Good points, one and all. I think you CAN reach a point of diminishing return. The issue seems to be, HAVE WE. In an absolute sense, we may have. I maintain a set of “theoretical” backpacking kit lists. They range from 3 lbs up to about 30 lbs. I don’t have the money to buy all this equipment, or I would (well, if my wife let me live long enough). Anyway, I try to stay abreast of what’s out there.
The interesting thing is that from about 5 lbs up to about 15 lbs, the only real difference is the level of comfort I would bring along. I use the term comfort loosely, and translate that as a bigger tent, bigger pack, warmer sleeping bag, thicker sleeping pad, etc. As always, that “comfort” is bought at the price of a heavier packload. (Which, curiously, ought to be translated as less comfortable.) At 3 lbs, I would use a tarp and bivy. At 5 lbs, I would bring a tent. At 9 lbs, I would bring a larger, warmer sleeping bag. At 11 lbs, I would have a more comfortable pack. (Made necessary by the other increases in “comfort” that I’ve added.)
The point to be made here is that this type of equipment, by and large, isn’t what REI is selling. REI has become a fashion store that sells some backpacking equipment. They are not, nor (I believe) do they want to be on the cutting edge of the lightweight revolution. That is best left to specialist outfits such as BPL. But, if the lightweight revolution is ever to become mainstream, costs are going to have to be controlled better than weights. The cutting edge 3 lb backpacking kit I mention costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,200. In fact, I find that most cutting edge lightweight equipment runs from $10 to $30 per OUNCE! I think I know why you almost never see inner-city boys out backpacking. And why there are special charities begging for old used equipment to be donated to these groups. And, not coincidentally, why most Boy Scouts don’t go ultralight.
A separate issue is the one of comfort. That same 3 lb kit is not one that I would use even if I was willing to spring the cash for it. Not comfortable enough. I’ve reached the point (read: age) that I want to be comfortable when I go backpacking. I’m willing to invest in a Stephenson’s Warmlite 3R tent (both financially, as well as the extra weight involved versus, say a Tarptent) so that I have extra room and the ability to close up completely. I also can’t stand mummy bags, so I’ve invested in a large Exped insulated mat / Speers down quilt combo. In other words, I’m willing to haul around some weighty equipment (hey, all things are relative) just in the hopes of getting a better night’s rest. But I STILL look high and low to find the lightest example of each piece of equipment.
And, I suspect most people are like that. Given a choice between comfort in camp, versus comfort on the trail, most will choose comfort in camp, as long as it doesn’t come at too high a price (both weight and financial). I think this, because most people get into the back country to see what’s there, not to see how many miles they can cover.
So, do I want everyone to be super ultra duper dee light? Sure, that would be nice. But it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Do I want manufacturers to continue to take weight into consideration when they design equipment? You bet. The less it seems like weightlifting or torture (your choice), the more likely people are to get out into the backcountry. And that will have all sorts of beneficial side effects.
But that decreased weight is going to have to be accompanied by a decrease in cost if this is to become the new mainstream.