Joe's Ultralight Backpacking

Gear News

Gear News Index


(2/00) - Moonstone now has a "personal shelter" (which the rest of us call a bivy sack), Gore-tex/nylon, bug netting, no poles, with a claimed weight of 1lb. 8 ozs. for US $190. The Moonstone website is terribly uninformative - check your favorite online retailer for product info.

(3/99) - Daphne's "Make Your Own Gear" site is up. Nicely done. Info on materials, plans, and techniques for making your gear with your very own opposable thumbs. Not just backpacking items either. Climbing gear, diving gear, recipes for homemade powerbars, etc. Great way to save money AND weight!

(1/99) - The Sierra Trading Post online site is finally useable! I'll come right out and say that I've been a diehard customer of theirs. No connections whatsoever, just a very satisified consumer. The site looks great and is very functional and complete. No more pencil-sketches of your merchandise! :-) (Though to tell you the truth it did give a nice down-to-earth feel to the catalog....)

(1/99) - REI now has an online outlet store. The idea is to offer steep discounts on closeouts, "seconds", overstocks, etc. Similar to the Sierra Trading Post and others. Check out REI for more info. From the quick scan I did there, I'm still more impressed by what the Sierra Trading Post has to offer. But it's a good start. See the Retailers / Manufacturers page for related links.

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(02/00) - GoLite Dome Umbrella

The GoLite Dome is a Jardine-designed backpacking umbrella, 9.5ozs and from all appearances quite sturdy. US $23, available in red, green and blue (what, no tan/sand?).

(1/99) - Thanks to George for an ultralight umbrella update:

    "FYI - ever since I bought my umbrella from Magellan, I seem to see them
     everywhere.  Of particular note is Office Depot, which carries a 6.5 oz
     umbrella for about ten bucks."

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(12/98) - Thanks to Dale for submitting a method of building a quick and dirt-cheap stove to use with your fuel tabs:

    "Stop by any warehouse where they crate wood boxes and bum about 18 inches
     of metal strapping material (the 3/4" wide metal bands that secures the
     crate after it has been nailed).  Bend the metal into the shape of a
     rectangle with one short side missing.  Just make sure that rectangle's
     width is smaller than the diameter of your pot.  Round the edges of the
     metal at the open end using tin snips and - voila - a stove.  To use:
     * Place a small piece of tinfoil on the ground
     * Place the heat tab/s on the tinfoil
     * Place the stove over the foil and tab such  that the tab is in the 
       middle of the rectangle and
     * Place your pot on the stove so that there is about 1" from the closed 
       end of rectangle to the stove (This permits air passage from one end 
       of the stove to the other).
     It's unbreakable, fully assembled, foolproof and works great, even in wind.
     Good backpacking and thanks for your page."

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(02/00) - GoLite Breeze ultralight rucksack expands the limits

New to the market (as far as I can tell) is the GoLite Breeze, a rucksack designed by Ray Jardine. Weighing in with incredible stats of 11ozs for 4200 ci (yes, that's eleven ounces for 4200 ci!), the Breeze is truly in a class by itself. As of 2/10/00 I haven't gotten one in my hands (yet!), but Ultralight Michael has been using one, and I've come to trust and respect his choices. The price? US $120. Wow. This could really shake things up. The lack of a hip belt helps explain why this beast is recommended for a total load weight of 20lbs or less. Hopefully I'll have some first-hand data I can report soon.

(02/00) - EMS 2800 Long Torso pack

The EMS 2800 offers 2800 ci of space for 2 lbs 6ozs, at US $75. I've never seen one in person, but the specs and price seem attractive, if the quality is up to snuff. Follow the link above, then click "Shopping", then "Camping & Backpacking" and finally "Daypacks". The listing for the 2800 Long Torso initially shows "2lbs 8ozs", but Andy says the 2lbs 6ozs listed in the "More Info" page is the actual weight. (Thanks to Andy for passing this along to me/us.)

(08/99) - Kelty Storm series of packs show promise.

I had forgotten to update the Kelty backpack data, which is ironic since I have been carefully eyeing their products for a potential purchase. The Storm series of packs look very promising - low weight, high volume, low price. I haven't been able to get ahold of one yet, but IF the quality and comfort of these packs are up to snuff, they're a steal. Reviews I've been able to find point to the Storm series as being a good value for the money, but also show that you get what you pay for, i.e. don't expect Gregory / Mountainsmith comfort and durability from an $80 pack.

The Storm weighs 2 lb. 3 oz. including two aluminum stays (which I'd probably remove, saving 5-7 ozs), and gives 2400 ci for $85. Meanwhile the Tempest givies 2900 ci for 2 lb 6 oz (again including two aluminum stays I'd remove), at a price of $80.

Since my favorite pack (2300 ci Mountainsmith Peak) appears to be discontinued (why does this always happen to me?), I've been eyeing other packs for backup purposes. The Tempest could be a perfect JMT through-hike pack for me....

    Kelty Storm     $85   2.2 lbs  (2400 ci)
    Kelty Tempest   $80   2.4 lbs  (2900 ci)
    Kelty Gale      $90   2.6 lbs  (3500 ci) 

(03/99) - Mountainsmith revamps Mountainlight Series.

- The Mountainlight Series from Mountainsmith has been revamped. Both the 2000 and 4000 models were axed in late '98, and we now have the 3500 and 5000 holding up the product line for 1999. The stats look good, particularly for the 5000. 3.8 lbs for 5000 ci of storage is nothing to sneeze at! I have yet to try a Mountainlight, but Mountainsmith is one of my favorite backpack producers. Good stuff from these folks. Along with the Kelty Enlighten Vapor 45, '99 could be a very good year for those of us looking to pursue the mania of ultralight loads, but who aren't up to sewing our own. ;-)

    Mountainlight 3500/CF     $289   3.6 lbs  (3500 ci) *w/ Carbon Fiber Stays*
    Mountainlight 5000/CF     $349   3.8 lbs  (5000 ci) *w/ Carbon Fiber Stays*
    Mountainlight 3500        $229   3.8 lbs  (3500 ci) 
    Mountainlight 5000        $289   4.0 lbs  (5000 ci) 

(03/99) - Kelty Enlighten Series - King of Lightweight Packs? (Thanks to Len, Erick and others for alerting me about this.)

- I had really wanted to try a Mountainsmith Mountainlight 4000, but as of late 1998 it was discontinued (see below). I was a bit depressed about that until some readers kindly sent me some info - there may be a new king on the ultralight mountain. New for 1999 is the Kelty Enlighten Vapor 45, made from a weird ultralight material called "Spectra". According to Kelty, "Spectra fabric is ten times stronger than steel and five times stronger than Kevlar." They fail to mention it's also 20 times more expensive than gold, however. ;-) The Vapor's older brother, the Enlighten Cloud, has been around for ten years in various forms though, so presumably the material is stable.

Despite the very steep price of $350 US, the stats are hard to ignore. Claimed weight for the base Vapor 45 is a mere 1 lb. for 2750 ci of storage (expandable to 3700 ci with included extras). Yes, you read it right! 16 ozs, give or take, for 2750 ci! WOW! The catch? Notice the term "base weight". The Enlighten Series is a modular product. The price includes different waist belts, the LightBeam frame, backpad, outer pockets, etc. You add/remove whichever items you think you need for a trip (hence the variable storage capacity). So for a weekend 10-lb load, I'd ditch *all* the extras, but for a 30-lb 10-day load I'd add the frame, padded straps/belt, etc.

I just got off the phone with a very helpful Kelty rep, who helped me clear up a lot of things. She confirmed that the 1 lb. base weight is for the "rucksack" with basic shoulder straps alone. A fully outfitted Vapor 45 (3700 ci and all the "cushy" straps/belt and frame stuff) weighs in at 2 lbs 14 ozs. However, the lightest waistbelt of the set (webbing) weighs a mere 2.7 ozs. So for just over 1 lb, you get a 2750 ci rucksack with waistbelt. :-)

In a way the modular design appears to be a dream for my needs. The reason I own multiple packs is that no one pack fits all of my trip needs. My Mountainsmith Peak is my light sort-of-rucksack (I removed the stays from it long ago). My Gregory Gravity is my "beast of burden" pack - larger, sturdier suspension for larger loads. If (and that's if) the Vapor 45 lives up to the bill, it would serve both functions very nicely.

So basically, the core of the model is a bullet-proof featherweight rucksack, with add-ons included as you see fit. To tell you the truth, I really want to try one out. If it works for me, my base 3+ day load would fall under 10 lbs! I'm really happy with my Gregory and Mountainsmith packs though, and I'd have to sell both to afford the Vapor 45. *frown*

I'll be pursuing this issue through the rest of March. Maybe I'll be the first fool to take the plunge and let you all know how it works out. :-) (FOOTNOTE: The Kelty rep informed me that the Vapor 45 won't be shipping until late March/early April '99.) It would obviously be much cheaper for me to make my own rucksack (ala Jardin), but I lack any sewing skills, and I wouldn't be able to carry heavier loads with it. I could pay for the pricey Vapor 45 simply by selling two of my current packs and using my '98 REI dividend. And after all, if the Vapor works for me, I wouldn't need those other two packs anyway. Save a little closet space to boot. I refuse to sacrifice functional comfort and durability for raw weight savings though. Time will tell.

(9/98) - Thanks to Rebecca, Justin, and others for reporting a change in Mountainsmith's backpack model line. Specifically the Mountainlight 4000 has apparently been discontinued, to be replaced with a heavier (although supposedly more durable) model. *sigh* Never even got a chance to try out one of those noble beasts.... Hope to have a full update on the Mountainsmith line as soon as the info is available.

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Sleeping Bags

(02/00) - Feathered Friends offer a nifty line of lightweight down bags.

Feathered Friends specialize in down. Down sleeping bags, vests, jackets, pants, bedding, you name it. They also sell a wide variety of gear (Gregory, Arc'teryx, MSR, Sierra Designs, etc.) for backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering through their online store. Of particular interest for those looking to pare your load are the Hummingbird (20F, 26 ozs, one of the lightest conventional 20F bags I've seen) and the Rock Wren series (Rock Wren - 30F, 28 ozs, Rock Wren II - 15F, 33 ozs). I have no direct experience with Feathered Friends, but their reputation is quite good.

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(12/98) - Many thanks to Niel for sending me a big piece of Tyvek to play with. I haven't had a chance to weigh the same size of 4-mil plastic to see which is lighter, but the Tyvek will make a much better 4'x4' poor-man's gear/cooking vestibule for my bivy. For those who haven't seen any, it's a bit stiff and papery, but very tough - the kind of material they use as envelopes for some types of express mail, or so it seems. Will also have to see how it works as a groundsheet.

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(8/99) - Clif have introduced the Clif Luna energy bar. Don't ask me why they're marketing this thing solely at women ("the whole nutrition bar for women"), because I found them to be extremely tasty despite my being a male of the species. ;-) The extra nutrition they pump into the thing is an added bonus, and the Luna has taken the place of the SlimFast bar in my "candy pretending to be nutrition" category of snacks. Between the Luna and the regular Clif bars, my snacks / sweet tooth are now fully accounted for.

(1/99) - Imagine a wonderful world where you could find a snack bar that had a reasonable amount of nutrition and actually tasted good. Along comes the Slim Fast "Meal On-The-Go" bar. No, seriously! These little buggers taste great and have a good texture. They average 220 calories each, and are pumped up with 22 vitamins and minerals, offering around 25-35% of the US RDA for most of them. Fat: 5g (2.5-3.5 saturated), Carbs: 35g (20g sugars), Protein: 8g.

Sure it all boils down to candy, but I'll take one of these over a Snickers or a God-forsaken Power Bar any day. At least until I get sick of them too. ;-) Flavors include Oatmeal Raisin (my favorite), Chocolate Cookie Dough, Milk Chocolate Peanut, and Toasted Oats and Spice. Only real drawback I can find is that the "icing" that covers each bar has a low melting point. If you take one on a warm summer hike, be prepared to lick it out of the wrapper.

I found a 12-pack on sale for $9.99, which from my shopping means they not only taste better than most "sport energy bars" I've tried, but are considerably cheaper as well. All while offering at least the same nutrition and simple carbs. As usual these are just my opinions / experiences. Your mileage may vary. But at least you have another idea to consider when you hit the store for your next trip.

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