Walter Underwood

Walter Underwood
Walter Underwood
Walter Underwood

Before my dad and I went on our first backpacking trip in the mountains, we read everything we could find on the subject. That was 1970, so it was mostly Colin Fletcher, Harvey Manning, and catalogs from REI and Ski Hut. We had done plenty of Boy Scout hiking and backpacking in Louisiana, but the Pecos Wilderness was our first big trip. We made lists and weighed everything. My pack was 45 pounds and my dad’s was heavier. I hated the heavy pack, but we both loved the mountains. We went back to the Pecos every year until I left for college in 1975.

I continued backpacking, switching to an internal frame pack in 1982 (a Lowe Expedition).  I shaved a few pounds off the load here and there — a TNF Cat’s Meow sleeping bag, a Sierra Designs Flashlight — but getting to the wilderness always carried a tax, that heavy pack.

I’m not sure when I heard about Ray Jardine, maybe it was reading The Complete Walker IV. It was certainly after I started regular weekend backpacking trips with my son’s Boy Scout troop. I researched more, started weighing things again, making more careful choices, and replacing a few items at a time.

On our Sierra 50 Miler in 2009, my base weight was 19 pounds, light enough that I didn’t mind carrying my four pound camera and the crew’s two pound first aid kit. The next summer at Philmont, it was 16 pounds, and now it varies between 12 and 15 depending on the season.

These days, I spend less time lightening my pack and more time helping other people to go lighter. I teach lightweight packing and cooking classes for Scouts and Scout leaders, and advocate on the Philmont e-mail list. With the boys mostly out of the house, I’m updating my wife’s equipment and we are getting out for some weekend trips. I also get in an occasional day hike with shortwave radio equipment for Summits on the Air (SOTA).

Packing light makes me plan (a very good thing) and gives me reserve energy to be an effective, safe leader on trips. It is a lot more fun than that 45 pound pack in the Pecos, too.

Home: Palo Alto, CA

Age: 58


Outdoor Organization Involvement: Boy Scouts of America – Asst. Scoutmaster | Amateur Radio (K6WRU) – Summits on the Air | ARES/RACES emergency communicator

Favorite Training Ground: My daily walks are near home or work, either the Greenmeadow neighborhood or the San Tomas Aquino Creek trail. On weekends, there are too many trails to choose from — anything from The Dish behind Stanford to the Henry Coe Wilderness.

Favorite Pack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa

I Never Hit the Trail Without: A chair. I’ve tried going without it, and I always put the Crazy Creek chair back in the pack for the next trip.

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