Here we go, some honest comments on how our gear worked for this spring’s 5-day Trooper Traverse.
Packs: The Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone packs Louie and I used performed flawlessly. Too bad they don’t make these out of a lighter version of the durable Spectra fabric used for the Kelty Cloud that Scott carried. The design of the Ozone makes it light (simple, less fabric), but the thin nylon has to be babied as it’s easily damaged.
Sleeping bag: The timeless dilemma of down vs. synthetic continues. In moderate conditions without precipitation down is the clear winner, but down absorbs moisture so easily you end up carrying the same weight as a synthetic bag if you get any moisture build due to condensation or rain/snow blowing into your tent. The hybrid bags (synthetic outside, down inside) solve the problem, but choices in that type of bag are limited as they’re only made by Marmot and Big Agnes.
Sleeping pad: If I’m sleeping on ground a simple pad such as a Ridgerest seems to work fine. On snow I need more insulation. Thicker versions of inflatable pads can be warm, but they’re heavy. Solution of the moment is to continue with the Ridgerest, but glue an extra layer of foam under the hip area. Inflatable pads are still too heavy for ultra-lightweight packing, but they’re getting better.
Tent: I love simple tents such as the Black Diamond Megalight we used, but not having a floor is problematic when you’re camping on spring slush. A small single-wall tent is on tap for the next trip. Since an enclosed tent is warmer and sheltered, you can use a slightly lighter sleeping bag with no bivy cover, so perhaps we can make the weight issue a wash. We used the ski pole adapter for the Megalight, it worked well but required a spacer (a 3 inch chunk of old ski pole that fit over pole tip) to prevent the ski pole tip from damaging the top of the tent.
Stove and cookware: Canister stoves are tempting, but for real snow camping (no open water, cold temps) nothing works better than a liquid fuel stove that’ll burn for hours and melt snow like crazy. We we’re happy with the MSR Simmerlight, though before the trip we messed up the needle valve in our pump while practicing repairs. We carried two Simmerlights, one smaller aluminum pot and a larger stainless pot. To save weight the steel pot should have been aluminum as well. Fuel ration worked fine: one liter per day for six people. Our folding Flatware bowls worked great; unfold and rub on snow to clean. We carried a plastic group serving spoon that broke.
Water bottles: Thumbs down for the Nalgene Canteen flexible water bottle, they’re easily damaged and hard to fill. Mike’s was defective and sprang a seam leak on the first day (easily repaired with duct tape). Better choice is either a throw-away such as a Gatoraid bottle, or a poly Nalgene (lighter than the Lexan version).
Shovels, probes, beacons: With a group of six we could carry a variety of shovels. Louie and I were happy with the BCA Tour, David lightened his pack by bringing a Snowclaw, gasp, and we even had, gasp, one plastic shovel. Louie carried the Companion model BCA probe that fits in the handle of the BCA shovel — a nice small probe for trips with minimal avalanche exposure. To save weight a couple of us did not carry avalanche probes, as our larger group easily had enough probes to perform a rescue. Everyone had an avalanche beacon; Barryvox or Tracker — all with fresh batteries.
Ski gear: Our Dynafit bindings performed well, though Scott and I got surprised by cold icy conditions and had trouble clipping in when forgot to clear our bindings at the top of the Trooper Couloir. David’s telemark gear worked fine as well, though it was painful to watch him getting into the things, and he would have benefited from one of the new tele bindings with a tour pivot. Steve had a few issues with his older model Dynafit TLTs (touring lock was worn out), but nothing that appeared to slow him down. Our one pair of Silvretta Pures broke — we were underwhelmed about those, as detailed in previous blog posts.
Food: 1.5 pounds per day per person is the magic number for short trips. We carried slightly over that because 1.5/day just doesn’t look like much when you pack, as a result we ended up with extra food. We’ll be more careful next time. Backpacker’s Pantry dinners were tasty and convenient. A daily ration of food bars (Cliff, etc.) kept things simple, with a bit of chocolate, jerky and sausage for variety. None of us were big breakfast eaters so a packet or two of instant oatmeal worked fine. As always, I found Cytomax athletic drink to be worthy.
Camp footwear: We didn’t carry any footwear for snow camping. Wearing ski boots 16 hours a day isn’t great, but it works if your boots fit well and you don’t get blisters. Nonetheless, I’m still looking for the lightweight snowcamping footwear — perhaps a light running shoe with a lightweight overboot. As it was, we kept our feet healthy by swapping socks for a dry pair at least once a day, and removing our boots for a drying session several times a day (weather permitting).
Cameras: Our group had a variety of digital point&shoots that did okay. One person used up their proprietary battery and didn’t have a spare. Energizer Lithium AA batteries kept my Canon going strong for 5 days, though I always carry a spare set.
Clothing: A soft shell “guide” style pant is the workhorse for this sort of trip. Add a lightweight hardshell pant for full conditions and your legs can weather just about anything. For upper layers we carried a variety of soft shells, hard shells and puff jackets. Softshells don’t have a lot of bang-per-ounce in terms of warmth, but they’re so comfortable I tend to take one anyway, along with a lightweight hardshell top. A system of hardshell with insulating layers is definitely a bit lighter, and that’s what Louie carried. What gloves to carry is always a question. For digging slushy snow you need something with a good waterproof barrier, but such are too hot for bluebird spring days when you should be wearing gloves to protect your hands from sun damage. My solution is to carry two pair of gloves. One warm and waterproof, one super-light and thin.
Sun Protection: As mentioned in a previous post, the 30 block rated “skin lotion” type sunscreen Louie and I carried didn’t work well. I’ve switched back to thick sticky Banana Boat 50 block.
General Impressions: This was definitely the lightest pack I’ve ever carried on a ski traverse, and the same could probably be said by the other guys. By careful planning, using high tech gear and sacrificing a bit of comfort in camp, we saved weight so we could easily ski steep terrain while carrying our packs, and cover ground quickly rather than feeling like a draft mule. The trick now is to add a bit of camp comfort, while keeping the weight similar. Good project for next winter. Now it’s time to plan for a bit of summer backpacking — when we can truly “golite!”
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.