Friday, July 20, 2012

My First XUL Trip Part 2: The Report

*Part two of my first XUL adventure--you can check out part one here.*

First a disclaimer before we move on to the fun stuff like pictures and the actual trip report--which is mostly for the gram obsessed backpackers that read this and are probably in the minority--but worth mention. I got a few emails and questions in person from people about the specifics of XUL, so I will answer a few of these questions and give a little more background on XUL and going to the extreme of the lightweight backpacking world:

* As I wrote about in part one, there is much debate on semantics, but I simply picked the definition that appealed to me the most. I first found out about XUL on Backpacking Light's forum, and the thread in question can be found here. Keep in mind that these definitions and numbers--along with UL/SUL as well--are entirely arbitrary. They were invented out of thin air by backpackers as guidelines for their systems of gear. If they are helpful, I suggest that one ought to accept them; and conversely if one deems them to be of no benefit, then reject them. Ultimately, it's your backpack, gear, and clothing--bring whatever you want with you, and do whatever you want with your gear.  Just be safe and have fun, those are really the only two guidelines you need, if you ask me.

* I am by no means advocating what many backpackers call "stupid light," as the trip report that follows will soon attest to by some slight modifications based on the conditions at hand. I would never go backpacking, or traveling of any sort really, without having the proper gear for the conditions to be safe and relatively comfortable--yet remember that while "safe" is more objective perhaps, "comfortable" is of course subjective, and you will have to take one at their word when they claim to have achieved comfort. For more perspectives on the whole idea of "stupid light" I recommend these two well written and insightful articles, each having valid points: here is a more informative and general view by Andrew Skurka, and more skeptical and specific view by John Abela. If you go back and read part one and examine my gear, I am confident that most if not nearly all experienced backpackers will agree that my "essential" gear choices (e.g. compass, map, knife, flashlight, first aid kit, etc.) provide me with enough safety given the conditions.

Now on to the report. First of all, as I noted earlier there were some minor modifications to my gear list. This summer has been a much cooler summer than average, and it just so happened that the night/early morning of this overnight trip had a cold sap predicted of temperatures going down as low as 8C (46F). I had already modified my gear list once due to this summer having a higher than average amount of rain, and I am very glad I did, as I will soon elaborate on. Well I am also glad I modified my clothing to suit the uncommon conditions I would face, because it did get quite cool, but I was quite comfy and warm and able to sleep well (my friends even commented on how deep asleep I was, calling my name and me not waking--along with teasing me about my snoring :P).

In part one I stated that my base weight plus my clothing total would be 4.99lbs / 2264g. However after keeping a close eye on weather reports (as always) and seeing the cold sap, I re-evaluated my clothing choices. Had the weather been warmer, I would have taken exactly what I described in part one, and as such I will keep the gear list and geargrams report up as a reference.

In the end though, I ditched my t-shirt (-122g) and used my long sleeve base layer shirt as my primary top layer, and added a synthetic vest (190g) into my base weight as sleeping/morning clothing. I also added a synthetic beanie (50g) to go with the vest, and after coming home and looking at the pictures of the trip, I realized I forgot to add one small thing to the list, my glasses (18g), in case any hardcore gram geeks should notice I figured I ought to include them as well. This brings the grand total of gear plus clothing to and even 2400g or 5.28lbs. Feel free to call the XUL police on me ;). I don't regret it one bit! It was well needed to keep warm at night, get a good night's sleep, and stay warm in the morning.

I hinted at rain earlier, it came down in buckets for the better part of 5 hours in the morning, from about 5:30 to 10:30. I spent most of that time cozy and warm under my Zpacks Hexamid tarp, either fast asleep, or while awake and resting/waiting out the rain I marveled at how well designed the shelter is and the awesomeness of Cuben fiber. I literally didn't get a single drop of rain on me while I was in my shelter. There was only some spray on both ends of my trash bag ground cover, but none of it made it to me or my sleeping bag. I must add that location also played a part in this, as we camped on a small plateau on a hill under some big pine trees.  I was impressed that I was kept pretty dry by my MontBell Tachyon Anorak windbreaker.  It's not meant to be used as a rain jacket, but to my surprise did the job pretty well while I broke camp and then took a short hike in the rain.  It actually did better than some cheap-o rain jackets I have bought in the past, and very comfy to boot.

Because of all the rain my friends and I did not feel inclined to take any pictures. It was still raining when we packed up our gear, after all. Lucky for us we found an abandoned cottage close to our campsite, and ate breakfast and dried off there for a bit until the rain finally broke. We also were not in the mood to take any pictures when we made camp because we were pretty tired after hiking through 20km / 12.4miles of terrain full of hills and elevation, plus we also went swimming in a lake just before making camp. So we got busy with making camp, building a nice fire, eating dinner, and getting some much needed rest soon after. But we did manage to get a few nice pictures along the way the first day. Special thanks to Mehrdad for offering to act as photographer (most of the time) and carry the camera. :)

Nico and Mehrdad towards the beginning of our trek. I love it when flowers sprawl out directly on trails like this--nature's occupy civilization movement :P

Lunch break in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill with a great view. Note my tiny pack :) 

Another side of our lunchtime view. We had great weather during the day, around 20C / 68F and lots of sun.

Further along the trail on a ridge we found the first of a pretty good harvest of chanterelle wild mushrooms, along with plenty of wild strawberries and some blueberries. I love wild edibles. 

One of the many beautiful lakes we passed along the way. Nico and I seal our deal to buy communist chicken for lunch the next day. 

Mehrdad and I on an old stone bridge that the trail goes right over. We are also very happy about finding even more mushrooms, which we would divide up on the bus back home the next day to eat at home. 

Another view of the stone bridge and trail. 

Another great view after climbing up a big hill next to a larger lake. Some of the most scenic vistas and woods I've ever hiked through! I have hiked around this particular area (SW Sweden) quite a bit, but only recently discovered the isolated and less-traveled trail that goes through and then ends at these hills/cliffs. We would have to do some off-trail hiking and minor bushwhacking shortly after this before jumping onto another trail where we would take a dip in yet another lake and then make camp.

Much like my first (intentional) SUL trip, I put quite a lot of planning and thought into my first (nearly) XUL trip. And just like the SUL trip, this one really went great. Both trips put nearly all of my gear choices to the test, especially considering each trip had rain--though this time it was much heavier. Location and a bit of bushcraft also played a part in the success and overall comfort of this wonderful adventure with such a light load. I made good use of my knife to make grill sticks, and to trim down a sturdy stick I found for my shelter. I also slept on a nice bed of moss, to which I also added some pine boughs for added comfort and insulation, as well as a nice pillow too. 

Bugs were an issue, but only when we first stopped to make camp. As soon as we had a fire going, the bugs cleared out, and by the time we went to sleep around 11pm they were pretty much gone. While I slept I was fully covered except for my face, and I pulled my beanie down over about half of my face. Thus I only had my nose, cheeks, and chin to worry about really--and I didn't get any bites there. Maybe because of my breathing and/or snoring? I only got a few bites on my ankles and hands from setting up the shelter as the sun was going down, which is high time for bugs.

As far as the cold goes, I did wake up at around 5am from some minor chills after the temperature dropped, but all I had to do was make some minor adjustments and I was soon able to doze off again. I re-centered my torso sleeping pad, zipped up my windbreaker and sleeping bag, tightened the hood of my sleeping bag, and put my hands in my pockets. It was a good thing I added the vest, without it I would have really been cold. The rain woke me up soon after, but I promptly went back to sleep. Rain has such a nice soothing nature, provided you are not soaked by it. Soon the sun was up behind the rain clouds, and it got much warmer--when I woke up again around 9am I noticed I had loosened the hood of my sleeping bag and cracked the zipper in my sleep, and I was toasty warm.

For lunch and dinner I relied on tried and true staples for overnighters: sandwiches, chips, nuts, and sausages. For breakfast the next day, I brought a few granola bars that were excellent. I am surprised that I have not heard or read about these bars from any backpackers, I stumbled upon them at random at the supermarket. At 100g and around 400-450 calories (depending on what flavor), great taste, all natural ingredients, some are vegan (I am not vegan, but worth noting), and actually cheaper than many of the other granola bars I saw next to them at the store, I had to try them out. I am glad I did--a super-easy (doesn't get any easier than non-cook food), tasty, and filling breakfast solution. They are called Flapjacks, and are made by Wholebake. I tried the pistachio and pecan flavors, and both were great.

There was one downside to the trip and I will endeavor to find a solution for, because it is rather annoying, though not anything that serious. I recently bought a pair of Merrell lightweight sneakers and I love them... except for one problem: they stink. Like, really stink. I don't really have stinky feet, and none of my other shoes have a stink problem, at least not like these do. My friends on the trip commented on the smell many times on the trip, and said it was something to do with the synthetic fabrics and such. They preformed great, but wow what a smell they seem to create.

That wraps up another trip report and another very successful trial of an even more close to the limit style of backpacking. In about a month or so I will be going on a 5 day section hike of a longer trail here in Sweden, the Bohusleden. I will be sure to write up a pre and post report of this trip, really looking forward to it. I will probably go standard UL or perhaps SUL depending on how things shape up, i.e. what friends come with me (share gear), weather, my mood, etc.

I hope you enjoyed this very wordy two part report on going (nearly) XUL. I would definitely go XUL again, especially if the weather is warmer. Not sure if I can fit in another XUL trip this summer--with the big section hike coming up eating up all my free time--but there is always next year.

Take care and good luck on your own pursuits towards whatever limits you strive for.

*Note: I am not paid, sponsored, or given any free products from anyone or any company. I bought everything I wrote about with my own money.