up without any scouting around. Yet, with enough time I can stake out lift loops and back walls by finding suitable limbs or rocks for tie off points.

In high winds or sandy loose soil, place rocks or logs on your stakes to keep them from working loose in the night.

Some people use their stakes for a pot support, this can work but some notes from my experiences follow:
Should they become somewhat crooked over time, it is harder to get them leveled enough for cook pot support.
They may become sooty, with some fuels, which can transfer to the shelter.
You may need to bring more stakes if you like to set your tent up before cooking, or if you cook in the mornings before dropping your tent.
At the end of a long day, its hard to feel like leveling stakes in order to cook. A pot support is much easier.
Some ground is so rocky, it is very hard to get three stakes leveled and close enough to provide an adequate pot support.

Sleep System

The sleep system includes a pad to cushion and insulate the body against the cold ground. Cut your sleeping pad shorter for warm weather hiking. However, in cold weather, the pad should extend beneath your feet. If you use a hammock, a sleeping pad will insulate the lower portion of your body. This is a common concern of cold weather hammock users. To shape a closed cell pad in a z-rest type folding configeration you can read directions at the alternative gear page on Trailquest.

Find a sleeping bag or quilt with a temperature rating that meets the lows you expect. A 20-degree bag will satisfy almost everyone�s needs for 3-season backpacking. Be sure not to buy a bag too large, or too long. It is harder for your body to heat larger areas, and the weight is wasted.

I tested a Women's Casper 15 Degree Sleeping Bag and wrote its review at The Female Survivalist on March 20, 2011 . Bottom line, I love it. Having a bag that fits is wonderful.

A tent or bivy will add about 10 degrees of warmth over sleeping in the open air. If a tarp is lowered and pitched out of the wind, it will add extra warmth as well, but not as much.

Bag liners of silk, of fleece can add warmth to the sleep system. You can sew a silnylon stuff sack into the foot seam inside your sleeping bag, to serve as a vapor barrier for those really cold nights. It can be used as the stuff sack can be when packing up. A sleeping bag sleeve, into which both the sleeping bag and sleeping pad are inserted, is another alternative to increase the warmth of a marginal bag.

Vapor barrier bags or vapor barrier clothing can be worn inside your bag on cold nights.


Hiking clothes are generally shorts and a light top.

In 2002 on the AT, several guys and a few women I met were hiking in skirts and kilts. Be aware if you chose to hike with a skirt or kilt, that underwear or a "privacy button" (that closes one side to another) is necessary for any semblance of decency when lounging in mixed company. The skirts and kilts were said to be cool, comfortable and to prevent chafing. Some people do prefer to hike in long pants because of sun exposure or even bug protection. Whichever you chose, look for something loose and comfortable, and a 100% nylon or polyester. Silk is very comfortable, but breaks down after prolonged sun exposure. However, it does dry quickly and is about as light as you can get. Lycra shorts are favored by some as light weight and quick drying. Pockets are a definite plus. A silnylon patch pocket can be added to shorts. With the right shorts, a fanny pack can be eliminated from your gear list.

A second outter layer is recommended even in warm weather.

A fleece pullover, with neck vent, a hood, or at the least, a high collar is preferred over most other types of jackets. It's lightweight, dries quickly, and feels warm even when wet.

Fleece tights are a great lower layer. The tighter the better. They should fit next to the skin. A pair of nylon tights weighs only 2 ounces, and when under rainpants provides an amazing system that is light, versatile, and warm.

A fleece hat and gloves or mittens are good in all but the hottest weather. Do not drop your tent in the morning with the gloves on, however as they may become wet with condensation that has accumulated overnight. This will make your hands cold until your gloves dry out. Instead, drop your shelter with bare hands. Dry your hands, and then put on the dry gloves or mittens. In cold weather, I usually take one small set of each. When cooking, the gloves are more tactile. Mittens are great for sleeping in, and can be worn over that small pair of gloves.

My preference for raingear is silnylon pants and jacket, which I designed and first used on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2001. I never go hiking without these because of the excellent warmth/weight ratio. Mine are sized small, and weigh only 6 ounces for a set, a large set weighs about 7.2 ounces. They can be used as a vapor barrier in your sleeping bag, wind barrier while hiking or in camp, and excellent rain protection.

Cook System

If you page down, you can see an example of an 8 ounce cook system with amazing trail recipes. We used this system on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2001, and the Appalachian Trail in 2002. The 3 ounce cookset is a further development in ultralight cooking. I had considered going to cold food at one time to save the weight of my pot/stove/cup system when I realized this new idea was so light it would actually save the weight of carrying heavier cold food. All these componants are made of recycled materials. The stove and pot support were made by Rainmaker.

Hexamine tablets, much like esbit, but smaller and more cost effective, were a standard item in my pack. They can be shipped ahead, and used on the inverted side of the soda can stove.

Right now I'm working on a prototype for baking with a slow burning soda can stove. You can view the first tests on my youtube channel: Brawny's channel and read details on my new blog The Female Survivalist.

For a completely different take on stoves, fuel and sustainablity, check out the 3.5 ounce Hobo Stove I created and tested last year. The videos can be viewed at My YouTube Channel

Water Capacity/Treatment

Water capacity is important in desert situations, places where little data is available (uncertain water sources) and those times when camp is made early in the day. Although it is not always necessary to carry maximum capacity, that ability to pick up additional water can really be helpful at times.

Some important considerations when planning water capacity are the weights and sturdiness of each container. Below are some types of bottles commonly carried with their corresponding weights.

Nalgene-1 quart bottle. 5.2 ounces
Plastic soda bottle-24 ounces..1.2 ounces
Plastic soda bottle-1 quart.1.2 ounces
Plastic soda bottle-1.5 liters 1.5 ounces
Plastic soda bottle-2 liters .1.8 ounces
Platypus plastic bag-2 liters.1.25 ounces
Silnylon WaterSac -5 quarts. 1.5 ounces
Ultralight Watersac-3 quarts..18 grams

As you can see, if you need 4 quarts for total capacity (including evenings in camp, or low water areas) there is quite a range of weights possible. If you elect to take only Nalgene bottles, the total weight would be 20.8 ounces. If you take four 1-quart soda bottles, the weight would be 4.8 ounces. If you take two 1.5 liter bottles, with one quart bottle you have 4.2 ounces. If you choose 2 quart bottles for hiking, with a water sack for evenings you would have 3.9 ounces.

Plastic soda bottles are remarkably strong. Rainmaker still has his from the 3-year hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Both 1.5 liter bottles survived the airlines, and over 7 months on the trail. I have carried only the soda bottles on my hikes (although I did carry a Platypus for a while). The Nalgene bottles, while strong and very attractive, just weigh too much. I have heard of people trusting them to the point that they'd place them inside their sleeping bag at night (to keep their water from freezing). It didn�t work; the seal was popped and their bags got wet anyway.

The Platypus can be rolled up small and stored until evenings at camp. I have seen a lot of them develop leaks in the desert, however. Be careful never to place a full one on top your clothes or sleeping bag while hiking.

The watersacs are useful when you are stationary (campsite, lunch break, etc.). You wouldn�t be able to haul water in them in the desert for many hiking miles, unless you carried them in one hand, while walking to camp.

I made an ultralight watersac to carry in well watered areas. Usually, two- 24 ounce bottles are enough for hiking capacity. But, in camp I could use a couple extra quarts, without walking back down to the spring. This sac could be carried several miles, as well, because the mouth is smaller, and would not loose much water in sloshing. It weighs just 18 grams, and fits in a snack size zip lock bag.

Water treatment is such a controversial subject that it is recommended that each hiker research the issue and decide for themselves the method they are most comfortable with. A caution, though; never hike into the back country with only a water filter. They can fail, and often do. Carry at least some chemical back up treatment. While boiling water is effective, sometimes a person doesn't have enough fuel to rely on this as their back up water treatment.

Below are links to some good sites that discuss a variety of water treatments. Some are quite technical. A search using "backcountry water treatment" may yield other good links.

Giardia This link is the best I have found so far. Very informative, easy to understand, well documented.

Water Treatment
---from the GORP page


Filter Use and Paricipant Perceptions

What amazed me most is that of the 69 people who responded to this survey, using filters, 53% reported illiness within a few days of entering the backcountry. Be aware that with all filters some components do break, and other parts may leak. Filter elements also clog regularly. Some folks don't filter all their water, choosing not to filter what is used for personal hygiene or dish washing.

Iodine is used by many hikers. It is lightweight and inexpensive. However, note the small print on the bottle. Some brands state that the water must be at least 50 degrees for it to work. Also, the taste may affect your food. Adding a crushed vitamin C tablet will clear the color of the water, but at the same time inactivate the purifying compound. Allow sufficient time for the purification process before adding drink powders containing vitiman C as well. A source for iodine may be found here.


Environmental Protection Agency
---a great report about the safe treatment of overflow water, by using chlorine

You can get an in depth report at that site by typing "chlorine" into their search format. Over time, chlorine does breakdown in warm water and sunlight and is ineffectual in very cold water. However, chlorine is easy to obtain, requires a few drops per liter, will dissipate with time in treated water. It is also used in municipal water treatment plants across the nation.

Boundry Water's Magazine has a great article with other resources for further study, which deals with the combination of filters and chemical treatments. Also, further down the page, a look at how the absence of sanitary practices leads to illness.

Proper hygiene can eliminate most of the gastrointestinal problems hikers encounter. Always be sure that hiking partners practice proper hand cleaning if they share any eating equipment or food with you. If you take food from hiker boxes, precautions include not tasting any opened or "seasoned" foods.


The socks you choose will depend on several issues. If you find some that you love, buy several. Be sure they stay up when hiking. Ship some to yourself in a drop box or bounce box on long hikes, because you can never be sure what you will find in towns along the way. When mending any portion, keep the stitches small and the fabric flat. Sometimes I just leave small holes alone rather than risk the chance of blisters forming under seams. Some hikers swear by sock liners, a thin nylon sock worn under a heavier wool or synthetic blend. I double sock only in very cold weather, and then the inner liner may be the foot of tights.

Weight is important. Weather is a factor, as well as the amount of space you have in your shoe. If you sleep cold, be sure to bring a pair exclusively for camp use. Keep them dry, at all costs, along with your sleeping bag and sleepwear. Fleece socks are ideal for sleeping, smart wool is pure luxury anytime.

Three is a good number because it gives you one pair to sleep in, one to wear, and one for back up or washing out. I have seen hikers bring as many as six pairs, one for every day of the week. Besides the bulk, I just wouldn't be able to keep up with that many items.


Trail runners, a more substantial running shoe, or athletic shoe, have taken the place of heavy hiking boots. Whether they are high tops or standard, usually they will last from 500 to over 1,000 trail miles. They dry quickly, do not require breaking in, and are much easier on knees and ligaments. Some do not have sufficient inserts, so look for something with an arch built into the insert. Examine the tread for a good pattern, especially under the ball and heel. A close, deep tread is necessary. Tread that is spaced too far apart will allow rocks or roots to injure your foot.

When trying them on in the store, be aware that your foot is larger in the evening than morning. Adequate toe room with a good fitting heel is necessary. My rule is that if any part of the shoe hurts my foot in the store, it is unacceptable. Trail runners will relax somewhat with wear, but seldom will time change leather reinforcement which is rubbing in the wrong place.

Extra length in the shoe laces should be trimmed and heat sealed not so much for the weight as the tendancy for longer laces to work themselves untied.

Over the course of a long hike, examine the inserts and tread for wear. Sometimes it's easy to forget about the tread, while only noting the upper wear. Amazingly, I have worn the tread off shoes while the upper remained totally fine. Also, if the inserts are nearly worn out they can cause blisters to form. Replace inserts if necessary. Some long distance hikers buy an extra pair of shoes and mail them ahead. If they don't need them then, they simply bounce them ahead.

Sandals are an important piece of gear, too. I brought some one ounce, gram weenie sandals on my AT thru hike. Made from shoe inserts with cord threaded through, they lasted from Fontana Dam to Kathadin, nearly 2,000 miles. They are still useable. Sandals of this sort are good in showers and town, when you want to prevent contracting a fungal infection in public bathrooms. A more substancial sandal is required for crossing streams or hiking.


Some great information on hygiene was written and made available by Rainmaker. He has been backpacking for over 35 years, worldwide.

My list follows:

Toothbrush, toothpaste or powder,
Dental floss isn't really a luxury, either. It makes great thread for repairs, and may save you costly dental bills later on.

Cotton balls, isopropyl alcohol (common rubbing alcohol)
Look for the 70% solution. Used in the evenings on private parts of the body, they will eliminate much odor and reduce inflammation and chaffing. After using a privy, cleaning your hands with just a dab will keep those germs at bay

An ultralight trowel, toilet paper

A small comb
Useful when going into town, and avoiding impossibly tangled hair. Makes a great back scratcher as well.

Bandana or camp towel
A bandana has so many uses, it's hard to imagine leaving home without one. Find a way to keep from losing it by sewing one corner back to form a loop to thread your pack strap or hip belt through. Bandanas can be used for dipping in streams to cool off during the day and wiping condensation off your shelter. Of course, they can also be used when getting a sponge bath in the evenings.


A sage once said, "Most emergencies can be handled quite nicely with the proper application of a Master or Visa Card."

While it may take a few days to hike out to such a place, this is very true.

Another favorite quote is "Early and Provident fear is the mother of safety" by Edmund Burke, which can be rephrased as
"Look where you're going!"
How many have heard mom say that?

A little prevention goes a long way.

Then, there is the opinion that one is only able to carry in their packs things that would only solve the simplest of emergencies.

With that in mind, this is what I bring on long hikes:

I bring the kind that is free flowing, and can be reclosed. Although I wouldn't recommend it to others, Super Glue has been used instead of stitches to close wounds. It also secures a piece of electrical tape to silnylon packs and tents, for repairs.

Cotton balls and isopropyl alcohol.
The 100% cotton is preferable to any synthetic blend because it will burn, and can be used as fuel. The alcohol is for cleaning and sterilizing. It also eliminates body odors.

Tweezers, with the angled edge.
It is useful for removing ticks, splinters, small pills from vials (if you use Iodine, for instance).

Sewing Needle
medium sized eye in it, to use with the dental floss.

Toe Nail Clipper
for nails that could become ingrown, or have died, or become ragged and snagged.

An ultralight mirror
for examining back parts for ticks, removing things from one's eye. It could be a signal mirror, if necessary.

Electrical tape
wound tightly around water bottles. Use for repairing gear, taping wounds when necessary. Some hikers use duct tape, but I find duct tape to be heavier, and it gives up sooner in wet or humid conditions, and leaves a sticky residue.

Not to be underestimated, it relieves pain, reduces swelling, and can help one hike out. Always take with a few bites of food, to avoid stomach problems. Some hikers bring Aleve, because it is a more concentrated pain reliever. I realized that sometimes I vary the dosage, in 200mg. incrediments, so have continued using Ibuprofen.

A cutting implement
I use a tiny retractable razor designed for cutting envelopes, and found at an office supply places. It weighs 5 grams. I removed the key ring it came with, and threaded it onto the same cord as the photo lights, a G.I can opener and wrist watch (wrist bands removed). It is sharp enough to cut fabric, paper, and dental floss. No snake-bite kits are recommended, since studies show that most methods of self-treatment cause more harm than good.

A bandana with a loop sewn in or synthetic camp towel
measuring 12 x 8 inches. It is used to stop bleeding, clean larger areas, and provide a cold compress when cold stream water is available.Can be used for straining water at murky sources.

Two photon lights
one red, the other white. I use sparingly and have used the same two for over 10 months of trails, the PCT and AT, without a battery change.

Luxury Items

Cell Phones, Radios, and Pocket E-mails are becoming quite common on the trail now. A case can be made for each one. Remember, they all take batteries, which can add up in weight and expense.

Cell phones have many calling plans. If yours is geared towards local use, you will probably only use it for emergencies when out of your calling range. I decided after a week that its 6 ounces didn't merit any perceived advantage. If you get the nation wide plan while hiking, you may find people expect you to stay in touch. That has its own set of obligations, which again may not merit the advantages.

There are ultralight radios, weighing a few ounces, but reception and headphones aren't always good. Some hikers use theirs in camp only, for weather and news updates. I finally sent mine home after falling asleep with it on, battling commercials in the quest for music, and general disgust with reception. Remember, it is poor trail etiquette to play or use any electrical device that makes noise without checking with other inhabitants of your campsite.

Pocket mails, an electronic e-mail and document-keeping device are handy for those who keep journals, have e-mail correspondents, or have bad penmanship. They are very useful when you are in areas with only satellite phone access. By writing e-mails, then down loading on the satellite phone for one minute, you can contact everyone with one call, saving vast amounts of money.

Almost everyone brings a camera, although it is not strictly necessary so I have placed it in this luxury category. A 5-ounce digital camera has the advantage of instant confirmation that the photos taken were acceptable. These photos can be downloaded to your hard drive, kept on memory cards and e-mailed later. These cameras will not work without batteries, however.

A disposable is a neat item, weighing about 3 ounces, and are self-contained. They can be mailed home when finished, if lost or destroyed it is a matter of $5 and your photos. They are susceptible to light and heat, so do not set them in the sun.

Camera buffs will bring their own special model, weight not an issue. The biggest danger is losing them. Mark all your gear with name, address and phone number. One thru hiker left his $400 camera in the car when he hitched into town

The portable CD players, with various music disks and headphones are carried by hikers who cannot or will not do without their music. Again, trail etiquette mandates that permission be requested. Not everyone enjoys heavy metal.

The above was written before the Smart Phones were available. With the advanced digital tecnology, a person could have a phone, camera, music and even internet all on one device. You'd just need a way to keep it charged. Is that what you want on the trail? This is all personal preferrence here and there are no correct answers. Now the question becomes "Just because you can does it mean you should?".

Each electronic device can be kept dry by placing it in a quality zip lock bag and then a silnylon ditty bag. In case you leave it anywhere accidentally, place your trail name, real name, and address on the item.

Some people will pack knee braces, just in case of an injury. My set weighed 16 ounces. If you feel you need to bring them, try alternating between knees and only carrying one.

Reading material and books can be very relaxing on easy hiking days. Some hikers bring magazines or newspapers to share, leaving them behind for others who hike in the following days. But, books and magazines are heavy. Paperback books can be cut apart, and the sections mailed ahead to post office drops. When a section is finished, it is left at a shelter, and hikers following behind read the same novel. Opinions vary weather this is good or not. The shelter maintainers may decide to carry reading material out as trash, especially if the mice have gotten into it.

I never could remember the mace in my fanny pack when it was most needed, so quit carrying it. Some people think it would come in handy against mean dogs, wild animals or human intruders. If one chooses to bring it, a test fire and safe carrying place would be wise.

Pets are a luxury and a headache on any long trail. They will have health issues the same as you do. They need a lot of food, and water. Sometimes they become weary and cannot carry their own supplies, which means you will have to do it. Dogs have been known to chase bears, and become lost. Dogs have chased goats right off a cliff. Cats have been known to wander off completely, or be carried on your pack.

In some places, National parks, for instance, pets are illegal, and you will be required to board your pet, skip that section, or try to hike through and risk fines and expulsion. Not everyone likes animals, however well behaved. Before bringing your pet, research the terrain, services available, and back up plans in case they are injured. Pets make great companions, but they require our wisdom to keep them safe, happy and inoffensive to others.

Perhaps I shouldn't list rope as a luxury. It can be used to guy out non freestanding shelters on wooden platforms. It is useful for hanging items, like food bags, packs, and dirty or wet laundry. I don't think very much is needed, and then go with a test weight of under 50 pounds. I never carried more than a couple feet, and then got rid of that on my AT thru hike. Just never used it.

Ultralight Gear List

The following list is intended to be very complete. It's main purpose is to help you not forget anything. For complete discussion on each category, see above links. My gear list for the Appalachian Trail is discussed in detail on a special page devoted to it. You may access it by clicking here . However, my weights are listed below for your convienence. If no weight is listed, its because I didn't bring it. Some of the smaller kits were grouped together, and weighed as a unit. At times various components where mailed ahead, and that link also details the management of gear for the AT.

The Big Three, and their components

Sleeping Bag with stuff sack (24 ounces)
Sleeping Pad ( 8 ounces closed cell pad, trimmed)
Shelter with stakes, and guy lines, in stuff sack (18 ounces)
Ground cloth, if desired
Pack, pack liner or garbage bag liner( 9 ounces)
Packcover (1.5 ounces)


Silnylon Rain jacket and rain pants (6 ounces)
Warm layer (fleece top-12 ounces, pants-7 ounces, hat, gloves, socks)
Mid weight layer (tights 3 ounces, silk top- 4 ounces, socks-1 ounce)
Hiking layer (shorts- 4 ounces, top-3ounces, socks-1 ounces, hat-none)
Sandals ( 1 ounce)
Stuff sack for clothing (half an ounce)
Sleep wear (silk shorts-2 ounces, and silk top-three ounces)
Town wear (optional) (none taken here)

Hygiene/ Medical/Murphy (about 8 ounces)

Tooth brush, tooth paste, dental floss
Ultralight mirror
Tweezers for tick removal
Disposable Razor
Rubbing alcohol, cotton balls
Toilet paper
Hand sanitizer, or use rubbing alcohol
Body lotion or Vaseline, travelers size
Camp towel/ bandana (one ounce)
Pain reliever
Insect Repellent
Electrical or duct tape
Needle and thread
Safety pins
Free flowing super glue
Any prescriptions you are taking
Eye glasses, sun glasses
Two or three ditty bags for all this

Cook System(7 ounces, but no pot lifter, or pot scrubber)

Matches, lighter
Windscreen, pot support, pot lifter
Cooking pot
Cup, spoon
Pot scrubber, if desired
Plastic bags for repackaging food
Zip lock bag for trash
Stuff sack for pot and stove
Stuff sack for food

Water Treatment and Capacity
Chemical treatment (always bring)
Filter, if desired
Water bottles (2 ounces)
Water bag/platypus (one ounce)
Water bottle carriers, or pockets (included with my pack)

Other Items and Tools

Paper and Pencil/Pen
Hiking Pole(s), or hiking staff( 2 Komperdels-18 ounces, not included as Pack weight)
Driver's licence, and /or photo ID
Non-debit credit card
Emergency telephone numbers, insurance card
Flash light/ LED /photon light ( two photons,6 grams each)
Knife (5 grams)
GI can opener (4 grams, for town stops)
Watch (16 grams-watchband cut off)
Trail guide, maps, data sheet (data sheets only, with paper and pencil, 4 ounces)
Compass, if needed or desired
Ditty bag as wallet (with cards and cash-1 ounce)
Quality zip lock bags for all paper products
Rope for hanging shelters, guy lines, or food bags

Luxury Items (none taken except the camera)

Cell Phone
Radio, batteries
Pocket E-mail
Camera (digital, disposable, or regular) (disposable-4 ounces)
CD player, disks
Quality zip lock bag and ditty bag for any luxury item
Knee braces, if needed or desired
Reading Material, books
Mace/ bear spray
Bear Canister

Gear Reviews

All the reviews in this section are written by me, after I have tested said product extensively. All can be purchased either online or from a retailer. Happy Trails--Brawny

When my The Eureka Spitfire 1 Tent arrived via Fed Ex this afternnon I couldn't wait to have a look. Check out the link for full specs. I didn't have any trouble pitching it. Even though 10 stakes were included, it really only needs 6. The other 4 are for serious winds, or spares. The fly is silverish gray, the floor is brown, good stealth colors. Everything looked great and felt very spacious.

I was impressed immediately by the workmanship, extra features like gear pockets, top fly vent,access zipper to close that vent from inside the tent, extra stakes, and serious straps and buckles to last as long as the heavier 70 denier fabric would.

I'm heading out to the Foothills trail this week,so please check back for a more detailed field test.

Foothills Trail Report-April 2009

We headed out on the Foothills Trail Saturday afternoon. By 5, camped at Bearcreek Camp, I'd chosen my spot and pulled out the Spitfire 1. The design makes it a quick pitch: stake out the foot and head ends (one stake each), then get out the shock corded poles, prepare by alligning to form arches, put each end into its proper gromet at base, and clip the body of the tent into place. Its amazingly roomy for an ultralight double wall shelter. Next, unroll the fly, and making sure the zipper door is on the same side (and upside right) as the tent body, place on top. The cool buckles allow you to clip this right on at the staking loops in 4 places, then stake out the vestibule. So far I've used only 4 stakes. But, just in case it gets windy, I put in two more at shoulder level.

Stowing my LED light and watch in the side gear pocket was cool. During the night I could easily find either. I slept warm and comfortable and had no condensation. The next morning we hiked over tons of ridges, steps, and rivers. Camped at Rock Creek. That night it began to rain. The Spitfire 1 did perfectly, although I had to get out and re-anchor the foot stake. If that pulls out, the foot bed falls inward. Next time the ground is that soft, I'll place a rock on top the stake.

Dropping the tent in the rain was not too hard, in spite of the cold. First, I took the stakes out, allowing the poles to fall down. Then, reaching under the fly (leave the fly on top to protect the body of the tent from getting soaked) I unhooked the clips and pulled the poles out. After collapsing the poles, I placed them in the plastic bag. Then, beginning at the head end, I rolled the whole tent as one, keeping the body covered by the fly, folding under so it was the same length as the poles. This kept the water from pooling, and the whole outfit could fit neatly into the tent bag.

We hiked all day in a light drizzle, and camped on a knoll 2 miles north of before Sassafrass Mountain. Unrolling my tent I was happy to see the body had indeed stayed dry. I hung the fly to drip dry while pitching the body during a brief respite from the drizzle. That night the rains began again. Slept dry that night as well. It is key to stake everything tight, and taut in rain, so no water pools.

I am quite happy with this double wall tent, and feel that for warmth, weight to space ratio, condensation control, packablity and value it can't be beat. The various construction details shows they thought of nearly everything. I am going to add a small staking loop to the bottom of the large side of the door fly, so that I can stake it out seperately , providing a small covered vestibule. Otherwise, it either rolls up all the way, to provide maximum ventilation, or is zippered completly shut. Adding this one more staking point gives that large door one more position for gear protection in light drizzle, etc.

My Ultralite Brooks-Range Solo Tarp arrived via UPS while I was in Zion National Park this summer. Even though it was red I was quite pleased to see it. I took it out in 105 degree heat to test it's shade capabilities and took footage which I posted in a 3 part series at My YouTube Channel.

The fabric is a new 20/20 denier Intrepid, and the tarp, with all its velcro and labels only weighes 7 ounces. I swapped out the pouch it came in for a ditty bag of the same size, making a much easier stuff.

For more indepth reviewing see the Gear Review posted on my Thefemalesurvivalist blog.

I have to admit because of the dry climate, I couldn't test the water resistance of this ultralight tarp until I got back to Georgia. Then, in a day of pouring rain and wind, I set it up in a favorite configuration and waited to see the results. The center thru-hole, a multi-purpose addition to allow center pole or guying out option was a concern as the reinforcement tab became wet. It didn't leak however. No water actually dripped through. I did maintain a tight pitch, with the shiny side outward. The matte finish was on the inside.

I plan on testing this tarp further as a bivy bag/vapor barrier as the fall advances.

In December I used the new South Col tent by High Peak USA , a four season dome tent. It weighs 9.7 ounces, can fit 3 adults, and a dog in the vestibule.

Even though it got down to 26 degrees, and the wind was blowing hard, I felt warm and draft free in this heavy duty shelter. In the morning, there was no perceptible condensation.

As a full featured, free standing shelter, it would be hard to beat. I loved the two doors, the generous floor space (6.5 x 7) and large vestibules on each end. It has ventilation built in with two hooded vents on each end of the fly, a snow skirt, and was easy to set up. I pitched this tent myself within minutes.

You seldom see a dome tent with two complete screened and fabric doors. This is a serious perk because both people can sleep parallel to the doors and have easy access to their stuff in their own vestibules. If you're out in cold wet weather, you know how much stuff needs to be kept out of the elements, yet not in your sleeping space. Packing up in the rain is easier for two people when you each have your own exit and gear space. No one has to climb over anyone to get out.

The package came with 23 stakes, in a zippered bag large enough for easy packing in winter conditions.

The tent has a center height of 53 inches. Not enough to stand in, but your head isn't hitting the ceiling either. Nice.

With all the guy out points, gear pockets, gear loft, #5 zippers, winter weight floor, this is my tent of choice for base camping, car camping and family camping. It is mostly gray and light blue.

I wouldn't classify this as an ultralight tent. Its a tent for four seasons, multi purpose. Be sure to bring pole repair sleeves with your kit, because the structure does depend on the integrety of the two main poles. This would just be part of an emergency kit any time you have a dome tent.