Saturday, February 06, 2010

On Lightweight Backpacking and Fly Fishing

I hesitate to describe this as a post about "ultralight" backpacking and fly fishing as some of the true ultralight backpacking guys really take it to the next level--and make a lot of sacrifices to get there. Those guys will look at my kit and load weights and chuckle. Nevertheless, I believe that there are a lot of folks that backpack primarily to fly fish and that are also interested in lightening their packs so in this post I am going to outline some thoughts on combining the two activities and also outline what gear I carry and why.

To start, my outlook on lightweight backpacking is based on the following ideas:

  • Most importantly, and aside from being fun of its own accord and being a great way to see the last untouched places, backpacking is the only way to get to the really good fishing.

  • Deep trips into the backcountry are often required to catch native trout in their native ranges.

  • The lighter the backpack the better. While backpacking you should be able to comfortably fly fish with your pack on. This allows you to test the water to see if it is worth stopping and dropping the pack to fish hard. You also need to be able to fish while hiking in order to surgically strike the fishiest looking water without delaying the overall hike too much. For me, the cutoff to comfortably fish with a pack on is about 25 pounds.

  • Lastly, there are certain comforts that are worth a few extra ounces here and there.

So, what's in the pack and how much does it weigh?


Gregory Z65 Backpack, size medium - 62.0oz/3.88lbs
Lightweight yet big enough for extended trips.

Montbell U.L. SS #2 Sleeping Bag - 31.0oz/1.94lbs
Warm, stretchy and really really light.

Thermarest Neo Air Medium Pad - 13.0oz/0.81lbs
Light and comfy.

MSR Hubba Hubba Tent - 67.0oz/4.19lbs
I've had mine since '05. Light, roomy and simple to pitch.

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove - 3.8oz/0.24lbs
Tiny, light and bullet proof.

MSR IsoPro Fuel - 8.0oz/0.50lbs
Works with the stove and lantern.

Mammut X Zoom Headlamp - 6.0oz/0.38lbs
Lights up the darkness. You could land a jumbo jet with this headlamp.

MSR WaterWorks Ceramic Water Filter - 14.6oz/0.91lbs
Good flow and attaches directly to waterbottles. Very easy to field clean.

Evernew Titanium Cook Pot - 4.8oz/0.30lbs
Holds a full load of mac-n-cheese.

Primus Lantern (before the easylight) - 5.0oz/0.31lbs
In the backcountry a lantern makes a campsite feel like home.

Gregory Seam Sealed Rain Cover - 3.0oz/0.19lbs
Wet gear and clothes can ruin a trip.

Spyderco Ladybug III Knife - 0.5oz/0.03lbs
Light and sharper than Occam's.

Nalgene Wide-Mouth Cantene Water Bottle - 2.0oz/0.13lbs
Between this and the hardshell I have enough water for a night.

Nalgene Bottle - 6.2oz/0.39lbs
For water on the trail.

Rei Insulated Mug - 5.0oz/0.31lbs
Warm coffee in the morning makes me human again.

First Aid Kit - 1.0oz/0.06lbs
Custom kit for wounds and blisters.

Mini Bic Lighter - 0.6oz/0.04lbs
Small, simple and reliable.

Coghlan's Plastic Matchbox w/ Safety Matches - 1.0oz/0.06lbs
Always have a backup in the backcountry.

GSI Outdoors Lexan Fork (Sawed-off) - 0.6oz/0.04lbs
I've had this fork forever: tough, lite and costs $0.79!

Optio WP Camera - 5.6oz/0.35lbs
Fishing cameras get wet.

Thermacell Mosquito Repellent - 7.6oz/0.38lbs
This thing works and can be the difference between a good night and bad.


Sage ZXL 7'6" 3 wt (in sock) - 2.6oz/0.16lbs
The rod I bring varies depending on the destination, but generally a short 3 works well in the highcountry.

Sage LL 3 Wt (in sock) - 2.5oz/0.16lbs
Breaking a rod shouldn't ruin a trip.

2" Polycarbonite Tube w/ Caps for 2 rods - 7.0oz/0.44lbs
Light and tough rod tube for two rods.

Ross Evolution Reel w/ 3 wt line - 6.0oz/0.38lbs

Fly Boxes X 3 - 10.8oz/0.375lbs
I bring 3; nymphs, dries, streamers. The cost of not having a fly you want is huge.

Tippet/Leaders/Hemos/Clippers - 5.9oz/0.37lbs
All the gear I need.

Columbia Aquatooth Water Shoes - 19.0oz/1.19lbs
Quick dry shoes for wading.


REI SPF Long Sleeve Shirt, Granite Colored - 9.8oz/0.61lbs
Great stealthy fishing shirt with enough pockets for everything.

Smartwool light hiker socks - 3.2oz/0.20lbs
Years of hiking in smartwool and never had a blister.

Marmot Aegis Rain Jacket - 14.0oz/0.88lbs
Let's just say the Outside mag gear of the year was well deserved.

Patagonia Capilene 3 Shirt - 7.8oz/0.49lbs
Solid mid-weight shirt.

Patagonia Capilene 3 Bottoms - 3.9oz/0.24lbs

Backup Underwear - 2.6oz/0.16lbs

Mountain Hardware Fleece Beanie - 0.9oz/0.06lbs

Columbia Titanium Shant Legs - 4.0oz/0.25lbs
Zip on legs for my hiking shorts (btw shants=shorts+pants).

Fingerless Wool Gloves - 2.0oz/0.13lbs
Great warm gloves for cold nights and for fishing.

Toiletries - 5.7oz/0.4lbs
TOOB toothbrush,sunblock,chapstick,DEET,wet wipes.


Columbia Titanium Shant Shorts - 8.0oz/0.50lbs
Not as comfortable as the non-convert shorts but functional.

TNF Ruckus Vaporwik Shirt - 7.1oz/0.44lbs
Quick drying but needs to be aired out each night....

Costa Del Mar z580 Polarized Glasses - 4.1oz/0.26lbs
Heavy but no lens I've tried holds a candle to the z580.

Vasque Boots - 64.0oz/4.0lbs
Heavy but damn solid boots. For a guy that has broken his ankle twice, I could not do 20, or even 10, mile days without them.

Hiking Underwear - 2.6oz/0.16lbs
Avoid chaffing.

Smartwool light hiker socks - 3.2oz/0.20lbs
Years of hiking in smartwool and never had a blister.

Baseball Hat - 2.5oz/0.16lbs
Always be hiding.

Suunto Altimeter Watch - 2.0oz/0.13lbs
Altitude is crucial to navigation.

Komperdell Titanal Predator Trekking Poles - 20.0oz/1.25lbs
For years I was too cool for hiking poles. That was stupid.

This list boils down to 22.31 pounds in the pack and 7.14 pounds worn, not including food and water. I usually go with dehydrated meals which comes out to less than a pound per day and water is about 2 pounds per 32 ounces (a full water bottle's worth). Generally, I will also bring a bear cannister along which is another couple pounds and sometimes different rods and gear are required. I usually go solo as well, but if I am backpacking with a friend, a lot of the above can be shared to reduce the weight loads. Waders are sometimes nice to have as well and I've yet to find a good lightweight pair for backpacking.


  1. Wow Dave, you went to a lot of work on this. Very helpful - thank you!

    -scott c

  2. Yep, this list has been a long time coming. The idea to put a list together and weigh everything came this past summer and I just now got around to it. Now if I can just sneek in some trips this year...

  3. Hi Dave, great subject, and great list. I have several Excel sheets for fine tuning my weights. I use the same rod holder, and carry a spare rod as well. The bear canister is what kills me. My main difference from you is that I generally don't fish while hiking.

    Dale (oenophile angler)

  4. Boy I think I need to update my gear. I think most of my stuff still comes from 1993 and weighs 2X as much. I only go once maybe twice to the backcountry a year so I haven't updated my gear. What is the price tag for each item? I think I might have a heart attack when I see the pricetag. I'll keep using my old stuff til it wears out. Very impressed you took the time to do this!


  5. Ned, pricetags would take the fun right out of it!

  6. Very nice. As a climber I see a number of items that could be cut down (or removed entirely) but the biggest savings I can see is to replace your rod and reel with a Tenakara outfit.

  7. Thanks for the comment Bob. This is the first I've heard of Tenakara. I did a bit of research and the longer rod seems like it might by pretty good on high country streams where you are mostly dabbing/half casting anyway and the telescoping aspect makes it compact and easy to just throw in a pack.

  8. hey Dave,

    curious about your experience w/ the Terracell anit-bug thingy? Do you use it while fishing or just around camp? Skeeters were bad on the stream last night, and those DEET based products can be sketchy around the fishing gear..


  9. Tomi - the Thermacell mosquito repellent has been a godsend around camp in heavy mosquitos. It is the only thing I have found that truly works and can change a miserable evening into an enjoyable one. I've never tried it around my fishing gear or while fishing. It's more of the kind of thing that you turn on and place just up wind of camp. Not sure about the effects of the vaporized deet but it is less noxious then putting it on your skin for sure.

  10. Dave B, you're the man! Thanks a lot for putting this list together. I'm preparing for my return to Canada early 2012 and am itching to get out spend some quality time in the back country once again.
    I've passed along your blog info to friends here in Japan and I'm sure they will be equally appreciative of your effort.

  11. This list rocks! Thanks. As for waders, I just weighed my Frogg Toggs Canyon Toggs and they're 1lb 14 oz. Just read about some kayaking pants with socks that go 1lb 3? Might sew up some SUL breathable pants with light stockingfeet some day...