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The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum

Do we need to redefine backpacking weight categories? Most lightweight backpackers are aware of the concepts of base weight and backpacking weight categories, but are the categories getting out of date?

For those not familiar with the concepts, I briefly review them here; for those already familiar, jump to the next section. Are you a beginner? Learn how to start lightweight backpacking.

lightweight backpacking

Lightweight backpacking and more comfortable gear weights makes hiking more enjoyable for people of all ages.

Base Weight Definition

Base Weight is the total weight of your entire gear kit, excluding consumables which are food, water, and fuel. Consumables are not included because the amount varies by trip length and conditions.

  • A lightweight backpacker (LW) carries a base weight under 20 pounds.
  • An ultralight backpacker (UL) carries a base weight under 10 pounds.
  • A superultralight backpacker (SUL) carries a base weight under 5 pounds.

For comparison purposes, if we use 10 pounds as the weight of consumables for a 5-day backpacking trip, then the total weights are 30, 20, and 15 pounds respectively. Those numbers assume your base weight is at the top of the category, which is probably isn’t.

Conventional backpackers simply go by total pack weight, which is typically 35 pounds or more.

Making Pack Weight

Fifteen years ago – when lightweight gear was scarce, silnylon was revolutionary, and we often had to make our own gear – it was challenging to “make weight”, i.e. get our base weight under the limits listed above. Fast-forward to the present. We now have a myriad of lightweight and durable materials, and there are nearly 100 companies, large and small, making lightweight and ultralight gear. We have lots of choices in every gear category, and it’s easy to make weight.

When I prepare for a presentation on lightweight backpacking, I load one pack with lightweight gear and one with ultralight gear so people can see what’s in a sub-20-pound base weight and a sub-10-pound base weight. For the pack full of lightweight gear, I try to be luxurious by throwing in a double-wall tent, 15F sleeping bag, a full-length inflatable sleeping pad, Jetboil stove, headlamp, etc, and guess what – the whole kit and caboodle weighs only 13.5 pounds! When I do the same for the ultralight load, it comes in around 8 pounds. However, the SUL kit is always hard to make weight; a 5-pound limit is very restrictive. I have previously proposed a Mountain SuperUltraLight (M-SUL) category with an easier to achieve base weight of 6 pounds, which also provides adequate protection, warmth, and comfort for the conditions.

Traditional Backpack

A fully-loaded and heavy conventional backpack like this is what we commonly see on the trails, which begs the question: How do we reach these people and inform them of the lightweight alternative?

The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum

Frankly, given the availability of lightweight gear, I find it hard to understand why there are so many conventional backpackers on the trails. Is it because they don’t get the information, because they don’t understand it, because it takes too much effort, or because they are just not into it? Or all of the above?

One thing is very noticeable: when I walk into an outdoor store, or REI, I don’t see very much lightweight gear. When I ask about it, they say it doesn’t sell. It is true that buyers prefer familiar brands, so that’s what retailers stock their in their stores, because that’s what sells. There’s a catch-22 here: retailers don’t stock LW gear because it doesn’t sell, and it doesn’t sell because they don’t stock it!

What this means for a backpacker who wants to lighten up is she needs to deliberately find the information she needs, select the gear she wants, and locate where to buy it. That takes some time and effort, and I believe that’s where the conundrum lies – many people don’t want to invest the required time and effort. And it goes further than that because there are barriers to overcome as well (fear of getting wet or cold, or being uncomfortable), which largely require knowledge and experience.

Do We Need to Adjust the Categories?

From a purist point of view, lowering the weight limits sounds like a reasonable idea given the abundance of high quality lightweight gear. However, from an evangelical point of view, there’s nothing to be gained from lowering the base weights and excluding some people.

One thing I have observed over the years is that there are a lot more potential lightweight backpackers out there than potential ultralight backpackers. For example, when my wife and I give our lightweight backpacking presentations, we find that most of our audience (80-90%) is interested in lightweight backpacking and only a minority is interested in ultralight. On the trails we see 95% conventional backpackers. So, do a few conventional backpackers evolve into lightweight backpackers, and a few of them further evolve into ultralight backpackers?

What is really needed is to reach more people and get them on board. We have been preaching for 15 years and we are still a small denomination. How do we reach out and enlighten more backpackers?

It would be helpful to have a philosophical discussion on this subject. If lightweight and ultralight backpacking is so easy to achieve and has so many advantages, why aren’t more people doing it? Your thoughts are most welcome.

This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Will Rietveld

120 Responses to The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum

  1. Ross Gilmore October 14, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    I am one of those people you describe with a base weight of about 13lb. I know exactly what I need to do to go ultralight, and in fact have most of the gear I would need to make that happen. But I don’t.

    To most ultralight backpackers that makes no sense. Most believe that the reason a person is not going ultralight is because they don’t know about it, or are not sure hot to do it, or can’t find the right gear, etc.

    From a personal stand point, I would like to offer for consideration that maybe the reason a lot of people don’t go ultralight is because they don’t want to.

    If one lives withing an ultralight backpacking world, they start to think of backpacking as subdivided in weight categories. As such, you have all of the discussion about what each category should be called, whether it should be a 10lb mark, or lowered to 9lb, etc. A lot of the time the focus on this activity makes people forget that this is not why most people are in the woods, and that for the average backpacker having a specific pack weight means nothing, and does not constitute any type of achievement.

    For example, for me reducing weight is very important. However, I couldn’t care less if my base weight falls into certain category. For me that is a meaningless distinction. I would not be able to tell you if the pack I am carrying weighs 9lb or 12lb. For me backpacking has other goals, and there are other factors which influence my gear choices, and consequently my base weight.

    For instance, I carry an internal frame 40L pack. I use the same pack in winter as well as for three season. It weighs almost 3lb, and is larger than I need for my basic gear. I can easily move to a frameless 25L or 30L pack that weighs 1lb, but I don’t. I don’t because I like being able to fit all my fishing gear into the pack along with my other gear. I like being able to carry 10 extra pounds of climbing gear in the pack when I need it. I’m also not interested in changing out packs for each trip. So, I stick with the heavier, larger pack. Now, on the trips where I’m not fishing, hunting, climbing, etc, the pack is rather large for my gear. For that reason, my three season sleeping bag is a bulky, cheap, synthetic bag that I just stuff in uncompressed. I can easily get a sleeping bag that is a pound or two lighter, but if I did, my pack would be empty, and I would need to get a new pack, which I don’t want to do.

    My tent is an enclosed single wall design, and weighs 3lb. I have lighter shelters that I can use, but I don’t. The reason is that this tent performs better in winter above tree line. During three season backpacking there is no problem with going with a lighter shelter, but I don’t like changing out gear. For me it is more important that I keep my gear consistent than that I hit a certain weight mark during a particular season.

    Anyway, I say the above not to be critical. I think ultralight backpacking has contributed immensely to the development of outdoor gear, and we have all benefited. I just want to point out that maybe it’s not a matter of “reaching” more people. Maybe those people just don’t have the same goal in mind.

    • Rodney April 3, 2015 at 8:01 am #

      Ross, You make some very good points. I don’t understand why the lightweight backpacking community assumes everyone wants to take a minimalist approach. I’ve done that. I’ve hiked the 20 and 30 mile days with a lightweight pack. I do that when I am doing a thru-hike of sorts or making big mileage while doing a loop. But that is not the only way I like to live in the wilderness. I also like backpacking 25 miles into wilderness and set up a base camp. I am away from the crowds and I do day hikes exploring the area. I also like some comforts at the base camp. They are just two different approaches based on likes and desires.

      By the way, I also like winter trips and shoulder season trips. In the first week of October 2013, I was in the Glacier Peak wilderness. An unexpected big early winter storm came through dumping over two feet of snow on me. When I got out of the wilderness, I heard on the radio that five PCT through hikers had to be rescued. They were ill prepared with their minimalist approach.

      Well, thanks for your comments.

      • J. L. Minx April 3, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

        I’m right there with ya, Rodney. Using UL gear and techniques to bring down overall weight is great, but packing a few “extras” for comfort and function works well for me. Especially when introducing a pal to the joys of backpacking.

      • sandy fortner April 3, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

        Cost, comfort and availability are all factors, I believe. For many people, the cost of the lightest of the light is just too prohibitive and there has to be choices between pounds and money. Additionally, for us older hikers, the ground just keeps getting harder and colder for some reason. Ha! I have considered a short or less robust mattress pad, but my joints have put up quite a protest, so I stick with a full length pad that has some R value to it. And finally, getting your hands on this gear is a challenge! I recently bit the bullet and ordered a pack from Gossamer Gear and 1 from another company. Although both companies are very generous about returns, I knew this would cost me shipping both ways, at least for 1 pack. In the end, the other backpack I ordered JUST fit my usual gear, meaning that if I needed anything extra in the way of climate protection or more food for a longer trek, stuff was going to have to start hanging off my pack – something I really try to avoid. Without being able to examine a other pack with a little more room, I opted to return that one and keep the Gossamer Gear pack. But, I did keep the other hip belt because I really like the pockets on it better. The same is true with shelters. Unless you can get a hold of another person’s gear to try it out, or you pay shipping to actually get your hands on this stuff, it just isn’t possible to make good, informed decisions. As a side note – I just did 5 days on the AZT with my new Mariposa and COULD NOT BE HAPPIER! Even on day 5 my body didn’t have a single tender spot and putting my back on was a joy! I was probably even happier about day 5 than in past trips simply because I couldn’t believe how great that pack handled the load. Started with 32.6 lbs, which included 3 1/2 Lt of H2O. Life was good!

    • Jax April 3, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

      For me it’s all a matter of cost. Ultralight gear is more abundant now…but it’s still quite a bit more expensive than standard gear. I’m in the lightweight group myself and probably never will make ultralight. Forget superultralight.

    • Bruce June 3, 2015 at 7:48 am #

      We often forget that many hikers are new and lack any experience and therefore insight into what they NEED to bring on the trail. Don’t take it if your not going to use it. I can handle mountain conditions down to the teens and have a 13-14 pound base weight. That’s because I usually hike in the mountains. Some people take nail clippers and an entire roll of toilet paper for a 2 night hike “just in case”. I have a 20 degree sleeping bag just in case…big difference.

    • Jesse McKay June 14, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

      Gotta say, Ross, your points are solid. As a novice backpacking with thru-hike ambitions, I appreciate your level-headed counterpoints. My “outsider” observation is that UL backpacking is a bit like Buddhism: Dharma = weight reduction, and zero weight = Nirvana. Of course, at 0.0 oz. it is assumed that we have been…um…consumed.

  2. Call Me Ishmael October 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    I agree with Ross, that a lot of people I have met and tried to educate are happy being heavier than they might be. Part of it is the comfort they get from having a standard “go-to” kit that works for them on any trip. Apparently, they do not enjoy the part of trip planning that has them making not only individual gear choices, but also fitting them into the kind of system that is necessary to achieve the lightest weights. And, this process is both difficult and risky without the woodscraft to go with it. Outdoor skills are the most important component to staying comfortable and safe with less gear. The more you know, the less you need – to carry. But developing real outdoor skills requires practice outdoors, not just the lecture and show-and-tell at an outdoor seminar. Perhaps this is the investment that many are not willing or not able to make.

  3. andrewskurka October 14, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Categorizing backpackers according to pack weights is wrongheaded:

    1. Hard thresholds are often inappropriate for a season or location. On my big Alaska trip, my base pack weight in March in the Arctic was high-10’s, which by conventional lightweight backpacking definitions means that I wasn’t even “lightweight.” But I’d challenge anyone to find many areas of my kit that could have been lighter.

    2. Hard thresholds do not account for a backpacker’s trip objectives. On an elk hunt last weekend my base pack weight was 29 lbs including my rifle. By conventional definitions, that weight is nearly “traditional,” but again I’d challenge anyone to find areas of my kit that could have been lighter given what I was doing and where I was doing it (Colorado in mid-October at elevations up to 12,000 feet).

    The 15, 10, and 5-lb weight classes are applicable to only a narrow range of trips, and the entire classification should be scrapped. In addition to not being very useful, it can also can come off as wickedly elitist.

    A better way to think about pack weight is by identifying:
    1. Likely environmental and route conditions (e.g. temps, precip, bugs, wildlife, etc.) and
    2. Trip objectives (i.e. whether one plans to spend more time in camp or on the trail)

    This structure is inclusive for all types of backpackers — not just thru-hikers and engineering geeks, but also those who carry a mobile home and have awesome backcountry camps. The end goal is also more meaningful: you’re packing for a specific trip and for specific conditions, not to “make weight” based on someone’s arbitrary criteria from the year 2000.

    • CM October 18, 2014 at 4:33 am #

      I agree with andrew 100%, especially with the elitist part.

      • amytys October 19, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

        In addition, it’s much easier for someone to save an extra pound not because they carry less, but because they’re small. You need a bigger bag, tent, clothes, etc. if you’re 6’2″ compared to someone who is 5’6″.

        As Andrew has mentioned, environment is the big player. On my fall trips, I’ve got to be ready for 25 – 75 F, plus rain. That’s a lot of layering… certainly more than sub-5 will allow for.

      • Walter Underwood April 3, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

        I totally agree. I calculate my essential base weight, then add other things that are appropriate for the trip. That almost always includes a big camera and a book of Gary Snyder poems. “Mountains and Rivers without End” is the usual choice.

    • Damien Tougas October 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      I totally agree with this sentiment as well. I still think we need a term to describe the lightweight philosophy that many don’t follow, but might benefit from. Maybe we need to call it “minimalist backpacking” or something like that instead, as the minimalist definition that I just looked up said “being or offering no more than what is required or essential”. That pretty much sums what you just said – taking no more than is absolutely necessary for the trip and conditions you will face.

    • ColoradoCamper September 3, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      From the article: “We have been preaching for 15 years and we are still a small denomination. How do we reach out and enlighten more backpackers?”

      For over a decade LW/UL backpackers have been preaching based on the concept of base weight categories. Since this class of backpackers doesn’t appear to be growing much, I think Andrew has it right that the concept of the categories is flawed. The goal of the individual backpacker is lost when weight classes are the sole focus of so many LW/UL evangelicals. Some people want to enjoy the outdoors in a way other than banging out 10-20 miles on the trail with a comfortably light LW/UL load.

      For example, Andrew mentioned Colorado which is where I have lived and camped all of my life. I can quite confidently say that SUL backpacking in the popular areas here (typically above 8,000 ft) is meaningless because it cannot reliably be done, safely that is. And that goes for any month of the year. But I’ll concede that UL and LW pack weights can certainly be achieved.

      I am a former traditional backpacker now quite happy in the LW category for most trips. So maybe sharing my experience will help, since I am an example of the goal of this article. Something I think about a lot is how differently I would do things if I knew then what I know now, in terms of starting out and purchasing gear. And this is the main way I have influenced friends and family, by showing them alternatives to the big gear manufacturers. I think a major strategy for winning more converts is to emphasize the additional options that people won’t find in REI or Backpacker Magazine. My tarptent outclasses the UL tents from the big manufacturers in practically every category: weight, comfort, space, weather protection, ease of setup, and yes, even cost! The best stoves you can take into the wilderness (in my opinion, which are the SVEA 123 and/or the fancee feest alcohol stove) are not sold at REI or other big stores. Spreading the word on alternatives – DIY gear, cottage manufacturers, etc. – is a sound strategy.

      Secondly, I have made great strides from the mentality of simplifying my gear and/or leaving things behind I now realize I don’t need. So I think spreading the LW/UL mindset is also a path to gaining more converts. As an example, I used to religiously carry a leatherman, because it saved my bacon when my complicated white gas stove needed field maintenance. But since discovering alcohol stoves and how to make a reliable one, I save weight on the stove and on the tools because no maintenance is needed. I could tell a similar story regarding water treatment, cooking gear, etc. And the key to that success was to take a critical eye to my gear and apply the UL/LW mindset.

      Lastly, gear inertia and sunk cost are always going to be major obstacles to converting people. You will not convince many people carrying their new $400 tent to save a pound or two by leaving it at home to gather dust and also sink a few hundred more into a new lighter shelter. This is why I think it’s critical to get the word out about alternatives so people are aware of them BEFORE they walk into REI and invest hundreds of dollars into traditional, heavier gear.

  4. Jarrett October 15, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Personally, I am a little above a lightweight hiker, but II have taken steps that both lightweight and ultralight weight hikers would find appropriate. A lot of my extra weight comes from the extra gear I bring so that my dog can come along with me.

    In the cooler months I am much closer to hitting the 20 lbs mark because she can carry most of her gear in her own pack, but in summer I carry everything. I also hike heavier than I need to because I bring along a tent. By having a lightweight tent, I can ensure my dog doesn’t go running off in the middle of the night.

    The final consideration is I have been buying gear for over a decade and most of it doesn’t need replacing yet. Just because knowledge has increased doesn’t mean I go out and buy a new piece of gear. I have to wait until my current piece of gear wear out.

  5. Mike Davis October 17, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    Many comments and gear lists that are in the ultralite category seem to be west coast focused. Sections of the PCT in southern CA require an ultralite pack so there is room for the extra water load, which can be significant, and weigh up to 16 pounds. That said, the pack itself must be able to carry the extra load. On the wetter, bugier, more crowded east coast, rain gear and a more substantial shelter dictate sleeping comfort and protection from bugs and the elements. Using common sense and your own comfort level (and pocket book$$) may dictate the weight category that you fall into vs selecting the category first.
    Mike “MadMike” Davis

  6. Marco October 17, 2014 at 6:03 am #

    Yeah, a lot of things going on. But, a lot of people go with 20-30 pound base loads and ignore it. Backpacking is *supposed* to be a challenge, right? They buy 4500ci packs and expect them to be FILLED on every camping trip. If the pack isn’t full, the hiker assumes he is not “doing it right.”

    People simply are not interested in purchasing gear, especially light weight and expensive gear, to go backpacking. Case on point: A person will purchase a $100 synthetic bag weighing 3#8 rather than a $585, 800fp down bag weighing 1#14. Many people don’t understand that down is FAR more durable for 20-30 years, neither will keep you warm if they are allowed to get wet (a big sales point.) Of course, all campers let their bedding get soaked every trip…you ARE outside. Dollars tend to rule most peoples decisions as far as purchases go, especially by new backpackers.

    Maintenence is another area that is often ignored. REI, EMS, and others will gloss over the maintenence and related cost of operation asociated with gear. “Yes, you can wash your bag when it gets dirty” is the common statement totally ignoring details like frequency, sitting at laundermats, rinsing detergents out of a wash tub, multiple rinse cycles after washing a bag/quilt, type of soaps to use, picking up a wet bag/quilt when handling it, drying heat, etc. Nor do manufacturors include washing instructions with bags/quilts.

    Cost of operation and cost of purchase are largely ignored. For example, the old SVEA is highly durable and reliable, and, requires little maintenence. Fuel for the stove costs about $1 per two week trip in summers. A JetBoil will take three 4oz cannisters at about $5 each for a total of $15 and will only last 5 years or so before threads wear out. A SVEA will last 30 years and costs less to buy new, but you might want a durable heat exchanger pot. Sometimes, durability/reliability trump weight.

    It is difficult for most casual backpackers to spend the time in study to understand their gear. A good example is a tarp. A tarp works great as a shelter and weighs about half what a tent does. But people do not take the time to learn how to set one up, nor choose ground, nor how to deal with bugs under one. Nor do the big box stores carry good tarps so the camper cannot even compare them. It is easier to buy a 3 pound tent and ignore the study, AND carry the extra bulk and weight.

    It is not just the marketing, nor sales people. A large part is the simple “make the user think about what they are doing.” For many, thinking is not something that is well practiced. After all, camping is a vacation. So, they buy simplicity, regardless of the weight.

  7. Jeff October 17, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    “Wickedly elitist” is a good description of this article. You’ve been preaching for 15 years? You want to “reach out and enlighten?” Yeah, most people I know are just dying to be “enlightened” by somebody with too much time on their hands. Instead of trying to decide how to classify people by how many ounces are in their pack, why not spend that energy encouraging people to turn off their computers and go outside?

    • Justni October 17, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      “Preaching” to people who don’t know what they don’t know is pretty close to just helping someone. Preaching to people who already know and choose not to participate comes off as wickedly elitist.

      I’m gonna guess most people who have heard of Gossamer Gear and are following this thread fall into the latter bucket.

    • peabody3000 October 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

      jeff, these categories exist for reasons other than elitism. when people like me who have gradually gone from a very tough 30 lbs down to 10 see other people hiking under their heavy loads, we want to help. don’t worry about whether that makes us enlightened. its not about elitism. most of us worked very hard for the experience we gained and we’re ready to share it with anyone who is interested

      • Carolyn Higgins April 4, 2015 at 9:15 am #

        I think you nailed the challenge of spreading the word: focus on experience. Anyone who is just starting out just wants to get on the trail, they aren’t going to invest in the higher priced lightweight gear – and they aren’t going to understand what a difference 10 lbs can make (so not getting the ROI on the pricier gear). I’ve been backpacking on and off for about 10 years. I just made a commitment to myself 2 years ago to get out more than a couple times a year and I updated all my gear. My base weight is around 20 now, down from 35!

        It’s the more experienced hikers who go the longer distances and get out more than a couple times a year who pay more attention to weight. The casual backpacker (- unless they’re the type who has to always have the high end, best of everything stuff ) will work up to it as they get more miles on their boots.

  8. Gabriel RR October 17, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    Most of the backpackers I trek with carry 35-40 lb. of equipment and have no idea what their base pack weight is. They don’t have a scale. They don’t keep spreadsheets of data. When I’ve asked, they’ve said that they have what they have, either given to them or bought in a store, and it works for them. They are sometimes envious of my 8.5 lb. base pack weight, but:

    1. Aren’t willing to spend the time, effort, and/or money to make or switch out their heavier gear choices with a lighter weight one; most aren’t gear-heads, they just want to hike
    2. Are hesitant with some choices – I use an alcohol stove on most trips, they feel more comfortable with their canister stoves
    3. Believe that there are health benefits to carrying heavier gear (increase bone density and strength)
    4. Like their luxuries (camp chairs, saws, huge tents, etc.)
    5. Feel safer with redundancies and gear that they know works, either from using it themselves or seeing it used by others; as an example, more people are starting to try hammocks instead of tents because they see others using and raving about them. I see this type of behavior with 1 major change in gear per year for every 1/30 people I hike with.

    Re: The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum
    20 years ago I had lost all my backpacking gear – it was old, falling apart, and ruined. I walked into a backpack supply store and picked out everything I thought I’d need having never heard of light weight backpacking. I ended up with about 40 lbs. of equipment for about $1000. Now a what if – what if I’d walked in and they had ultralight, lightweight, and conventional categories of equipment.

    Ultralight – 15 lbs of equipment (some extra in there) for $2000
    Lightweight – 30 lbs of equipment for $1500
    Conventional – 40 lbs of equipment for $1000

    I might mix and match, but I’d be closer to the $1200 range. Mostly conventional with a few pieces of light weight. Looking at a flimsy titanium pot that is really expensive and hard to clean vs. a solid but lighter pot with a Teflon coating at a middle price vs. a heavy aluminum pot at a low price. I’d go with the middle one.

    Re: Do We Need to Adjust the Categories?
    I saw meaning in weight categories as far as setting goals, but once I reached the goals the actual weight itself is so insignificant that I find it hard to obsess over it. An extra pound to carry some piece of equipment? Sure, I won’t even notice it.

    I can’t feel 8.5 lbs. I can barely feel 15 lbs. I could double my gear and still be very comfortable hiking and enjoying the outdoors. I could still travel 20 miles a day if I wanted. At some point, weighing my gear and seeing how light I can go becomes meaningless because the difference in 10 lb vs. 15 lb pack weight is insignificant to me. I can carry both equally comfortable – I don’t notice the weight. Why spend money and time and effort on going even lighter? What’s the purpose?

    • Dave October 27, 2014 at 8:25 am #

      A few pounds doesn’t make a difference for weekend excursions.

      The weight becomes more significant with the consumables during long-distance backpacking, or with back-country hunting.

      • Gabriel RR October 27, 2014 at 9:22 am #

        Hi Dave, I understand that – I was trying to provide data and insight into the questions asked under “The Lightweight Backpacking Conundrum”. If we’re talking only about extended trips, it should be clarified in the topic.

    • H.D. Lynn October 30, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      Other than weight, durability and multi-purpose use factor the most into my gear choices. To go from ~13lbs to sub ~10lbs, I’d have to make major gear switches that would compromise the utility of my basic kit. I’d argue, though, that someone just getting into backpacking can hit ~15-20lbs for ~$1000, which is what I did initially, and then upgraded/shed gear accordingly.

      I was trying to get a friend to upgrade their gear, and the response was ‘Backpacking is supposed to be hard.’ Well, yes it is, but not because of shoulder/hip rashes from a too heavy pack. Being in the backcountry is hard enough…

      • Call MeIshmael April 9, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

        Don’t forget Mark Henley’s “Ultralight and Ultracheap – 10 lbs and $200”. His gear list can be found elsewhere on this blog.

  9. Jane October 17, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    I can see both sides of this discussion. It has actually been a long time since I’ve hiked on an official trail, the last time being when I climbed Mt. Kathadin (one of my “bucket list” items). I grew up as a traditional hiker with no education about gear except “don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere without something you might need.” You can imagine my pack weights although it never once occurred to me to weigh it. As I got older I developed knee and hip issues that kept me from hiking at all for many years. Then I heard about the lightweight phenomenon and started studying.

    Without categories and examples to explore I wouldn’t have had a framework for my self-education. I will never be a gram weenie, but understanding the choices available and the reasons for making them (or not) has markedly increased my awareness of pack weight vs practical function and multi-function of every item in it. It also gave me a way to evaluate my own set of skills and what I needed to, or wanted to, learn. I also have a very limited budget. I am proud to say that after several years of collecting carefully studied pieces of gear I can have a base weight around 10# and be very comfortable in 3 season trips. I would never have made it through my Mt. Katahdin adventure without the gear, knowledge and confidence I had gained – and a day trip total pack weight (including food and water) around 6#.

    Yet once I collected that specific set of gear and “weighed in”, I must say that I don’t always use that group. And I never weigh my pack any more. I “hike” and camp on my own rugged property in coastal Maine. It revitalizes me to be outdoors, alone, especially overnight(s). Without the lightweight backpacking possibilities that would no longer be possible. But I honestly don’t have the interest in working toward SUL.

    I talk with people who are interested and share what I have learned, but most of all I encourage people to find a way to keep going out and enjoying the trip.

  10. John Giesemann October 17, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    I think there is nothing wrong with the categories. It really doesn’t matter how you categorize hikers. To me the important thing is to at least get them into the lightweight category. Once they reach this weight, they can enjoy the hike more and be safer. If they want to then work on getting to ultralight or super ultralight, great, but at least they are enjoying the hike at this point.

    Why is it so hard to get hikers to this category. Several reasons. First is knowledge. We need to spread the knowledge of the benefit of lightweight hiking more broadly. Many hikers just decide to go hiking and go to the closes store and buy what it there without doing any search for information. They rely on the store personnel for information. Most store personnel know little about lightweight hiking and simply sell that they have in the store regardless of its weight.

    The second barrier is that many are simply occasional hikers and just bring what they have or can find cheaply. If you only hike once a year and don’t hike very far when you do, why bother with trying to go lightweight and spend the money to do so. It doesn’t hurt them to hike in 2 to 5 miles and camp 2 nights and hike back. Whatever they can take is fine. Somebody says let’s go hiking, so they go to the closest store with gear and get the cheapest stuff they can find because they are only going one time or maybe once a year. Of course, they buy more than they need because of lack of education and the advice they get from the store personnel that are not lightweight hikers either.

    Third is the availability of truly lightweight equipment. How many stores do you see carry truly lightweight equipment? Very few. If lightweight equipment was available everywhere, more people would use it by default. If lightweight equipment was the rule rather than the exception, more people would use it.

    Fourth is the cost of lightweight equipment. Have you seen the cost of lightweight equipment? Have you analyzed the cost of ultralight equipment? It is unbelievable. How many people are going to pay the minimum of $300 for a really lightweight tent when they can get a decent weight tent for $150, half the price? I can’t imagine paying $200 or more for a super lightweight rain jacket. Many won’t pay $300 to $500 for a lightweight down sleeping bag when they can get a medium weight one for $150 or less. As one of the comments above pointed out, the difference between ultralight and medium weights can be $1,000. Actually, it can be far more than that. The top three things, tent, sleeping bag, and backpack can easily cost $1,200 or more for the lightest versions. Many people simply cannot afford to go lightweight. Many others simply will not pay the difference to go lightweight. The industry must afford reasonably priced lightweight equipment if the majority of hikers are going to go lightweight.

    Finally, many will simply not give up their comfort. An example is bringing extra clothing for a 2 night 3 day trip. The only extra clothing I bring for this type of trip is 1 pair of underwear and 1 pair of socks. However, most of the scouts I hike with (adults and kids) bring a complete set of extra clothing, even though they do not use them. Clothing is one of the highest weight items in their pack. If they would leave the extra clothing at home, most could reduce the weight of their pack by 5 pounds. Also, each one is going to being a heavy knife to be ready for anything that might occur. They are also going to bring a full size sleeping pad to stay comfortable.

    Until we can educate most hikers about the benefits of lightweight hiking and they can find reasonably priced, lightweight equipment almost everywhere, occasional hikers will continue to have heavy packs that limit their enjoyment of the outdoors.

  11. Johnathan October 17, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    I would propose this. I would say a large percentage of people who backpack, hike, etc. read Backpacker Magazine, get catalogs from Patagonia, etc. etc. Although many mainstream companies have new “lighter”weight options they still are much heavier than what most people consider lightweight or ultralight. Example: Osprey, a company that I like very much, touts their Exos series packs as ultralight, yet there are a few more options in their line that are still lighter than what they consider their ultralight pack. All of which are still significantly heavier than most cottage / smaller companies pack options. Not only that several mainstream companies sell gear, clothing, equipment that they label ultralight. Many people who do not want to put a lot of time into researching ultralight gear look at these companies “ultralight” stuff and buy it thinking they are ultralight backpackers now and really are still uninformed about what the categories are. It is much more difficult for a small cottage type company to invest the amounts of money it takes to really market their gear, thus most of them are left to be discovered by word of mouth, an article at BPL or a reference from someone on the trail. I think if I was an owner of an ultralight company I would want to grow my brand and expand my profits as much as possible, however as a consumer and a lightweight (bordering on ultralight) backpacker I enjoy owning gear from cottage companies or making some of my own that most backpackers/hikers don’t have. It’s a great conversation piece at a shelter or any other place where I encounter other backpackers interested in gear discussions. I enjoy being part of a small niche however in the end I do want whats best for the smaller guys. When I go into an outdoor or sporting goods that is selling, Marmot, TNF, Columbia, etc. I don’t want those pieces that the general public buys in mass quantities. I like being different and owning gear that is rare, therefor are hope all the cottage guys continue to grow and thrive but not to the point that I see their stuff hanging on the wall at Dick’s, etc.

  12. Jeremy October 17, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    Wow it’s amazing to read such ignorance from some. The article is for backpackers who want to enjoy the scenery without the pain and ability to travel further distances. He is writing about pack weight goals that I too have been preaching for 15 years. HIs questions are good and valid. Why bash, because UL backpackers have found backpacking much more enjoyable since we shed unseeded weight? As most Cary items never used. Or because your too cheap to do it right. Obviously some of you do not see how we are trying to help make your trips more enjoyable. My parents in their seventies are able to backpack because I showed them the light. Trust me it wasn’t easy! Wake up! UL is where it’s at.

  13. Diane Soini October 17, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    I’ve never quite made it into the sub 10-lb range on the scale. My pack was 13lbs when I set off for the PCT my 2nd time around.

    Over time as the months progressed on the trail, I realized my hike would be enhanced if I carried some town clothes so I wasn’t wearing rain chaps and wrapping a bivy sack around my waist while doing laundry. Then I figured it would be nice to carry a novel so I could pass some time before I fell asleep. I got annoyed with the tyranny of the post office and started carrying all my cords and chargers and larger quantities of consumables. The weight didn’t matter at all. I stopped thinking about my gear completely.

    Nowadays when I go on fair-weather trips my pack is around 17lbs with food and a liter of water included and often with a paperback book and a small guitar-like instrument. I lift heavy weights. I can squat 170lbs and I’m 5’3″ 135lbs. 17lbs is laughably light. I have no need to go lighter. To go lighter I would have to buy new gear and leave the books and instruments and coffee paraphrenalia at home. My current gear isn’t worn out enough yet.

    I do try to talk about lightweight backpacking but I either explain it in the context of a long trail like the PCT where it’s more a hike than a camp-out so you don’t need all that gear. Or I explain it as a tool to help you reach your goals. It helps to go lighter when you really want to go further but have limited time, or when you have a partner or child who you might have to carry some of his/her weight. Helps when you are getting older and just can’t carry the 60lb packs you used to. It helps when you want the hike to feel like fun and not an endurance death march. But sometimes a double-wall tent might be a better choice. Sometimes you’re going to need a bigger more traditional pack because you’re hauling around a gallon of water or your child’s gear. Sometimes you need extra warm layers because you are going to sit around in camp in some cold place by a lake or stream. When that happens, having your other stuff be lighter helps a lot.

  14. Lee October 17, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    I am probably in the lightweight category (base weight about 13 lbs), but echo much of the comments above – my 56-year old body prefers, and needs, the lighter weights. But, may take items some UL packers might sneer at. For me, it is a trade-off: Are you in it for the hike? Or the destination? If the latter, you will likely load up on additional conveniences and will endure the load; if the former, you’ll aim more for a lighter load. Each person has to find their own balance.

    • andrewskurka October 17, 2014 at 9:30 am #

      Exactly: How do you want to balance on-trail comfort (the less weight the better) with in-camp comfort (the more weight the better)? To offer an analogy from another outdoor sport, cycling, this question is equivalent to asking, Do I intend to spend more time on technical trails or on open roads? Neither option is better than the other, but it is THE differentiating factor in categorizing cyclists (mountain versus cyclocross versus road) and, similarly, backpackers (hiking versus camping).

      So “making weight,” then, is not necessarily an appropriate goal. Having gear that is optimized for your hiking/camping balance and for your environmental & route conditions should be.

      Lightweight, ultralight, super ultralight, who the heck cares? Do I have what I need to maximize the enjoyment of MY trip, is the better question.

      • Martin Rye October 19, 2014 at 7:08 am #

        The conversation has long needed to shift to: skill, kit selection for the intended aim and goal of the trip. Which needs to include having fun as part of that. I dialed out of weighing kit a while back. I focus on function and aims of what I want from kit. I also question what I am carrying.

        I question my fitness levels as It’s with me the minute I start a walk. Pointless having a light pack weight and no fitness to leverage advantage from it.

        I question the function of my hardshell when its bad weather as it matters more I have a functional durable shell over a light weight one.

        I question the amount of total weight to insulation weight carried on my down jacket, as far too many insulation shells now have low weight claims but little of the weight is insulation.

        So yes well said Andy. What is needed to make the trip fun is the better approach. Fitness, taking what we need and kit selection needs to be function focused over a weight focused approach. But in that there is so much good kit of little weight with high function and deliverables on the trail when it matters available now.

        Get the fitness and kit right with high skill for the intended trip and a fun time is going to be had.

        • alan.sloman October 19, 2014 at 10:54 am #

          Whenever I skip past hikers with the latest UL gear carried in their cuben sacks I invariably find myself giggling as they sweat their way to the top of a hill, weighed down by thirty or forty pounds of fat.
          As Martin says it’s about fitness and suitability of kit. Plus losing all that flab.
          Just what is the point of sawing your toothbrush in half when you’ve been force-feeding yourself burgers & cokes all year long.

  15. bert courson October 17, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    Are TP, sunscreen, and bug spray “consumables?”

  16. Anonieme Reacties October 17, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Why don’t I go lighter?

    I used to carry 45-60 lbs for a 4 day trip. I knew it was heavy, but it was the lightest gear I could afford. Then I found I could do without some of the gear, but wanted to start carrying other items, so my base weight dropped to about 30 lbs. Now at 47 I have more money and fewer financial obligations, so my base weight is about 17 lbs.

    Could I go lighter? Sure, but I don’t see it happening. I have the skills and knowledge to get by comfortably with less. I’ve taken the time to make a spreadsheet of my gear so I can do what-ifs. I can afford whatever gear I want. I am educated about the options and I hang out with friends whose base weight is sub-10 lbs. So why is my base weight still so high?

    Because I just don’t care to spend all that time on planning anymore. Because when my all-up weight is 30 lbs or less, I simply don’t notice it. Because I refuse to sleep on the ground, no matter what pad I use. Because I simply will not go anywhere without a bug net enclosure I can move around in. Because an alcohol stove is illegal 60% of the time where I hike, and too fiddly for cold fingers the rest of the time. Because I enjoy looking around and taking pictures too much to do more than 20 miles per day, and I can do that without any pain or strain already. Because cuben fiber is great, but the weight savings isn’t worth the money to me. Because I’d rather spend my extra money on a good camera. Because I like everything organized into silnylon drysacks. Because I like to have my pack ready-to-go for any outing. Because I like to carry spare gear for peace of mind. Because I’m far more focused on just getting out there.

    But mostly because I’m very happy where I am and just don’t care what category I fit into. I’m a backpacker. I have been so for 36 years. I am content with what I have, and no amount of cajoling or educating or advertising is going to change that.

    That’s why.

  17. sargevining October 17, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Frankly, I think establishing weight categories and bestowing titles on them is rather silly–and possibly dangerous (vis Skurka’s argument above). I makes achieving the weight the goal rather than the actual trip. Figure out the purpose of your trip, then gear up (or down) for that. If you must have titles and establish weight goals in order to fulfill them may I suggest the following:

    Day Hike
    Two Day
    Long Distance
    Thru Hike Daily Average.

    Put whatever weights you want on those. I’m out to enjoy a walk in the woods, not win any contests, respond to peer pressure, or aspire to elitism.

  18. Kernz October 17, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I totally agree with Andrew and Diane’s comments.

    While I’m very conscious of pack weight myself, (I’ll take ANY excuse to collect data and put it in a spreadsheet!), I see the focus on weight as being easily the least valuable idea to come out of the ultralight backpacking movement. So much more valuable are the ideas that gear: (1) can (and should) have multiple uses where possible, (2) doesn’t have to be store-bought (i.e. can be furnished from re-purposed objects or created at home from raw materials), and (3) in some cases, isn’t always necessary.

    These weight categories really only serve to divide people — arbitrarily at that!

  19. David Caudwell in coastal BC October 17, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Thank you for this – a really interesting post and discussion!
    My journey towards a lightweight base weight and now heading over the next two years towards ultralight is shorter than most of you contributing here. In 2009 I struggled around part of the Tour de Mont Blanc with a base weight of almost 30lb (and that was sharing a tent!). That struggle was the turning point for me – I had to lighten up or I just wasn’t going to get back out there again!
    The main limiting factor for me in achieving an ultralight three season base weight lies in what others of you have discussed: my personal goals. I am a birder before I am a hiker. One of the reasons I hike is to get to remote habitats or high elevations in search of particular species. I have a reasonably light pair of mid-size, high-quality binoculars that weigh 1.3 lb. This obviously blows a chunk of my weight budget! There are indeed much lighter “binoculars” out there, but they are truly terrible and not fit for my purposes or enjoyment!! So I have to accept that, for me, it is going to be difficult to get my spread sheet “looking” right! …unless of course I cheat and bump my bins onto my worn list!!
    There are further challenges for me that others of you have also identified: where and when am I hiking? I can easily go ultralight in the desert SW in the pre-monsoon season, but I would struggle to get below even 13lb in October in the Washington Cascades with my current gear. Conditions and terrain dictate what is sensible and even the most sophisticated spreadsheet does not have a sensible button!
    My final thought revolves around cost. I can’t afford to buy the three main items that would instantly drop my basic three-season kit list into the ultralight category. I know exactly what I want but, on my current budget, it will take me 2 years to get them. But on a slight side-tack, I do wonder if you took the average traditional hiker shopping at REI etc and priced his kit-list against the ultralighter whether there would really be that much difference? The traditional hiker has many, many more items in his pack for a start! The three pots and a plate and a bowl, the extra clothing and the camp chair and the running shoes etc etc. I wonder if anyone has done a true cost comparison?
    Anyway, thanks to everyone for a stimulating discussion. Personally it has been hugely beneficial to have the arbitrary weight categories to aim for and sites and companies like BPL and GG who are actively stimulating these discussions and educating people. I would never have got even as far as I have without them.

  20. J. L. Minx October 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    My 2 cents.
    You’ve already won.
    You just don’t seem to realize it.

    I am a lifelong backpacker, lightweight packer for years and a gear specialist at a locally owned and operated (since 1972) Hiking Shack in Arizona. Our sales team specializes in the high-end gear we carry. We have to. It is the only way for us to compete with the big box stores mentioned in comments above. Although our staff is well aware of UL gear and techniques, not all our staff adheres to UL principles in their own packing for a variety of reason, many of which have been detailed in above comments. All of them, however, use some UL principles in their treks.

    As for our clients, most, if not all, of the campers, hikers, backpackers, trail runners, kayakers, canyoneers, outdoorsman and rescue personnel who come in to our store are aware of UL principles. Upwards of 80 – 90% of them understand at least the basic idea and premiss behind ‘going light’. To a significant portion of our shoppers, UL is one of the factors involved in their gear choices. There are, of course, many other factors involved in their choices, most of which have been outlined eloquently above in comments by John Giesemann, David Caudwell, Anonieme Reacties and others. And I would say this goes for most of the folks I meet out on the trail as well.

    People know about UL. The benefits and drawbacks. The variety of comments on this article is a good example of proof of this.
    Yes, UL gear needs to be more available.
    Yes, knowledge of it needs to be more available.
    Yes, the price of it needs to be… well, more available.
    And yes, not every packer out there will use it all even if it is more available.

    I would put it to you, “‘Conundrum’ writer”, that strict categorizing and preaching are ‘part’ of the reason why it’s NOT more widely applied. I, for one, would not want to be part of any group that would have someone like me as a member. On the other hand, I respect, admire, listen to and even emulate teachers. Those who have studied and applied their learning in the real world. However, on the other-other hand, generally, I see evangelists as scary (in the larger picture, attributing to them most of the wars in the last 2000+ years) and, like many, I am turned off by holier-than-thou folks (and I do not mean to say you are ‘holier-than-thou’, but you may want to look at understanding and considering the diversity and desires of the folks you wish to educate). For example, look at the way “Erik The Black” at blackwoodspress states his ideas and replies to comments on his site. Matter-of-fact, appreciative and understanding. Viola! Big following. And not just from ULer’s.

    By and large, as I see it, UL is now part of the outdoor lexicon. The only thing that may keep it in any way a “fringe element” might be it’s elitist price, availability and perceived demeanor. But even with that, many if not most, are using some form of UL in their adventuring and companies are scrambling to incorporate UL in their products. Wasn’t that what you set out to do a decade and a half ago? … Well… You did it! Congratulations! And thank you for your research, development and hard work getting the message out. I truly appreciate it. My back appreciates it, my legs appreciate it and my hemorrhoids appreciate it.

    Now, all we have to do is get Gossamer Gear to lighten up their prices so I can talk the owner of my shack in to carrying their gear, because I absolutely love mine. : )

    J. L. Minx – Raised By Raccoons

  21. peabody3000 October 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    my base weight is around 11.5 lbs. i could easily go sub 10 by using a lighter sleeping bag, a tarp instead of a squall tent, and using only a foam pad rather than adding an inflatable for double padding. nevertheless im extremely happy where i am and i call myself an ultralighter regardless of those extra 24 oz.. everyone on the trail regards me as one by default anyways, with my wispy thin silnylon GG pack and caldera esbit stove kit, etc

    and so the subject comes up a lot on the trail and i usually find myself being the voice of going light. as far as i can tell, the main reason people arent clamoring to go light is simple ignorance. that might seem strange to us enlightened lightened folk, but i would casually compare it to the number of people who drive cars vs the ones who can change their own spark plugs or oil. plus ultralight gear is somewhat expensive and i see the same mentality on the trail as i do in the supermarkets where people will buy vastly inferior products just to save a buck. not until they see my kit, how i put it together, how it works, and how i skip and frolic over the trails with my much lighter loads do the bulbs really light up in their heads

    and i was the same way. i was an experienced backpacker as a boy scout but when i started getting back into it as an adult all i knew was the traditional art, and backpacking is steeped in tradition. ive had know-it-alls lecture me about my trail runner shoes being unsafe, that i need clunky 2 lb boots and a real frame pack to be safe, etc etc. people are wary of departing from norms for several reasons. ive been teased good-naturedly aplenty for being the different one with my tiny knife and tiny flashlight, ziplock meals, and see-through rain jacket

    all in all there is a very wide divide between the average backpacker and the one who shaves down his toothbrush handle

  22. dalesjournal October 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    The real core concept to ultralight hiking technique is that you have control over the weight of your gear. This is a different approach than always having the absolute lightest kit possible. All gear choices have compromises and need to fit the conditions of the particular journey, not to mention the user’s preferences for comfort, durability, budget and so on.

    Many want to evangelize their techniques and it makes no more sense than trying to convert anyone to your product preferences, be it hiking gear, guitars, coffee beans or whatever. Live by example and enjoy your light load.

    The market is what it is. UL gear has made it’s inroads to the general outdoor gear market, but until the cottage gear makers can buy full page ads in Backpacker and Outdoor magazines and supply thousands of retail outlets, it will remain a niche market. It requires some education and the buyer needs to be a True Believer to make an UL kit work. UL techniques demand a well coordinated system of pack, shelter, sleeping gear kitchen, hydration and clothing.

  23. Marco October 18, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    I think most of the people here are familiar with gear. Once you get your weight down to <5# once, it really doesn't matter what you carry. The elitistist attitude will disapear, knowing you could go lighter, but just not bothering on "this" trip.

    Like so much that is "written in stone," categories (LW, UL, SUL) are simply guidelines. Sure, I can go out with a SUL kit, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to carry a 4#11 base load and 25# of food, a pound of fuel and 2 pounds of water (on a two week hike for example.) Depending on the duration of the trip, a SUL goal is no more unrealistic than the more traditional UL load. The difference between 30 and 35 pounds is not enough to make me comfortable carrying that load. One of the huge concepts behind categorization is to define what it is possible to carry and still be comfortable on a hike. These categories were based on weekend hikes, not the week, two week, or, long distance thru hiker as Diane mentions.

    Late Fall, Early Spring and Winter, a SUL load is impossible. Indeed an UL load is nearly impossible at 10F let alone 0F. Without a definition of conditions, like Will does with MSUL, categories do not make a lot of sense. But it takes a hiker that knows he is traveling with uncomfortable weights, ie one with some experience, to listen.

    Similar to the Bohr Model for atoms, the categores are only pigeon holes for our thoughts and milestones in the learning process. We use them because they are simple to explain, easy to teach, and easily remembered by the hiker. But, they remain learning tools. Once the concepts underlying the definitions become apparent, along with the unrealistic weight goals and lack of environmental descriptions, a hiker is free to discard them. I agree strongly with Andrew that they are, in fact, meaningless.

    A new definition is needed that can encompass the things we do on the trail and teach these things to hikers that want to learn. But, concepts like the "Big 3" and categrized weights will always remain with us as the simple tools we need to start people hiking, help them to hike in a light weight manner.

  24. Geeky Hiker October 18, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    A really good article, Paul. I agree the categorization of base packs etc is ready for a reboot. I personally prefer to divide up my pack in various configurations, all composed of different systems. I have the “urban configuration”, the “extended configuration” (for when I travel in groups), the”portage configuration”, the “cold configuration” (for winters), the “survival configuration” (waiting for the zombie invasion) etc. All are extensively documented in a crazy Excel spreadsheet. One tab has all my gear, with their weight, the configurations they belong to, and even their cost. And then I use pivot tables to configure my pack for each trip. Maybe we should call that the Geeky Hiker approach??? I just love Hiking AND Excel…

    Virtually ALL of my gear is lightweight, and most come from the usual lightweight vendors and manufacturers, such as Gossamer, Six Moon Design, Four Dogs, Emberlit etc

    As a gear fanatic, I have evaluated all best-in-class products in each category before settling on my choices. The reason I like lightweight are simple:

    1- Why in the world would I want to carry more weight to achieve the exact same function?
    2- I can bring more as a result and get all the comfort I like on the trails!!!

    I know I’ll get some sermons for it, but my “base pack” is well over 25lbs. I like to have multiple water filtering options (all complementing each other to remove dirt, germs, chemicals), I like to have 2 cooking pots (way to go Four Dogs), I like to have both my multitool AND my knife, and my sandals in addition to lightweight hiking shoes. I do not go for super light backpacks but for the lightest ones I found with a frame, a large volume, and at minimum 210D nylon as the rest won’t survive my treatment.

    So I’d like to suggest that there is one more category of hikers: those buying lightweight equipment while maintaining a high base load. I imagine it’s a small group, and I’m not sure how we should call ourselves? Any (nice) suggestion? I suspect some won’t like that category, as we look like “conventional” backpackers on the road and do spend quite a bit on our gear – but we will respond to disdain with the one weapon that’s never failed: a friendly smile 🙂

  25. Geeky Hiker October 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Oh and I also meant to say that our new category of hikers might well be the key to getting more lightweight gear at conventional retailers. Those retailers may realize that they could market all that gear along the lines of “Buy lighter, carry more comfort”. That coupled with the fact that lightweight gear does tend to require more frequent replacement should be a winning ticket for them. I already start to see some of it at MEC (in Canada) so I think in a few years you may well your favorite lightweight pack at REI! One question remains, though: is that really what you want? I have to admit I occasionally like the superior feeling of being “in the know” on lightweight gear, in a ocean of ignorance 😉

  26. Jane, too October 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Last year I hiked New Zealand’s thru hike; the Te Araroa pathway. I had planned for a few years so was keen on completing it. Initially I hiked with a wonderful man from France. He was skeptical of my ultralight gear and said he’d read about ‘stupid ultralight’ rather than super ultralight. His backpack was the talk of the trail it was so heavy. It slowed him way down and eventually I moved on ahead. But before that he started to see that my things were really nice quality and his pack was crammed full of less expensive substandard gear mistaken for durable. He actually carried a second front pack for food. As the kilometers wore on I was able to maintain a buoyant attitude, agility, be safe and dry and I ended up feeding him …. So he did recant and said ( in a french accent) ‘There ees stupid ultralight, but I am stupeed ultra heavee’ I say this because there is negative marketing for ul and Sul. It threatens tradition and big companies. The ul movement has not caught on in NZ at all. I actually read an article coming from their DOC blaming current deaths on ultralight kits, but in reading the actual accounts they had heavy gear. …Aside from one person who was miss directed on the trail and never found. Another perspective is that the 10 great hikes in NZ are maintained and the rest, well. “You’ll be right”. with little to no maintenance which is a fun challenge in a way.

    I think people are on edge about going into the woods and want to be safe, therefore more extraneous stuff. I think a points to be brought out are the ways in which going lighter can make one safer. More available energy, if needed opportunity for speed — getting to a safe haven in a timely way, less likely hood to have the weight of a heavy pack fall in such a way to further a turned ankle and such, often better quality fabrics for weather protection.

    The one downside I found on trhu hike with with other ultra light hikers is a competitive momentum which I found a bit silly. But it’s youth and there’s a sense of sport so to each his/ her own. Longevity in backpacking is a main issue for me.

    I also hiked with two young women who had pretty heavy packs. One would even throw it down in frustration sometimes but they weren’t interested in lighter gear. Their tents did go up faster than mine. ….

  27. Jarrah Hume-Cook October 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    Last xmas I was cordially introduced to UL (cuben material) having done my best to be lightweight since the early 90’s… (Australia)

    I was also introduced to trekking poles and hiking in runners/trainers 😉

    At first I was reticent of several factors in UL gear, mostly durability, however, I have raced yachts so was intimately aware of the lightweight high grade fabrics…

    My research on the matter was thorough beginning right here with GG’s extensive information on the subject, I am indebted 😉

    In discussing with friends (and randoms) who hike regularly with 45lbs++ (their packs empty weigh 5-7lbs!) their main concern is also durability when considering UL gear…

    I assure them from what I’ve read (I’ve read a lot), and now experienced, that they’ll likely not see the life out of any UL gear based on the miles the pro’s do with their UL gear, this also how I convinced myself…(friends who introduced me also have done big miles with their cuben/UL gear, recently crossing Norway in 4.5 months on foot.)

    I refer friends (and randoms) to the likes of these GG articles/blogs/sites.

    My belief is the more we publicize our experiences the more our friends (and randoms) can enjoy the knowledge and comfort of UL…

    I am now down to around 4.5-5kgs (10-11lbs) for either season (At a guess,not tested, down to -10c+ @ 6500′ Mt Bogong. Experienced -25c+ near there 20 years ago).

    Three areas I could further reduce weight:

    MLD synth quilt

    I wanted to try out the synth MLD quilt and haven’t needed anything warmer this year. Though I have complimented this quilt with his bivvy on a recent trip. (Compromise 200gm/7oz equivalent down quilt – zpack)

    Thermarest neoair xtherm

    I find I cant go lighter with mattress due to comfort (i have spent a week on the GG GVP equivalent , which was fine though I sleep cold, weigh 198lbs @ 6′ and have an *RSI riddled body…) (compromise 200gms/7oz)

    Gas canister & stove

    I will go to alcohol fuel type beer can-ish stove soon. Simply not had the time to experiment here and hike in areas too remote/extreme(?) to be playing around with this…(Saving approx. 200gms/7oz)

    *Repetitive strain injury – as a professional climber & amateur adrenaline junky of 30+ years.

  28. Glen K Van Peski October 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Wow, a lot of great discussion here! I never give advice on lightening a pack unless it’s asked for, because I agree, some people just aren’t that interested in learning all about the gear, it’s use, it’s care, etc. But I’m still glad they’re out backpacking, because they are using the resources set aside for us, and will make decisions at the ballot box in favor of those wild places. I see it somewhat like running for me; I enjoy running, but I run slow. Could I get my marathon time under 4 hours, or even 3:30? Could I get my 50k time under 6 hours? Maybe, if I got really into training, running special drills, reading books, working on optimizing my gait, pushing myself, doing serious tracking of results, getting totally into nutrition, getting a personal trainer and/or joining a running group. But I just don’t care that much. I enjoy running my slow races, and I’m pretty good about getting the training miles in, but they’re all slow miles. Sure I might like to be a little faster, but I’m unwilling to invest that much energy in it. I suspect backpacking is like that for many people; something they enjoy, but not enough to invest the additional time and energy, and of course money, in lightening their backpack weight beyond a certain point.

  29. dent burntrap October 19, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    You mention in the article that so many options and materials have come into the scene over the past few years which have enabled the potential for UL to thrive. But you also mention that in outfitters such as R**, they don’t sell UL gear because “they don’t sell.”

    There are a couple things that need to be considered here. First of all, I believe that Outfitters which claim UL gear doesn’t sell are misrepresenting the truth. Places like R** don’t sell UL because they don’t want the returns. If an item gets returned its worse than not sold, it becomes scratch and dent fodder.

    But on the other hand, look at the transformation of packs, bags, tents, etc. Things are lightening up. SUL in particular will always be a niche market. But the drive within that niche has influenced companies to take que.

    Look at clothing layers for instance. Patagonia not only mass marketed UL gear, they morphed it into fashion.

    Do numbers need to be shifted or more categories created? I guarantee new categories will be made whether you want them or not. People like categories. People need labels. Definitions, boundaries, and goals make sense. But regardless of these labels, they will always still ultimately serve as general guidelines and challenges. They all point back to the similar thoughts and questions I mulled over for years whilst developing as a wilderness sojourner. What do I need? What will keep me out here? What can I leave behind? What will bring a smile back to my face? Will I die? Will I live? Will I thrive? Or will I slog? Could I? Yes. Should I? ehhhhh…. Sure I’ll try it. Through the years pack weights slimmed experience grew, different challenges arose, pack weights grew, gained more experience, pack weights slimmed.. and so on.

    Think on this for a little bit: 5 years ago I led my first 2 week long semi-technical mountaineering trip with a buddy. With the proper planning and route understanding I was able to keep my base under 15 lbs including climbing gear/crampons/ice axe etc. Things have lightened up even since then. This could not have been possible even 20 years ago. It can happen now though, because while the UL community is rather small, its voice has completely impacted the outdoor industry. UL gear is readily available, and much standard gear is just lighter.

    Keep obsessing. Keep walking/climbing/running/jumping/living and keep smiling!
    If you lead by example people will take heed.
    I believe that as long as the passion for wild places exists there will be a drive for a closer connection to those wild places. UL travel has great opportunity to meet that need, and as long as people continue both live and preach the gospel the truth will continue to be heard and it will continue to influence what is produced.

  30. John Little October 19, 2014 at 5:02 am #

    As I contemplate all of the comments above there is nothing that I can say that hasn’t been said. Honestly I’m surprised you didn’t get blasted more. A member over at backpackinglight once upon time brought up this same notion – how to reach more people, suggesting handing out flyers – and was verbally tarred and feathered several times over.

    I’m 59 years old and it is in my best interest to go light. Generally this is in the 13-15 lb range for me depending on the season. My best friend and I always compare our weights just for fun and a little friendly competition. But we’re not obsessed over it. We take what we need to be safe.

    I have other friends who are not concerned about their weight. If they are not concerned about it then neither am I. So long as they are happy with their hike is all that matters to me. They know that they can ask.

    Do I think about getting my pack lighter? I do. But that involves tradeoffs and expense. Last year I purchased the GG Mariposa as a big step. There was no reason for me to carry my 5.5 lb Gregory pack.

    Down? Can’t use it. I also use a tarp rather than a tent. I like my hammock but only use it in the warm months. I don’t want to purchase an under quilt or carry the bulk or weight of it. Many people do. That’s their choice. I am certainly not going to tell them “Hey lose the hammock and UQ and you can save yourself a few lbs.”

    I am interested in keeping my friends and making new friends. Not in alienating them from preaching at them about changing up all of their gear. We do have friendly healthy discussions about it where we all learn new ideas. But pushing my beliefs about lightweight on them to the point of fanaticism? Not likely.

    Last but not least I use Andrew Skurka’s book as a reference guide to check against my thoughts of what I should carry especially in terms of clothing. I find his comments to be most helpful in not over packing or under packing. In either case though I must use my own judgement as to whether or not any article of clothing or piece of gear is right for me.

  31. James Lomax October 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    I just buy and use the lightest gear I can afford which provides the protection, comfort and safety I need. I can’t see the point of weighing it and never have. The weight, per se, is not the determining factor for the above. Then I minimise kit according to value and need and do I really need it? If I call that “ultralight” I do so only because it simplifies communication with other walkers; as a term which describes the above.

    “I find it hard to understand why there are so many conventional backpackers on the trails”

    In Europe I think it’s even less. I saw a few people in trail shoes this year in the Pyrenees but that’s rare. Most people have traditional heavy boots, even in summer. I think there are two reasons for it: tradition and education. The old tradition gets passed on and for many people it doesn’t occur to them to question it and they might not be exposed to relatively new “ultralight” ideas.

  32. Andrew W October 19, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    There is a lot of UL rhetoric about, which is fine in a reasonably stable climate.
    But Scotland can provide 4 seasons in a day on any one of 365 days in unlucky.
    So UL = The lightest kit you can take comfortably with an appropriate safety margin, depending upon. Weather, distance, duration, terrain etc of your trip.
    Safety and comfort have a huge impact on a trip being a pleasurable experience, so what you take is all about balance. And as Martin says. Fitness is as if not more important.
    No point carrying 20lb if you have 30 on your gut.
    At the end of the day it is the memory and enjoying the trip, not what you take.
    I have seen miserable people carrying Nepalese sharp loads in massive unnecessary boots.
    But I have also seen miserable cold and wet UL gurus sitting huddled in buildings, there gear and UL tarps demolished by the elements.
    So take what is necessary.
    Have a great time.
    Be safe
    And come back fortified & exhilarated by your effort.

    • James Lomax October 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

      Yes – UL is relative to the conditions and not an absolute goal. The longer the trip, the more fickle the weather, the less UL you will be. One reason I like the summer Pyrenees is because conditions are generally settled and good. I don’t actually have suitable kit for 2 weeks across Scotland for example.

    • rocketkoala April 12, 2015 at 6:02 pm #

      Fat doesn’t mean out of shape. I know plenty of fat people who blow me away in terms of fitness. This is a pet peeve of mine- fat shaming isn’t okay anywhere. Besides, wilderness is for everyone, not just fitness junkies. If we really want people to protect wild spaces let’s welcome the average person, who maybe hasn’t been able to pass the Presidential Fitness Test in a few years.

  33. Chai October 19, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    So many great responses here, thanks to everyone that has contributed! I wanted to give my thoughts (which are indeed similar).

    1. Cost – I can’t afford to upgrade my equipment every year. I use my equipment until it literally can no longer be repaired and *then* I go shopping. Much of my gear is 10 years old or more and it works fine, but it’s not all UL. – Also, when my gear does fail, I can’t always afford to go UL – I refuse to spend $800 on a sleeping bag! So as gear gets cheaper+lighter and I need to replace it, I do.

    2. Function – Sure I could use a UL alcohol stove, but I find that my Jetboil is perfectly suited for my needs and the convenience it provides is well worth the additional weight. If an UL alternative to my Jetboil were to come along I’d consider it, but it would have to provide the same level of convenience and not cost 2-3x more.

    3. Comfort – I love my Big Agnes inflatable pad and so does my back. It’s like I’m not even sleeping on the ground. As I get older, I find that I’m able to sacrifice less of my personal comfort in the outdoors.

    4. Fragility- I take reasonable care of my things, but I’ve found that some UL gear is just too fragile for my level of care. I recently put a hole into my cubenfiber tarp, and given the cost, that was no fun. I’ll repair it and be more careful next time, but I know I’m probably not the type of person who can use this gear without destroying it after a single use.

  34. Judy October 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    When I returned to backpacking over the last couple of years, I went out and bought an Osprey. The main thing I was looking for was a comfortable pack that would fit my back like a glove. Something I could try on. There really weren’t any light and ultralight packs to try on or I might have bought one. I was, however, able to find some other gear that was lighter, i.e. sleeping bag, clothes, sleeping pad, water filter, titanium pot, stove (not alcohol…not allowed to use in some of the areas I go) and I went with a lighter tent as I share sleeping space with another hiker. But I could go lighter, and probably eventually will as I can afford it. Afford it…yes…you heard me. This is a huge reason that keeps folks carrying extra ounces/pounds.

    I will have to rely on purchasing light gear online. I like the idea of seeing and touching gear in person so it adds a bit of uncertainty to not really know if the gear is going to be what I want. For instance…will the pack, the light down jacket, lightweight base layers fit right, and will it hold up to some of the rugged places I hike?

    The fun part is studying and reading the many gear reviews and opinions from backpackers. Yes, the ultralight hiker provides valuable information. I rely on that information tremendously. I found out quickly that my arthritic neck would require more than my rolled up light hoodie. Search, read reviews, search, read reviews….until I ordered an exped pillow…awwwwwhhhhhh….heaven to my neck!! Yes, ounces to be carried, but my sleeping experience improved drastically! Hence… What comforts do you need to carry, or want to carry? Many backpackers want that stuff, some want a camping chair, extra stuff because it is part of their comfort. Some really don’t care if it means they have to work harder to carry it. It’s about the experience really, isn’t it? Yes, hiking lighter has some major advantages but I am not willing to give up certain comforts that I know will make my experience pleasing (my pillow) to cut the ounces. It’s all in what works for folks.

    So….keep writing the reviews, make the comparisons, share the pros and cons…these observations are what the lightweight community can provide!!

  35. Jon Michael October 19, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Certain demographics, target groups, are being ignored. A blanket 80/20% refection trying to figure out how to approach this is too simplistic. If I hang out in REI, or my local store, I’m seeing lots of stable older/middle age people in there looking for equipment for day hikes and car camping. These are a big group to target. Who are they? What would attract them to ultralight? Let me give some personal information to make myself clear.

    I used to carry 45 pound packs all over the Andes, over high peaks, down into the jungle, I was young. I loved hiking, getting out there. I was in my twenties. I hadn’t gone through years of office life, aging, injuries and lifestyle shifts that left me less likely to get a pack on and do something I once loved and longed for. I was resolved that I couldn’t do it anymore.

    Our solutions to this have been in organizing an ultralight set up. There are millions of older people who will get out and hike, but a pack for an overnight is dauntingly heavy. A light setup is very manageable for us, especially when we split the load. I carry 10 to 13 pounds for now, together we can carry 8 to 9 pounds each and can be comfortable enough to stay out there enjoying ourselves. It depends on the weather. We can do this. I tell other worn down people about the “new” ultralight equipment and they are completely ignorant and surprised.They begin to rethink things.

    Older wannabees can be sold ultralight concepts, but they have to be able to see themselves out there and hear about it. I’m not talking out of shape car campers drinking beer, where many backpackers end up. There are healthy, but worn, ones with kids and grand-kids, who would love to share the Earth with family. There are mid-aged crisis people, working on lost youth. There are recently divorced, who are trying to redefine themselves as single and active and healthy. Getting into a heavy backpack is a turnoff. Being able to add just a few pounds, to a regular hiker to get further out, is a turn-on. Advertising now, is about, and seemingly directed at, some hard core mountaineer. This is limiting. Direct a concept to a normal couple with maybe gray temples, back in the action, effortlessly on the trails.

    We’re now in our 60’s and we’re back and getting healthier,
    Jon and Breeze

  36. Call Me Ishmael October 19, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    I’ve been making much of my own gear, which manages (by about half) cost and can get me something that can’t be bought (yet). I also use a standing Christmas and birthday list for much of my gear refresh. (My wife gives out the specifics to anyone who asks, along with help finding something on the list in their price range.) But if I want to jump start someone from scratch (or from very heavy), I don’t have to ask them to spend a lot of money. They can use something like Mark Henley’s ultracheap gear list:
    which gets them in the game (10# base pack weight) for around $200. Then they can upgrade as Christmases, birthdays and budget/cash flow allow. And/or I can help them make some things of their own. They need to take their time anyway, to study new ideas and learn what works for them.

  37. amytys October 19, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    I wish Gossamer Gear would bring back the Whisper (1800 cu/in sub 4 oz pack) and G5 Hyperlite (3800 cu/in 8 oz pack). For many of the reasons above, these probably weren’t the biggest sellers and I feel that GG moved in ways that their clientele indicated they wanted their product offering to go (durability and features over bare-bones lightweight design).

    I’d still like to see these products on the website, even if they were a little more expensive due to having a really limited run built. That Hyperlite was an awesome pack for trips where bringing layers was important. It saved around 20 ounces of weight when compared to the Gorilla/Mariposa, and was equally as comfortable for sub-20 lb loads. I could just get a G4, but that’s still 1/2 pound heavier, without any real benefit save for long-term durability.

    The Whisper uber-light pack is just an awesome pack for those wanting to challenge themselves to an SUL getaway. I did 3-days in mine.

    I love GGs product line, but miss the days when the gear really backed up the core principals of lightening your load – no frills, lightest available.

  38. amytys October 19, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    Hasn’t anyone had a weight bounce up from their lightest SUL/UL pack weight?

    I’ve made some conscious decisions to bulk-up.

    I hike in groups, and funny enough I’ve found my pack can still be the lightest, while being the smartest in terms of comforts that matter when the weather turns. So from Oct through April, I’ll carry a canister stove rather than alcohol, because when I see others shivering uncontrollably I want to make sure I can get some hot liquid in them FAST, without futzing around and then waiting 5.5 minutes for my water to boil. Seriously, a canister stove set on high seems to boil the same amount of water in about 90 seconds.

    I also carry a Warbonnet Superfly tarp. This is about 8 oz more tarp than needed, but when it’s raining, I can put the snake skins around my hammock and invite up to three other hikers underneath for dinner and socializing. Having everyone hunkered down in their own respective tiny tents/tarps is a drag. If it’s cool enough to use an underquilt for hammock insulation, there’s no way I’m chancing my down getting wet due to wind-blown rain and a tiny tarp – the Warbonnet is a crazy palace around your hammock.

    My joints need full and thick insulation so when sleeping on the ground, I was having to carry a long/wide pad and even with the new line of Therm-A-Rest XTherm pads it was still a 20oz pad. So even with my GG SpinnTwin tarp + stakes/guy lines/ground sheet I was at around 36 oz. Maybe I’m around 12 ounces more with my hammock/tarp setup, but I sleep a lot better.

    I also carry around a 2 gallon, 3 oz camp bucket, because I can go ONCE to the water source, and bring back enough water for everyone.

    I carry a 3 oz BD Spot headlamp, because I can see what’s lurking in the distance with it, and it fits securely on my head. The beam is serious when needed, and I can regulate it down to a very light battery sip with studying maps for the next day.

    Finally, I carry a 2 oz titanium Sierra cup. Yeah, I could just use my pot as a substitute, but then I’d have to go digging in my pack. I like the convenience of having a Sierra cup as part of my Platypus Big-Zip/Sawyer Mini filter system. I don’t dip the Platy in the water source, as I don’t want the clean side of the filter to get contaminated. And, as we all know, the zip on the Big Zip is a bitch to close in temps under 60 F, so it’s not like I can dip with the cap on, seal, turn the bag upside down, and put my filter on. Anyway, the Sierra cup lets me dip from puddles in leaf depressions, dip from water sources without disturbing the silt, Yogi “can I try that” portions of food from hikers, Yogi Whiskey and wine, and it gives me a heads up on all the UL hikers who want to convert me to their religion rather than talking about all the cool stuff on the trail (no sense wasting time talking with them).

    I could probably also save a few ounces by converting some items to cuben, but the cost to weight savings just don’t make any sense.

    So, maybe I carry 2.5 lbs more than I have to (rounding up, of course), and I haven’t even mentioned camera gear (shhhhhh). But I have loads of fun.

    I have been on the summit of SUL, but I’ve found that I’m happier with a little more stuff, and weight, on my back.

  39. Fellbound October 19, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    I am missing something! Why do we need to categorise pack weights? Why do some people assume if you carry more it’s through ignorance? Why do some assume that carrying less equates to ‘more skill’? Why assume carrying less *automatically* means more enjoyment?

    Don’t get me wrong. I try not to carry a heavier pack than I need. I have even splashed out recently on various bits of cuben fibre stuff. But, for example, I like to carry a LARGE Neoair Lite rather than a small or medium. At 6 ft 3 and 15 stone (210lbs) it helps me get a better night’s sleep. I dont carry tiny lightweight tent pegs ( stakes) because I sleep better if I am not worrying my tent will blow down ( and please don’t reply that can be avoided with decent site selection. That’s only correct to a point. In the mountains above tree line in autumn or winter there may be precious little choice). I carry a 2 oz pee bottle for the night as I’d rather not go outside in the rain! And some people like a pair of camp shoes as it makes them more comfortable and relaxed at the end of the day.

    So yes let’s share ideas. I’m fascinated to see the kit lists of ultra lighters and have sometimes pinched ideas. And I recently copied the very comfortable 90gr inflatable sitmat from a more traditional backpacker. But let’s not patronise others or denigrate their choices. Each to his own. Choose kit for the terrain, season, expected weather plus your own preferred safety margin and based on your view of your own comfort and enjoyment. And don’t feel the need to conform to what others say is best.

  40. Kurt in Colorado October 20, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    As Mr. Skurka notes, backpacking is basically divided into two camps: thru hikers and destination hikers. The UL crowd tends to be thru hikers, right? Your goal is covering distance. Campsites are not the goal, they’re “down time.”

    As a destination backpacker, I bring what I need (want) to enjoy my stay at my destination. The thought of sleeping on a closed-cell mat under an open tarp eating cold food, does not sound like an appealing destination to me! (And when you live in Colorado, there is no lack of appealing destinations!)

    At the age of 57, after back surgery to relieve chronic sciatica, I decided to lighten my load in hopes of getting another 20 years out of this body, Lord willing. I spent $1000 replacing my entire base gear: tent, bag, mat, pillow & pack went from 15 lbs to 8 lbs. I add to that such luxuries as an Alite Butterfly chair–a real butt saver, because I want to enjoy sitting around my campsite!

    Here’s my frustration: if you google “how to lighten your pack weight,” there is a serious lack of information about *lightweight* backpacking. It’s either traditional or ultralight.

    I discovered my Granite Gear Crown 60, ZPacks quilt/bag, and TarpTent Double Rainbow not from major retailers but from websites like Gossamer Gear and
    Apparently destination backpackers are not nearly as passionate as thru hikers.

    I am not going to convince most of my hiking companions to spend $1000 to lighten their load. Yes, I know they would feel much better if they did, but good evangelism, whether you are a UL true believer or a born-again Christian, is best done by showing your neighbors a winsome example. Then again, the greater the burden you have been saved from, the more you want to tell others, right?

  41. Niels Blok October 20, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    A lightweight pack is a no brainer for most people even us Europeans.

    The key word here is enjoyment. Some enjoy the challenge of weighing everything others enjoy a go to kit that they know works for them without too much hassle.

    The arbitrary limits imposed by the ultralight community long ago makes no sense anymore and should be scrapped imho. Instead develop skills and pack accordingly to the trip you have planned and the environment you will meet along the way.

  42. Tim G October 20, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    This is a simple factor for many. COST!!! Even with the knowledge, desire, and experience, many of us that love backpacking are on a limited budget. It is that simple for me.

  43. J. L. Minx October 20, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Desire + Ability x Experience + (Availability / Knowledge) + (Cost – Ingenuity / Interest) = The perfect Kit

    At the gear shack I work at we see all types. When helping them select gear it is essential that we assess “their” level of comfort and needs. We offer and introduce them to the options available, lightweight or not so. Some know what they want, others need more info. The key is to not overwhelm them with opinion or idiosyncrasies but instead explain options, benefits and drawbacks of gear pieces and systems clearly. Every one of them is different. Some want convenience and ease. Others want durability. Others low price. Still others want lightweight. Everyone of them wants function. To someone who’s previous experience is car camping and is now wanting to backpack, convincing them a tarp is going to make a great shelter is, well, challenging, let’s say. Probably going to need to take smaller steps towards lighter weight. As they get more into it, I offer more detail, trying constantly to introduce the next level of need/choice and not jump too far ahead of their ability or understanding. This is a balancing act between interest and options. It’s fun and allows me to constantly evaluate my own understanding.

    Weight consideration is something each person comes across as they build their kit/knowledge. It becomes a major factor in the equation at some point. A different point for each individual. Categories or ‘weight classifications’ offer points to work towards but seem rather arbitrary or subjective to those without the “history of UL” behind them. And that’s ok. Knowing that their are “nuts” out there with a 3 lb pack doing 50 miles a day with a cut-in-half toothbrush is inspiring no matter how many jokes are made about it. (There’s always a bit of truth in humor) It helps the interested person make that choice of throwing out a heavy piece of gear they can live without. They have a great experience in the outdoors and are inspired to lighten up more. Pretty soon they’re coming back into our shack asking about that tarp/tent. It just seems more important to focus on need and enjoyment. Pack weight fluctuates so much for the various situations.

    Not many are carrying 60# packs anymore. UL principles and gear have become pretty mainstream. No ubersuperhyperlight classification is going to change the car camper’s desire but it gets them thinking and that’s not a bad thing. I hope that was and is one of the points of the UL movement.

    J. L. Minx
    Raised By Raccoons

  44. Call Me Ishmael October 22, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    “How low can I go?” is a game for me, that I enjoy very much. Not everyone enjoys the same games.

  45. ian clapham (@ian_clapham) October 24, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    shorele the weight is down to the individuals prowess and stamina and exertion and calories, not pack weight .

  46. Dave October 25, 2014 at 4:17 am #

    It is not so much the gears. It is a way of thinking.

    Before, I just bought whatever felt light in my hands. It never occurred one should be looking at the measured weight. Well, I still did a gear-list, a great first step; but never used a scale to see their true weight.

    After a brutal hike last year, I went the complete opposite and went too light and got caught in an unexpected deep-freeze. The experience was too demoralizing to pursue the outdoors for the remainder of the calendar year.

    It’s only after I picked up Andrew Skurka’s Ultimate Hikiing guide, I actually wrote out pre-trip reports as part of the preparation. Also, I began recording what worked for me and what didn’t. For the first time, I actually went out to buy a postal scale.

    People are not going to be convinced they need a <1kg tent, or that they could make do with a <145g tarp. They can read all the literature out there, watch TV shows, attend seminars and lectures; but none of that will become ingrained until they had a bad experience or two.

    Now, my gear-lists are not going to be ultralight. At best, lightweight. The reason for this is the limitation of the geography and climate, not the gears or skills. If I was doing the Pacific Crest Trail, I could hit the sub-10 lbs. Would like to do that next year, or the year after.

    However, in the Canadian Rockies and Yukon? Not likely. Figured this out by writing out lists and the pros and cons of each items. That was when I realized the only way for me to reduce the weight even more is move to an area with warmer or more stable climate.

    But still, I am pretty proud of what I managed to crunch so far.

    • J. L. Minx October 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Yep. It always somethin. In the Yukon it’s heavy cover and here in the desert it’s heavy water.

  47. MP October 29, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    About the first topic concerning weight categories:
    What seems to come out of the sixty comments, by experienced backpackers, is not so much whether categories should be defined. Instead, it really questions whether they should exist in the first place, pointing out a subjective, not flexible, and overall quite vain approach.

    About the second topic concerning enlightening the average Joe:
    The initial assumptions you make on your soon-to-be-enlightened audience are flawed in many ways that are quite typical. Among others:
    – “People should be as interested as I am in optimizing their gear”. This is the most puzzling, right? How come people show interest in backpacking but do not dedicate themselves to making the most out of it. Instant-gratification society, lazy people, blah blah. But certainly no one is an expert in every single thing one is doing, nor wants to be. Most people only want to know enough to get by, and their inital knowledge of your area of expertise is much lower than you think to begin with. If they can all get at least one useful thing out of your talk, then it is a good talk. One single thing. Arguably it should be that lightweight is an “easy, confident, beneficial” philosophy.
    – “Their optimization rationale should be oriented towards the same goals as mine”. That’s quite a rabbit-hole. If by enlightening, you mean explaining thru-hiking gospel to once-a-year lets-have-fun-at-the-lake overnighters, it may not be the right thing to do or the right audience. Quite frankly if my pack is 40lbs and you try to show me how to go from 10lbs to 6lbs by using dishsoap as toothpaste for my half toothbrush after a week of hard work, I’d say you won’t be very successful. You “try and be luxurious with a double wall tent”? luxurious, really? You mean luxurious compared to my recliner or luxurious compared to my king-sized bed? Let’s be realistic here. Don’t humiliate me by listing everything that is wrong with my bag, instead give me the confidence to go out without that you-never-know item. But also admit that it’s cool if I pack a book or some liquor, and explain to me simple tricks: how I can, for that book, make a copy of just the next 20 pages by printing just a bit smaller and on two sides, and for that liquor, how a fun way to not bring the whole whiskey bottle and cups is to prepare several 4ml shots in small eye-drop bottles. That will make people think about other cases where they could think this way, and make you sound like a more accessible person (and not like SuperUltraLightMan).
    – “Since people want to do what I do, they need to spend to do it right”. At most big box stores, you can find a 5lbs tent for $40, a 3lbs sleeping bag for $20, a 2lbs pad for $25 and a 3lb pack for $35. That’s $120 and 13lbs for this big-four set, that you can top with an extra 5lbs of clothes, filter, stove, food and 2lbs of water to hit the 20lbs mark. For a lot of people this is already an investment, but it makes it somewhat easy to put one foot in the lightweight world. I read elsewhere that an optimization technique was to list all you items and as a priority system for what to change first, pick the one where you r pack loses the most weight for the least amount spent. Sure, it is not applicable in every situation. But it will speak more to people than “You should put one month rent into this tent”, for the sake of saving 3 pounds.
    Dont get me wrong, getting out of your way to give talks about your favorite activity is remarkable. But the goal is not to show how much you know about it, or worse how little they know about it. The goal is to transfer the correct level of knowledge to your audience. Pushing it to the extreme, one could say that you are in the end just as ignorant as them all, as the true way to go light is to develop your skills in cold resistance, hunger resistance, food and water gathering, learn the area and read the stars for orientation… And in the end feel confident going out without any pack.

    Overall, if the goal is to reach as many people as possible, giving talks will have a limited and local impact. If you have not done so yet, I believe Andrew here knows a thing or two about writing books, although a cheaper way to go is probably to have a good youtube channel with frequent instructional videos that make people want to explore and feel just as confident with half the weight on their shoulders.

  48. peabody3000 October 29, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

    for eff’s sake lets not get crazy. the weight classifications are a relatively informal and relaxed set of guidelines. not an elitist game of snobbery. if such a classification system were to be made fair, it would also be too complex for most people, myself included, to bother with. if anyone thinks they should be thru-hiking the arctic tundra with a 5 lb base weight due to their incredibly deep experience, it would be they who have failed, not the rudimentary list of classifications

  49. Paul B November 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Personally, I don’t go beyond lightweight because I don’t see the need. I started dropping weight to make backpacking more enjoyable, and now that I have I’m quite happy. My base weight sits around 13-14 pounds, which is enough to go on a weekend hike in the mountains fully loaded without breaking 25 pounds. I came to that goal after reading an article regarding the weight of backpacks, % of body weight, and when we start leaning forward to compensate. That’s what I wanted to avoid on my short trips. Additionally, to get any lighter I’d have to start giving up things that would impart my comfort (full-length pad, hooded sleeping bag, extra set of light camp shoes – FiveFingers in this case). I’m quite happy where I am.

  50. LightDan January 10, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    I really don’t see any need to have arbitrary lines drawn in the sand.
    The phrase mentioned above, minimalist pack is enough, then in diskussion of weight its easy enough to refer to sub 11 pound BPW or whatever.
    Isn’t that easier?
    I usually go with just under 4kg BPW, about 8 pounds.
    Sometimes for short overnighters or weekend trips I can go SUL, but usually I see no point in going lighter than my 8 pound-pack, simply because I find it defeating the purpose of going lighter, to have more fun and less work on the trail.

    For example, I can change my large Neoair Xlite with electric airpump for a thin CCF-mat and win half a pound or even more, but then I have to find and pile up leaf and grass underneath it to sleep comfortably witch take time.
    Likewise I can lighten my shelterweight by using my tarp, but that takes more time to set up than my zpacks tent.

    So all in all, by going SUL I actually LOOSE about half an hour a day or more in extra work, for a weightdifference I cannot feel on my back.
    So I`ll go lighter if, and only if I find lighter options that are as easy and fast to use as my current solutions, except on special occations.

  51. mw March 31, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

    Primitive skills….storyteller Tom brown style….awareness. Add a few comfort items(ie. sleeping bag, fosters can, a lighter) WHAM!!!! Its a luxurious journey.
    Your surroundings In nature. It’s the earth. …already has everything we need. Use it wisely.

  52. Scott Bentz April 3, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Just read this article. It always brings up questions about why we have these categories. I am glad we have them to at least give us a framework or target to work towards. As one that went from “traditional” packing to “lightweight” packing, I think the categories are good to have to just push one into trying to figure out what they want. I can pack SUL, UL, and Lightweight. I found SUL fine for certain conditions and trips, but basically, said “Why?”. I finally settled in to more or less a 9 lb. base weight. The only thing that would change that would be choice of shelter and clothing. I typically use a tarp, however, if I were to hike in early/late shoulder season I may use a heavier shelter.

    I feel one of the reasons people carry a heavier traditional load is because they are a bit afraid of the backcountry and therefore take a lot of stuff that make them feel “safe”. One way to do that is to double up on certain items, because if one item fails, I will have another. Kind of the antithesis of lightweight where we try and have multiple uses. Another is to have a stout shelter which makes you feel safe. Rope, extra forks, lights, shoes, on and on and on.

    I fell into this category on my first trip with my kids in Scout Troop. Heavy pack (7 lbs.), double wall shelter (for 2) and footprint, heavy bag, too many clothes, stuff sacks, water filters, stove, cook kit, etc. I am sure I had 55+ lbs. on my first day. I was enthralled by the area (Dinky Lakes Wilderness) but could barely enjoy the hike up the small switchbacks and couldn’t wait to get my pack off. During that trip I realized I had stuff I never used, used only once, or used but didn’t need. When I got home I went over the whole pack and set items aside not to take again. I wanted to get out there again but not like the way I did it. Once I started on that trek I was lucky to find BPL, and now, I feel I go in to the wilderness with what I need to enjoy and be safe.

    I am always amazed when I go into outdoor stores and hear what the sales reps tell their clients. They set them up for a more traditional way of hiking because they know no better as that is how they are trained. They may even see the lightweight crowd as kind of a fringe element. I have to hold my tongue when I am in there because they are spending a lot of money on gear that they may never use again because they may not enjoy it out there.

    So, do we need new categories? No. They are just suggestions and a basic framework. We all do it a bit different but are out there to enjoy the outdoors. For me, going lightweight while hiking 15 miles a day works for me.

  53. Rob April 3, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    My wife and I are squarely in the Lightweight camp, inching ever closer towards the lightest end of that scale. Backpacking, to us, is our vacation time and therefore not some principled bleeding-edge pursuit of miles under 5 pound loads. We want time to chill out at that awesome destination we got to early on a Wednesday, so I don’t want to hike 20 miles in a day (more like 10-12). I bring vodka and Crystal Light, toasting my sweetie to a well-earned vacation. I put my 6’4″ frame on a full size Neo-air. I bring a, God Forbid, Monarch A-Lite chair…. it weighs like 20 oz! The horror! But, it heightens the experience and comfort and, darn it, I deserve it after shaving all those pounds over the years through technique, research and awesome light products available. I guarantee I had just as much fun as the hyper-miler did, I just had a different goal in mind. No better, no worse.

  54. h6 April 3, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    The entire notion of baseweight is just a silly game that people play to justify spending a lot of money on gear they usually don’t need. I find that out the door packweight then returning pack weight are the only actual things that matter. The entire thing of defining what pounds count is what category is just stupid and geeky, even though I enjoy ultralight backpacking talk, it is helpful to get your gear set better and more practical, it does take a lot of ongoing work to get the weights down to a reasonable level. I no longer even bother weighing my base weight because i frankly don’t care what it is, I will chip away at components, but I will not do stupid decisions based on reaching some arbitrary, and often dangerous, weight limit, particularly relevant in SUL. When you are talking about the weight of a quart of water you are no longer in the realm of relevance. Just to counteract a few things, ounces will become maybe a pound, grams will become a few ounces at best, but after that, it’s silly. And also physiologically clueless.

    This was a real study, on high end bike weights, and on bikes, you can use power meters to actually measure watt outputs, as you can see, once you get to a certain point, it’s virtually irrelevant anymore in terms of watts required uphill, which is the only place you really see much advantage dropping those last few pounds, and the advantage is minuscule after you drop from say 25 pound standardish old base weight to under 15. One thing I find about UL people is that they make up tons of stuff, out of thin air, that is basically designed only to support and confirm their fascination with base weights, particularly when it comes to science and medicine.

    Mind you, I enjoy climbing up a mountain trail and not getting particularly tired, and having the pack weigh in at under 25 pounds to start a 5 day trip. My test is very simple: if I go up a mountain trail, and it then takes me roughly the same time to go down it, the weight is no longer a factor, and I found that 25 pounds, give or take, is about that. My daily ‘city pack base weight’ is about 8 pounds, that’s the pack I bike around with, and walk with, loaded it’s 20 pounds, so what that means is there is almost no difference in weight between what I normally carry and what I would carry on a 3 day backpacking trip. But that’s no UL, by the above fake standards and categories, that’s just smart light, light enough to have what I need, not much heavier, but not so light that it gets to the realm of stupid light, where if something goes wrong, you have to beg for help on the trail from someone who actually did carry the gear they needed to be safe.

    If you just toss out the baseweight thing, which always ignores all the extra junk people bring, beer, huge cameras, etc, and stop pretending, then just weigh what the pack weighs with the food (another area people tend to carry WAY more weight than they need), and water. I know for example I always totally miscalculate my trail mix, and end up with a few pounds left over on a long trip, and that was my base weight, as was each and every canister those ‘light’ canister stoves waste but which people pretend are not part of the actual carrying weight.

    Going to trailhead weight will correct these delusions and enter you calmly back into reality, where you and your pack walk down the trail, one thing, every foot you walk carries the entire weight of that moment, you NEVER carry your baseweight only, that’s a pure fiction.

  55. Roger T April 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    I don’t buy and use ultralight gear to hit some arbitrary weight number. I buy some lightweight gear (think Frogg Toggs Ultralite rain gear) because it is cheaper and lighter than something more durable. Many other items (Gossamer G4 and Tarptent Cloudburst) are no more expensive than quality conventional items, so the cost argument is really not the issue. Availability is. I understand why REI and similar outdoor stores don’t carry the really light stuff. REI offers a great return policy, which is not practical for ultralight gear, which is inherently delicate.

    I use some lightweight gear (like my single-wall silnylon tent) because it requires a greater degree of skill than regular gear and I get off on the intellectual challenge and get to lighten my load at the same time.

    Practically speaking, I lightweight to compensate for old back injuries so I can stay active in the outdoors.

    Another way to look at lightweighting is freeing yourself to carry other fun/cool things instead of humping heavy mundane items. Like the 2 pound bag of Jolly Ranchers I busted out at the summit to share with my fellow travelers and new found friends.

    I have shown my kit to lots of people over the years, and found no true converts. They find the stuff intriguing but they aren’t willing to depart from what they feel is tried and true. I tested out all of my lightweight gear on regular Boy Scout campouts, where I had all the extras I could want and no risk.

  56. Dan Gruber April 3, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Isn’t the basic point simply to educate people about alternatives to conventional or older gear that are just as functional but lighter? To go a step further, we can point out that as basic gear gets lighter and shrinks in size, there are “system benefits” like the ability to get a smaller, lighter backpack.

    The thing that convinced me to investigate lightweight gear was a pack weigh-in that five of us did before a trip into the Tetons. A friend had a pack weight 15 pounds below mine! As the trip progressed, I looked at what he had, asked questions, and tried things out when appropriate. In the next year I made purchases that reduced my pack weigh by about 10 pounds, and I was thrilled. I wasn’t shooting for some arbitrary goal, I simply had seen for myself that there were alternatives that made sense.

    In my experience, when I buy and start using some gear that’s lighter and as good as or better than what it replaced, pretty soon all my friends adopt it also. For example, many years ago I bought a Tarptent. Today, every one of my various backpacking companions (a dozen in all) have some kind of single wall, silnylon shelter. They saw the new gear in action and that convinced them far more effectively than my trying to “educate them” or set target weights. And every change any of us makes helps us continue to enjoy the outdoors as we get older.

  57. Jeff April 3, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    There is a myriad of reasons that people don’t consider light/ultralight set ups. Mine was that weight was a ‘non-issue’. I never weighed my pack. Never once in the many years I backpacked. I just took what I needed without any regard for its weight. If you need it, you need it, so you take it. And like many. you do your best to ignore the results of the weight you are carrying and move on. It was just part of backpacking……… You didn’t cry and whimper, you just did it. Of course that was when I was a young man years and years ago.
    Today with me it is a different story. Approaching the age of 60 I find myself not being able ( and willing ) to do the things I did as a young man. Thank goodness for all the innovation with high tech gear and materials. High tech keeps me out on the trails, otherwise I’d be reduced to one of the many who have to settle for walking circles around a community park wearing a fanny pack with a bottle of water.
    So while many out there who consider weight a non-issue and feel no need to lighten up their loads, they will someday have to come to the realization that if they are going to stay out on the trails they must change the way they do things. Counting ounces will too become one of their backpacking rituals.

  58. Tom Andrews April 3, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi, The primary reason for my pack lightening seems to be a kind of necessity. I love to backpack and have been doing it for over 45 years. However, about 10 years ago when I signed up for Social Security, I found that carrying a traditional heavy pack on 7-12 day trips (my ideal length) was extremely painful to my old bony shoulders and hips. So I started doing less of it. Then, voila, I discovered light weight gear and now average about 11-13 lbs base weight, which I can carry relatively easily. My pack is a 1 pound Gossamer Gear, either a 1.5 lbs tent or a 5 oz tarp, a 1.5-2.0 pound sleeping bag, etc. I could get it down toward 5 lbs, but find that there are some extra items I need to keep me happy. Extra camera batteries, quality prescription sunglasses, dedicated sleeping socks, good sleeping pad combo for old bones, really light weight down pants (truly a luxury, but nice camping at 12,000 in a summer snowstorm or on any cold morning), a good headlamp and extra batteries, a good set of maps, no spindly little worthless tent stakes, binoculars, warm mitts and shell, etc, etc. And then there are the required bear barrel in the Sierra, microspikes for high passes early in the season, binoculars, etc. All this misc stuff could be dispensed with, but I wouldn’t enjoy myself nearly as much, and that is the main reason why I backpack, to enjoy myself. So it’s a compromise, a balancing act which everyone has to perform. Yet on some really warm, clear day I plan to go on a backpack with under 3 lbs base weight just for the fun of it-Peski style.

  59. Walter Underwood April 3, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

    I really like Don Ladigan’s approach, where each part of the big three (pack, sleep, shelter) is in three ranges: traditional (5 pounds and up), lightweight (under 3 pounds), and ultralight (under 2 pounds).

  60. Nocternus April 3, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    IMO any weight that is not a skin out weight is meaningless. I see tons of gear lists for this hike or that hike and they put themselves into the weight categories that you describe but they have achieved those weights by excluding gear. I see people that carry items on their person and justify it by saying “well it isn’t in my pack so it isn’t pack weight. If you truly want to compare apples to apples everyone’s weight should include everything from your skin out.

    A lot of factors limit people’s ability to fit into your prescribed categories. I follow ultralight backpackers news because I find tips that I can apply to my current pack and save some weight. I will never fit into your prescribed weight categories though because I am 6’9” tall and I am a Diabetic. I would bet I could follow every tip the ultralight backpacking community has and my pack would still weigh more than 15 pounds base. If someone is a warm or a cold sleeper has a lot to do with it as well. Their are just too many factors in my opinion that affect the weight of someones pack to fit them neatly into categories especially if we make exceptions. It would be far more valuable to just publish complete lists of skin out weights and have people from the ultralight backpacking community make suggestions on areas backpackers could shave weight off their current gear list than trying to make square pegs fit in round holes.

  61. q smith April 4, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    I seek practicality. Going from a base of 35 pounds down to my current of 9 pounds made a huge physical difference, going down to 5 isn’t that big of a deal to me. Second, my gear is 4 years old and so well made by folks like Gossamer Gear and Tarp Tents that I have still have many more years of use in my current gear. I would rather keep the money in my pocket.

  62. takehikes April 6, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    Forget the titles….I shoot for a pack weight for a 8 night 9 day trip of 30 pounds with food, bear canister and fuel on board. that is the recommended limit for many lightweight back packs like I use. Inside the pack is what I like to carry and I have chosen many lightweight pieces but I also have some that aren’t (I haul a fairly heavy but warm down bag) and some things I don’t bring at all (never will figure out what the hell camp shoes are for when you hike in sneakers).
    Also get a great scale that goes to tenth of a pound and measure every single thing, build a spread sheet and then you are never guessing how much is in your pack at any one time.

  63. splitting hairs April 7, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    The ultralight revolution was great and all, but at this point I think all of this is getting to be really old. I escape to the wilderness to get away from ______ (fill in the blank), but gosh darn it I’d better make sure my base weight fits into the right category.

    I think the lightweight approach, as it currently stands, needs to go away entirely. Instead of classifications and arguing over ounces and grams, why don’t we instead focus on the more general goal of increasing satisfaction from outdoor activities by reducing weights and learning skills that allow us to do more with less gear? I get out to enjoy nature, not to be stuck in yet another cage, this time weight categories.

    I pushed to reduce my pack weight, but eventually I decided that a lot of lightweight gear isn’t up to the task of the hiking and backpacking I do. My first GoLite pack was torn to shreds and I never carried more than a few pounds in it. That completely soured me until I found the Jam, which had a respectable fabric on it that could stand up to actual use. It was lighter than other packs of its size, but it was durable as well. After carrying an absurd load in it for long days in the desert, I started thinking about stays. While I still love my Jam (and Peak and Pinnacle) — the prior models to the ones now — I now think about volume, durability, support, etc. Oh yeah, and once I’ve established those needs, I look to find the lightest option that satisfies my other criteria.

    Bottom line: with all due respect, I think there’s way too much emphasis being placed on categories. Let’s spend our time thinking about routes and sights and epic adventures. If you do that, I guarantee you won’t worry about all these stupid weight categories.

    • peabody3000 April 8, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      Nobody needs to “worry” about weight categories. They are there only to raise awareness and give ideas about how much lighter people can potentially go. Anyone who thinks they are meant to pressure people into doing something they don’t want to do is missing the point.

    • LightDan April 8, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      I agree with you to some degree, trying to reach a certain limit grounded on just the scales was fun, but just up to a point.
      It was revolutionary to go from 40-50 pound baseweight to under 20, it still feelt like a good, solid win-situation to be able to go under 10 pound, and now when I have done SUL-trips (under 5 pounds baseweight) I can’t help it, I’m taking a step back.
      I found a sweet-spot at around 8-9 pounds for my summerpack, going down to 5 is just more uncomfortable and the gain in carrying the lighter load is just too small.
      I congratulate the people who can sleep comfortably on a 1/8″ CCF-pad, I need my x-wide inflatable and I have a lot of other stuff were i’ve reached the limit of compromise I’m willing to make.
      Still, on each trip, the feeling of sub 10 pounds is always a much better feeling than the 40+ I carried in my youth! That feeling never gets old. 🙂

      I’ll stay in my 8-9 pound, and I hereby introduce this as the CL, comfylight category. I think CL is what every hiker should try to reach, although I won’t put a weightstandard on it. 8-9 pounds is just MY sweetspot, everybody has to find their own. 😉

      • Call Me Ishmael April 9, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

        LD, I think you have made an important point here: what we are all looking for is the best outfit for the type of trips we like to take. Your 40-50# BPW seemed heavy, to you. And, all things being equal (which they are certainly not), lighter is nice.
        The conversations we are having in the community showed ways to go lighter and the (scourge of) BPW categories provided an index to measure where you were on the continuum. You bracketed your solution (went below your sweet spot and then backed up to your CL solution). And as you say, “everybody has to find their own.” So now you are a having much better wilderness experience, and people who take your point will, too.
        What a success story!

        • LightDan April 11, 2015 at 11:03 am #

          Thank you, you made a good summary of my experience. Some people have a way with words I can just envy.

      • peabody3000 April 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

        Easy to say when you’re sub-10! Hehehe. My CL is 11-12 and it will never go under 10, all due to the sleeping comforts I must have. I insist on a tent and 2 sleeping pads, and my amazing sleeping bag with sealable arm and leg holes.

        • LightDan April 11, 2015 at 11:17 am #

          Look like you understand my point! 🙂
          It was a (very small) crisis for me to go up a category in packweight, and I will still go SUL in certain circumstanses, but when I go on trips with the CL-pack I know for certain I will have a comfortable trip, with the SUL-pack I can just hope the weather will be as promised in the forecast, or the trip will be uncomfortable.
          To be able to lighten the packweight one certainly need a set of skills, but I will not count looking at the weather forecast as a part of the skill-set. 😀
          Of course it’s good to know what’s ahead, but still, the weather forecasts is not that reliable, at least not were I live.

  64. John B April 8, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Innovation is a result of people pushing the limits of the state of the art in any given field. I applaud those willing to push the limits to achieve a greater sense of unencumbered freedom in the wild places. Since I began backpacking 30 years ago I naturally began looking for lighter alternatives. When I discovered the First Need water filter I stopped hauling gallons of water in my pack. Now the First Need is way too heavy and more expensive than lighter options when you factor in replacing the cartridge every 50 gal or so. Perhaps ultralight gear is chosen as experience is gained in the backcountry. Perhaps it should stay the cottage industry that it is. I agree with takes-hikes. When you arrive at the trail head with 7-10 days of food you will feel the weight. When you put 20 lbs of food plus gear in a 8 oz backpack that SUL base load may not be so ideal. The categories are fine in my mind. They are simply points of reference. There is a point of diminishing returns as the base weight drops. For me a 9 – 10 lb base is very comfortable in 3 season conditions. Going lighter is not that attractive. Is ultralight hiking elitist? Who gives a f… ? I am trying to make my adventures more enjoyable. HYOH. Great discussion Mr. Reitvelt!

    • Simply Redneck May 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      I agree, most of my gear cost around $100, give or take $50 or so. I’m only 19, i dont make much even though i work a full time job, so i can handle the extra weight of cheaper equipment, but i still do my research to make i ain’t buyin complete junk. While this does mean higher weights, bigger items and less quality, (dependin on the item), Its much easier on the wallet, makin it easier to be able to get away.
      Now I’ve done some primitive campin where lightweight is instantly impossible, my ruck weighs about 6# empty, (heavy but was under $100 and its 90L). I needed the extra space to carry 2-3 gallons of water, which is heavy plus my bladder which is 2.5l which im gonna upgrade to a 4l soon. I live in Texas and there’s no water to filter where i go campin so bringin extra water is necessary . I also use a hammock shelter system so i dont use a sleepin pad.
      When i move to Nevada where i plan on hikin the the grand canyon and dont need to bring along extra water which will shed 16-24#. I probably wont be able to use my hammock so im gonna get a lightweight tent that i found for just over $100 as well as a sleepin pad that will shed more weight, (about 5#), i’ll also be using a smaller pack.
      As i start to make more money, better and lighter equipment will come. As i dont have numbers yet for my base weight, im gonna guess around 20-25#, when i add 3 gallons water, food, ect. my pack is about 50#, At least it was on my last trip. When i get to Nevada and get the new tent my base weight will probably be about 15-20# and about a total of 30#. Ill probably end up gettin an osprey eventually which will shed about another 3#.
      My point is my CL is about 30#, 50# was pushin my limits but water was necessary. I dont have a desire to go UL as it cost to much and i rather pack to enjoy bein on the trail rather than pack to be at a certain weight. Maybe ill get down to LW just with better equipment, (Sleepin bag, rucksack, clothes, ect), but its not my desire or goal. Im not gonna go through my stuff and expel every little ounce i can. I know some UL, SUL packers take the lids off every thing, cut out contents of their F.A.K., repack all of their food. No thanks, to much work. I rather just pack it how it is and go.

      • peabody3000 May 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

        Depending on how handy you are with some sewing, there are lots of do it yourself kit instructions on the web for high-quality equipment that would probably cut an easy 10 lbs from your base weight on the mega-cheap. in nevada you could get by easily with a quilt for sleeping, which is typically ultralight, isnt tough to make and wont cost much either. a good frameless silnylon cloth backpack, great for trail weights under 20 lbs, can be sewn together too, as can a simple lightweight tarp, all for pennies on the dollar. once you get sub-15 lbs, the food quantities you pack will suddenly be more noticeable and youll likely lighten that up too once you feel the real benefits of going light.

      • LightDan May 22, 2015 at 6:03 am #

        Good for you to find your own Comfy Light pack. 🙂 I hope for everybody to reach that point.

        About the cost of lightweight equipment, I’ll say you are both right and wrong.
        If you opt for the cutting edge in lightweight equipment, the latest inventions in Cuben fibre and titanium and all the other top notch ultralight stuff it will cost you thousands of dollars.
        On the other hand, with slightly heavier options and using some of the stuff you already own, it’s possible to reach UL or very low LW baseweight for under 300$.
        (Google for 300$ gear challenge and you’ll find examples of gear lists).

        The top notch of light and normal weight equipment alike is very expensive, amd the budget alternatives is cheap, while (as often is the case with most stuff, just not for hiking) somewere in the middle you find the best value for the money.

        Point is lightweigt isn’t expensive, it’s the stuff that cost a lot of dollars that is expensive. 😉

  65. peabody3000 June 3, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    What’s often sorely missing is the “base temperature” for the base weight, representing the lowest temps the kit is expected to endure.

    This year I claim an 11lb base weight, but that’s for a BT down to 20 degrees F. On a recent lower-elevation, above-freezing trip I was finally sub-10.

    So when I’m talking about my BW, if I pair it with the BT I’d say 8.5@50F or 11@20F …or metric: 4.3@10C / 5@-7C

    Perhaps BW’s should be paired with BT’s by default. That way the significance of the ultralight and superultralight labels don’t have such a finality.

    • seanion December 14, 2015 at 2:49 am #

      Makes a lot of sense specially since I haven’t known or read much about how to compare my base weight for different conditons/seasons. Base weight really doesn’t mean much of anything without a “base temperature” to go with.

  66. Pete Chiarizio July 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    How about ditching the silly concept and calling the pack what it weighs and the job it’s meant to fulfill?

    5 pound day pack, 10 pound desert pack; 15 pound AT pack, 20 pound winter mountain pack, for example.

    • peabody3000 July 11, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      I would say those aren’t really meaningful classifications since the labels reflect something that varies enormously from hiker to hiker, something that presumably represents the same goal for everyone: going as light as possible without unreasonably sacrificing comfort, costs, or safety. That takes a lot of hard-won experience and knowledge. Anyone who isn’t at least considering how to do that either probably isn’t very serious or isn’t really thinking clearly. That isn’t elitism, its just common sense. People can do whatever they want in any case. I only get out on backpacker trips a couple times a year, but personally i have yet to meet a single UL snob, even among the extremists!

  67. Tucson Tom July 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Who cares really? I rarely make the below 10 pound category and am very happy doing trips with probably a 13-15 pound baseweight. So my official “label” probably wouldn’t change in any event. I think all this would simply serve to give the elitists something extra to get snobby about. It would make it harder for me to earn the bragging rights of the ultralight label.
    Would it allow me to do things I am not doing now? Maybe — I could trade 1.5 pounds of gear for an extra day of food.
    Would dropping a few pounds make me happier? No doubt! Every pound left behind is that much more joy. But what would
    be the expense? I see myself as well into the zone of diminishing returns. But there is a certain class of person that gets
    satisfaction out of redefining things I guess, far be it from me to get in their way.

  68. dj July 9, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    Labeling and weight parameters ignore at least 2 basic tenets of enjoying the outdoors. 1) I may be twice your weight, and if so 10 lb base on me is equivalent to 5 lb base on you. 2) You hike your, hike I’ll hike mine. EVERY pastime has their extremists and EVERY one of those past times less extremist base tells them to go pound sand once and again when they whip out the elitist view. I mean everyone who backpacks must know at least ONE person who doesn’t backpack. Do you begrudge the non-backpackers their choice not to backpack like you begrudge non-ultra-lightweight backpackers their choice to carry a little extra weight?

    I’ve caught a fish on a $10 bamboo pole AND on a $300 rig……I REALLY enjoyed the experience both times.

    Bottom line is different strokes for different folks. Those of you into minimal minimal minimal weight have at it….compete all day long on tenths of grams with EACH OTHER. But don’t despise the rest of us who are OK with a few grams more to make our experience something EPIC to US.

    AND by all means extend the info out there to all who will listen…..after all the grams you might save someone on something they are really indifferent about MAY free up some grams for them to bring their favorite thing along while not making them feel overloaded. Just don’t judge everyone not willing to conform to your ideas.

    Agreed, sometimes folks just don’t know…..but that doesn’t mean they also share the passion to cut 0.2 grams from their pack.

  69. Brad Boll July 10, 2015 at 7:32 am #

    Just like diet or health advise, backpacking gear recommendations can often fall on deaf ears. I’ve been in REI, seen someone selecting heavy hiking boots, asked about their intended uses, and made suggestions for lighter versions. They typically buy what they had in their minds when they walked in the store – the heavy version. Fear-based decision making plays a part in this – “must have the most rugged version or _____ will happen.” I’m uncertain how much marketing plays a role in this. Perhaps if weight were a major marketing ploy, people would go lighter. In my case, experience, as much as anything else, led to weight becoming a major consideration. The last conventional gear outing my girlfriend and I made was so full of suffering that by the time we returned to the trailhead, I knew something had to change. We made notes as we drove home, and then the research began in earnest. I think people have to walk their own paths (wink), and all we can do is plant the seeds of what we’ve found to be the better way.

    • Walter Underwood July 10, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

      Fear is heavy. Knowledge and skills weigh nothing. We just have to keep teaching and hope.

      • dj July 12, 2015 at 10:28 am #

        That doesn’t make sense. Do you mean ignorance is heavy?

        • Call me Ishmael July 12, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

          Fear…that drives you to carry stuff you wouldn’t need if your woodscraft was sufficent, but you take it anyway because you are afraid you might need it.

  70. Maya G (Quotidianlight) July 24, 2015 at 12:37 am #

    This was a great post. I’m researching ultralight gear and doing the spread sheet tetras for my trip next year, but I’m not getting ultra light gear so I can skip around with a 5 pound pack. The entire reason I’m trying to get my gear super low is because I will be carrying 12 pounds of camera, computer and audio equipment around the world without checking luggage or having a place to store anything. So here I am with a 8 pound list that’s still going to end up at 35 pounds after I add electronics and food anyway. As someone new to this idea, the weight ratings are confusing but in the end, I don’t think it’s important. We all just want to be comfortable and upright.

    • peabody3000 July 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      hopefully youve found a good tough but light pack, which may or may not be the same as your luggage. when every pound counts, the pack you carry will be responsible for much of the weight savings

      when im travelling light as opposed to backpacking light, some of the things im taking most advantage of are:

      – using the thinnest material clothing i can get away with, including convertible pants that function as shorts, and only a couple extra pairs of socks/underwear, maximum
      – bringing a small chunk of laundry bar soap and routinely wash clothes in bathroom sinks to dry overnight
      – using only one pair of shoes: the superlight vivobarefoot ultra II, available in women’s style, which are like crocs that can be used on trails, in water, and even around town …without looking like crocs
      – carrying super-tiny portions of shampoo and other toiletries, even smaller than store travel sizes, in tiny squeeze bottles and containers. for me i find the space and weight saving there are huge

  71. Rick September 3, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Spreading the word is a noble mission. I don’t know how to do it … but here’s how NOT to do it: More than a decade ago my future wife and I were hiking in the North Cascades. After staggering into our campsite under our fully stocked Dana Designs Terraplanes, we encountered our first ultralighter. He sized us up with poorly disguised derision and hailed us with a dismissive and sanctimonious, “I remember when I *used* to hike like that.” It’s taken a decade of resentment for me to start acknowledging the wisdom of shaving ounces and pounds.

  72. DouglasWayne December 22, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I recently watched a youtube hiking video titled “my sub one ounce medical kit” that got me thinking about the levels of insanity some gram counters will strive to achieve. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cutting weight reasonably and responsibly but some people just take it to absurd levels. Take this sub one ounce medical kit guy for instance, his medical kit consists of a ziplock baggy containing a couple of band-aids. In his video he goes on to explain most things he will need medical attention for can be cared for by using these band-aids and if something happens on the trail that requires more there’s usually a lot of people on the trail and it wouldn’t be a problem getting someone to help. #forcryingoutloud

    Nice article, improving technologies and easy access to an expanding cottage industry has gone a long way with reducing pack weights all over this great country. Lightweight is quickly becoming achievable without even trying.

    • Aaron Bennett March 5, 2016 at 12:58 am #

      I don’t carry a first aid kit at all, but then again, I did a tour in Iraq as a combat medic, so my first aid kit is knowledge. I can fix a lot with duct tape, toilet paper, and sticks.

  73. Matt Sutherland February 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    Going lighter or heavier for me depends where I’m hiking and why – when car camping I bring a mini fridge and a cast iron dutch oven. For hiking the trails in Michigan where minor hills are far and few between I bring a spacious double wall tent and hump a 30 lb load – the Ultra light gear is used when hiking long distance in the mountains with big ascents & desents where 30 lbs feels like 60 lbs and can cause injury. I have found generaly a light load makes for more enjoyable hiking and less enjoyable camping I have a modified 40 L ice climbing pack I cut out layers of heavy fabric and sewed light ripstop in its place that I can add the frame and padding to for heavier loads and remove for lighter loads.
    I fing it hard to get to 5 lbs without a lot of sacrifice but I know the right person with a min set on doing it could do it pretty easily. cuben tarp z rest pad light quilt and cuben back pack along with no coock food the clothes on your back and your there. Which would be fine for a weekend but harder the longer your out.

  74. Doug Malm March 4, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    Going lightweight is logical if being comfortable and enjoying the hike AND camping is the goal. I think generally one may be slightly important than the other but ultimately I suspect most people want to enjoy both. I consider myself an intelligent, reasonable person but I have been astounded how difficult it has been to figure out how to go lightweight. The problem with my initial purchases was that the heavy gear appeared useful and was deceptively marketed. Further, I didn’t understand the difference between carrying a full load of 30 lbs vs carrying a load of say 16 lbs. After going on a few overnights I got it. For me, and I suspect most people, the difference is REALLY significant. Like night and day (despite numerous people saying these weight differences are insignificant—which I don’t believe). So the primary problem from my perspective is not so much what your purpose is (although that is of course meaningful particularly if there is interest is fringe stuff like thru-hiking), it is how does one figure this out without a subject matter expert or really knowledgeable friend (also rare gems). The bottom line is this—most people can’t figure out how to do this. I know because I hold a doctorate and I couldn’t figure it out until I did about 4 months of REALLY thorough research and after making a lot of ridiculous purchases. What layperson has heard of Gossamer Gear or Z-Packs?? I mean come on, many sales people in REI haven’t’ heard of these folks!! Of course once you become initiated or knowledgeable, it is a whole different situation. People pack heavy for the same reason we elect ridiculous candidates for elected office. We don’t know what we don’t know and go for what seems the least problematic or appears capable of handling the situation at hand. And it is a HELL of a lot of work to figure it all out (no one will ever convince me otherwise). One has to be motivated and do the work to make good choices—motivation and willingness to persevere (work) are relatively rare unless you somehow develop a passion for the subject matter. The marketplace is too confusing and only passionate backpackers are going to figure out how to engage in lightweight backpacking. Show me a backpacker that is passionate enough about backpacking to go on a significant (in terms of mileage) monthly or bi-monthly hike, and I will show you a “lightweight” backpacker.

  75. Jake March 12, 2016 at 4:23 am #

    I think there is more in the conventional backpacking category, because light weight is expensive! $60 for a sleeping bag or $300+ $100 for tent or $300+ $20 for sleeping pad or $100 for me I enjoy the hike and don’t mind carrying 50 lbs, once the prices come down it will make more sense, but damn it’s expensive. All gets you from A to B I see it as preference.

  76. mike April 14, 2016 at 5:01 am #

    Couldn’t care less about categories. They were dreamed up by by armchair gearheads I guess. I do appreciate the light equipment though and my current 13-14 pound base is “light enough” and much more comfortable to carry than my original 35-40 pound load.

    • J. L. Minx April 17, 2016 at 8:18 pm #

      Amen, Mike.

      • jbeegoode August 29, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

        A significant percentage of backpackers are middle aged and older. Most people that I encounter on the trails are dayhikers and many of those are moving along with hiking poles. For me, backpacking was out of the question, with age, not enough exercise, and back injuries. Then I figured out ultralight.

        My girlfriend and I are back on the trail. We don’t march, but we can get to a more remote place and camp instead of a hurried dayhike with a gizzillion others. We are generally out just one to three nights. We share the load. Depending on the conditions, we each carry 9 to 10 pounds base. We have air pads to sleep on, we cook, and we are warm. We can set up a pretty luxurious camp. I make dehydrated foods. Breakfast, and three warm meals for two weigh only a pound to a pound and a half. It is delicious, nutritious, filling and easy. Most people don’t know that that is possible, but would love to get out in nature for an overnight and see these more remote places. Nobody told me that I could still backpack like this. I had to figure it out myself, muddling through all sorts of advertising, blogs, etc. that were talking to young fit people who want to practically live in the wild. There is a big, affluent market out there and they haven’t a clue.

        I also hike solo and have a more austere bivy set up that is around six pounds. All of these gear lists are from professional hikers. If you want to sell ultralight to normal people, you need to address them. That is why the stuff cost more, everybody goes to Sportsman’s this or that, or REI in ignorance.

        I have a homemade tarp customized to configure in several fun ways, or hunker down in with a net tent. Tarp $80 with hours of sewing and a two person net tent $130 w/ a custom tub. We sleep under a 1 ½ pound quilt that was $265, but we got what we paid for, Rolls Royce. We got two REI member rebate klymate pads at just under $60. Cooking $60. We got two Golite bags for $110 each before they folded. Cooker to heat hot water $45, waterfilter $25. Everything is for two, way under $1000. I got a Ghost Whisper jacket at $180 sale and knocked over a half a pound off and decreased my previous temperature comfort level.

        A couple of old farts in their 60’s are out there and getting younger, AND we hike nude, leaving the clothes in the pack! Sell older middle class, middle age plus a return to youth and an overnight pleasure in nature. They won’t buy adventure lasting weeks. That’s somebody else. Look at Redford’s movie and imagine ultralight gear on slightly less out of shape people. Sell a lot of stuff cheaper to more people.

  77. Branden Jew July 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    I’m an Eagle Scout and was a Boy Scout for 13 years. I worked in the outdoor retail industry for almost 17 years selling backpacking and camping gear. The main reason there are a lot of conventional backpackers is because it’s the cheapest way to backpack. Lightweight, newer style gear is expensive. It costs money to reduce pack weight when it comes to the “BIG 3”. $300 tent, $250 sleeping bag/pad $100, $300 backpack. Including tax can add up to over $1,000 dollars if purchased brand new. The majority of customers backpack a few times a year and would rather save money than ounces or a few pounds. The only reason I own newer equipment is because of employee discounts and deals from vendors.

  78. Curt November 21, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    I use my old, heavy equipment because it is what I have. Some of us can’t just decide to go light or ultra or whatever you use to describe your gear. Some of us are poor working slobs who find much more joy in the hike than the eternal shopping for the latest and lightest. If you speed pass me on the trail it might be my heavy load or I might be pondering why some lichen prefer some rocks and not others. Or I stopped to measure the distance between the left and right tracks of a bird trail in the sand, or to marvel at tree bark. I don’t know how much my stuff weighs but I do know why I hike and those reasons can not be quantified by any scale made.

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