"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 light.com 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.