To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack?

Essentials commentary from BackpackingLight reader, Jim Bailey.

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by Jim Bailey | 2008-07-15 00:00:00-06

Essentials Bailey - 1

During a discussion with an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) backcountry caretaker (a worker who supervises tent platforms and composting operation at remote tent sites scattered throughout New Hampshire and Maine), this individual mentioned he had witnessed a packing style which he referred to SUL, or Stupid Ultra Light.

The reason for this slanderous term involved two northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who, once they arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire, had decided that they were going to carry a bare minimum in pack weight in order to hike in a fast and light style through the Whites and Maine, on to their final destination of Mt. Katahdin.

The disconnect came when the pair chose to ditch their sleeping bags and insulated clothing, since they were traveling in the "summer" month of August. By the time the two had arrived after dark at the Imp campsite, they were hypothermic and in dire need of assistance from the caretaker mentioned above. The AMC employee ending up staying up all night brewing tea and letting them borrow any spare clothing and insulated items he had on hand to stay warm. Unfortunately, this left the AMC worker with a bit of a sore spot regarding UL/SUL because of these two hikers' irresponsible actions.

Understanding his point of view, we both agreed that insulation and clothing systems were something to take very seriously, depending on the region and time of year a person might be trekking.

Each year, I have run into a small number of backpackers going out for an overnight trip, and at the last minute they decide against bringing a sleeping bag. Their logic is that it was warm where they drove up from, and they will be housed in a warm tent...therefore, a blanket should be all that they might need. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common theme with hikers unaccustomed to summer months in the northeastern mountains. The outcome is usually the same: a cold and sleepless night spent shivering, leaving the hiker with a miserable hike out.

The proper clothing, combined with a sleep system to get one through a twenty-four-hour period, factoring in the nighttime low temperatures for the specific area one would be traveling through, are my most essential items.

You can read more essentials commentary from Backpacking Light Publisher, Ryan Jordan, and from readers Allison Miller and Mark Henley.


Citation

"To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack?," by Jim Bailey. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/essentials_bailey.html, 2008-07-15 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack?


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack? on 07/16/2008 10:51:10 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack?

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: To Pack or Not to Pack? What constitutes an 'essential' item in a lightweight hiker's overnight pack? on 07/16/2008 11:16:37 MDT Print View

Hello Jim. There are those who don't consider the range of conditions/possibilities they will encounter when in the backcountry and go so light AND don't have the skills to improvise when they encounter an injury or weather change they didn't expect. As "educated" lightweight backpackers it's our mission to encourage lightweight travel WITH the responsibility and skilly needed to be safe.

jim bailey
(florigen) - F - M

Locale: South East
To pack or not to pack on 07/16/2008 12:15:31 MDT Print View

Hey Kevin,
Would completely agree that the right skill set along with an idea of expected conditions are critical. I’m guessing the vast majority who travel in a UL manner are experienced & have done the research before starting out at the trail head. Educating the public is something that really needs to be done up here, does not seem to be many of us in this part of the country. Retailers & outdoor institutions don’t seem to be getting involved with UL seriously & people seem to be jumping in mostly with what they have found on this web site (really good!) or have been advised by a retailer/fellow hiker. Try to promote UL when asked on this end, seems like still a pretty new concept up here that is slowly catching on, actually saw 3 separate hikers over the past weekend sporting Golite packs, was great.
Cheers
Jim

Edited by florigen on 07/16/2008 18:06:41 MDT.

Thom Kendall
(kendalltf) - F

Locale: IL
Re "To Pack or Not to Pack?" on 07/19/2008 17:38:06 MDT Print View

Reading this reminds me of a story we like to tell about "pilgrims". As a buckskinner I do historical reenactments
and blackpowder shots. We can tell pilgrims because they come through the supply tents and buy up everything they "think" they need. I have seen the same with ultralight. I believe it more important with ultralight more than any other form of camping to research products and and conditions of the area you are working in. I think you should start with haveing to much equipment and as you camp weed out items not needed. Just my thoughts.