Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Have we hit the point of diminishing gains?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Durability vs. low mass vs. on-trail comfort vs. camp comfort on 08/14/2009 12:11:09 MDT Print View

"I think the technology that allows a 3oz backpack to be made is great. But where I think we are headed is to make these lightweight materials more durable. Image one of the Blast packs with the durability of Cordura."

I think we're already there as far as low-weight and durability are concerned. A Fanatic Fringe Alpine Trail BP weighs 6 oz and is just as durable as my older Granite Gear BP at almost 4 pounds. I'm sacrificing no comfort in camp and the walk is made considerably more comfortable on the trail. Given the opportunity to resupply every 4 - 5 days, you can have the relative comfort of a real, bug-proof tent, a one-pound 30-degree sleeping quilt, and sufficient food and water, and still come in at under 12 pounds.

I'll grant you that the extreme adventurers among us want to go farther and faster, and every oz. counts to them. But for the average AT through hiker or the weekend warrior, a durable 12 pounds is PDG, and the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in in a serious way.


Art ...
(asandh) - F
point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/14/2009 13:28:20 MDT Print View

So Aaron and other record attempters, I assume you skipped the bear can on your unsupported record attempts. Did you just ignore the regs and hope for the best, or work it out with the rangers or what? Just trying to understand how you get so light.

Edited by asandh on 07/13/2010 01:23:36 MDT.

Aaron Wallace
(basilbop) - F
Re: point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/14/2009 17:53:30 MDT Print View

Actually, most of the JMT does not require a bear canister (yet...), and a fast-and-light hiker could traverse the canister-required areas, perhaps sleeping at existing bear lockers within them, without violating storage requirements. The longest canister-required stretches are Happy Isles-Tuolumne and Tuolumne-Reds Meadow, both less than 30 miles. The other major canister-required zone--Woods Creek to Forester Pass--has several bear boxes along the way.

Michael Popov
(mpopov) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/14/2009 20:14:27 MDT Print View

You can get a specific permit for travelling from bear box to bear box. I believe this is what Mark Davis used on his unsupported attempt.

This is the link to all 137 bear boxes in the Sierra Nevada region:

Michael Popov
(mpopov) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Diminishing Gains on 08/14/2009 21:09:05 MDT Print View

Very interesting topic, and good discussion.

No, the point of diminishing returns has not been reached (in my humble opinion) it will never be reached because of evolution of materials, technology and production techniques. Just like when you think you got the most powerful and up-to-date notebook on the planet (very expensive), half a year later there's twice as powerful notebook out there and twice as cheap.

Technology evolves and so is the lightweightness of backpacking. Until I see the negative weight load (helium-filled?) I don't believe we have reached the point of diminishing returns.

I agree though that there's a point of diminishing returns of comfort and durability right now. You just can't go out with a sub 3 lbs base weight and be comfortable in the camp. Nor can you just thrash your gear around.

The lightweight gear is made for one purpose - going fast, light, and long. I see the trip announcements here and wonder - boy, if you really want to hike 6 miles out to spend the night just to hike out back... is it really worth it or is it just a chance to show off each other's pieces of cuben/titanium/carbon fiber thingies?

"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."

If you are getting in backcountry to see what's there, you see what's there by covering miles. This is why UL gear is your friend. But if you just want to hike out for some 6-10 miles - you don't need UL. Unless, of course, there are some physical limitations or medical problems. 10 miles out - might as well stay comfy, make a fire and do some fishing.

I had just as much fun lugging 76 lbs pack on the main Whitney Trail to spend two beautiful days at Trail Camp(little sweat, little workout, no regrets, all smiles) as I had running the same trail with 1.5 lbs total weight, including water (feels good to run, no weight, no regrets, all smiles) to just move fast and to see the constant change of scenery for almost 20 hours.

Isn't that what UL is for? Dynamically seeing more, and not being "comfortably" stuck in a static scenery?

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Re: Re: Diminishing Gains on 08/14/2009 21:27:45 MDT Print View

No, the point of diminishing returns has not been reached (in my humble opinion) it will never be reached because of evolution of materials, technology and production techniques.

I'm afraid it's impossible to "never" reach the point of diminishing returns. It happens pretty quickly in any field. Once your base weight has dropped from 20 pounds to 5 pounds you can't drop another 15 pounds. You might put a lot more effort into cutting weight and only drop another pound or two... that's diminishing returns.

That's not to say that we have reached the point of no further improvement... far from it. But the gains that we can make from here are relatively small in comparison to the advances we have already seen.

Edited by ashleyb on 08/14/2009 21:28:46 MDT.

Mark Davis
(Trailster) - F

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: Re: point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/15/2009 14:32:22 MDT Print View

It is true that you can legally hike the JMT without a Bear cannister by moving fast and using bear lockers, but what is more important is that you never let any animals have success at getting to your food. Being legal will not assure this.

On an exit hike from the JMT to Kings Canyon I saw three bears (no porage, chairs or beds), the last of which was not afraid of me at all. This prompted me to keep hiking (fast!) untill I could store my food safely. When I arrived at Paradise Valley I sharred a camp and bear locker with another backpacker. Before I could finish telling the story of the three bears a small bear jumped up on the bear locker where a pile of food was being sortted and started feasting. After the the bear ran off my camp mate inventoried his food. Within five minutes the bear returned for more goodies. Again an inventory was called for. After about another half hour the loose pile of food was finally put into the locker. I put my pack in the locker and it was locked for the night. This was a very nice, big and LEGAL locker. BUT, the resident bear was still successful at getting food.

I takes far more than just the right gear to "Properly Store Your Food." Common sense and vigilance is needed to avoid these problems. This trip through Kings Canyon reminded me of Yosemite in the 1970's when bears were a real problem. At that time killing bears was the only way to deal with some of the dangerously agressive bears in the park. I think the bear at Paradise Valley may suffer the same fate and that is real sad.

No matter how we travel through the wilderness we all have the responsibility not to feed the bears or any other wildlife. Bear cannisters are the NPS response to the ongoing problem and it is a reasonable reaction that we need to live with.

That said, I hope that a lighter cannister gets approval soon. My cannister weighs about 2.5 lbs!!

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/15/2009 14:55:25 MDT Print View

A lighter canister might be possible, but the Ursack is already at about 8 ounces for the same volume as a Weekender.

The Ursack folks have been trying to get a straight-up answer why their product was "disapproved" after years of use, and now are pursuing it through the court system.

Real-world results and easy compliance would seem win out over "committee BS", but it's not happening yet.

We are nowhere close to the end-point on diminishing returns in food storage in the wilderness.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Diminishing Gains on 08/15/2009 15:40:59 MDT Print View

"The lightweight gear is made for one purpose - going fast, light, and long."

That is one purpose, Michael, and probably the most common one at that. But I think there is another useful purpose for lightweight gear and UL gear, i.e. going into remote areas for extended periods of time and leisurely really getting to know an area. It is the exact opposite of blazing through an area and seeing the surface. By using lightweight and UL gear I have been able to devote more of my pack space to food and therefore extend my time in the backcountry. Just a different way of being in the mountains, equally valid, IMO, and equally adapted to the use of lightweight/UL gear. My 2 cents.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: point of diminishing gains v.s. Bear Cannister on 08/15/2009 17:10:44 MDT Print View

There is a pretty lightweight bear deterrent (heavier than Ursack), on the market for a few years now but not yet Sierra approved.
also, very expensive.

Edited by asandh on 09/10/2009 09:49:11 MDT.

Sam Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
diminishing gains on 08/16/2009 21:33:33 MDT Print View

Thanks to advances in materials, helpful sites like BPL, cottage manufacturers, and time spent on home made gear,
my pack weight with everything desired for 7 days, including food and water at the start, came down from 45# to 25#. This includes a good roomy solo tent with room for two shelties and pack storage, heavy ursack (resewn smaller with Aramid thread) and my camp chair, made from some good quality 3/4 inch alloy tubing cannabalized from a hunter's stool and from strong mesh. I can't tell you what a difference this has made. Almost like born again backpacking. What used to be a huff and puff workout is now a jaunt. And as the materials improve, the weight will come down more, approaching 20 pounds. Not diminishing gains in my book. REI or any other chain is not where I would look for most of my stuff. Example: The newest synthetic insulation is heavier at EMS.
If only I'd gone BPL years sooner. I guess if you are down to 10# already, you may have reached a limit, though.
Sam Farrington, Chocorua NH

Tim Testa
(MichaelRedbeard) - F
I have wrote about this too... on 08/17/2009 00:47:15 MDT Print View

"Ok so heres the part where I want to rant a little bit. Im 27 years old. Basically at the fittest and primest part of my life. That being noted I began to focus on this fact. Now I love the idea of trying to go superlight and as bare as possible. That is completely awesome. However, I do like a couple of luxuries. The main one being a large therm-a-rest 12oz pillow. I know i don't need it, but I like knowing that I have a soft place to rest my head (instead of a glob of clothes rolled up in a sweatshirt or no pillow at all) at the end of a 20 mile hiking day.

So heres the thing, when is light light enough. Well for me, at this time of my life, 20lbs is like a feather to me. Thats my goal and I dont want to go any heavier. Now of course I would love to go lighter, but not for "light's" sake. If I were to go any lighter it would be because I'd want to boast about how super light I could get my backpack to weigh, and lets face it, is that really what it should be about? Bragging rights.

Don't get me wrong, its fun telling people that your going on a super long journey and then having them tell you, "Oh geezzz, well your probably going to have to carry 70-80lbs for a hike of that length." Of course you reply back and say, "No actually Ill only be carrying 20lbs." It opens the door for conversation. For me it gives me the chance to brag about something I enjoy doing, mainly being out doors as much as possible. And Ive read your guy's comments on hear too. You all enjoy sharing you knowledge and awesome pack weights. Also, when I have the opportunity to share how light my backpack is in the presence of other people, it might give them some ideas behind why it might be worth giving hiking a shot. Maybe they always thought hiking had to be heavy and gruelsome.

So heres my point. First priority is figuring out what weight works for your body, cause honestly if Im carrying a 20lb packback as opposed to a 22lb one, Im not going to feel the difference. Now if were taking about a range of 20lbs as opposed to a 28lb backpack Id be able to feel it. Would it bother me, I highly doubt it but I would notice it nonetheless and it might make going uphill a little bit more strenous. To continue this point further if I have a 20lb bag and get it down to 14lbs, its not going to matter to me. Im a fit young male at my prime, the extra 6lbs is not going to make or break me when I get so low in weigh.

Anyways after you figure out what works for you, then you start calculating out your luxuries. If you luxuries fit into what weight works for your body type. Screw it, keep them if it makes you happy and comfortable. You derserve a couple of luxuries at the end of a long day. However, if they go outside of your weight zone, its time to start dumping them.

In the end, if you want to continue to dump weight. Then the only two reasons I could think of to do so would be to go as bare as possible and be jungle boy or to be able to make fun goals for yourself to see how much weigh you can make you pack weigh. I would probably be doing it for the fun little goals if it were me. Going bare is fun and all, but at the end of a long week or months hike, I know its back to the real world so I think its alright to take a couple of bites and pieces of the world you left behind if you know you are going to return to it."

Edited by MichaelRedbeard on 08/17/2009 00:53:25 MDT.

Johnathan White
(johnatha1) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: I have wrote about this too... on 10/09/2009 12:12:48 MDT Print View

Well said Timothy and another example of HYOH.
One thing that struck me was if 2 pounds matter. I laughed at this when I thought of my bike racing days when people would plop down 180.00 to upgrade their rear derailleur from 600 to Dura Ace, all to shave LITERALLY 65 grams off its weight.

So, being the pain-in-the-rear analyst I am, I pondered this question. My conclusion was yes; 2 pounds (metaphorically speaking, of course) matters to me, but only if I am doing 20+ mile days. If I am heading out for a six mile hike in somewhere, I am packing heavy and comfortable as it will probably be a base camp anyway. The irony in my thinking is, in going lighter, you take less comfort items that you may need when hiking 25 miles.

My conclusion is that, I will still go as light as I can. Not for bragging rights, not for a personal challenge, but because I am just too darned lazy to deal with more gear than is absolutely necessary. I get complete joy out of cleaning out one pot, not 2; rolling up my sleeping pad and stuffing it in my pack, not deflating; stuffing my single-walled tent or tarp in 60 seconds, not breaking down a double walled tent for 5 minutes.

Daniel Fosse
(magillagorilla) - F

Locale: Southwest Ohio
Big backpack equals more gear sales on 10/09/2009 13:37:13 MDT Print View

Great thread!
Here’s my 2 cents.
REI is great. They sell stuff that people want to buy. The store may spark interest in the outdoors for people who otherwise may have not considered camping and backpacking. (Scott Peterson’s point)

REI is a retailer and as such are going to offer merchandise that people want to by. If people (present forum excluded) wanted to buy UL gear by the droves, they might stock it. I use the word MIGHT because there is a second problem. UL gear needs to be treated gingerly. UL gear can be fickle and most of it is easy to break.

Imagine the return rates on cottage style equipment being used by inexperienced people. Besides, I never see any UL gear on the trail, except for my own. My friends won’t listen to me about UL. They go on carrying 60lb packs, but they have fun anyway so who cares. My point is, out of all the people that want to spend money on outdoors stuff, the UL fanatics represent a very small portion. In other words, low demand for goods equals no UL gear at REI.

Last point about REI and most outfitters; bigger backpack equals more room to put stuff in. More room for stuff equals selling more stuff. Why in the world would REI sell 1500cu packs?

Back to diminishing returns. Yes, mathematically cutting weight is a diminishing result (Ashley Brown ). I think the point of the questions is, does anyone need to go any lighter?

I agree with the technology angle. In the future I will carry a .5oz device which generates a field around me that repels the elements and keeps the inside at a constant 74 degrees and never runs out of power. The same device will purify any volume of water instantly. It will also suspend water in a field and bring it to a boil. Oooooo and…… it will also materialize buckets of fried chicken on demand.

All kidding aside, new materials, new ways of generating and retaining power will create new ways to live in the woods.

OK so my 2 cents was more like 7.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Have we hit the point of diminishing gains? on 10/09/2009 14:11:38 MDT Print View

Carrying weight does not occur in a vaccuum. The effect of weight on your body while hiking is cumulative and while you may not 'feel' the effect on your body, the extra 2 pounds over 25 miles is significant. Crazy but true.

Hart -
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
Ursack on 10/09/2009 14:21:43 MDT Print View

Have you seen an Ursack after a bear is done with it? Even if the bear did not eat your food, you may no longer be interested in your food. Never going to get JMT approval. Much maligned.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Ursack on 10/09/2009 14:55:55 MDT Print View

"Have you seen an Ursack after a bear is done with it? Even if the bear did not eat your food, you may no longer be interested in your food."

Sounds like you're referring to the older Ursack with out the aluminum insert?

Hart -
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
Re: Re: Ursack on 10/09/2009 16:35:01 MDT Print View

Tom, I don't know what generation Ursack. Will look for photos/videos. I think there's a perception that Ursack is bad for the bears. Some times it seems the authorities are more concerned with the welfare of the the bears than the people. Certainly, something like the Bear Vault could be lightened considerably with current plastics technology. The resulting price might limit the market, though. Might not be worth the effort to manufacture, get approved, market etc.

Edited by backpackerchick on 10/09/2009 16:37:54 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Less weight, more distance on 10/09/2009 17:18:09 MDT Print View

This is nothing radical, but one of my main motivations in dropping more weight is so that I can go on longer trips (ie. carry more food) for the same starting pack weight.

A year ago my base weight was about 16lbs, so with food I was looking at 20lbs total pack weight for a weekend trip. For me, 20 lbs is the most I like to carry. I sometimes carry more, but I'm much happier hiking with <20 lbs.

Now my base weight is in the 8-11 lbs range, so I can now go hiking for a full week and still be under that happy 20 lbs goal. For me, this has made weeklong hikes much more enjoyable.

A second motivation for me is simplicity. Years ago when I went hiking I'd almost always lose something because I was carrying way too 3 knives. Now with fewer, yet more useful items, I can keep track of my stuff easier, pack up quicker (both from camp and at home) and I appreciate my gear more because it's more functional.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: Ursack on 10/09/2009 18:40:00 MDT Print View

>"Have you seen an Ursack after a bear is done with it? Even if the bear did not eat your food, you may no longer be interested in your food."

> Sounds like you're referring to the older Ursack with out the aluminum insert?
Tom, that's pretty much true of any Ursack whether it's the older Vectran (yellow) model or the newer Spectra (green) model. If a bear has enough time, he's probably going to get in, and even if he doesn't your food will be all mashed together and soaked in bear saliva which basically smells like vomit (or so I'm told).

The trick with the Ursack is to use the odor proof bag it comes with and to be prepared to get up in the middle of the night to scare away the bear.

With the aluminum insert, you're less likely to get your food crushed, but saliva can still be an issue.

I personally wouldn't carry an Ursack in heavy bear areas like Sequoia or Yosemite. I live in LA and do most of my backpacking in the San Gabriel Mountains (when they're not on fire), the San Bernardino Mtns, and the San Jacintos. The Ursack is pretty appropriate in the San Gabs and other local areas (except for the overly popular Vivan Creek Trail).

INTERESTINGLY, according to Ursack's website, the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group denied Ursack certification on environmental not functional grounds. Since the Ursack is meant to be tied to a tree or log, the SIBBG felt that the trees or the ground around trees and logs might suffer an adverse impact. Ursack has filed a lawsuit which at last check was still pending.

Edited by hikin_jim on 10/09/2009 18:56:21 MDT.