This is part two on a series of posts about my $100 Super-Ultralight Gear List (Click here for part one.) Part two, is all about backpacks and stuff sacks.
Ozark Trail Atka Cost: $18.97 Weight: 10.649 oz
I risk losing you by suggesting a dirt cheap Wal-Mart pack, but hear me out. With weights being equal, a high-quality pack will be more comfortable, but on my first trip, I carried a total weight of about 35 lbs in a pack that cost ten times this much. My shoulders started to ache after the first few miles, but it was one of the best times I had ever had. This Atka pack with my super ultralight gear would have been more comfortable to carry than that first pack. So if you go super-ultralight, you don't have to let the expense of a great pack keep you from hitting the trail.
When you keep your weight this low, you can get by without some of the features of an expensive pack, such as, an internal frame, thick shoulder padding, load lifters, stabilizer straps, suspension, or a hip belt. They can make a pack more comfortable, but nothing makes a pack more comfortable than going super-ultralight.
I've tested this pack up to about 14 pounds. That's 5.25 lbs for the gear, enough food and stove fuel for 5 days, and a bottle of water. That's about the maximum weight you'd want to carry with this pack. Or course, as your food weight drops, the pack becomes much more comfortable. By the last day, you'll barely notice you have it on.
To lighten it a couple more ounces, I removed the zipper pulls, cut out the hydration sleeve and other excess material, and removed the back padding. The foam padding in this pack absorbs a lot of heat. Removing it will save a few grams and a sweaty back. In fact, the padding absorbed so much heat, I had to cut it out on the trail. It worked great as sit pad, however, so I still take it along anyway. I could have replaced this with a less insulating type of foam padding, but if you pack it right, it's not really needed.
You can increase the comfort level of any frameless pack by packing it right. Keep your heaviest items close to your body and near the small of your back to give you a better center of gravity. Also, it's important to keep the weight evenly distributed.
Making custom stuff sacks gives you more control over how items fit in your pack (see below).
Should You Upgrade?
If you plan on doing a lot of backpacking, it's worth investing more on a backpack. A quality pack, properly cared for, could last a lifetime. A lifetime of stories get embedded into an old pack like so much dirt and grim. I've carried my Gossamer pack over 4,000 miles in ten different countries. It's covered in mud stains and dental floss stitching from numerous field repairs. I love it more for that.
If you do upgrade your pack, make sure it's properly fitted. Don't be tempted to buy a pack that isn't the right fit no matter how good a deal it is.You'll find some great advice about how to choose a properly fitted pack at sectionhiker.com.
If you don't mind investing a little more, but want to stay super-ultralight, consider Z Packs Zero backpacks, starting at $95. Also, check out their bargain bin for occasional deals.
DIY, Polycryo Plastic Bag Cost: $0.00 - $2.00 Weight: 0.35 oz
Save money and weight by skipping a pack rain cover. Since you can't rely on them to keep your gear dry, you'll need a pack liner anyway, so don't bother.
In the winter, I weatherproof my windows with shrink film plastic, also called Polycryo. In the spring, I pull it down and used it to make durable super-lightweight bags. Cut it to size and seal it together with the extra double-sided tape that comes with the window sealing kit. Customize the size to fit your pack perfectly.
Tip: Make sure the plastic is pulled tight as you apply the double-sided tape. Wrinkles under the tape can prevent an air-tight seal. To do this, I use scotch tape to secure the plastic to my table or floor before applying the double sided tape.
In the spring, just in time for preparing your summertime hikes, you can often find window shrink film at a fraction of the cost. Wal-mart sells theirs for $2 a box in April or May. One box can make you two rain tarps and loads of durable plastic bags.
If you're not up for making your own liners, a heavy-duty trash bag or trash compactor bag works just fine.
Should you Upgrade?
There really isn't a reason to spend extra money on bags and liners. And I'll say it again, don't let an outfitter sell you a pack rain cover. They are useless.
Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack
DIY, Polycryo Plastic Bag Cost: $0.00 Weight: 0.30 oz
Avoid a wet sleeping bag and shave a few ounces from your pack by leaving your sleeping bag compression sack at home.
Making your own stuff sack also gives you control over its size and shape, allowing you to organize your pack for the best weight distribution and comfort. When all the air is squeezed out of the sack, it's like a "space bag" that you can sort of mold into shape. To close, just twist the top and use a rubber band or hair tie to seal it up.
Small Waterproof Bag
DIY Polycryo Plastic Bag Cost: $0.00 Weight: 0.14 oz
I carry a small version of the sacks above for items I want to have extra protection from rain: socks, thermal layer, underwear, camera, book, or fire starter. I've spent a decent amount of money on lightweight waterproof bags, but none of the lightweight ones last very long and they just add unnecessary weight. Use that money for something else, such as upgrading your backpack.
These also work great for doing laundry in the backcountry.
If you don't want to bother making your own bags, recycle plastic bread bags or use ZipLoc freezer bags. There are plenty of free super-lightweight options.
Next Monday: I'll show you how I sleep at night with my $100 super-ultralight pack.
Please email any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have an alternative idea for a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list, let me know. I would like to share them in future posts.
Cleaning Clothes in the Backcountry