A few people have asked if I had any tips for the GORUCK Ascent. I went the past two years so I may have learned a few things. I wanted to share some info I've come across and things I found useful. Your mileage will vary but it's probably worth your time to check some of this out.
Yes I know it's pretty much a giant link dump and it's going to be a pain to scroll through but if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them.
I'll also probably be adding more info as I find it.
- GORUCK 2012 Photos [Kit Klein]
- GORUCK 2011 Photos [Foster Huntington]
- Sunrise on the mountain [360 Panorama]
- Resting on the summit [360 Panorama]
- Nearing the descent [360 Panorama]
- Getting into the draw [360 Panorama]
- Sunday morning from high base camp (with other teams on Columbia) [360 Panorama]
GORUCK Ascent Specific Info
- GORUCK Ascent Loadout: 100 Hours in the Rocky Mountains [ITS Tactical]
- GORUCK Ascent AAR: Altitude is Everything [ITS Tactical]
- Ascenting at the Ascent [GORUCK]
- Fieldcraft at the Ascent [GORUCK]
- Priorities of Work at Basecamp [GORUCK]
- Cadre Tips: Danâ€™s Ascent [GORUCK]
- An Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking [ITS Tactical]
- Lightweight Backpacking Step 1: Weigh Everything! [ITS Tactical]
- Lightweight Backpacking Step 2: The Big Three [ITS Tactical]
- Lightweight Backpacking Step 3: Multi-Function Gear [ITS Tactical]
- Mountain UltraLight: Breaking the 7 pound barrier [Mountain Ultra Light]
- Lighten Up your Backpack: Eliminating Non-Essentials [Section Hiker]
- What to leave home/preparation for a thru-hike [White Blaze]
- Adventure Alan's UL Backpacking [Adventure Alan]
- DIY Single Use Packs for Antibiotic Ointments and More [ITS Tactical]
- Trimming Weight with Toothpaste Dots for Lightweight Backpacking [ITS Tactical]
- DIY Rite in the Rain Field Notebook Hack [Pig Monkey]
- Fisher Space Pen Refill | Ultralight Hack [Brian Green]
- DIY One Micron Water Filter - [YouTube]
- How to Make a Sandbag Pill for Weighted Ruck Runs [ITS Tactical]
- Training for Ruck Marches [Military.com]
- Marching Cadence and Speed [ITS Tactical]
- The Woodsman Workout [ITS Tactical]
- Boot Sock Showdown: SmartWool, Darn Tough Vermont and 5.11 [ITS Tactical]
- Ultralight Backpacking Clothing System [Eric the Black]
- Ultralight Makeover: Redux Pt. 8 - Dress Down [Backpacking North]
- UL Backpacking Water Purification - [YouTube]
- Gossamer Gear Pack Liners [Gossamer Gear]
- Polycryo Ground Cloth [Gossamer Gear]
- Small Pens for Backpacking [Brian Green]
- Hiking with GR2 and Brick Bag Attached [GORUCK]
- 6 Part Series: LandNav 101 [ITS Tactical]
- Refresh Your Navigation Skills [ITS Tactical]
- Calculating your Pace Count [ITS Tactical]
- How to Tie 7 Basic Knots [Art of Manliness]
- High Elevation First Aid [Climbing High]
- Measuring Angle and Distance with your Thumb [Farmers Almanac]
- Taking the High Road: Acute Mountain Sickness Exposed [ITS Tactical]
- High Altitude Hiking [Hiking Lady]
- Ten Non-medicated Ways to Cope with Altitude [Body Results]
- High Altitude Illness and Mountain Sickness [Mountain Zone]
- Altitude Adapt | Reader Testing Results [Brian's Backpacking Blog]
- Wilderness Medicine and Survival Tips [ITS Tactical]
- The Moscow Rules [ITS Tactical]
- Sample Gear List - Along The Wild Coast (20 lbs) [Pig Monkey] (may be broken)
- 101 Ultralight Backpacking Tips [Steve Green]
- A lot of general tips, forum posts, blog posts... [Backpacking Light]
- Tips & Tricks from Gossamer Gear - http://bit.ly/pAiqun
- Ranger TV [GORUCK]
- Taking Care of Your Feet: Preventing Blisters with Leukotape [ITS Tactical]
Below you'll find input from a number of people. No one person is 100% right because your needs will vary. Don't take anyone's advice below without doing some research on your own.
The Ascent: Tips from GORUCK Cadre Dan
In 2011, I showed up to the GORUCK Ascent a little nervous. I had never climbed a 14,000ft mountain. Sure, I had climbed mountains in Afghanistan, but not this high. GORUCK had enough faith in me to lead a group to the summit of Mt. Belford, and since that day I have been hooked on mountains. I donâ€™t get many opportunities to do an ascent, but when I do, I take full advantage of the challenge. And when youâ€™re in a far away and distant land that is 90% mountainous, as I am right now, you take advantage of climbing the above beauty that is roughly 14,201ft.
So letâ€™s talk about acclimating. In the photo above, weâ€™re doing just that â€“ enjoying ranger TV and beers at 10,000 feet. Acclimating is probably the most important thing you can do on your ascent. Going from sea level to 14,000ft is a bad idea. We made base camp at 3pm on a Friday and stayed at that elevation for about 16 hours. We also cheated a little and took some Diamox prior. Iâ€™m not sure it helped, but it made my beer taste terrible. Acclimating gets your body ready for the task at hand, and itâ€™s cool to drink beers and tell stories at the base of the mountain.
So what do you carry with you up the mountain???? How about as little as possible â€“ only those items that are absolutely needed. My personal preference is my tried and true GR1 which has been with me everywhere. Also a set of Knucks in case you come across that abominable snowman. Here is exactly what I carry: Set of trekking poles, 3L Camelbak hydration bladder full, some food, fire, extra top and hat in case I get cold, pack of smokes, knife, carabineers, 550 cord, and at least one beer to drink at the summit. You will find that you really donâ€™t need a bunch of stuff to take a long walk. Why carry a bunch of extra weight and make it suck more? Plus, it violates rule number one.
Is the ascent going to suck? Yes, but if it were easy why the hell would you do it? The air is thin at 12,000 feet - so much that no trees grow above this elevation. People are not supposed to climb and be at that elevation. You can play with nature a little bit, but nature will always win out. Make sure you are in good and you should be fine. Take some of the points that I have thrown out and you will have a successful ascent. Donâ€™t worry though, where we are going there will not be any snow. I just thought this picture was badass.
My Tajik friend pictured on the right is an experienced mountain climber. He has made successful ascents on 24,000ft mountains. He told us that if we donâ€™t make it to the top, itâ€™s not our fault. The mountain just didnâ€™t let us. This picture is taken at 13,500ft. I tried climbing this mountain twice. On the day that this picture was taken we had been climbing for 9 hours. The mountain just didnâ€™t let us make it to its summit. We had no trails, no maps, no anything to guide us to the top. We tried multiple different ways but ran out of time. Sometimes, you have to know your limitations. Nature and of course the mountain will always win.
The descent down the mountain is just as bad if not worse than your ascent. You are already fatigued, and falling down a mountain is a real hazard when youâ€™re tired. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated the entire time. Watch your step and take your time. Use your trekking poles to brace yourself when coming down steep terrain. Your knees will take a beating but in the end, itâ€™s all worth it.
In closing, one of the most valuable things that I think gets lost is to enjoy your time. Take breaks. Sit there and enjoy the beauty of being in the mountains. Colorado is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I can state that with absolution because I have been around the world. Enjoy were you are, and enjoy the company of those that are crazy enough to climb a 14er with you. Of course, over shared misery and beers being the most preferred.
Hiking Tips From A Friend
I just got some other hiking tips from a friend of mine and thought I would share.
14'ers are no small feat...I've done Rainer and that was painful...the altitude over 11K plain sucked for me.
These boots have worked well for me in those conditions: Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX
Sock liners seem to be a personal preference...but they work for me and the best so far have been from Icebreaker. Swap them out every 10 miles or so. The Arid Extra Dry spray keeps my foot sweat under control. Sweating is not an issue for me in low-tops, but with boots it is. If your ankles are strong, your load is reasonable, and you can discipline yourself not to climb on the side edges of your shoe, then I like low-tops (with gaiters to keep stuff out of your shoes) as they are cooler than boots.
Another secret is to shave your feet and ankles two days before the event. That reduces follicle friction which, believe it or not, can create blisters.
Hydrate like mad starting two days before the event. That seems to help with blisters as well for some reason (no science to back that up though). Lubricant at pack chafe points is a good idea for long evolutions.
But my hardest won tip is to give every piece of gear a thorough workout before the event...every time I forget that one I pay for it.
I've found that taking Ginko Biloba for s few months before a climb helps with altitude, or at least I get a placebo effect from it. Getting at least three full days of acclimatization above 6K before the event (and eating lot's of iron-rich food) is also great if you can do it.
I found a thread with some useful tips on Reddit. While the responses are geared towards the Appalachian Trail, most are still relatable to the Ascent. I've edited out a few remarks.
- If your personal bug tolerance is pretty high, skip the tents altogether and just bring a tarp and groundsheet. You can sleep 3 or 4 people under an 8x10' tarp that only weighs a pound. A headnet weighs less than an ounce and will keep the bugs off your face while you're sleeping.
- A foam sleeping pad is light and cheap, but bulky and uncomfortable. If you go that route do yourself a favor and try it out for a night on the floor at home first. Light weight is useless if you can't sleep and are tired all the next day. For a couple of ounces (and a hundred dollars) more you can get something like a NeoAir.
- Share a cookpot and stove between the group. A single 2 liter pot lighter than two 1-liter's, and is enough to cook a double dinner in. Everyone can either just eat out of the communal pot, or pack light plastic bowls to eat out of.
- For a stove, look at homemade alcohol stoves. Super light, less than an ounce typically, easy to use, and basically free to make. And fuel is available pretty much anyplace you're resupplying food.
- Don't go overboard on the clothes. A pair of convertible pants, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, two pairs of socks. That's all you need, really.
- Don't skimp on raingear, you can bet on being rained on at least once during the week. Probably more. Carry a decent WPB jacket - it's worth the weight increase over a poncho, plus a jacket can do double duty as a windbreaker if it gets cold.
- I'm a big proponent of trekking poles. They save the knees, keep you from falling down, and come in handy for setting up the tarp at night.
- Big ol' leather hiking boots. There's no point in trimming ounces from the pack just to strap 5lbs of dead cow to each foot. Trailrunners, or decent running shoes are all you need on the AT, especially with a light pack.
- A knife bigger than a Swiss Army knife. Seriously, the most dangerous thing you're likely to need a knife for is slicing a bagel in half.
- Nalgene bottles. Somehow it got into people's minds that you need to carry those stupid wide-mouth bottles every time you go backpacking. They weigh like 6 ounces and cost $10. A 1-liter gatorade bottle weighs 0.25oz, costs $1.50, and comes filled with delicious beverage.
- More than 2-liters of water-carrying capacity per person. You're going to hit water sources several times a day in MA. Drink up at each one, and carry enough to get you to the next one. Having a 2-liter capacity will give you the option to camp away from a water source at night if you want to, and have enough for dinner, breakfast, and the morning hike to the next source.
- A water filter. You do need to treat the water sources, but you don't need a 1lb filter to do so. Chemical treatment is lighter and easier.
Notes from an alpine style climber and former recon sniper
*When asked on his opinion of the Ascent packing list:
I think the key here is layering.
Layering will allow you to remain cool/warm during exertion and while
you are static. Also layering will allow you to remain fairly light.
The list Jason gave you is a good one. Before I go into that and if you have 5 min. check out this layering system for winter:
[Pack Light's Layering System]
and the reason behind each layer:
[Pack Light - Layering]
and a good short video about layering:
[Pack Light - Steve House]
You can use the same here in this list:
- Waterproof Shell: Use a light weight waterproof breathable that packs ultra light, example the Patagonia Torrentshell. you can fold it into its own pocket and becomes super small, it weights 371 g (13.1 oz). Alternatively you can use a soft shell but in case of a real storm it will get soaked.
- Synthetic/dry fit t-shirt : I am assuming this is a tshirt? or base layer? try a Patagonia Capilene 2. breathes well, moves well and doesn't chafe under the pack (I used this for the challenge). On the plus side you can use it as your innermost layer on your system. It dries very fast and moves sweat fast.
- Cold weather base layer (ex. UA Cold weather gear): Either a Patagonia Capilene 3 (the one I wear) or Capilene 4. 4 is warmer but doesn't move sweat so well.
- Knit cap: try one that has a fleece band inside, that way it'll help with sweat management.
- Lightweight pants: synthetic. no question about it. North face has some good ones.
- Lightweight, durable gloves: try black diamond
I am a big believer of the "belay parka" system. While you are moving your body generates heat so you don't need to be so covered. A light fleece with a good base layer should be enough. When you stop, tho, then you add a belay jacket on top to conserve the heat and help dry (evaporate) the sweat. In the fall I wear a Patagonia Nano Puff, a
small insulated jacket that weights nothing, uber warm and you can fold it inside its own pocket. very good.
Once you understand this and figure what you have and don't have let me know and we can start building your system. then we can move towards accessories.
Notes from a Local (Colorado) Former Green Beret
[This was originally posted by Bryan Black prior to the 2011 Ascent but again, the information is still useful and I wanted to share. It has also been unedited and copied in it's entirety.]
I've been talking with a good friend of mine that's local to where we'll be climbing (I think) in Colorado. He's a former Green Beret and an avid climber who's summited all the Colorado 14ers [Endeavor54 (must be logged in)]
I spent about an hour on the phone with him awhile back and picked his brain on a ton of things. Here's a synopsis of what we talked about and the advice he gave me. By all means don't take any of this as anything more than suggestions. This was before we had the packing list from GORUCK too.
A lot of the ranges have snow in September and the northern and western parts of Colorado have had record snowfall so don't be surprised to find snow the first week of September.
You never know what to expect and may need to pack a week in advance, may need snow shoes, definitely an ice axe (can be used to self-arrest a fall and pound in tent stakes), lightweight set of crampons. Some of these areas you might possibly go have had 247% of their average snowfall already this year.
Expect anything... Could be wearing shorts in the morning and freezing at night. A lighter sleeping bag is recommended, Primaloft pants, definitely want gators, especially in the snow... If warm put on as a layer, possibly a down vest, down booties, zip off pants possibly too. It's going to be a layer fest. You could be hiking with your sleeves rolled up and as soon as you stop the beanie and jacket go on. - Bring 3-Section Trecking Poles with flip locks rather than twist locks.
It literally can snow every month of the year, it all depends on how the summer shapes up, but he guarantees snow climbs will stay in all year. (I take this to mean ice climbs?)
Said a few mountains he thought we might end up... Evans, Bierstadt, Holy Cross, Democrat, Cameron, Bross, Harvard, Princeton - All relatively close to Denver, thought we will likely stay local and if doing multiple 14ers would stay in the front range.
He asked what kind of group we'd be traveling in and I told him there would be 50 people and he mentioned we'd probably be restricted to groups of 15 by the U.S. Forest Service.
You need at least 72 hours to acclimatize and do some easy hikes to help acclimatize. Drink lots of water! Ginko can help reduce Alti-Sickness and there's some products on the market as well which some of you have been talking about already here on this FB Group.
Suggested lighter meals, more frequently. No Alcohol. At 8k feet 1 beer = 2 beers
Mentioned a Jet Boil is the way to go and that 2 small canisters of fuel would be enough for 2 people for 4 days. Said you want a stove, just in case you have to melt snow. Jet boil is used to just boil water, that way you don't have dirty dishes. Lick your spork clean!
Good trail mix is a must, here's his recipe. Pika's Choice: Peanuts, Almonds, Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, reese's pieces (instant sugar) - 1 cup everything, 2 cups reese's pieces. Take a pound in separate bags. Try any and all food BEFORE YOU GO.
Take instant oatmeal - 8 packs for the 4 days. Put 2 packs into 4 ziploc freezer bags prior to going, pour hot water into a freezer bag to make breakfast and now you have a trash bag for the day. Suggested a Ti Spork, Cliff/Zone bars, eat larger meal at lunch, bigger meal at dinner.
Get a cheap insulated mug. Said he swears by the 79Â¢ plastic insulated mug he has. Likes Instant milk tea from the asian market or Starbucks Via. Take meals you just have to add hot water to like Backpacker's Pantry but try them before you go! Also Tuna or Chicken foil packs are good to dump on top for added protein.
Hot drinks are ideal. you'll be thankful you have one in the morning and at night. Water filter is a must, share 1 between 4 people. 1 person pumps one day then you switch. 3 liters per person per day at least. Suggested an MSR Mini and a collapsible bladder. 1 guy can carry a 4L collapsible bladder. Bring a Nalgene too. Can boil water before going to bed and put it into Nalgene and then in the foot of your sleeping bag at night to keep your feet warm!
Aspirin can counter altitude headaches. First thing when you get one, take Aspirin and then drink water! Take them before too. 1 before bed, 1 in the morning. You can buy the mini bottles of Bayer.
Tent - You definitely want a tent so you'll have shelter if a storm comes through.
On Footwear, Stoves, Sleeping Bags & Pads
[Below is a response to an email from a friend of mine when I asked for his input on a few things. Obviously these are just one persons opinion and you need to make your own decisions when buying or borrowing gear.]
So, like I said, if you want GTX (Gore-Tex) boots, I think the Lowa Renegades are the best on the market. They are classified as a light hiking boot. If you go to some place like REI and listen to the assclowns there, they'll tell you that a boot like that is meant for a short jaunt down a well manicured trail in a National Park with no more that a daypack on your back. Which is stupid. This is irrespective of whether you consider yourself a lightweight backpacker or not. I've humped 60 lb loads over rugged mountains, off trail, in the Renegades, and they work fine.
What the industry calls mid-weight hiking boots are intended for short, weekend backpacks. Asolo Fugitives are representative of those. The main difference there is that they'll be more rigid, which makes you clunk around more and is unnecessary. Plus they weigh 3 lbs, which is far too heavy. Then you've got backpacking boots, which are even more rigid and will have more padding in the uppers. What are referred to as mountaineering boots are about the same as backpacking boots in terms of rigidity, padding, and support (and weight). In my opinion these things are useless, unless you're climbing Everest or something and need all that extra padding to keep your feet in their own little microclimate.
The Renegades weigh 2.5 lbs. That's my limit. I'd go lighter, but never heavier.
As you know, I do the barefoot running thing. So I don't think that boots are superior to trail runners because of support. The extra support is unnecessary. What keeps me in boots (most of the time) is durability.
Trail runners usually run about $100. The most commonly reported lifespan for a pair of Inov8s, which is the most popular brand for UL backpackers, is somewhere around 500 miles. So, for me, that means I'd have to go through at least 2, probably 3, pairs a year. I think the associated disposable type of mindest is somewhat environmentally irresponsible. And (perhaps more importantly) expensive! That's $200-300 per year in footwear. On the other hand, the Renegades cost $200 up front, but I know will last at least 3 years, probably longer if adequately cared for. Much cheaper in the long run.
But if money isn't an object and you don't have any moral qualms about disposable gear, trail runners have a lot of benefits.
Like I said before, I don't think support is an issue. After weight, what it really comes down to is moisture management.
I believe that the two extremes are the only options: either completely waterproof (ie, GTX) or not (breathable, quick drying mesh). Usually that means a light boot on one hand, or a light trail runner on the other.
If you go the waterproof route, you can be pretty much guaranteed that your feet will stay dry as long as the footwear isn't submerged. You can power on through rain, mud, and snow without thought. But you'll have to slow down at water crossings. Getting water inside of GTX boots is probably the experience I dread most in the backcountry. It's near impossible to dry the boots out without an electric boot dryer (which you probably aren't going to carry with you!). So you need to carry some sort of water crossing shoe. (I use my 6.7 oz huaraches.) That means extra weight, and extra time spent changing shoes on either side of the river. As far as breathability goes, some people complain about GTX, but I've worn the Renegades on trips with 90F+ heat and not had an issue with excessive foot moisture. (If I was buying a pair of footwear primarily for hot desert, I would not get GTX, but my primary environment is the wet Cascades. The GTX Renegades are adequate for my occasional forays into extreme heat.) Wear good socks.
If you go the mesh route, then you can walk through rivers without a moment's pause. (Well, you probably still want to scope out a good spot and take the normal safety precautions, but you don't have to pause to mess with your feet!) Your feet will get wet, but the water will immediately drain out on the other side, and the action of walking will help to pump out the moisture left in your socks. Here, in this part of the world, it's unlikely that socks will ever dry out completely, but that's not so bad, as long as you have a dry pair of socks reserved for night. If you're in a warmer, dryer climate, you can probably get dry feet again a few hours after a crossing.
I do find myself making more effort to avoid snow and mud patches when wearing mesh shoes if I haven't done any water crossings yet. I like to enjoy dry feet as long as possible. But after my feet are already wet, further wetness isn't an issue.
Some people will still bring some sort of camp shoe with their mesh trail runners to get their feet out of the damp socks and let them air out at the end of the day. I don't think this is necessary as long as you have sacred socks in your sleeping bag, and if you do bring a second pair of footwear, then the weight savings over GTX boots is less.
There are a lot of shoes out there somewhere in between the two extremes. The Five Ten Camp Fours are a good example. I wore a pair on a few trips last year. They do not have a waterproof lining, but are mostly leather with some mesh here and there. The benefit of that design over a pair of mesh trail runners is greater durability. But they also gave me the most miserable feet experience I've had. The trouble is that due to the occasional mesh and low-cut design, water gets in almost as easily as it does a pair of mesh trail runners. But due to all the leather, the water stays in almost as much as it does in a pair of GTX boots. Horrible.
So my advice is to stick to the extremes, but I don't think that one is superior to the other. They both have their ups and downs.
I'm not sure exactly what your itinerary will be like on your trip, so it's difficult to make a good recommendation. The impression that I have is that this will a fast paced exercise. That makes trail runners attractive, because you'd be able to push through any environment without stopping to change at water crossings or worrying about miserably wet feet for the rest of the trip. Durability won't be an issue over four days, so price is less of an issue if you'll be buying the shoes specifically for this trip and don't care how much more life you get out them after that. But you will be climbing multiple big mountains, which suggests the possibility of crampons. If you will be wearing crampons, that adds in another layer of complexity. There are crampons out there that work with trail runners (Section Hiker has written about them -- do a search on his site for specifics), but the majority of crampons on the market will probably won't work. So you'll want to figure out if you need them before you decide on trail runners. If you'll be buying your own crampons, it won't be a problem. But if they'll provide the crampons to you, be aware that chances are whatever they provide won't work well with trail runners.
So, to sum it up, if I could only have one pair of shoes of any kind, they'd be the Renegades. I've used them plenty and know that they can handle whatever I can dish out. They're more durable and cheaper than trail runners. But if I had more money -- or if I could find a pair that were as durable as the Renegades (which probably isn't possible with modern materials) -- I would be all over a light pair of trail runners. Support isn't an issue. The lighter weight is great. Not having to pause at water crossing is also great.
I'll also throw this out there: I'm considering, as a supplement to the Renegades, a pair of OTB Bushmasters. I used to own a pair of OTB Thors, which are sort of a unique boot. The design didn't work out well for my purposes, but the overall quality of the boot seems high. I was intrigued by the Bushmasters when MilitaryMorons first reviewed them a few years ago. They looked like an interesting blend between trail runner (at least as far as the mesh goes) and boot. There's plenty of mesh to allow for quick draining, but there's enough leather to suggest some amount of durability. There's plenty of reviews of them from military folks on places like Lightfighter, but I've found that doesn't transfer very well to backpacking. Those guys usually have a huge support network behind them and don't have to walk very far at once. Last year, a guy named tjamrog finally used a pair on the PCT. I talked with him when he got back. Based on that I don't think that the Bushmaster will drain as well as a normal pair of Inov8s, but I think they're still close enough to that extreme that they won't repeat my experience with the Camp Fours. On the other hand, he didn't get much more than 500 miles out of a pair! His experience showed some weaknesses in the design that OTB was previously unaware of. They incorporated his feedback into the next batch of boots, so I'm confident that the current Bushmaster are more durable than the old ones. But I don't know how much more. It'd be a gamble, but at some point I might give them a shot.
You want to decide on the fuel before you decide on the stove.
Traditional canister stoves usually aren't considered for lightweight backpacking. The fuel is heavy, expensive, difficult to dispose of and environmentally unfriendly. They are only necessary if you're cooking for a group (I'd say 6+) or if you need to melt snow for your primary water source.
For lightweight backpacking, the fuel sources are usually denatured alcohol, esbit, or wood.
Alcohol is the standard, and my preference. You can measure out exact amounts. It's light. Easy to acquire. You can buy or make stoves for it easily and cheaply. It's probably easier to go over the the few disadvantages of alcohol than list all the advantages.
Alcohol does not burn well in cold temperatures. I've found that limit to be at about 20F. Above that, alcohol is fine. Below that, it starts to loose its efficiency (and become more difficult to light). I do not use alcohol under 10F. In that 10-20F range I would consider using it, but it isn't ideal.
Alcohol burns arguably less efficiently at higher elevations. On the other hand, water boils faster up there. Personally, I've never experienced a noticeably difference.
The next option is esbit, or any hexamine tab. Esbit actually puts out more BTUs per oz, so it's a lighter fuel than alcohol. It's solid, so you don't have the worry of it leaking all over your pack. On the other hand, it is harder to get and more expensive. It's difficult to measure out exact amounts (you can snap a tab in half, but that's about as exact as you can get). It does leave a very small amount of soot on the bottom of the pot. Some people complain about the smell. I've never noticed it. Perhaps if you were cooking in a closed tent it would be an issue, but then you'd have bigger issues anyway. Namely: that you're packing a tent instead of a tarp!
Esbit is not affected by elevation or temperature, which is its primary advantage over alcohol. It is my preferred fuel for temperatures under 20F. The biggest disadvantage to esbit is that it's a bitch to light. It will not take a spark. You need to light it with an open flame, and hold that flame to it for about 15 seconds. That's easier said than done with a BIC lighter in high winds. And it requires consumable resources (lighter fuel or matches) which makes it less desirable than alcohol (which can be lit with a spark from a ferro rod). You can light a vaseline coated cotton ball or some other tinder with a ferro rod first, and then use that to light the esbit, but that's still using extra resources.
And then of course there's wood, which doesn't have a price or weight penalty since it can be freely gathered when needed. But it takes time to do that, and can be a pain when everything is soaked. Some people complain about the soot it produces, but I think those people just need to man up.
The disadvantage that all of these fuels have is that they'll take longer to boil water than a canister stove. You're probably looking at 6-8 minutes, compared to 1 or 2 minutes with something like a Jetboil. I've never found that to be a problem on my trips.
In my opinion it is irresponsible to go into the backcountry with only one fuel source. I think you ought to have at least two. And I prefer that my stove itself burns those fuels. Meaning that I could go out with a DIY Fancy Feast stove that only burns alcohol, and as long as I have the ability to build a fire, hey, that's two fuel sources. But I much prefer that the stove itself somehow burn that second fuel source -- in this case, wood. That way I always have an open fire as a backup to my backup. That's why I like the Trail Designs Ti-Tri. It burns alcohol, esbit, and wood, and does them all well.
The Ti-Tri is primarily an alcohol stove. As far as I'm aware, it is the most efficient alcohol stove on the market. Esbit is only intended to be a secondary fuel source, yet, even so, the GramCracker inside the cone is also, as far as I'm aware, the most efficient esbit stove on the market. Wood is a distant third. It burns it fine, and certainly more efficiently than an open fire, but it isn't going to compare to a dedicated woodstove. You can buy an Inferno insert for the Ti-Tri. It consists of a bit of mesh that raises the fire off the ground, increasing airflow, and a second inverted cone which gives the Ti-Tri a second wall and turns it into a wood gasifier. I bought one of these last Fall and I love it. I still don't think the Ti-Tri with Inferno is as efficient as something like the popular Bushbuddy, but it's pretty darn good.
The Ti-Tri does have a coupe downsides. The first is size. Although the system is light, it's a bit bulky. You can't fit it inside the cookpot, like you could most other alcohol stoves. (I carry mine like this) Also: the cone is sized to the pot, which means you can only use one pot with the system. (In all of these respects, it is sort of like the Jetboil of the alcohol stove world.) And the whole thing is definitely not the cheapest alcohol stove out there.
So, what it really boils down to is: what do you want as your primary fuel? If you want an alcohol stove that also happens to burn esbit and wood, the Ti-Tri is a great way to go. If you want a wood stove that also happens to burn alcohol, then a Bushbuddy or Four Dogs Bushcooker is probably a better option.
Again, it's difficult to suggest a stove for the Ascent without knowing the particulars of the trip. Do they provide you with cooked food? Are you going to be subsisting mainly on energy bars and whatnot? If you aren't going to be doing much cooking yourself, I would probably just toss a simple, light alcohol stove (like a Fancy Feast or some other DIY model) in the pack, with maybe half a dozen esbit tabs as backup. If you think you'll be cooking two or more meals a day, I'd go for something more substantial, like the Ti-Tri. But the extra bulk of the Ti-Tri is going to be a large negative, since you're limited to only a small pack. And you'll want to figure out how much time you're going to spend above tree-line to see if wood will be a viable fuel source for you.
Or MREs are another idea. Personally, I can't stand the taste. They do simplify things since a stove wouldn't be required. There are definitely lighter foods available. I'm not sure which would be lighter: stripped MREs and no stove, or something lighter like ramen and whatnot with a light alcohol or esbit stove.
For everything you ever wanted to know about alcohol stoves, visit Zen Stoves. Also check out some of what Jason Klass has to say:
[these links look to be dead]
For me, the answer is easy: a 20F Kifaru Regulator Slick Bag. 1.92 lbs of life-saving goodness.
But I need to back up. The first question you need to answer is down or synthetic.
Down is usually favored in the UL backpacking community. It has a better warmth to weight ratio than synthetic insulations. It does not loose its loft as easily, so it lasts longer. And, of course, it is more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based synthetics.
The problem with down is that once you get it wet, it looses all insulating value, and you're screwed. Synthetic insulations will still provide some warmth when wet.
My opinion on the issue is probably heavily colored by my primary environment being the wet Cascades. I think down insulation is inappropriate unless I can guarantee that it won't get wet. That means below freezing. Well below freezing. I would not use a down bag above 20F, and I would prefer not to use it above 0F. There's too much moisture around and it's too likely that the bag will get wet. The sleeping bag usually isn't a comfort item, but a strict necessity, and too important to be jeopardized. I've had hypothermia before and would rather not do that again.
So, I like synthetic bags. The Kifaru slick bags are light and an excellent design. The shell is made of their proprietary RhinoSkin, which is sorta like Pertex Quantum but tougher and slightly lighter. The insulation is Climashield Combat, which I think is the bee's knees. It's very quick drying, very breathable, and very warm for the weight. And made in the USA (hence the name -- it's Berry Compliant). With the vast majority of sleeping bags out there, the temperature ratings are crap. I've found that Kifaru's ratings are very close to accurate. (They are also comfort ratings, not survival.) The 20F bag keeps me comfortable to right around 20F. Of course, that's just my body. It's still subjective. I have a friend whose lived most of his life around the San Diego area. He bought a Kifaru 20F bag, went to Glacier National Park, and froze his butt off during 35F nights. But I've had better luck with Kifaru's ratings than any other manufacturer.
A few years ago I was out exploring part of the Olympic coast. It was winter, but day time temps were getting up to 50F and night was a bit above freezing. I pitched camp one night in a spot that looked to be well above the high-tide mark, but, well, it wasn't. I woke up at 1 or 2 AM when a wave came over me. I was literally under the ocean. There were headlands on either side of me that couldn't be passed so I was unable to leave the area. After very hastily shoving everything into my pack, I took the only option available, which was to scale the cliff behind me. Of course it was pitch black out, and the cliff was crumbling sandstone, and I was barefoot, but eventually I made it up to a little ledge that had just enough room for me to sit on. I hauled my pack up (I'd left it on the ground while climbing but attached one end of a 50ft piece of paracord to the grab handle and held the other end in my hand), sat down on my sleeping pad, and unzipped my 20F slick bag and tossed it over me like a blanket. It and I were completely soaked. All I had on was thin Ibex baselayers. But tossing the bag over me kept me warm enough that I could control my shivering. I had to balance myself up there till around 5AM when the tide finally went back out. Then I climbed back down to the sand, sat down my pad, and climbed back into the bag. Even though it was still completely wet, there was a huge temperature difference between the inside of the bag and out. I was warm enough to get a few hours of decent sleep until the sun came up that day. Try doing that in a down bag! I would have been hypothermic, no doubt.
So, yeah, I like that bag.
Since you're interested in lightweight backpacking, quilts should probably be mentioned. I haven't used one, so my opinion might not be worth much, but here it is anyways:
The basic idea behind the quilt is that when you're inside a sleeping bag, your body is compressing the insulation on the bottom. Compressed insulation does nothing for warmth, so it's just dead weight. The quilt cuts out the bottom of the bag, making it more efficient in terms of weight to warmth. That part makes sense to me, but I have a few concerns.
I toss around in my sleep. Occasionally I'll wake to find that the bottom of the bag is now on top, and the top on the bottom. In that scenario I appreciate that the bottom has just as much insulation as the top. If I were to toss around in a quilt, I'm afraid I would just throw the quilt off of me and wake up cold. (This might be alleviated if the quilt were always used inside a bivy.)
Due to the lack of the hood, I would always have to pack a puffy jacket with a hood to sleep in (or just a hood without a jacket, which a couple companies offer).
Also because of the lack of the hood, the quilt is more open. If a quilt is well designed, I don't think that drafts coming in the sides would be a problem, but the neck and shoulder area will always be open. Warm air will be going out, cold air will be coming in. This is probably my biggest concern with a quilt. (I won't even buy a sleeping bag without a draft collar!) It could be addressed somewhat with a tight collar and by always using the quilt inside a closed bivy, but I don't see how it could ever be as warm as the equivalent sleeping bag, given the draft issue. Because of this I don't think that a quilt would be appropriate in sub-freezing temperatures.
If I were to replace my 40F bag, I would strongly consider a quilt. In those warmer temperatures I think the draft issue could probably be dealt with. And if the quilt didn't work out, I would still have an excellent 20F bag to fall back on.
I would not consider replacing my 20F bag with a quilt, nor would I consider purchasing any quilt for winter use. (At least not before I had experimented with a summer quilt.)
Because my 40F bag does not need replacing, I haven't done much detailed research into the quilt market, so I can't comment on any specific models. Hendrik maintains a pretty comprehensive list: [Hiking in Finland]
Here you need to decide first if you want an inflatable or foam. Inflatable pads pack down smaller, are usually (but not always) heavier, generally have a higher R-value, are more expensive, and are relatively fragile.
I prefer foam pads, primarily because of the durability issue. Because I use a floor-less shelter, my pad goes directly on the ground (unless I'm using a bivy), which makes it more susceptible to punctures. I don't like having to concern myself about the condition of my pad, so inflatables are out. That said, I do occasionally take an inflatable pad out and I've never had a puncture. But I use the inflatable in winter more than any other season (for the extra warmth), and the snow I'm sleeping on then isn't exactly sharp. Plus, that pad is an old Prolite 4, which is pretty tough (and thus heavy) compared to some of the lightweight inflatables currently on the market.
I find foam pads to be perfectly comfortable, but this is subjective. Some people find that they can only get a good night's sleep on an air mattress.
I have both a ThermaRest Z-Lite and a Ridge Rest. The Ridge Rest is cheaper. Technically, it is also lighter and has a slightly higher R-value, but in practice I don't notice a difference between the two. The main advantage of the Z-Lite is that it packs down a bit smaller. The Ridge Rest is about as bulky as you can get. They're both good pads.
Some folks use a 3/4 or just a torso length pad. I've tried that, but I find that for the slight increase in weight, I prefer the comfort of a full length pad (not least because my pad is also my "ground cloth"). For something like the Ascent, though, comfort might not be the highest priority. For that, I would consider cutting down my Z-Lite to 3/4 length to save on bulk.
Obviously your pack is chosen for the escapade in question, but if in the future you really decide to get into UL backpacking, you might end up with a pack that needs a foam pad as part of the frame. So that's something to consider before dumping $100 on an inflatable NeoAir or something. Brian can probably talk more about that. I refuse to buy a pack that can't haul a load! That's the department where I differ the greatest from most lightweight or UL backpackers.
And I that's all I have to say about that!
My Personal Advice [Mike Petrucci]
[My loadout for both years was pretty much the same.]
Year 1, I had some altitude sickness issues. Bad headache, nausea, and generally just feeling really crappy until spending some time back at base camp. It didn't get too bad until we were around 13,500 feet and things didn't start to feel much better until we were on the descent around 12,000.
Year 2 I did some things different that I think fixed altitude sickness from being an issue.
While I got to Colorado and base camp a few days early for the 2011 Ascent, I made sure to arrive to Colorado A LOT earlier for the 2012 Ascent. I hung out with a buddy for a bit before making my way to the meeting point.
Looking back at my calendar, it looks like I got to Colorado 5 days before the Ascent started. Where I stayed wasn't exactly high altitude but anything is better than where I am on the East Coast.
Elevation where I live is 39 feet above sea level and where I stayed in CO was 4,900 feet. I also took a short day hike up to St. Mary's Glacier which was around 10/11,000 feet. Something to get the blood moving and legs pumping.
A few days before getting to GORUCK Ascent HQ, I drank a lot of water and only water. Non stop hydration. Really. Drink more than you think you need.
Arrive early. Don't underestimate altitude, especially if coming from near sea level. One guy got to Ascent HQ ~9,000 ft and after being sick for almost a day, they had to send him home. Even that was too much for him. It also doesn't totally matter what kind of shape you're in.
- Drink tons of water. No beer.
- [During a summit day] What I did last year seemed really great. I drank water, water and water and ate mixed trail mix. My favorite is a mix of everything. Get the kind with nuts, fruit, m&m's, and add in some Reese's Pieces. Perfect combination (for me).
- Bring trekking poles. Borrow or buy them. Luckily, I had to get the because that's how my tent was supported. You may feel like you won't need them but really, they help a lot going uphill and even more when coming back down.
- Bring good socks that have been worn a few times. Break them in but don't wear them out. Make sure they are wool so they wick moisture. I prefer the Smart Wool PhD socks.
- You're going to want good photos but you also may not want to bring your DSLR. Decide if the weight is worth it. It might be. But you also may be more tired than you're used to so it may go unused. Altitude is tricky stuff and carrying unnecessary weight sucks.
- If you bring your iPhone (this is probably true for other smart phones but I only had the iPhone), keep it in Airplane mode. If you do that, and turn it off at night or when you know you won't use it for a while, it will last the entire time. I kept mine in a waterproof case so I didn't have to worry about it being damaged.
- Don't plan on leaving anything behind for a summit push. During our first ascent of a 14'er in 2011, we stashed our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and tents at around 10,500 feet. During the first ascent of a 14'er in 2012, we carried it all up and down (and it was a much longer than expected hike down). Just assume that it will all come with you because you have no idea what will happen.
- To make the summit before the weather turns bad (be off the summit by noon or 1 PM is the safest bet), you'll probably have to set off really early. Like midnight or 1 AM early. And that's good but when you start, you'll be cold. Despite being chilly at the start, don't wear all your warm weather gear. Really, you'll just take it off and ruin the flow of the start (someone will do this anyway). Start shivering if you have to but you'll save time having to not take it all off later. You really will heat up as you move.
- Also, when you stop for breaks, keep them short and I found it was better to leave my ruck on. Taking it off feels amazingly comfortable but don't. Just drop to the deck with it and lean on it like a chair as you rest and if you have to take it off to get a snack, do it quick (but I kept snacks in my pockets to prevent this). The reason being, when you rest with your ruck off in the cold mountain, the sweat on your back will start to cool and when you put your ruck back on, you'll freeze. It's really super cold.
- My iPhone was my camera. The first year, I used a LokSak bag but it kind of sucked. It got scuffed up and cloudy so I couldn't take pictures through it (wasn't supposed to anyway I guess) and it didn't offer shock/drop protection. The second year, I got a LifeProof case. If you are using your iPhone as your camera and plan on taking out a bunch for pics, try and get something similar. You won't have to worry about anything. But if your phone will stay deep in your pack the whole time, a Ziploc bag may be all you need. I also just got my wife an Otterbox Armor case which is super bulky but taking your phone in and out of the case is a lot easier and it can handle more abuse. I also looked at the Incipio Atlas case because it has a real glass screen protector.
Last updated 2014-07-14