Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Backpacking Aficionado's 3 Season System, Part 2: Trip Report and Gear in Action

This is part two of a report on my new and improved 3 season backpacking system of gear with a base weight of 8.4lbs/3.8kg and clothing worn weight of 5lbs/2.3kg.  Here is part one, and here is a link to a detailed list of just about everything I might choose to take with me in the most challenging conditions (i.e. rain/snow and maximum low temperature of -4C/25F).  Same disclaimer as before: I am not sponsored and did not get any gear free from any company or anything like that.

My backpacking systems--which are: 3 season, winter, and summer--represent the culmination of many years of experience along with many hours planning, researching, and experimenting in hopes of making improvements to my systems.  An improvement in my system of gear translates into an overall improvement in my next adventure backpacking, and the more I go out into nature, it has been almost always a more positive and enjoyable experience as time goes on.  Sure, in the past I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them, and as time goes on I seem to make less mistakes and things seem in general to be better.

For the second part of this report, I didn't want to just take pictures of all the rest of the junk I haul with me out there.  I thought it would be both more fun and useful to write a trip report, and highlight some of my favorite pieces of gear and how it works in the field.  So a few days ago I decided to go on a solo overnight trip in one of my favorite patches of woods about an hour outside of the city I live in.  

One of the great things about Sweden, if you love the outdoors, is that there is no shortage of beautiful geography to explore.  From a long coast line and many islands in the sea, to the vast stretches of woodland, a backpacker ought not to be bored living in Sweden.  And with only around 9 million people living here (much less than some big cities in the world like Mexico City and Tokyo), it's easy to share this large and gorgeous bounty as well.  On my trip I didn't hear or see anyone once I got deep in the woods, which is almost always the case.

The weather was excellent--low chance of rain, and about 8C/46F during the day and 0C/32F at night--which meant I could leave a few layers at home, making my base weight dip under the 8lb/3.6kg mark.  I left the windbreaker and my rain pants, but kept my rain jacket to use as a windbreaker, and there were some clouds in the forecast, in case of light rain.  No rain and lots of sun, so things worked out rather nice.  I also left my fishing kit, as the lakes are still (mostly) frozen over, and ice fishing isn't my thing anyhow even if the ice was safer.  Now on to lots of pictures!  Click on them to make them bigger, and that goes for the rest of my blog as well, in case you didn't know.

Here is a lovely little waterfall I crossed shortly after hopping off the bus.  I was full on water, otherwise this would be a great place to refill.  The creek is fed by a pond (still pretty frozen) close by that is somewhat isolated and itself is fed by a spring.

A view from a hill I climbed up after a few more hours of hiking.  Still frozen over, though pretty thin ice at this point, so I didn't risk walking across.

Down at the shores of the lake.  Note the cliffs in the distance.

A lot of the hiking I did on this trip (and most of my trips) is off-trail, AKA "bushwacking."  I decided to turn around and take a picture of an example of the thicker stretch of woods I was navigating through, and here is what bushwacking often looks like:

Here is a view of the woods I was hiking through from the top of a ridge I had just climbed.  I had to be a little more cautious here, as one time I camped out close to this spot, I ran into a boar.  I was able to scare it away, luckily, but now every time I move through here, that event is on my mind.

On top of the cliffs, facing the spot I was at earlier on the shore of the lake.

Another example of how thick it gets where I like to roll.

Finally, after getting down from the cliffs, an actual trail, and through a wonderful example of Swedish trollskog, no less.

Here I am a little deeper into the trollskog, almost time to find a nice spot to make camp.

This is the spot I settled on to make camp for the night.  It is on top of a hill near a lake.  The cold air will sink down, making higher elevations more desirable to sleep at, and if it were heavy rain, no chance of being flooded.  Being near a water source is always a plus too, not just to refill your bottles, but also to wash up and/or swim in too.

From another perspective, and with the tarp set up.

Dinner time.  My complete kitchen: collapsible plastic mug, cuben fiber food bag (with 3 meals, 2 snacks, sponge, plastic clip to attach to a rope to hang in a tree overnight), titanium long-handle spoon, alcohol fuel, matches, titanium Clikstand stove inside of titanium pot.  
While I also have a worth while DIY alcohol stove (made out of a cat food cat and tin foil windscreen, which I have written about in other posts) that is lighter weight (144g total for whole system), my Clikstand stove is overall my stove of choice.  The ease of use, excellent boil time (between 4:40 and 5 minutes for half a liter of cold water), and decent fuel efficiency (I use about 25ml of fuel each time and it is more than enough--on overnights I bring a 100ml bottle) all for only a total of 245g for the full system.  The DIY stove has a 6-7 minute boil time, plus uses more fuel, is fragile, and set up is a bit more involved.  Still not a bad choice, though, especially for the very low cost.  But if you want to go deluxe, this titanium beast is the way to go, and only a 101g weight penalty. 

Stove is set up and ready to go, and on the left is my meal (ramen noodles plus a pack of cup-o-creamy-chicken-soup to give it more substance) in a ziplock bag, waiting for boiling water.  Above my meal bag is my cozy bag.  After I pour the hot water into my meal bag, I seal it up and then put it inside of my cozy bag to stay warm.  My cozy bag only weighs 20g, and is just an envelope of space blanket I made myself (with duct tape) inside of a bigger ziplock bag.

I had heard of cooking in ziplock bags for a while, but was skeptical and just stuck to cooking in my pot and then washing it out afterwards.  Then I saw a video by Stick, another backpacking blogger, on youtube where he cooks and eats out of ziplocks with ease.  He made it look so easy I had to try it myself, and turns out it really is a great alternative to cooking out of your pot if you don't want to clean up.  Here is the end result, and it worked out great.  After 5 minutes inside my DIY cozy bag, I transferred my dinner to my pot to continue to keep it warm, and enjoyed an excellent backwoods meal pipping hot.  Helps to have a long handle spoon if you choose to eat like this.

After dinner I had tea and marveled at this view of sunset.

My shelter all set up, from before dinner, just to see how it looks up close.  The ground sheet is double layered, as I mentioned in part one of this report, to protect my inflatable sleeping mat.  My shelter even has a welcome mat, which is my back support of my backpack, and also my sit/kneel mat as well.  Very handy to have, plus in the morning it also acts as a place to put my socks and shoes on without getting dirty (or wet if it had rained).

Just before bedtime, what the inside of my tarp looks like.  Plenty of room for me (I am about 183cm/6ft and 83kg/183lbs) and all my gear in case it rains.  If it was windy and rainy, I could pitch the tarp lower to the ground, and location is also a big help.  You may have noticed above that I pitched my tarp right next to a log on one side, and a big pine tree on another side, which helps shield me from wind and/or rain.  If you are lucky or look hard enough, you can actually find natural shelters that are nearly wind and rain proof.  I have slept in a cave before and that was very cozy, but you can also sleep directly under a very big, thick, healthy pine tree and it's branches act pretty much as a tarp.

The morning, airing out my sleeping bag, just after a nice hot breakfast (oatmeal with berries, chopped almonds, and coconut) and cup of tea.

One last picture of a part of the trail going back towards civilization that I thought was very beautiful.  It's the kind of spot I would expect a hobbit or an elf to be smoking a pipe, seated there on that rock formation.

This was one of the best solo overnight trips I have ever been on, everything just seemed to fall in place and feel "just right."  All my new clothing and gear performed equal to or exceeded my expectations, for example this whole new realm of ziplock bag and DIY cozy cooking.  My running pants, which I was a bit concerned about their durability, pleasantly surprised me.  Not only did they take no damage from the harsh bushwacking that I do, brush and branches seem to slide off of them better than my regular hiking pants or jeans.  

I didn't feel like taking pictures of my new water filter (kinda boring), but that also worked great and saves lots of time.  In my youth I relied on iodine pills, which work fine, but had to be bought and replaced, plus gave water a funny taste.  Then for many years I just boiled all my water to purify it, if needed.  Economical and reliable, sure, but takes time and energy.  So last year I finally broke down and got a great little filter to suit my needs, and only weighs about 100g for the filter itself plus a folding plastic flask that's about a liter in volume.  Water here in Sweden is very clean, and if you are careful you don't have to treat your water at all and just drink it straight up.  But sometimes if I am thirsty and there is questionable water around, say a big puddle, rather than get a fire going and boiling it, in less than a minute I have potable water.

In total I hiked about 13km on my first day in, about 8km the next day coming back out, and enjoyed every step pretty much.  I could have easily hiked further, but time constraints (school) prevented me from doing so.  Looking forward to more trips like this, and to summer where I will switch over to my summertime backpacking system, which is even lighter and minimal.  

I am even strongly considering doing a XUL overnight trip, which is the very limit of the entire school of lightweight backpacking.  My summer base weight will be under 5lbs/2.3kg, which is considered SUL (super ultralight) backpacking.  XUL is 5lbs/2.3kg of weight for your base weight and clothing worn combined.  If I do go for it, I will be sure to write up a full report here.

*EDIT: I did end up doing a XUL trip!  You can read about it here. :)

I hope you liked my trip report and part two of my 3 season system report, and as always I encourage feedback, either below in a comment, or in an email.  Thanks for reading, and get out there and take a trip of your own and soon!