Friday, September 19, 2014

My favorite camping book: Ultralight Backpackin' Tips

Since I refer to Mike Clelland all the time, I figure I should finally do a review of his excellent book.

Ultralight Backpack' Tips: 153 amazing & inexpensive tips for extremely lightweight camping by Mike Clelland is my favorite and most used camping resource of all time.

Mountain Man read the book first.  When he's finished it all I heard from him was, "tarp tent this," and, "cut off that," and I thought he was nuts.  Then I actually read the book and Mike convinced me that everything he had to say was not only perfectly sane, but actually a pretty good idea.  Funny how we trust information when it doesn't come from our loved ones...

Mike (I figure I can call him Mike, right?) makes ultralight backpacking approachable and affordable.  He encourages DIYing gear, which is fun and cheap.  He shows you why lightweight backpacking gear can be LESS expensive than the traditional kit.  Gotta love that, right?

I know when most of my friends hear the term "ultralight" they have a negative reaction.  It's too spartan, uncomfortable, kooky, or wimpy.  Maybe it is.  But you know what?  I love and use this book and I am NOT an ultalight backpacker (yet?).  You can choose some of the ideas and lighten up your bag however much you like.  It's not all or nothing.  For example, MM and I make some ultra light choices: tarp tent, re-packaged Pristine drops for water purification, and homemade dry food.  But I also make some conventional choices for fun and comfort: my beloved "heavy" pack and our relatively "heavy" Jetboil because it's just so dang convenient.  Lightening up in some areas allows you to carry your other luxuries comfortably.

The point is, after reading this book, you WILL lighten your bag.  By how much is up to you.

The book is illustrated with fun cartoon diagrams and written in short focused articles, making it easy to pick up and put down.  In fact, I think the content of this book comes from Mike's blog posts on Backpacking Light.  You can check them out there, but I still recommend the book as 1) is a subscription website so if you don't subscribe you won't have access to all content, and 2) I personally refer to this book so often (especially for recipes) that I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf.

So let's talk about those recipes.  This book is worth the price of admission just for the recipes and food related section.  When people talk about backpack weight they always refer to the big three (pack, sleep system, shelter system) but it's really a big four - your food will often weigh as much or more than any of those three items.  Mike tackles the issue of precisely (down to the oz) how much food to bring for every person on the trip.  Prior to reading this book I always had an excessive amount of food left over at the end of the trip.  Now I'm able to pack confidently knowing I've got the right amount.

The book has several recipes for making your own hearty and lightweight camping meals (all Just Add Water!) that are legitimately delicious.  We're talking about flavourful and calorie packed recipes for rice and beans, polenta cous cous, and...the favorite of anyone who tries it....the Spud Bomb.  I've made Spud Bomb for many a group of campers and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't become totally obsessed.  After using Mike's recipes for years I've started to pick up the "formula" and have been experimenting with my own creations too.

So that's my ode to Mike Clelland, my personal camping guru.  I will continue to refer to him constantly on this site (and in real life) as his work has majorly impacted the way I camp.  I recommend you check out the book and put a few ideas into practice.

How about you?  Are you a fan of Mike Clelland and the ultralight philosophy?  Is there someone else you've gotten advice from that's had a big impact on you?

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