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Be Prepared, Not Equipped
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 13:10:56 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Be Prepared, Not Equipped

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 13:57:23 MST Print View

Hi Brad

Very nicely put.
And I did like the 'alien' bit.


Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: "Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 17:13:17 MST Print View

Bravo! Well done

Dan Cunningham

Locale: Land of 12,000 Loons
Agree! on 01/26/2010 17:41:38 MST Print View

I like how you separate the concepts of being prepared with being equipped, as the two are completely different. Interestingly, I never made the distinction until I started packing light. I think the exercise of deciding exactly what goes into your pack makes you think through the possibilities more than just throwing items in for the just-in-case scenarios.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 17:49:13 MST Print View

Well thought out and expressed. I also like the alien line -- it captures the mindset that thinks more stuff = better prepared...

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:03:01 MST Print View

<--card-carrying Eagle Scout.

So true, so true. I learned a while ago that being prepared does not equal being equipped. Ray Jardine and BPL gets credit for much of that realization.

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:03:10 MST Print View


I appreciated your thoughts very much, especially the admonition not to think of ourselves as superior to the traditional crowd. Our job is to be ambassadors, educators, & enablers for the lightweight style of backpacking & to remember, as you did, that most of us were once "traditionalists". My epiphany came 3 years ago, when after being exhausted at the end of a 3 mile 1500' climb on the AT carrying a 60 lb. pack I had what I call my "Scarlett O'Hara moment" when I said, "As God is my witness, I will never carry a heavy backpack again!"
My buddy & I were able to recently cruise from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap on the AT in 3-1/2 days(a distance of 72 miles) with 14 lb packs. At the 3 shelters we stayed at along the way, we were asked lots of questions & enjoyed sharing our experiences & equipment details. I always refer people to this website as the most complete resource to start their lightweight transformation, should they so choose.
Thank you for your insightful article.


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:27:31 MST Print View

Part of being prepared IS being equipped appropriately rather than being not equipped.

Agree that you should pack for the expected conditions with perhaps a reasonable margin for error, but when you hike someplace like the Southern Alps of new Zealand, it is often impossible to predict the conditions, so the margin of error becomes larger than, say, a summer trek in the Sierras. Unpreparedness (as in lack of adequate gear AND the knowledge to use it) is a big killer of tourists taking to the backcountry in NZ. Many don't appreciate how rapidly and without warning things can go from a very nice summer's day to a sub-zero blizzard and whiteout conditions that may last for days...or from small side creeks to enraged floods even when it hasn't rained where you are hiking. People here also get into trouble from lack of equipment because they plan on making it to the next hut. If events arise that interfere with that plan, it can rapidly become a life-threatening situation.

I must admit that most of my lightening up has not involved much in the way of being 'less equipped', but more from merely finding lighter equipment that does the same things. My bag still needs to be safely warm below freezing, even in summer. My tent still needs to withstand gale force winds, my pack still needs to deal with off trail abrasive bush-bashing while carrying my load comfortably and my mat still needs to insulate me from the ground. My stove still needs to cook food in a reasonable time in strong winds and rain, and my boots still need to protect my feet from pointy sharp plants, scree and river gravel. Most of my equipment I could clearly live without, but choose not to for the sake of my enjoyment. This includes a fully enclosed tent to keep biting insects at bay, trekking poles, a rain jacket and a windshirt. However these are also much lighter than I used to carry. I now tear my trail books down the spine to make them lighter, but I still bring something to read. My light is very much smaller and lighter, but I still bring a light and spare battery. And so on and so forth. I still agree that knowledge and planning are the front-line preparedness requirements, but I don't skimp on the equipment either!

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 18:54:03 MST Print View

Hey, all- Thanks for the comments so far!

Matt, I'm a card-carryin' Eagle, too... James, glad the comments worked for you. I transitioned that paragraph badly; I meant to start the paragraph by saying something like "Please understand that I'm not trying to say this is the only 'right' way to travel the backcountry." I guess I was trying to "soften the blow" of my words?

Lynn, you fell in my Kiwi trap! I figured it would be you, Roger, or the gentleman from Alaska who pointed out that some of y'all travel real backcountry that could be 20 below or 80 above the same day, that an overnight trip could take place in fields of flowers and life-threatening snow storms within a matter of hours, unlike the rest of us posers. But I think that even in the extreme climate changes you can experience in a given trip, you still practice some of the same principles that I espouse. For example, you don't carry two stoves, do you? Plenty of layers, but no more than you'd wear at once? And so forth...

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 19:12:28 MST Print View

"you still practice some of the same principles that I espouse. For example, you don't carry two stoves, do you? Plenty of layers, but no more than you'd wear at once? And so forth..."

Wellllll, these days we carry both a "real stove" such as an alcohol or propane/butane one, and use a Ti-Tri as the pot support and windscreen. This does give us some redundancy if, for instance, our fuel leaks. I also carry some redundancy in clothing, especially base layer/sleeping layer, socks, gloves and wind layers. I don't think that has changed much over the years, it's just that my base layers are a lot lighter now, and I've added a wind layer that I didn't use to carry. So maybe I'm getting worse at this UL game with age!

And yeah, this global climate change is gonna wreak havoc with the ULers sense of preparedness ;)

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 20:25:29 MST Print View

Hi Brad

> some of y'all travel real backcountry that could be 20 below or 80 above the
> same day, that an overnight trip could take place in fields of flowers and
> life-threatening snow storms within a matter of hours
Happens ... these two scenes were a couple of days apart and seem to meet most of your criteria.

But I still agree with you: we carry a lot less gear these days, but we select that gear much more carefully. I think that is what you are driving at?

On the second of the days shown we did have a bit more of our clothing on in the morning than normal, but we were still quite comfortable - and had one warm top each in reserve. We put that final warm layer on when we stopped to have morning tea, sitting on a log from which I had cleared the snow. :-) My memory is that we enjoyed our morning tea.

The only time I ever carry two stoves is when one of them is an experimental one ... just in case it breaks!


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Clarification on 01/26/2010 20:47:09 MST Print View

Hey guys- We'll get weather with highs in the 70s and lows in the (high) 20s sometimes, but nothing too crazy.

The thing I wanted to clarify is that to be under-equipped would be un-prepared. If you really can expect such dramatic changes, then you need the gear for the situation. Being prepared does require carrying the right equipment, just not more than you need, etc...

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 21:38:59 MST Print View

Thanks so much for that brilliant article Brad!!!!

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/26/2010 21:42:05 MST Print View

Brad - What is the blue bag attached to your pack shoulder straps in the photo?

Ian White
(DeuceRegular) - F

Locale: Southern Jefferson
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/26/2010 23:20:39 MST Print View

That was a good read. I hadn't separated those two concepts in as clear as terms before. This will be helpful when explaining safety issues to "converts."

After my epiphany moment in the midst of a thru-hike (JMT '04), the bulk of my weight loss has been -like others - in the lightening up of equipment that I still carry. I have lost some redundant items, but the weight change has really come from lightening the big three. Back then I counted pounds not ounces. I lost 4 pounds by changing packs, 3 by changing tents, and 2 by switching sleeping bags. I did this in a year, and could afford to thanks to ebay.

Then I found out about BPL, and after that I switched out of using white gas stoves and saved some more weight, and also started getting into lightweight clothing, and leaving extra shirts behind. The point is that I still feel safe in the backcountry, and perhaps more so because I am not getting fatigued on the trail. I think that is from focusing on being "prepared" rather than "equipped".

Juston Taul

Locale: Atlanta, GA
Good Read on 01/27/2010 00:30:08 MST Print View

Thanks for the article Brad. It spoke the truth. I too use to carry everything including the kitchen sink. My pack weights were up to 40-50 lbs at one point in time. Your article made me laugh because you basically described me. Backups of backups... items that were never used. How refreshing it is to carry a pack with base weights under 10 lbs. I don't feel that i'm lacking anything.

I think the fact that i've done so much research on subjects, and that I have learned so much through sites such as BPL, has allowed me to drop the weight. Knowledge for me equals less weight in my pack. Thanks again. Cheers mate.

Shontelle Adams
(shonkygirl) - F

Locale: Central Coast, Aus.
"Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/27/2010 02:10:59 MST Print View

Lynn, I appreciated your Southern Hemisphere perspective, having just returned from a 5 night / 6 day hike of a section of the Australian Alpine Walking Track where we experienced days of high 30's (Celsius) down to 5 degrees at night and the day after we left they had snow (so disappointed we missed that) I feel that I need to have equipment to handle the extremes.

However my pack is slowly getting lighter and mainly through actively registering everything that goes into my pack with its weight and considering it's purpose, then removing redundancies eg do I really need a full cutlery set - knife, fork, spoon, plus a pocket knife? Now I only take my pocket knife and a long handled spoon (would love to find a long handled spork). And of course a lot of my gear is getting lighter as I purchase new equipment/clothes. Really appreciate all the information and advice I find here on BPL.

Roger, I love the pictures, looks very similar to what I was walking through last week (minus the snow), can you tell me where exactly and what dates?


Peter Rattenbury
(MountainMule) - F

Locale: Australia
As Light as the Environment Allows. on 01/27/2010 03:13:47 MST Print View

I join others thanking Brad for his perspective. My perspective is one which comes from much tramping through New Zealand conditions, and boy, you need backup sometimes when its been seven days of solid rain, everything wet overhead, most of your gear saturated [ in spite of good husbandry and appropriate raingear]. So you travel as light as you can given the circumstances. Sometimes you need [not want ] a complete dry change of clothing for example. And some of the light kit designed for wide open spaces would be shredded in close-up bush bashing. That's why New Zealand gear has reputation for toughness born of experience. I guess conditions in Washington state and along the AT are comparable?
This is not to say Brad's principles do not apply. We match gear to the anticipated environment.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
There are no absolutes on 01/27/2010 06:24:28 MST Print View

Each trip should be taken on a case by case basis. The goal of a 3 pound base weight or 5 pound base weight or whatever is purely arbitrary; it's an academic exercise. That's why I always tell people that is it NOT about weight. Lightweight is simply the natural OUTCOME of packing in a much more thoughtful, considered and efficient way for every trip with it's given set of circumstances.

It's about being ultra-efficient. NOT ultra-light.

Edited by davidlewis on 01/27/2010 06:25:18 MST.

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
Being prepared on 01/27/2010 07:04:48 MST Print View


Great article and spot on on the difference between prepared and equipped. I have been backpacking for around 25 years and I used to carry packs up in the 60 pound range. I didn't really carry a lot of redundant items other than clothing. My epiphany came in 1995 and I've been working at lightening the load ever since. Like some others here my main weight savings has come in finding the lightest versions of the gear I want to take. Is there still redundancy? Yes, but only a little - mainly in my fire starting kit and lighting. I still take some items that are a bit heavier for the comfort factor but I'm putting in longer days and feeling less tired and that is a big part of being prepared. If you're too tired you don't handle situations well.