Tentative Alps Gear List

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Too Heavy!

This probably won’t make much sense to those who don’t do backpacking, particularly ultralight backpacking, but for anyone who does, you might have some idea just how passionate (or perhaps obsessive?) people can get about their gear. For those who do “ultralight backpacking”, weight in particular plays a heavy role in helping one decide what to bring. Ultralight backpacking aims to pare everything down to the bare essentials, ideally leaving everything out that is not absolutely necessary to bring, sometimes even down to the surplus edges of maps or the unused portion of the bottom of a sleeping bag. The idea is that all the extras add up, making for tiring weight that you have to lug up and down the mountains. Lighter materials are used, running shoes instead of boots, tarps instead of tents, alternative and new ways of combining clothes so that you retain the necessary measure of safety, but eliminate what comes to dead weight. I’ve brought my pack down to a base weight (not including food, water, and fuel, which also add up) of about 5 kg. Just compare that to my base pack weight of about 15 kg in years gone by. Even the pack is smaller, a frameless sack of a thing with simple shoulder straps that looks like a large daypack when I’m on the trail. Those on the trail who see me and who haven’t heard of UL always gawk at me when I tell them I’m on a five-day hike or so. It’s taken years to learn about and gather the gear for this (I taught myself to sew and have made a few tarps, tents, hammocks, and packs) and to learn the methods for how to use it, but it is so much fun! I’m hoping the trip in the Alps will teach me more about how to get out there as simply and unencumbered as possible.

Here’s my tentative gear list, for those interested:

Pack:

  • GoLite Jam2 or possibly the newly acquired Backpacking Light Arctic Pack
  • Home-made silnylon pack liner

Shelter and Sleeping:

  • Gossamer Gear SpinnShelter (a feathery light tarp with doors at the ends, made of spinnaker sailcloth) or possibly the Hilleberg Akto, if I just don’t have the confidence in my abilities to take such a light shelter up into the alpine regions.
  • Titanium Goat Adjustable Hiking Poles (carbon fibre, extremely lightweight hiking poles). Will of course also use one of these for walking (I don’t like walking with poles very much, though they have often done a lot to help me when my bad knees start hurting)
  • Bozeman Mountain Works Vapr Bivy (a featherweight, very breathable bivy bag that will add a great measure of safety and protection to the tarp setup)
  • Artiach Light Plus Closed Cell Ground Mat, 3/4 length (only 75 g!!!)
  • 12 titanium skewer stakes (4 for the bivy)
  • MontBell UL Superstretch Alpine Downhugger #3 Sleeping Bag (wanted to get a Nunatak quilt, but don’t have the money)
  • Isuka Comfortable Pillow (an inflatable, insulated pillow, which is slightly heavier than the MontBell UL System Pillow, but so much more comfortable and warm. I’ll use it on the plane, too)
  • MontBell Fisherman’s Thermawrap Jacket (will act as part of the sleeping system, and also my warm jacket for camp and breaks along the trail)
  • Extra pair of socks to keep my feet warm on cold nights and to change every other day after washing the pair I walked in that day.

Clothing, worn:

  • Patagonia Trim Brim Hat (wide brim sun… and rain… hat)
  • MontBell Superfine Merino Wool Short Sleeve Undershirt
  • Lightweight polyester running shorts
  • Mammut Courmayeur Pants (will usually roll them up to the knees to act as breeches)
  • Bridgedale shortie crosscountry running socks
  • GoLite Spike Tail trail running shoes
  • Simple, solar powered analog watch
  • MontBell Quickdry Towel (will use to wipe sweat while walking, as a regular towel for washing, but also to act as a collar for my crewneck undershirt)

Clothing, carried:

  • Aforementioned MontBell Fisherman’s Thermawrap Jacket
  • Finetrack Breezewrap Jacket (windbreaker, one of my most important pieces of gear, to give extra warmth while moving, to block wind, to stop rain to a certain extent, to act as a second layer shirt, to add warmth to my sleep system if necessary)
  • Finetrack Floodrush Tights (very water resistant and light, these add extra warmth to the legs, both while walking and while sleeping)
  • Paramo Cascada Jacket (I’m still debating whether to take this rather heavy, but very versatile, supple rain jacket or my much lighter Montane Superfly Jacket… they both have advantages and disadvantages. Another advantage of the Paramo jacket is that I can wear it in the city and not look too much like a mountain climber, plus, because it has a thin liner inside, and is more like a shirt with waterproof properties, it can worn most of the time, including as part of the sleeping system, and have the sleeves rolled up for ventilation)
  • Turtle Fur fleece tuke
  • Patagonia Bunting Fingerless gloves (I do a lot of photography and sketching and I need my fingertips to be free to manipulate the equipment. These are twenty years old. Have never found anything like them since)
  • Extra pair of socks
  • Underpants (for traveling)
  • Light cotton/ polyester trousers (for traveling)
  • Bandana

Cooking and Water

  • Snowpeak Gigapower Stove (inside pot)
  • Snowpeak gas cannister (to be bought once I reach Zurich)
  • Foil and plastic cardboard windscreen
  • Evernew .9 liter titanium pot, with stuff sack (I use the lid/ bowl that comes with it. Others may like the lightness of an aluminum foil lid, but when I eat I prefer to have my food all at once in several containers rather than digging in my pot all the time)
  • Light plastic cup (many people think this item unnecessary, but I like to drink my tea while the water for the meal is boiling. I can also eat soup while keeping my main dish in the pot)
  • Bamboo spoon (very lightweight and strong. Stronger and stiffer than a lexan spoon, and lighter than a titanium spoon. Also the feel of the material and the knowledge that it is a natural and recyclable item adds to its beauty)
  • Bamboo chopsticks (so many things can be done with this item while cooking and eating)
  • Bic lighter and film cannister with matches
  • Sponge with small bottle of Brunner’s Soap (the Brunner’s Soap can be used for cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, washing out mouth and hands, taking a hand towel bath, etc)
  • Stuff sack for food (enough for five days worth of food. A little tougher than my other stuff sacks because of the sharp edges of plastic containers and the weight of the food)

Essential Items

  • Classic Swiss Army Knife (a tiny knife with only a knife blade, a pair of scissors, a toothpick… rather useless most of the time… and a pair of tweezers… which have never really worked for me. I may remove the tweezers and toothpick and possibly the red plastic cover to the knife)
  • 15m length of EVC spectra core cord (not the absolute lightest, but has good grip and is very strong)
  • Whistle (part of the sternum strap buckles)
  • National BF-198B LED Headlight (tiny Japanese 3 LED light that uses a single CR2 lithium battery. Simple, uncomplicated, and lasts forever. Doesn’t have the longest throw of beam, but is good enough for the walking that I do. I will most likely use it mostly for reading in the tent at night and occasionally for dawn or evening walking. It is designed to be adjustable so that you can hang it from your neck and you gain the advantge of light cast from below your eye level, much better for distinguishing shadows on the ground)
  • First aid kit (small, with just basic essentials like bandages, antibiotic cream, ibuprofin, superglue… for closing wounds, which is what superglue was originally designed for…I could use African soldier ants, but I have a feeling they’re somewhat uncommon in the Alps…, sleeping pills… for when the ground seems hard and uncomfortable… earplugs, for those awful times when I have to sleep in a room with snorers. Still have to research other items necessary)
  • Repair kit (duct tape, tiny sewing kit, vulcanizing glue and fabric patches for slippery silnylon fabric)
  • Toiletry kit (shaving oil with small razor, Dr. Bronners Castile Soap… for brushing teeth, washing up, cleaning dishes, washing hands, etc… child’s toothbrush, toothbrush with the handle cut off to act as a fingernail brush, credit-card-sized, very light mirror… can perhaps also be used as a signalling mirror in an emergency, roll of toilet paper with spool removed, wide titanium stake that can also be used for digging when going to the toilet)
  • Diabetes kit (perhaps the item I am most concerned about and which I must protect at all costs. Insulin, needles, blood glucose meter, blood strips, log book, copy of diabetes identity card, emergency glucose)
  • Documents (passport, health insurance card, money, credit cards, diabetes identity card, plane tickets, youth hostel card)
  • Maps (the trails are too long and too many to carry all the maps available. Will buy a general overview map of the Mont Blanc and Matterhorn area and get more detailed maps along the way)

Miscellaneous

  • Camera* (I will be spending a lot of time taking photographs and I want the best control I can have with them, so I am taking my heavy Nikon D70s with Nikon 18-200 VR lens. The VR lens allows me to do away with a tripod in most situations and keep the kit relatively light by only having a lens that covers a good range of angles)
  • Extra lithium batteries and (perhaps) charger
  • 2 x 2 gigabyte CF cards for the great number of photos I will take
  • (possibly) 30 GB iPod Video, partly to download and store my photos, partly for listening to music, partly to upload and store podcasts for listening to at night in the tent. Not really sure yet on this one. I haven’t bought it and it is expensive.
  • Sketchbook* (very important. I write entries every night and do a lot of sketches and cartoons to go along with the writing. I value this even more than my camera)
  • Watercolor set* (small traveling kit with palette, paints, brush, pencil, and pen)
  • Book* (those hours on the plane can be very long, as well the hours in hotels and airports. One book will just not be enough for a month, though. I am thinking of bringing Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire”, one of my favorite books, to read once again. Any suggestions, anyeone? Just can’t be too big. I have to carry it and I’m trying to keep the weight way down)
  • (possibly) Pocket Mail device (so I can stay in touch with family and friends. Again costs money and adds more weight. It also would probably distract me from my journal. On the other hand it would allow me to write post entries here on my blog)
  • Snufkin figurine (Snufkin, my hero since I was a boy, from Tove Jansson’s “Moomintroll” books series, represents part of how I view and would like to live my life. One of my favorite fictional characters)

The camera and lens, book, notebook, sketchbook, watercolor set, and Snufkin figurine are not included in the base pack weight.
______________________

I’m sure there’s more, but it’s late and I’m tired. If there any changes I’ll add them later. It seems like a lot of stuff, but most of them are very small or very light. My pack should be no more than about 40 liters without food, 50 liters with food, except that in the Alps I may only need to carry about one or two days worth of food every day.

Snufkin carried a day pack everywhere. I always wondered how he got his big teepee style tent in there…

Snufkin Walking

16 Responses

  1. Snufkin
    laaaaa, yes!
    one of the best
    wisest characters
    in the literary world
    what a grand companion to take

    have a splendiferous climb

  2. Have a great trip, Butuki, and return safely with many tales (and more photos)

  3. Man, you have all of the nice toys!

    There are a few things I’d question, not on the side of lightitude, but function.

    I’ve researched using an ipod to store photos – the transfer speed is really slow and it drains battery quickly. There are better alternative to store photos – I think Smartdisk makes a really light screenless handdrive built to take CF cards. For videos though it would be entertaining.

    Ti stake to dig – can you really do this? I have always found it really hard.

    Tiny toothbrush and bronners – I like bronners, but not for teeth. Also, a long time on the trail, oral hygene becomes difficult to maintain with such supplies. What about floss?

    I have the exact same question about shelter – I’d prefer the akto, but I don’t have one yet. How is yours? Also, how are those brand new titanium goat poles?

    Sounds fun, either way.

    Perrin

    PS – any good canadian will tell you that the spelling is tuque. :)

  4. Wow! All that in 5kg – that’s impressive. I’m afraid all my kit is very conventional i.e. horrendously heavyweight by comparison. I’m really pleased for you that you’ve got such an inspirational trip lined up, and of course I’ll be looking forward to hearing (and seeing) all about it.

  5. Ah – this reminds me of my backpacking days… While I never took my pack far from a train station or hotel, I still had a meticulous list to keep the weight down. I remember that I started out on a four month trip around the world with about 11 kilos of luggage – at the time I thought of this as a major achievement.

    But five kilos? That’s amazing.

    Your first-aid kit sounds a bit light. No Immodium? Sure, the food in Switzerland should be no danger, but still, sometimes my stomach has funny ideas about traveling… oh – and I always bring a tiny little sewing kit with me. If you only have one pair of pants, it’s a good idea to be able to fix a rip in an embarrassing place. :-)

    Good Luck on your trip and have fun! I’m looking forward to hear your stories when you are back.

  6. Suzanne, isn’t Snufkin the best? And Tove Jansson is a sublime writer. Have you ever read her nonfiction book, “The Summer House”? It is about the house she grew up in, on a tiny island only a 15 minute walk around. What an amazing family! She actually lived what she wrote about.

    Perrin, it’s taken me something like 10 years to gather most of my stuff, though I have been buying a little more lately to get ready for the summer trip. I went and looked at the iPod the other day and ended up not buying it. I have to look around a bit more and try to find something more economical, lighter, and speedier. Just not sure what. The Ti stake is actually a titanium poop-scoop that can double as an extra wide stake. You can buy them at Kamoshika in Takadanobaba. I’ve never tried Bronner’ soap, in fact I don’t even have it yet. Not sure where to buy it from Japan. I’d like to buy an all-purpose soap that will reduce my pack weight… what might you suggest instead of Bronners? The Akto is a wonderful tent, as everyone says. It’s very strong for its weight, has loads of room, including a very big vestibule, can be set up with only the fly (which usually goes up first, or can be set up with the inner attached), or with only the inner (if you get their little attachments), has okay ventilation (mine is the old version without the vent in the door… I had to sew in my own silnylon vent lid), and is beautifully made. It’s expensive, but truly worth the price. This is one tent I will not part with even if I find lighter ooptions. For the past few days I’ve been agonizing over the SpinnShelter or the Akto. Last weekend I went over the Akto and replaced all cords with spectra, cut off all those heavy metal zipper pulls and cord locks, and generally tried to reduce weight. But of course it still is not as light as the SpinnShelter. From the weather reports that I’ve been monitoring of the Chamonix area in France it’s been raining and snowing every day at higher elevations, so I’m quite worried about going with the SpinnShelter. What was your experience with the SpinnShelter in Hokkaido? You mentioned having a hard time pitching it level. I didn’t have so much trouble with getting it level, but took a long time to adjust the guylines. The Titanium Goat poles arrived last night. They look good, much stiffer than the GG poles that Glenn gave me three years ago. Still have to decide whether to bring both or just one.

    Andy, 5 kg in the ultralight world is nothing! It’s almost considered conservative now. Ryan Jordan, founder of BackpackingLight.com, regularly carries packs that weight around 2.3 kg, appropriately named, Super Ultra-Light. 2.3 kg! You have to be a backpacker to really appreciate what that means. I’ve tried to reach that level of lightness, but just don’t have the confidence or skill to trust myself with such light gear, though Ryan claims that his method is for anyone and is safe. Glenn van Peski, one of the gurus of the whole movement, has gone even lower. That I find impressive! You should check out Backpacking Light UK for lots of podcasts and local advice from the likes of Chris Townsend and Cameron McNeish about going light in the UK. Quite a few of the concerns and methods are different for UK conditions.

    Thomas, yes I really have to work on my med kit. I’m not even sure what immodium is; I’ve never seen it here in Japan. What does it do? I forgot to add my repair kit to the list. There is a tiny sewing kit along with duct tape, vulcanizing glue, and fabric patches. As to rips in embarrassing places… I’m a mountain man! We don’t get embarrassed! (until we come down off the hills, that is!)

  7. I have all the Moomintroll books
    and my elder son has purtchased all of them
    and is impatiently waiting for his daughters
    to get just a little bit older

    once hooked
    one is NEVER too old
    to love them

    I haven’t read her non-fiction/adult book

  8. I was intrigued by the minimal weight of your sleeping mat so Googled it, and guess what – this post is the #1 Google link! I eventually found the Artiach site, but couldn’t find a mat as light as yours. Is it no longer made? I could do with something lighter than my Thermarest!

    Incidentally, it occurs to me that there’s a point of diminishing returns. Halving the load from 10kg to 5kg is definately a Good Thing, but I still need to be convinced that another halving to 2.5kg delivers a worthwhile benefit – especially when you might be carrying that weight in water anyway (on a hot day over high ground with no streams).

  9. Andy, I agree with you there and that’s why I’ve never been able to get down to those weights. I do like a bit of my creature comforts! But please keep in mind that the 5 kg and 2.5 kg weights are base weights, not complete weights. Base weight means the equipment that will always be in your pack and not change, unlike water and food and fuel. Part of what the UL movement is trying to do is make sure that people walk safely and responsibly, while at the same time being able to walk without ruining your knees and also to walk greater distances in a day or the same distances with far less effort. It also allows you to bring along other gear like cameras and a few luxuries without the suffering. It takes a bit of faith on the part of a newcomer to get started, especially if you’ve been walking with traditional weights for so long and have been taught that this is the right way to go to the mountains. It took me about two years to get comfortable with it, but after I tried it I wondered why I ever carried all that gear before. Even changing from heavy leather boots to running shoes was a revelation, and I will never go back. A trip I took one winter, when snow was up to my knees, completely converted me; I realized that not only was it possible, but it was actually comfortable!

    Visit the podcasts at BPL UK and listen to the experts talk about all this. I’m sure they can do a lot more to convince you than I can! Beside the podcasts are very interesting and entertaining. Also, read the forums at Backpacking Light USA. They are free for the public to join and there are a lot of newcomers with the same questions as you have. The forum members are especially friendly and helpful; I’ve made some really good friends there.

    The Artiach Light Plus Mat can be checked out on their site, but it’s just really hard to find. I cut one of mine in half… it is really long, and since I only need a mat that stretches from my shoulders down to my butt (I use a pillow for my head and the foam in the back panel of my pack for my legs) that means I save a lot of weight. If you are not comfortable with closed cell foam mats, try out either the Torsolite Pad (which I don’t like so much, because I toss and turn a lot when I sleep and keep rolling off it) or my favorite, MontBell UL Sleeping System Mat. MontBell has a store in Geneva and probably also sells at retailers throughout Europe. It’s a fantastic Japanese outdoor gear manufacturer. I’m still thinking of taking the MB UL mat instead of the Artiach pad, but the Artiach pad is so much lighter!

  10. M-so excited to hear about your trip! I am happy to know you’ll be out there doing what you love. I can’t wait to hear and see more about your travels. Its been awhile since I’ve been on a backpacking trip but Josh and I have one scheduled to the Enchantments in August! I’ll have to take some ques from your list.

    I’m thrilled for you! xoLisa

  11. Lisa, so good to hear from you and to know you and Josh are well. You know it really means a lot to me to hear from you. Can you believe we’ve known each other for 25 years now? Have to get a handwritten letter off to you soon. Very soon.

  12. Ah, I see – you cut the end off the Artiach pad to get the weight down. I thought maybe you’d missed a 1 off the front of the number! I used to use a thin (8mm) closed cell mat until I discovered just how amazingly comfortable a Thermarest is, so the MontBell looks like the perfect compromise – a lot lighter than the nearest Thermarest equivalent I could find. I’ve seen other MontBell gear in shops in the UK so maybe I’ll go looking…

  13. Andy, don’t forget to look at the MontBell UL Pillow that goes along with the MB mat. People are raving about it and it really makes a difference if you can’t sleep without a proper pillow (like me).

  14. The Pillow is one place I can save weight – a folded fleece works fine for me!

  15. You can save more weight by replacing the fleece with a synthetic fill insulated jacket, like the MontBell Thermawrap Jacket or the Patagonia Micropuff Pullover. They are lighter, much more compact, warmer, and block the wind. When it is cold they are used to complement a thinner sleeping bag, thus even more weight is saved by using a lighter sleeping bag. To make everything even lighter, use a quilt like the Nunatak Arc Alpinist (expensive!) or the the make-it-yourself Ray Way Quilt, or a top-bag, like the Rab Quantum Top Bag, instead of a full wrap-around sleeping bag. Roman Dial walked 600 miles across the Arctic last year with a quilt.

  16. When are you leaving?

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