Covering more distance in a shorter time—that’s the essential reason for ultralight backpacking, which is something Eli and Anna Brown have been doing together for six years. They got particularly interested in the concept “after a very slow and unsuccessful attempt at hiking the Snoqualmie to Stevens stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail,” Anna says. The book Lightweight Backpacking and Camping by Ryan Jordan and their own extensive internet research have taught them what works best.
“Eli and I are both attracted to the philosophical idea of ‘getting away’ from everyday life and being completely self sufficient with 20-25 lbs of stuff. This type of self sufficiency requires the ultralight backpacker to be very conscious and very present as well,” Anna says. “There is also something very appealing about going for a nice brisk walk in the woods as opposed to a slow, painful trudge.”
The one downside of the sport is the expensive ultralight gear, they say.
This husband and wife duo go on at least one summer ultralight trip together—usually to the Cascades and often to the Leavenworth area. Eli, who Anna says is more die-hard, goes on 2-3 summer trips. His most successful one so far was completing that same Snoqualmie to Stevens stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in three days with his 58-year-old father. It was the first time Eli took no rain gear and used only a tarp for shelter.
One of their most challenging and comical adventures was hiking the Hatchery Creek Trail outside of Leavenworth in the summer of 2009. “The trail hadn’t been maintained in a long time, so there was a lot off trail, off map bushwhacking. In addition, we had one mishap after another, and by the end of the day we were both totally exhausted,” explains Anna.
The next day when they decided to jump over a relatively narrow section of a creek instead of taking off their shoes and fording it, Eli successfully made it while Anna did not. “My feet hit the edge of the bank, and as I tried to propel myself forward, my butt shot backwards and pulled me over into the stream,” she says.
In addition to backpacking, Eli and Anna rock climb and train for and compete in triathlons. In the winter, Eli snowboards and Anna likes to snowshoe. And they go day hiking and car camping with their four-year-old daughter.
Here is the gear they use to travel the trails in ultralight style:
BACKPACK: REI UL 30
SHOES: Eli – Salomon XT Trail-Runner; Anna – Merrel.
SOCKS: WrightSock CoolMesh, quarter size. “They don’t last more than a season, but they are doubled layered and really work well for cutting down on blisters,” she says.
TREKKING POLES: They each carry one—REI brand.
SHELTER: MSR Ventana tent – discontinued, but they say it’s the “best tent ever.”
SLEEPING BAGS/PADS: Eli – REI Sub-kilo bag and short Therm-a-Rest ProLite; Anna – LaFuma down bag and regular, self-inflate Therm-a-Rest.
CLOTHING: REI convertible pants and Under Armour compression fit shirts. “Moisture wicking is key,” says Anna. “We do not pack more than one shirt and one pair of pants. Quick drying clothes are a must because if we are out on a long trip—four or more days—you can rinse out your hiking clothes at night, and they will be dry by morning, mostly.” For nighttime, they wear REI MTS Long Underwear. “If we pack our lighter sleeping bags, the long underwear helps to cut down on any chill early/late season,” she says.
JACKETS: Eli – Marmot Pollyfill; Anna – Moonstone. She says, “It weighs close to a couple of pounds, but I don’t mind carrying the ‘extra’ weight if it assures me warmth (aka comfort) at the end of the day.” Instead of carrying rain gear, they find shelter if needed.
WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM: Sawyer Gravity Feed filter.
FOOD: Breakfast and lunch: Fuel Fudge—Anna’s modified version of a recipe from Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’: Lightweight Trail-tested Recipes for Backcountry Trips by Christine and Tim Conners. These two meals are “all about calorie intake and little bulk,” she says. She drinks Medaglia D’oro instant espresso, premixed with powder creamer. Snacks: Peanut M&Ms and Shotblocks. Dinner: dehydrated meals, usually Mountain House brand.
OTHER ESSENTIAL GEAR: Headlamps, Petzl for Anna, Black Diamond Ion for Eli; pocket knife; first aid kit; Kelty Triptease lightline for hanging food in trees; and Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, which Anna says is “organic and completely necessary for anything, from cleaning camp utensils to washing a body.”