Archive for December, 2008

Lighten Up Out There

Here’s a guide for midlife that doesn’t require soul-searching or dieting, although weight loss is involved.  In The Boomer’s Guide to Lightweight Backpacking, hiker/author Carol Corbridge shares her many years of wilderness experience with particular emphasis on load lightening techniques that can help mature hikers extend their years on the trail.  A straight-talking text with cartoons and beautiful wilderness photographs, Lightweight Backpacking discusses the best equipment and clothing to make your outdoor experience safe, environmentally responsible and, most of all, fun.

MJ:  Can you remember any specific instance where a poor choice of gear ruined an outdoor experience?  

CC:   One time we hiked into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in a rain storm.  We thought we had quality rain gear so we were covered.  The storm got worse and after 3 hours on the trail we were soaked.   This is how I learned that most, if not all, rain gear will be overwhelmed at a certain point.   Now I expect this and seldom backpack when a major rain event is predicted. 

We set up camp earlier than usual in the wind and rain.  The real gear choice problem was our camp stove.  We had taken a Sierra Zip Stove, which uses small pieces of wood as fuel.  Dry wood was scarce and we were too cold and wet to search for it. This meant a cold dinner and cheerless morning, without hot tea.  Now, I take a JetBoil when extended wet conditions are expected.

MJ:  After purchasing the right equipment, how would you advise those new to backpacking to get started?

CC:  Day hiking is the first step.  Take a light day pack with a few essentials, like a snack and extra clothing.  Don’t forget safety.  Bring along a small flashlight and matches as well.  Then slowly take more weight on your weekly outings.  Eventually carry a full backpack.  Try harder day hikes with the full pack.  Don’t push it.  Make it fun.  Bonus:  You will get to see some beautiful backcountry.

MJ:  How much time do you typically set aside for organizing and packing for a few days in the wild?

CC:  I’m pretty good at it now, with a check list and a closet set aside for gear.  I can pack in an evening.  The food takes the longest; measuring, re-bagging, etc.

MJ:  You specifically advise against cotton clothing, soap and ponchos.  What are your other big no-no’s?

CC:  Weigh EVERYTHING!!  If you pay attention to the ounces, the pounds will take care of themselves.  Don’t take too much food.  Be realistic about what you will eat.  Don’t take too much clothing.  Forget about fashion and focus on function.  Weigh EVERYTHING!  But, don’t deny yourself things that make the trip fun for you either.  Bring a book if you like to read.  Just pick a paperback and weigh it.  You’d be surprised the difference in paper stock.

MJ:  For cutting the cost of your wilderness system you sometimes resort to a sewing machine for repairs and modifications to your gear.  What other cost-cutting strategies do you recommend?  Do-it-yourself kits?  Purchasing second-hand? 

CC:   Do it yourself kits are great; especially Ray Jardine’s kits.  I’ve found some great things at Thrift Stores too.  The swim fins we take are from Ashland Goodwill and they’re lighter than anything I could find new.  Most of the backpacking forums on the internet have gear swap boards.  These are especially useful, both for buying and selling.  You can make your own meals.   Use freezer bags filled with your own ingredients, add boiling water, wait 5-10 minutes, eat out of the bag.  Check out Freezer Bag Cooking by Sarah Kirkconnell. 

MJ:  Your book talks about ways to save weight on food including leaving the fresh items at home.  What choices are available to people with non-traditional diets (vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.)?

CC:  Mary Janes Farm makes delicious organic vegetarian backpacking meals.  Many are vegan and labeled as such.  And the ingredients are clearly stated so you can find gluten free offerings as well.  The packaging itself serves as a bowl and will burn completely without leaving a foil thingy like most other backpacking meals.  You can buy single portions or get the mixes in bulk (maryjanesfarm.com) and package them yourself.  You can even buy the components and make your own creations.   Organic Couscous Lentil Curry anyone?

MJ:  In a section on gear for dogs your book refers to a debate as to whether dogs have a place on the trail.  What are the pros and cons of taking K-9 companions?

CC:  Dogs can disturb other hikers if not well trained and controlled.  Even if they are friendly to people, they often disturb wildlife.  This is not in keeping with the Leave No Trace ethic.  You are in the forest critter’s home.  They deserve your consideration and respect.  Dogs chasing wildlife can be dangerous; for you, for the wildlife, and for your pet.  A bear, usually inclined to run off, may decide to stand it’s ground against a charging hound.  Or, worse yet, the dog may chase the bear back into you.  Remember, dogs are a serious responsibility and therefore may detract from the serenity of your wilderness experience. 

On the plus side, dogs give you the advantage of their exceptional senses, especially smell and hearing.  I find this comforting at night when my key sense of sight is limited.  They’re great fun loving companions.  Most of them love to go along for the adventure.

MJ:  You discuss ways to discourage bears from getting at your camp larder.  How often have you encountered bears and other dangerous critters in camp or while on the move?

CC:  I have seen many bears.  Since I seek out the lesser traveled areas, I see more bears than most.  They are a dominant animal in the woods without much to worry about.  So they’re often preoccupied with their own business, which is usually foraging.  If they’re too close, I get their attention by yelling and they run away.   I’ve never had a bear bother my food in camp.  Mice yes.  Chipmunks yes.  Bears no.   The only other dangerous critters I’ve encountered are rattlesnakes.  Always an adrenaline rush, never a problem.  Like the bears, they’ve just wanted to get away.  And luckily, so far, the snakes have shown no interest in my food. 


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Here’s an excerpt from the book. 

Every chapter ends with a ‘What Works for Me’ table.

This is the Gimme Shelter Table from Chapter One.

          Item                  oz.        Cost               Website                         

AirCore PRO Guyline




weight for 50 ft. of line

Clark Ultra Light Jungle Hammock




weight includes fly

Exped DownMat 7 Short w/pump sack




Golite Cave 2 Tarp



Cave 2 discontinued, maybe find it used or as closeout

Henry Shires Tarp Tent Cloudburst w/floor




Jacks R Better No Sniveler Under Quilt




JRB 10 x 11 Cat Tarp




JRB Bear Mt Bridge Hammock




Kelty Triptease Lightline




weight for 50 ft. of line

Pacific Outdoor Max Ether  Thermo 6 2/3 (synthetic air mat)




Rayway Tarp Kit




just like Cave 2 & comes with instruction book

Stephenson DAM (custom down air mat)




Titanium Tent Stakes (6)




Western Mountaineering Highlite Sleeping Bag




Western Mountaineering Megalite Sleeping Bag




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cover4Just out the door in time for Christmas, this new book is the perfect gift for someone wanting to upgrade their packing system.  Available at Amazon.

More Later101.

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