Even more comfortable.


MY rules for ultralight backpacking look something like this:

NO cotton, anywhere, ever.

NO batteries, anywhere, ever.

No (rubbing) alcohol based products, anywhere, ever

Quality is non-negotiable.  If it weighs less, but is lower quality, it is too much of a trade-off.  You are trusting your life to equipment.

Build your own, and you know how to fix it.

Following these guidelines, the first thing added to the list is a towel available from REI.  Use this instead of a cotton bandanna.  It has all the same functionality, plus you can use it to dry off.  The one used weighs 2 ounces.

Buy some 1oz pump sprayers on ebay.  Use these for spray deodorant, sunscreen, and liquid soap.  We already have sunscreen and liquid soap in the survival kit, and we add deodorant in this pound of gear.

1/2 ounce hand sanitizer weighs 1 oz.  You can get one here.

The underwear included weighs 1.2 oz per pair.  For 72 hours count the ones worn, plus 2.4 ounces (2 pairs) in the pack.

Silk T-shirts weigh 2.5 ounces.  Like with underwear wear one, include 2 in pack weight.  That totals 5 ounces.

Sock liners help prevent blisters when used with a regular sock.  These weigh in at 1.75 ounces each.

Start out wearing a pair of (wool) hiking socks.  Change out the liners daily and air out the wool socks every night.

Total weight of these products is a pound.

The next pound is food.  3 freeze-dried dinners totaling 16 ounces.

The next pound we will discuss includes a backpack.  We have to carry all this stuff somehow.  We will be placing 9 to 10 pounds in this backpack if you have followed the recommendations in all the articles so far.  The pack will be water proof to protect the sleeping bag.

Last is a repair kit.  Spend an ounce to fix sleeping pads.  The one recommended in the next article requires inflation.  It offers huge R-Value for very little weight.

Various levels of comfort…


Comfort.  Now that we have handled requirements for surviving, it is time to enjoy it.  “Any man who does not enjoy life, does not deserve to live it.”  That quote is from  Da Vinci.  A good nights sleep is an item that nothing else replaces.  Western Mountaineering makes a wonderful 1 pound sleeping bag.  After that, consider the tools for preparing hot meals.  A half liter Platypus is used to store fuel for a WhiteBox stove.  The fuel for the stove is HEET (yellow bottle).  Add some breakfast food (6 packets of instant oatmeal in a ziploc bag).  The sleeping bag and the “kitchen” gear all add 2 more pounds to the 3 you already have in your 72 hour survival kit.

In our next installment we move from using an improvised pack, to an actual backpack (relax, it only weighs 12.2 ounces).  And before you ask, yes, a gear list will be provided soon.

Until then, here is the next article in the series.

Altoids Tins, Rambo, and very real survival


The previous three articles all regard survival.  The concept is a 72 hour survival kit broken out into three parts.  Part one weighs one pound and will see you through 24 hours.  Part two weighs a pound and will see you through 48 hours.  Part three weighs a pound, and will ultimately bring you to surviving 72 hours.  I have personally tested these kits for each of their rated times.  I will not guarantee in any way that they will work for you, your situation, or any specific situation.  They did work for me.  21 items, 3 pounds, $450.

I’ve seen many cute, trendy, neat Altoids tin survival kits.  Many of them are better than nothing, some are not.  Many of these kits merely operate off of the idea, “I need a fishing kit, a micro compass, and what will fit in the space that is left?”  The problem is the “fishing kit” often isn’t suitable, or the average person only THINKS they would know what to do with it.  Once you catch a fish, you still have to gut/clean it.  Consider that.

The amount of water you could collect in an Altoids tin (to set in a fire to boil), isn’t enough to make the energy worth it.

Many think they would do the survival knife/Rambo thing.  Okay, you take your kit out for 24 hours, I’ll take mine.  Let’s see who’s happier at the end of that time period.

Survival is not about gimmicks and toys.  It is about mindset, training, and equipment you trust your life with.  This 72 hour kit was designed with average Joe Public in mind.  There would need to be some basic instruction to go with it.  This, however, would not require Military survival training.  With all these things in mind, I recommend you steer clear of “magic” survival kits that fit in unbelievably small spaces.  The next series works to add comfort level to the kit provided.  It will grow from just a 72 hour kit to a true Ultralight Backpacking gear list.

From survival kit to ultralight backpacking – The third 24 hours/16 oz.


Now for day three.  Most disaster preparedness articles recommend three days of supporting yourself.  With the additional components listed here you will have a complete shelter, more food, and sanitation.  At the end of this article you will have three pounds of equipment used to support life for three days.  Following articles will extend the comfort level by adding additional gear to the survival kit turning it into a 3 day kit for Ultralight Backpacking purposes.

  1. Shelter (8 oz) – Serenity NetTent – Sometimes the best solution is the simplest. The Serenity NetTent provides a simple solution to keeping those creepy crawlies and pesky mosquitoes at bay. Its small floor size lets it be setup in most any place. Unlike bivies with the mesh draped directly on your face, the Serenity’s 42 inch height lets you sit up in comfort. You can sleep comfortably knowing that mosquitos can not bite you through the mesh.
  2. Light (.75 oz) – Caylume light stick – See the previous article for the link
  3. Liquid soap (1 oz) – Dr. Bronners – Repackage this in a small pump spray dispenser.  Necessary for washing hands, dishes, and anything else.
  4. Toilet paper (.5 oz) – mostly used roll – Remove the cardboard center and place this in a ziploc bag.
  5. Cutting (.35 oz) – ESEE Arrowhead Survival Tool, AH-1 – Lash it to a branch or handle for use as a knife or a spear. Features: One piece double-edged 1095 carbon steel construction with black textured powder coat finish and a lashing hole.  It’s 2-1/2″ overall.
  6. Fishhooks/Snares (5.5 oz) – 9 Speedhooks – The Speedhook is specifically designed for survival applications and is so effective, it is legal for survival use only in some areas. Use this small device for fishing and trapping when no food is readily available.

At this point you have equipment that will realistically keep you alive for three days.  You will live to tell about it even if it is not the greatest experience ever.  Some ultralight backpackers will cringe at toilet paper being listed.  Look, this is a sanitation issue.  This kit would help you in your backyard, or in a forest somewhere.  If you don’t like toilet paper, replace it with something else.  The average price for each pound of survival gear in this list is $150.  The three days provided for costs $450.  You have food, shelter, potable water, warmth, the ability to cook.  In the following articles we will add comfort items to move this from a survival kit to an Ultralight Backpacking kit.

The next article in this series is located here.

From survival kit to ultralight backpacking – The first 24 hours/16 oz.


A recent passion of mine is Ultralight Backpacking.  The basic premise is to take what you need, and enjoy yourself comfortably.  Articles exist that provide a perspective that UL backpacking is about doing without, to the level of silliness.  This is not one of those articles.  This series starts at the idea of building a survival kit, then adding just enough to make the kit a 3 day, 3 season UL backpacking list.  Instead of trying to approach the backpacking list as, “how to shave down wight in your pack,” the idea here is one of, “starting from scratch, build a solid foundation.”

Let’s agree on a few rules to make this situation work.  First, the idea is to get a job done in the minimum weight possible.  An inferior product will not do the job.  Maintain functionality when in outdoor situations.  This does not mean that the products recommended are perfect.  As always YMMV.

Second rule is that some tools may need some “rework” to lower weights .  This is not required, but should at least be considered.

Update 2014: Third rule, no electronics or batteries.  Simplify things and reduce points of failure.  Batteries are an environmental contaminant, can do damage when made wet, and are a failure point.  Simplify your system.  It is more economical to use an LED flashlight with a battery.  Lasts longer, reusable, and signals.

Fourth rule, no alcohol.  Try to use products that do not have alcohol in them.  Alcohol dries things out.  There are other options.

Rule of three’s:

In any extreme situation you cannot survive for more than:

3 minutes without air – 3 hours without shelter

3 days without water – 3 weeks without food.

This is a 10 item kit constructed out of readily available items.  It weighs 1 pound.  Using it many can survive for 24 hours.  Test if YOU can.  YOU can make adjustments to suit you.  This is just one way to do it.

  1. Shelter (2.6 oz) – SOL Heat Sheets Emergency Blanket – This product is water proof.  It reflects body heat back to your body.  You have a basic fundamental form of shelter in this product.  Use this to provide for this need for 24 hours.  Though this is not great or glamorous, you should survive.
  2. Shelter (1 oz) – Sun screen – This shelters you from the sun.  It prevents sunburns that can cause pain, dehydrate you, and potentially become a medical situation.  Use a partially emptied bottle in your kit to reduce weight. 2014 UPDATE – I have replaced this with a .25 oz eyedropper that has a mix of 100% DEET and sunscreen. This now weighs .5 oz
  3. Light (.75 oz) – Caylume light stick – Low weight, battery free way of lighting an area.  Link connects to orange color.  Orange makes it easier to find you. 2014 UPDATE – After much review on environmental hazards, and many comparisons, the a 1.25 oz Preon P1 replaced it. This will allow the removal of light sticks from the rest of the kit dropping the overall weight.
  4. Multi-purpose (1 oz) – 550 Paracord – Approximately 20 feet of paracord.  The uses of paracord in a survival situation will be its own post.
  5. First-Aid (3.95 oz) – First-Aid kit in a zip-loc bag – Mine includes SPF 50 chapstick, duct tape, bandages and dressing, butterfly closures, adhesive knuckle bandages, adhesive fabric bandages, gauze dressing, triple antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, ibuprofen, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, moleskins, benzalkonium chloride wipes, safety pins, splinter tick remover.
  6. Fire (.5 oz) – Ferrocium rod – Use with high carbon blade to throw sparks to start a fire.  A fire offers heat, light, signaling and protection.  Remove the cord and piece of steel that comes with it.
  7. Water (4.7 oz) – Titanium BOT – Water from a stream combined with the fire above creates drinkable water.  This can make one liter at a time AND can store it while on the move. 2014 UPDATE – First, this can not boil water (it is plastic), but you can use water treatment chemicals to make drinkable water. Second, this fits in the BOT. This way you can use the BOT to store/transport/treat water while having a place to store your kit. XL GearPods weigh 4.25 oz.
  8. Navigation (.7 oz) – Brunton Classic compass – These are becoming hard to find.  Brunton does not manufacture them any more.  This compass will last, provide most navigation functions and does it for very little weight.  Drill some holes in the base plate to decrease weight.  Replaced by the Brunton Truarc3
  9. Communication (.3 oz) – Whistle – Multi tone, multi chamber (one has a pea), 120dB.  Remove the REI label, drill a larger hole closer to the pea chamber, cut/sand down unused length.  This decreases unneeded space and weight.
  10. Knife (.8 oz) – Gerber Curve – Provides a bottle opener for use as a pot lifter, a phillips head screw driver for removing screws from my Cold Steel Shovel, and an awl for making pilot holes for replacement handles.

This is a start for 24 hours.  This kit represents nine of the ten C’s of survival.  Those are; cutting, combustion, cordage, container, cleaning, communication, compass, comfort, and “candle light.”  The missing one is collecting food (not required during the first 24 hours).  We will address that with the additions to the kit on day 3/the third 16 ounces.

To review, this kit can actually sustain you for 24 hours.  It provides the needs stated by several different survival methodologies.  It weighs less than one pound.  The BOT stores everything.  Use the paracord to go around the BOT and make a sling and carry it over your shoulder.  Distribute the contents of the kit into your pockets and use the BOT to carry water.

Total cost of this kit is approximately $150 U.S.  Some may comment on “Altoids Tin survival kits.”  While those are novel, try using one for 24 hours.  Then try this kit.  Which one is more comfortable?  Which instills more faith that you will survive?

The next article will add 5 items to the kit, and extend survival for 24 more hours.

UPDATE 2012:  This did not work.  The gear list has a few changes.  Lifting a pot full of boiling water off of a fire was no easy task.  This required rethinking the material list.  When one thing changed, the system changed.  The Curve replaced this piece of gear:

ESEE AH-1 – High carbon steel for FireSteel use, small, light, multi-use (make a small spear with a straight stick and some of the strands in the paracord).

Gerber makes the lightest potlifter.  It is a tool called the Curve.  It weighs .8 oz.  The knife (blade) that it is replacing weighs .5 oz.  That is a loss of .3 oz for an ability to lift a pot.  Hopefully some research will show how to replace the flat head screwdriver that comes on the Curve with a can opener blade.  Replacing the screwdriver with a can opener means the tool will have a pot holder/lifter (using the built-in bottle opener), a knife blade (for starting fires), a Phillips head screwdriver (for dismantling a cold steel shovel), an awl for “pilot drilling” holes in cut down or scavenged branches to make longer handles for the shovel, and a can opener.

UPDATE 2014:


This is what the kit looks like in September of 2014.  I just added tinder (fatwood), and that pushed a 16 ounce survival kit to 17 ounces.  In the upper left corner are the two lids for the GearPod.  Next to it is the large case with orange duct tape and orange 550 cord wrapped around it.  The blue and white fabric is a UV Buff.  The orange foil pack is an emergency blanket.  The black bottle on it is a 50/50 mix of 100% DEET and SPF 50 sunblock.  The next row shows 2 pieces of fatwood next to a mini Bic lighter.  My second fire starter is an Exotac nanoStriker.  Chapstick with sunblock will protect my lips, and have use to grease a stick to start a fire.  There are ten water purification tablets that provide 10 liters of drinkable water.  The compass is a Suunto wrist compass.   I included soap for use as a first aid function (the Buff fills the need for a bandage, compress, etc).  The AAA battery goes to the Preon P1.  My sewing kit is Kevlar thread with a sail needle and some safety pins.  This can easily become a fishing kit if needed.  In front we have the Gerber Curve and a Ti whistle.  I may remove the Gerber Curve and replace it as I am no longer using the Ti BOT.  I may redesign the other two kits that follow this (part two and three in the series) to include the BOT and Curve later.

Part two of this series is located here.