Backpacking Light – Wilderness Trekking School – WS1-LWB 2010

Over a weekend in late July and early August Chris Wallace and I had the opportunity to instruct a group of excited students in the ways and (dare I say) art of ultralight backpacking.  We were working on behalf of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School and operated a three day course out of Jackson Hole Wyoming in the Bridger Teton National Forest. 

Chris and I have had the opportunity of backpacking together previously and regularly exchange gear-related chats via various Internet channels so I know what his strengths were.  He is a gear and nutrition nerd, plain and simple.  Ask him a question about a piece of gear and he will provide you a well-researched and fact-based explanation of it.  Ask him a question about caloric density of food or what he suggests as a ratio of protein to fat to carbs and he’ll have an answer for that as well. 

Chris provides a good balance to my style which is a bit looser.  I know gear also but from a more theoretical point of view basing my knowledge more on fabrics generalities and broad design elements rather than specific brands.  I’m also blessed with having spent myriad days in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains and having walked thousands of trail miles with only a map as my guide.

I was able to offer up to our students a light-hearted, humorous attitude with an anecdote for just about every situation and Chris was able to provide qualitative, verifiable data for any and all serious questions posed by our more technical students.

The students who enrolled in our course were of a broad background.  We had semi-retirees from Florida, vagabonds from Wyoming, alpine enthusiasts from Oregon, and a solo-trekker from Quebec.  The students were well-versed in a good chunk of info regarding the ultralight backpacking ethos but all yearned for more and also particularly wished to put these techniques into practice in the backcountry and have help doing such from instructors like Chris and myself who’ve done so many times.  According to post-course feedback we were successful. 

But enough with all this writing – – let’s look at some photos because we all know they’re worth a thousand words.  For full photo set please visit my Flickr photo page.

Teton Mountain Range
Gossamer Gear Spinn Twinn

 Charlie and the rising sun.
Have you been hiking near the Tetons?  You really should you know.
 I can see your Tetons from here.

Backpacking Light – Wilderness Trekking School – WS2-BSA 2010

Backpacking Light classroom training sessionCold, snowy, rainy, sunny, repeat. That is a Montana spring and this past weekend was no exception. Ryan Connelly, Sam Haraldson, Ryan Jordan, Mike Martin, and Chris Wallace of Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Trekking School came together with Doug Prosser, Phil Barton, and Pat Starich to instruct twelve Boy Scouts of America scoutmasters from around the country in the ways of ultralight backpacking.

The starting point of our trek was near Dupuyer, Montana on the Eastern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and it’s 1,009,356 acres (4,085 km²). The focus of the weekend trip was mostly to instruct an already skilled set of scoutmasters in ways they can lighten their pack weights as well as ways for them to transfer these lessons to the scouts in their troop. This task was accomplished by a half-day of classroom instruction, two days and two nights in the field, and an indoor debriefing session.

Squirrel Patrol

The group split into two patrols consisting of nine members and set off into the Eastern front of the Rocky Mountains and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our starting point was the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch owned by the Boone and Crockett Club. SamThe first night was spent on the ranch followed the next day by travels into “The Bob” via the North Fork of Dupuyer Creek drainage.

A combination of ranch roads, trails, and off-trail routes was taken with the group exhibiting excellent skills in map and compass navigation. Both nights provided absolutely choice camping spots with excellent views, sources of water, and comfortable eating and sleeping options.

May in Montana requires quality gear choices as the group encountered nearly all possible weather types – – with warm and sunny being the least of our troubles. Blizzarding snow, cold rain, and sun were all to be dealt with at one time or another and most hikers wore a long-sleeve baselayer and windshirt or rain shell for the duration of the trip.

Side View of Walling Reef

All in all the views were superb and the weather was kept at bay with quality tarp and pyramid pitches as well as a warming campfire in the mornings and evenings. Although inquisitive the participants skill-set was no laughing matter as all in attendance were well-prepared with both gear and intelligence. The conversations amongst participants and the ideas shared between them became just as, if not more important than the formal instruction taking place.

View the entire Flickr photo set at Wilderness Trekking – WS2-BSA – 2010-05-21.


Lance, Ryan, and DougRyan Instructs some packing techniques







Ultralight Shelters


Researching, Planning, and Remembering Trips – Part One

In the past few years I’ve found the best way to maximize the amount of enjoyment I gain from a backpacking trip is to spend time before the trip researching, mapping, and planning. Then, upon my return home I opt to spend time cataloging, memorializing, and sharing the trip through my Web site, a photo-sharing site, and a trip-sharing site.

This is the first of a two-part blog series in which I will discuss my pre and post trip processes. If you find all of this silly and would prefer to read only about activities during a backpacking trip, feel free to explore this site as I have dozens of trips cataloged herein.

Part One: Planning and Research
My research and trip planning involves a multi-pronged approach, but the most time is spent poring over maps, both paper and digital. I generally start the process using a large-scale area map to hone into the particular mountain range, drainage, or zone that I’d like to explore. After that has been determined I scale down the area of precision using my computer.

I primarily use the Google Earth software with a free USGS topographic map overlay installed. Once I’ve zoomed in on the area I determined to explore I use a series of Google Earths tools to map out my route and points of interest. I first make the USGS topo layer visible so that I can see any trails or other man-made features that are present in the area I want to explore. I next trace my chosen route into a new Earth layer using the “Add Path” tool. I turn the topo layer on and off to see how my route looks on the satellite image as well as on the map image. Next I use the Google Earth “Add Placemark” tool to mark the location of trailheads, possible campsites, or other locations of note along my route.

Within the Google Earth software I organize my routes within a folder structure. I have a folder for each of the states in which I’ve done trips. Within the folder for the particular state are sub-folders that are based on areas, whether that be a mountain range, a long trail, or a park. For instance in my folder entitled Montana there are sub-folders for the Bridger Mountains, Yellowstone, and Continental Divide Trail. Within the sub-folder there is yet again another series of folders – one for each trip. If I opt to hike a route twice but do it slightly different I may make a new folder that has information specific to it.

Google Earth is a great way to look at a trail from various points of view. You can see your route from above as if looking at a map or you can see it from a birds eye view at an angle from the sky, and you can even maneuver yourself along the trail at ground level to get a feel for how the terrain feels before you get there.

Part One: Data and Analytics
I’m an analytical person as well as a spatial person and maps aren’t enough information in my thirst for data. For this reason I like to extrapolate specific mileage and elevation data from the mapped information. This is where a very useful Web site, comes in handy. There are a multitude of functions that this online software can perform but I find a handful of them most useful.

The first step in turning the pretty little map I’ve created into rows and columns of data is to export a .kml file of my route from Google Earth. This is done by selecting the trip folder, right-clicking on it, and selecting “Save Place As”. This will save all your path and placemark information in the .kml file format. The .kml file can then be turned into a number of other file formats using GPSVisualizer.

Using the “Convert a File” link at GPSVisualizer I am able to create a spreadsheet that contains mileage data. This information can then be entered into the form at the “Look up Elevation” link. A third step allows me to create a section profile of the entire route. A section profile is graphical analysis of the route depicting mileage and elevation information.

Part One: Conclusion
To summarize, in this post I’ve discussed the use of paper maps, Google Earth software, and the Web site to research and view potential trip routes. I have a number of routes that I’ve prepared, but not yet hiked.  These provide a fun way to dream of places to go in the backcountry.

Stay tuned for the next installment in which I impart wisdom of how I go about sharing a trip with friends, family, and other onlookers whom may be interested in that trip themselves or just interested in what I’m doing after I’ve returned home. Some of the tools I use for that are my Web site,, and But that’s enough of a sneak peek – – until next time, happy hiking.