The Light Way


We are not ultralightists. However, we do have the skill level to gear up this way but do not have the inclination to give up many of the creature comforts when we finally make camp. However, we do respect these folks and have applied the lessons we have learned from them. As in, our packs are now up to 20 pounds lighter, depending on the pack we use, than they were in 2001, excluding food weight, which we have also lowered.

When you go light or ultralight you are trading knowledge, skills and comfort for a lighter carrying weight. Therefore, a novice is extremely disadvantaged when it comes to losing pack weight over a seasoned veteran. Another factor in going lightweight is what do you value more, comfort in camp or the ability to chew up miles during the day. One of the things you will have to address is where do you do most of your hiking. Do you do spend a lot of time inching your way up and down high angle scree slopes or are you a trail hiker? This will determine the durability of the gear and the type of footwear you might invest your hard earned dollars in. We have determined what is right for us but we are always looking for ways to go lighter.

As we have mentioned on our gear list page, we are not ultralight backpackers. We are now lightweight backpackers. There is one thing conspiring against ultra lightweight packers...the bear resistant canister, which is required here. It plays havoc with frameless, stayless lightweight packs, making them wholly uncomfortable.


With all that said, there is a cheap and easy way to lighten your load going up the trail and that is losing body weight, if you are overweight. This strategy has served me well. In 1997,  I dropped 22 couch potato pounds prior to our initial trip up the mountain and in 2006 I dropped 17 surgery added pounds prior our major trip of this year. See our SoCal Hikes page for how I did it.


The following will give you some ideas of how to lessen your load and make your trip up this mountain a lot more enjoyable. Weights are stated in pounds-ounces

The Big 4 under 12 pounds...Pack, Tent, Sleeping Bag and Canister
That was then...Gregory Palisade Pack, REI Whitney Day Pack, REI Half Dome Tent, TNF Minaret Sleeping Bag, Backpacking Pillow, Garcia Canister
This is now...Osprey Aether 60 Pack, Black Diamond Lighthouse (works for both one or two people), Marmot Pinnacle Sleeping Bag, Wild-Ideas Barricade Bear Resistant Canister


The last thing you will need to buy is the pack! It is not a good idea to buy a pack which too small or large for the type of trips you will be taking. Therefore, the size and weight of your gear will determine the size pack you should buy.


Sleep System...

Where and the length of your backpacking season are two question you will have to answer before you plunk down the hard earned green to get the sleeping bag of your dreams. There are plenty of bags a lot lighter than the one we use, including the newest version of this bag, but we ask a lot of our sleeping bag. Our 3 season trips begins in March and ends in November.  Many of these trip have campsites well above the treeline and this 15 F bag has been on a snow camping trip, supplemented with a couple of layers of clothes. So, we ask a lot of this one sleeping bag. If you ask less of your bag or are willing to buy multiple 3 season bags, go with a lighter, less featured, high fill power down bag. You should be able to get a bag in the 2 pound range, about 15 oz. less than the one mentioned above. Don't forget to put the ear plugs in the stash pocket.


It is our opinion a pad is the key to a fair night's sleep, there is no such thing as good night's sleep at 12,000'. The ultralight backpacker will use a 3/4 length or less closed cell foam pad which will weigh in under 1 pound. I guarantee if you sleep on your hips you will be one sore camper in the morning, if you utilize this type of pad. We feel we use absolutely the best sleeping pad available today and are very willing to carry the extra weight for our fair night's sleep.


The ultralight backpackers will have all their clothing on to supplement their higher temperature rated bags, therefore, there isn't much of gear left to make a nice soft drool receptive pillow. If you have a nice warm bag you will have some extra clothing, or in our case a nice lightweight down jacket, to make a reasonable pillow. Add a 1 oz. Therm-a-Rest pillow case if you don't want to make slimy drool puddle on a cordura stuff sack.


Add a tent or a tarp and you are good to go. We would recommend a tent because the Trail Camp area has a well earned reputation of being very windy. Our preference is for a lightweight single person tent for personal comfort and convenience. You don't need to put up with anyone snoring who isn't your wife or husband. You should be able to find a good 1 person tent under 3 pounds, I choose the slightly heavier Black Diamond Lighthouse over the BD Firstlight because it works better for those of us over 6' plus it works better as 2 person tent than the Firstlight.


Food and Food Storage...


You are required to carry a bear resistant canister on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail...end of issue, even though the chances of running into a bear at Trail Camp are nil. The forest service's reasoning here is, if for any reason you have to stay below the treeline you will need a canister because there are habituated bears who roam these areas. At Trail Camp and above the problems you will encounter are from marmots and "air force". They are a pernicious bunch and they will take advantage of your food handling miscues. If you are heading up the trail as a self contained hiker there is absolute no reason to haul around a 3 pound bear resistant canister any longer. You can utilize a Wild-Ideas Barricade or Bear Vault BV-350, the former full sized canister is under 2 lbs.; the latter solo just over 2.


Plan your food based on previous trips. Nothing mystical happens here which requires you to bring 4 pound more food, yet a lot of people do just that. If this is your first trip take a look at our food list. My partners consider me a minimalist when it comes to food but I always come back with a lot of it for some reason.


Pack System...


You have purchased, rented, begged, borrowed and hopefully haven't stolen all the gear you will be taking on your great adventure. Now, it's time for a pack. We have seen our pack go from an 80 L gear monster, where we had gear hanging on the outside, go to 60 L pack two years ago. We are now contemplating a 50 L pack because of further reductions in weight and cube.  The rubber meets the road question is what size pack and with what features will you need or want for your gear, remembering the more features you have the heavier this bad boy is going to be. One thing you should keep in mind if you are a Main Trail backpacker you are going to have to haul 3 to 4 L of water, gear and extra clothing from Trail Camp to the summit, depending on ambient conditions. This means the top lid summit pack on the pack will not be a viable option in most cases.


We use would use our Osprey Aether 60 for the summit trip. It is lightweight and can be cinched down to carry smaller loads. However,  when summiting from west side we'll bring along the 800 cubic inch Day Lite add-on for this stash and dash trip to the summit from Lower Trail Crest.

Rain Gear
That was then...TNF Thunderlight Jacket, TNF Mountain Light Pants
This is now...Marmot PreCip Jacket, Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pants


Good-bye Gortex full feature gear; hello inexpensive light weight waterproof/somewhat breathable gear. Total savings just under 2-0 pounds.

You don't need the high priced spread for the summer in the Sierra. The storms are of high intensity and short duration. There is a good chance you will use this gear more for wind than rain. This is why we don't use a silicone treated nylon poncho, which an ultralightist might use for this trip. If you want to roll the dice and take your chances pick up the poncho. If you are doing the sunrise thing on the peak we'd suggest you wear your rain pants for the trip up from Trail Camp during our 3 early AM trips we have seen high winds on the summit all three times.


BTW, spend the extra couple of dollars for the full zip pants. They are much easier to get on over boots.

Insulation Layer
That was then...TNF Denali Jacket, TNF Sentinel Vest, Lowe Alpine Micro Grid Fleece Top
This is now...Feather Friends Hyperion Jacket, Marmot DriClime Windshirt


So, how do you stay warm at 12,000' at night? With very warm insulation layer. We replaced our old set up which weighted in at around 4-0 pound with one which is warmer and weighs in at 1-6 pounds. We were able to eliminate a Lowe Alpine Micro Grid fleece top, along with long underwear bottoms, because of the warmer sleeping bag and a backpacking pillow because of the 800 fill power Hyperion jacket. If the National Weather Service says it is going to be unseasonably cold we will adjust our clothing to those conditions.

Cooking Stuff
That was then...MSR Whisperlite Stove, 11 oz. Fuel bottle, MSR Blacklite Cook Set (2 pots)
This is now...Primus Micro Stove, 8 oz. Fuel Canister, Evernew 1.3 L Titanium Pot


Our current stove and fuel weigh as much as our old stove. Couple this with a ti pot and you have a great light weight set up. However, Ti is good for boiling water; not for gourmet cuisine. If we are going gourmet we add another pot.


Believe it or not both set ups are similarly priced, remember you need a fuel bottle and repair kit for the white gas stove.

Other Major Stuff
That was then...Therm-a-Rest Stayek Standard Mattress, Teva Terra-Fi Sandals
This is now...Big Anges Insulated Air Core Mattress


2 1/2" of luxurious air to sleep on. It beats the Therm-a-Rest all to....

Lose the camp shoes for a night or two. There ain't any streams on this trail which need to be forded.

The Little Stuff...Stuff You Don't Think About


Replace the Nalgene Bottles with a hydration system.

Pare your first aid kit down to what you need for a couple of days then lose the pouch and use a nest of ziplock bags. Same goes for the repair kit.

Repackage food items which lend themselves to repackaging...Oatmeal, Hot Chocolate...

Repackage the sunscreen, DEET, Campsuds into 1 oz. containers. You won't need any more.

Don't take your all of your toilet kit since you will be utilizing a WAG bag

Since the pack is lighter, think about lighter footwear. Reducing your footwear by a pound is like lowering your pack weight by almost 6-4 pounds.

One nighters take only the underwear and socks you are wearing.

Swap out your heavy coated nylon stuff sacks for light weight silnylon, we saved over a pound here.

Use a Steripen purifer or chemicals rather than a water filter. The water here is silt-free for the most part.

If you eat it and drink it you don't have to carry it. Plan what you take and eat it most of it. You should have very little food in your pack when you get back to Whitney Portal and don't have more than 4-0 pound of water in your pack when you leave for Trail Camp.

Don't Even Think About Bringing It


Two way radios, if you can't find your way up this canyon with maps...well. Plus they're annoying for everyone else.

Cell phones, they may work and then again they may not. If you bring it make sure you snuggle up with your phone so the battery doesn't drain during the subfreezing nights and program in the Inyo Co. Sheriff's number because 911 will get you the CHP in Barstow. See the FAQ page of the number.

A Guide book, if there is something you want to see mark and make notes on your maps, after all they are your maps.

From the sublime to the ridiculous (what we've seen and heard about going up The Main Mt. Whitney Trail)...cooler, cast iron skillet, beach chairs.

Trail Notes


Why not ultralight? We like our comforts way too much. We will not give up a cushy mattress, full featured sleeping bag, a factory made stove or a pack with a reasonable suspension system.

To be an ultralight backpacker you need a large skill set and a ton of experience. In our opinion, a newbie should not consider going ultralight until he or she develop a good skill set.

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Date of Last Change: 12/30/07