Guest Article: There Can Be Only One

Posted on 06 August 2011

Mr. Joe Newton is a blogger from Norway and a member of the Nordic Lightpacking group. I think you all know his great blog Thunder In The Night with fantastic trips in Norway, interesting gear reviews, excellent photos and articles with lots of humor. Now he is back from his splendid trip on the Jotunheimstien Trail and it is time to release his Guest Article on my blog.

This post has been floating around in my head for a while now. There is, thankfully, a trend towards people reducing the amount of gear they own for outdoor adventures. The search continues for versatile and adaptable gear that can cover a wide range of conditions, seasons and elements of backcountry travel such as skiing, snowshoeing, bike touring and packrafting. While we all make space for super ultralight summer outfits or bomber winter options I got thinking about what items of gear I would pick if I could only have one. If space, money or other commitments forced me to REALLY pare down my gear closet to the absolute minimum. Could I manage with one pack, one shelter, one sleeping bag, one stove, one pair of trekking poles instead of several options for each that I have lying around. Packing for a trip would be far quicker for sure. Have a look at my thoughts below and let me know what your ‘Highlander’ choices would be.

The Pack

This is one area which I still don’t think I’ve nailed. I love my Gorilla but at 45litres capacity it’s not big enough for winter. Conversely my go-to winter pack GoLite Pinnacle is far too big in summer. Something in the middle with good compression, reasonable weight and a durable fabric? The pack I still suggest to most people looking to take their first steps towards a lighter packweight is the GoLite Jam. Still far from perfect but it’s cheap, ubiquitous and ticks a lot of boxes. I know people who have used them in the Scandinavian winter as well as overnighters and week long summer trips. More money and currently less readily available the Laufbursche huckePACK in DXG fabric is a European alternative that could be customised to carry various backcountry tools. My search continues.

The Shelter

Many of us enjoy the low weight, simplicity and communion with nature afforded by tarps. They’ve been used is some pretty horrendous conditions by skilled proponents but I would look for something a little more substantial in my one shelter. Light, adaptable, durable, stable in adverse conditions. Hmmm. My bias opinion would be to reach for my Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid. Sleeps one or two people. Can be left open for maximum views or battened down in the clag. Wind-shedding, proven design. Combined with a bivy bag this gives me everything I need in a shelter in all but mountain top deep Scandinavian winter.

The Sleeping Bag

To be honest I’m not even sure I would have only a sleeping bag. I’m a convert to quilts and I’d be happy to use them exclusively year round. I still have a down bag. A Western Mountaineering Ultralite that I use in winter, augmented with my Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit 30 quilt on top. Could I use only one quilt all year round though? A quilt has one major design feature that sets them apart from sleeping bags and that is the ability to use them wide open in warmer weather on snugged around you in the cold. Sure, you can unzip a sleeping bag but I find them awkward to use in that configuration. The zip gets in the way or you’re suffocated by the hood that is now on top of your face. No, a quilt would be my choice. Something rated to maybe between -5C and -10C. It still wouldn’t be too heavy in summer and could be used in milder winter conditions with plenty of insulated clothing and a super-duper pad under you. Maybe a Katabatic Sawatch would fit the bill.

The Stove

Cooking over wood is instinctive and satisfying. Cooking over a 6g home-made cat can stove with alcohol fuel is rewarding and ultralight. But can I use them in my tent? Are they easy to use when the weather is bad?Would I rely on them in winter cold? The answer is simply no and for that reason I would still pick a simple gas canister stove if I could only have one way of boiling water for that well earned mac’n’cheese at the end of a long day. Efficient, quick and relatively safe I would have no compunction about selecting something like an Optimus Crux or an MSR Pocket Rocket.

The Trekking Poles

I added this category as it’s the piece of equipment that I can’t seem to stop buying. It spawned this post in a lot of ways. I have half a dozen different pairs stacked up in the corner of my gear cupboard and I’d really like to get down to one pair. OK, maybe two ;) I am impressed and overjoyed with my super light and comfortable Gossamer Gear LT4s  but they don’t pack down too good and I couldn’t ski with them. My Mountain King Carbon Compacts are a good compromise of weight, packability and practicality but the grips suck, the locking mechanism isn’t foolproof and again I can’t use them for skiing. So I’m left with my Black Diamond Traverse poles. Excellent ‘flicklock’ adjustment, comfortable handles, durable enough for snowshoeing and can ‘scope out to 155cm which is enough for me to use them for cross-country skiing and as a shelter support without the need for additional extenders.

So what would you choose? What would you be happy to take out with you on every single trip you have planned for the coming 12 months? Can there even be ‘only one’?


  • http://summitandvalley.blogspot.com/ Martin Rye

    Gorilla pack is superb. My no one 3 season pack. Maybe GG will do a bigger one and we know a thing or two about plans for packs with them.

    I like my cat can stove. Been using it. Not as fuel efficient as I would like. But light at 5g and cost nothing. Ok maybe 38p but its good fun to use. I agree a gas stove is the way most often to go if boiling water. Gas is not dead for UL backpacking. Jetboil Sol is proving that.

    Agree on quilts for 3 season. All in all good advice.

  • http://www.journeymantraveller.com Maz

    Pack: Gorilla again for me

    Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1

    Bag: Summerlite

    Stove: Ti-Tri Sidewinder and 600ml Evernew Ultralight

    No poles for me.

  • http://goinglighter.blogspot.com Thomas W. Gauperaa

    Pack: Golite Pinnacle (why did I sell mine??), or my ULA Circuit.

    Shelter: probably the MLD DuoMid I have on order now + Pyranet 1 inner or a solid nylon inner from Oookworks. It seems perfect for me.

    Sleeping bag: WM Ultralite. Too warm in the peak of summer, but I can use it as a quilt, or just lay on top of it in my base layers.

    Trekking poles: no specific preferences. Any decent poles under 200g per pole that can be adjusted easily.

    Stove: Traildesigns Sidewinder with the Evernew 0.9L. Meths + Esbit.

  • http://www.packrafting.de Sven

    Hard one!
    Pack: Sixmoon Comet (previous Starlite)
    Stove: Cat can
    Sleep: Summer Burrow Quilt + WM Summerlite
    Shelter: Sixmoon Haven Tarp + Seedhous SL2
    Poles: LT4s

    What about boats? Ahh, sure there can’t only be one ;)

    Sven

  • http://thunderinthenight.blogspot.com/ Joe Newton

    Martin – yeah, the rumblings about the new GG packs are interesting to say the least! I bigger ‘winter’ Gorilla would be nice. I always saw the Mariposa as a bit light and delicate for such a large volume pack.

    Maz – I’m really enjoying my Sidewinder and 600ml pot too, especially in Esbit mode. But would I want to use it winter? Probably not. The new Jetboil Sol Ti that Martin highlighted looks very interesting. Usable in milder winter conditions, frugal, safe to use inside a tent. Is the gas stove finally catching up?

    Thomas – I couldn’t handle my Ultralite in summer. I would cook in my own sweat! ;)

    Sven – I love my LT4s but I couldn’t use them in winter, I’d be afraid of mashing them into carbon splinters with my snowshoes or crampons! I’m not entirely convinced of trusting them as shelter supports, especially larger shelters like the DuoMid.

  • http://www.schroll.at/blog sabi

    I try to get there … as other guys seem to have a collection of poles I have one of mats and tarps.

    Pack: GG Mariposa
    Shelter: MLD Trailstar – it seems I have found mine
    Stove: BushBuddy of course!
    Sleep: maybe my new homemade quilt – but thats the domain where I will probably never have a only one solution
    Poles: Fizan trek – hard to understand for me the need for more than one ;)

  • http://Trailsavvy.net Jake W.

    Dad always said that there was a proper tool for every task- then proceeded to use the only tool he had handy to foul it up. So I don’t bother trying to reduce my options. Interestingly enough, I’m undecided on most of your categories. These I know:
    Tent: Golite Shangri La1
    Bag: WM Summerlite(even though I don’t use in summer)
    Pad: Z-Lite
    Knife: Victorinox Tinker

  • http://www.unterwegs.biz/ Manuela

    I join the opinion of gorilla

  • Martin Carpenter

    Lets try harder shall we? What about 1 set of waterproofs, 1 windshirt (no softshells!), 1 set of trousers or even 1 fleece. Well 2 so you can have a warm one for winter.

    Actually much more plausible than it might sound, although the windshirt thing would make me cry.

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