Through the Looking Glass

Ultralight Packing

Posted on September 2, 2018

I think this is the first non-technical post on this blog; it’s cross-posted from my non-technical blog.

The Crystal Ridge as seen from Pyramid Peak

The Crystal Ridge as seen from Pyramid Peak

I’ve not been on as many backpacking trips or outdoors adventures this year as I would have liked and the trips I’ve been on have convinced me that I need to work on my packing strategies. Importantly, I’ve been learning that I pack too much stuff (which makes me move slower on the trails) and that my packing is pretty disorganised. I remember backpacking with a friend who could just drag around his 65L backpack after setting up his tent and sleeping bag and all and wishing my stuff was that well organised.

In particular, on a scrambling trip (getting up Pyramid Peak) and a multipitch climbing trip, I realised I needed to start learning how to do ultralight alpine approaches. I also realised that to do this I would need some new bags. Importantly, the Patagonia Ascensionist 25L bag I’ve been using as a daypack isn’t going to cut it: it doesn’t have a hydration sleeve, and that would have dramatically helped out on the multipitch climb. My Gregory 65L bag did okay on the trip into the camp site for the scrambling trip, but I think I can do lighter and still have a bag that can serve as a daypack and a backpack.

As a baseline, my current packs and typical weight are:

I ended up picking up a pair of new bags with the weekend sales going on:

This weekend, I was able to pack the Scrambler for a two night backpacking trip, with the idea that I could arrive Friday night and set up camp, then have all of Saturday and most of Sunday. I don’t have a tent attached to the pack yet, but it seems straightforward, and will add about 3.5lbs to the total weight. As it stands, I have everything but the tent (food and water included) with a total weight of 21.03 lbs which is phenomenal. It will probably still be under 25 lbs with the tent. It’s also amazing how the 30L size constraint forces you to be precise and specific in what you choose to bring along.

What does this look like?

The Scrambler packed for two days.

The Scrambler packed for two days.

The contents of the Scrambler

The contents of the Scrambler

As part of the process, I weighed everything - most things on a kitchen scale, but a few I had to use my bathroom scale for. The full list of everything is in this spreadsheet.

Note that this loadout is useful only under certain conditions:

What are the tradeoffs I had to make?

The tiny trail at the top of one multipitch route starting the next route.

The tiny trail at the top of one multipitch route starting the next route.

What do I hope to achieve with this? For starters, the scrambling trip makes me want to do the whole ridge traverse, visiting at least three peaks (Pyramid Peak, Mount Agassiz, and Mount Price) in a weekend. To pull that off I’m going to have to be light and make a lot of ground—something that will be hard with a heavy, bulky pack. Whatever pack I take, I’ll probably have to take along fully loaded on some class 3 or class 4 scrambles.

I’m also hoping to do more multipitch and trad climbing, which brings its own challenge in the form of the amount of technical gear required.

The photo above highlights the bulk of the gear that I have in my Patagonia Crag Daddy pack. I’ll need to carry much of this plus food and water for a on days where I’m leading trad. The Scrambler seems like just the right versatile pack for this - lighter for days following multipitch, but still able to carry a full load of gear for trad days. I’ll need to reevaluate my pack choices if I start doing multiday or alpine climbing (where you also have to backpack in), but it seems like the Speed 50 will do well there.

Caveat emptor: I haven’t had the chance to test this setup yet, and given that I’m going on call for two weeks, I probably won’t until maybe the end of the month.

At the end of the day, what I really want is to get out to the wild places and not have my gear holding me back.