Gear ~ Single-edge razor blade
Generic Single-edge razor blade — 3.9 grams
One of the fundamental human tools – the wedge – doesn’t show off simple refinement better than this. Useful for trimming gear, First Aid surgery, and other basic tasks that need a super-sharp blade. Oddly enough, shaving is no longer one of them. They’re both delicate and dangerous, but when it’s the right tool for the job, a single-edge blade is indispensable.
Gear – Scissors
Victorinox SwissCard™ Scissors — 6.7 grams
These are the endlessly useful, remarkably sharp, effective, and durable scissors from Victorinox™, maker of the venerable Swiss Army™ knife. It’s the stand-alone version of the tool found on many models of Swiss Army knives that comes in the credit card-sized Victorinox SwissCard. (I also like the Swiss Army™ tweezers, but usually leave the rest of the stuff behind). (more…)
Gear – Tweezers
Swiss Army® tweezers — 0.9 grams
Tweezers are the right tool for the job, when the job is pulling some tiny sliver or thorn from wherever it’s painfully hiding. Fortunately, it’s a relatively infrequent little task, but I’ve rarely walked very far without meeting a brier patch along the way. This “insurance” tool should be considered for your first aid kit.
One of my favorites is the simple one-piece precision Uncle Bill’s (more…)
Gear – Whistle
Fox 40 Micro Pealess Safety Whistle — 4.8 grams
Here’s a nice little piece of insurance, a basic communication and signaling device. Like all emergency gear that you hope to never need, if you ever do, it has to perform reliably. A whistle is basic safety gear, an essential on remote trails for summoning help and rescue, but also potentially useful in any town or city in the world for warding off danger.
To make the most of your whistle, which has limited musical range, learn the International Whistle Signaling Code.
Gear – Digital Scale
Once you decide to lighten your load, the first essential equipment is something you’ll never carry on trail – a good digital scale. There are all sorts of them to choose from, but here are some basic features needed to weigh the various gear and clothing components of your ultralight (let’s hope!) packing list.
I use a scale that measures increments of a tenth of a gram, to a maximum of 500 grams. Ideally, get one that has grams and whatever other units are meaningful to you, such as ounces. Increments of .1 grams yield exceedingly precise measurements. For those who don’t think OBSESSIVE is always spelled in ALL CAPS, just round to the nearest whole gram.
Gear – Knife
Opinel® Folding Knife, N° 06 — 28 grams
A knife is among the most basic and useful tools and one of the essentials I carry. Say “pocketknife”, and you’re likely to think of the famous Swiss Army knife from Victorinox®. Though undoubtedly useful for one thing or another, they have never been my first choice.
A basic Swiss Army knife weighs 75 grams (2.7 ounces) and has two stainless steel blades – 55mm and 35mm (2 inches and 1.4 inches). It also has various screwdrivers, an awl, toothpick, scissors and tweezers. In my experience these last two are the most useful gadgets on board, but overall, these ubiquitous red tool kits are stuffed with too many little gadgets that I don’t need; the stainless blades are too short and they don’t hold a keen edge very well. And did I mention 75 grams?
My favorite is the little pocket knife made by French manufacturer Opinel®. (more…)
Gear and Loathing
Or is it Fear and Clothing?
One of the first steps in becoming an ultralight hiker is taking control of your gear. Most backpacking gear and clothing is manufactured to appeal to as wide a market as possible, which seems like a reasonable business imperative, and at least to some extent, keeps consumer prices lower – better economies of scale. In doing this, there’s a tendency to add “features”, some utilitarian (but not necessarily useful for you) and some purely for fashion and marketing (they look cool).
There has been an ongoing trend for many (most?) of the big outdoor apparel and equipment manufacturers to slap “ultralight”, “featherweight” and similarly loaded adjectives onto entire lines of merchandise. Initially, some of these products weigh less than earlier offerings, but thereafter another trend takes over. Each season, the gear seems to get bigger, more robust, feature-packed, and HEAVIER! Memo to whoever you are – “This is not helping us, guys! (and gals!)”
Trimming the fat
Here’s an example of taking an off-the-shelf piece of clothing and making it more suitable for its intended use. I like wearing a vest on the trail to distribute the weight of my gear and to keep certain things at hand, like my camera, trail guide, compass, etc. It’s nice to have a few pockets for organization, but too many just complicates things — “hmmn… where did I put the lip balm this time?
Here’s a snapshot of a vest I found on sale at an Army Surplus store. It has 14 pockets, inside and out, including one in the back that’s not much use when I’m carrying a pack. It has all sorts of zippers, flaps, velcro closures, snaps, epaulets – everything! Beside just adding weight, the extra layers of fabric make this vest hotter to wear. In size Large, it weighs 432 grams (over 15 oz.) off the rack. But after a pleasant half hour in the garden with my trusty scissors and single-edge razor blade, the new, streamlined vest weighs only 277 grams (less than 10 oz.)! That’s a weight reduction of 5.5 ounces (155 grams) from a single piece of clothing that now better fits my needs and is more comfortable to wear.