ADVENTURE, COMPLETE ULTRALIGHT BACKPACKING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS

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Bring Light gear appropriate for the conditions

I am going to be blunt. Some gear is outright better than other gear. My light/ultralight gear, by almost every measure, outperforms the similar conventional (heavy) gear recommended by “trusted experts.” E.g. compared to a 2½ pound synthetic bag rated to only +30; my one-pound, down quilt rated at +20 F is almost ⅓ the weight, warmer, far more compressible, and will last years longer. That is, I am warmer and more comfortable for ⅓ the weight. Even the cost is not much more; $250 for my down quilt vs. $160 for the synthetic sleeping bag.

Don’t take extra/backup gear:

  • This is the easiest way to save weight and money. I only bring the right gear that I trust to work. As such, I bring few if any “backup clothes or equipment.”
  • One thing that naturally follows from this is, “don’t bring more clothing than you can wear at one time.”

Your tent doesn’t keep you warm: Your tent just keeps the wind and rain off—so will a tarp or pyramid shelter. What keeps you warm is a puffy down sleeping bag and jacket.

Get down:

  • Down is your best friend when it comes to staying warm. At a minimum get a good down sleeping bag (or quilt), and a down jacket.
  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s really hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all sorts of conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve upon this.
  • The only advantage to synthetics is price, and then only in the short term. In the long term I find they usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down bag will easily last 5 to 10 years.
  • And make no mistake, a wet synthetic sleeping bag or jacket is no joy! Keeping your gear dry is a better strategy for both down and synthetic gear.

Bring a sleeping bag for the average temp:

  • I bring a sleeping bag (or quilt) rated for the average expected low temperature for the area and time of year I am backpacking. If I get a period of unexpectedly cold weather (it happens), I supplement my sleeping bag with my fleece mid-layer, down jacket, wam hat (and down pants and booties if I have them).

Extra shirts, pants and base-layers are a poor choice to stay warm:

  • Your money and gear weight is better spent on buying a warmer down bag and jacket. Or even down pants, down hat and down booties.
  • And one 6-10 oz fleece/wool mid layer garment is all you need

Get a weather report:

  • The NOAA hourly weather graph is among the most informative and accurate.
  • Then pack for those conditions! Since 90% of backpackers take 90% of their trips for three days or less, this weather report should be quite accurate for the short time you are out.
  • This will let you pack a shelter, clothing, and sleeping bag appropriate for actual conditions.
  • It will also deter you from taking fear-based, “what-if-the-worst-happens!” gear, e.g. a 6 pound tent, a +10F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm weather trip on the Appalachian Trail.
  • For longer term gear planning there is historical average weather Data on Accuweather which will help you intelligently select gear months before your trip.
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