Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Official Super Ultralight (SUL) Backpacking Trip

The short of it, is that my first (intentional) backpacking trip with a base weight (not counting food, water, fuel) of under 5lbs/2.27kg worked out better than I thought, even with plenty of rain.  I had fun, was very comfortable, did not sacrifice safety, and no issues/failures with any of my gear choices.

I look forward to doing more SUL trips in the future, but as I will explain in another post dealing with when to go LW (lightweight, under 20lbs/9kg), UL (ultralight, under 10lbs/4.5kg), or SUL--I think there are only certain circumstances that one ought to go SUL, and this may be rather limited depending on who you are and where you camp.

Here is a breakdown of the gear I put together:

My backpack and the gear inside.  The pack is just a simple cloth schoolbag that I stole from my wife after she got a newer, nicer bag.  There is a total volume for water of 1.5 liters, the knife/sheath is a Mora Bushcraft Forest, the small blue bag is my very light and very cheap rain poncho.  The individual kits I will also break down.

Here is my personal survival/comfort kit.  Left to right starting on top: small plastic baggie, toilet paper, bug repellent, biodegradable soap, small candle, whistle, LED flashlight, spare batteries, paper, pen with duct tape wrapped on the top, plastic string, firesteel, lip balm, toothpaste, toothbrush.  Under everything is a small towel.

First aid kit.  Starting on the left: gauze pads, gauze roll, waterproof tape, latex gloves, alcohol pads, mini Bic lighter, sugar pack, tic/splinter tweezers, 1 dose Dayquil, 3 doses Tylenol, mini sewing kit, assorted band-aids, 2 blister pads.

On top is my shelter kit, which is just plastic rope, garbage bag ground cover, and clear plastic sheeting (hobo tent).  On the bottom is my mess kit: Snowpeak Titanium 700 pot, plastic mug, sponge, plastic spoon, plastic bag.  Note the bright color of the plastic bag, this was intentional in case I need something to signal or mark a location.  I always have at least one such items in my gear just in case. 

Sleep kit: sleeping bag (under everything), synthetic vest, beanie, space blanket, socks, plastic bag to keep everything dry.

Now on to food and drink.  The trip was almost exactly 24 hours and three meals plus three snacks were packed, along with a tea kit.  Not pictured is one meal which was eaten in transit before we made camp, which were some nice meat pies.

Tea kit.  This should all be fairly obvious other than the tin foil lid for my pot (this is included in my base weight, but it was easier to pack it in my tea kit), and the green cube is organic chicken bouillon.

Food bag: lunch (meat pies, not pictured), dinner (dehydrated meal), breakfast (oatmeal), snacks, and gum.

Backpack 340g
Water bottles 42g
Knife/sheath 143g
Rain poncho 50g
Personal survival/comfort kit 276g
First aid kit 99g
Shelter kit 284g
Mess kit 132g
Sleep kit 790g
Tin foil 5g
Food stuff sack 20g

Total base weight 2181g or 4.8lbs

Tea kit 90g
Food 747g
Water 1500g

Total backpack weight 4518g or 9.94lbs

Three friends of mine went with me on the trip: Mac, Mr. Beardy, and Johan (who is also the awesome photographer on many of my trips, thanks again brother).  We hiked slightly over 20km or around 12.5 miles, not including several excursions we did to hunt for wild mushrooms, blueberries, and also down to a lake to swim. 

Below are some more great photos from Johan.  If you want to check out more of Johan's work, his website is

On the lumber road on our way to the campsite.  Mr. Beardy and Mac opted to go lightweight, as you can see.  Also note the baggie of wild mushrooms. 

Setting up the hobo tent.  I opted for the classic rope between two trees after finding a great spot.  Also note lots of nice, soft, clean moss all around.

Used rocks as anchors, which is pretty easy to find in most woods. 

Getting the rope tied tight can be tricky, but after you learn a few good knots and rope tricks, it's easy.

Putting down the ground cover.  Lucky for me, it didn't rain until later on. 

The completed shelter.  Took about 10-15 minutes, including the search for rocks, and I didn't rush at all. 

Here I am asleep at around 5am just after sunrise.  You can see I used my rain poncho as a front door to keep rain from blowing/splashing in, and it worked quiet well.  I was very dry, comfortable, and had enough room to sit up inside and be fully covered.  It started to lightly rain in the evening during dinner, rained on and off into the night, but by the time I got inside my shelter to sleep it was raining pretty steady and continued through the night.

It took some planning, it's summertime, and I went to an area that I am very familiar with (which is why the compass and map stayed at home), it should be noted.  I am very happy with the way everything went.  I honestly didn't have any issues, nor do I think I would have changed anything.  I guess if I were to be more nit-picky, I guess I could have added another pair of socks.  Hiking through damp woods does get your feet wet, and wearing the same pair of socks for 24 hours gets a bit stinky.  But I was able to dry my socks on our campfire, and I don't care about being stinky very much.  I think I might be able to add a pair of socks to this system anyhow and still have it be officially SUL anyhow.

Would I or could I do SUL all the time?  Of course not, but that is another story, and will be the focus of another post.  But for anyone that is a backpacker/camper with some experience under their belts, I highly recommend trying out a minimalist/SUL system.  It has quite a lot of pros if you are doing a good amount of hiking, and not as many cons as you might think.  Options will be limited on what you are able to do, sure.  You can still have access to fun stuff that costs you no weight at all, like wild food gathering and swimming, and of course sitting around a campfire with your friends.  You can even sit around a campfire in light rain and eat breakfast with a man with am impressive beard:

Never let weight or rain stop you from having a good time! :)

UPDATE 30/01/13: 
I have since written a lengthy reflection inspired by the popularity of this post and SUL in general, which includes my 2013 SUL season gear list.  

If you are interested you can read it here, and thanks everyone for reading my humble little blog :)