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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Cuben Fiber Tent on the Middle Fork Flathead River, Montana

Granite Creek, Middle Fork Flathead River, Great Bear Wilderness, Montana


In a previous post I discussed why a floorless pyramid is the best sort of shelter for wilderness travel but what it can’t give you is a good view when it’s raining.

I’ve been reviewing, and comparing, interesting ultralight options for the past few months – the Lightheart Solo (and Duo) and the custom cousin of the Solo pictured here. For this version, I specified a Cuben Fiber rain fly, dual zip doors, and one side of the fly set up as a porch for cooking and views. The dual doors let me stow gear on one side and cook and enter/exit on the other, and allow the whole thing to be completely unzipped with the fly rolled up when neither weather nor insects threaten.

I took this new 19 ounce shelter into the Great Bear Wilderness last week but didn’t have time to seal the seams, and we got 2 1/2 inches of rain on the trip in 48 hours.

So I had puddles in my tent, but the views were great. I was using a synthetic quilt, so the puddles didn’t do anything terribly threatening once I wrang out my sleeping bag, and I still slept warm. This is where the advantage of synthetic gear, and duplicity in insulation (quilt + insulating jacket and pants made from high loft synthetic insulation) really comes in handy.

Earlier I lamented about having too many tents but once I seal the seams on this one I think it will rapidly become something I use more, at least on short trips when I don’t mind the extra weight of a tent, especially as bug season beckons.

The Versatility of the Pyramid as an Ultralight Shelter


Bench Pitch

A Buttercup Yellow Silnylon Pyramid in the Shadow of the Walling Reef,
Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex (Sigma DP2s)

The pyramid geometry is the most versatile shelter design for the wilderness trekker.

A center pole means there is nothing to break unless you don’t pay attention under the heaviest snow loads, and with cheap and thin carbon poles.

A center pole means it has lots of headroom, and a really easy and fast pitch.

A full perimeter means you’re protected from winds, rain, and with not much extra effort, spindrift.

No floor means that you don’t really care if you open the door in the rain.

If you get the shelter in silnylon, and size it for two, like the 8’3″-er in the photo above, it’s light enough (18 oz) for solo use, big enough that two people don’t kill each other, there’s room left over for all the gear, and the dog, and you can crank it down tight to huge stakes and a bunch of guylines without worrying about it, like you do with Cuben Fiber.

If you add a short noseeum perimeter, like the one in the photo above, you keep out the bugs simply by stashing gear all around it.

If you get it in Buttercup Yellow like the one above, it matches the flowers and makes for pretty photos and Martha Stewart will even be impressed at your ability to decorate the wilds with good color matching.

If you get it in silnylon grey, you’ll blend in better and suffer an identity crisis because there are a lot of these out there in grey.

And if you go from a poncho, or a little Cuben Fiber tarp, or a Moment, or a (the?) One, or a Unishelter, or a Firstlight, or a Lunar Solo, or just about anything else that costs more or weighs more or wears out sooner, you just might think you died and gone to heaven and give yourself a good smack on the forehead for not buying into the pyramid cult earlier.

If I could only keep ONE shelter, it would be a Buttercup Yellow Silnylon Pyramid, because I could do everything on just about any trail in the world during the three tempered seasons, and most of what I’d want to do in the fourth season, and the color makes me cheery on stormy days.

Sorting Gear in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Photo, Sigma DP2s)

Sorting Gear

On the North Fork Dupuyer Creek, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Sigma DP2s, f/11, 1/20 sec.

I spent a few days over the past weekend on the eastern slope of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the vicinity of the Walling Reef. This campsite was just inside the canyon, so there’s mountains all round and sunset here means it gets cold quick. Here, I’m basking in the day’s final bit of heat, which is captured inside my tarp, before the sun goes down behind Bennie Hill, looming in the background.

On the Relevance of Video Games, Lightweight Backpacking Gear, and Education for Boy Scouts

Boy Scout, Montana Trekking

Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/5.0, 1/1000 sec.

A lot of things vie for our kids’ time and interests, including but not limited to video games, which this post is not about.

I could suggest why spending time outside with peers might be a better use of time than spending time playing video games, but that may not be the right battle to fight because (a) the short term reward systems that deepen addiction to video games may be more powerful than the long term benefits of participating in outdoor recreation as a social activity and (b) it’s a fight against the behemoth we all love to hate and hate to love called Organizational Marketing for Recruitment because of the perhaps misguided belief that Bigger is Better, at least in terms of Membership Numbers.

These are all topics for another day, of course: back to the photo.

The good fight to fight is that which spends money from the pocketbooks of youth parents wisely, and that which saves our kids from heavy loads on their backs.

The pack in the photo is the prototype of a 2-lb pack we’re building for backpacking Scouts. It’s 65% lighter, absorbs 80% less water, and will cost 35% less than the most popular internal frame pack carried by Scouts new to backpacking, and parents new to buying gear for their Scouts that they don’t have to lug up and down the mountains.

It’s intentionally been designed to be small enough so as not to fit all the gear that Scouts are told to carry these days by misinformed or inexperienced leaders and the risk management experts who review gear lists for high adventure programs. It has an internal frame so the Scout can carry several days of food, so even a 12-year old can go on a 50-miler. In the new BSA Guide “Passport to High Adventure”, wilderness backpacking is now recommended for kids aged 15 and older, an age guideline that has been creeping upward for the past 80 years. What a disaster, to rob younger kids of these experiences.

The pack of course is only part of the problem, and a relatively minor one at that.

The real battle, like that with video gaming, is about education.

That’s why today, I’m joining a corps of six instructors from Backpacking Light to teach Scout leaders from across the U.S. in a sold-out wilderness course where they will learn how to implement lightweight backpacking programs in their own troops and high adventure programs, and why we are working with Montana BSA to provide High Adventure Treks that immerse Scouts into ultralight backpacking in a deep and meaningful way.

What better proving ground to show that ultralight backpacking really does work, than the Bob Marshall Wilderness in May?

The photo, of course, is my son Chase, 11 years old and 70 pounds soakin’ wet, carrying 13 pounds of food, personal gear (18.6% of his body weight, not 30%-40% as per BSA guidelines and 40%-50% which is common among Scouts), and patrol gear on a weekend trek near the snowline in March, in Montana, where we had temperatures down to 20 degrees and overnight winds gusting to 40 mph. My favorite part – he’s walking upright, gave away one of his trekking poles (“I don’t really need it, I suppose…”), and has a lot fewer things to keep track of than this Scout. Plus, he’s got a bit of a swagger to him on that high ridge. I like his confident gait – it’s fast, and intentional. He knows where he’s going!

That doesn’t make Chase, or anyone who carries a light pack, a better person.

But if better is defined as “more useful, suitable, or desirable” ( then it would be hard to argue the case that you’ll have a better time in the wilderness if you saddle your kids with stuff that displaces the knowledge of skills that they should be carrying in their brains, and a little bit of emotional fortitude to do without a few things for a few days.