Sunday, June 7, 2015

#24 [2015/CBR7] "Ultralight Backpackin' Tips" by Mike Clelland!

When I was a kid, my father would take me and by brothers backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park. I both loved and hated these trips. I was afraid of animals in the dark, could never sleep, and was always eager to get back to the comfort of electricity and showers. On the other hand, those trips were more than twenty years ago and I still remember them clearly. The self-sufficiency and adventure of backpacking is addicting, and I know our small trips formed my childhood in ways I still don't understand, probably making me tougher and more independent.

I have camped and even backpacked a couple of times since then, but never really on my own initiative. I was always lacking the right gear or the necessary time off, and I let it slip away. It really is so much easier to just stay at home. But I've always loved being out in the woods, and when I recently watched the movie Wild with Reese Witherspoon the urge to get out again hit me. I'd already read Cheryl Strayed's book, but it was the visuals from the movie that got me going. The idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, tackling such a huge distance and the commitment it would take is entrancing, but not remotely feasible if I want to keep my job. However, there are a number of smaller thru-hikes around the country that might be possible, and I want to take advantage of this time when I am healthy enough to do things like this.

And the more I looked into it, the more I learned about ultra-light backpacking. Instead of suffering through the torments on my shoulders, knees, and feet of a 50-60 pound backpack for miles on end, I could still hike and camp comfortably with a 20-25 pound pack. Suddenly the idea of really doing long treks seemed not only feasible but fun. I also need to have a goal: hiking through Colorado is much more interesting to me than wandering to the woods, being uncomfortable, and wandering back out again. I also like the idea of simplifying what you need down to the essentials. It's not necessary to have all the comforts you would normally have at home.

There are many blogs and youtube posts dedicated to the art of ultralight backpacking and in the midst of my searching, I found Ultralight Backpackin' Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping by Mike Clelland! [exclamation point included]. The title pretty much sums up what you're going to get. This book is short, helpful, and gets you into the right mindset for heading into ultralight territory. Although every once in a while, I detected an unnecessary "holier than thou" attitude towards traditional backpackers, the majority of the book was fun and informative. Comics scattered throughout also added some visual entertainment.

Most of Clelland's advice was practical and well-received by me. At times he seemed to get a little more hard-core than I am currently willing to go. For instance, he mentions doing crunches at night to stay warm, which is fine if you have to do it. But if I get that cold at night, I have planned very badly. Also, I need to be comfortable at night, so a full-length sleeping pad is important. A tiny, torso pad and your backpack under you legs does not sound remotely comfortable. On the other hand, advice on cat food stoves--the lightest and cheapest stove you can imagine--and using your gear for multiple purposes was right up my alley.

After looking at some of the reviews on Amazon, it seemed that Clelland's advice to save weight and take a razor blade for cutting rather than a knife was his most controversial piece of wisdom. Amazon reviewers are very attached to their knives, but I had no problem with it. I've used cutting tools to shape moleskin, but that's about it. If something goes really wrong, I will be hiking out. I'm not going to be killing and skinning animals or cutting off my own limbs (I will tell people where I am going to hopefully avoid that kind of situation).

Since reading this book I've been spending a lot of money and buying a lot of gear to get ready for a summer of backpacking. This summer will be a trial of sorts to see if I want to dedicate my vacation time for some of the longer treks next year. More backpacking book reviews will be forthcoming.

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