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Be Prepared, Not Equipped

The main reason my pack got lighter was because I realized that being prepared had little to do with the equipment I carried.

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by Brad Groves | 2010-01-26 00:00:00-07

The main reason my pack got lighter was because I realized that being prepared had little to do with the equipment I carried. I had first learned to backpack in the Boy Scouts, where fellow youth and adults alike took the motto "Be Prepared" to be synonymous with "Be Equipped." Truth be told, we weren't just equipped... we were equipped for just about anything. Socks and underwear for nearly every day. Full-size towel, washcloth, and toiletry kit - with a sawed-off toothbrush. The odd trenching tool and hatchet would find its way to the pack. We had a habit of carrying back-ups of back-ups - if something failed, we reasoned, we'd need a replacement to cover it since we were so far "out there."

Back in the day when I adhered to the motto "Be Equipped," I traveled the backcountry with a back-up stove. Just a little hexamine stove and several tubes of tablets, but a stove and fuel nonetheless. I used to carry a lantern and a flashlight... and a small spare flashlight. (At one point, years later, I realized that I regularly walked the woods near my home without a light, and for a time quit carrying any light altogether.) I carried a repair kit with several colors of thread, patches, and adhesives for everything on my back. I carried spare buckles and cord and webbing, duct tape and safety pins and - in the day - a bevy of clevis pins and rings. My first aid kit was stocked for just about anything short of a full-on freeway accident. My dad likes to tell people about my first backpacking trip, walking behind me and seeing my legs from the knee down... and nothing else. I got my first severe ankle sprain on that trip.

Be Prepared, Not Equipped - 1
Packed and ready for anything. No, really: ANYTHING!

We kids were intrigued by all the cool gadgets we could carry, and our adult leaders were pleased because we had enough stuff to be safe. (Funny how "safety margins" can lead to unsafe loads.) What we all missed was that we were going about the process backwards, subverting knowledge by carrying equipment. It's a trend that I see continuing not only in some Scouting programs, but in widespread expectations of all backpackers new and old.

So what does it mean, this concept of "Be Prepared?" How can understanding it help us pack smarter... and lighter? What truly clarified the concept for me was a Wilderness-EMT course. If you want to talk about something that's gear-intensive, EMS is a great place to start! We use tons of highly specialized equipment on ambulances. We see most of that equipment as critical for doing our jobs efficiently and effectively, but when it comes time to hit the woods, we can't carry most of the gear. A major component of the W-EMT course, then, is learning to improvise using materials you're likely to have on hand.

"Multiple-use items," you say, "of course." But it's not quite that easy - nor is figuring out the best or most functional use of your gear.

One of the first steps for me was realizing that "Be Prepared" didn't mean "Be Redundant." I don't (and didn't) need more than one source of light. I didn't need a clean shirt, or extra clothes in case mine got wet, because everything I take dries quickly. I didn't need a splint in my first aid kit, because I can easily make one from just about anything. I used to bring more fuel than I needed, just in case... and it was easy to grab an extra fuel canister (or two!) that I never used. I didn't need a pot, a bowl, a plate, a fork, a knife, and a spoon... One pot, one spoon, and a mug will do just fine.

The big step for me in really understanding "Be Prepared" was what I call the "Superman" or "Alien" clause. In other words, I need to be prepared for reality, not for situations that could only happen "if Superman came down to fight a battle against an evil guy freezing Florida solid in July." I didn't need to be prepared for any situation that could occur at any time in any place - since each of my trips occur at a given point in time, in a specific place, with a limited number of situations possible.

A summer backpacking trip in Michigan will not get (much) below freezing, so there's no point in hauling the weight and bulk of a zero degree bag or expedition parka. Only once have I ever had a problem with a stove, and that was because I hadn't maintained it at all in years... so I don't need a backup stove. Besides, if something horrid happens I'll just build a small fire. A three-person mountaineering tent is completely unnecessary for most two-person backpacking trips. I don't need a pocket knife, sheath knife, multitool and sharpening stone. One good blade, and maybe a strip of sandpaper, will do 95%+ of what I need. And I don't need a seven-pound pack to carry a twenty- to thirty-pound load.

You might think I exaggerate the problem. And yet, I met a guy recently who takes great pride and (stated) pleasure in carrying a 120-POUND pack. Even for long weekends. He told me it was great, because he was ready for anything. Not only did he carry every piece of the military ECWCS (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System) layering system for every trip, but he carried his complete military sleeping bag system for every trip. A -60 F bag, with bivy, for trips at least 90 degrees warmer at night and inside an expedition tent. He allowed that you sure knew it after hiking a six-mile day, though it was a great way to travel. I allowed that it didn't make much sense to carry an extra few pounds of sleeping gear that would never see the outside of a stuff sack, but kept to myself that I usually hike an easy six miles or more by lunch.

What I'm getting around to saying is that being prepared is more of a cognitive thing than an equipment thing. Much of preparation is planning. Mental gymnastics more than grunt work. Education, knowledge, organization. Just like going for groceries, it's a good idea to make a list and stick to it. Minimize your "unknown" variables by making more "known," but allow a small cushion for error. Being prepared means planning ahead for possible and expected conditions.

Be Prepared, Not Equipped - 2
This makes my back and knees much happier... and my eyeballs too.

That's important enough to repeat: "Planning ahead for possible or expected conditions." If you're planning a four-day summer trip, don't plan as though you'll be taking a month-long trip in the arctic. Leave the snowshoes at home! There is a difference in being prepared and being burdened. Having "extra" is frequently not a good thing... it isn't always wise to have "extra" for something that won't happen. Being prepared requires understanding not only the weather, terrain and demands of the trip, but requires understanding the components of your gear, how each works individually, and how they work together.

I suggest that you think of being prepared as doing more with less, NOT doing less with more, as I used to believe. In fact, I might be inclined to argue that what most people think of as being prepared is actually its antithesis, that their approach is to do less with more. And although that might be good for a budget, no, that's not a good thing when you're carrying a bunch of gear through the backcountry.

Let me say that I have been extraordinarily offended by the strident self-righteousness and superiority expressed by some ultralighters. Many times have I come across language saying, if effect, that "people carrying heavy packs are inexperienced and stupid, whereas people carrying light packs are experienced and bright." I know that I had been backpacking nearly twenty years before I lightened up. Doing so wasn't a matter of overnight experience or a sudden giant leap in IQ, but rather was reflective of a shift in my priorities and interests in backcountry travel. Now that I have lightened up and found that if anything I'm MORE prepared and comfortable than I used to be, I'm simply hoping that my words can help others find the same pleasures in a lighter pack.

Now to the tough part. When I realized that my trips would be more enjoyable with a lighter load, I refused to get that lighter load by being unprepared (or uncomfortable). What I didn't expect was how comfortable I'd be in camp and on the trail with that lighter load. Even though I had less, trail life was even easier... no more digging through bags or pockets of things, everything I needed was right at hand. What I ultimately came to realize was that it was possible because of the simple act of consideration.

Before, I would shove extra things into the pack "in case." When I made the move to lighten up, I spent more time actually thinking about each thing going in the pack, and I found a lot of overlap. I found some of the biggest differences in my clothing. I mean, if you think about sitting around a summer campfire, you'd probably envision yourself in a t-shirt, and maybe a flannel shirt on a cool night. So why would you need much more warmth than that when backpacking? My typical three-season kit now includes just a long-sleeve baselayer (worn at all times), a midlayer, and a thin down vest... more than adequate for any temps I'm likely to encounter. You might say that I'm well-prepared, even though - or perhaps precisely because - I don't have the spare long underwear top, the thin jacket, the thin vest, and the fleece jacket that used to be in my pack.

And that's what it comes down to - consideration and planning. If you're prepared for a given situation you'll be able to respond in a positive way given your circumstances. In other words, think of your backpacking endeavors in the light of a jazz musician. Know your craft, your tools, and the context in which you'll use them well enough to pull off some killer improvs. Be able to adapt to your situation, and you'll be well-prepared.


"Be Prepared, Not Equipped," by Brad Groves. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2010-01-26 00:00:00-07.


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Be Prepared, Not Equipped
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 13:10:56 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Be Prepared, Not Equipped

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 13:57:23 MST Print View

Hi Brad

Very nicely put.
And I did like the 'alien' bit.


Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: "Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 17:13:17 MST Print View

Bravo! Well done

Dan Cunningham

Locale: Land of 12,000 Loons
Agree! on 01/26/2010 17:41:38 MST Print View

I like how you separate the concepts of being prepared with being equipped, as the two are completely different. Interestingly, I never made the distinction until I started packing light. I think the exercise of deciding exactly what goes into your pack makes you think through the possibilities more than just throwing items in for the just-in-case scenarios.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 17:49:13 MST Print View

Well thought out and expressed. I also like the alien line -- it captures the mindset that thinks more stuff = better prepared...

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:03:01 MST Print View

<--card-carrying Eagle Scout.

So true, so true. I learned a while ago that being prepared does not equal being equipped. Ray Jardine and BPL gets credit for much of that realization.

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:03:10 MST Print View


I appreciated your thoughts very much, especially the admonition not to think of ourselves as superior to the traditional crowd. Our job is to be ambassadors, educators, & enablers for the lightweight style of backpacking & to remember, as you did, that most of us were once "traditionalists". My epiphany came 3 years ago, when after being exhausted at the end of a 3 mile 1500' climb on the AT carrying a 60 lb. pack I had what I call my "Scarlett O'Hara moment" when I said, "As God is my witness, I will never carry a heavy backpack again!"
My buddy & I were able to recently cruise from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap on the AT in 3-1/2 days(a distance of 72 miles) with 14 lb packs. At the 3 shelters we stayed at along the way, we were asked lots of questions & enjoyed sharing our experiences & equipment details. I always refer people to this website as the most complete resource to start their lightweight transformation, should they so choose.
Thank you for your insightful article.


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:27:31 MST Print View

Part of being prepared IS being equipped appropriately rather than being not equipped.

Agree that you should pack for the expected conditions with perhaps a reasonable margin for error, but when you hike someplace like the Southern Alps of new Zealand, it is often impossible to predict the conditions, so the margin of error becomes larger than, say, a summer trek in the Sierras. Unpreparedness (as in lack of adequate gear AND the knowledge to use it) is a big killer of tourists taking to the backcountry in NZ. Many don't appreciate how rapidly and without warning things can go from a very nice summer's day to a sub-zero blizzard and whiteout conditions that may last for days...or from small side creeks to enraged floods even when it hasn't rained where you are hiking. People here also get into trouble from lack of equipment because they plan on making it to the next hut. If events arise that interfere with that plan, it can rapidly become a life-threatening situation.

I must admit that most of my lightening up has not involved much in the way of being 'less equipped', but more from merely finding lighter equipment that does the same things. My bag still needs to be safely warm below freezing, even in summer. My tent still needs to withstand gale force winds, my pack still needs to deal with off trail abrasive bush-bashing while carrying my load comfortably and my mat still needs to insulate me from the ground. My stove still needs to cook food in a reasonable time in strong winds and rain, and my boots still need to protect my feet from pointy sharp plants, scree and river gravel. Most of my equipment I could clearly live without, but choose not to for the sake of my enjoyment. This includes a fully enclosed tent to keep biting insects at bay, trekking poles, a rain jacket and a windshirt. However these are also much lighter than I used to carry. I now tear my trail books down the spine to make them lighter, but I still bring something to read. My light is very much smaller and lighter, but I still bring a light and spare battery. And so on and so forth. I still agree that knowledge and planning are the front-line preparedness requirements, but I don't skimp on the equipment either!

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:54:03 MST Print View

Hey, all- Thanks for the comments so far!

Matt, I'm a card-carryin' Eagle, too... James, glad the comments worked for you. I transitioned that paragraph badly; I meant to start the paragraph by saying something like "Please understand that I'm not trying to say this is the only 'right' way to travel the backcountry." I guess I was trying to "soften the blow" of my words?

Lynn, you fell in my Kiwi trap! I figured it would be you, Roger, or the gentleman from Alaska who pointed out that some of y'all travel real backcountry that could be 20 below or 80 above the same day, that an overnight trip could take place in fields of flowers and life-threatening snow storms within a matter of hours, unlike the rest of us posers. But I think that even in the extreme climate changes you can experience in a given trip, you still practice some of the same principles that I espouse. For example, you don't carry two stoves, do you? Plenty of layers, but no more than you'd wear at once? And so forth...

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 19:12:28 MST Print View

"you still practice some of the same principles that I espouse. For example, you don't carry two stoves, do you? Plenty of layers, but no more than you'd wear at once? And so forth..."

Wellllll, these days we carry both a "real stove" such as an alcohol or propane/butane one, and use a Ti-Tri as the pot support and windscreen. This does give us some redundancy if, for instance, our fuel leaks. I also carry some redundancy in clothing, especially base layer/sleeping layer, socks, gloves and wind layers. I don't think that has changed much over the years, it's just that my base layers are a lot lighter now, and I've added a wind layer that I didn't use to carry. So maybe I'm getting worse at this UL game with age!

And yeah, this global climate change is gonna wreak havoc with the ULers sense of preparedness ;)

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 20:25:29 MST Print View

Hi Brad

> some of y'all travel real backcountry that could be 20 below or 80 above the
> same day, that an overnight trip could take place in fields of flowers and
> life-threatening snow storms within a matter of hours
Happens ... these two scenes were a couple of days apart and seem to meet most of your criteria.

But I still agree with you: we carry a lot less gear these days, but we select that gear much more carefully. I think that is what you are driving at?

On the second of the days shown we did have a bit more of our clothing on in the morning than normal, but we were still quite comfortable - and had one warm top each in reserve. We put that final warm layer on when we stopped to have morning tea, sitting on a log from which I had cleared the snow. :-) My memory is that we enjoyed our morning tea.

The only time I ever carry two stoves is when one of them is an experimental one ... just in case it breaks!


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Clarification on 01/26/2010 20:47:09 MST Print View

Hey guys- We'll get weather with highs in the 70s and lows in the (high) 20s sometimes, but nothing too crazy.

The thing I wanted to clarify is that to be under-equipped would be un-prepared. If you really can expect such dramatic changes, then you need the gear for the situation. Being prepared does require carrying the right equipment, just not more than you need, etc...

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 21:38:59 MST Print View

Thanks so much for that brilliant article Brad!!!!

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 21:42:05 MST Print View

Brad - What is the blue bag attached to your pack shoulder straps in the photo?

Ian White
(DeuceRegular) - F

Locale: Southern Jefferson
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 23:20:39 MST Print View

That was a good read. I hadn't separated those two concepts in as clear as terms before. This will be helpful when explaining safety issues to "converts."

After my epiphany moment in the midst of a thru-hike (JMT '04), the bulk of my weight loss has been -like others - in the lightening up of equipment that I still carry. I have lost some redundant items, but the weight change has really come from lightening the big three. Back then I counted pounds not ounces. I lost 4 pounds by changing packs, 3 by changing tents, and 2 by switching sleeping bags. I did this in a year, and could afford to thanks to ebay.

Then I found out about BPL, and after that I switched out of using white gas stoves and saved some more weight, and also started getting into lightweight clothing, and leaving extra shirts behind. The point is that I still feel safe in the backcountry, and perhaps more so because I am not getting fatigued on the trail. I think that is from focusing on being "prepared" rather than "equipped".

Juston Taul

Locale: Atlanta, GA
Good Read on 01/27/2010 00:30:08 MST Print View

Thanks for the article Brad. It spoke the truth. I too use to carry everything including the kitchen sink. My pack weights were up to 40-50 lbs at one point in time. Your article made me laugh because you basically described me. Backups of backups... items that were never used. How refreshing it is to carry a pack with base weights under 10 lbs. I don't feel that i'm lacking anything.

I think the fact that i've done so much research on subjects, and that I have learned so much through sites such as BPL, has allowed me to drop the weight. Knowledge for me equals less weight in my pack. Thanks again. Cheers mate.

Shontelle Adams
(shonkygirl) - F

Locale: Central Coast, Aus.
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/27/2010 02:10:59 MST Print View

Lynn, I appreciated your Southern Hemisphere perspective, having just returned from a 5 night / 6 day hike of a section of the Australian Alpine Walking Track where we experienced days of high 30's (Celsius) down to 5 degrees at night and the day after we left they had snow (so disappointed we missed that) I feel that I need to have equipment to handle the extremes.

However my pack is slowly getting lighter and mainly through actively registering everything that goes into my pack with its weight and considering it's purpose, then removing redundancies eg do I really need a full cutlery set - knife, fork, spoon, plus a pocket knife? Now I only take my pocket knife and a long handled spoon (would love to find a long handled spork). And of course a lot of my gear is getting lighter as I purchase new equipment/clothes. Really appreciate all the information and advice I find here on BPL.

Roger, I love the pictures, looks very similar to what I was walking through last week (minus the snow), can you tell me where exactly and what dates?


Peter Rattenbury
(MountainMule) - F

Locale: Australia
As Light as the Environment Allows. on 01/27/2010 03:13:47 MST Print View

I join others thanking Brad for his perspective. My perspective is one which comes from much tramping through New Zealand conditions, and boy, you need backup sometimes when its been seven days of solid rain, everything wet overhead, most of your gear saturated [ in spite of good husbandry and appropriate raingear]. So you travel as light as you can given the circumstances. Sometimes you need [not want ] a complete dry change of clothing for example. And some of the light kit designed for wide open spaces would be shredded in close-up bush bashing. That's why New Zealand gear has reputation for toughness born of experience. I guess conditions in Washington state and along the AT are comparable?
This is not to say Brad's principles do not apply. We match gear to the anticipated environment.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
There are no absolutes on 01/27/2010 06:24:28 MST Print View

Each trip should be taken on a case by case basis. The goal of a 3 pound base weight or 5 pound base weight or whatever is purely arbitrary; it's an academic exercise. That's why I always tell people that is it NOT about weight. Lightweight is simply the natural OUTCOME of packing in a much more thoughtful, considered and efficient way for every trip with it's given set of circumstances.

It's about being ultra-efficient. NOT ultra-light.

Edited by davidlewis on 01/27/2010 06:25:18 MST.

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
Being prepared on 01/27/2010 07:04:48 MST Print View


Great article and spot on on the difference between prepared and equipped. I have been backpacking for around 25 years and I used to carry packs up in the 60 pound range. I didn't really carry a lot of redundant items other than clothing. My epiphany came in 1995 and I've been working at lightening the load ever since. Like some others here my main weight savings has come in finding the lightest versions of the gear I want to take. Is there still redundancy? Yes, but only a little - mainly in my fire starting kit and lighting. I still take some items that are a bit heavier for the comfort factor but I'm putting in longer days and feeling less tired and that is a big part of being prepared. If you're too tired you don't handle situations well.

Brad Roberts

Locale: Colorado
Going through the same "enlightening" process... on 01/27/2010 07:47:36 MST Print View

I like your approach to lightening your load...based on functionality vs extreme ultralight. I am currently enjoying the process of lightening my load, but keeping the right comfort level. Can't believe how much useless crap I was carrying before. This website is the best thing to happen to backpacking since the invention of the backpack. Also, I have noticed that the best place to lighten my load is in my body weight! Cheers!

Nicholas Luhr
(nhluhr) - F
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 09:19:52 MST Print View


I appreciated your thoughts very much, especially the admonition not to think of ourselves as superior to the traditional crowd. Our job is to be ambassadors, educators, & enablers for the lightweight style of backpacking & to remember, as you did, that most of us were once "traditionalists". My epiphany came 3 years ago, when after being exhausted at the end of a 3 mile 1500' climb on the AT carrying a 60 lb. pack I had what I call my "Scarlett O'Hara moment" when I said, "As God is my witness, I will never carry a heavy backpack again!"
My buddy & I were able to recently cruise from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap on the AT in 3-1/2 days(a distance of 72 miles) with 14 lb packs. At the 3 shelters we stayed at along the way, we were asked lots of questions & enjoyed sharing our experiences & equipment details. I always refer people to this website as the most complete resource to start their lightweight transformation, should they so choose.
Thank you for your insightful article.


Please don't take this the wrong way, but when I read your message, I felt it still echoes a better-than-them mentality when you talk about being an "educator" and having an "epiphany" as if what you're doing now is the result of some holy enlightenment that "they" just haven't gotten yet and that "they" need your help to find.

Going light is a choice that comes with compromises. It is by no means the final word on wilderness travel.

I do everything, from ultra-minimal runs up the 3000ft 4mi Mount Si trail to over-equipped luxury dayhikes where I prepare a nice meal at a nice destination, to mountaineering where you're FORCED to abide by minimalist principles while also carrying a LOT of stuff because of the extremely variable nature of weather on high peaks.

Knowing how to minimalize your gear is just a small aspect of experienced backpacking and should NOT be your only focus nor does it give anybody the right to a smug treatment of people who are not choosing to go minimal.

Edited by nhluhr on 01/27/2010 09:25:32 MST.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 10:07:04 MST Print View

Hi, all- Thanks for your continued thoughts and comments!

Several people have mentioned that their major weight loss has happened in carrying lighter versions of equipment. I think that falls into the same mindset that I described. For myself, for example, I went from splitting the weight of a pretty massive mountaineering tent to splitting a tarp & bug tent insert. Instead of the D cell maglite I went to a AAA LED light. Instead of a white gas stove for 3-season trips I went to alcohol. I didn't need the extra "oomph" of the heftier versions I used to carry.

On the photos:
I'll confess that the portage pack in my vehicle is a solid 100 liters; I didn't weigh it, didn't have the heart. The chest pack in that photo has a film SLR with two lenses, filters, and other fun accessories. I think the pack was filled for a week.

The other photo is a self-made pack, 45L as filled w/12 days of food. The chest pack there is a Sea to Summit Big River 5L dry bag. I attached it to the shoulder harness w/a couple of cheapie mini biners. It has a piece of CCF on the bottom and wrapped tube-like inside; I carry a small digital camera, change of batteries, fire-starting/survival stuff, and lunch in the bag. Just 'cause someone will probably ask anyway, the chunk of blue foam at the bottom of the pack was to prevent the carbon arrow shaft of my frame from implanting itself into my body. (I had to do some field sewing w/webbing, and pad the end of the arrows so they didn't destroy the repairs, but otherwise the pack worked pretty well.)

David Neumann
(idahomtman) - M

Locale: Northern Idaho
Cognitive preparation on 01/27/2010 10:30:44 MST Print View

Thanks Brad for the great article. I have enjoyed reading the comments as well. Each environment and season has equipment requirements that will differ but the overall thesis of the article, I think, remains the same.

I enjoy the planning process which has lead to lower base weight and increased comfort, both on the trail and in camp. Lightening up is a process which requires skill, knowledge, money, and confidence which takes time to acquire. If nothing else, it has enabled me to increase my backpacking even as I approach retirement.

Gabe Joyes
(gabe_joyes) - F

Locale: Lander, WY
Good Article Brad on 01/27/2010 12:31:28 MST Print View

"Let me say that I have been extraordinarily offended by the strident self-righteousness and superiority expressed by some ultralighters."

Extremely well put!

I know this is not the focus of the article, but I too dislike the arrogance of some UL hikers. I am a huge fan of BPL, and I am always try go lighter, but everytime I read the mantra "Pack Less. Be More." I want to vomit a little. Backpacking is not about the gear on your back, its about your experience. A lightweight backpack does not make you a better person.

Johann kuester
(whirlpool) - F
Agreement on 01/27/2010 12:39:52 MST Print View

I have to agree with your article one hundred percent. I even wrote something similar recently, in a much more condensced form, under the General Board of the PACIFIC NORTHWEST TRAIL ASSOCIATION communication section, entitled, Thoughts On Survival. Your article is a good reflection of the philosophy of light weight gear and training, and using it to ones benefit. Couldn't agree more with what you wrote. Great article.

Dwight Mauk
(melnik) - M
Thanks on 01/27/2010 12:41:43 MST Print View


Thanks for the article. I've been backpacking for over 35-yrs, and I've only recently begun to put the money into lighter gear. In fact, I think you helped me pick my WM bag.

Off the point, is that Lake of the Clouds in one of your pictures?

Thanks again.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/27/2010 13:23:39 MST Print View

Hi Shontelle

AAWT end-to-end, April 1999, 31.5 days.

Top pic - going around Lake Albina. (It had snowed a few days earlier too.)
Bottom pic: heading N from McKeahanies Ck, just S of Happy Jacks Plain. The evening before had been quite warm and sunny.

Between Dead Horse Gap and Kiandra we went oof-trail cross-country, not on the 'official' route, because we know that country very well.


Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Acronyms on 01/27/2010 14:43:11 MST Print View

I enjoyed reading about your hiking history and how it has lead you to spare a few pounds and probably your knees too.

I would like to ask mainly BPL article reviewers to please consider non-native English speakers, of which I am one, when acronyms are used in an article. I'm able to extrapolate their meaning from the article, but just to be sure can someone please un-acronym :D for me:

EMT course

Thanx, Eins

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
Margins of error and ultralight on 01/27/2010 14:46:31 MST Print View

Regarding dealing with unpredictable weather/temperatures - warmer gear really isn't all that heavy if you pick carefully. An extra fleece vest or pullover might be 250-300g (9-10oz), my powerstretch balaclava weighs 50g/1.8oz. An extra 5-10oz of down fill spread between a jacket and a sleeping bag makes a massive difference to temperature range (remember the shell weight of either doesn't need to change, which is why I think jackets like the MB EX light aren't worthwhile). Always packing rain pants might cost less than 200g/7oz. Fleece gloves, same weight as balaclava, and always come in handy at night as pot holders + bug protection anyway. MLD's event mitts are 1oz.

And it does simplify your kit (and packing it) if it covers a broad range, it's too easy to fall into the trap of buying more and more gear to cover ever more specific ranges of conditions.

Regarding the wet, after many unpleasant nights trying to dry clothing in my sleeping bag, I don't bother. But my 'evening' dry clothing is very light (the main purpose being to just keep my down gear clean, and leave all the insulation to the down): it consists of some MB wind pants (60g/2.1oz), my windshirt (the one thing I *can* easily dry), a polypro balaclava (30g/1oz), a pair of running socks (40g/1.4oz) and a down jacket/vest. (And when my day clothing is dry, it can just stay on underneath that). Maybe I need slightly warmer down gear by not relying on my day baselayers+fleece, but down is so warm for the weight you need very little extra to compensate.

In winter when the days are short, I do take a spare light - when walking with a light if I dropped/lost/broke it, there are some places I *really* would not want to be stuck in the dark (eg steep ridge with bluffs all around in high winds + sleet). In these sorts of spots I would really like to give myself the best chance of being able to walk of trouble rather than having to hunker down. And if you are trying to squeeze every bit of walking out of the minimal daylight hours, it can be easy to get timings wrong and end up still moving in the dark.

...but, LED lights are really light (*ahem*) now, if you ignore the battery weight - since two batteries is just giving you more runtime anyway. My LD10 is 50g (1.8oz) plus battery, so not too extravagant.

Shelter wise, I haven't really put my tarp-like Patrol to serious wind tests (I tend to evacuate to less exposed spots), but shelters like the MLD Duomid seem pretty storm proof without any big weight cost.

So there's some redundancy there sure, but even a fairly big margin of error/unpredictability doesn't need to cost you much.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Acronyms on 01/27/2010 15:06:01 MST Print View


EMT = Emergency Medical Technician
EMS = Emergency Medical Services

Melissa Spencer
(melissaspencer) - F

Locale: PNW
Reality, redundancy, and knowledge on 01/27/2010 16:07:31 MST Print View


I completely agree with your article; I think your statement DOES apply to all situations. You stated, “I need to be prepared for reality, not for situations that could only happen "if Superman came down to fight a battle against an evil guy freezing Florida solid in July."

If your reality is that you live in a region of the world that is typically 40F at night, but can sometimes (even in the summer) get below 20F, then pack for that reality and carry equipment that will keep you safe to 20F (maybe not sweating hot, but safe).

If your reality is that you are hiking in a region of the world where the last time it froze was during the last ice age, pack for that reality and don’t carry equipment that will keep you warm to 20F. If some evil guy decides to freeze Hawaii or wherever solid, then it is the end of the world anyway.

Secondly, I completely agree with “being prepared, not redundant”. In emergencies, knowledge is more important than having redundant gear if you have to overcome the loss of functionality of a piece of gear. Here are some examples of knowledge that can eliminate gear redundancy:

Stove or fuel (or no one has a lighter or match): In the rare occasion that your well-cared-for primary stove fails, or if you run out of fuel, you can build a hobo fire and put your pot on it to cook with. If you can’t legally light a fire or it is too wet, eat your breakfast for dinner (and your dinner later in the trip). If you must eat your dinner for dinner, you can use cold water to soak your meal for half hour to 2 hours (depends on how cold the water is) and it will reconstitute (even mac and cheese). Many backpackers do this anyway and leave the stove at home.

Windscreen: Build one with rocks and put your sleeping pad on the other side of it to block the cracks.

Firestarter: If you run out of firestarter, or you need to make some, you already have everything in your pack that you need. If it is dry out, you can start with some moss or the shredded bark of cedars or redwoods, or make shreds with your knife. If you don’t, use a piece of crumpled paper from the corner of your map, journal, or guidebook, or cotton from your handkerchief, tampon, thread or first aid gauze. If you have none of that, use a piece of your base layer, pack towel or nylon bear rope (synthetic cloth is very flammable). Now, douse it with a petroleum product or alcohol: stove fuel, hand sanitizer, Vaseline lip care, or sun block. There you go: fire starter (I think the best is cotton smeared with Vaseline lip care).

Lighting: Know the battery life of your light and plan for the worst-case scenario—if you had to walk all through the night (maybe even for 2 nights) to make it out to a road. That means you need enough light to hang out in camp, plus however many hours of light the sun is not shining (sun set and sunrise are always predictable, know them for the area you are going into, as well as the phases of the moon). I always plan for the emergency of having to hike 2 nights to find a road. For example, if I am going out for 5 nights and I use 1 hour per night writing in my journal, then I find myself in a situation where I have to hike all through the night for 2 nights, I need 5+10+10 hours of light (assuming 10 hours of darkness) in the worst-case scenario. So, I throw a new battery in my 33-hour headlamp and I am more than prepared. I also carry a little pinch light. Not the brightest, but in the worst-case scenario, I could have 8 extra hours of light. It also uses the same battery as my watch, so there is another 8 hours if needed.

Anything short of the worst-case scenario you will be fine if you run out of light! You are an ultralighter, so you don’t have much in your pack and you know where it all is. You should be familiar enough with your pack and gear to set up your shelter in the dark. You can live without writing in your journal this time.

Water treatment: Boil your water. You may eat some unwanted pine needles or debris, but it will be nearly sterile pine needles or debris.

Patch kit/repairs: You really don’t need one. Bring a 1” x ½” piece of corrugated cardboard with a needle stabbed through the two layers and one big piece of thread wrapped around it. Duct tape works on shirts, packs, some trekking pole repairs, tents, shoes—even you (see below). Just bring 10+ feet of it wrapped around your water bottle or trekking pole.

First Aid: You can make almost anything (in a pinch) out of the things you already have:
- Sanitizing wipes- Soap/water is great if you carry it. Or use hand sanitizer gel and T.P., some of your alcohol for the stove, or your vodka (both mostly ethanol, which is used in the sanitizer wipes). Or if you use iodine or chlorine tablets for water treatment, make a solution of triple strength water (half or 1/3 the amount of water for one tablet) and rinse the wound.
- Sutures- Sterilize your sewing needle by bringing it to a boil or by burning with your lighter/matches
- Splint/sling- Use some wood or your pack frame and a shirt, handkerchief, bear line, or duct tape.
- Butterfly bandages- Rip or cut some duct tape into small strips
- Bandaids- T.P. and duct tape
- Blister prevention or protection- duct tape
- Ace bandage- handkerchief, shirt, or duct tape

Water bottle: What if you lose or puncture your water bottle? Trust me, you have a lot of things in your pack that will carry water in that rare situation. You cooking pot, your ziplocks, you map case, your Pringles container, even your pack liner if you had to.

Mid layer: Wear your sleeping bag.

Outer layer: Wear your tarp or tent fly like a poncho. Use your bear line to tie it on you.

Gloves: Wear your socks

Socks: If your feet are dangerously cold and all of your socks and your shoes are wet, take some of the plastic bags from your food and put them over your feet, under your sock. This will create a vapor barrier and your feet will be very wet and wrinkly and possible blister, but you will be warm.

Wet clothes or sleeping bag: If possible, dry them over a fire. Wet base layers can be worn to bed and will likely dry by morning. As long as they are not cotton, they will still add warmth.

Knife: Tent stake.

Tent stake: A stick and a large rock. Or a stuff sack full of rocks and buried (deadman). Or use some of your bear line and tie off to a tree.

Stuff sack: You don’t need one, but you could use your headnet.

I have used or seen people almost all of these items as backups when their one and only primary item failed or was lost, and we all survived. If you know your gear, the area you are hiking in (sunset/sunrise, phases of the moon, tides (sometimes), a little chemistry, and the basics of what each piece actually does for you, you already ARE carrying redundancy!

Thank you. Nice article.

Edited by melissaspencer on 01/27/2010 18:10:05 MST.

Jedd G
(JeddG) - F

Locale: SF Bay
"Just in case" on 01/27/2010 17:12:36 MST Print View

Great article! Do you carry any "just in case" items that don't get used in the course of a normal trip, or do you bring exactly what you need? I personally feel more comfortable bringing an emergency space blanket, even though I've never had to use it. 2.5 oz is worth it to me for the peace of mind that if it gets colder than expected, I'm prepared.

Edited by JeddG on 01/27/2010 17:14:09 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: "Just in case" on 01/27/2010 17:50:34 MST Print View

I carry quite a few "just in case" items. Really, everything except food, fire-starting and sometimes water is "just in case" in my books. I would survive without a raincoat, or as Melissa points out I could survive with very little. To me, the game is not about survival, so I DO carry redundancy, just not as much or as heavy as I used to. But really, for me personally, my journey to UL has gone through two stages. The first satge was before I had ever heard of UL, yet through experience alone I worked out that I didn't need a full cook set, and MSR white gas stove, a -20 sleeping bag, lots of spare clothes, an inflatable raft, etc...the second satge was the discovery of lighter alternatives to the remaining equipment I decided I still wanted (not always needed) to take with me. Now, some folks really WANT a bombproof everest ready tent, cook and sleep system, even when merely venturing out for a weekend in the Sierra. I am totally fine with that in the category of HYOH. I also admit that I would not be happy to send my unexperienced child out with a group of other children (and adults) such as scouting, without knowing there was a large safety margin in how the group was equipped. Horses for courses. The worst experience I had as a young adult was a three day trip into the Lone Pine region with a leader who didn't even check our gear. I truly almost froze as unexpected snow and wind descended on us, as did many other kids on that trip. We couldn't get a fire started, and we had "planned" on learning some foraging techniques which didn't eventuate. Second worse outdoor experience was on the Colorado river in summer where my only shelter was my up-turned kayak. I was eaten alive by mosquitos in night long pouring rain and thunderstorms, and nearly gave up ever going into the outdoors again. I did not have the skills to look after myself, and would never send my kids on such ill-equipped trips. One of my happiest young outdoor memories was with a group into the Trinity Alps on a five day trip. My starting weight was 55 lbs (I was a 110 lb female), yet I had everything I needed to be comfortable and feel secure. The next year I went on the same trip, but solo, and I fell and broke my femur half down an icefield. I was so totally ill-equipped for that scenario that the contents of my pack forever changed, including the addition of good pain killers, spare water, a warmer bag and mat (I wasn't planning on sleeping on ice!!!) bear spray and signaling devices to name a few items, and a partner...So if I am overly cautious with how much equipment I now carry, I am still happy that at least it is now lighter equipment. So I guess you could say that I am definitely not out to convert anyone, and I definitely will never be SUL, but I really enjoy my trips now, even in the worst imaginable circumstances (broken bones aside). I also now carry a PLB, especially if I am solo. It's equipment I hope I never have to use (as is my raincoat ;-), but wouldn't leave at home either.

Melissa Spencer
(melissaspencer) - F

Locale: PNW
RE: Reality, redundancy, and knowledge on 01/27/2010 18:09:05 MST Print View

I just wanted to add that I was not suggesting that people stop carrying all the items that I listed. I was saying that for some of the items, in the rare occasion that something were to happen to your primary item, that you could use other things in lieu of carrying a second item.

Great discussion guys!

Edited by melissaspencer on 01/27/2010 18:27:51 MST.

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 19:51:31 MST Print View

Knowing how to minimalize your gear is just a small aspect of experienced backpacking and should NOT be your only focus nor does it give anybody the right to a smug treatment of people who are not choosing to go minimal.

If you could explain where exactly Brad or the person you quoted is making the argument that minimizing gear should be the only focus, it would help me to better understand your annoyance.

As it stands, I'm confused as to why an experienced backpacker would bring more gear than/she needed.

Also helpful would examples of smug treatment of people who choose not to go minimal, better than thou attitudes,etc.
I mean -
At the 3 shelters we stayed at along the way, we were asked lots of questions & enjoyed sharing our experiences & equipment details. I always refer people to this website as the most complete resource to start their lightweight transformation, should they so choose. -doesn't strike me as particularly smug, self righteous or better-than-thou.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 20:03:17 MST Print View

I doubt the poster was referring to Brad as being smug. After all, Brad did say: "Let me say that I have been extraordinarily offended by the strident self-righteousness and superiority expressed by some ultralighters"

I have seen this kind of smugness at times on this board, and for some folks the enlightenment that comes from discovering UL can be a little bit of a religious experience, But basically no one really likes an evangelist, and most of us here recognise this and try to avoid openly judging folks who carry heavier loads than us by choice or ignorance. UL is a philosophy, not a manifest, and there is a spectrum that stretches all the way from a Bear Grylls approach to a 45lb or more load such as carried by Ryan on his arctic 1000. Most of us (but maybe not all) accept the HYOH philosophy as being more important than being the kid with the slickest gear UL list!

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Familiar vs unfamiliar terrain. on 01/27/2010 20:20:55 MST Print View

In the northeast, I'm pretty familiar with the range of conditions and can plan based on season and route. This ranges from carrying almost nothing in summer dayhikes in southern New England to carrying lots of gear above treeline.

In other places I need to be more careful because I don't necessarily know what I'm doing. Unless I find a local mentor to teach me what to carry and how to use it, I probably need to carry more gear. In unfamiliar territory I may travel more slowly than at home, especially bushwhacking.

For potential emergencies, I usually carry communication gear (cell phone, ham radio handheld). In places where I don't know that they work, I really have to think about carrying a PLB or Spot. Lynn's broken femur gives pause. I'm glad you got out OK and carry on with your outdoor activities.

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Re, Re, Re, Re: Be Prepared, not equipped. on 01/27/2010 21:06:01 MST Print View

Wow! To think that I became a smug, self-righteous, holier/better-than-thou evangelist in one day as a result of misinterpreted "Gone With the Wind" southern humor! My friends & family are going to be so impressed! Don't worry, I'm pretty sure that Nicholas' remarks were directed at me, not Brad, but hey, that's the price one pays for such "smugness" ;)

Edited by jameslantz on 01/27/2010 21:08:12 MST.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Carrying things because of fear on 01/27/2010 23:17:01 MST Print View

I like Doug Prosser's observations that people carry things because of fear. Once we realize that, we can address the fear with planning.

For example, if I know that I can walk out in a day from any point on my trek (true for lots of places), that can reduce a lot of "emergency" gear.

It is OK to cut a trip short if the weather gets crazy bad. Go another time. We did that last weekend -- muddy, slippery trails, low snow level, and short days didn't leave enough safety factor, so we had a lazy morning, explored a bit, and headed home a day early. Still a great weekend.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Carrying things because of fear on 01/28/2010 08:13:09 MST Print View

I like the phrase "appropriate paranoia". I hike with some "be equipped" people who I term "bombproof backpackers"

Hiking solo in sparsely hiked areas is an entirely different ballgame in being equipped. Risk goes up even with carrying a PLB for the rare incapacitating illness/injury where help may not arrive for up to 24 hours or more. I really appreciated this when I got a virus on a group hike that took me out in minutes to hours. It makes one think about how they would have "performed" if it had been a solo outing. Staying dry, warm and hydrated should then be your immediate goals.

Actually, I've always thought of prepared/equipped as going hand in hand. Preparedness to me is being appropriately equipped with gear and knowledge for the given trip.

Edited by jshann on 01/28/2010 10:03:27 MST.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Just in case on 01/28/2010 09:22:29 MST Print View

Thanks for all your continued comments and conversation!

A few specific responses: Dwight, the photo was from Isle Royale, but I'm not sure if it was on the Greenstone after Ojibway tower, or if it was taken on the Minong not far out of McCargo.

Jedd and all: I do carry some "just in case" stuff. In general I pack with no tolerance for being cold, wet, or uncomfortable. I pack enough clothing to be plenty warm, I carry a cushy pad, complete rain gear, and so forth. I also know and accept that at some point my feet are going to be wet and cold, that there'll be a morning I have to wake up and put on wet clothes and go. But that's just not a big deal. A typical pack list is on the community gear lists. I do carry a survival kit and a fixed-blade knife, and some basic first aid conveniences.

My survival kit: emergency blanket, a couple large-ish pieces of aluminum foil, 40' of 250# spectra line, 25' of 500# spectra line, needle and thread, ferro rod, signal mirror, petro-jel cotton balls double-wrapped in foil, and a whistle. I can create shelter, start fire, boil water, and signal for help, and the packet is small enough to easily fit in my pocket. Along w/the survival kit I carry the Grohmann Boat Knife, great for all kinds of camp chores and getting fires going in wet conditions.

My current first aid kit is a couple micro tubes of superglue, a maxipad, a mess of assorted bandaids (I tend to get cracked fingertips on trips), a little antibiotic ointment, and that's about it. I do carry enough ibuprofen for 2 x 800mg/per day, and enough Benadryl for 4 per day. I also started carrying some antifungal powder in a small bottle, but that's more of a "toiletries" thing. I think that's about it; I can fabricate whatever else as needed.

Melissa, liked your feedback and thoughts on multiuse. David, like you said, it's ultimately more about efficiency than just weight. Actually, when I talk to people about carrying a lighter pack, I don't talk about ultralight at all. I just talk about it as backpacking. When you box things in too tightly people have narrow expectations. I just try to create awareness that you can carry less stuff, still be safe, warm and dry, and ultimately have more fun on the trips. In the shop I'll point out how cool technology has gotten... for example, you could carry a full-size 0.75" Z-lite, or you could carry a full-size, 2.5" thick mattress for the same weight and a little more warmth... and, oh, the thicker pad packs down about 5 times smaller than the z-lite. (The Neo isn't always the answer, just an example here!)

Some other thoughts I've had while reading your comments are that the Zipka light I used to carry weighed 2.3oz w/batteries. I never brought spare batteries, because the light would burn 120 hours on one set. I had the same batteries in that LED light for 4 or 5 years. My new light doesn't have such long run time, and I might bring an extra lithium battery, but if it comes down to it and my light burns out... no worries. I have a pack full of gear. I'd stay the night and hike out in the day. But then, I don't backpack when it's dark. Day hike/ski/snowshoe, sure. Or maybe an easy overnight in to a cabin, etc. But that's about it.

I'd also like to point out that I've met many BPLers, and have referred a lot of people to the site. Although many of our frequent forum posters might be in the 10# pack range, I know through personal conversations that many of the people following our discussions don't carry such loads... and that's fine! I regularly meet people who still have a 15-30 pound base, and those people do follow the things we do here. They take what works for them from the site, and apply it to their interpretation or end desires for their backpacking experience. So what if someone carries a 20# 3-season base? Maybe they cut back from a 50# base, and they're tickled pink at carrying such a light pack. There's room for all of us here, and we can all learn from each other's different perspectives.

Anyhoozit, cheers, all! Look forward to hearing some more of your thoughts.

Edited by 4quietwoods on 01/28/2010 10:42:19 MST.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: Acronyms on 01/28/2010 11:33:50 MST Print View


EMT = Emergency Medical Technician
EMS = Emergency Medical Services"

John, I got the E and M right, thanx for clearing up the T and S.


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/28/2010 13:32:48 MST Print View

I too have been thinking a bit more about this thread. Last night I realised that my longest term regular hiking buddies fit into this category:

"I met a guy recently who takes great pride and (stated) pleasure in carrying a 120-POUND pack. Even for long weekends. He told me it was great"

We often hike with a married couple who have had the same bombproof 3.7kg MacPac Olympus tent, and heavy sleeping bags, MSR white gas stove with 8 oz heat exchanger, set of two stainless steel pots (1.3 and 2 litre with fry pan lid), really rugged canvas packs and a host of other 'heavy' gear. They always carry some fresh fruits and veggies, lots of bowls, cups, cutlery, super thick Thermarest know, all the traditional gear we used to all carry. Thing is, they're both happy on their hikes, and proud. Proud because the husband is really fit and strong, so he carries most of the load, and it barely slows him down, so he feels like a real man. She's proud because her husband acts like a real man and is a good 'provider'. They are proud because their gear has lasted for over a decade of heavy use. They are proud because they are prepared for anything, and indeed they have even had call to use their PLB once. There is no way I would or should even consider convincing them that my way is better than theirs, or that they would be safer or have more enjoyable trips if they went lighter.

However, this all changes when we want to do a 'girl's trip' sometimes, and hubby stays at home. We then find that the wife is ill prepared to carry the gear she has available to her, yet she won't accept offers from the rest of us to borrow some lighter gear for these trips. She fears gear that is unfamiliar and distrusts lighter alternatives. So she slows us down, and doesn't really have that much fun :( It is at this level that my evangelism is prone to kick in, and I often have to bite my tongue, and refuse to take some weight off of her.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/28/2010 14:10:03 MST Print View


Edited by jshann on 01/30/2010 19:06:50 MST.

Dale Crandall
(dlcrandall) - M

Locale: North Cascades
Prepared and Equipped on 01/29/2010 23:53:00 MST Print View

I've enjoyed this good provocative essay and thread. I want to summarize a classic regime for cutting down the gear and weight. These ideas are not mine nor new.

“BE PREPARED” to survive and hike another trip:
Rule 1: The only unforeseen event that you must “Be Prepared” for is to be found alive within 2 or 3 days of the time when someone starts real search and rescue looking for you;
Rule 2: Be sure that you make a plan and carry what is necessary to assure success of Rule 1 in the specific environment of that trip;
Rule 3: No clothing or equipment is critical (as opposed to comfortable) except for what is needed to assure the success of Rule 1.
EXAMPLE: The only real danger here in the North Cascades and similar mountain environments is hypothermia in some combination with injury, wandering so far off your stated route that searchers are looking in the wrong place, or not being able to signal your location to searchers. You won't die of hunger, thirst, wild animals, snakes, mosquitoes (well, probably not), giardia or anything other than hypothermia. You may be miserable, but you won't die. That said, hypothermia is a serious threat. Nearly every year, a few climbers, hikers, hunters, and back-country skiers here get caught in bad weather. Many went out just for the day. Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood are especially notorious. (See links below) Unpredictable weather, especially blowing rain, fog and unpredicted snow (below is a picture taken on the PCT on August 15 this summer) can make you dangerously wet and cold, interfere with making a fire, and obscure you and your attempts to signal searchers until the storm passes.
To address this risk, for this example of risk environment:
a) Be sure that people at home know your route and the time you are supposed to be out;
b) Take some combination of clothing, blanket, bivy or shelter that will keep you dry under a tree or rock ledge in blowing sleet;
c) Be sure you know how (practice it) to build a big fire in the rain with natural materials and be able to keep it going day and night for warmth and smoke (signal) production, and carry the fire starters and tinder (this may the only necessary redundancy of any gear) to be sure you can do it.
With this minimal baseline of planning your route, clothing, shelter, and fire starters, you can then quickly prune your gear list to what you want carry to “Be Equipped”. If you make a bad guess on a Rule 3 item, you'll live, you'll get the chance to innovate, and it will make a good story.

“BE EQUIPPED” only with what you can't comfortably do without (after trying) on the foreseen conditions of a trip. DON'T try to “be equipped” for “possible” non-life-threatening events – meet them as they come and be resourceful.
These methods work for a lot of people:
a) During a trip, don't use anything unless you are forced to use it in order to reach your personal level of comfort and enjoyment – just leave it in the pack, and try to let lightness and simplicity fill the comfort space of the sequestered item;
b) After each trip, take out every single thing you did not use on that trip, (except for the Rule 2 items);
c) Never add anything to your pack unless you know you will use it to reach your personal level of comfort and enjoyment for the conditions of that particular trip (snow, climbing, night hiking, rain in the forecast, etc.), or it is a Rule 2 item for that particular trip; then take those special items back out after that trip;
d) Do keep looking for some lighter item that performs the same function as a heavier one, or a multiple use item that allows you to do away with a single use item with resulting less complication, volume and net weight;
e) Have more fun;
f) Repeat a) through e).


Pacific Crest Trail August 15, 2009

Why this is important:

Edited by dlcrandall on 10/09/2010 17:55:21 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
an old story on 01/30/2010 00:42:49 MST Print View

Once maybe 10-20 years ago, there was a U.S. Marine who was off duty and taking a simple day hike in a wilderness area just north of Yosemite National Park. He had gotten some miles from the road, and had virtually nothing for gear. He fell of a cliff trail and landed at the bottom of a ravine with two broken legs. Nobody really knew that he was there, so nobody was looking for him. His military training kicked in, and he slept in a "squirrel's nest" of leaves. He drank raw stream water and basically just survived as best he could. I believe after 2-3 weeks, he was able to crawl back up the hill and crawl those miles out to the road, and he recovered in a hospital. You have to admit that he was mentally prepared for survival, if not well equipped.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Complimentary Aspects on 01/30/2010 17:13:31 MST Print View

To me the "enlightenment" of learning about lightweight backpacking after decades of using traditional gear seemed to be complimentary to a mindset of lightweight skills.

Almost automatically, as one goes lightweight, comes the concentration on doing the same with less - less weight and less gear.

i.e. one cook pot, not two, a SteriPen and not a water filter, Freezer Bag Cooking and not traditional freeze-dried food, etc.

But along the way I've discovered that I won't sacrifice the sleeping comfort of my ancient Thermarest Lite, regular length for a CCF 3/4 length pad, or my TarpTent Moment for a bivy or tarp. And an internal frame, LW pack is, to me, more comfortable than a lighter framless pack.

It's a learning process and a lot of the learning, as the author infers, is not so much about equipment as skill set of "doing more with less". Finding a better, safer camp site, a cleaner water source, understanding the weather signals of clouds, knowing your first aid well, etc.

I'm not a "survivalist" or minimalist but I CAN survive if I am forced to because I've taken the time to learn and practice survival skills. No, a bow drill won't likely start a flame but it WILL start embers that you can blow into a flame. You need to know that.

Finally, knowing the strengths of your group helps. A good routefinder is given that task, an EMT or paramedic is the go-to person for first aid, and a good cook is priceless. These are skill sets that are complimentary to a safer, more enjoyable hike.


Edited by Danepacker on 01/31/2010 18:12:13 MST.

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
"Be Prepard, Not Equipped" on 02/03/2010 20:33:40 MST Print View

Brad - Excellent article! I think if I were going to teach an intro-to-lightweight-backpacking class, I'd use your article as a place to begin.

I began lightening my load a year or so ago. Now, instead of buying the newest things on the market, for each item, I stop and think first about its use, its practicality, its weight, and its necessity. It has made a big difference!

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: "Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 02/05/2010 08:33:50 MST Print View

Kathy, thanks for the props!

Jay Bonzani
(UltraBound) - F

Locale: NE Oregon
Great Article on 02/05/2010 10:33:05 MST Print View

I wish i could print this out and keep copies in my pack to give to people i see on the trails. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Great Article on 02/09/2010 10:10:48 MST Print View


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
But Being Prepared Means Being Equipped!! on 02/21/2010 20:21:51 MST Print View

Nice piece of work, Brad. But you and I and our small band here are no match for them marketing folks at TNF, MH, Gregory, Arcteryx... you name it!

"Better to have it and not need it", the saying goes, "then to need it and not have it". And thus the cash registers never stop ringing...

Brian Ahlers
(bahlers7) - F

Locale: Idaho
Great Article! on 03/22/2010 09:58:55 MDT Print View

Thank you for the insight. That was a great article.