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Be Prepared, Not Equipped
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Brad Roberts

Locale: Colorado
Going through the same "enlightening" process... on 01/27/2010 07:47:36 MST Print View

I like your approach to lightening your load...based on functionality vs extreme ultralight. I am currently enjoying the process of lightening my load, but keeping the right comfort level. Can't believe how much useless crap I was carrying before. This website is the best thing to happen to backpacking since the invention of the backpack. Also, I have noticed that the best place to lighten my load is in my body weight! Cheers!

Nicholas Luhr
(nhluhr) - F
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 09:19:52 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.


Please don't take this the wrong way, but when I read your message, I felt it still echoes a better-than-them mentality when you talk about being an "educator" and having an "epiphany" as if what you're doing now is the result of some holy enlightenment that "they" just haven't gotten yet and that "they" need your help to find.

Going light is a choice that comes with compromises. It is by no means the final word on wilderness travel.

I do everything, from ultra-minimal runs up the 3000ft 4mi Mount Si trail to over-equipped luxury dayhikes where I prepare a nice meal at a nice destination, to mountaineering where you're FORCED to abide by minimalist principles while also carrying a LOT of stuff because of the extremely variable nature of weather on high peaks.

Knowing how to minimalize your gear is just a small aspect of experienced backpacking and should NOT be your only focus nor does it give anybody the right to a smug treatment of people who are not choosing to go minimal.

Edited by nhluhr on 01/27/2010 09:25:32 MST.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 10:07:04 MST Print View

Hi, all- Thanks for your continued thoughts and comments!

Several people have mentioned that their major weight loss has happened in carrying lighter versions of equipment. I think that falls into the same mindset that I described. For myself, for example, I went from splitting the weight of a pretty massive mountaineering tent to splitting a tarp & bug tent insert. Instead of the D cell maglite I went to a AAA LED light. Instead of a white gas stove for 3-season trips I went to alcohol. I didn't need the extra "oomph" of the heftier versions I used to carry.

On the photos:
I'll confess that the portage pack in my vehicle is a solid 100 liters; I didn't weigh it, didn't have the heart. The chest pack in that photo has a film SLR with two lenses, filters, and other fun accessories. I think the pack was filled for a week.

The other photo is a self-made pack, 45L as filled w/12 days of food. The chest pack there is a Sea to Summit Big River 5L dry bag. I attached it to the shoulder harness w/a couple of cheapie mini biners. It has a piece of CCF on the bottom and wrapped tube-like inside; I carry a small digital camera, change of batteries, fire-starting/survival stuff, and lunch in the bag. Just 'cause someone will probably ask anyway, the chunk of blue foam at the bottom of the pack was to prevent the carbon arrow shaft of my frame from implanting itself into my body. (I had to do some field sewing w/webbing, and pad the end of the arrows so they didn't destroy the repairs, but otherwise the pack worked pretty well.)

David Neumann
(idahomtman) - M

Locale: Northern Idaho
Cognitive preparation on 01/27/2010 10:30:44 MST Print View

Thanks Brad for the great article. I have enjoyed reading the comments as well. Each environment and season has equipment requirements that will differ but the overall thesis of the article, I think, remains the same.

I enjoy the planning process which has lead to lower base weight and increased comfort, both on the trail and in camp. Lightening up is a process which requires skill, knowledge, money, and confidence which takes time to acquire. If nothing else, it has enabled me to increase my backpacking even as I approach retirement.

Gabe Joyes
(gabe_joyes) - F

Locale: Lander, WY
Good Article Brad on 01/27/2010 12:31:28 MST Print View

"Let me say that I have been extraordinarily offended by the strident self-righteousness and superiority expressed by some ultralighters."

Extremely well put!

I know this is not the focus of the article, but I too dislike the arrogance of some UL hikers. I am a huge fan of BPL, and I am always try go lighter, but everytime I read the mantra "Pack Less. Be More." I want to vomit a little. Backpacking is not about the gear on your back, its about your experience. A lightweight backpack does not make you a better person.

Johann kuester
(whirlpool) - F
Agreement on 01/27/2010 12:39:52 MST Print View

I have to agree with your article one hundred percent. I even wrote something similar recently, in a much more condensced form, under the General Board of the PACIFIC NORTHWEST TRAIL ASSOCIATION communication section, entitled, Thoughts On Survival. Your article is a good reflection of the philosophy of light weight gear and training, and using it to ones benefit. Couldn't agree more with what you wrote. Great article.

Dwight Mauk
(melnik) - M
Thanks on 01/27/2010 12:41:43 MST Print View


Thanks for the article. I've been backpacking for over 35-yrs, and I've only recently begun to put the money into lighter gear. In fact, I think you helped me pick my WM bag.

Off the point, is that Lake of the Clouds in one of your pictures?

Thanks again.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Be Prepared, Not Equipped" on 01/27/2010 13:23:39 MST Print View

Hi Shontelle

AAWT end-to-end, April 1999, 31.5 days.

Top pic - going around Lake Albina. (It had snowed a few days earlier too.)
Bottom pic: heading N from McKeahanies Ck, just S of Happy Jacks Plain. The evening before had been quite warm and sunny.

Between Dead Horse Gap and Kiandra we went oof-trail cross-country, not on the 'official' route, because we know that country very well.


Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Acronyms on 01/27/2010 14:43:11 MST Print View

I enjoyed reading about your hiking history and how it has lead you to spare a few pounds and probably your knees too.

I would like to ask mainly BPL article reviewers to please consider non-native English speakers, of which I am one, when acronyms are used in an article. I'm able to extrapolate their meaning from the article, but just to be sure can someone please un-acronym :D for me:

EMT course

Thanx, Eins

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
Margins of error and ultralight on 01/27/2010 14:46:31 MST Print View

Regarding dealing with unpredictable weather/temperatures - warmer gear really isn't all that heavy if you pick carefully. An extra fleece vest or pullover might be 250-300g (9-10oz), my powerstretch balaclava weighs 50g/1.8oz. An extra 5-10oz of down fill spread between a jacket and a sleeping bag makes a massive difference to temperature range (remember the shell weight of either doesn't need to change, which is why I think jackets like the MB EX light aren't worthwhile). Always packing rain pants might cost less than 200g/7oz. Fleece gloves, same weight as balaclava, and always come in handy at night as pot holders + bug protection anyway. MLD's event mitts are 1oz.

And it does simplify your kit (and packing it) if it covers a broad range, it's too easy to fall into the trap of buying more and more gear to cover ever more specific ranges of conditions.

Regarding the wet, after many unpleasant nights trying to dry clothing in my sleeping bag, I don't bother. But my 'evening' dry clothing is very light (the main purpose being to just keep my down gear clean, and leave all the insulation to the down): it consists of some MB wind pants (60g/2.1oz), my windshirt (the one thing I *can* easily dry), a polypro balaclava (30g/1oz), a pair of running socks (40g/1.4oz) and a down jacket/vest. (And when my day clothing is dry, it can just stay on underneath that). Maybe I need slightly warmer down gear by not relying on my day baselayers+fleece, but down is so warm for the weight you need very little extra to compensate.

In winter when the days are short, I do take a spare light - when walking with a light if I dropped/lost/broke it, there are some places I *really* would not want to be stuck in the dark (eg steep ridge with bluffs all around in high winds + sleet). In these sorts of spots I would really like to give myself the best chance of being able to walk of trouble rather than having to hunker down. And if you are trying to squeeze every bit of walking out of the minimal daylight hours, it can be easy to get timings wrong and end up still moving in the dark.

...but, LED lights are really light (*ahem*) now, if you ignore the battery weight - since two batteries is just giving you more runtime anyway. My LD10 is 50g (1.8oz) plus battery, so not too extravagant.

Shelter wise, I haven't really put my tarp-like Patrol to serious wind tests (I tend to evacuate to less exposed spots), but shelters like the MLD Duomid seem pretty storm proof without any big weight cost.

So there's some redundancy there sure, but even a fairly big margin of error/unpredictability doesn't need to cost you much.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Acronyms on 01/27/2010 15:06:01 MST Print View


EMT = Emergency Medical Technician
EMS = Emergency Medical Services

Melissa Spencer
(melissaspencer) - F

Locale: PNW
Reality, redundancy, and knowledge on 01/27/2010 16:07:31 MST Print View


I completely agree with your article; I think your statement DOES apply to all situations. You stated, “I need to be prepared for reality, not for situations that could only happen "if Superman came down to fight a battle against an evil guy freezing Florida solid in July."

If your reality is that you live in a region of the world that is typically 40F at night, but can sometimes (even in the summer) get below 20F, then pack for that reality and carry equipment that will keep you safe to 20F (maybe not sweating hot, but safe).

If your reality is that you are hiking in a region of the world where the last time it froze was during the last ice age, pack for that reality and don’t carry equipment that will keep you warm to 20F. If some evil guy decides to freeze Hawaii or wherever solid, then it is the end of the world anyway.

Secondly, I completely agree with “being prepared, not redundant”. In emergencies, knowledge is more important than having redundant gear if you have to overcome the loss of functionality of a piece of gear. Here are some examples of knowledge that can eliminate gear redundancy:

Stove or fuel (or no one has a lighter or match): In the rare occasion that your well-cared-for primary stove fails, or if you run out of fuel, you can build a hobo fire and put your pot on it to cook with. If you can’t legally light a fire or it is too wet, eat your breakfast for dinner (and your dinner later in the trip). If you must eat your dinner for dinner, you can use cold water to soak your meal for half hour to 2 hours (depends on how cold the water is) and it will reconstitute (even mac and cheese). Many backpackers do this anyway and leave the stove at home.

Windscreen: Build one with rocks and put your sleeping pad on the other side of it to block the cracks.

Firestarter: If you run out of firestarter, or you need to make some, you already have everything in your pack that you need. If it is dry out, you can start with some moss or the shredded bark of cedars or redwoods, or make shreds with your knife. If you don’t, use a piece of crumpled paper from the corner of your map, journal, or guidebook, or cotton from your handkerchief, tampon, thread or first aid gauze. If you have none of that, use a piece of your base layer, pack towel or nylon bear rope (synthetic cloth is very flammable). Now, douse it with a petroleum product or alcohol: stove fuel, hand sanitizer, Vaseline lip care, or sun block. There you go: fire starter (I think the best is cotton smeared with Vaseline lip care).

Lighting: Know the battery life of your light and plan for the worst-case scenario—if you had to walk all through the night (maybe even for 2 nights) to make it out to a road. That means you need enough light to hang out in camp, plus however many hours of light the sun is not shining (sun set and sunrise are always predictable, know them for the area you are going into, as well as the phases of the moon). I always plan for the emergency of having to hike 2 nights to find a road. For example, if I am going out for 5 nights and I use 1 hour per night writing in my journal, then I find myself in a situation where I have to hike all through the night for 2 nights, I need 5+10+10 hours of light (assuming 10 hours of darkness) in the worst-case scenario. So, I throw a new battery in my 33-hour headlamp and I am more than prepared. I also carry a little pinch light. Not the brightest, but in the worst-case scenario, I could have 8 extra hours of light. It also uses the same battery as my watch, so there is another 8 hours if needed.

Anything short of the worst-case scenario you will be fine if you run out of light! You are an ultralighter, so you don’t have much in your pack and you know where it all is. You should be familiar enough with your pack and gear to set up your shelter in the dark. You can live without writing in your journal this time.

Water treatment: Boil your water. You may eat some unwanted pine needles or debris, but it will be nearly sterile pine needles or debris.

Patch kit/repairs: You really don’t need one. Bring a 1” x ½” piece of corrugated cardboard with a needle stabbed through the two layers and one big piece of thread wrapped around it. Duct tape works on shirts, packs, some trekking pole repairs, tents, shoes—even you (see below). Just bring 10+ feet of it wrapped around your water bottle or trekking pole.

First Aid: You can make almost anything (in a pinch) out of the things you already have:
- Sanitizing wipes- Soap/water is great if you carry it. Or use hand sanitizer gel and T.P., some of your alcohol for the stove, or your vodka (both mostly ethanol, which is used in the sanitizer wipes). Or if you use iodine or chlorine tablets for water treatment, make a solution of triple strength water (half or 1/3 the amount of water for one tablet) and rinse the wound.
- Sutures- Sterilize your sewing needle by bringing it to a boil or by burning with your lighter/matches
- Splint/sling- Use some wood or your pack frame and a shirt, handkerchief, bear line, or duct tape.
- Butterfly bandages- Rip or cut some duct tape into small strips
- Bandaids- T.P. and duct tape
- Blister prevention or protection- duct tape
- Ace bandage- handkerchief, shirt, or duct tape

Water bottle: What if you lose or puncture your water bottle? Trust me, you have a lot of things in your pack that will carry water in that rare situation. You cooking pot, your ziplocks, you map case, your Pringles container, even your pack liner if you had to.

Mid layer: Wear your sleeping bag.

Outer layer: Wear your tarp or tent fly like a poncho. Use your bear line to tie it on you.

Gloves: Wear your socks

Socks: If your feet are dangerously cold and all of your socks and your shoes are wet, take some of the plastic bags from your food and put them over your feet, under your sock. This will create a vapor barrier and your feet will be very wet and wrinkly and possible blister, but you will be warm.

Wet clothes or sleeping bag: If possible, dry them over a fire. Wet base layers can be worn to bed and will likely dry by morning. As long as they are not cotton, they will still add warmth.

Knife: Tent stake.

Tent stake: A stick and a large rock. Or a stuff sack full of rocks and buried (deadman). Or use some of your bear line and tie off to a tree.

Stuff sack: You don’t need one, but you could use your headnet.

I have used or seen people almost all of these items as backups when their one and only primary item failed or was lost, and we all survived. If you know your gear, the area you are hiking in (sunset/sunrise, phases of the moon, tides (sometimes), a little chemistry, and the basics of what each piece actually does for you, you already ARE carrying redundancy!

Thank you. Nice article.

Edited by melissaspencer on 01/27/2010 18:10:05 MST.

Jedd G
(JeddG) - F

Locale: SF Bay
"Just in case" on 01/27/2010 17:12:36 MST Print View

Great article! Do you carry any "just in case" items that don't get used in the course of a normal trip, or do you bring exactly what you need? I personally feel more comfortable bringing an emergency space blanket, even though I've never had to use it. 2.5 oz is worth it to me for the peace of mind that if it gets colder than expected, I'm prepared.

Edited by JeddG on 01/27/2010 17:14:09 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: "Just in case" on 01/27/2010 17:50:34 MST Print View

I carry quite a few "just in case" items. Really, everything except food, fire-starting and sometimes water is "just in case" in my books. I would survive without a raincoat, or as Melissa points out I could survive with very little. To me, the game is not about survival, so I DO carry redundancy, just not as much or as heavy as I used to. But really, for me personally, my journey to UL has gone through two stages. The first satge was before I had ever heard of UL, yet through experience alone I worked out that I didn't need a full cook set, and MSR white gas stove, a -20 sleeping bag, lots of spare clothes, an inflatable raft, etc...the second satge was the discovery of lighter alternatives to the remaining equipment I decided I still wanted (not always needed) to take with me. Now, some folks really WANT a bombproof everest ready tent, cook and sleep system, even when merely venturing out for a weekend in the Sierra. I am totally fine with that in the category of HYOH. I also admit that I would not be happy to send my unexperienced child out with a group of other children (and adults) such as scouting, without knowing there was a large safety margin in how the group was equipped. Horses for courses. The worst experience I had as a young adult was a three day trip into the Lone Pine region with a leader who didn't even check our gear. I truly almost froze as unexpected snow and wind descended on us, as did many other kids on that trip. We couldn't get a fire started, and we had "planned" on learning some foraging techniques which didn't eventuate. Second worse outdoor experience was on the Colorado river in summer where my only shelter was my up-turned kayak. I was eaten alive by mosquitos in night long pouring rain and thunderstorms, and nearly gave up ever going into the outdoors again. I did not have the skills to look after myself, and would never send my kids on such ill-equipped trips. One of my happiest young outdoor memories was with a group into the Trinity Alps on a five day trip. My starting weight was 55 lbs (I was a 110 lb female), yet I had everything I needed to be comfortable and feel secure. The next year I went on the same trip, but solo, and I fell and broke my femur half down an icefield. I was so totally ill-equipped for that scenario that the contents of my pack forever changed, including the addition of good pain killers, spare water, a warmer bag and mat (I wasn't planning on sleeping on ice!!!) bear spray and signaling devices to name a few items, and a partner...So if I am overly cautious with how much equipment I now carry, I am still happy that at least it is now lighter equipment. So I guess you could say that I am definitely not out to convert anyone, and I definitely will never be SUL, but I really enjoy my trips now, even in the worst imaginable circumstances (broken bones aside). I also now carry a PLB, especially if I am solo. It's equipment I hope I never have to use (as is my raincoat ;-), but wouldn't leave at home either.

Melissa Spencer
(melissaspencer) - F

Locale: PNW
RE: Reality, redundancy, and knowledge on 01/27/2010 18:09:05 MST Print View

I just wanted to add that I was not suggesting that people stop carrying all the items that I listed. I was saying that for some of the items, in the rare occasion that something were to happen to your primary item, that you could use other things in lieu of carrying a second item.

Great discussion guys!

Edited by melissaspencer on 01/27/2010 18:27:51 MST.

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 19:51:31 MST Print View

Knowing how to minimalize your gear is just a small aspect of experienced backpacking and should NOT be your only focus nor does it give anybody the right to a smug treatment of people who are not choosing to go minimal.

If you could explain where exactly Brad or the person you quoted is making the argument that minimizing gear should be the only focus, it would help me to better understand your annoyance.

As it stands, I'm confused as to why an experienced backpacker would bring more gear than/she needed.

Also helpful would examples of smug treatment of people who choose not to go minimal, better than thou attitudes,etc.
I mean -
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. -doesn't strike me as particularly smug, self righteous or better-than-thou.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Be Prepared, Not Equipped on 01/27/2010 20:03:17 MST Print View

I doubt the poster was referring to Brad as being smug. After all, Brad did say: "Let me say that I have been extraordinarily offended by the strident self-righteousness and superiority expressed by some ultralighters"

I have seen this kind of smugness at times on this board, and for some folks the enlightenment that comes from discovering UL can be a little bit of a religious experience, But basically no one really likes an evangelist, and most of us here recognise this and try to avoid openly judging folks who carry heavier loads than us by choice or ignorance. UL is a philosophy, not a manifest, and there is a spectrum that stretches all the way from a Bear Grylls approach to a 45lb or more load such as carried by Ryan on his arctic 1000. Most of us (but maybe not all) accept the HYOH philosophy as being more important than being the kid with the slickest gear UL list!

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Familiar vs unfamiliar terrain. on 01/27/2010 20:20:55 MST Print View

In the northeast, I'm pretty familiar with the range of conditions and can plan based on season and route. This ranges from carrying almost nothing in summer dayhikes in southern New England to carrying lots of gear above treeline.

In other places I need to be more careful because I don't necessarily know what I'm doing. Unless I find a local mentor to teach me what to carry and how to use it, I probably need to carry more gear. In unfamiliar territory I may travel more slowly than at home, especially bushwhacking.

For potential emergencies, I usually carry communication gear (cell phone, ham radio handheld). In places where I don't know that they work, I really have to think about carrying a PLB or Spot. Lynn's broken femur gives pause. I'm glad you got out OK and carry on with your outdoor activities.

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Re, Re, Re, Re: Be Prepared, not equipped. on 01/27/2010 21:06:01 MST Print View

Wow! To think that I became a smug, self-righteous, holier/better-than-thou evangelist in one day as a result of misinterpreted "Gone With the Wind" southern humor! My friends & family are going to be so impressed! Don't worry, I'm pretty sure that Nicholas' remarks were directed at me, not Brad, but hey, that's the price one pays for such "smugness" ;)

Edited by jameslantz on 01/27/2010 21:08:12 MST.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Carrying things because of fear on 01/27/2010 23:17:01 MST Print View

I like Doug Prosser's observations that people carry things because of fear. Once we realize that, we can address the fear with planning.

For example, if I know that I can walk out in a day from any point on my trek (true for lots of places), that can reduce a lot of "emergency" gear.

It is OK to cut a trip short if the weather gets crazy bad. Go another time. We did that last weekend -- muddy, slippery trails, low snow level, and short days didn't leave enough safety factor, so we had a lazy morning, explored a bit, and headed home a day early. Still a great weekend.