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Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy
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Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/03/2009 12:33:15 MST Print View

So. We're all here at BPL for a reason. Those reasons will undoubtedly differ, but they hold a common thread: we're here to learn and to simplify and heighten our outdoor experience. I'm very sure that the majority of us have learned something here that we will use on our next hike.

But what about the ins and outs of every day life?

It seems for me that paring down my pack has helped me pare down other things in life as well. I recycle more. I'm much more conscious now of what I eat and where it comes from than I was before. I buy products that have minimal waste. I buy from companies that I believe have a good platform of ethics. I've rid myself of extra junk lying around the house, and when I do buy something new, I try to get rid of something to make room for it--not add to the clutter. Overall, I'm more aware of what I put into my body, my house, and the environment.

My question to you is, how have the philosophies and thoughts behind your lightweight backpacking affected your off-trail life?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/03/2009 13:03:54 MST Print View

Haven't changed. I formulated my belief system and approach to life nearly 40 years ago. I haven't 2nd guessed myself or changed much since then.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/03/2009 17:25:29 MST Print View

"My question to you is, how have the philosophies and thoughts behind your lightweight backpacking affected your off-trail life?"

Or vice versa?

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/03/2009 22:26:03 MST Print View

Sure, we'll throw that out there as well!

Michael Meiser
(mmeiser) - F

Locale: Michigan
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/04/2009 00:40:01 MST Print View

Good question.

"Less is more"

This has been an principal I learned in my study of design in college, but I'd never thought to put it to the kind of use this forum has taught me.

For me ultra-light bicycle touring (which this forum has informed so much) has been an extension of and exercise in that principal. It's brought it to a new level or new extreme that hadn't occurred to me before because I couldn't see past cultural norms and aesthetics. It's been for me a tool for chopping through the dogma and finding new truths.

It has heightened and sharpened my focus. Indeed it's taught me some amazing things about design, life and myself.

1) "store bought value" is a myth of the consumer culture

The perfect gear is often not found in a store.

Don't get me wrong I absolutely love the cottage industry in this space and indeed those bigger manufacturers... but I have found home made / found / improvised items not only compete with manufactured goods, but can best them. There's such an amazing amount of innovation on this forum that it excites and challenges me.

These ultralight forums have helped me transcend the sociological norms and see things from a new perspective. Challenging assumptions and misconceptions about what will work. Getting rid of cultural dogma.

As an example, there is no such thing as the perfect stove. There is only the perfect stove for the right person for the right trip in the right geography at the right time of year.

My hangups over wood because it was "dirty" had blinded me from realizing how clean it can be, how freeing it is to not carry fuel, how rich of an experience it is to cook on a fire. My hangups over how slow store bought alcohol stoves were (i.e. the Trangia) blinded me from how hot and efficient they could be (thanks to Tiny at Mini Bull Designs and others). Besides... who ever said cooking was a race anyway. You have to know when to slow down.

In turn I think this forum has opened up a world of possibilities for me not only as a tourer and hiker in going further and finding more freedom, not only as a designer searching for innovation and new levels of clarity, but also my perspectives on what is possible in life using only modest means like my own human power. In a word it's been an affirmation and a new awakening.

There's no one else to blame... no product to deflect on... "if I only could the latest or greatest x". The key to this game is utilizing what you've got at hand and in your head, your own fitness, and backpacking is a guide and a community of guides on that road.

If nothing else home made gear can often be lighter just because of the sheer fact that manufactured goods are overbuilt to withstand abuse and misuse from less then fully knowledgeable users and to combat return or warranty costs. What's more creating your own gear gives you far more appreciation for it, knowledge of how to use it and how to fix it when / if it breaks.

When you make your own gear you can push the boundary right to the breaking point and even past it. Which brings me to my next point.

2) Push the limits.

Very few things are truly essential, everything else is optional, therefore you can really push the limits of anything non-essential.

What is essential? Water, food, shelter, clothing?

The curve is different for biking then hiking because I'm almost never more then a few hours from some form of civilization... i.e. a house.. and therefore in an emrgency water, food, a phone. However the concept is the same.

I can truly push the limits of my gear, especially if I make it myself. If I make a tent or bag to light and it tears I can sew it and learn from my mistake.

In cooking this would be called "eating your mistakes". It's a great way to learn.

3) Embrace adversity and learn from the experience.

I fear less, there's no anxiety for me in going out in 32 degree freezing rain and 50mph winds and temps dropping to below zero.

Though we fear things we should more often then not we fear things simply because we don't know them. The key is learning the difference through experience.

Become acquainted with the things you fear and you likely won't fear them. I find going out in extreme weather exhilarating, refreshing, even fun because I've embraced that challenge repeatedly and learned from it. I know what my gear and I myself can take. I even know if it fails or I fail I can improvise alternatives, which brings me to my next point.

4) Celebrate your failings, they are an opportunity to learn.

These last few points don't speak of throwing away fears and behaving foolishly. They speak of cutting through false fears and learning a greater respect from those things you should fear. i.e. dehydration, bonking, freezing.

When is the last time you went on a trip that was a total disaster? Everything went wrong? Maybe you bailed out early? Embrace it, even while it's happening. Ask yourself what can I learn from this? Learn to laugh at yourself. Even celebrate it by sharing it with friends so that we may all learn from it.

5) Improvisation is key.

Raw materials aren't just titanium, Sill Nylon, Cuben... your "natural materials" come from wherever you are. What can you utilize in a gas station? a grocery store? Raw materials are whatever you find along the way, above all in the wild.

These things are as much a part of your gear as what you carry. A piece of found wood becomes a baton turning a knife into a superb splitting tool. A 32oz beer can + pork and beans can become a first class wood stove. Fat wood and a dozen other materials can be found and used to start a fire even after a pouring rain. A small green sapling becomes a bow for your your saw blade leaving you just to pack and carry a 2oz blade and yet have a world class cutting tool.

Improvise, adapt, and learn how to utilize what's around you.

6) Multi-use items / vesatility is key.

Screw the gadget culture.

There is a place for gadgets but on the shole specialty made tools for special purposes are not good for anything but selling more products and filling more cabinets. It's not just that these can weigh down a pack they also become clutter.

If I'm going to carry a tool I want it to do as much as possible. I want to master that tool. Fully maximize on what it can do and understand it's full potential.

Throw out the drawer full of kitchen cutting tools and realize the possibilities of a single knife.

Get rid of the extra baggage and clutter and get back fully utilizing the elemental. Less truly is more.

There are two dozen uses for baking soda.

There are a half dozen uses for a tarp. It is far more versatile then a tent.

Nearly everything in my bags these days have multiple uses.

I gain more by carrying less and developing my skills and understanding with those tools better, which leads me to my next point.

7) Knowledge is your best tool.

Because I carry less I've come to understand and appreciate skills (like bush craft) more and the skills it takes to build / make / improvise the tools I use.

We're not an island unto ourselves, and we can't and shouldn't try to physically carry everything we need on our back.

Knowledge / skills / craft learned and practiced are your best tools of all. They weigh nothing.

8) New perspectives.

I never would have thought I could cover 120 miles in a day cycling a few years ago. Indeed most people have no concept of this. But it's become almost natural, even easy.

It may not be hiking, but certainly there's a comparison between the two. Moving through the landscape in a means other then car gives whole new perspectives and insights into geography and space.

My backyard has grown by several hundred miles.

9) Respect of raw materials

This forum as has re-iterated some of the things I already have a tremendous respect for and extended them.

I find it funny, even beautiful that ultra-lighters will eschew a manufactured product to make one at home... but it's not because they're cheap. They'll often in fact spend more to make it titanium, 800+ down, Cuben, etc.

You may find a person using a home made 800 down quilt with a titanium stove using a Styrofoam cup and a 32oz Fosters can pot.

The respect for elemental materials is nothing new for me. However including things like Styrofoam cups and beer cans amongst things to be respected for their inherent values is.

Edited by mmeiser on 12/04/2009 00:45:34 MST.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Lightweight backpacking philosophy at home. Nice post. on 12/04/2009 02:17:45 MST Print View

mmeiser--Well said.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/04/2009 08:31:02 MST Print View

Not much. I have been backpacking since I was in college. All I did was lighten my load and learn to walk longer miles per day in the past 5 or so years.

I recycled before I backpacked and ate from a co-op when I was 18. Those things never changed but was never a direct relation to my outdoor life.

Hiking is that to me: hiking. It is part of my life but doesn't direct any deep meanings. Who I am was already set, I didn't have a revelation about what I needed to change (though I have met others who did get that feeling).

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/04/2009 19:58:46 MST Print View

The biggest thing that ultralight backpacking has given me is a way to express my creativity. I felt such a burst of creativity creating gear and paring down my weight in preparation for hiking the PCT. During the PCT, too, since adjustments were always being made.

The hike is over and I feel a void without that creativity. I have great gear and don't need any more. Hiking the PCT kind of cured me of the focus on gear anyway. What's important is being out there in nature living the life.

I have done only one backpack trip since coming home. I really want to do more.

I guess lately I think about haw I lived 6 months in nature carrying very little. I was happy. I was warm, safe and dry. I had no desire to have more things. I wonder often how to live that way permanently. What would it take? How far could I go? Just clean up the clutter and keep my life the same? Or go even further, live in an RV and work seasonal jobs? Or even further, live in a yurt in a secret place in the forest, forage food and buy cheap staples from feed stores, supplemented with dumpster diving? Grow my own food?

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/04/2009 20:10:56 MST Print View

"What would it take? How far could I go?"

Ah, you're very much where I am these days. I tell people that I plan to retire in no more than 5 years, hopefully closer to 3. I'll have a small pension, and probably still too much gear ;-)

A previous girlfriend asked me once how I could even think of retiring so young (she was being nice, I ain't that young!). She couldn't conceive of how I could want to do nothing for the rest of my life.

Of course, she and I had/have very different ideas about retirement. Playing with my puppies, riding my bikes a lot more, backpacking much, much more, reading all the things I don't have time to read now, grow/nuture a small organic garden ... to me this is hardly doing nothing. In fact, it would be doing all the things I wish I had much more time to do now.

I don't need much. In fact, I have to get rid of much first. A very small place to live, a bit of land on which to garden, my gear, my puppies. I'll have plenty for that.

Soon. Very soon. Though I know far, far too well about how short this life is, and the importance of not waiting too long to do what's important. That's why I'm out in the woods almost every weekend now. I stand and look at the sky a lot. I smile a lot. I sing silly songs at the office (I really do). I shoo my staff out of the office at the end of the day when they think they have to work extra. They think I'm nuts. ;-)

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/05/2009 03:45:44 MST Print View

Ok, now we're starting! Some people haven't changed. Start with a strong set of values, stick with a strong set of values. Who's to argue with that? Some people let it spill over more. Push the envelope of simplicity into seeking out what they really need in life. Keep 'em coming guys!

Mark Stalbird
(Off-road) - F
Good stuff on 12/05/2009 08:50:09 MST Print View

I recently read a book relative to this topic,

"All i really need to know i learned in kindergarten"
Robert Fulghum.

Simplicity in the field and at solved.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/06/2009 12:31:59 MST Print View

Huh, when I read the title of this post, I thought you meant hiking off-trail (something I do a lot of), as in bush-bashing. From that perspective, UL is a blessing, but certain items still need to be pretty tough. It has to survive brambles and rocks and scree and being dragged over or under stuff, sometimes being dropped from a height etc...DriDucks and cuben can't handle this sort of torture!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Good stuff on 12/06/2009 13:26:18 MST Print View

> "All i really need to know i learned in kindergarten"

I would interpret that to mean he has learnt nothing since he left kindergarten.


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Good stuff on 12/06/2009 13:44:23 MST Print View

"All i really need to know i learned in kindergarten"

Hmmm, mummy makes my lunches, daddy makes the money to buy the food and toys. Finger-painting is messy but fun, but who cares coz the maid does the laundry. Bee stings hurt a lot, and so does falling off your bike and scraping your knees. But when you get home, mummy will kiss it better.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
kindergarten on 12/06/2009 14:27:57 MST Print View

Here is the original from Fulghum:

[Begin quote]


(a guide for Global Leadership)

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

[End Quote]

Edited by elmvine on 12/06/2009 14:29:05 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: kindergarten on 12/06/2009 16:44:26 MST Print View

Bravo to your entire post!!

Would that more people took it to heart, because, yes, everything you need to know IS in there somewhere.

Thanks for sharing, Mina.

Edited by ouzel on 12/06/2009 17:09:27 MST.

Andy Waters
(dirtyhiker) - F

Locale: NC mountains
Re: kindergarten on 12/06/2009 17:05:26 MST Print View

+1 right on!!

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking on 12/06/2009 18:48:11 MST Print View

I took a Gossamer Gear G4 through some pretty rough bushwhacking and it survived well. Only a small tear on one of the mesh pockets. I would have expected MUCH worse after what I went through.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Off-Trail Lightweight Backpacking Philosophy on 12/06/2009 19:49:51 MST Print View

>Huh, when I read the title of this post, I thought you meant hiking off-trail (something I do a lot of), as in bush-bashing.

Yes, after posting, I realized that off-trail here usually means still hiking, just not on a designated trail! My apologies! "Bush-bashing?" Political statement?! I like it! Though, BPL is not a place for that I guess.

> "All i really need to know i learned in kindergarten"

>I would interpret that to mean he has learnt nothing since he left kindergarten.

Yes and no I think. Depends on how you view that statement. Maybe this: Many, but not all of the general principles of life I learned in kindergarten, but have been modified through personal experience and growth. Oh, and there's a few 'grown-up' things I learned later as well. ;-)

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Kindergarten on 12/07/2009 12:15:39 MST Print View

Most everything on that list of things 'learned in kindergarten' are actually things I learned at home. I would certainly hope that most of those lessons had been learned before your parents ship you off to kindie!

It was actually at kindergarten that I first learned about a lot of the dark side of humans....bullying, cheating, stealing, lying, gluttony, messiness, sloth, disease. At kindie I couldn't take a nap when my body was tired, or eat when I was hungry, I had to wait until nap time or snack time. I was forced to read books at least a year below my reading ability, and I mean really insulting to the intelligence type books like Dick and Jane.