Thursday, June 10, 2010

Selecting a Backpacking Shelter

To add balance to our lives, my family and I spend a great deal of time outdoors - hiking, climbing, skiing, kayaking, and cycling. I have specific approaches to each of my outdoor pursuits, based on 40 years of making mistakes, improving, and trying again.

Each August, we travel to the Eastern Sierra to climb, hike, and explore. This August I'll do a solo walk on 50 miles of the John Muir Trail over 2 days. My strategy is to travel fast and light, covering 3 miles/1000 feet of elevation gain per hour.

To maintain that speed, I'll need to limit my pack weight to less than 10 pounds for the trip including all food, water, clothing and shelter.

That's a bit tricky since I'll carry a liter of water (1000cc = 1 kg = 2.205lbs) and 30 ounces of food. That leaves 6 pounds for all my remaining gear and pack. Here's my gear list that achieves that.

I currently own everything on the list except the shelter, for which I've allocated a ridiculous 10 ounces. I could carry something heavier if needed, but that would slow me down. I could reduce the amount of hydration I'm carrying, but you lose a great deal of water hiking in the high sierra, given the dry air and intense UV, so I really do want to drink a lot of water. I use Katadyn MP1 tablets when I refill my water supply from Sierra streams to kill bacteria, viruses and cysts in 30 minutes.

The section of the John Muir trail that I'll hike - from Red's Meadow to Yosemite Valley, has several windy spots, numerous mosquitos, occasional rain, and cold nights, even in August.

Thus, my requirements are a shelter that is very lightweight, windproof, mosquito-proof, waterproof and warm.

What are my choices?

Tent - there are few ultra-lightweight tents. Tents like the Golite Shangri-La with optional floor at 26oz, the Outdoor Research NightHaven Shelter at 37.4oz, the MSR Hubba HP Tent at 41oz or the Nemo Gogo at 32oz are in the 2-3 pound range and meet all criteria except weighing 10 ounces.

Tarps - there are many lightweight tarps such as the Integral Designs Siltarp. Tarps are challenging to use in very windy conditions and they do not provide mosquito protection. Most require hiking poles for support and I do not carry hiking poles.

Hybrid Tent and Tarp - Tarptents by Henry Shires are a hybrid between a tarp and a tent that include mosquito netting, engineered windproof designs, and great protection from severe weather. I use a Tarptent Cloudburst whenever I hike with a partner, since my 2 person tent weighs 38 ounces - 19 ounces per person for a 4 season tent. The lightest Tarptent is 20 ounces, still a bit more than the 10 ounces I need. The Zpacks Hexamid with optional floor at 12 ounces is a possibility but it requires a hiking pole and I typically do not carry hiking poles.

Hammock - A hanging tarp/hammock such as the Hennessy Hammock Hyperlight A-Sym Hammock Shelter at 26 ounces is an innovative design. There are two challenges - finding perfectly spaced trees when hiking in the high Sierra and sleeping suspended in cold/windy weather with the ensuing convective heat loss.

Bivy - A Bivouac is waterproof yet breathable covering for sleeping bags. It may or may not include a supporting pole to keep the fabric off your face. Bivy weights vary widely from the Black Diamond Twilight at 10 ounces to the Outdoor Research Highland at 23 ounces. The Twilight is 10 ounces, warm, windproof, waterproof, and mosquito proof. We have a winner.

Thus, my choice for my quick 50 miles this summer is the minimalist Twilight bivy from Black Diamond. I'll let you know how it goes!


Chris Harding said...

Sounds like a great trip, John! I haven't been to that area since I was a child. I remember how beautiful it was. Can't wait to see the post after you return from the hike.
Chris Harding

James said...

Dr John-
What is in your 30 oz of food supply?

Thanks for the gear list- looks good
Have a great time.


John Halamka said...

I'll publish my exact menu as the trip draws closer, but I usually carry nut butters (high in calories, low in weight), dried fruit, tortillas/flatbread (basically indestructible), and hummus for the first day (spoils unless eaten quickly)

DanLaninga said...

Good luck! Sounds like fun!

Anonymous said...

Have you looked at the Zen Stoves website? They have alcohol stoves that weigh less than a half ounce. I have used them hiking in Washington, and will use an open-jet design when I hike the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier this summer. Here is a link.

Use a small plastic recyclable bottle to store the alcohol fuel--won't need much for a two-day trip. When the bottle is empty, you can crush it to save pack space. When you finish using the stove and plastic bottle, you can recycle it too!

I use aluminum wire mesh as a pot stand. I have a small Titanium pot to boil water, and I use aluminum roof flashing with drilled holes to use as a wind screen and to prevent heat loss from under the pot. All of the cooking gear fits inside the pot as well.

Jon said...

I've never quite seen the attraction in ultra-light stuff, but can confirm that a bivvy does the job well, if that's what you've got. No stove means no tea in the morning, a cost benefit ratio I'd struggle to justify even with a very heavy stove :-)