ArticlesThe Lightweight Philosophy

Much Ado About Nothing or Very Little at Least – Gear Lists

Bryan Hansel relaxes on Lake Alice in the BWCA
Bryan Hansel relaxes on Lake Alice in the BWCA

Every philosophy, even those grounded in skills, like Nessmuking, must evaluate the gear that they utilize. Even Nessmuk produced a core list, evaluated gear, and added up the weights. For most philosophies, this is where you are left. As stated before the Nessmuking philosophy doesn’t start and end with the discussing of the merits of this and that gear, but as with every pursuit that requires equipment, the right gear can make wilderness travel easier. The following gear list has been tried and tested using the lightweight Nessmuking philosophy on over 1200 miles of paddling and hiking trips in a multitude of locations, including the Black Hills, the Smoky Mountains, and the Boundary Waters. Each item of gear has been reduced to its minimum for a reasonable level of comfort before the gear level becomes roughing it. There are lighter weight kits out there, but they should be reserved strictly to those who have a perfect mastery of the core skills of wilderness travel and survival as outlined in Nessmuking. So, let’s delve into the list of all lists.

Tally Ho

This gear list is split into seven sections: Cook System, Packing System, Sleep System, Shelter, Clothing System, Others, and Luxuries. Each section will discuss the merits of choosing the outlined system. In some cases, when there is a disadvantage in using the outlined gear, it will be stated. Remember, all this gear has been used successfully in a multitude of conditions, including snow, rain, cold, and heat. If you have ever been on an expedition with me, you know next time to plan your trip before or after mine, because I attracted the worst conditions.

The Breakfast Club – A Cooking System

The most basic of cooking systems would be not to have a cooking system. One can plan an entire trip with food that you don’t have to cook, but on most trips, a hot meal at the start or end of the day can restart your engine. Also, in conditions that could produce hypothermia the skill of starting a fire and the ability to warm up liquid is important in helping to treat a person either suffering or on the verge of suffering from hypothermia. This cooking system also includes a way to treat water other than by boiling it.

To these ends, this cooking system is based around an alcohol-burning stove. This particular stove is simple to build from two soda cans, inexpensive, and functions well. It will boil a quart of water depending on the conditions in around 6 or 7 minutes on one ounce of fuel. The windscreen is also the pot supporter. A quart is generally all the water needed for a meal for two, and if you need to boil more you can always start a small cooking fire.
The pot and lid combo is one part of a Titanium Snowpeak set. This is one of the lightest most durable pot sets available. The second pot can be added for less than 4 ounces more. The Ti Spoon is light and easy to eat off of.
The windscreen rolls up and fits inside the pot set, which also holds the stove, and lighter. All of this can be stored inside the Pot Cozy, which was built out of an old Thermarest Link Rest to fit the pot perfectly. This cozy protects the pan from the inevitable jarring that result from storing packs in the bottom of a canoe. It also is an important part of the cooking system. Using one and a half ounces of fuel to cook a meal allows you to boil one quart of water then place the pot with water inside the cozy. This will keep the meal cooking or the water hot while you continue to heat half a quart of water in another pan over the remaining fuel for use in a hot drink. The water in the second pan won’t boil, but it will be warm enough for a good cup of hot cocoa.

A controversial choice for water treatment for lightweight travelers is the Miox Water Purifier by MSR. It operates by using salt-water and electrical current to produce a mixed oxidant, which is what many municipal water treatment plants produce. This mixed oxidant is poured into the water to be treated and 20 minutes later, you have water ready to drink. It does take four hours to destroy crypto, but a good system is all you need to make this work. Fill two quarts per person before you go to bed and by morning, you will have two quarts ready to drink. Drink one in the morning and fill up again. Drink the second quart from the night before by lunch, and then the quart you filled in the morning will be ready to drink. Fill up by noon, etc… This may not seem like the simplest choice, but it weighs only 4 ounces and when combined with a Pristine or Aqua-Mira backup you have an 8 ounces water purification system that is easy to use and dependable.
Platy water bottles are the lightest most durable containers out there. The new ergonomical shape fits perfectly into your hand and is easy to drink out of.

The only disadvantage of this system is the requirement of the use of batteries, and the Red Bull Can Power Stove doesn’t have an adjustable flame. If you are a gourmet cook, then you may want to consider a canister stove and pay a slight penalty in weight. If cooking for four or more people, a canister stove is the lightest option. White gas stoves are best when cooking for groups of 6 or more – pack two stoves, so everyone’s meals can be cooked at once. It may not be light, but you will save yourself some hassle.

  • COOKING SYSTEM Weight (oz.)
  • Pot support/windscreen 1
  • Snowpeak 1 quart pot/lid 5.7
  • Red Bull Can Power Stove 0.6
  • Ti Spoon 0.7
  • Pot Cozy 2.7
  • 16 oz fuel bottle 0.9
  • MSR Miox 4
  • 8 matches 0.1
  • Bic Lighter 0.8
  • Pristine Two-Part Backup 3
  • Towel (1/2) 1.4
  • Food Stuff Sacks 0.6
  • 2 Platys 1 liter 2
  • Total 23.5

A Little Canvas, A Brass Tack, and Some Leather

There are lighter packs available, but a canvas and leather Duluth Pack reeks with tradition and fits perfectly into the bottom of a canoe. The Northwoods style with a custom waist belt is large enough for all the gear on this list and 15 to 20 days of food. The custom waist belt replaces the tumpline, a strap that rides slightly above your forehead to take weight off of your back. Some canoeists still swear by the tumpline by claiming that a properly carried pack will ride without pain, but a waist belt takes less skill, and carries a load as comfortably as a tumpline.
The trick to loading a Duluth pack is building a frame into it by rolling your semi-inflated Thermarest or sleeping pad and inserting it into the pack. Then load all your gear into the pack inside the sleeping pad. The sleeping pad becomes the frame of the pack and also extra protection for your gear against the loading and unloading of the pack for portages.
A custom made Northwoods pack built with Sil Nylon and padded straps would make an excellent pack for someone with the ambition and knowledge to sew one, and it would be much lighter than the three pound canvas and leather pack.

Although the Northwoods pack is about the best pack for canoe trips, it does suffer from not being waterproof, which on a canoe trip is important. The best way to waterproof this pack is to line the pack with a contractor’s trash bag. After the pack is loaded twist the top five or six times, double the twisted section over and secure it with an extra large rubber band. Some canoeists avoid all this waterproofing by leaving the canvas packs in the past; they use Seal Line waterproof Boundary Packs. These packs carry less comfortably than the Northwoods pack, and are not as durable.

This Bed Is Too Soft, and This Bed Is Just Right

The Mountain Smith Wisp sleeping bag is rated for 35-degree temperatures, but when used in combination with a fleece worn to bed, it is fine for temperatures down to around 25 degrees. This sleeping bag packs small and doesn’t take up much room in the pack. Using a bag that packs this small in combination with a fleece, that you would bring along anyway, or a Marmot DriClime Windshirt when the temperature drops, leaves extra room for more food. This extra room allows for longer trips into the wilderness without having to bring a second pack.
For a sleeping pad that complements the Wisp, choose the Thermarest Ultra Light or the new Prolite 3 model. These pads are comfortable and when partially inflated they make a great frame for the pack. As you can see with this system, parts from different categories work together in providing comfort without sacrificing light weights.

  • SLEEP SYSTEM Weight (oz.)
  • Thermarest Prolite 3 Short 13
  • Mountain Smith Wisp 21
  • Stuff Sack .9
  • Total 34.9

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff and Your Tarp Is Made of Brick

There is nothing revolutionary about using a tarp as a shelter. In fact, many Boy Scouts are sent out into the woods every year with nothing more and told to survive for the night. When used properly the Integral Designs 8 x 10 SilTarp is one the most weatherproof and strong shelters out there. A simple rectangular tarp can be configured in countless ways to become a shelter. I prefer to set it up in three different ways depending on the expected weather. If it is warm and humid set it up as a lean-to with the front and two sides open. This is airy and protects against the surprise rain. If the weather is incremental run a line down the center of the tarp and secure it to two paddles; one at each end, stake out the four corners. Then using two guy lines anchored to the center of each side of the tarp pull the sides out for extra headroom. I sleep wall to wall in this configuration. The third way to set up the tarp is when the weather is looking terrible. Paddles are too long for this one, so you have to find one stick about 3 feet tall. Stake out three corners of the tarp, and then force the center of the tarp up using the 3-foot stick. This will make the tarp look like a tepee. Take a paddle and use it to lift an opening in the front of the tarp along the ridgeline. Then stake out the last corner and use a guy line running from the paddle to the ground. This final configuration provides a storm proof shelter with a single door.
A Neatsheet rounds out the package by serving duty as a ground cloth. This sheet works great as a picnic blanket for lunch also.
If you expect mosquitoes and black flies, make sure that you bring some type of bug netting to protect you during the night from countless bites.

  • SHELTER SYSTEM Weight (oz.)
  • Integral Design SilTarp 8×10 15.9
  • Stuff sack 0.4
  • Stakes (6) 3.7
  • Extra Guy Line 1
  • Neatsheet 9.9
  • Total 30.9

There, Doctor, a Little Gauze, Please

The other items that you shouldn’t be without during a trip are DermaGel Hand Sanitizer, a flashlight, a knife, a med kit, and a compass. Of these additional items, the DermaGel Hand Sanitizer is probably the most important in helping to prevent illness. Most stomach illnesses in the wilderness result from fecal contamination of food. This results from the lack of sanitizing hand after going to the bathroom. Use the DermaGel after every bathroom trip and before cooking or eating. Make sure that if anyone else is doing the cooking, they all use the sanitizer. A second use of the DermaGel is as an emergency fire starter. It burns great.
A simple compass is the best. The Brunton 3DLU Nexus Expedition Compass is a classic. It has all the important USGS scales on it, and it has a declination scale. If you are expecting difficult map reading take the Brunton Eclipse Compass, which is by far one of the finest compasses on the market.
To round out the easy extras, the Princeton Tec Aurora Headlight is bright, gets long battery life, and is light. A Spyderco Knife is light, and stays sharp on an expedition. An inch and a half to two inches is the perfect blade size.
One of the hardest choices for a trip is what to bring in a first aid kit. There are many off the shelf options available, but I find them often over stocked. If you have proper first aide training, you will be able to get by with less, as long as you are willing to sacrifice clothing as necessary for bandages.

  • TP 3.8
  • DermaGel Sanitizer 2.6
  • Compass 0.9
  • Toothbrush 0.6
  • Toothpaste 0.9
  • Dr. Bronner’s 1.7
  • Glide Floss 0.4
  • Stuff Sack 0.8
  • Sewing Kit 0.6
  • —–Thread, tweezers, 2 safety pins 0.6
  • —–needles, 2 pins
  • Duct Tape (3/4 wide) 1.1
  • Medical Kit 0.9
  • —–Diarrhea Medicine
  • —–Tylenol tablets (2)
  • —–3 Antiseptic wipes
  • —–2 2×2 in gauze
  • —–3 Band-Aids
  • —–2 knuckle bandage
  • —–1 2×3 in moleskin
  • —–1 Anti Ointment
  • Ripstop repair tape (2inch wide) 0.3
  • Stuff Sack 0.8
  • Princeton Tec Aurora 3
  • Knife 1.5
  • Trowel
  • Total 19.9

You Look Absolutely Fabulous

A clothing system should be lightweight, simple, but versatile. To these ends, I wear The North Face zip off convertible pants and wear The North Face Vapor Wick T-shirt. Then I supplement by layering additional clothing over the base as dictated by the weather. Marmot’s Precip Jackets and Pants are among the lightest and most breathable waterproof suits out there. They perform consistently in all temperatures and all kinds of precipitation. A Marmot DriClime Windshirt is the best jacket on the market bar none. It can be used as a shell in scattered showers, a base layer, a mid-weight layer, and as extra insulation. On most of my trips during the fall and spring, this jacket gets used 24 hours a day as a coat during the day and as a pillow at night. If there is only one item for wilderness travel you buy this year, the Marmot DriClime Windshirt should be it. During winter travels or in cold conditions, I also pack a Sierra Designs Black Ice Jacket. This is one of the new soft shells coming on the market. It often only gets used in camp as an extra layer of warmth.

  • Marmot Precip Jkt 12.3
  • Marmot Precip Pant 7.4
  • Marmot DriClime Windshirt 11.1
  • Fleece Camp Socks 2.6
  • Lifa long undies 5.1
  • Driclime Long Slv T zip neck 9
  • Fleece Hat 1.4
  • Wxtec Dry Bag 3.6
  • NRS Neoprene Gloves 4
  • Black Wicking Gloves 2
  • Total 58.5

Something’s Got To Give

All this lightweight gear cuts out the plush items that many travelers are used to, but that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on everything. I always bring a book, a notebook to journal write in, and a pen. After all, if you love to read, like I do, why give that up when you’re in the woods?

  • Book 7.4
  • Glasses and Case 2.1
  • Notebook 5
  • Pen 0.4
  • Total 14.9

All Competitors Must Weight In

This system of gear weighs a total of about 14.5 pounds, which is pretty darn light. Figure an additional 1.5 to 2 pounds a day for food. On a ten-day trip, you will be carrying only 34 pounds in your portage pack. This makes it easy to carry your 30 to 40 pound Kevlar canoe and all your gear across the portages in a single trip, and if you travel with a friend, they can carry the pack and you can carry the canoe. The two of you will have less than 100 pounds of gear, including life vests, paddles, the canoe, and camping gear. Although, not as light as Nessmuk’s list, it is a significant improvement in weight over the kits that you normally see being used. Try it, you may find that you like a simple lightweight trip better.

  • Item — Weight (oz.)
  • Cooking system 23.5
  • Pack 48
  • Sleep System 34.9
  • Shelter 30.9
  • Clothing System 58.5
  • Others 19.9
  • Luxuries 14.9
  • Total — 14.41 pounds

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One comment

  • […] resistance at this weight. Now, if he were only to drop his camping gear weight to that equal with this list, he would drop 21 pounds out of his kayak and he would be generating around 3.45 pounds of drag. […]

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