Benefits of Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp (Why I’m Passionate About Education)

I enjoy a lot of different things.

Scouting, entrepreneurship, fly fishing, making fires, packrafting, trekking, the wilderness, wildflowers, remote places, my truck, coffee, making my own gear – these are a few of them.

But two things that get me as excited as anything else are teaching and ultralight backpacking.

The motivation for me to develop Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Trekking School, and the online and field courses at, was borne out of the fact that these reflect core passions of mine.

I’ve done lots of different things in my career, but I’ve been teaching for a long time.

Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp will introduce you to the state of the art gear and technologies - and skills - that allow you to travel with a very light pack in comfort and safety.
I was elected as a Patrol Leader, as a Boy Scout, more than 30 years ago. I remember taking the job very seriously – I was committed to making sure my patrol members knew how to tie the square knot, tautline hitch, and bowline, and that they knew how to do it faster than any other patrol in the troop.

When I was 17, I started working at Camp Parsons, where I taught pioneering skills, first aid, wilderness survival, and other Scout skills to younger scouts with a thirst for learning. I worked at CP until 1992 in various capacities, all of them involving some sort of teaching as a trekking and mountaineering guide, area director, and program director.

By the time I graduated with my M.S. at Wazzu, I had more teaching experience under my belt, from fundamentals of engineering to calculus to rock climbing to blackjack dealing. I loved it all, and was thrilled to see my students excel at what they were learning.

More time in the university system in Montana seeded my passion for teaching even more, giving me the opportunity to participate in the founding of both the Biofilm Institute, and Cytergy, two companies dedicated to developing online education for the medical science community. When I realized the potential to seed, and create community around information and education with the Internet, I founded Backpacking Light, and the rest is history I suppose.

My passion for education has not changed so much, even though who and how and what I’m teaching have evolved through the years.

Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp is not about minimizing weight for the sake of minimizing weight - it's about exposing you to options from which you can choose from to define your own ultralight style. Here, I'm cooking stir fry in a titanium pan over a wood burning stove, which gives me the cheer of fire, and the satisfying taste of fresh foods.
Here’s why I love doing courses like the Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp, and why I think this course could provide some benefit for you:


  1. You’ll have the opportunity to go through a lot of material. I think there are about 30 individual lessons in this course. The result of opening the floodgates during an intense training period will allow you to rethink how you look at ultralight backpacking, and perhaps most important, energize (motivate) you to take a big step towards growing your skills.
  2. If you participate in the mentored or field course options, the benefits you get in #1 will be magnified. Through mentoring, we solve problems together in a private, one-on-one environment. Through a field course, we solve problems together in real time in real conditions with real people in a collaborative environment.
  3. Courses like this always cause you to ask more questions, stretch your perception of what you are capable of, and challenge your existing preconceptions. These are three elements of personal growth that fuel real change.

What do I really get out of it?

You are helping me make a living at doing what I love to do. Of course, you’re helping anyone make a living wherever you spend your dollar, right? But have you wondered if you are fueling the passion of the kid who made your last hamburger at the drive in, or the clerk at the license & title desk at the courthouse, or some unknown shareholder of the bank to whom you pay your mortgage interest?

What I get out of this is a little bit different. I get the opportunity to serve you, and to know you. You give me an opportunity to make a commitment to your learning. I give you an opportunity to be teachable and to grow. My commitment to you is simple: let’s make this a win-win deal.

A happy participant from a May course, trekking in ultralight style across a high mountain pass. Who said ultralight backpacking has to wait until the snow melts? In the Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp, you'll be exposed to a wide variety of lightweight skills and gear that will allow you to trek year round.


This course session is going to be an exceptional one if you go through either the mentoring option, or the field course option, with me.

The reason that the timing for a mentored option is going to be unique right now is that I’ve been exploring a number of new new skills and styles in the past few years and continuing into this summer, and I’m very eager to share with you what I’m learning.

The reason that the timing for a field course option is going to be unique right now is that I’ll be taking you into one of the most beautiful, and awe-inspiring locations in the world: high on a massive alpine plateau dotted with trout-filled lakes, jutted with dramatic granite peaks, and lined with soft-on-the-feet tundra. By the time we break out of the treeline, you’ll know that these types of vistas, and the opportunity to trek through such a beautiful location, just doesn’t come around very often.

In particular, I’m really excited to share with you what I’m learning about the Canadian Rockies, where I’ll be trekking in July in ultralight style, but with a pack that includes glacier trekking, fly fishing, and packrafting gear, too!

Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp comes with my personal guarantee. If you finish the online course, went through the material, and think you totally wasted your time and money, I’ll refund your online course fee. I’m not interested in seeing you waste money – that’s something that completely negates my own principles of living an ultralight life (i.e., the principle of exercising monetary discipline).

Moreover, if you’re on the fence, don’t be afraid to ask me any questions. I’m happy to work through them with you via email, chat, Skype, or phone. Just drop me a line.

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Group Gear for Lightweight Wilderness Travel


Last week I spent four days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Scout Leaders from around the country training them in the art and practice of ultralight backpacking techniques for the Backpacking Light / Montana BSA course. Our goal is simpler, yet more profound, than just playing with gear: thinking about the best ways to impart the knowledge to Scouts in a way that helps them grow, and be encouraged about traveling through Wild Places.

We split the twelve of us into two crews of six. We traveled separately along our own off-trail routes throughout the week, and then camped together two out of our three nights, so we could share war stories.

I like traveling as a group, and sharing gear, and relying on each other. Camp routine as a group is a rewarding way to achieve comradeship. Two people gather firewood, start the fire, and prepare the meal. Two people set up the shelters. Two people hang the bear bag and treat everyone’s water.

My crew in May 2011 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, an enjoyable lot of fine company from diverse backgrounds, united with common interests in Scouting and lightweight wilderness travel.

When it’s all done, we’ve accomplished something together quickly and efficiently, and strengthened our connections to each other. Connections that you can’t get when you have six people traveling solo with all of their own gear.

This connection culminates at dinner time. We say grace, we eat together, we clean up together, we enjoy a fire together, and we chat about the glorious day behind us.

This all happens better when we share stuff. This post is thus about Group Gear.

Group Gear

My approach to group outfitting has been cultivated by the following:

  • Adherence to and support of the Patrol Method in Scouting;
  • Travel through the high mountain environments of the Northern Rockies
  • Travel with group sizes of 6-8 people
  • Travel with groups of like-minded individuals.

Consequently, you may come from a different framework than I, and may need to adjust your approach accordingly.

Pre-trip collaborating: planning an expedition route across the Beartooth Plateau on a wall map tacked to the outside of a remote USFS Forest Service Cabin.

When I travel with groups, we share the following:

  • shelter gear
  • cooking gear
  • firestarting gear
  • water storage and treatment gear
  • bear bag hanging gear
  • navigation gear
  • first aid gear
  • breakfast and dinner food

Here’s a comprehensive group gear list for a typical three-season trip with a group of six persons. Weights aren’t indicative of resolution achievable by using scales accurate to a tenth of an ounce, because even though tenths of ounces matter to gram counting solo hikers, nobody really cares about them in a group.

This list was pretty close to what our crews took into the Bob, except where noted.

Shelter Gear

  • GoLite Shangri-La 6 Shelter – 55 oz
  • Qty (2) Seek Outside Carbon Fiber Adjustable Poles – 16 oz
  • Qty (6) 8″ Easton Tubular Stakes – 7 oz
  • Qty (10) 6″ V-Channel Aluminum Stakes – 4 oz
  • 210d oxford nylon stake bag – 1 oz
  • 30d silnylon shelter bag – 1 oz
The GoLite Shangri-La provides an environment of bustling activity for kids and adults alike. Here, Boy Scouts enjoy the business of morning preparation for the day ahead while chatting, laughing, and dreaming together.


  1. When possible, putting the entire group into a single shelter creates a great sense of connection. Four-man groups can be accommodated under a large (10′ x 14′) silnylon tarp or large pyramid (10′ x 10′). I like putting larger groups under one of the double-pyramid GoLite Shangri-La’s, and I generally prefer pyramid shelters to tarp shelters in the winter (better protection from cold wind and blowing spindrift, along with steeper walls for snow-shedding), and smaller (more wind-resistant) shelters in high mountain environments.
  2. Carbon poles are not recommended for winter, or with less experienced hikers, because they require extra care, and break under heavy snow loading. Aluminum ones are available for about 30% to 40% more weight, and much more strength.
  3. I like using long stakes for the four corners and at least two guylines for large shelters. Small stakes can round out the rest. Large shelters grab a lot of wind, and generally, are inappropriately matched to thin skewer stakes.
  4. A thick and durable stake bag allows the stakes to be stored with the shelter, and the stake bag packed with the shelter, thus protecting the shelter from being punctured by the stakes.
  5. When traveling with this type of floorless group shelter system, each group member should pack along a lightweight ground cloth or bivy sack for ground protection in the shelter.
  6. For our last Scout Leader trek, we took one two-man flat tarp and one four-man pyramid tarp, to give the leaders a little more experience with multiple shelters.

Cooking & Firestarting Gear

  • Primus Express Spider Stove – 7 oz
  • MSR Windscreen – 3 oz
  • Open Country 4 Quart Billy Pot – 13 oz
  • MSR Alpine Folding Spoon – 1 oz
  • Adventure Medical Kits BAK Hand Sanitizer – 1 oz
  • Light My Fire Firesteel Firestarter – 1/2 oz
  • Tinder-Quik Firestarting Tabs – 1/2 oz
  • Esbit Tablets – 2 oz
  • 4×5 Loksak Bag – 1/2 oz
  • Poly Bag – 1/2 oz
A simple, fast, light, and very effective group cooking system based on the Primus Express Spider and the Open Country Billy Pot. This setup, from a group traverse of the Teton Crest in September 2010.


  1. The Primus Express Spider is a compressed gas canister stove that can be used with an inverted canister, which extends its applicability to winter conditions by allowing for the fuel to be liquid-fed to the stove (thus eliminating canister cooling that degrades compressed gas stove performance in cold conditions). In addition, the Spider is light, durable, and has the large flame head required for rapidly boiling water in large pots.
  2. The windscreen is essential for conserving gas, especially in windy conditions.
  3. Open Country makes two types of pots – the 4 Qt Aluminum Kettle, and the 4 Quart Billy Pot. The Billy Pot is 3 oz lighter, has a nonstick coating on the inside, and more rounded edges that allow for slightly easier packing.
  4. Cooks use the MSR Alpine Folding Spoon to ration out dry foods into personal mess kits, which can be as simple as a bowl and spoon (mug optional). Generally, with this style of cooking (see Foods section below), you simply add hot water to dry food, and let it rehydrate in personal bowls. I recommend that each person carry a Glad Ziploc Bowl with a homemade “cozy” made from Reflectix that can be used to insulate the bowl after the water is added while it is “cooking” – a process that takes 5 to 10 minutes with most dry foods.
  5. Hand Sanitizer is kept in the cook kit to make it as easy as possible for cooks to maintain good hygiene. We use BAK instead of alcohol because in high mountain environments, dry skin results in cracking, especially on the hands, and alcohol stings!
  6. Our firestarting kits are stored in the 4×5 Loksak bag and include the firestarter (which is used to light the stove, too), firestarting tabs, and Esbit fuel tablets. I recommend saving the fuel tablets for emergencies only (e.g., when you absolutely have to get a fire going fast in wet conditions).
  7. All of the supplies will fit into the cook pot, which then goes into a cheap poly bag, such as the Backpacking Light size S Pack Liner, for storage inside somebody’s pack. I recommend the poly bag in case you cook over fire, thus protecting pack contents from soot.
  8. On the Scout Leader course in the Bob, we cooked quite a bit over fire, and only used the stoves here and there. Fire is more fun. Stoves are more useful in sensitive areas, or when you’re in a hurry.
Two Open Country 4-Quart Kettles preparing dinner water for a crew of 12 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Water Storage and Treatment Gear

  • Platypus 6L Bags – 4 oz
  • Aqua Mira Kit – 3 oz
  • Aqua Mira Pre-Mix Bottles – 1/2 oz
  • Water Kit Storage Bag – 1 oz


  1. When all members of our group are carrying enough water bags or bottles for “a few to several” liters of capacity per person, then we usually don’t bring any big water bags like the Platypus 6L. But if we’re traveling through some place like the Beartooths or Wind Rivers, where water is plentiful and you only really need to carry a single 1L water bottle, a large group bag is nice for in-camp use.
  2. The trick to making Aqua Mira efficient for group travel is the pre-mix bottle. I use a Backpacking Light MiniDrop bottle for this purpose. In the morning, we add about 100 drops of Part A and 100 drops of Part B into the pre-mix bottle (e.g., enough pre-mix to treat 14 liters of water). Then, when it’s time to treat water, we dispense 14 drops of the premix into a 1 liter bottle of water that needs to be treated (28 drops into a 2L bottle, etc.). With large groups or on treks where we’re consuming a lot of water, we might have to make another bottle of pre-mix during the day.
  3. Like any group gear “kit” that contains small parts, I like to have a dedicated storage bag, which is well worth its minuscule weight for its ability to contribute to group gear organization.

Food (Bear) Storage Gear

  • AirCore Pro Rope – 6 oz
  • #3 S-Biner – 1 oz
  • Rock Sack – 1/2 oz
Troop 676 Boy Scouts get ready to 'hang' their bear bags over granite cliffs near Rough Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, July 2010.


  1. If everyone brings their own food storage stuff sacks (and odor resistant plastic bags to line them with), then group bear bag hanging gear can be as simple as a big rope.
  2. I like to use Backpacking Light AirCore Pro Rope for group hanging because (a) it’s strong enough and (b) it’s nice and slick which makes it easy to pull over tree branches with a lot of weight. Food weights that are heavier than about 30 pounds are hard to pull, so consider having multiple ropes on trips where you have to hang more than 15-20 person-days worth of food.
  3. The rock sack is simply a little stuff sack that is big enough for a baseball-sized rock. Put the rock in the sack, tie the end of the rope to the sack, and sling it over a tree branch. This saves the pain of tying a slick rope around a round rock and watching the rock sail into oblivion while the rope falls into a lifeless clump at your feet because it fell off the rock.

Navigation & Emergency Gear

  • Satellite Phone – 8 oz
  • Maps – 4 oz
  • 12×12 Loksag Bags (Map Case) – 1 oz
  • Brunton 7DNL Compass on Lanyard – 1 oz
Navigating the old fashioned way - by map and compass - in the Tobacco Root Mountains, March 2010.


  1. The GPS and SPOT are optional devices. A GPS can save time, and a SPOT is a neat device for blogging your trip locations to your friends.
  2. With groups, I highly recommend a satellite phone. With a satellite phone, you have the flexibility to change exit logistics, get an emergency weather report, and as needed, deal with a life-threatening emergency fast.
  3. I like sharing the map and compass with the group. Navigation is an activity ideally suited for collaboration, and having everyone looking at one map connects group members.

Learn More About Group Travel

I explore group gear and techniques in more detail in the Ultralight Backpacking Boot CampExpedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training online courses, including:

  • Group travel philosophies and styles (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Personal vs. group first aid supply considerations (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Group food planning, packaging, and cooking (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Case studies in group travel (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group social and psychological dynamics (Expedition Planning and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group leadership considerations (Expedition Planning & BSA Leader Training)
  • Executing the Patrol Method with lightweight gear (BSA Leader Training)

[ilink url=””]Learn More About Group Travel in My Online Courses[/ilink]

What Would You Use?

I’m interested in learning about your favorite group gear, and what you might consider for shelter, cook systems, water treatment, and more when you hike with your family, troop, or crew of pals. Please leave your feedback below!

Reflections of an Ultralight Life: Interviewing Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka and I met “online” (who didn’t, these days?) what now seems like a long time ago, while he was preparing for a trek across the CONUS from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coasts. At that time, he was asking me questions about how to keep his feet warm during the winter while trekking through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and what to do about bears once he reached Montana.

Those early conversations make me laugh now, because Andy can pretty much school anyone when it comes to gear selection and wilderness skills in hostile environments.

I got to know Andy well when he worked for Backpacking Light as a business development intern in 2005, and our family has always had a soft spot for his contagious enthusiasm to live life to its fullest. My own feelings towards Andy have oscillated between envy (for getting to see wild places in their most raw state, with a lens of primality), awe (for his physical and mental prowess at facing unbelievably difficult challenges in the wild), and privilege (for counting him as a friend).

Andy just returned from a 4,500 mile circumnavigation of the major mountain ranges of the state of Alaska and Canadian Yukon, a journey that was featured in a recent issue of National Geographic. I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the trip, but more important, dive in a little bit deeper about the Skurka Way of Life.

(Interview Date: March 29, 2011)


Ryan: So, what are you? I mean, how do you identify yourself? If you were to introduce yourself to somebody, and say, “Hi, I’m Andrew Skurka and I’m a __________.” How would you fill in the blank?

Andy: That’s always a challenge — it’d be easier to say that I’m an accountant or lawyer. People get that, and expect it to. I would describe myself as a “budding adventurer.” I’ve transitioned away from being a straight-up backpacker, but I think I need another trip or two to get the adventurer degree.

Ryan: So Alaska – that was a warmup, then?

Andy: I would never call it a warm-up, but it wasn’t a cool-down or finale either. I’d describe it as my first long-distance adventure.

Ryan: I think you’ve made a unique mark – some might call it a reputation – as doing expeditions that cover very long distances in very short periods of time. Is that a fair assessment of what you’ve done to date? If not, then what do you see as your unique signature as an adventurer?

Andy: That’s an accurate assessment. I’ve been pursuing the “further, faster, and lighter” mantra for quite a while now — my first long trip was in 2002 and I’ve gotten out pretty much every year since then. Originally I only applied it to conventional backpacking trips (i.e. thru-hikes) but I’ve been applying it to more complicated and committing trips since 2008.

Ryan: Do you see your contribution as an adventurer in the future continuing down this line, or do you see yourself developing into something else as you continue to explore?

Andy: I’m reluctant to say that I’m making a contribution. If others perceive it that way, fine — but I’m just doing trips that I want to do, because I think I’ll get something out of them. Yes, I do expect that future trips will be along these lines. If you look at the progression of my trips, they’ve had a steady increase in difficulty. My first trip was the Appalachian Trail, and I was able to finish it despite having no skills and no experience when I started. In comparison, I can think of only a few individuals in the world who have the potential do complete the Alaska-Yukon Expedition.


Andrew Skurka trekking, on his recent amble through pretty Alaskan meadows, and more.
Ryan: Your Great Western Loop trek was ambitious enough, and garnered enough PR and stature in and of itself to carry you towards the National Geographic Adventurer-of-the-Year award. The Alaska-Yukon Expedition was so much more – on so many levels – physical challenge, remoteness, risk, skill requirements, commitment – I have a hard time reconciling the fact that the GWL was recognized as “the trip of the year” when you did it, and then wondering what will become of your Alaska-Yukon trip in terms of public attention. Do you anticipate the Alaska-Yukon expedition becoming your new “signature” (at least until your next one) or are you able to still identify with the GWL?

Andy: I think the Alaska-Yukon trip has received more public attention than the Great Western Loop, especially thanks to the 16-page feature story in National Geographic’s March issue. And turnouts at recent presentations have been huge — there were 300 people at my presentation last Thursday at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, which I think is more than they’ve ever had, despite having countless legends speak there (e.g. Royal Robbins in speaking there in April). Part of the public recognition might be cumulative — “How does he keep finding a way to up the ante? And how does he keep pulling these things off, despite all the odds against him?” — but I think the Alaska-Yukon trip has a special appeal because of the public’s impression of Alaska and the Yukon. It’s the last frontier, the greatest wilderness in the world, the home of more grizzly bears and caribou than people, etc.

Regarding the second part of that question, I no longer associate strongly with the the Great Western Loop. I’m very proud of that accomplishment — it demonstrated enormous athletic prowess and mental discipline — but it’s not where I’m at anymore. It’d be like a high schooler who is taking calculus classes to still be identifying themselves as a graduate of 6th grade algebra.


Ryan: We’ve sat down together over beer, or on the phone – prior to both your GWL and AK treks – and bounced ideas off each other about your expeditions. They focused on “what to do” that would be big, bold, and unique. Yes — you have / are upping the ante, so to speak. Everyone wants to know “what’s next” but I promised myself not to ask that. Instead — now that Alaska is in the bag — are you going to look at planning your next big expedition in the context of “what to do”, or will you focus more on “where to go” or a particular style, length, something else?

Andy: “What’s next?” is a question I get too often, as if brilliant ideas like the Sea-to-Sea Route, Great Western Loop, or Alaska-Yukon Expedition are as countless as unclimbed peaks in the Himalaya or virgin couloirs in the Chugach Range. I think my primary motivation for the next trip is the experience, or feel, of it. The most redeeming feature of the Alaska-Yukon Expedition — by that, I mean the scariest part from which I learned the most — was the BIG wilderness I experienced in the Yukon Arctic and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I’d like to experience that again, maybe on an even bigger scale. Travel mode, location, and length will all play a role in formulating another trip too.

Ryan: The Tibetan plateau is pretty big.

Andy: Yes it is. As is some of the islands in the Canadian Archipelago.

Ryan: At one point, I think Roman was talking to us about a packrafting trek up there. Maybe global warming will open up new opportunities for exploring that area.


Ryan: So you are in this interesting life cycle. Plan a huge trip. Execute it. Spend the next year on a speaking tour and doing what you call “littler trips” while planning the next big trip. Repeat. Did you choose this lifestyle, or did it choose you?

Andy: Both — it’s the pattern that seems to work, for me personally as well as my economic realities. My pride and identity is wrapped up in my big trips. But I can’t always be on one — I need to plan them and fund them, and I want some semblance of a normal life too. The smaller trips are useful in between the big trips: they help me gain new skills and experiences, they solve a perpetual case of cabin fever, and they are accommodating to an ambitious public speaking schedule (this year I’m expecting to give about 50 presentations) and to some private guiding.

Ryan: Is this your career or do you see yourself in some sort of post-graduate, pre-career phase?

Andy: For now, it’s my career. But I think it will evolve, as has the career of other outdoor luminaries before me. Given how skill-intensive these trips are, I could see myself peaking in my mid- or late-40’s, long after I’m on the backside of my physical strength and endurance. But, with age, it seems that the appeal of civilian life and the need to do something that’s not so self-centered increases.

Ryan: You’re guiding now, writing more, speaking more. This looks like a career forming. How busy do you want to be?

Andy: This has been a career since 2006, but it seems to be growing especially fast right now.  I feel like I’m at a critical juncture, where I have to get some major projects going or completed in order to set myself up for long-term sustainability.  So I’m okay with the busyness for now.  But eventually I would like to outsource the mechanics of these projects so that I can focus on the things that only I can do — I need to give the presentation, write the book, and guide the trip, but I can have someone else schedule the events, fill the orders, and do my finances.


Ryan: What do you want most, that you don’t have now? What is your expedition lifestyle incapable of providing to you?

Andy: For now, nothing. I’m a very happy guy. I get to go on amazing trips; and then when I return I get to wow audiences, go skiing with my friends, and date a beautiful woman. As someone told me recently, “It’s not fair that you have the best of both worlds — the wanderlust of a gypsy and the joys of being in a community.”

Executing the spreadsheet at "not-your-run-of-the-mill" post office.
Ryan: We’ve talked at length in the past about expedition planning logistics, and of course, your famous “spreadsheet”. Carrying out one of these trips – do your expeditions demand this level of detail, or is this just part of what you bring to the table when you plan an expedition?


Andy: The extensive planning I do is partly necessary and partly just me. Before I left for the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, I gave myself a 60/40 chance of finishing and a 10 percent chance of not coming back.  If I hadn’t done all that planning, I think my odds would not have been as high.  For example, I might have made poor macro route planning decisions, costing me precious time or worse; I might have had inadequate gear or supplies, which would at least caused unnecessary discomfort; and some of the sections would have been logistically impossible without advance planning.  That said, it would have been possible to “wing it” more than I did, but it’s not in my nature to let the resulting risks go uncontrolled if I can do something about it beforehand.

Ryan: I’ve reviewed your gear list, and I think you could save some weight and shave off a half pound – heck, maybe even a whole pound. Do you care?

Andy: Once upon a time, I definitely would care.  But an extraneous 8 ounces is negligible when I’m carrying a 17-lb base weight with two weeks of food.  On the Alaska trip, durability and familiarity were very important to me, which is why I used things like the GoLite Pinnacle and 3-pin telemark bindings and boots — in both cases, there were lighter alternatives, but I couldn’t trust them as much.


Ryan: When you did the GWL you tied it to a “cause” – increasing awareness of the threats facing the wilderness of the American West. Then you went to Alaska and basically said, “nah, no causes this time.” Why did you do that?

Andy: I’ve becoming very pessimistic that humans have the capacity to make the long-term decisions to sustain our well being.  The writing is on the wall, yet no one wants to do anything about it — our fate really is an inconvenient truth.  The American economy is going to be severely punished by our debt, which will have worldwide repercussions; and the entire human race is going to be punished by what we are doing to the environment.  I’m very disappointed in myself for thinking that we are fundamentally incompetent of fixing either problem, but I can’t seem to arrive at a different conclusion.  I feel like the previous generation has maxed out my credit card and left me holding the bill, and they’re not apologetic for it.  In light of that, I’m focused on doing what makes me happiest and on how I can make real improvements and contributions to my immediate niche, i.e. my family, friends, and local community.


Ryan: You grew up in the age when personal mobile communications technology exploded, but you’ve generally not been too plugged in yourself on your trips. Why? Do you’ll think you’ll embrace it more on future trips? How do you see this impacting backcountry travel in the next few years, especially as satellite communication services get really cheap?

Andy: Mobile communications have two functions: as a safety net, and as a marketing tool.  I think it’d be foolish to not carry one for safety sake.  Using one for marketing is an optional activity, and I’ve generally stayed away from extensively using one for this purpose because it’s a distraction.  One of the main reasons for these trips is to get “out there” — So why stay plugged in all the time and limit that experience?


Yukon mosquitoes (a lifestyle choice). Click to see the bugs, bigger.
Ryan: Everyone wants to know the answer to three questions. Number 1. How do I have your lifestyle? I tell them they just need to go to Duke, and the doors of the Ivy League will swing open wide. What do you say?


Andy: I say, don’t think it’ll be easy.  There are a few ways to have a similar lifestyle.  (1) Get a job that has a lot of field time — wildlife biology, wind turbine repair, NOLS instructor.  (2) Buy your freedom.  Work really hard when you’re young, save every penny, make a lot of money, and retire at 40, or 30 if you get lucky.   (3) Work, travel, work, travel. Repeat indefinitely.  I think planning to be a “professional adventurer” is about as realistic as planning to be a basketball player, so I don’t usually encourage it.

Ryan: I think most people have an unrealistic view of people who live the lives they (the other people) think they want, but the recipe for any sort of success is pretty much the same: it’s a lot of hard work. I think the difference between those who are living relatively unsatisfying lives and those that are living relatively satisfying lives is that they either don’t enjoy the work, or they do.

Number 2. Would you give all this up – the opportunities to explore vast continental traverses for months at a time – for anything? If so, what would that be?

Andy: No.

Ryan: I’m going to ask you that question in twenty years. We’ll table it until then.

Number 3. What’s next? No, no – I mean – what’s next in terms of what you didn’t do in the past, and aren’t doing today, that you might be doing in the future – not just expeditioning – but “something else”?

Andy: I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now, thanks. Don’t want to change a thing.


Please visit Andy’s website at and find out about some fantastic guiding opportunities and read his new ebook there about backpacking gear.

Teton Crest Revisited

I’ve been on the Teton Crest dozens of times. I’ve trekked along, and astride it, on several backpacking expeditions.

And I still experienced a bunch of firsts on this last traverse, in September/October of 2010.

Here are my most memorable:

  1. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time, except the little one you see in the photo, which was transient at best. Raingear and shelter felt really heavy on this trek, but the shelter did come in handy for part of our crew: they liked that it provided some shade from the full moon.
  2. Every member of my six-man trekking crew was new. I hadn’t spent a night with any one of them before. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of everyone. Especially later in the trip, where the camaraderie and social compatibility evolved into something that was magical, if only for a few days.
  3. I found unique and profound satisfaction from the natural world on each of the seven days we spent on the Crest, from a silent forested camp on a bench high above a tiny creek to the drama of wide open alpenglow in Alaska basin, this trek was overstimulating with natural beauty that reflected something more awesome than what I’m able to understand.

I’m drawn to the Tetons because of their majesty, sure, but their allure is deeper. There’s something about the intimacy you develop when you really get to know a place. I’ve been trekking in the Tetons since the 1980s and its hydrologic spine – the Teton Crest – it has the ability to take you places, if you’re willing to follow it.

I even have fond memories of the gear I took on this walk.

I remember very clearly the feeling of cozy warmth while wearing my insulating hoody and pants, inside my quilt and ultralight bivy, while sleeping out under the stars on windless, still, starry nights.

I fell in love with the sound of our inverted gas canister stove roaring its way to boiling a 4L pot of water for coffee before the sun even had a chance to blanket the potato fields to the west or start waking up the frozen dew on the tundra grass.

And I recall (with glee!) hopping up a mile-long talus field on my way to Table Mountain’s summit via a SE route with a simple white pack on my back that was free from the doodads, objects of catalog lists, deadweights, snaggers, brainthieves, and other distractions, because I’d willfully cut them off myself for the sole purpose of achieving aesthetic beauty in my rucksack!

But my favorite gear on this trek was the same piece of gear that was my favorite gear on my last harrowing, wet, bushwhack through the Beartooth Range in August: my shoes. Eight ounces of bliss on each foot – ballet slippers in both form and function. And they proved, once again, that “hard mountain trekking” and “ultralight footwear” is a marriage destined for glory if you just give it a chance.

My Favorite Gear From the Teton Traverse, September 26-October 2, 2010

  • Backpacking Light Cocoon UL Hoody, 9 oz
  • Backpacking Light Cocoon UL Pant, 7 oz
  • Backpacking Light UL 240 Quilt, 23 oz
  • Backpacking Light Vapr Bivy, 6 oz
  • Backpacking Light TorsoLite Sleeping Pad, 8 oz
  • Cilo Gear NWD 45L Worksack, Hacked Up, 36 oz
  • Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Shoes, 16 oz
  • Primus ETA Spider Canister Stove in Inverted Mode, 7 oz + a $20 4-L Aluminum Cookpot, 13 oz (Group Cook Kit)
  • Kinesys Sunscreen Stick and Native Dash SS Sunglasses

Acknowledgments: Pat Starich, Doug Ide, Damien Tougas, Eric Petritz, John Butler – a trekking crew of superb dimension.

Gear, Wild Places

Handrailing Along the Teton Crest

Handrails are substantial geographic features that can be used for navigation.

You might follow a stream, or a fence line, or a ridge. These are all types of handrails.

My two favorite wilderness handrails are both about “a 5 days’ walk” in length: The Wulik River in the Alaskan Arctic, and the Teton Crest in Wyoming.

The Teton Crest is about 45 miles from end to end as the crow flies from the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road to Highway 22 at Teton Pass. Most routes between these two points will travel about 65 miles if trails are mostly followed, like the Petzoldt High Route, which is not really a high route because it’s almost all on trails that travel benches well below the crest and makes forays into valleys that don’t feel so high. Don’t fret too much, though, because it’s still a good, and scenic, route, and suitable for intermediate trekkers who can navigate the trailless Class 2-ish section between Table Mountain and Hurricane Pass. The rest of the route is easy, except for the steep climb at Dead Horse Pass if the weather is hot.

I’ve traversed a variety of routes parallel to the Crest on both foot and ski, but haven’t done a walking trek there since 2002, when I went in via Leigh Canyon with Glen Van Peski and Alan Dixon. We came out at Death Canyon after attempting a pure route along the crest with helmets that didn’t go because the rock was too rotten. It was still really fun.

My last full walking traverse without helmets and intentionally scary parts was in 2001.

I went in at Glade Creek with Glen, Todd Foster, Don “Photon” Johnston, Ken Knight, Jim Walke, and Don Ladigin. John O’Mahoney, Ron “Caboose” Richards, and Steve Nelson went in via Hidden Corral Basin.

Here’s how it all shook out.

Ken and Don exited somewhere up in the NW end of the range, I think it was via Hidden Corral Basin. Todd made over a few of the big passes and came out somewhere in the vicinity of Teton Canyon, also on the West side, after getting all bloodied up bushwhacking his way out. Todd, Ken, and Don had long cab rides back to Jackson Hole.

Glen, Photon, Jim, and I met John O, Caboose, and Steve somewhere South of Red Mountain for a night, where I got a seed husk stuck in my throat and had to extract it myself after John O’s failed attempt to do so with a Snow Peak Titanium Spork. I then gave John O, Caboose, and Steve good data – GPS waypoints – to help them navigate from Green Lakes Basin over Littles Peak and along the Crest to Hurricane Pass, where the rest of were going to meet them, but they never turned on their GPS, got disoriented, and exited much later than the rest of us via a nighttime walk out of Cascade Canyon after a harrowing descent from the Crest and a bit of wandering up in the complex terrain up there.

I don’t recall how Jim, John O, Caboose, and Steve got back to Jackson but by now I’m betting that the cabbies are picking up on all this – there just aren’t that many in Jackson.

I split from Glen, Photon, and Jim for a night while I snuck down Cascade Canyon to get some sunset photos of the west faces of the Tetons, then rejoined them at Hurricane Pass.

Jim left us early because of a bad knee, and he was going to opt for the ride down the Gondola at Rendezvous Mountain, save for the fact that he missed the last day of Big Red by 24 hours. It was closed for the season. So he enjoyed the banging descent down the ski hill road.

Glen, Photon, and I finally made it to Phillips Pass and down to Highway 22 to seal the deal on the whole traverse of the Crest.

Let’s review the stats.

  • Nine people started in two different locations, ended in five different locations, and collectively completed five different routes.

This wasn’t really the intention.

So next week, I’m headed back to the Crest to attempt an expedition style (no, that doesn’t mean heavy, or with porters, or with resupplies, etc.) traverse in a more pure sort of form.

Our expedition objective goes like this:

To complete a N->S traverse of the Teton Range from the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road to Highway 22 along the Teton Crest (hydrologic divide), in the following style:

  • start and finish points will be at the intersection of the Crest with each road;
  • the route will follow the true Crest (hydrologic divide between the Snake and Teton River Basins) as much possible while following Class I or II terrain (i.e., terrain that DOES NOT require the use of hands for propulsion, safety helmets, and an emergency belay rope);
  • maps will be in the form of terrain maps with no marked manmade features;
  • style will be in the form of a group expedition where the group travels and camps together and shares duties and gear related to shelter, morning and evening cooking/meals, bear bagging, and other gear as needed.

I’m really excited about this trek, and the maps are pure, and beautiful. I think the trek will have a Shackleton-esque / Meriwether Lewisy type feel to it, and I think it will be hard.

I made custom maps for this trek and removed anything manmade, except a handful of place names. There are no trails, no roads, no land boundaries (although we know that GTNP is on the East side of the Crest, mostly), no benchmarks, no elevation data, no campsites, no bear poles/boxes, no coordinate grid.

Just a pure, unadultered, topographic interpretation of the terrain, with a few place names thrown in for landmarks.

Here’s a tiny crop of our 29″ x 54″ map:

The map alone promises that this will be an adventure.

There will be six of us in the party (Damien, Doug, John, Pat, Eric, and me), and I’ll take a camera.

You can follow us via SPOT or Twitter via Satellite phone between Sunday, September 26 and Saturday, October 2.