by James Vlahos
Of all the gearhead tribes—climbers, fixie riders, telemark skiers—few are as obsessive as ultra-light hikers in their ability to have long technical conversations that thrill them and profoundly irritate everyone else.
Take my friend Tom and I. We hiked the John Muir Trail together this summer, and if anyone had been unlucky enough to join us they would have been treated to daily arguments on the best thru-hiking equipment. We agreed on many things. Merino wool base layers. Black Diamond Infinity 60 packs. Generic Crocs. But Tom and I did not initially see eye to eye on the all-important issue of shelter.
Tom is a purist, which can make him an accidental hipster. He was on to rye when the rest of us were barely over mojitos. For the Muir Trail, he brought a tarp, which, as any weight-obsessed thru-hiker will tell you, is the only respectable option. Trekking poles propped up the roof. A crinkly patch of Tyvek sheeting, the material used to water seal new homes, served as ground cloth. The entire setup weighed only two pounds.
Until recently, the only other shelter close to that light was a bivy sack, which is fine if you enjoy the cozy ambiance of a coffin. But in 2010, a new option came along, and it is what I used on the Muir Trail: The Fly Creek UL2 from Big Agnes.
The UL2 is a tent, not a tarp, making it less drafty, and, more importantly, bug-proof. On the Muir Trail, I would arise well-rested at eight to find that Tom had been awake since six, when the morning mosquitoes attacked. The UL2 features a rain fly and a 38-inch ceiling. It has a seven square foot vestibule and a 28 square foot floor—big enough for a snug couple. It's a wispy thing, but it's plenty durable. My UL2 was in fine shape after a month straight of camping.
And the weight? Two pounds, two ounces—the lightest two-person, double-wall tent on the market, as far as I can find.
Sorry about that tarp, Tom.
But thanks for packing in the rye.
From the Spring 2011 issue