Alaska-Yukon Expedition: What’s in My Pack? A Guide to Ultralight Backpacking

Today adventurer Andrew Skurka begins an ambitious, seven-month expedition that will take him 4,720 miles across Alaska and the Yukon by skis, foot, and raft. Follow his blog dispatches here and his tweets via twitter.com/andrewskurka.

The contents of my pack are almost entirely need based. During this trip, my legitimate needs will include staying hydrated and nourished, keeping my body temperature regulated, and traveling efficiently and safely over the land–snow-covered tundra, glacier-fed rivers, and dense alder forests. I can think of only one item, my camera, which can be classified as a “want.” This Spartan approach to packing is easily explained: carrying more stuff means more work, and work, well, it’s generally not very fun.

The weight of an item is a major consideration in whether it makes the final cut, for there is an indisputable correlation between pack weight and the quality of one’s experience. But it’s not the only factor I consider–particularly on a trip like this, which will be hard on gear and has relatively few opportunities to replace things. Durability and versatility are also of great value. My RidgeRest Deluxe Solar sleeping pad is a case in point. It’s warmer for its weight than any inflatable pad, it won’t puncture, and, come springtime, I can cut it in half to make a suitable three-season pad.

Over the next 200 days I will experience a wide range of season-influenced conditions, and I will rotate gear in and out accordingly, via “maildrops” sent through the postal service. At the start, when I am 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle in mid-March, I will have multiple insulating layers, a gasoline-fueled stove with which I can melt snow for water, and a pyramid-shaped shelter that is capable of shedding snow and deflecting strong winds. When I reach the Parks Highway at the end of April, I will have a convenient opportunity to swap things out. At this point I will receive my three-season raingear, alcohol-fueled stove (made out of a 3-oz cat food can), and a 1-person, 4.5-pound inflatable boat known as a packraft that I use to float rivers and paddle across fjords. A less major transition will occur in the fall.

Below I have listed a few of the more items in my pack with short explanations. For a complete Gear List visit www.andrewskurka.com/AK10/gearlists.php.

Winter Kit

GoLite Pinnacle pack: 2 lbs, simple and light, yet durable and adequately featured.

Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid: 13 oz, pyramid-shaped tarp, excellent protection for its weight, has a modular-style bug net that I will add in the summer.

Vapor barrier liner clothing: non-breathable fabric that prevents perspiration from entering insulation (parkas, pants, sleeping bag), where it will dampen the insulation, resulting in a loss of loft.

Whisperlite International stove: can burn gasoline, which I can find regularly and easily in rural Alaskan villages; in comparison, fuel canisters are non-existent in these parts.

“Nordic mountaineering” ski setup: 200-cm-long metal-edged waxable skis, leather boots (with a Forty Below 3-mm-thick neoprene overboot), 3-pin telemark bindings, and carbon fiber poles.

GoLite Hooded Cady jacket: very warm for its weight; sewed on a coyote fur ruff to help block wind

Book your next trip with Peace of Mind
Search Trips

Summer Kit

Alpacka packraft: a different, but completely critical, item in Alaskan wilderness – used to float or ferry across rivers, and paddle across saltwater bays; accompanied with a carbon fiber Sawyer paddle that’s ultralight yet powerful. My PFD is a nylon vest that uses three 2L Platypus bottles for floatation.

ULA EPIC pack: its unique “sandwich” design accommodates a packraft really well, and it’s very light for its load carrying capacity.

Alcohol stove: homemade from a 3-oz cat food can (try Fancy Feast); never breaks, never clogs, and never fails.

La Sportiva Fireblade running shoes: the best off-trail shoe that I’ve found – it’s low-to-the-ground, has a sticky outsole, has a very durable upper, and it breathes really well. The Fireblades pair well with DeFeet EcoTrekker merino wool socks during the Spring and Fall.

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet