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When have you gone too light?
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Nicole Chilton
(nicole) - F
When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 08:21:56 MDT Print View

Hi all,

I'm working on an article for BPL that asks the question, "when have you gone too light?".

This is a wide-open topic. Any suggestions, stories or ideas of any nature on this would be great.


Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 09:11:31 MDT Print View

Hi Nicole,

I'm guessing that 99% of us, even after cutting our base weights below 10 lbs or even more, could always cut a little more. Personally, the only time I've ever gone 'to light' is when I've forgotten something.


Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 09:17:19 MDT Print View

I learned a good lesson in 2006. I cut back my food too far and had too many hard days that left me starving. I lost 10 lbs that trip and ended up hiking out a day early as I had no food left. That last day was 19 miles on well under 1,500 calories.
For a diet it was!

Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
When have you gone too light.... on 03/13/2008 09:17:54 MDT Print View


I think the time you have gone too light is the time when emergency strikes and you don't have the gear or skills to get yourself out of it. That means for some people they only need a sparklite, a Spyderco Ladybug knife, and a clean pair of underwear (just in case found dead). For others it means a 1 pound emergency kit.

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
RE: When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 09:42:23 MDT Print View

Learned my lesson in '98. I was really focused on cutting weight for a big trip I had planned. The forecast on Mt. Leconte in GSMNP was for lows in the mid 30's and light rain. I knew I should probably carry a winter stove, winter clothing, emergency shelter, maybe even snowshoes, but I was going light, right?

Two days and three feet of snow later, I made it out after a really cold, wet open bivy and six miles of trailbreaking in fresh snow. I was cold, wet, and wise to the fact that it is possible to go TOO LIGHT!

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
"when have you gone to light" on 03/13/2008 09:46:11 MDT Print View

Years ago I took a early season backpacking trip in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho. This trip was planned to be four days, three nights and solo. It was raining hard at the trail head and never stopped the entire trip, this was the warning sign I ignored. Early the morning of the last day, with only twenty downhill miles to go I came to a stream crossing that had become a river due to the rain and snow melt. No matter how far I searched up or down stream from the trail I could not locate a safe crossing point. I elected to turn around a backtrack the entire route with less than a single days food. This was a true adventure and a personal test I will never forget. Was my gear to light no, but I was by the time I got back to the trail head.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
RE: When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 10:40:50 MDT Print View

I understand the safety factor of going too light, but let's not overlook the fun factor. If you go so light that you don't have fun, I think you have gone too lite. While others may tell stories of near death experiences, I'll tell a story of the time I didn't bring any camp shoes in order to save weight. The site had abrasive ground and I had to wear my wet hiking boots while at camp - it wasn't fun, so I went too light. Solution, foam camp slippers @ 1.5 oz.
My $0.02

Jeremy Cleaveland
(jeremy11) - F

Locale: Exploring San Juan talus
When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 14:02:20 MDT Print View

Not bringing a warm enough sleeping bag, or not quite enough clothing for the 40 degree days when it rains all day. But a little mild hypothermia just builds character, right? There were no emergencies, and I lived to tell the tale.
After all, it could be worse - just read stories of alpine style epics in the big ranges...... being a little cold isn't that big of a deal in comparison.

Mike Hinsley

Locale: England, UK
When have you gone too light?" on 03/13/2008 14:16:31 MDT Print View

Early tarp camping above the tree-line.

An open tarp, a gale and a laughingly optimistically rated synthetic bag. It was a cold night. I learnt a lot about tarps and sleeping bag ratings.

Other time's it's been deliberate - seeing where my boundaries are for overnighting. Once you've gone too light you know what you are happy to carry and happy to leave.

Jessen Jacobsen
(SmokiesHanger) - F

Locale: Boulder
Re: When have you gone too light?" on 03/13/2008 14:42:42 MDT Print View

Short answer: You die.

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
When I went too light on 03/13/2008 14:52:51 MDT Print View

This was back in the 80's when I had been backpacking a grand total of one night in the Sierra in my life. Planning for Kauai's Na Pali coast trail, I decided we didn't need sleeping bags, since Hawaii is warm, right? And warm clothes - ha! Some light sweats for sleeping in was all we needed, probably even overkill (so I thought). No stove or firestarting equipment, we could eat cold food. A few hours into the hike, it started raining pretty steadily and kept up for the rest of the day. We did have Ultrex jackets, which of course wetted through in a couple of hours. We spent the night at the first camp and decided to turn around since it was still raining. When we got back to the "stream" we'd crossed on the way out, it was now a raging torrent of white water over our heads. No problem - we set up the tent and decided to wait it out. Only problem was, we didn't have anything dry left to wear. Amazing how cold Hawaii can be when you're wet! Luckily, we were not the only people stranded by the rising water. Some intrepid individuals repositioned the rope across the gully (which had been submerged), and used another rope to act as a lifeline for each person who crossed by floating our bodies on the whitewater while hanging onto the rope across the gully, moving hand over hand. Scary, but luckily everyone was fine (though one or two did lose their grip on the rope and had to be hauled in by the rope around their waist to keep them from being washed out to sea!). I learned several lessons on that trip, most notably not to underestimate the capacity of rising water, and to take steps to have clothing and gear appropriate for the situation (including possible worst case scenarios).

Frank Perkins

Locale: North East
Re: When have you gone too light haiku? on 03/13/2008 17:33:20 MDT Print View

Small stream on way in
Raving river on way back
McCandless like?

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: When have you gone too light?" on 03/13/2008 17:59:50 MDT Print View

I have Type 1 diabetes. I use insulin. Back in 2002 I ventured into a little used, badly maintained mountain area in Oku-Nikko (Japan) and I ended up taking three days rather than two days to do the trail. I had tried to lighten my food load and so didn't bring enough to eat, in great part because I had just made an agreement with my wife to get divorced and I was not thinking clearly. On the third day my blood sugars suddenly plummeted due to the exertion of the steep and rough trail and all I had left was an energy bar and a tiny packet of instant soup. I ate both the energy bar and the soup and then had to calculate a way out of the mountains as quickly as possible so that I wasn't hit with low blood sugar again. It was a very close call and something I always worry about when venturing away from accessible food sources. Food is one thing you can't skimp on, even if you're not a diabetic.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Too light and too heavy on 03/13/2008 20:58:17 MDT Print View

On Robert Falcon Scott's backpacking trip to the South Pole, his food load was too light, the weight of his sledges and other gear was too heavy, and his skill set was too weak.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: When have you gone too light? on 03/13/2008 22:25:53 MDT Print View

I don't have any dramatic "too light" stories. The minor ones have been:

1) Trips where I thought there was no chance of precipitation and got ~1ft snow. I had either a 3 season mesh wall tent, or a tarptent. Kind of icky cause when the wind blew the snow would get in through the mesh. Had to be a bit more careful than normal to keep things dry and had to knock snow off shelter to avoid being collapsed, but not a big deal.

2) Several trips where the weather was worse than expected. One trip when I was expecting the days to be in the 60s F, and the lows to be 35F. Instead the high was 55F, low was 13F. We have a fair amount of wind in a tarptent. Sleeping gear was my hiking pants, featherweight shirt, thermawrap vest, wildshirt, polarbuff hat, ghost quilt (accurately rated to 30F) on top of a ba insulated air core which starts feeling cold below around 20F. Middle of the night my daughter was cold so I lost the vest. I was chilled through the night and didn't sleep well, but wasn't in danger.

3) When I was exploring my limits. I found that frameless packs were "too light" when carrying a load that wasn't :-) Basically I don't like frameless packs that weight more than 16lbs. Sleeping under a poncho/tarp in a storm with blowing rain without a bivy. Got wet, but by lowing the tarp so I was brushing against it... less water from the condensation that was getting blown in I was able avoid soaking my down quilt to the point it wasn't insulating. Luckly the low was around 40F. Carrying anything less than my BA Insulated Air Core. The result was either not sleeping well, or not sleeping at all. The two worse was one trip that all but 2 balloons in my ballonbed popped (haven't had that problem on the first few trips) and 2nd time I slept in a hammock without adequate insulation.

4) Several trips didn't take enough food. Found that I had trouble staying warm enough in the evenings and when trying to sleep. Once again, never at risk.

Edited by verber on 03/16/2008 14:29:31 MDT.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: When have you gone too light? on 03/14/2008 21:08:37 MDT Print View

In keeping along the lines of what question we are being asked;
I think once your base weight gets below 5 pounds you start loosing your minimum effective temperature as well.

There are a handful of U/L'ers on this site that post these amazing looking sub 5 lb highly CLO'ed,Cubenized gear lists that have the ability to keep you warm to below 20.

I have just about every piece of gear they have and I'm even working on a sub-3 base list.

The problem is there is no way I could or would take a sub 4 lb base in anything below 40 degrees due to the possibility of what could happen.

There is no way, (unless you are continually moving) that 4 pounds can keep you warm and dry under wet blowing conditions no matter what experience you have.

I can honestly lay claim to this when I fast-packed the JMT last year. My base weight was just over 3 1/2 lbs and a total pack weight for the entire JMT of under 16 pounds (with water).
No person doing a regular backpacking trip could do this.
I was moving about 21 hours a day so it made it doable.
However, if I did it again, I would shave another 1/2 pound off.
So does this mean that if I get in trouble, I am going to light?
We'll no, because I can only do this while moving for over 20 hours a day.

Getting back to the point, I think when light is too light is when you push past your minimum weight in climates that can not handle it.

I also think there are a lot of people that could get them selves into trouble if they followed the CLO method of warmth and headed out to wilderness and froze to death, (ha, ha).

Then again, some people just have the ability to sleep comfortably in a freezer just wearing what they have on at given time.

O.K, maybe I'm not keeping along the lines of what question we are being asked and just talking my self in circles, which brings up that this is a very good discussing and article to write about.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
When have you gone too light? on 03/15/2008 09:16:51 MDT Print View

One very real issue is getting so cold you get hypothermia.

But, There is a difference between Hypothermia and BEING COLD AND MISERABLE. Don't confuse these two!

Being miserable is a state of mind, and a savvy camper can usually solve the problem, even if it means sitting in the sleeping bag and doing sit-ups all night.

So, the only thing that would be make for "too-light" is skimping on an insulating layer. Exersize will keep you warm, but you gotta sleep.

If you sleep cold (because you left some insulating gear behind) get up early, start hiking, and don't complain!

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
When have you gone too light? on 03/15/2008 12:28:27 MDT Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/25/2015 20:54:09 MDT.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: When have you gone too light? on 03/15/2008 12:46:57 MDT Print View

I think Mike makes an excellent point.

I feel that there are two different types of "going too light": 1) you don't have fun, and 2) your ability to function becomes impaired.

#1 just gives you a story to tell, but #2 will kill you in any weather. If you get cold and/or tired enough that you lose mental acuity or dexterity to the point where you can't care for yourself anymore, your fate is out of your hands.

As for "going too light," if you can't get a decent night's sleep for a few days your mental and physical abilities degrade. And if you have to fuss with Perfect Poncho Pitches and adjustable girth hitches in the ice cold rain, your dependence on those abilities increases.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - MLife

Locale: Central TX
Fiddle Factor, Long-term Utility, Clutter, etc. on 03/15/2008 13:16:33 MDT Print View

I've got a different angle on this question. I figured out about a month ago that I'd gotten too light because I came to like gear as much as I like getting out and hiking!

I learned nearly everything I know about backpacking through this community. Hooray! Unfortunately, I also became very gear-centered over the course of 2 years of reading, researching, buying, testing, and reselling. About a month ago, when I finally organized my entire gear inventory and put it on a big steel shelf unit, I was disappointed to see so many items (mostly small stuff, thankfully) that I'm not sure I'd ever get the chance to test out, because I accumulate gear faster than I can go out and test it! I think this might be a pretty common problem in this community . . . but I could be wrong.

I also realized that planning a BP trip had become a huge chore for me simply because of selecting from my possible choices what I was actually going to take! It had become downright annoying!

And on top of that, I feel like my gear-centered-ness had taken me very far from what I view is the heart of backpacking, which I guess is something like: getting out there and doing it, and not wasting time and effort fiddling and controlling the mess out of the endeavor. It's ok if it's messy--that's part of the fun.

Keeping all this in mind, I'm now selling about 80% of my gear on the Swap forum right now, and replacing most of my choices with single items that are simple, lightweight, satisfying, and long-term usable, unlike some of the tiny, thin, light, tinkery SUL pieces that I had before.

Now I know I'm not everyone, but this has been my experience in realizing that I've gone too light. I've now accepted a couple pounds of "fat" back into my gear for the sake of the piece of mind, simplicity, utility and durability that these items offer.

My $.02