THE CHOCOLATE CATERPILLAR

Look at that loft! I’ve almost forgotten what this looks and feels like.

12 ounces. That’s nearly a pound. That’s yet another huge chunk of weight that I’ve recently shaved off my pack’s base-weight.

Base-weight implies to one’s backpack as well as everything inside excluding food, water and fuel. This includes your vital four: pack, shelter, sleeping bag and pad. It also includes all your clothing, like down jacket, rain jacket, windpant and thermal underwear, in addition to cook-wear, guides, headlamp, toothbrush, toothpaste, toenail clippers and any luxery items like a good book, flower guide, camp shoes or cellphone. Everyone’s base-weight will vary depending on personal preference, budget and desire for creature comforts. In my opinion, there’s four categories that your backpack can fall into. Those include ultralight, lightweight, moderate and heavyweight. Everyone’s opinion on this matter will vary, and depending on which gear guru you talk to, the numbers will tell a different story.

Ultralight: sub 10 pounds
Lightweight: 10-15 pounds
Moderate: 15-20 pounds
Heavyweight: 20 or more pounds. Seriously, the only reason you need to be above 20 pounds is if your a mountaineer and climbing a bad-ass snowcapped peak. Leave the camp chair at home. Leave your revolving spice rack in the kitchen cupboard.

For each long-distance trail that I’ve hiked, I’ve fallen into a different category. Let me tell you, it is far more enjoyable to backpack with a lighter load. That said, part of the reason I once fell into the “moderate” category was due to ignorance and improper gear. As I accumulated more miles under my feet, I began to phase out useless gear and when my budget allowed, I traded in heavier gear for lighter, stronger and more versatile gear. Now, after 8,000 miles, I am proud to announce I have crossed over to the light side, and the ultra-light side in particular.

So the question awaits. How? Well, every ounce counts and when you’re assessing each individual piece of gear, you need to ask yourself these questions: Can I go lighter? Can I achieve the same performance, if not better, by choosing a lighter piece of equipment? Indeed, you usually can.

That said, I’d like to welcome the newest piece of equipment to my active lifestyle. It is a superb piece, and one of the core four items in my pack. It’s Katabatic’s 22-degree Alsek sleeping bag. Weighing in at 19.7 ounces, the sleeping bag will shave 12 ounces off my pack’s former weight. I have to admit it cost me a small fortune, but it’s price is more than made up for by the superior craftsmanship (made locally in Colorado if I might add) and it’s incredible warmth-to-weight ratio. If you’re wondering how something that weighs less than a basketball can keep you warm on a cold summer night spent on the summit of a 10,000-foot mountain, then let me explain the basics of down insulation.

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The effects of 8,000 miles make the sleeping bag on the left look like a sheet compared to the newly acquired 900-fill goose down quilt.

In brief—because we all know that I can geek out when it comes to down insulation—the higher the down factor, the warmer. In general, sleeping bags, jackets and household items like blankets and pillows, can be filled with 550-900 fill goose down insulation. (There’s duck as well, but that’s a whole other tangent). Essentially, the higher the number, the greater warmth-to-weight ratio. Let’s look a little closer at the science behind goose-down insulation, shall we?

Higher quality down is located closest to the goose’s body. It’s super soft and as I describe it, the clusters look like fluffy snowflakes with minimal quills. As the number decreases below 750-fill, you begin to see a change in the appearance and performance of the product. And as the number drops closer to 550-fill, the feathers will have a more tradition look as they are the feathers located farther from the goose’s body. They possess more quills, less clusters and therefore less loft. Without loft, which is a buffer that keeps the cold weather outside and the warmth generated from your body on the inside, the jacket won’t be as warm.

Which now brings me back to the Katabatic Alsek. The package arrived on my doorstep three nights ago. Eager with anticipation, I opened up the box, pulled out the bag, tossed it on the floor, and crawled in. I felt like I was a chocolate caterpillar. What makes this bag special, is that it’s comprised of a youthfully lofty, 900-fill goose down. Compared to it’s predecessor, who had been a loyal companion to my three long walks, it is quite a change. Besides the higher quality down, the other difference is that this bag is not so much a sleeping bag as it is a sleeping quilt. There is no zipper, nor is there any hood. Instead, the bag works with a bungee set-up in which you affix the bag to your sleeping pad using a couple of cords. It’s all very simple and once you’re inside it fits snugly around you. The chocolate catepillar wraps its great, big arms around you and rocks you to sleep.

For those who want to go lighter, or for those who suffer from claustrophobia in most sleeping bags (myself included), this is the way to go. Visit katabaticgear.com for more infomation.

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