Bikepacking, Polaris

Look after the grams…

…and the kilo’s look after themselves.

I’ve accumulated a good few pieces of kit towards the Sub 4kg project now.


There’s a lot of choice in this department. I started off with an MSR Pocket Rocket (83g) which ran off a gas canister (about 150g, part used). My Snowpeak Ti pan (105g) could be considered something of a luxury compared to a foil tray from the curry house, but it makes cooking a bit more straightforward. An MSR Ti spork tipped the scales at 16g, bringing the total weight of my cooking gear to 354g. Using gas, this is pretty light and to save any weight I needed to look at an alternative source of fuel.

Meths stoves are the obvious choice here, solid fuel stoves don’t quite have the punch to bring your water to the boil quickly. Things have moved on from the trangia, and there’s a vast array of websites with instructions on making your own pepsi-can stoves. Fortunately for me, there are also companies that have taken the hard work out of it and have refined the design in the process. Whitebox and Vargo are two brands that are at the head of the game. I plumped for the Vargo Triad in the end as it’s better suited to small pans with its vertically orientated jets, and its all-titanium construction keeps the weight to a modest 23g. To maximise efficiency, I made a wind shield out of some special silver bubblewrap which added a further 18g and doubles as a pot cosy. It boiled 400ml of water in about 6 minutes and kept it at a rolling boil for a further 25 minutes on just 30ml of fuel. I concluded I needed about 60ml of meths to have sufficient fuel to cook for two days, which weighs 63g in its little nalgene bottle. Without really looking for one, I found a good light and cheap replacement for my Ti spork: the Light My Fire Spork weighs only 10g and costs £2.00. The final component is the pan, which if I’m not comprising on it being a proper pan, doesn’t leave me many choices as the Snowpeak is light for its size. I concluded I need a capacity of only 550ml to cook either a pack of noodles or a pack of smash, and I have my eye upon a such a pan that only weighs 65g. This would bring my cooking gear down to only 179g, which is a saving of nearly 50% and considerably less bulk.


The hunt for a lightweight rucksac was more difficult than I expected. Most manufacturers (Karrimor, Salomon and others) seem satisfied that 500-600g represents a lightweight bag. For at least the last ten years, I’ve had a PB Walsh rucksac that weighed 400g – sadly rather tired and no longer available. With the exception of the paper thin Gossamer Gear Whisper bag weighing 108g, sub-400g gram bags seemed very hard to come by. A solution came via a British company, Inov8, who produce a range of bags for adventure racing. While most of them weigh over 500g, their 20 litre pack tipped the scales at only 330g. By trimming the straps to the correct length and disposing of the external bungee cord I got it down to 309g. What impressed me, besides the weight was the number of features: two hip pockets, mesh lower sections for stuffing kit in, waterproof zip, compression straps and quality construction throughout. Well thought out shoulder straps and waist belt are also comfy without contributing too much to the weight. Top marks.

Sleeping Mats and Bags

For the last few Polaris events I’ve used a Balloon Bed as a sleeping mat. Weighing less than 100g and packing down to next to nothing (which it needs to if you only have a 20 litre pack), it’s saves you both weight and space. Opinion is divided on their performance though. Some people don’t like them, but others – me included – think they’re great. The Mark II has performed better for me than the Mark I, with less popping over the course of the night. Tipping the scales at 200-odd grams less than a Thermarest and about 50g less than my severely cut-down foam pad, it’s a must for this project. Now, if I could just get the hang of inflating the balloon with my mouth and not the pump, I could save myself a further 18g for nothing!

For the sleeping bag, I use a Rab Quantum 200, which I won for my efforts at the infamous Leyburn Polaris in Spring 2004. Its OK in all but the coldest conditions, though I do normally wear some thin layers and a hat to boost its performance a bit. It weighs only 508g stuffed into a Granite Gear Air Bag.


I’m still using my Terranova Laserlite at the moment. Weighing 1108g, there is good scope here to take over 300g off with a Laser Photon, which is currently on my wishlist.So, my Polaris bag is currently tipping the scales at just under 4500g.

Next time I’ll review clothing and sundry items, and maybe a tent…


  • Some of it not as expensive as you think actually. Stove was <£20, rucksack <£40. Other bits and pieces will actually replace stuff that’s getting tired anyway. The tent is the main item of expense, but it will replace my two existing ones anyway, so hopefully won’t dent my wallet too much…

  • Laser Comp is better than the Photon I am told. The Photon is Gossamer thin with net inner. Just used the Comp at a Mountain Marathon. All good. A squeeze for 2 six footers though!

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