NOLS: Not Just a Walk in the Woods

I’ve made it! I survived NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Lightweight Rocky Mountain Backpacking! What a great and memorable time I had in Wyoming. Two weeks of carrying my food, water and shelter around. Two weeks of digging cat holes and no showers. Two weeks of beautiful scenery and gorgeous night skies. Two weeks of back to basics.
I learned some concrete skills:
1. pooping in the woods, digging cat holes
2. existing in bear country, bear hangs
3. stream crossings
4. cooking on cat can stoves with denatured alcohol
I learned to really appreciate the conveniences of modern life when I got back:
1. having clear running water at my disposal
2. clean, dry feet
3. tissues! for that perpetually runny nose out in the field
4. food that is not nuts
5. going to the bathroom whenever without having to plan and/or dig a hole
6. being able to see at night without strapping a light to my head
7. the ability to talk to people via cell phone
8. lunch
9. living life without having to contemplate turning the corner and running into a bear
10. a warm cozy bed

Ultralight Backpacking Websites

Only a few weeks more to go before my NOLS Rocky Mountain Lightweight Backpacking course. I’m currently in the process of finalizing gear, ordering stuff off the web, weighing, re-weighing, general gear gathering and spreadsheet charting. To do prepare for this course I’ve done most of my research online.

How I’m preparing using the internet:

  1. Reading other people blogs, gear lists and trip debriefings
  2. browsing ultralight forums
  3. shopping all the different outdoor online shops
  4. reading gear reviews
  5. checking posted gear weights to compare

These are the ultralight websites I’m using:



Backpacking Packing List

Here is a general list of about 30 items that I will bring on my rocky mountain lightweight backpacking trip. My goal is to research each item on the list and find the best gear I can afford and try and stay under a 25 pound limit. The 25 lbs will include food and water. Ultimately, I will create a chart listing each piece of gear, how much it weighs, where I bought it, how much it costs and any thoughts or comments regarding each item. Some things not on the list are group gear (i.e. cook pot, fuel, cook stove, first aid and tent).

  1. long underwear
  2. shorts
  3. short sleeve top
  4. rain jacket
  5. wind jacket
  6. fleece hat
  7. gloves
  8. down jacket
  9. puffy pants
  10. hiking pants
  11. socks
  12. underwear
  13. sports bra
  14. mug/bowl
  15. spoon
  16. water bottle
  17. lip balm
  18. suncreen
  19. bandana
  20. hat
  21. sunglasses
  22. headlamp
  23. lighter
  24. trash bag
  25. watch
  26. trekking poles
  27. gaiters
  28. stuff sacks
  29. hiking shoes
  30. sleeping bag
  31. sleeping pad
  32. backpack
  33. toiletries

It’s Good To Be a Girl

Obviously there are many good things about being a girl but when it comes to ultralight backpacking girls rule! Here are the advantages I have found:

  1. smaller clothes (means lighter stuff)
  2. smaller shoes (significant weight savings)
  3. smaller calorie requirments (less food)
  4. smaller sleeping bags (they make bags specifically for shorter hikers)

In general sleeping bags come in a few sizes: regular, long, and then there are ones geared towards shorter hikers like me. Most of the “short” sleeping bags fit people 5’6″ and below. But I have found that Feathered Friends makes a bag that fits 5’3″ frame that weighs in at 1lb 11 oz. Its the Egret UL20. I’m definitely going to use my 5’3″ height to my advantage by ordering a bag that fits me and will save on extra weight. The sleeping bag will probably also keep me warmer in the aspect that I will lose less heat to the smaller volume within my bag.

The Egret UL20 is rated to a temperature of 20 degrees.  My trip to Wyoming will be in the summer but since we will be at altitude we have to plan for chilly nights. I always sleep colder so I know personally I have to get a 20 degree bag or colder. Although the 1lb 11oz weight will easily glide under my two pound limit for sleeping bags the hefty price may deter most hikers. As of Feb 2013, the price is $429 (not including shipping and taxes).

Egret UL Azure

Ultralight Toiletries

My ultralight adventure has brought me to research many interesting topics such as “What are the lightest toiletries?”

I have heard of ultralight fanatics sawing off toothbrush handles and I wanted to read more about other tips that people might have so I went online to see what other people are saying.

Personally, I’m trying to find products that have multiple uses. For example, Dr. Bronner’s soap can be used for body wash, shampoo, and laundry detergent. That’s pretty cool. There’s also shampoo bars. I could probably use a shampoo bar for body wash and laundry too. Or I might consider bringing the tiny little vaselines now. It could be a skin lotion and chapstick.

I found a really cool posting by a former Peace Corps volunteer. The page is titled Hard Corps Travel: Ultralite Shower Kit.  Here’s their list (the theory behind each choice is explained on the actual page):

Here was my old one month toiletry kit:
  • Toothbrush: 0.8 oz
  • Travel-sized Toothpaste: 3 oz
  • Travel-sized Deodorant stick: 1 oz
  • Travel-sized Shampoo: 3.4 oz
  • Travel-sized Conditioner: 3.4 oz
  • Travel-sized Hair Gel: 1.7 oz
  • Travel-sized Contact Solution: 4 oz
  • Contact Lens Case: 0.6 oz
  • Extra Contacts: 0.8 oz
  • Glasses: 3.2 oz
  • Travel Brush: 1.2 oz
  • Travel-sized Soap: 1 oz
  • Travel-sized Shaving Cream: 2.5 oz
  • Razor: 3 oz
  • TOTAL WEIGHT: 26.2 oz/1.6 lbs
But after some research and a bit of work, this is what I ended up with:The New and Improved One Month Toiletry Kit



Why Go Ultralight?

This excerpt is from Adventure Alan’s Ultralight Backpacking:

Why hike ultralight?

Or, the better question to ask – why suffer if you don’t have to? Why would anyone want to carry a 40 to 50 pound pack? Yet, for the average hiker, this is about what they carry for a one week trip.

A pack this heavy causes plenty of problems:

  • Slow, tedious hiking
  • Exhaustion, irritability, and low morale on the trail
  • Increased chance of injury – sore back, sprained ankles, blown knees, sore muscles, bruised and blistered feet
  • Tired, cross people make bad decisions, sometimes with serious consequences.
  • Slow hiking leaves less time for fun stuff – relaxing in camp, fishing, staring at clouds, skinny dipping, side trips

All this detracts from enjoying the outdoors – the reason you went in the first place.

My Journey to Ultralight

Well, it’s begun…my ultralight backingpacking trip has been planned and a goal has been set. 25lbs or less. That’s including everything:pack, gear, food and water. These days I have been scouring the internet for merchandise and information. I have been mostly using ebay, REI, Feathered Friends, Montbell, GoLite and other misc websites to look for gear. I’ve also been looking at UL blogs to see what other people have to say. A lot of people have a lot of different opinions. Here’s what I gathered:

It can be done. 25 lbs is actually kind of high for most diehard UL backpackers. I’d say most are closer to the 10-15lbs range. I have been looking forward to this whole adventure because I have been mostly used to super heavy packs on my mountaineering trips. When you’re hauling around tons of ropes and carabiners and metal stakes I guess there’s just not much use in cutting back on a few ounces. So 25lbs sounds heavenly…until I started thinking about it in a different light. Picture carrying around a 10 lbs bowling ball all the time. That doesn’t sound like much fun. That’s all the motivation I need to try and beat this 25lbs goal!

There’s also something called THE BIG THREE: tent, sleeping system and the pack itself. It’s pretty much common sense to take your three heaviest items and make sure they are light to begin with. Then there’s your consumables: water and food. The goal on my trip is to keep it under 25lbs and that’ll include two weeks of food. No resupply for me.

This whole exercise is very interesting and enlightening (no pun intended) to me. It’s neat to see what we can do without. Its nice to remind ourselves how little we need.

Every ounce counts. And therefore, I’m researching everything, weighing everything and reconsidering everything. Do I really need it? Can something substitute for it? Can this thing be used for multiple purposes? Does it’s usefulness justify it’s weight and place in my pack? What’s the lightest version they currently make? Are there alterations I can make to it to be lighter? There’s also the consideration of cost. It’d probably be easier if I had unlimited funds and just bought top of the line UL everything but for most people this is not a realistic endeavor. But does this mean my goals are unattainable? Absoultely not. But it does mean I will work smarter and be informed about what’s out there and what my best choices are. I think ultimately ultralight will be a lifelong endeavor and not something bought and carried out in a weekend.

NOLS Rocky Mountain Lightweight Backpacking!

So excited! Just signed up for the National Outdoor Leadership School Lightweight Backpacking course. It’s gonna be in Wyoming this summer. My application has been received and my packet is on it’s way back. I’m really looking forward to poring over the equipment list. I’ve already made a general call out to my friends to send me their extra REI coupons. Like most people, I won’t be able to afford top of the line everything but will have to make do. I will definitely be weighing the pros and cons of each thing I bring and determine if it’s worth buying. I will be posting about the preparations along the way. I hope this will give some insight to others who might be interested. If y’all have any suggestions, hints or comments I’d love to hear them. 2013 adventures here I come!

Costume Ideas for Three People

It’s 5k season again! Lots of good causes to raise money for. This time we’re going to have three people run in a karaoke 5k. I don’t technically know what a karaoke 5k is although I’m sure it involves some running and lots of bad singing. Costumes are encouraged. There’s prizes for best costume and best group costume. Since we have three people, I’ve decided to come up with a list of possible ideas.

  1. Three little pigs
  2. Three blind mice
  3. Edward, Jacob and Bella (since we have two girls and one guy, we thought about doing it in drag)
  4. Paper, Rock, Scissors
  5. Three Muskteers
  6. Taco Bell Spice Packets (mild, medium & hot)
  7. Football player, cheerleader and referee
  8. Three Superheros
  9. Nemo, Dori and Sea Turtle
  10. Woody, Buzz, and Jesse or Mr. Potato Head or any other of the toys

P.S. I have to add this idea: The three guys from hangover! Three people with a face tattoo, a monkey and a baby in a carrier??