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Mountain SuperUltraLight Backpacking – Going SUL in the Mountains with Adequate Shelter, Insulation, and Rain Protection. Part 1: Concepts and Scope.


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Mountain SuperUltraLight Backpacking – Going SUL in the Mountains with Adequate Shelter, Insulation, and Rain Protection. Part 1: Concepts and Scope.

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Viewing 21 posts - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)
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  • #1302693
    Stephanie Jordan
    Spectator

    @maia

    Locale: Rocky Mountains
    #1985666
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hail in a tent – yes. Noisy, but so what.
    A bit different from hail in a bivy I would think! Depends on whether you have any tarp over your head.
    I will mention that hail means sudden cold.

    Cheers

    #1986073
    Sara Marchetti
    BPL Member

    @smarchet

    Over the last few years I've been down on myself because I just couldn't get my kit to sub 10 lb levels. I felt that I just wasn't tough enough to sacrifice the weight. Now everything makes perfect sense. We mainly backpack in the Uintas of eastern Utah in the late spring and summer. This is a very unforgiving area where vicious lightning storms, snow storms and hail can come from nowhere and make your life absolutely miserable. I could never imagine any sacrifices in these conditions for the sake of weight. There are just too many variables in high mountain backpacking to make hard sacrifices worth it.

    Just a few examples:

    For every comfortable trip with a quilt, there is a miserable trip with a quilt.

    A lot of time in the Unitas you are cold and wet, morning, noon and night. Being able to rapid Jetboil my water instead of fussing with my Esbit beer keg stove makes the trip more enjoyable.

    I feel I have to be a little more judicious with my first aid kit in the mountains. Between elevation sickness pills and more scrapes and bruises from scrambling over talus and scree, I feel like I need a greater safety net. The Uintas are notorious for mosquitoes as well!

    I definitely feel my choice and amount of clothing is impacted by mountain backpacking.

    I guess that in conclusion I'll be less envious of SUL and be appreciative of the protection that my UL kit provides in these more extreme conditions.

    #1986076
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Sara

    You may be missing the point just a bit. For the conditions in the Uintas your kit may already effectively be SUL. After all, the primary objective is not an arbitrary weight limit but a safe return.

    Yes, we know those sorts of conditions. Hail and snow on MidSummers Eve.

    Cheers

    #1986080
    David Ure
    Member

    @familyguy

    Excellent post, Sara!

    #1986112
    James Marco
    BPL Member

    @jamesdmarco

    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Yeah, I agree that mountains are different and require extra stuff you would not think of as necessary. 6 pounds is very minimal, I look foreward to the rest of the series. But, as Will and Ryan both have stated, the philosophy is identical. An arbitrary 6 pounds is not always the only criteria.

    #1986124
    Cayenne Redmonk
    BPL Member

    @redmonk

    Locale: Greater California Ecosystem

    I thought SUL was defined by an arbitrary weight limit, but now I learned its not.

    #1986274
    Paul Mason
    Member

    @dextersp1

    I'm not a member so I can't read the article.

    To me the one item that needs to be defined the first is the "Mountain Conditions" being prepared for – temperature range, altitude, snow?, ice, etc.

    April in north Ga is much different then April in Co.

    I'm in Co right now and hiking some 14ers. On a one day outing my pack can have snow shoes (with extenders) crampons, ice axe, 3 liters of water, PLB, etc

    Here is an old list of my equipment. Don't take it too literally when it comes to the wights – most were guesses. And many of the items I don't take on a day outing.

    http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=22194&hilit=+list

    PS – that list is old – take it with a grain of salt – I don't even think it has my PLB listed.

    #1986277
    Jim Colten
    BPL Member

    @jcolten

    Locale: MN

    I've been caught out in 1/4" hail a couple times … ouch. I would NOT expect to enjoy the experience in a bivvy typical of what you'll usually find used by your average BPLer, myself included.

    I weathered real golf ball sized hail in a tent once … in a forest so not 100% exposed. Holes punched in the fly … used an entire package of Coughlan's multi colored nylon repair tape making repairs. The tent lived on to become a great conversation starter when camped near other people;-)

    #1986281
    Daniel Fish
    Member

    @danielfishfamilypdx-com

    Locale: PDX

    #1986559
    Bill Segraves
    BPL Member

    @sbill9000-2

    "I'm thinking that the bivy would take less damage because it isn't pulled tight and the sleeping bag insulation would cushion the impact."

    I expect you're probably right, but I've seen what bad hail can do to light raingear (not pulled tight and with me to cushion the impact, in principle). It took me only ~ 5' to get to shelter, but there wasn't really anything left to duct tape. Looked like it'd been through a blender. (My hands didn't look too good either.) So if you want that bivy to survive nasty hail, it better not be the light stuff.

    Fortunately, these events seem to be rare and brief. And perhaps I'm kidding myself (anyone have any data?), but it seems like these events are usually in the afternoon in the mountains, well before I've set up my shelter. If heavy hail hit while I was under my shaped tarp, my immediate reaction would be pull the pole out and drop the tarp to the ground until the action was over. Arguments as to whether that's the right thing to do?

    Cheers,

    Bill S.

    #1986609
    Daniel Fish
    Member

    @danielfishfamilypdx-com

    Locale: PDX

    #1986679
    Bill Segraves
    BPL Member

    @sbill9000-2

    I hope I didn't alarm you more than appropriate with my hail blender story. It's not something I worry about myself. At all. I've only ever seen hail like that once in my life, and no one I know personally has ever seen it like that (other than my wife, who was with me). It even put a few holes in one of those heavy duty fiber-reinforced space blankets. This was a long time pre BPL (ergo the heavy duty space blanket – what were we thinking?) and pre-Houdini, so it wasn't a Houdini, but I don't think my Houdini would have fared any better.

    It was a one-time experience from which not too many lessons should be taken. The only one I take is that if marble-sized hail is coming down so hard that it feels like I'm getting shot then I gotta get any essential gear out of the way of it, too.

    It wouldn't make sense to carry a shelter that would have withstood that hail. You can't guard against everything and in the grand scheme, this isn't one of the biggest risks.

    Cheers,

    Bill S.

    PS – I love my Houdini, but it's not a rain jacket. You really want to rely on it in rainy conditions short of "non-stop rain"?

    #1986758
    Daniel Fish
    Member

    @danielfishfamilypdx-com

    Locale: PDX

    #1986806
    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member

    @dwambaugh

    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I'm with you on the Houdini plus fleece. I've used a Marmot Precip jacket which is pretty much a cheaper version of the Minimalist and the same weight class. Using a fleece mid-layer lets you vary the fleece to suit the season and conditions too.

    A GoLite poncho gives a 7oz rain option and you could throw that on top of the bivy if you wanted quick and dirty hail protection, or rig it as a lean-to or a-frame shelter over the bivy for more protection, cooking and changing clothing. You get a pack cover too. A poncho works great with the Houdini for arm and side protection. I'm carrying the poncho for day hiking CYA rain gear and emergency shelter.

    I'm without a decent light rain jacket at the moment. I got a deal on an REI Taku, which is darn heavy at 26oz, but it sure works for all day cruddy weather. I've got a Red Ledge microporous PU coated jacket that is 13oz and makes a cheap CYA jacket vs. the poncho. It is well ventilated, but I wouldn't relish spending long hours in PNW drizzle wearing it.

    I think rain gear choices should consider the hours of use. I could see using the 7oz wonders for short rain showers and to check off the rain gear box on the list for use in drier climates– a kind of high quality DriDucks really. But the lack of ventilation features a well as durability and cost issues make me doubtful about walking switchbacks in them for 12 hours at a time. Having effective, durable rain gear really changes the game when hiking in temperate coastal rain forests, extending the hiking season and getting down to life saving gear in many situations. I could spend as much time in my rain shell on a 3 day trip as someone in the Rockies might in a month.

    With all that time in a rain shell, the base and mid-layers need to be excellent at moisture transfer yet not be too warm. Hiking uphill in 45F-50F weather with light rain and 85% humidity needs excellent moisture management, but you don't get cold until you stop, or perhaps on exposed level traverses and downhill sections. Often, you find yourself making the choice between wet from sweat or rain and it's not going to be an hour long thing— it could be all day or DAYS. If I'm wearing a jacket, the front and any vents are open unless there is a real shower. You still have all the area trapped by your suspension that doesn't vent well. A windshirt can be okay on those days with sporadic misty drizzle, but the hours take their toll, and I'd rather use the poncho of the windshirt is going to wet through.

    The windshirt/fleece/poncho combo allows for a lot of ventilation and layering options. With my pack covered, it is dry when I take off my rain gear and strip down to base layer. If you hike with a jacket, the rain stops, you take the jacket off and don your pack that has a cold wet suspension– YUMMY! In extreme downpours, I have sat it out a the base of a tree, with my pack sitting between my legs and the poncho over all. When the deluge lets up, you can shake off the excess and be dry from head to toe, as well as your gear.

    #1987842
    Daniel Fish
    Member

    @danielfishfamilypdx-com

    Locale: PDX

    #1987864
    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member

    @dwambaugh

    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    You're welcome!

    Agreed on the variations on cold tolerance and metabolism. Aclimitization is a big part of it, as well as gender and just plain genes. I always remember Darwin writing about the native people of Terria del Fuego and the Europeans standing around a huge bonfire. The Europeans were freezing while wearing layers of wool while the locals were nearly naked and sweating from the heat of the fire. Your body adapts to extremes over time.

    The real thing to grasp about layering in the PNW is that it isn't that cold, but cold and wet enough to make hypothermia all too real. It is easy to over dress, and with the cold humidity you can soak your base layers and end up with a miserable combination. That's why I don't use down.

    I was walking yesterday in 50f intermittent light rain with a wp/breathable shell and just a light base layer under and long shorts. I opened all the vents in the shell while climbing uphill and battened down the hatches when my exertion dropped or stopped for photos. Everything around me was wet. When I did stop for a long break, I added a surplus military version of an R2 fleece. Cozy and dry :)

    Regarding ponchos and capes: I think they are highly effective rain gear, regardless of the lower cost and weight. Throw in the multi-purpose aspects and they become "free" weight in your system. With the Gatewood Cape, you have rain gear, pack cover and 360 degree shelter coverage for less weight than a typical 2.5 layer rain jacket.

    So why doesn't everyone use them? Ponchos can be troublesome in exposed windy conditions or heavy brush. Simply tucking them in with a belt of light line will tame them.

    But I think the real reason that ponchos aren't as popular is that they look bad. A Gatewood Cape can look like a wet salad coming down the trail and certainly no fashion statement. Ponchos are a Paleolithic design and about as close to throwing an animal skin over your head as we get in modern times. The bottom line is that they just don't look as pretty as a nice tailored and color coordinated Gore-Tex rain suit. But either cape or poncho will keep the rain at bay and ventilates well. There are no issues with impaired performance due to body oils or being washed in the wrong detergent, or the DWR wetting out. Field repairs are simple.

    A GoLite poncho will give head to knees rain protection plus pack cover and a workable emergency shelter for 7oz and $60. I do think you need to add a bivy to use a classic poncho for a primary shelter, but there's nothing better for summer day hike rain protection and backup shelter. You can rig one for a wind break or cook shelter in camp, or add vestibule to a tent , etc. Other than having the head hole, you have a 5×8 tarp to use when you don't need it for rain gear.

    #1988360
    Ben Pearre
    BPL Member

    @fugue137

    Fascinating, useful, inspiring: a good read. But if I may take the discussion back to the thread about redefining physics:

    As has been pointed out, the relationship between distance hiked and weight is nonlinear, but how close to linear is it if you count system weight rather than just pack weight? It's exciting to talk about getting your pack from 30 lbs down to 10 lbs, but this conveniently ignores the heaviest part of the system: you have NOT reduced your weight by 67%–you've actually just gotten your weight from, e.g., 200 lbs down to 180 lbs–a reduction of 10%. Subjectively it seems that this creates an improvement greater than the 10% suggested by the math (due to the vagaries of biped propulsion, I guess?), but it's not going to reduce your energy expenditure by anything like 66%. What is the real observable improvement? BPL seems the most likely candidate to do a useful study of this subject.

    I'd hazard a guess that some desideratum (e.g. distance hiked) is probably nearly linear (or probably affine, but that'd be interesting to know) over a "relevant" range (say, pack weights from 0 to 50 lbs). But it'd be nice to see what that linear-ish range actually is. It would make the whole cost vs. benefit analysis of carrying a tent vs. a tarp, or investing $x in lighter gear, far more compelling!

    The human is a source of some difficulty: we change over time, we're probably optimised for whatever weight we normally carry, and if we lose 5 lbs, the way in which we lost it affects our output. So one study might concern keeping people as constant as possible (or averaging over large numbers and controlling for changes in fitness and weight) and measuring distance hiked with varying weights over some "laboratory standard" terrain, and another might be "What's the best way to lower your body weight for backpacking?" Here I suggest focusing on the first one, just because it seems to directly address Will's, um, artistic license.

    The data will be extremely noisy, so this would not be a small undertaking. But I think it'd be extremely enlightening (ha).

    #1988373
    David Ure
    Member

    @familyguy

    Not to mention the human body fluctuates by 5-7 pounds daily being relatively sedentary.

    #1988516
    Daniel Fish
    Member

    @danielfishfamilypdx-com

    Locale: PDX

    #1988590
    Bill Segraves
    BPL Member

    @sbill9000-2

    "As has been pointed out, the relationship between distance hiked and weight is nonlinear, but how close to linear is it if you count system weight rather than just pack weight? (snip) I'd hazard a guess that some desideratum (e.g. distance hiked) is probably nearly linear (or probably affine, but that'd be interesting to know) over a "relevant" range (say, pack weights from 0 to 50 lbs)."

    I'd make more or less the same guess (~linear wrt system weight), with potential adjustment at the low and high ends, to allow for the possibility that very low weights, carried in a biomechanically efficient manner, may have a lower cost/unit, and that 50 lbs may be higher than the threshold at which most people's biomechanics starts to break down.

    It's a very interesting and complex question (by my estimate, an equation describing energy expenditure per unit distance over hilly terrain might have as many as nine terms), and one that's clearly important if one wants to quantify the impact of a given decrease in pack weight.

    There's some decent relevant literature out there. If anyone's interested in exploring it with me offline, PM me.

    Best,

    Bill S.

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