light-sky Field test #2: Light backpack

By Barry Kauler
Page created: March 12, 2016. Updated: 

This is one page of a series that I am writing on "traveling light", whether it be hiking in the wilderness or wandering the world by boat, bus, train or air.

In January 2016 I have experimented with ultra-light hiking with only a waist-pack, and I conducted a field test: Waist-Pack Field test

It was great not having anything on the shoulders, however, I want to carry a tent, more clothes and more food, so have purchased an ultra-light backpack and tent, and this field test is the first adventure with this gear, just one overnighter.

Ultra-light tent and backpack

I hunted for the lightest gear, and found the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim backpack, frameless, weighing only 563 grams, and the Big Sky Soul 1P tent, weighing just on 1 kilogram.

I have started a web page to review ultralight backpacks, and so far I have reported on the Pilgrim: Traveling light: Backpacks

I have created a web page comparing my collection of tents (I am a tentaholic), and have reported on my latest acquisition, the Soul 1P: Traveling light: Shelter

As I have reported in the backpacks page, this is my first time using a frameless pack, and I am facing the challenge of packing it so that all of the weight is carried on the hips. This is part of the exercise for field-test #2.

Other aspects are, how does it feel to carry the weight of the tent and other extras, and how does the tent perform?

Packing the backpack

I started by getting together everything that I hoped to fit into the backpack:

That lot adds up to 4224gm. There are some other items that I will carry in various places on my person: sunglasses (41gm), reading glasses (70gm), wallet (92gm), keys (60gm), phone (in bag, 203gm).

It is only one night, so won't cook. Only packing ready-to-eat food, about 980gm. Water, about 1300gm. So, including the backpack itself at 563gm, total weight of backpack is 4224 + 980 + 1300 + 563 = 7067gm.

Some notes about those items. The weather is warm, so all of those warm layers will not be needed. The S2S Micro II sleeping bag is in a Kathmandu "green" stuff-sack, not the compression-bag that it comes with -- this is better for inserting into the backpack.

I packed all of that gear, close to the top. It is important with a frameless pack, to choose a size in which your gear will pack right up to the shoulder-strap anchor-points, for rigidity. Mine packed a bit higher than that. Here is what it looks like:

...quite rigid. It was awkward to fit the poles inside, so I attached them on the side, as shown.

Starting the trek

Thursday, March 10, 2016, I set out early in the morning. I caught a bus from Midland Train Station (Stand 8), to Mundaring. If you want to follow my path, take a train from the city (Perth), to Midland -- it is the Midland line and the trains terminate here. The bus to catch is number 320, operated by Transperth.

The town of Mundaring is in the hills east of Perth and is on the Great Eastern Highway, which goes to Kalgoorlie, in fact right across to the East coast of Australia.

A couple of blocks south of the shops, there is a park:

Walk in, you will see a track going east-west, take the east track (turn left), then walk a short distance, over a road, and you will see a right turn:
Stay alert! If you miss this sign, you will be on a different track that will take you to Northam.

The symbol that you see on the right, marks the Munda Biddi Trail, which is mostly for cyclists, though walking is allowed.

Homesite of the Munda Biddi Trail:

If you miss the turnoff, you will be on the Kep Track, about 75km long, terminating at Northam. It doesn't have shelters, but there are towns with accommodation.
Information about the Kep Track:

It is a pleasant walk, quite scenic, in a southerly direction, heading toward Mundaring Weir about 6.5km away. On the way, you will come across these big pipes:

There's two of them, my backpack placed in front to show the size. They take water from Mundaring Weir, inland to Kalgoorlie, a distance of 530km.

As you approach Mundaring Weir, walking on Munda Biddi Trail, keep alert, as there is a turnoff for the Bibbulmun track, east-bound (and eventually going down to Albany, about 900km away):

...walking from left to right in above photo, the turnoff is on the left. Do not turn, keep going straight. You need to come back to this point from Mundaring Weir.

A bit further on is the small township of Mundaring Weir, and a lovely sight for thirsty travelers, the Mundaring Weir Hotel:

Lunchtime! I ordered wedges and coffee, which was a too-generous serve, not so good in the middle of the day (for a hiker):

...for the record, the wedges cost AU$9 and the coffee AU$4.

A useful tip: the back garden of the hotel has a cold water dispenser.
Another useful tip: In the above photo of the hotel, follow the road to the right, a short walk, at its end, is a hostel, with cheap bunk accommodation.

Feeling a bit stodgy after that lunch, I back-tracked to the Bibbulmun Track turnoff. I was going to "double hop", keep going past the Balls Creek Shelter, and stay overnight at the Hellena Shelter, however, was feeling lethargic and decided to only walk to the first shelter, a distance of about 5km.

There is no phone signal, not for Optus anyway, in the town of Mundaring Weir, however, the Bibbulmun Track climbs rapidly, and at the top there is a signal. Last chance to use your phone, as once over the crest of the hill, the signal disappears.

Walking along the Bibbulmun Track, in an approximately easterly direction, you will come to a turnoff to the right:

...see the sign on the tree! The squiggly snake is the symbol for the Bibbulmun Track, and is called the "Waugal".

If you daydream, as I do, it is so easy to miss these waugals. In this case though, missing the turn does not matter, as it just goes downhill to a lookout, then back uphill and crosses over the track that you would be on if you had not taken the turnoff.

If you opt to walk down to the lookout, you get a view of the weir:

Continuing the walk, suddenly you will see buildings amongst the trees:

...this is the Perth Hills National Parks Centre, for retreats and camping. The Bibbulmun Track passes right through this Centre, but be very alert as you walk into the Centre, as walking back the other way is not quite so obvious.

Another tip: This Centre also has a cold water dispenser.

Setting up the Soul 1P tent

It is about a 1½ hour walk from the Mundaring Weir Hotel to the Ball Creak Shelter. On arrival, I setup my tent:

Easy-peasy to setup, as freestanding. This is the Big Sky Soul 1P, see my link at the top of this page.

i put down the footprint, as the ground was very rough, and I didn't bother to do any clearing, except for some large gumnuts.
I did use stakes, just-in-case, the tube-stakes from Big Sky, and I love them -- very light and strong.

Then the fly, but as the weather was so good (peaked at 30°C, 40% humidity, hazy sky), I only put it halfway:

...this is called the "moon fly" position, and is most intriguing. I left it like that all night. Should the weather turn inclement, the fly can quickly be rolled down -- but here is what intrigued me -- it can be done from inside the tent.

That's another intriguing feature, the inner-skin door. You can step-in and step-out of the tent. Yeah, well, this is nice when the weather is fine.

There are signs of thoughtfulness in the design of this tent, such as little loops all over the place to hang things. There is an internal pocket, which of course we expect in any half-decent tent.
Very light materials, the whole tent including stakes is only about 1kg. Add 70gm for the footprint. Thin poles too. But it seems strong enough.

Regarding the strength, the elongated shape means that side gusts are going to try and push it over. There are external loops on the fly, for attaching guy-lines, for extra stability in high wind.

I don't have any complaints about the Soul 1P tent, except that it is 1P! I like to have all my gear inside:

The Soul 2P is only about 200gm heavier ...hmm. But then, I might go for the Big Sky Evolution 2P. Just dreaming.

Backpack thoughts

I liked the tent, in fair weather anyway. But the backpack, that is another matter...

The Gossamer Gear Pilgrim 36 is a nice backpack, very light. In my backpack review page, linked-to from the top of this page, I criticized the narrow hip belt -- yeah, well, criticism confirmed.

In fact, I felt as though the entire hip belt is an afterthought. Other guys who reviewed this pack, seemed to be carrying it on their shoulders, and were not concerned or even aware of, any limitations in carrying capability of the hip belt.

The pack kept sliding down, and I had to keep hitching it up. As it slid down, my shoulders carried more weight -- not what I want!

After returning from the trip, I conducted an experiment. I transferred all of the contents to my Kathmandu Altai 50 pack:
Immediately I noticed how well it hugged the small of my back, hips and waist.

See the fairly small distance between the anchor-points of the side-flaps. There are also tensioners on each side, to pull the pack in tightly against the curve of the back.

Very long padded side-flaps, gripped my hips, and a wide belt for comfort on the tummy.

This was not really a fair comparison, as I only walked around the house, but I do recall back a couple of years when I used this backpack, and it did carry the weight well on the hips.

The Altai has an internal alloy frame, with a curve that probably contributes to the snug fit against the curve of the back.

The Altai weighs 1338gm, in contrast with the Pilgrim at 536gm. However, I feel as though I would rather use the Altai on the next trip.


Everything has been said already, however, some extra commentary:

A thumbs-up for the tent, in fair weather anyway. However, the vestibule is really a very poor excuse for a vestibule, only good enough for leaving the shoes. And the vestibule will only exist when the fly is pulled right down.

The backpack I had high hopes for, due to its very light weight. I think that many other people would be very happy with it, just not me.
I should really be looking at an ultra-light framed pack, such as the Zpacks Arc Blast.

Or, go back to my Mountainsmith Daylight waist-pack!

(c) Copyright Barry Kauler 2016, all rights reserved.
Please do not copy this page anywhere, instead link to it. I will probably be editing it every now and again, so it is wise to link to this original page.