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Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet on 08/25/2009 14:37:10 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet

Brad is out hiking for the next week or two, so his replies to any comments will be a bit delayed.

Edited by addiebedford on 08/25/2009 14:40:19 MDT.

Andy Berner
(Berner9) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet on 08/25/2009 16:53:20 MDT Print View

Good article.

This fits my life right now in this exact same sense. I'm new to the entire BPL. The past two weeks I have spent a ridiculous amount of time on this website. I have made excel spreed sheets with all the gear that I plan to purchase. Which all I have left is to get a shelter, pack, and bag/quilt.

I to have came to realize how much I do spend on crap food at work(even though its mostly healthy food). I have began bring lunches and snacks to save money.

Now I just need to lose the idea of bringing a BPL esbit stove and a pot to work to make my lunch.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
UL Economics of scale: Budgeting for your pack & Wallet on 08/25/2009 18:23:33 MDT Print View

Great article Brad, Ever since I read Ray Jardines "Beyond Backpacking" in the late 90'S and discovered this website I scrutinize everything I purchase (How does it fit into my system?)..Less is More-No Doubt!!!


John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: UL Economics of scale: Budgeting for your pack & Wallet on 08/25/2009 18:36:23 MDT Print View

>>If I were making $100,000 a year, maybe two hundred dollars a month wouldn't be all that much.

No, it's still a chunk of dough. When you stop thinking critically about your budget (pack contents or money), you soon find yourself over budget...

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet on 08/25/2009 18:49:31 MDT Print View

Good relationship between ultralight and budgeting.

It takes a well-disciplined approach to become successful at ultralight backpacking. Deciding on the gear you will take on a trip requires considerable time planning, researching and acquiring. Eventually the process forces you to be brave and go for it. You have to trust your homework.

The same strategy applies to your personal finances. You get money through gifts (I wish) and earnings. Then you save it or spend it. Just like accumulating ounces into unnecessary pounds - or reducing pounds by eliminating ounces - credit card buys versus savings buys can significantly change your financial burden. Careless spending beyond your means will break your back!

It's ironic that credit cards are so ultralight yet produce such heavy loads. Cut them up. Then ounce by ounce purge the balances to nothingness. Don't go into debt to lighten your pack because you'll have to carry the debt a long time.

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet on 08/26/2009 08:12:30 MDT Print View

Nice article,

As with most other comments I have found myself at a point where I am definately checking things out more thoroughly before I purchase.

I am also not just looking at the many rows of gear in the hiking stores and thinking about what I can buy just because I can. I now look and think "why would I want to carry that with me", saves me a few bucks too!

I have also started to sell or trade some of the gear I no longer need as it doesn't fit in with my UL quest.

Thanks again, good read

Lucas Osborne
(LukeO) - F

Locale: Big Sky Country
budgeting on 08/26/2009 09:01:44 MDT Print View

Nice Brad!
Your ideas on pack and wallet budgeting make a lot of sense. I'm a chronic over packer, but luckily my wife is gets down to the bare bones. She's not satisfied unless if at the end of a trip the food bag is empty and there's nary a snack to get me out of the woods!

In budgeting to buy those spendy pack-rafts we placed a jar on the kitchen counter and called it "my packraft fund." Every time we would have spent $3 on a cup of coffee or anything else we didn't need, we instead dropped the cash in the jar. I even had friends dropping in change. After a long Alaskan winter when we went to Sherri Tingy's place to buy the raft and I emptied my jar and found that I had a good $400+ in there!

John Davis
(billybooster) - F

Locale: So Cal
RE: Bank vs Backpack on 08/26/2009 09:05:55 MDT Print View

It's often said commons sense is not so common. Before today's economic 'issues' I met some folks who didn't earn as much as me (this isn't about me, it's about on). They didnt have as shiny a car as me, or live in the same neigborhood as me.

But they made things! They repaired not tossed things. They improvised and adapted their existing 'wares' to suit their new needs. They taught me alot - more than I can ever describe.

I now am thrifty! I bulk make burritos and freeze them and they're delicious, I dont pay the 40cents that the gas station wants for using the credit/debit card, I do use the coupons that adorn my mailbox and now I even save up my tin cans for recycling refunds.

Like my backpacking - that started off as an ebay search for a giant two burner coleman stove and ended up trying to make soda stoves - I have evolved through learning and being educated.

This article is yet another one of those stories that highlight, identify and PROVE, that doing the right thing, applying common sense and LEARNING from others is the key to a good balance - both in the bank and on your back! Well done!

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & WalletAre: on 08/26/2009 09:23:44 MDT Print View

Same for me as Mark. Once upon a time I drooled over all that equipment at REI or wherever. Now I too think: "Why would I bother carrying weighs a ton and it's mostly useless or redundant."

While taking a break on the porch of a hut in the White Mountains a young teenager hoisted his pack and left, but one flip-flop fell out of his pack. I picked it up and called him back. It must have weighed almost a pound by itself, I couldn't believe it.

How they must suffer, those traditional backpackers who carry all that needless weight. And to think I used to be one of them!

I've become a lightweight evangelist on the trail, much to the chagrin of my kids. On my trip to the ADK's this summer it was hopeless, though, so many ultra-heavy packs I stopped bothering to make comments (much to the relief of my son).

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hypermaterialism on 08/26/2009 09:39:23 MDT Print View

This is what I call the concept of hypermaterialism. It doesn't mean buying everything, rather owning only what you need and a relentless pursuit of quality, as outlined in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

There is a famous photo of the worldly possessions of Mahatma Gandhi at the time of his death: a bowl, a couple books, his eyeglassses and sandals, some writing implements and a three porcelain monkeys-- not enough to fill a banker box.

We can be owned by our possessions in so many ways. We frustrate outselves with storing, organizing and maintaining them. They can rob our space, time and finances and bring us stress. I worked in the auto repair industry for many years and I saw many people dragged down trying to own a car when they really didn't need one. They got caught up in not being able to afford a reliable car and poured their resources into broken down vehicle and lived with the strees of being stranded by a junker. I now work in the electronics reycling industry and see a steady stream of cast-off toys-- most of which still work. Our media and computing binge is shameful.

It really struck me the other day when I was changing channels and landed on an infomercial for vaccum storage bags for clothing. They showed these massive piles of clothing sucked into small packages with a vacuum cleaner. Of course the concept they missed is that they don't need 10 or 20 sweaters! If you have more sweaters than you can wear AND store, it's time to give some to people who need them.

My other favorite example is the chapter on economy in Thoreau's Walden. And he saw it happening in 1854, let alone 2009.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Free and light on 08/26/2009 12:56:11 MDT Print View

Once in a while, you hit on something that costs nothing, weighs almost nothing, and works better than expected. On our scout troop's week-long trek in the Hoover and Emigrant Wilderness Areas, we brought basins made from cut-down plastic milk jugs. We used those all the time, even fighting a wildfire.

For some photos, see: my blog post on fighting the fire.

Edited by wunder on 08/26/2009 12:57:37 MDT.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Hypermaterialism on 08/26/2009 13:06:36 MDT Print View

Dale, thanks for the reminder. While I could never get my library down to a couple of books or eliminate many of my tools (we all have our vices), your comment and Brad Groves' article may be the spur I need to get rid of much of the redundant crap in my non-hiking life.

I wonder about the implications this article and these comments have for some SUL/UL/lightweight practices of having multiple packs, bags, stoves, etc just to optimize weight for every conceivable condition.

Edited by DavidDrake on 08/26/2009 13:07:10 MDT.

Andrew Schriner
(lettheguydance) - F

Locale: Midwest
Good thoughts and a practical tip on 08/26/2009 14:17:43 MDT Print View

Wonderful, thoughtful article, and wonderful, thoughtful replies.

I have a rather practical comment to make (seems out of place though next to the profundity that precedes it). I too have a soft spot in my lightweight pack for sleeping gear - who wants to be miserable on the trip from not being able to sleep? - and I've had tremendous pillow success with a 1.8 oz homemade fleece bag with velcro closure, into which I can put anything reasonably soft to make a good pillow. And when I carry a down jacket in winter...ohhh it's nice. I'm sure a similar item, used with the down or climashield vest you mention would be very comfortable at low weight.

Happy adventuring!

Robert Brookshire
I spy a ray of light! on 08/26/2009 18:04:35 MDT Print View

Brad wrote:
"I have been living on the wrong scale. I hadn't been living in reality."

Awesome! There are literally hundreds of millions of people, mostly in the United States but also abroad in other regions of the OverDeveloped world that desperately need the realization you just summed up so insightfully here. We are not only nickel and diming ourselves to death, but are also nickel and diming the entire Earth to death with our seemingly small actions that are entirely out of scale with all other living things. If you apply this same perspective to the entire human world that you've been raised to live and believe in, you're in for a wild ride down a rabbit hole that goes far deeper than you ever imagined. Kudos and good traveling to you.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Whole life gear list on 08/26/2009 18:15:47 MDT Print View

Project for a conceptual art piece:

Inventory and weigh all possessions (minus food, water and fuel, of course) to calculate one's whole life base weight.

Clearly, according to the post above, Ghandi sets the UL (maybe SUL) standard. How about the rest of us?

At one time, everything I owned fit in an Audi Fox, with room for a passenger *and* I could see out the back window. But that was a long time ago...

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Whole life gear list on 08/26/2009 19:55:55 MDT Print View

Project for a conceptual art piece:

Inventory and weigh all possessions (minus food, water and fuel, of course) to calculate one's whole life base weight.

Get Material World.

OR ... in the spirit of this topic, check it out from your local library. If they don't have it they can probably get it via inter library loan.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Re: Whole life gear list on 08/26/2009 21:07:58 MDT Print View

Thanks--I'll check it out.

Andy Dixon
(sideshowandy) - F
lightweight lifestyle on 08/28/2009 02:39:41 MDT Print View

great article

luckily i saw the light a little while ago

i no longer buy outdoor gear as i have far, far too much stuff already.

if i actually need a new piece of gear now (rather unlikely...), my rule is that it can only be obtained by sale/trade of some of my existing gear otherwise i will not buy.

what a difference that alone has made to my credit card bill which i always clear each month as i have never allowed myself to live in debt. if i can't afford it well, i shouldn't buy it should i? and i use my credit card for all purchases - food, utility bills etc - in fact anything i can. why? well, i get 1% back over the course of a year & that adds us to a decent amount :-)

i have far more normal clothing/footware, books etc than i can possibly justify. i am gradually sorting through all of this and most weeks I find myself dropping a bag off at the charity shop.

i am also evaluating all my spending and like others found that all those little incidental purchases add up to a shocking amount over time!

the end result is a feeling of immense relief, adopting a lightweight lifestyle has lifted a burden i never even realised was weighing me down

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: lightweight lifestyle on 08/28/2009 16:08:25 MDT Print View


Good point about credit cards. Like you I use them without ever carrying over a balance therefore the leeches don't suck any interest outta me. I avoid cards with annual fees too. And I too get points with every buy. Anyone can do this, but you have to have the discipline to treat a card purchase like cash. It's fun to think that you are using their money for free. Just don't fall into their trap.

Some of the other life light ups my wife and I are trying: disconnected cable TV. Rabbit ears work fine for the major networks and PBS. There was a few days of separation anxiety (wife was a cable news junkie). But now we don't miss it.

Also, we dropped our telco phone line. We both use our cell phones only now. This idea we got from both of our sons who had been only using their cells since they flew our nest.

And - we're reducing the times we eat out.

And - we grew our own tomatoes.

Edited by gmatthews on 08/28/2009 16:11:42 MDT.

J├Ârgen Johansson
(Jorgen) - M

Crowns and grams on 08/29/2009 02:55:23 MDT Print View

Interesting article. If I remember correctly "economy" means "housekeeping".
A couple of years ago a friend of mine made a comparison between cost and weight for "traditional" gear and lightweight gear. He found out that on the average the light gear was 1 SEK cheaper per gram. One Swedish Crown/Krona is about 15 cents.
That is; a 2 000 gram backpack usually retails for 1000 SEK more than a 1 000 gram backpack over here, and so on.
The exception is of course really light sleeping bags, which are more expensive than heavier ones, but they are included in the average and it still boils down to 1 SEK cheaper per gram.
Would be interesting if anyone would do something similar for the US. The article can be found here, for all who read Swedish ;-)

Jeff K
(jeff.k) - F

Locale: New York
Re: Crowns and grams on 08/29/2009 06:58:26 MDT Print View

For those that can't read Sweedish, a decently translated version from google is available at the link below.

English Translation

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
which scale do you use? on 08/29/2009 13:21:10 MDT Print View

Nice piece Brad. Started a similar journey years ago, worked out nice light systems in which items have multiple functions if possible, sold off almost all of our old heavier less functional gear, etc. and still completing that journey (quilt or sleeping bag and NeoAir are last items to switch out). Just curious, which scale did you buy, how much was it and where did you get it? I've been using post office scales forever, spoiled by nearby post offices, but can justify a scale for home office use as well.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Ultralight Economies of Scale: Budgeting for Your Pack & Wallet on 08/30/2009 06:14:15 MDT Print View

I echo what others have stated. I may not be UL but getting close. I was raised that you get what you pay for, and if you can't pay for it, make it. Quality goods last a lifetime. It seems like in the UL community, there is plenty of quality goods with all of the small cottage businesses that we support. I pretty much have the gear that works for me and still paring down the weight with the smaller items. I will finally have my sleeping system complete and that will be the end of my Big Three. This has also fallen into my non-hiking life as well. I dusted off the sewing machine and am back to making my own work clothes. Or shop at the thrift stores.

Great article, Brad!

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Budgeting comments on 09/07/2009 13:10:57 MDT Print View

I'm back from a great trip. Thanks for all the great comments! I was surprised to see how much crossover there was between my daily and backpacking life. It takes a lot of self control to not "just" buy that mid-day drink... and it can also be hard to not "just" add that one extra something to the pack.

EJ, the scale is a random thing I found on Ebay or Amazon or something. Digiweigh, 1000g capacity, 0.1g accuracy... and cheap.

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Re: Budgeting comments on 09/07/2009 13:53:12 MDT Print View

Nice article Brad. I have a Pitney Bowes 2kg electronic scale for pre-trip planning and gear selection. But when travelling abroad I find packroom for a cheap 2kg spring balance which I use to carefully plan our return flight weight allowance with. We tend to go handbaggage only.

As with all good pieces of UL kit, it's multi-purpose. I also have it dangling from my pack strap when I buy food on foreign markets. It's a sort of talismanic threat which seems to be effective with street traders, I've had a few laughs and comments about it in unknown languages.

On the rare occasion I manage to hook a fish I weigh it to calculate cooking time too.

Well worth it's ounce it is.

Edited by tallbloke on 09/07/2009 13:56:44 MDT.

Megan Parker
(mkparker919) - F
Great advice on 09/11/2009 15:17:20 MDT Print View

Thanks again for your generosity in sharing a rainy-day shelter on IRNP, Brad, and for inspiring me to begin my ultralight journey. Glad you had a good trip!


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Great advice on 09/12/2009 17:25:39 MDT Print View

Hey, Megan! Sounds like you, Heidi and Jan got back in one piece... Have fun with the journey!


John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
2 years and 2 hikes and I was converted to Lightweight Hiking on 12/02/2009 22:07:21 MST Print View

Hike number one was a section of the AT begining at Hot Springs, NC with a total "wet" pack weight of approximately 34 pounds. My empty pack weighed in at 4 lbs 13 ozs! So much for the goal of sub 5 pound base weight. I bought it on sale solely for its large capacity. So I believed I was spending my hard earned money wisely. This pack now gathers dust. No money or weight was saved by this purchase. My tent weighed just under 4 pounds. I had it for years and saw no reason to buy a new one. My sleeping bag weighed in at a tad over 3 pounds and my 3/8" closed cell sleeping pad added 10 ozs. Totaled up the "big three" bordered on 12 and 1/2 pounds!

I was carrying things like an 8 x 10 urethane nylon tarp for a rainfly to be used with my tent. I had no idea of dual use and that my tarp could be my tent. My tarp was a 1 pound 11 ounce never used weight. Also in my pack was a 1 pound first aid kit that an EMT would be proud to carry in his ambulance. Good money was spent on both of these items and neither was ever used. I was prepared with my bear bag kit and "just in case" I had an extra 50 feet of double braided 1/8" nylon rope. Let's just say that I was well prepared for camping but not for hiking. Worst of all I wasn't having any fun.

Hike number two was in Cheaha State Park in Alabama. My new pack weighed 2 lbs 7 ozs empty. My sleeping bag was 1 lb 2 ozs, my closed cell 24" wide pad cut to torso size wieghed @ 8 ozs due to its 3/4" thickness and my shelter had become a 2 lb 12 oz hammock and rainfly. My big three total was now weighing in at 7 lbs 13 ozs. I was learning to go lighter. Funny thing about this process my wallet also got lighter. My hard plastic water bottles had been traded in for recycled "sports drink" bottles. These bottles were the turning point and the begining of my fiscal responsibility in going lightweight. The 1 pound first aid kit was replaced by a 3.5 oz quite adequate solo kit in a ziploc bag. It was put together by dividing a newly purchased 7 oz kit into a pair of 3.5 oz kits. That makes one for the day pack and one for the trail. The 1 pounder rides in the emergency bag in the rear of the family car. I had dropped 4 lbs 11 ozs and a ton of cash but my total "wet" weight was still 27 pounds. I was lighter but not lightweight. I enjoyed the hike but in my estimation I was a 50/50 hiker/camper.

Today I am preparing for hike number three. I hope to be doing a section of the AT ending in Damascus, VA. Thanks to the MYOG articles my pack is a personalized version of Jay Ham's SUL pack. Ironically I used my old urethane nylon tarp for the material to sew this new pack. No new money was spent in the construction of this pack except for two spools of thread. I have made the turn towards going lightweight on my back and my wallet. I haven't weighed this pack as yet but the tarp weighed 1 lb 11 ozs before I started cutting into it. Since only a little over 1/3 of the tarp was used in the construction of my new pack I estimate it to weigh @ 12 ozs. I have kept my 1 lb 2 oz sleeping bag and 2 lb 12 oz hammock and rainfly. I replaced my 8 oz pad with a 3/8" torso sized pad that simply has to weigh less since it is 20" wide and half the thickness. Since I do not own a digital scale I will guesstimate its weight at 4.5 ozs.

All totaled up my big three weigh in at 4lbs 12.5 ozs. I loaded up my gear from hike number two's pack into my newly sewn pack and used the venerable pack on, pack off, bathroom scale method to ascertain my new total wet weight of 14.5 lbs.

This new pack is not the final version. Already I feel my wallet getting lighter because I see where I can correct some errors and make improvements. The prototype used only already owned items of gear and two new rolls of thread. To construct the new and improved model I ordered some supplies. My investment will still be under $30.00. I still have plenty of the tarp left over.

Gear lists come and go but these are some examples of items in mine. I wear one set of clothes while carrying another in my pack. I wear one pair of socks and liners while carrying two other pairs of each to rotate. I use a pack liner so gone are the half dozen 2 gallon close and seal bags and the pack cover. Pack organization is achieved through the use of two urethane nylon stuff sacks made only to the size necessary to contain their contents. I hike between early June and late October. I check the almanac and the weather often before I set out. Therefore I carry no raingear as it is usually warm and I am already wet from persperation during the hike.

During hike number two it rained on my hiking partner and I for nearly 5 hours. I used my poncho to cover my pack but I let the rain keep me cool.

I progressed from 8 plastic tent stakes to 8 aluminum stakes to the 4 titanium stakes that I carry now.

Gone are the heavyweight mid ankle height waterproof boots. I now wear low quarter trail runner style hiking shoes.

I am considering replacing the rainfly on my hammock with a 6 oz lighter and larger version from the same manufacturer. I just felt a sharp pain in the area of my left hip pocket!

My toothbrush is cut down and my trowel is shortened and full of lightening holes.

cut down and lightened plastic trowel

I must admit that I am tempted to go back to the ground. I have been oohing and aahing over a l lb 9 oz tarp style shelter complete with bathtub floor and bug mesh. It could bring my big three down to 3 lbs 9.5 ozs. Ouch! There's that sharp pain again.

My conversion is ongoing but not complete. To paraphrase a saying that I have heard I look forward to the day when, "We who have hiked so far with so little are now qualified to hike anywhere with nothing".

Party On 2010,


Edited by Newton on 12/04/2009 23:45:53 MST.