Backpacking training: Three top picks

For the first time since March, I’ve been home for an entire month straight. It’s been awesome, with much more time to spend with Amanda, to take care of the business’s backend, and to run and hike in Boulder’s open space.

In specific regards to the latter, I’ve been climbing Green Mountain (8,144′) several times per week, spaced apart by easier efforts. From my front door, it takes 60-ish minutes to run the 5 miles and 2,650 vertical feet to the summit. When I want to hike it, I drive to the iconic Chautauqua Meadows because I don’t have the patience to walk the first 2 miles and 500 vertical feet, especially while carrying a 45-lb backpack loaded with bricks, which has been my MO.

If I keep up with this training, I should be well positioned to boggie on hikes later this month and next, my final guided trips of the year in September, and my elk hunt in October.

Air-drying on the summit of Green Mountain after a 2,600-foot climb with a 45-lb backpack full of bricks. Wearing Salomon Light Short and Salomon Eskape Aero.

Air-drying on the summit of Green Mountain after a 2,650-foot climb with a 45-lb backpack full of bricks (prototype Sierra Designs pack, not yet a top pick). Wearing Salomon Light Short, Salomon Eskape Aero, and Simblissity Levagaiters. Clearly I haven’t spent much time in the weight room recently.

I wanted to share three items that I’ve been especially happy with during this training:

Shorts: Salomon Light Short

I wear the Light Short daily, and not because I don’t have other shorts to wear. In fact, I now wear them into my post-hike shower so that they will be clean and ready to go tomorrow.

What distinguishes these shorts is the waistband, which is 3 inches wide on the inside of the short, versus the normal 1-1.5. This results in a wonderfully snug fit and supportive liner; loose liners lead to uncomfortable bouncing and between-leg chafing. The exterior face fabric is light and dries quickly, not dissimilar from other well designed running shorts.

The 4-inch inseam is longer than my other running shorts (that I also use for hiking), but I don’t find that my stride is constricted, and they’re also a bit more modest than split shorts with a 2-inch inseam.

Shoes: Salomon Eskape Aero (Ellipse Aero for women)

For a budget-minded shoe, the Eskape Aero performs surpsingly well. I’ve worn it on most of my backpacking trips this year, including in Big Bend, three Appalachian locations (NC, WV, NH), and Colorado, plus all of my training hikes. Great fit, durability, and breathability; good underfoot protection, traction, and weight. In wet conditions, they absorb water, but not noticeably more than most other hiking shoes.

In sandy environments (e.g. Escalante), I’d advise a different model because sand pours into the airy mesh. Likewise, I’d avoid other Salomon shoes featuring the Quicklace system for sandy places, as the fine sand grains fray the laces.

Pack: Kifaru Bikini Platform Frame + Highcamp Bag

An elk isn’t a small animal, and I knew I would have to look outside the normal backpacking brands to find a pack that would “comfortably” carry a 100-pound load if I were successful in putting down an animal. But I still didn’t want it to weigh much because I expected to do a lot of hiking before I ever got to use my rifle.

I found what I wanted with Kifaru, founded by Patrick Smith (of Mountainsmith) and based down the road in Golden. The Bikini Platform Frame + Highcamp Bag dedicates almost all of its 4.5 pounds to hauling weight: two super stiff stays, oversized and generously padded body/pack contact points (lumbar, hips, back shoulders), and reinforced reinforcement points everywhere. In shorts, it’s a beast, and it swallows easily the 45-lb load of bricks that I put in it. By UL standards, it’s overbuilt and has a mess of straps, buckles, and daisy chains, but I think for this application the enhanced versatility is ultimately a plus.

Kifaru Bikini Platform Frame + Highcamp bag

Kifaru Bikini Platform Frame + Highcamp Bag at the summit of Green, looking west towards the Continental Divide and Indian Peaks Wilderness

Disclaimer. I am given a lot of gear to use and test, including the items discussed above. I don’t promote all of it; in fact, very little of it, and only the things that I genuinely would recommend.

Posted in on July 15, 2014


  1. Dave on August 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Nice to see an UL backpacker gets into hunting. I would be very interested in looking at your gear-list for these kind of expeditions.

    The problem I have with backpack-hunters is a lot of them think if they can get a pack down to 15 kilograms without the rifle and others, they are “ultralight hunters”. The other problem is most of their lists tend to be incomplete, so it is not really certain

    I understand high-performance gears such as Kifaru and Mystery Ranch are better for boning out black bears, grizzlies and elks. However, my hunting pack was almost never as heavy as theirs. Albeit, my clothes tend to be on the lighter side as I don’t invest in insulation layers with Pirmaloft. In -25 in Finland, while bird-hunting, I got along fine with military surplus cotton fatigue and two layers of thin Merino underwear. I got cold at times standing around waiting for the dog to bark, but it was better to be a little bit nippy than to be sweaty. In hind-sight, neck-gaitors and a balaclava would enhance the experience more than a puffy jacket. Funnily enough, cotton is drier than synthetics in the winter. On the flip side, cotton is just plain miserable in the northern summers.

    Ironically, I tend to over-pack in the summer than in the autumn or winter; and has been guilty of under-preparing.

  2. Elizabeth on September 20, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    It looks like the Salomon Eskape is a hiking shoe, do you find it acceptable for running also?

    • Andrew Skurka on September 28, 2014 at 6:40 am

      The answer depends on your preferences for running shoes. Personally, they are too heavy and stiff, and have too large of a heel/forefoot drop for me to use for running. But given that the Salomon XA Pro is categorized as a marketing shoe, and that these shoes are lighter and more nimble than those, I’d have to think they would work okay for some.

      • Elizabeth on October 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        I like my Pearl Izumi for trail running, but I’ll give the Eskape a try for hiking. You chose Salomon shoes often, they must fit your feet well.

  3. Peter on October 2, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    I am a total fan of Kifaru. My one comment (left this at your FB page as well) is that you should try the Bikini frame at 80+ pound loads as well. Most people by that weight are using the Duplex frame from Kifaru. Even Kifaru seems to recommend this. Read your Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, by the way. Great book.

  4. Tom Ridley on June 12, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Andrew, prior to a multilevel back fusion surgery, I routinely would go on 5 day hiking trips and average 25/26 mpd. Since the surgery doctors said “no more high impact running”! I can still backpack -no more than 50 pounds- and cycle. For training purposes, do you have any suggestions for an additional activity that I can rotate in with 40lb. pack workouts and cycling?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 14, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Sounds like you should ask a doctor that question…

  5. Bill on August 28, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Great resource , this website. It’s a shame you want to kill animals. I could never kill an elk and can’t understand the mentality of people that get excited by it. Still, thanks for the other very useful info.

  6. Jerry on April 29, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Hi, do you know what happened to the salomon light shorts? they don’t seem to be available anymore. Do you have a new short that you recommend?

    • Andrew Skurka on April 29, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Correct, they are no longer available. A tragic decision, but I can’t blame Salomon for not continuing to product shorts that don’t sell.

      I tested a lot of shorts to find a replacement. Eventually I settled on the RRS Your Long Run, which have a 3-inch split and which are made with very soft and quick drying polyester.

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