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How light is light enough?
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Bill B
(bill123) - MLife
How light is light enough? on 02/21/2008 12:02:25 MST Print View

I’ve enjoyed reading Jim’s pack weight poll. I haven’t done the math, but I suspect that the average pack weight from that thread is 7-8 lbs. So here’s my question. At what point does reducing pack weight stop being about practical weight reduction and start becoming an exercise in gram counting for gram counting’s sake.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of people who take multi-day backpacking trips with a 5 lb (or lighter) pack. If you are reducing pack weight (and the amount of gear that you carry) to see how light you can go or to test your limits, that’s an admirable goal, but from a physiological standpoint, is there a difference between the amount of energy that you expend carrying an 8 lb pack vs. a 5 lb pack?

Dan McHale, on his letter page brings up an excellent point. If you calculate the weight of your body, clothing and pack weight including consumables, the percentage difference of a few pounds is much less that 1%. Can your body really feel that at the end of a day?

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/21/2008 13:19:52 MST Print View

The point In my opinion, where it dosent make sense to try and reduce weight, is when your safety is compromised (not enough insulation/ protection from the elements, food.. ect.) It is important to go as light as possible, but still be prepared for the trip

some may argue, that the point is when comfort is sacrificed. for some this is more weight than others.

When I first joined this website, I was obsessed with reducing my pack weight. I even made a list of full skin out weight under 5lbs. I cut down, shaved off everything I could. I destroyed a few thing, and compromised the function of others.

I learned alot on how to reduce weight in these attempts, but also learned that it is not always worth it, and often, weight should not be my primary concern.

I strive now to build my gearlists as light as possible, taking into consideration, the specific needs of each individual trip. I sacrifice some comfort, but usually not function.

I usually carry 7-8lbs now compared to sub 5. but I feel much more prepared and comfortable because of it.

Take a look at the lists from Ryan Jordan's long trips, and Skurka's thru hikes. they usually range from 7-9 lbs base weight. but they are much more complete, and durable than sub 5 lb lists used on weekend trips...

Ultralight however is alot different than Ultrasimple. I still go sub 5 on occasion, but not because I cut the straps off all my gear so much that they no longer perform. Its because I just take the bare minimum, and dont cook.
But this is only on overnight trips. for multiday, I make sure I am prepared, with a blend of ultralight, durable, and functional gear pieces

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
re: How light is light enough? on 02/21/2008 13:31:00 MST Print View

As I recall, every edition of Colin Fletcher's Complete Walker had the same advice about pack weight:

1. If you need something, take it.
2. Strive to reduce the weight of everything you take to the extent possible.

I didn't pull out my current copy to verify this (I vaguely recall that he may have added a 1a or 2a in the form of "try to get sensible double usage when possible" in CW4) - but he had it right for about 40 years, long before "ultralight" became a formal crusade.

john flanagan
(jackfl) - F

Locale: New England
re: How light is light enough? on 02/21/2008 13:40:13 MST Print View

I think Ryan's experience is common. Like him, I obsessed, learned and then started to back off. I now find that I'm sliding back toward favoring comfort and have to reimpose some discipline about it. It provides ample opportunity for that other hobby - messing about with gear :~P

David Passey
(davidpassey) - F

Locale: New York City
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/21/2008 13:51:29 MST Print View

I find it hard to get base weight down to 5lbs w/o seriously compromising (in my view) function and comfort.

On the other hand, with today's light materials, base weights between 6 and 10lbs seem easily acheivable, and there's a lot of room within that band for individuals to budget the ounces to reflect their own strategies and preferences.

For me, that's what makes gear planning fun--designing a perfect ultralight kit for a trip.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 06:27:27 MST Print View

Yep, same here with the weight thingy. Mine is about 7-8 pounds and that is comfy for me. For 3 season, I have my system set straight, so unless the same piece of gear comes out that is lighter, it's staying at that weight. I do the bivy/tarp thing with a half quilt and down jacket. The only way I would want to lighten up is replacing my gear with lighter identical gear...but when I do the math, it doesn't add up. example - I have a tigoat bivy at 7.9 ounces. Am I going to spend 200-300 to save ~3 oz? Not likely. Same with my S2S Poncho/Tarp @ 10oz. Maybe I would go the MLD route, but with an 8 week wait and $170, I'll stick it out (but man I want that poncho!).
Winter gear is becoming more fun for me...only because there is so much more to it. And staying warm and having fun demands a little more.
Simplicity is sometimes chosen over weight. I use a freestanding tent with my girlfriend and the winter - sometimes I find it difficult to pitch non-FS tents in some places and I just can't be bothered to spend the time to get branches, rocks, dig holes to help keep it up...I'm lazy at the end of the day.
Really, as I pare my list down, the MYOG section appeals to me more and more...probably a lot of people in the same situation.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 02/22/2008 06:32:38 MST.

shawn weld
(Spoon) - F

Locale: NorthEast
How light is light enough on 02/22/2008 06:56:53 MST Print View

I personally fall in the 7 to 9 pound range. I don't want to sacrifice a good night sleep. If I don't sleep well, I'm not hiking well. Still, if i could get my weight down without sacrificing, I would. For me it is an obsession. Sometimes I wonder if I'm more of a shopper than a hiker (I love gear). I often find myself spending lots of time and money trying to reduce my pack weight by a few ounces all while sitting at my computer putting on extra pounds reading the latest posts and eating handfuls of gorp.

Mike Hinsley

Locale: England, UK
How light is light enough on 02/22/2008 08:21:59 MST Print View


At some point you realise you are chasing grams for the sake of grams rather than for comfort or endurance.

I've started to add weight back into my pack - to increase load-carrying efficiency and to increase versatility.

For example on the next trip into the hills I am quite likely to take a single-skin tent (DIY) and a pertex bivy and a micro-tarp. The extra weight will probably be 200g in total and will still be less than 1Kg for ALL of the shetler variations in total.

But for that I can sleep comfortably under the stars in the hills if it is cold and windy and have a comfortable shelter if rain moves in.

These days I dislike pitching a tent on a cloudless night but also in the hills you often need a windbreak and unless you've brought one with you you are stuck.

There's also a point at which kit becomes quite fragile for the weight and that increases the risk on any trip into wilderness areas where a replacement might be difficult.

I tend to use a cost-per-gramme principle. So once the big stuff is taken care of is it worth spending $100 to save 50g?

Or is it worth replacing Gridstop Dyneema with Spinnaker if the result is you cannot walk through a forest without sweating it?

Edited by ArchNemesis on 02/22/2008 08:25:56 MST.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: How light is light enough on 02/22/2008 08:32:37 MST Print View

I agree with the comments above. While hiking light and fast with less effort is great, I want a good night sleep, to eat well, bug protection and comfort in the knowlwdge that I can walk through the woods and not have to worry about my gear falling apart.

Frank Perkins

Locale: North East
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 12:56:36 MST Print View

Of the 9 posters, only 3 have gear lists posted. Come on guys, let me see this 6-7lb gear lists!

[Thanks Steve!]

Edited by fperkins on 02/22/2008 13:58:57 MST.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 13:15:20 MST Print View

My apologies Frank - My list is up now, I used that one for 5 days last year in Killarney Provincial Park (La Cloche Silhouette Trail).
Quite a few items on there for 7-8 lbs.

Frank Perkins

Locale: North East
Re: Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 14:02:21 MST Print View

Thanks Steve, I updated my post above.

It takes a real man to admit to bring a pillow and a monocular! ;-)

Hrm... you do have guts for going with the ARC A.T. quilt though... I wimped out and went with the Specialist (which I'm painfully waiting for)

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 14:33:47 MST Print View

How light is light enough?
When we have an army of nanobots on a single eyebrow hair on stand by.
When you get to your destination they are programed to anticipate that you have arrived and proceed to fly into the enviroment collecting molocules to build the perfect shelter according to local conditions and regulations.
When your ready to break camp the next day they put the molocules back where they found them as if no one was there (LNT programing). Comming this fall: to meet the demands of our consumers we are offering a LNT software patch that will enable the nanobots to remove all traces you leave on the enviroment from footprints,skin cells, hair to carbondioxide exhaltations- Hike light!
(nanobots now 15% lighter)

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/22/2008 15:06:44 MST Print View

Frank, first off, LOL.

Second...those are an example of the items that I choose to bring with me (monocular and the pillow) that boost my base weight but can easily be left behind. If I dropped those two items and my camera, for example, I would be over 1/2 pound lighter. But that pillow is pure enjoyment, and I enjoy snapping pics of my trip...and it only takes one time to see a bear/moose just a bit out of good sight to pick up the monocular. :)

Nuna stuff is awesome - I had to wait 6 weeks too...painful indeed!

Also, you have the best gearlist I've ever seen...with pics and explanations!

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
your goals on 02/22/2008 17:07:28 MST Print View

It depends on your goals.

If you just want to walk longer and farther, it's technically a waste of time to do more than read Beyond Backpacking and then go down to REI and pick out the lightest stuff you imagine you can get away with. (WTF??)

Yah I said it. Here's what I mean:

Lots of people here have spent 1000+ hours getting their base weights from 15lbs - 5lbs. If they'd spent those hours in the gym, they'd walk farther faster with less difficulty and more safety -- and have more fun doing it.

But the point is that it's not necessarily about walking farther faster with less difficulty and having more fun. For a lot of people it's mental gymnastics, escapism, and a hobby. And you can't quantify the value of those things. Ask a model railroader how much railroad is enough!

The real cost in time and money of dropping your base weight would never stand a comparison to the benefit received on your 5 or 10 (or 2) trips a year. But the real benefit, as any hobbyist knows, is intangible.


PS for older folks, the injured, people walking thousands of miles, and people with medical conditions it's definitely worth 1000 hours to go from 15lbs to 5. There are lots of specific cases, but this thread is speaking in generalities...

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Light Enough on 02/23/2008 00:06:12 MST Print View

Folks simply put....HIKE YOUR ON HIKE. If you want to bring something, that is your busines. If you don't then that is your business. The most important thing is just to get out and enjoy yourself. Decompress and get back to nature. Some of the repsonses on this thread that I have read made me wince and some made me laugh. People, do you own thing, and don't question others motives

Matthew Swierkowski
(Berserker) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: How light is light enough? on 02/26/2008 10:01:52 MST Print View

I would recommend testing this out for yourself. Yeah, I know I'm the HEAVY WEIGHT guy from the weight poll, but I actually mess around with lighter weights during my training to keep the strain down on my knees. I do a lot of training where I walk on local trails with one of my packs with various amounts of weight in it. Usually I vary the weight from 18 - 35 lbs. I have found at 18 lbs that there is not a huge difference between 18 lbs and not carrying anything. I have found that the difference between 18 lbs and 30 lbs seems to be fairly significant though. So like I said, try it out for yourself. It's obviously going to vary widely between people based on phycsical condition, age, etc.

Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
How light is enough? on 02/27/2008 09:47:07 MST Print View

>>> I have found at 18 lbs that there is not a huge difference between 18 lbs and not carrying anything.

I'm not going to say you are wrong on this, I'm not you so how would I know? But Roman Dial's article is interesting:

His experience is a lot different. He shows that for him, every pound he drops below 20lbs or so, it increases his daily mileage exponentially. Dropping a pound off at 10lbs increases his mileage incredibly. Check it out.

Bill B
(bill123) - MLife
How light is light enough? on 02/27/2008 11:00:15 MST Print View

Ryan, that article of Roman's looks like the kind of information that I was looking for.

Personally, my pack weight is around 10 lbs. However, it includes a 2 3/4 lb pack that I'll never get rid of and
1 1/2 lbs of gear that make my solo trips more palatable to my family.

I don't have any long distance hiking plans in the near future (if ever) and I end my hiking days with plenty of energy to spare. So, for the time being I have little motivation to lower my pack weight significantly.

Thanks for all of your responses!

Matthew Swierkowski
(Berserker) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: How light is enough? on 02/27/2008 11:14:49 MST Print View

Yeah, after going out this morning with 18 lbs on and feeling a little beat right now you are probably right. So I'll just stick to my "try it for yourself" advice. One could do a controlled experiment where one tries different weights and does the same trail to see what the different weights feel like, and how speed and distance is affected.

I'll be sort of doing this over the next few months. I have set up a training schedule for myself for a long trip I have planned this summer. In order to get in shape I plan to start carrying one of my packs with weight in it. I will start with 18 lbs and slowly over several weeks ramp up to 33 lbs (this is my estimated starting full load weight for the trip).

At any rate, I'll check out the linked article. Thanks.