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Going Light
7 days & 35 pounds

Are you tired of packing 50 or maybe even 60 pounds on a seven day ski tour? Here are some tips on going light. Sure you have to make a few sacrifices, but consider how much more you will enjoy the skiing and the beauty of the mountains in winter.

Let me preface this essay by stating that I'm 5-foot 8-inches and the weights are based on my gear, which is not necessarily the lightest nor the heaviest. Most important, remember that going light does not mean going without. You must always be prepared for the unexpected (accidents, bad weather, and maybe even an extra night or two out).

Although everything I say applies to fall, winter, and spring, the sacrifices required by going light are less noticeable in the spring when the days are longer (less time in tents), the weather is generally milder (don't have to crawl into your sleeping bag so early), and there's often sun for drying things.

The Basics

Your pack and sleeping bag will probably be the two heaviest items you carry other than food. There is also a great variation in their weights from one to another depending on the material, buckles, zippers, straps, and other features. Remember that heavy packcloth is not only heavy, but difficult at best to waterproof. Lighter, finer-weave packcloth is better, but keep in mind that all the stitching, zippers, and flaps on a pack still make them susceptible to leaking.

The weight of sleeping bags also vary a great deal. Some of my friends do spring tours in the Sierra with amazingly light sleeping bags that would barely keep me warm enough in summer. I'm the other extreme using a Western Mountaineering Gortex™ Middle Bag with extra down (it's warm!). It is no longer available, but fortunately it has been replaced with some fine Dryloft™ bags from Western Mountaineering.

Keeping your sleeping bag dry is critical to survival when you are traveling light in the winter. Gortex™ or Dryloft™ on the outside and/or a vapor barrier (a thin coated nylon sack) on the inside are excellent ways to accomplish this.

One of the easiest places to cut weight is in your sleeping pad. Until recently I always carried only a 3/8-inch thick blue foam pad that is hip length (8 oz). I would empty my pack at night and place it under my legs, and I place my extra clothes under my sleeping bag. Not the most comfort in the world, but very light.

In May 2008, on a 6-day ski trip from North Lake near Bishop to Rock Creek south of Mammoth, I switched to a Thermarest ProLite 4 (the short version) for comfort and warmth. It weighs 17 oz. I also carried a Evazote Bivy Sleeping Pad. It weighs 5.5 oz. The 59 x 20 x 3/16-inch (5 mm) thick closed-cell foam pad is great to sit on around camp and is perfect under your Thermarest at night. In the unfortunate situation that your Thermarest leaks you at least have this thin layer for warmth and cushion (not much, but better than nothing). The Evazote is so thin that you can fold it length-wise, then roll it up and finally stuff it inside your pack if you have room. The Thermarest folds and rolls the same way. Total weight is 22.5 oz for the Thermarest and Evazote. The bad news is that the only readily available source of Evazote is Mountain Equipment Co-op in Canada.

Item Description
Weight (oz)
   
Pack (GoLite Odyssey) 56
Side pockets for pack 13
Pack cover 4
Sleeping Bag 56
Thermarest ProLite 4 (short version) 17
Evazote Bivy Sleeping Pad (59 x 20 x 3/16-inch) 5
   
Sub-total 151
(9 lb 7 oz)

Clothes

The rule with clothes is "if you can't layer it, don't take it." Before you leave home try putting on, at one time, all the clothes you plan to take. If you can't get it on, then leave it at home. One exception to this rule is spare socks and gloves.

The philosophy of no extra clothes requires that you be very careful to keep everything dry. Using this method you quickly realize that the only difference between the clothes you would take on a spring trip in the Sierra and a winter trip in the Rockies is the weight of the clothes, not the quantity. Remember, if worse comes to worst, holding up in a tent in a warm sleeping bag until the sun shines is always an alternative assuming you have sufficient food, which you should be carrying.

In the list that follows no weight is given for items which are worn while skiing and are denoted by an asterisk (*). Obviously this will vary depending on the weather and your exercise level.

Item Description
Weight (oz)
   
Head  
Baseball cap with extension to cover neck *
Balaclava (lightweight) 2
   
Chest  
Polypro turtleneck zip-front shirt *
Pile pullover jacket (lightweight) 18
Down vest (down jacket weighs 7 oz more) 13
Gortex™ jacket (lightweight) 14
   
Legs  
Gortex™ pants *
Thermal underwear (lightweight) 6
Pile pants (lightweight) 9
   
Hands  
Liner gloves *
Ski gloves 5
Ski mitts 5
   
Feet  
Liner socks (2 spare pairs) 3
Outer socks (1 spare pair) 3
Down booties 9
Ski boots *
   
Sub-total 87
(5 lb 7 oz)

Community Equipment

The following list of community equipment is based on three people per tent and two tents; that's a total of six people. The weight per person changes depending on the ratio of people to tents and whether a second stove is carried when there is only one tent (normally it's one stove per tent).

An easy way to save weight is to leave your conventional tent at home and take a Black Diamond Mega Light. This tent is simply a four-sided teepee with no floor and accommodates three people comfortably. Visit "A One Pound Tent for Snow camping" for more information on this alternative including how to pitch it in the snow.

In general my friends and I take one stove per tent. If there is only one tent we might take a second stove as a precaution. One pint of fuel per person seems to be enough for a week provided you (1) melt snow and boil water only (requires using "add boiling water only" foods), (2) are very careful not to waste fuel, and (3) find some running water (in spring this is often possible). You will probably want to increase this to 1-1/2 pints for safety or a quart if you don't expect to find any running water.

The list of community equipment does not include a water filter. Clean snow that is melted should not contain giardia. Lake or creek water is purified by boiling prior to adding to dehydrated foods, and drinking water can be purified with tablets if you are concerned. On the six person, six-day trip in May 2008 that I mentioned earlier, all water was obtained from lakes and creeks except for one campsite — no one contracted giardia.

Item Description
Weight (oz)
   
Shelter  
Megamid (2 x 24 oz/6) - Black Diamond Mega Light is lighter 8
Tent stakes (8 x 2 oz/6) 3
   
Cooking  
Stove (MSR) (2 x 16 oz/6) 5
Insulating pad for stove (not necessary with some stoves) nil
Fuel bottle plus 1-1/2 pints fuel 31
Pot (2 x 14 oz/6) 5
   
Emergency and navigation  
Group first aid kit (24 oz/6) 4
Repair kit (48 oz/6) 8
GPS (7 oz/6) 1
   
Sub-total 65
(4 lb 1 oz)

Food

In the simplest terms, I eat "add boiling water only" foods for breakfast and dinner, and heavier foods containing fats at lunch. Sticking to this I know 1-1/2 pounds (24 oz) of food per day is more than I can ever eat and I can get by with 1 pound (16 oz) per day.

After getting all my food together I weigh it and compare the total to what I know is reasonable for me to consume. For a seven-day trip and allowing for a full extra eighth day, there are really only seven full days plus one additional lunch (7 breakfasts, 8 lunches and 7 dinners. Seven times 18 oz plus 8 oz for the extra lunch totals 134 oz.

Many people have trouble paring down their food. One suggestion is to not bundle several meals together. Set out each meal separately. On some mornings you might eat two oatmeals or two granola bars or some dried fruit or .... But are you really going to eat that much of each item each day? Taking a bag of candy can be deceptive; if you're going to eat two pieces per day you only need 14.

Don't just eyeball a piece of cheese or salami; figure out how much you need. If you eat 1 ounce of salami and 2 ounces of cheese per day then you need a total of 24 ounces for eight lunches. I even go so far as figuring that the first day and in some case the last day are not full days so I don't need as much food.

However, keep in mind that I'm not advocating short rations. I even believe in taking some spare food. Keep in mind that one full day of extra food can keep you comfortable for more than one day if you are holding up in a tent and not exercising.

For me the key to drinking enough water is adding flavoring to the otherwise yucky melted snow in plastic bottles. Carrying sugared drink mixes can easily add a pound or more, and it's a poor way to get calories. Alternatives are to use artificially sweetened drinks or add a small amount of ascorbic acid which can be carried in powder form. I've got hooked on Crystal Light™ peach tea.

Speaking of water, here's a trick I've learned that allows me to reduce the water I carry to 1 quart. With breakfast I consume as much water as possible. This usually comes in the form of a soup and/or hot chocolate plus a dehydrated dinner. Yep, I hate oatmeal and granola bars for breakfast so I eat a dehydrated dinner for breakfast. Then I make up 1 quart of Crystal Light™ peach tea and consume it before leaving camp. I finish it within an hour of leaving camp if I haven't finished before leaving camp. With this done I can get by with 1 quart of water for the remainder of a fairly long day of skiing. The key to stretching your water throughout the day is never to guzzle, but rather take sips when your throat is dry.

The number one thing I have learned is not to take any food which I know I do not like. If you don't eat something because you don't like it, then it's just extra weight. If you have trouble finding breakfast foods that are appetizing, take lunch or dinner foods for breakfast. As already mentioned, I recently switched to dinner food for breakfast and love it. Also you add a lot of water to dehydrated dinners so you are getting that added benefit in the morning before setting out to ski.

Also available on this website is an interesting essay on the caloric content of foods. You'll probably find the results surprising.

Item Description
Weight (oz)
   
Food 134
Nalgene hydrator (wide mouth) 6
Water (1 quart x 32 oz / 2 ... averaged throughout the day you are only carrying half of the water) 16
   
Sub-total 156
(9 lb 12 oz)

Miscellaneous Items

This section includes all the miscellaneous items that each individual will probably need to be carrying. It is assumed that you are skiing in avalanche terrain and therefore everyone is carrying an avalanche beacon. This requires that everyone carry a snow shovel and an avalanche probe. This is the worse case; you can go lighter if you are skiing in more benign terrain.

Item Description
Weight (oz)
   
Ski equipment  
Skis *
Boots *
Poles *
Climbing skins 16
   
Emergency and navigation  
Avalanche beacon *
Avalanche probe 9
Snow shovel 24
Snow saw (6 oz/6) 1
Compass *
Altimeter (now available in watches) *
Maps (estimate) 3
   
Other  
Headlamp 3
Knife 3
Spoon 1
Cup (2 cup measuring cup) 3
Extra wide mouth water bottle for camp (carry empty) 6
Glacier glasses *
Sun screen 2
Lip cream nil
Personal first aid kit 9
Toilet paper 5
Stuff sacks for odds and ends 8
Camera 8
   
Sub-total 101
(6 lb 5 oz)

Difficult Trips

Many trans-Sierra type ski tours cross difficult passes and unknown country. Sometimes an ice ax is a necessary piece of equipment. Other times you may want to carry a rope or even crampons. These items are not included in the total weight.

Grand Total = 35 pounds 0 ounces

Hopefully this essay has given you ideas on how to limit the weight of your pack on a multi-day snow camping trip. What works for you may be different. Also, it is not meant to be an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of equipment.

Marcus Libkind

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