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Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 06/17/2008 20:45:25 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Illustration on 06/18/2008 08:58:54 MDT Print View

Just wanted to let our dear readers know...the typos in the illustration are going to be fixed. Mike Clelland! is on his way from Alaska, and he can only be so amazing. We'll upload a corrected illustration once he is settled and home.

Kerry Rodgers
(klrodgers) - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Pals on 06/18/2008 11:04:47 MDT Print View

Mike & Phil,

How blessed you are to have a teammate of like mind and shared experience! It is definitely helpful and inspiring to read your description of the highest ideal.

At work (software development teams) we have people who work side-by-side for years, and never learn to communicate or make decisions together. Trying to get the family thru a camping/day-hiking trip has similar issues.

I liked the decision making chart. It is actually the only thing in the article that hints that "level of group ownership in a decision" might not be perfect. How do you think this decision making chart applies to bigger groups who start as strangers? Does it apply for group decisions in your NOLS experience?

Miguel Marcos
(miguelmarcos) - F

Locale: Middle Iberia
Another great hiking article on 06/18/2008 14:16:38 MDT Print View

Many thanks to both of you for such a great lesson and inspiration of an article.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Decision-Makin' on 06/19/2008 10:49:56 MDT Print View

Both Phil and I are instructors for NOLS ( ). We worked together on a 30-day course a few years ago, and know each other pretty well. For the most part, we are on the same page as far as our goals.

That said, NOLS has an "L" in it's name, and that stands for Leadership. Our courses go thru a structured progression, where the instructors role-model good leadership in the beginning, and by the end, the students have taken on a lot of the leadership duties. In the middle, we will TEACH a bunch of classes designed to give the students some helpful tools so they can better deal with their roles. It can be a super-rewarding experience for folks. Especially young and shy students.

The DECISION MAKING CHART is right from a page in the NOLS Leadership Toolbox (an internal document for instructors). I like that as a helpful tool. The chart (above) is slightly edited and shortened.

The issues surrounding decisions made by a large team (like a NOLS course of students and instructors) are always a little bit complicated. What helps is not to stress out on the small decisions, but to get very "inclusive" with the big ones. I've found that a team is a team, and they will rally around any decision that truly seems to benefit the course goals. But, it's important to come to a good consensus on WHAT the course goals are nice and early. (maybe that's another article?)

From direct experience I've found that people are really creative and smart. And if I try and play dogmatic leader, and ignore the team, I make lousey decisions. But - If I get input from the team, the decision is ALWAYS better. I'll add that 30-days is a long time, and there is a lot of time on a standard NOLS course for folks to play with different techniques and see how they work.

The point of this article was that this normally complicated decision process get MUCH easier with a lighter pack.

peace from alaska,

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
excellent article on 06/19/2008 17:03:33 MDT Print View

I really loved this article and I am surprise that it has received so few comments. Improved decision making is one benefit of lightweight backpacking that I had never thought about.

John Frederick Anderson
(fredfoto) - F

Locale: Spain
Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 06/20/2008 01:26:57 MDT Print View

Hi All, and the authors,

I learned a lot from your article, and as a solo backpacker in the Pyrenees, I like to hike and camp high, as I don't have time from work to spend more than a few days in the mountains and I'd rather not go up and down all day. My pack weight is around 8/9 kilos (17 to 20 pounds) depending on the season for five days out. This is down from 20 kilos a year ago.

Safety is a major concern if you are on your own, and the last hike I did, I twisted my ankle as a result of a poor decision to push on when I was tired. I had an exit strategy, backed up and camped near a trail down to safety, but that night an unforecasted storm blew in.

I felt safe as I have more than I need to be on the limit- stronger shelter, extra food, extra layer of clothing etc. In fact I had a great time enjoying the big storm, slept like a baby for 12 hours, and the subsequent fog the next day made getting down a fun navigational challenge.

Your article is very general when you talk about UL packs, and as a newcomer to UL techniques, I'm left asking a few questions.

Did you share a shelter between you?
Were you at the limit in terms of gear, or as there were two/ three of you, did you carry extra for safety's sake?
What were your pack weights?
You talked about water strategy a bit, but were you all carrying some, or relying on finding water as you went?

I really like the article, but for those who are maybe like me, still finding their feet in UL, some basic information like this would give the great information you provide a more general context.


Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 06/20/2008 10:57:01 MDT Print View

(reply to previous post from Mike C!)

Shared gear:
* tarp (two person spin-tarp)
* repair kit (tiny, mostly rip-stop tape)
* first aid kit (tiny)
* tent stakes (titanium)
* water treatment drops (rarely used)
* maps (cut down)
* Bear hand string.
* Food.
* sun block
* emergency fire starter (un-used)

Phil's base weight = 6.5 pounds (with 13.7 oz bear spray in side holster)
Mike's base weight = 7.5 pounds (with 13.7 oz bear spray in side holster)

Adding 1.5 pounds per person per day of food
3.5 days
2 people
10.5 total pounds of food.

shared equally = 5.25 pounds of food in each backpack
2.25 pounds of water (one liter)
7.5 pounds of consumables per backpack.

Phil's total PACK weight = 14 pounds
Mike's total PACK weight = 15 pounds

Phil used a GoLite Ion.
Mike used a Gossamer gear G6 WHISPER.

We were in early summer terrain with LOTS of water, and we decided much of it was clean enough to drink un-treated. Read the text above and visit the link to the WATER article.

We made some notes, and I think we can figure out a simple gear list. Maybe I'll post that when I find it. But - We didn't do anything extreme or fancy, we were just cautious about what we brought.


Edited by mikeclelland on 06/20/2008 11:04:49 MDT.

John Frederick Anderson
(fredfoto) - F

Locale: Spain
Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 06/20/2008 12:33:31 MDT Print View

Hi again,

Thanks very much for the details, it really helps give an idea of what's achievable- and helps me personally evaluate what I take in comparison to your weights/ gear.

Much appreciated.

Tod Schimelpfenig
(tod_schimelpfnig) - F
decision-making on 06/21/2008 15:39:11 MDT Print View

I’m skeptical that light packs make decision-making “much” easier. They make it different, yes, easier, I’m not so sure. You need to be self-aware of your energy level when deciding, but the assumption that you’re not tired when hiking with a light pack is just that, an assumption. I’ve been pretty tired at the end of a long day with a light pack, just as I’ve been tired on a short day with a heavier pack.

Even decision is unique. We need to be aware of the multiple factors operating in the decision such as group size, decision making expertise, emotional and interpersonal dynamics, what we know and what we don’t know, etc etc. I can easily alter this story into people being seduced into terrain they should avoid by the ease in which they travel, or staying exposed too long because they assume they can quickly find shelter.

We also have to take this article in light of two very competent people who are very comfortable with each other. A group of 8 lightweight backpackers could have a very different decision-making experience.

This is an important topic. We make decisions all the time, yet don’t give the process the thought it deserves. Yet, I can’t buy the assumption that it’s easier just because the pack is lighter. Human beings are far to complex for such a simple solution.

Hugh Teegan
(hteegan) - MLife
Ultralight NOLS? on 06/21/2008 21:54:09 MDT Print View

I'd be interested to know to what extent your ultralight philosophy has permeated NOLS. I used the link in your excellent article to explore the NOLS site and the equipment lists don't seem to put much emphasis on watching weight and, indeed, a NOLS team I met some years ago in the North Cascades was very far from travelling light. Has this changed?

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 06/22/2008 09:10:47 MDT Print View

I'm curious - What course did you see in the North Cascades? We run a lot of different types in that area. I've worked plenty of Mountaineering Courses in the North West, and sure enough, the packs are big. If you saw a team of mountaineers, I bet they had some whopping packs. But remember, we are teaching advanced skills in a 30-day format. We are NOT just weekend campers.

That said, there has been an ongoing effort to reduce the pack weights throughout the school. Be aware that each NOLS course is different.

I'll add that we do teach a very specific skills course with going lighter as a defined course goal. It's been super successful and popular. The NOLS Light & Fast Backpacking course has a very detailed equipment list. It's on the web-page that introduces the course. (search for it as a downloadable PDF)

(here's the LINK)

This downloadable LIST is a very accurate description of the equipment for the summertime course. It all totals up to less than 10 pounds of base weight, including the group gear (not listed in the document).


Edited by mikeclelland on 06/22/2008 13:24:38 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Ultralight NOLS? on 06/22/2008 17:08:46 MDT Print View

The lightweight philosophy is permeating deeply into the NOLS world, there are a couple podcasts on BPL with threads discussing the influence. As Mike mentions, the Lightweight Backpacking (new course name for '09) is one way, but the philosophy has permeated deeper than that as well.
We are seeing more and more instructors making a conscious effort to reduce pack weights personally and for students. We just had our most senior instructor (500+ weeks in the field - yup over ten years of living outdoors) work an Alaska mountaineering course, and his pack never weighed over 50 lbs. with full mountaineering equipment. Other instructors are couching junior staff on how to go lighter, and we are seeing scales come out during the issue process for more and more of our traditional courses. In my mind, it is going viral at this point, and as long as we don't let the movement die, it will have far reaching effects on pack weights. But, don't take that to mean that someday all NOLS courses will have 25 lb. packs. That's not what we are trying to do, but we are changing a long standing culture of heavy packs, woohoo!

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Decision-Making and the Lightweight Pack on 09/07/2013 09:20:03 MDT Print View

I just reread this. I miss Mike C!