Seven Day Sierra Snow Gear List ~ 2014

This UL gear list has everything I need to stay warm, dry and well fed for a week long trek into the Sierra backcountry. I have used this setup in temperatures in the low teens this winter and slept like a baby. 

The standout piece of gear is the Mountain Laurel Designs cuben Solomid. I custom ordered the Solomid with the lighter 0.51 oz/sqyd cuben material to save some weight. Understandably Ron Bell would not provide the normal warranty with this lighter material as he prefers the slightly heavier 0.70 oz/sqyd cuben. Fortunately the lighter material has held up well even in an all night wind storm at 11,000 feet earlier this year.

If you have any comments, criticisms, recommendations or questions please feel free to send me an email at bluewater9@cox.net

Tablelands Snowshoe Trek in Sequoia National Park ~ April 2014

Winter Sunset from the Tablelands.
A few weeks before this trip my wife and I went to the first BPL Southern California GGG. The good people at BPL (Backpackinglight.com) have been holding an annual GGG (Gathering of the Gear Geeks) in Northern California for many years, but this was the first 'gathering' in Southern California. We weren't exactly sure what to expect. 

Fortunately it turned out to be a fun experience. We met many other hikers including Marian, an experienced backpacker from Romania. By the end of the GGG we had agreed to do a snowshoeing trip before the season was over. 

A few weeks later it was time to hit the trail. I planned on staying out for a week while Marian would head back after a few days to meet his wife in Sequoia. I had an entire week to explore some of the remote areas of the Tablelands and beyond in the unique beauty of the winter. 


We started out with some pleasant forest hiking with just a few patches of snow. 

High Sierra Snowshoe Trip ~ March 2014

Snowshoeing over frozen Emerald Lake.

Last summer I had the opportunity to join a group of ultralight backpackers from BPL on a trip in Emigrant Wilderness. I was fortunate to meet Andrew and Chris on the trip and like most people in the group they were well versed in the latest UL gear, food, techniques and cuben fiber bling. 

During that summer trip we all shared stories about our latest journeys over the UL campfire. After hearing about a winter trip I took last year Andrew mentioned possibly doing a group snowshoeing trip in the winter. He was finishing up a personal challenge to do a Sierra backpacking trip every a month for a year and a snowshoeing trip was a good fit that winter. 

We agreed to get something scheduled for that winter but the busy holiday season came and went and before long it was January 2014. By early 2014 we decided to head out in March, weather permitting. Although it was a dry winter a few late season storms hit the Sierra and there was plenty of snow! 

With about four days available for the trip we decided to try the classic Evolution Loop on snowshoes. The loop is about fifty miles and this seemed like a reasonable distance for a four day trip. I would go in a day early to check the conditions then we would decide which way to start when they arrived the following day. 

Due to the large amount of fresh snow at high altitude our plan turned out to be overly ambitious. The recent storms left two to three feet of fresh powder on the north facing slopes. I spent the first day breaking trail through deep powder and by the time I got above timberline at 10,400 feet it was time to make camp. It had taken six hours to go five miles. Echo Col was six miles away over difficult cross country terrain on unconsolidated snow. At this rate it would take four days just to get to Muir Pass.

By the time Andrew and Chris arrived the next day we decided to follow my tracks back up to Sabrina Basin and see how far we could go. . . 

The road to Sabrina Basin was gated outside of Aspendell so we walked the first 1.8 miles to the trailhead. 

Winter Sierra Gear List ~ 2014

For 2014 I updated my winter gear to include a few new items while still staying lightweight, safe, comfortable and well fed.

To stay warmer at night and even as part of my sleep system I added a puffy jacket that has a lot more down insulation. The Montbell Mirage puffy jacket has 5.3 ozs of 900 f/p down, which means over 40% of the total weight is in down! It allowed me to stay out after sunset and take night photos while still warm and cozy in the 10 to 20 degree temps.


SUL Trans Catalina Trail Gear List

The Trans Catalina Trail

'SUL' or Super Ultra Light is a category used in the lightweight backpacking community which simply means that the backpackers baseweight is five pounds or less. During the winter months it is usually not reasonable (and at times bordering on unsafe) to go SUL, but in the summer it can be a fun way to increase the enjoyment of longer multi-day backpacking trips.

While planning for the Trans Catalina Trail I decided to try the lightest setup possible. Part of the reason for this is that I like taking a break from civilization and living in a minimalist fashion. This seems to provide a perspective on what is really important that is sometimes difficult to find with the distractions in civilization.

Also, I wanted to finish the TCT and a few side trips in three or four days. Although the actual TCT is a relatively short trail the rolling hillside topography means the total altitude change is an incredible 10,000 feet in just 37 miles. To give some perspective the John Muir Trail has about 40,000 feet of elevation change in over 222 miles!

Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox.

Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox.



Last year I got tired of sitting out the entire winter then having to struggle to get my 'trail legs' the next summer. I decided to get out and enjoy the backcountry in the winter. . . but the last time I camped in the snow I was a Boyscout and my memories include freezing all night in a canvas A-frame tent.
After hearing about the easy way to the snow via the tram to Mt. San Jacinto I was determined to get out in the winter. I figured that if I could do a few nights in the local mountains I would be ready for a real snowshoe trip in the High Sierra. I would need a much warmer quilt if I wanted to actually stay warm and enjoy the cold winter temperatures.


It was time to make a Winter Quilt with a Custom Trapezoidal Baffled Footbox. 

Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013


Blackcap Basin - Lake Confusion Pass - Goddard Canyon - Ionian Basin - Finger Col

Storm clouds rolling in above Rainbow Lake

Over the past twenty years my brother Jeff has organized annual backpacking trips in the Sierras for our varied group of lifetime friends. Even as the group has scattered around California and beyond he has found beautiful places for us to meet. A few years ago he scouted out a cross-country route to a secret spot he discovered in the Sierras. . . but the rugged terrain and desire for some dude time meant it was a guys-only trip. 

I will never forget struggling down loose granite slopes in my old boots to this new Sierra destination. As I ran out of water, carried way too much gear and even forgot to bring enough food I realized it was time to rethink my backpacking strategy. Although it was a challenging trip (I ended up loosing several toe nails) that time in the back-country reignited my enthusiasm for exploring the High Sierra. The guys spent most days lounging by the granite pools and waterfalls but I went wandering up the river, always wondering what was beyond the next ridge. 

Fast forward a few years and I was ready to take my own cross country trip far up that same river. . . and beyond.

Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack

After completing the first section of the Sierra High Route last summer I realized it was time to build a much more burly backpack. Since there was nowhere to resupply on these remote trips I needed something that would comfortably hold ten days of food and a bear canister. I also needed a pack that could withstand the beating that comes with scrambling through cross country terrain in the High Sierra. I decided it was time to make my first Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack!

The Heavyweight Ultralight Backpack.

Shoulder Season Gear List 2013

My Shoulder Season Gear List includes extra warm gear for the colder temperatures and high winds typical of the High Sierras in late season. Although it is not yet winter late September and October usually bring colder temperatures down into the 20's. I have used this setup to hunker down for 16 hours at 12,280 feet during a strong snow storm and stayed warm, comfortable and safe.

Much of my gear is homemade (MYOG/Make Your Own Gear). If you are interested in the details check out the Custom Gear section here: Cool Custom Gear.


Sierra Wandering ~ 08/24 - 08/30/2013


Sunset on Darwin Bench.
"Two guys said they could see the fire from New Army Pass today". . . 

I had no idea that the Fish Fire had started the day before I left for this trip. I could smell smoke at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead the first night, but it didn't seem too bad. The next morning I woke to clear skies and what appeared to be another beautiful summer day in the Sierra. . . but the conditions took a turn for the worse in the afternoon.