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The Ultralight Backpacker: Ray Jardine

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Ray Jardine started the ultralight backpacking revolution. Of course backpackers have always looked for ways to lighten their packs, but it was Jardine that demonstrated how a backpacker could safely and comfortably go thousands of miles with less than 10 pounds base pack weight (before food and water). He and his wife did so regularly.

Ray Jardine's Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook changed my trips forever. I thought I was going light with 32 pounds on my back for 5 days in the Sierra Nevadas, but I still had a frame pack, hiking boots, and a day pack to take up the summits.

After Jardine's book, I spent a week in the San Juans in Colorado with never more than 16 pounds on my back (everything, even food and water). I took the whole pack up fourteeners, wore running shoes for the entire 110 miles, and even managed to stay dry in a down bag under a tarp during seven days and nights of rain. More importantly, I enjoyed it more (and never had a blister).

Beyond Backpacking, his most comprehensive work on ultralight backpacking, Jardine explains how we need to worry less about cutting edges off maps and concentrate on the big three: backpack, shelter, sleeping bag. When you get the pack weight below a certain threshold, you can then get rid of your hiking boots. He recommends stronger ankles over heavy ankle-supporting boots. Walk a lot on uneven ground to accomplish this.

Ray Jardine and his wife Jenny practice stealth camping. They go far off the trail to camp in undisturbed places, where the ground is softer, and their impact is minimal, due to the rarity of human use. They have trained themselves to recognize safe versus dangerous water, so they can drink straight from natural sources. They make their own backpacking gear too.

I can't use all of his advice. I don't like using umbrellas, for example, and I don't care much for sewing my own tarps. Nonetheless, my time in the wilderness is so much better thanks to Ray Jardine.



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The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Ray Jardine