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A lightweight life.
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Alec Farmer
(feltproductive) - F
A lightweight life. on 01/05/2010 18:11:02 MST Print View


I have been reading this site with interest for quite a while now, and a few things have struck me:

All of the people here are into lightweight backpacking, but I wonder how many carry the same principles into their daily life? Lightweight philosophies seem more and more relevant in todays society:

-Lighter, smaller, simpler kit is likely to be more energy efficient in its manufacture, and its transport (lighter individual items = lighter load on a truck = less fuel) and hence, less damaging to the environment.

- MYOG / Adapting items means more reuse, and less purchasing of new items.

- Lightweight kit tends to be smaller, hence takes up less room in a home, hence requires a smaller home, hence using less materials and less energy.

- Lightweight kit is oftern simpler, hence using less materials in the first place.

- The people on this forum seem very capable of deciding EXACTLY what functionality they require from an item. If we could do this day to day, maybe we wouldnt keep buying 'next seasons model' of things we already own.

Bear in mind that if we apply the same mentality we use when hiking, to EVERYTHING we buy, from a stereo to a dining-room chair, we could actually have a big impact on environmental issues.

It is also interesting that some people here frown on outdoor gear companies making 'fashion concious' gear. While I do not think that fashion should overtake the functionality of gear in the wilds, it is worth noting that many of us probably spend more time at home or at work than actually doing outdoor pursuits. It stands to reason then, that if the shirt we bought to use while hiking also looks good when you head out for dinner tonight, it means you only need ONE shirt, for both functions, not TWO. Multiple use. Thats not a bad thing at all (so long as the functionality isnt compromised by the fashion element.)

Just some food for thought. I would be very interested to hear your responses.


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: A lightweight life. on 01/05/2010 18:19:43 MST Print View

This one is definitely "relative".

I think that compared to most, I live a pretty simple life: no wife, no kids, no pets... I love to travel and all I really need to do is make sure I locked the door on my way out. My travel clothes are my hiking clothes and they are also my everyday clothes. I do have my "society" attire -- which I wear only when called for.

When I was working, I saved an average 50% of every dollar earned, after taxes. It's easier to do this because of two reasons: (1) I don't have a family to support, and (2) I am fairly disciplined about spending and know to be content most of the time.

But having recently returned from a trip overseas -- when I compare what I have with folks in Russia or Ukraine or China -- and especially folks in Mongolia -- I am actually saddled with A LOT OF material stuff! I own a house, a car, more clothes than I really need, and just stuff in general.

It's all relative, but I think very, very few of us Americans (or First World inhabitants) can lay claim to "true simplicity".

Alec Farmer
(feltproductive) - F
Its a start... on 01/05/2010 18:29:26 MST Print View

I agree entirely.

What I am saying is that the people on this site are already thinking along more simplistic lines. On a trip they say 'do I really NEED this?' before they pack an item. They are in the routine of questioning the benefits and disadvantages of the items they carry, because by carrying their 'possessions' for a week, they become more attuned to the physical effect they have on their body.

Its a great start. If BPL philosophy was applied to everyday life, I think the positive effects would become apparent very quickly.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: A lightweight life. on 01/05/2010 18:38:18 MST Print View

"It's all relative, but I think very, very few of us Americans (or First World inhabitants) can lay claim to "true simplicity"."


Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
an example of light on 01/05/2010 18:51:35 MST Print View

A great example of keeping it light are the couple who trekked from Seattle to Unimak Island a couple of years ago. They were in Juneau last December for a slide show and book signing of Erin's Long Trek Home before returning to their yurt in Seldovia, Alaska. This article in the New York Times gives an overview.

Their website gives a bit more depth

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Actually, Many of Us ULers Just Buy and Buy and Buy Some More... on 01/05/2010 19:01:31 MST Print View


Methinks that while we may be quite rigorous in deciding what to carry for a week -- many of us are actually quite lax in deciding what stuff to add to our gear closets (and all those other closets that we fill as part of "life")!

Off the trail, my hunch is that most of us are not so 'light weight'.

Edited by ben2world on 01/05/2010 19:10:02 MST.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Re: A lightweight life. on 01/05/2010 19:14:06 MST Print View

"This one is definitely "relative"."

I'm definitely with you on this one, Ben. I try so hard to not own many things that will bog me down, especially since I have no permanent residence. Every time I happen to acquire something, one of my first thoughts is "where am I going to put THIS?" Anything I own that I don't use (nearly) every day becomes something that I have to get rid of, because it's just taking up extra space.

And yet I continue to find things that I want (or need... usually want). The more money I save by being frugal most of the time, the more often I think "I can afford to buy that really awesome new toy." In a way, it's a constant battle against the human urge to own stuff. That said, I definitely think I can handle a simpler life than most Americans, as can most of us in the lightweight backpacking community. Yay for us.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Actually, Many of Us ULers Just Buy and Buy and Buy Some More... on 01/05/2010 19:18:27 MST Print View

I find it ironic that the call here on BPL to be strict with yourself, both practically and emotionally, about what you should and shouldn't bring on a hiking trip so often is argued against when it comes to things at home. A lot of us here, when suggestions are made to lighten up at home, sound exactly like mainstream backpackers do when they view our loads.

My partner is truly ultralight in every sense of the word: Aside from her refrigerator and washing machine, all her belongings can fit into 10 medium sized cardboard boxes.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Actually, Many of Us ULers Just Buy and Buy and Buy Some More... on 01/05/2010 19:39:51 MST Print View


I agree with what you said about lightening on the trail versus lightening up at home.

And reading Ryan's post -- I DEFINITELY feel the constant tug (in me anyway) between the urge to acquire (or at least fondle) and the urge to simplify! I am a gear head and a minimalist both -- and it's not always easy!

The Gear Head in me buys stuff a lot, and the minimalist in me feels bonkers whenever I have more than 2 of anything. So thank heavens for 'Gear Swap' and Ebay -- they enable me to play with new stuff without cluttering up my gear closet.

Edited by ben2world on 01/05/2010 19:42:03 MST.

A Lifeweight Light on 01/05/2010 23:03:37 MST Print View

I grew up with fairly little but as I got older the desire to acquire things did present itself. But it was always in the context of "I want this because it does that" not so much "I want this because it looks like that".

So in a sense Function always surmounted Fashion. So I do have things but less than many superfluous goods others have. You can go for a bike ride without a bike, nor climb without a rope,shoes,etc...

But in those areas my cup runneth over... a backpack for this a daypack for that

but i do my best to keep it in check (although once you hit double digits with packs objectivity is just a word)

Seeing things like this and most of BPL takes me back to my ascetic roots:

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
A lightweight life on 01/05/2010 23:50:26 MST Print View

Unfortunately, a lot of us get tempted by the latest and greatest in lightweight gear. Just as we think we're happy, a newer and lighter item comes out and we rush to buy. While this keeps the innovative gear manufacturers happy and our pocketbooks lean (and often the credit card companies happy, too), this is NOT a low-consumption or simplified lifestyle! Let's not kid ourselves!

I'm just as guilty as anyone, having succumbed to the lure of the NeoAir, only to give up on it and return it to REI (somebody hopefully got a deal on the Scratch-and-Dent sale at Clackamas, OR this past Sunday). I also spent $300 on a new tent (2009 Tarptent/Gossamer Gear Squall Classic) last spring, which was ideal for my needs, only to be tempted once again by Joe Valesko's new Hexamid. No, I don't think I'm going there, but when he gets the 2-person version into production it will be awfully hard to resist!

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/05/2010 23:52:07 MST.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Re: Actually, Many of Us ULers Just Buy and Buy and Buy Some More... on 01/06/2010 04:20:18 MST Print View

"So thank heavens for 'Gear Swap' and Ebay"

That's how I've been justifying a lot of things recently.

But I'll stand by my opinion that we do better than the average American as far as purchasing habits. Even if we buy quite a bit of stuff, I think with lightweight folks there's more of a consciousness about the usefulness of an item because we're focused on weight. Which isn't to say most people buy things without thinking of usefulness, but like Thunderhorse mentioned in the previous post, function tends to surmount fashion.

Let's see how fast I get shot down on this opinion.... ;)

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Actually, Many of Us ULers Just Buy and Buy and Buy Some More... on 01/06/2010 05:07:48 MST Print View

It's too bad our houses and apartments don't usually buckle under the weight of our belongings, or we'd most definitely be thinking more seriously about what we are carrying at home! (I did hear it said once that many areas of the world have sunken below sea level do to all the National Geographic magazines in the attic!)

Alec Farmer
(feltproductive) - F
Any more thoughts? on 01/06/2010 13:29:18 MST Print View

Its really great to get so many responses. Thanks all.

Any thought more specifically about this idea of making 'fashionable' outdoor gear. Many of us dont choose to wear outdoor gear all the time (like, to work?). So should gear designers consider the fact that in fact, much of our lives are spent 'off the trail'? Should they design clothes that, while functional, dont look too technical to wear out for dinner with the in-laws?

For me, certainly, i dislike the uber-technical looking outdoor gear, simply because I feel concious when wearing it. Is there really any need to look like such a 'pro'?!

Thanks again!

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Any more thoughts? on 01/06/2010 13:50:13 MST Print View


There are plenty of technical clothing -- simply styled in neutral colors -- that will work both in town and on the trail -- pretty much for all occasions except for the very formal. They're what I shop for from the get go.

My outfits (ignore the ugly model and just focus on the outfit) -- Mountain Hardwear Canyon shirt, Royal Robbins Supplex pants and Duofold 80/20 tees:


You've just seen my wardrobe for my recent 7-month RTW trip -- 2 tees, 1 shirt and 2 pants -- plus a Montbell UL down inner jacket and a Patagonia Houdini wind jacket. Very versatile actually. I've been wearing the same types of apparel at home and on the trail for the last 10 years.

Edited by ben2world on 01/06/2010 16:12:16 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Any more thoughts? on 01/06/2010 14:04:49 MST Print View

In past threads concerning living a UL life I have been honest. No I don't. What I do on the trail is not who I am at home.

While I don't live in a 5,000 sq ft house we do own our house and for some it might be considered big (Less than 2,000) and we own 3 vehicles for 2 licensed drivers.

I don't wear my hiking clothing in town. I paid too much for it! I don't want to wear it out in all seriousness - I picked it out for a certain reason and purpose. In town I wear khakis, jeans, feminine tops and sweaters.

Same with my house...while we don't have the sheer amount of possessions as many do I see no reason in living with bare walls or sleeping on the floor just for the sake of being UL.

That is me though and what I like. I like having the choice to live the way I deem best - something not everyone has the choice to do.

James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Re: Any more thoughts? on 01/06/2010 14:08:40 MST Print View


I think many here would agree that fashion rather than function already drives most mainstream outdoor retailers (i.e. LOOKING technical but not actually being well suited for a particular purpose). Roger Caffin can be relied upon for eloquent, extended diatribes on this subject! I come to BPL to find techniques and gear that reverse the equation and focus on function. I'm not sure quite what you mean by "fashionable" outdoor gear, because to me the term "outdoor gear" already implies a focus on function.

I personally am content not to wear my outdoor gear in normal life. There are plenty of situations where it may not actually fit the ultralight philosophy to use ultralight gear! It is all about context. For example, my ultralight shell mittens sacrifice durability for weight and performance. If I wore them everytime I walked the dog, I would soon wear them out while never exploiting those advantages. So, I have an old, heavy pair of gloves that do the job, but would certainly not be well suited to backpacking, where concerns about weight, protection, flexibility and moisture management would be paramount.

This is not to propose any dogma about gear. Its just to suggest that context is important in these discussions, whether something is labeled "ultralight" or not.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Any more thoughts? on 01/06/2010 15:52:35 MST Print View

Well lets see...

Seems like the average BPL here has several packs, sleep systems, tents, etc, etc. That would probably equate to a house with several TVs, Stereos, Refrigerators, etc...


Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Ben Tang's 7-Month Round the World Trip Report on 01/06/2010 16:42:31 MST Print View


You had your fun on a 7-month round the world trip. Now we want to enjoy it as well. How about a trip report? Please!

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Ben's travel clothing on 01/06/2010 17:19:03 MST Print View

Very nice, Ben. It's obvious that you've put a lot of thought into this. Do you have a complete list of your travel gear?