The Seattle Times. Adventure Sports
Thursday, June 26, 1997 - page C7
Homespun ingenuity means nothing weighs heavily on their shoulders
by Tina Kelley
Consider backpacking: The point is to pack weight on your back and tromp around in the woods.
Now consider backpackers, who get into this activity knowing what it means, only to spend countless off-trail hours (and dollars) finding ways to weasel out from under that weight.
Ray Jardine of Oregon has taken the search for lighter gear to an extreme. He and his wife, Jenny, have finished their third through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada, in a record three months and four days. They kept up their 35-mile-a-day pace by carrying homemade packs and gear weighting only 8.5 pounds.
That's the equivalent of a small cat, a newborn or two and a half six-packs, whichever you can most easily imagine carrying on a trail. And that's not counting food.
Ray Jardine invented the Friend camming device and the first single-point bivouac hammock for climbers. He put up the first free climbs rated 5.12 and 5.13 (Yosemite's Crimson Cringe and Phoenix, respectively), 50 new ascents in Yosemite Valley, and the first unaided ascent of a grade VI climb on El Capitan. He and Jenny have sailed around the world and paddled a two-person kayak 3,300 miles from Anacortes to the Bering Sea. They're spending this summer kayaking in the Arctic.
They're also into hiking, and Jardine figures he's logged 20,000 miles. So when he talks about easier ways to move around in the wild, his words carry a lot of weight. But he sure doesn't.
Here's his system for paring the pounds off gear:
Ray's 28-ounce, 8-foot-square tarp is roomier, lighter and better ventilated than most tents. He said it has worked well for him in 60 mph winds, and he likes not having to worry about cranky zippers or fraying tent poles. And the tarp keeps the Jardines dryer.
They rig theirs like a pup tent, with lines at each corner and two along each edge. No tent poles are necessary - they use sticks or their umbrellas (more on those later) in a pinch. And they carry aluminum stakes.
Ray makes the tarp out of 1.8 ounce urethane-coated nylon. He sews two long pieces together along what becomes the ridgeline, seam seals it and sews in tabs of nylon webbing for the lines, made of nylon cord. He reinforces the tarp with patches where the lines attach. That'll be three or four hours of sewing and seam sealing, and it should last for many seasons.
For a groundsheet they use a trimmed four-layer Space Blanket. Even though it gets poked full of holes, it doesn't seem to let too much moisture in. They look for cushy sites that haven't been compacted by other campers and each use a piece of closed-cell foam cut to torso width and length - it's light and cheap, it never leaks air and they don't slide off. The #15 pad, which they cut in half, doesn't provide enough insulation for sleeping on snow, but the Jardines have been able to find bare ground just about everywhere - under trees, next to rocks, on south-facing slopes - even while hiking California's John Muir Trail in wintry conditions.
Believing that the bottom half of the sleeping bag is wasted weight and not very insulating, the couple opts for a homemade, three-pound quilt. It measures 58 inches by 79 inches and takes eight hours to sew, using 1.1-ounce breathable nylon sandwiched with a layer of synthetic insulation.
One side of the quilt is white, the other is black. "If you want the quilt to dry, just lay it in the sun with the black side up, and it'll dry within minutes," he said. When setting up camp, Ray puts his running shoes and pack underneath the groundsheet and uses them as a pillow - it keeps the shoes from freezing in alpine areas.
They usually sleep in all their clothing, for warmth and protection from mosquitoes. A piece of mosquito netting sewn to the top of the quilt keep bugs off. (If it's too hot for the quilt, they just wear a nylon jacket and pants and apply repellent to their faces and hands.) The couple carries the quilt in a homemade seam-sealed stuff sack made of Gore-Tex.
All this goes in a 12-ounce backpack they have made from 1.9-ounce coated nylon. They make the straps of durable Cordura-coated nylon and Beva Lite 2 foam, which doesn't lose its thickness over time.
"All it is is a big stuffsack with a couple of straps," Ray said. With such light loads no frames or waistbelts are necessary. The pack (about 12 hours to make) closes with a drawstring, and the excess is rolled over and strapped down, keeping the contents pretty dry. The Jardines use plastic garbage sacks to keep spare clothing dry.
The Jardines have sewn most of their hiking attire. Jenny buys fleece to make mittens (20 minutes) and hats (10 minutes). They make lycra shorts, Thermax pants and shirts, and fleece and nylon jackets (each requires 4.5 hours of sewing). Their nylon pants have a bonus: they're too slippery for ticks to walk on and too strong for mosquitoes to bite through.
They buy ready-made polyester dress shirts - yes, dress shirts - and lightweight nylon socks, because they dry quickly. Ray said for those who sweat a lot, plain old polyester beats high-tech wicking fabrics, and in very rainy conditions is much faster drying.
Keep in mind that when the Jardines are out hiking, that's pretty much all they do. Spending so many hours each day on the trail, they find they don't need as many warm clothes as most hikers.
Ray warns against using his techniques out of context: "Always prepare for the worst conditions that nature can throw at you. Hiking with minimal or lightweight equipment requires much greater proficiency. Until you have that, always carry back-up items. In particular, the novice should never venture into the wilds without a full selection of warm clothing and rain gear."
To keep their powder dry - as if they carry something as heavy as powder - they gut an umbrella, removing the spring and cutting off part of the handle. (Their toothbrushes meet the same ugly fate - every ounce counts on a 2,650-miler.) For desert hiking, they use the umbrella for shade, covering it with Mylar to reflect the solar radiation.
The Jardines also carry a small and lightweight camera, maps and journal pages - three per day - in a plastic bag, one pencil, one small ballpoint pen, a basic model Swiss Army knife, no soap, just a cotton scrub cloth, no deodorant (attracts bears, Ray said), no toothpaste, but always dental floss.
The couple's outdoor kitchen is similarly svelte. Ray has designed a stove with an enclosed flame that burns twigs, pine cones and other natural materials. His water filtering system, the "Hiker's Friend," siphons water through a filter cartridge from a nylon bag suspended in a tree. It's nearly as fast as pumps but requires no pumping and has no moving parts. It weighs less that a half-pound.
For cooking, the Jardines carry a two-quart aluminum pot and one spoon each. Bacterial accumulation is a problem for long distance hikers, but this way they can sterilize their pot and spoons each time they cook a meal. They don't use plates, which are hard to disinfect.
They keep their food simple but plentiful. Two our of three dinners are corn spaghetti with tomato leather.
"Corn spaghetti is the long-distance hiker's superfood," Ray said. "It's rocket fuel. It's cheap and has a tremendous shelf life."
He said it tastes enough like regular wheat spaghetti and gets them well on their way to the 5,000 calories (2.5 pounds of food) they need for every day on the trail. They bring home-ground cereal grain for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and they pig out at the occasional grocery store.