Rae Lakes Loop Trip Report

Trip Preparation

When I decided to do another trip to the Loop, I Googled obsessively to get all the information available to help plan this trip. I was helped by many trip reports published on the web, but in particular I would like to credit Kevin Gong's 2001 detailed trip report for both content and inspiration to do my trip journal online.

The first thing I realized is that there was no way I was going to carry a 78 pound pack this time around. After doing research into current trends in backpacking, I also realized that I was not going to be going ultralight either. Weight may be a four letter word, but comfort is definitely not. I need to somehow find a balance between the two. The less I carry, the more I can enjoy the hike, but the less I carry, the more uncomfortable I may be each night!

I need to sleep well, have a place to sit my rear at the end of a hard day (other than a rock or log), and since I know firsthand that temps can go below freezing on this trail in July, I also need to carry gear that can keep me warm down to 25-30 degrees.
Having said that, I did want to shave as many pounds off as I could, srtiking a balance between comfort and weight.

*Post Trip Note: I have been able to achieve both lightweight, AND comfortable. I will never be Ultralight, but my base weight is now 12 pounds, and my total pack weight if I were to do this trip today would be under 30 lbs. I learned from this trip that it just isn't worth it to carry a lot of weight day after day. Having a lighter load can really add to the enjoyment of the trip.

Preparation for this trip consisted of two primary areas; fitness and gear (including clothing).

Fitness: When I decided to do this trip, I knew it was physically impossible for me to complete this trip in the condition I was in. If I really wanted to do this trip, I needed to train for it, and I had a long way to go. I started climbing stairs during the winter, and as soon as the weather permitted, I started running. I found that I really enjoy trail running!! In fact, I enjoyed running so much that I stopped doing the stairs... I also started hiking each weekend. I did 6-8 miles with a full pack for several weeks before the trip.  By the time we left for the trip, I was in decent cardio shape. In hindsight, I would have kept up with the stairs, cross trained with running, and done less hiking. My quads were not ready for the steep, constant uphill hiking. The terrain here in Minnesota is too flat!

Gear: Some of my existing gear was ready for the dumpster (my pack), and most of the rest, while functional, had lighter alternatives in the marketplace. Since most of my existing gear would be used by my son and daughter, I decided to research and purchse lighter gear for this trip. Time to upgrade and lighten up!

Clothing: I finally made the switch completely away from cotton. All of my summer clothing is light, and dries extremely quickly. I tried lightweight Merino wool, but other than for socks and gloves, I prefer polyester (Capilene) or nylon (Supplex, Duralite). Although my pants are convertible and can be worn as shorts, I am finding that I prefer long sleeve shirts and pants in the summer for sun and insect protection. With the right material, I am just as cool with long sleeves and pants as I used to be in short sleeves and shorts. I treated my shirt, pants and hat with a Permethrin solution prior to the trip. This is supposed to help with insect control and limits how much Deet I need to use.  


  The "Big Three"  + Boots (for the complete gear list of what I took on this trip, go here)


Here is what I wanted in a pack:

  • Lightweight
  • Internal Frame
  • Comfortable
  • Able to carry 50 lbs

Osprey Aether 70

I chose the Osprey Aether 70 pack. I was looking at the Osprey Atmos 65, which would have shaved 15 oz off the pack weight, but I was concerned with the load recommendation for the Atmos 65. My target pack weight was 45-50 lbs (what was I thinking??), which is the upper end of the recommended range for the Atmos 65.


  • Custom molded hip belts. I took advantage at REI of having the belt heated and then custom fit. 
  • Load capacity of 50-65 lbs
  • Reasonably lightweight (for this load carrying capacity)
  • Lots of 'comfortable' comments in review.
  • 4400 cu in - should have enough room for a week long trip
  • Great reviews


  • 4 lbs 12 oz
* Post trip note: The Osprey Aether 70 was the perfect pack for carrying 45-50 lbs. I actually got my pack weight down to 41 pounds for the trip. (Still way too much, but that is for another story!) It was comfortable, carried the weight well, and transferred the weight to my hips correctly. I still don't know if the "custom molded" hipbelt process was responsible for the good fit, but it was comfortable, so who knows...


Here was my original criteria for a tent:

  • Free standing 
  • Light weight but fully enclosed and rain / wind proof
  • Single person

Which changed to:

  • Fully Enclosed

Tarptent Contrail

I read good reviews of the REI Chrysalis UL, and found it on sale and being discontinued. Seemed to fit the bill. It was advertised as a Lightweight Backpacking Tent. Specs show weight as 3 lbs 8 oz. My actual tent weight was 3 lbs 8 oz spot on. This includes the tent, tent poles, tent stakes, rain fly and bag to hold it all. I also purchased the Chrysalis footprint (6.2 oz).

In my last minute frenzy to get a lighter total pack weight, I started reading about lighter alternatives that were appropriate for the High Sierras in summer. Tarps, Tarptents, quilts, bivys... a seemingly endless list of new gear to research. I was not willing to go the tarp route, but ran across the Tarptent concept. Fully enclosed, waterproof, and LIGHT. I understood the limitations of the single wall tent concept and decided that the tradeoff in weight saving was worth it. I gave up having a free standing tent to save the extra weight.

So I ordered a TarpTent Contrail


  • Total packed weight - 18 oz!
  • Roomy for a single person shelter
  • Great reviews
  • I like supporting cottage industries
  • Henry Shires customer service and participation on BPL


  • Non-free standing. Selecting the right spot is important.
  • Hard to set up in the wind (as would be the case with any non-freestanding tent)
  • Takes a little practice to get a good pitch. I practiced in my back yard before the trip. Just took a couple of tries.
  • Requires understanding condensation management.
Post trip notes: The Contrail was a champ. We had fairly mild weather. No rain, no high winds, and fairly low humidity. For this trip, the Contrail was perfect. I am SO glad I had an enclosed tent. The mosquitoes were unbelievable. We hid in our tents at times just to get some relief. I did have one night where the inside of the tent wall had condensation. Nothing dripped into the interior of the tent space however. I realized that the location I had chosen was in a low spot in a meadow. Sure recipe for condensation. I wouldn't say a Tarptent is the right choice for all seasons, weather and locations, but it will be one of my top tents in my "arsenal"!

Sleeping Bag and pad

Here was my criteria for a bag:
  • Light
  • Down
  • Non-constricting
And for the pad:
  • As light as possible
  • Able to give me a decent night's sleep.

Montbell UL SS Downhugger#3        BA Insulated Aircore

My sleeping bag was another item that had a last minute change.

I have used mummy bags and modified mummy's and have a hard time with narrow bags. Both the shoulder and foot widths are
constricting and make getting a decent night's sleep almost impossible. Getting a bag that isn't a mummy adds too much weight (or so I thought).

I originally purchased the Big Agnes Lost Ranger +15 (2 lbs 12 oz) , and the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad (1 lb 10 oz) for a total weight of 4 lbs 6 oz.

I did like the idea of the integrated pad. Solved the problem of rolling off the pad several times a night. The Insulated Air Core pad packs really small since it is an air pad and not a self inflating pad.  Sounded great, although I worry about punctures and leaks...

As I read through all the reviews on this bag/pad, here are the common thread of many comments:

  • Best nights sleep EVER on the trail!
  • NOT an accurate temp rating. More like +25 instead of +15
Note - my experience is that the rating should be +35 - see below

Then as I researched lighter weight options, I came across the Montbell U.L.SS.Down Hugger #3  (SS stands for Super Stretch).

This bag is 23 ounces, and has a unique feature in the material and design. The outer shell is "stretchable". Shoulder girth is 53 to 70.

The bag hugs you to reduce the volume needed to be kept warm, but then stretches as you move. The concept proved itself out in the field for me.
I loved this bag!

  • 30 degree rating,
  • 23 oz
  • 800 fill down,
  • Max User Height: 5ft. 10in.
  • Inside Shoulder Girth: 53.2" - 70.9" (that is the STRETCH factor!)
  • Inside Knee Girth: 42.8" - 57.1"
  • Stuffed Size: 5.4" x 10.7"

Since this bag seemed to meet my criteria for a bag, and was 21 ounces lighter than the BA bag, I ordered the Montbell U.L.SS.Down Hugger #3. It was delivered so close to my trip that I didn't get a chance to test it out before we left!

Post trip notes: The Montbell SS #3 was PERFECT. We had temps down to 37, and I was warm and comfy. I also had plenty of room to move within the bag due to the stretch feature of the bag. I actually had a chance to compare the BA Lost Ranger +15 and the Montbell SS #3 +30 side by side on a later trip.I took both on a 3 day trip to the Superior Hiking Trail. On two nights, the temps were at 36 degrees. Same pad, same temps, same clothes layers. The Montbell slept WARMER. I actually woke up with cold spots in the BA Lost Ranger.
I did like the BA Insulated Air Core. Slept like a baby! I was actually surprised how well I slept. I let enough air out of the pad so I didn't "bottom out" while on my side, and it was very comfortable.



Boots were one of the most difficult decisions to make. I read boot recommendations in magazines, books, and online.
Some recommendations from the experts:

  • Go light! Use trail shoes!
  • You need support, use heavyweight boots for multi-day trips.
  • Lightweight boots are all you need!

DannerRadical 452 GTX Hiker      

      Danner 452                   Vasque Blur

Bottom line is that I tried on a dozen pair of boots, all of the recommended and "Editor's Picks" boots, and it all came down to fit. I only found one pair of mid-weight hiking boots that fit reasonably well, the Danner Radical 452 GTX Hiker

I already had a pair of trail shoes, the Vasque Blur SL that I had picked up since I had started trail running as part of my training for the upcoming trip.

The question was, which should I bring???

I really wanted to try trail shoes, but since my pack weight topped 40 lbs at the start, I was worried the trail shoes just would not have enough support. I struggled with this right up to the last minute.   

I actually wound up bringing BOTH boots and trail shoes. I know, I know, that was an extra 1.8 lbs I carried for 50 miles!

In hindsight, I would have only brought the boots and left the trail shoe "trial" for a later trip. I did learn a lot though.

The Danner boots worked great for the first 4 days and provided the support I needed. On the last day my pack was down below 30 lbs. We had decided to do 15 miles that day, so I switched to the Vasque trail shoes. It was great! I really liked the comfort and feel of the trail shoes. Those 15 miles would have seemed much longer with heavy boots on my feet.

Most of my hiking / backpacking in the future will be in trail shoes. My base weight is now down to 12 lbs, so it will be rare when my total pack weight exceeds 30 pounds.

Boots (for me) are necessary if I am carrying more than 35 lbs, am hiking in cold weather or on light snow, or on a constantly wet trail. I recently hiked the SHT in some very wet and cold conditions, and although my pack was 30 lbs, I was very glad to have the boots! 

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