Backpacking gear for middle age fat men…

So I am on a quest to save weight.  This goes for both my person and my backpack.  Once you hit a certain age it becomes more difficult to shave poundage on a personal level (although I am trying). So it behooves me to save weight in other areas like my pack.  When your son joins the Boy Scouts they don’t warn us that when we embark on expeditions with them that we need to look out for our own gear.  When he first joined Troop 42 it was largely a car camping troop.  Pull into a campsite, unload a 1/4 ton of stuff and spend the weekend cooking over dutch ovens.  Not to say that isn’t fun but it partially led to some of the issues I am currently having around the waistline…

In the first few years there have been a total of three camping trips that I would consider backpacking experiences. Over the course of those three, especially after the first one I have become more obsessed with saving weight.  I could barely stagger the mere two miles into the site carrying an 8 pound 4 person tent, a 5 pound sleeping bag and a sundry of other items.  I was “that” dad. Inexperienced and out of shape. The next trip was an eye opener. A little more experienced, I had done some research and invested in some better gear for me and my son.  Better backpacks, a tent that tops out at 2.5 pounds and sleeping bag that weighs about the same.  I found myself enjoying that trip a lot more and was able to study the gear that the other scouts and their fathers brought.

Lately there has been an influx of younger scouts and it borders on the hilarious when looking at how much stuff some of these kids are bringing.  There has been and will continue to be lessons on what to bring and how much of it to bring.  Had more than a few miserable kids after the first 100 feet of elevation gain…

Between that and this last trip to Heather Lake I have discovered a few things about myself and other middle aged fat men who still like to camp and bond with their kids and the gear we need. Some of the dads interestingly enough had even less experience than I did and had a lot of questions about the gear my son and I had.  Prefacing the following list of “stuff” I have figured out works for me more or less is the statement that I am still learning about these things and researching better ways of saving weight and still being a comfortable old man in the woods… So with that in mind here is my current (but still evolving) fat middle aged man backpack load out:

  1.  We are too old to sleep on the cold hard ground.  A good sleeping pad is a must. Most folks when they get into camping and backpacking will get those cheap foam jobs that roll up.  I don’t have a huge problem with them because they are cheap and light, but for me I like packability as well.  I want everything to be inside the pack, not strapped to the outside like an old timer miner… I have settled on a self-inflating Thermarest pad. It clocks in at about 1.5 pounds and rolls up into a small package that fits into the pack.
  2. Sleeping bags. I hate trying to sleep when I’m cold. But realistically I’m not hiking into the Himalayas and the troop doesn’t camp in the dead of winter.  I decided an EN22 degree bag from Mountain Hard Wear fit the bill. At 2.75 pounds it still packed small enough to fit into the pack next to the Thermarest.  I do find the bag a little narrow at the feet so I will let you know when or if I decide to change this one out.  But it did keep me fairly comfortable temperature wise.
  3. While camping with the troop is a social exercise, when it comes to sleeping, I am a lone wolf pack… I tend to move around quite a bit and I like to keep my pack inside with me and not in a vestibule.  I have gone through several iterations of tent after the disaster of carrying around the massive six person tent. Each of the tents has gotten progressively smaller and my current tent is a two person tent that weighs about 3 pounds.  In reality its really about big enough for me and my gear.  I do like it because it does pack small though.  Currently I have no plans to change it but if I stumble upon a good one person that has a big enough vestibule to keep my shit dry I may make the jump…
  4. Food protection…ah…the bear vault…it was the reason I actually started this particular entry.  When backpacking in Washington we do it turns out, have not only bears to worry about but also some rather aggressive other rodent type critters. On our first trip out one family had a bear vault while the rest of us hung up bear bags.  I looked at the heavy duty plastic cylinder and thought to myself…hey…that’s really cool. So got one.  They are surprisingly expensive but very heavy duty.  Thus the dilemma.  They weigh almost three pounds without the food so I have decided for our next trip that I am going to go back to a bear bag and see how I feel weight wise.  I am sure I will not miss carrying the extra weight.
  5. Stove and cook gear.  Soooo many cool stoves out there.  Several of the scouts and dads have the new Jet Boil stoves. My son and I use MSR Rocket Stoves.  Very light. Small enough to pack into the GSI Outdoor Halulite Minimalist Cooksets we use.  There are fancier sets out there but considering that we mainly boil water for the freeze dried foods we eat, there was no reason for the bulk and expense of the Jet Boil. Plus again…packability and super light…minus the gas the stove and cook set weighs half a pound. Add another half pound or so for the larger can of gas and we have a very light and efficient cooking system.
  6. Backpacks. It took us a couple of tries to get the backpacks right. Cheap is not the way to go here.  Our first packs were Army surplus Alice packs with very heavy metal frames.  We switched to internal frame but they turned out to be too small.  Currently he is using a 65 liter pack from Cabelas. Mine is the 85 liter model.  I suspect mine will probably be too big for a three day journey once I dump the weight and volume of the bear vault but in any case they can contain all of the above (Harrison doesn’t have to use or carry a bear bag or vault since we share mine.) Nothing sticking out or strapped to the outside. It weighs about 5 pounds empty.
  7. Water.  Water is very heavy.  I hate having to carry extra water so I invested in an MSR MiniWorks filter. It weighs one pound and works great at filling one liter bottles very fast with clean water. One thing to note.  You must keep the ceramic filter clean. Once it starts to clog up it will not pump water very well.  If that happens, take it apart and scrub the ceramic filter clean.
  8. Sundry other items. Boy Scouts are all about preparedness, and this where the kids and myself get into trouble with unexplained weight being added exponentially.  Each scout must have their 10 essentials (compass, food, signalling device, poncho, fire starter, pocket knife, first aid kit, flashlight, water bottle, clothing) and depending on what they bring, the weight adds up fast.  I am also paranoid about running out of stuff so I have this bad tendency to bring extra batteries or have redundancy in the form of an extra can of gas, another flashlight just in case the first one breaks and so on… My plan is that for the next outing I am going to try and shave some weight by paring down the extra and redundant items.

So that’s about it. Minus the weight of food, water and extra clothing I figure my pack stands at about 15-16 pounds. Much better than the 25+ I carried out on my previous trips. By dropping some of the extra items noted I hope to get the weight under 15 pounds.  The troop has asked me to help a couple of other dads plan a 50 miler for next year so over the next few trips leading up to that, not only will we have to get the kids and their gear in shape for such an excursion but ourselves as well.  You can darn well know that the closer we get to that trip I will be looking at every ounce I can find to drop.  I will document that as much as I can here.  Should be fun…

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