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Has lightweight packing really caught on?
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John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Has lightweight packing really caught on? on 08/21/2010 19:49:35 MDT Print View

I believe it has caught on.

But it is not the most prevalent style on the trail.

On a ten day section hike in the first two weeks of June of this year on our first night of camping there were at least 15 tents and a full shelter at our campsite.

I was the only one camped out under a tarp. My MYOG pack weighed in at 10.5 ounces. My two hiking partners were using a ULA Ohm pack and another of my MYOG packs. The second homemade pack weighed less than mine because it lacked some additions that I had added to my pack. Of my two partners there was a Sierra Designs Lightyear tent and a Wenzel Starlight Hiker tent. The Wenzel was the shelter my older hiking partner's 15 year old son was packing. His overall pack weight however was only 15 to 17 lbs depending on food carried.

I did notice quite a lot of lighter weight tents in use by hikers carrying traditional packs.

Supper time brought out many and varied canister stoves used to prepare all manner of fresh produce, pasta and meat products. As we boiled our water for our Mountain House backpacker meals there were quite a few amazed looks at the shelter's picnic table.

We did meet up with a budding thru-hiker going by the trail name Whitebeard. He was carrying a GoLite Pinnacle pack. By his own admission his lightweight pack had too much weight in it. As I remember it he was shipping things back home and seeking replacements for others from outfitters along the trail.

Even some of the other thru-hikers that we met admitted to carrying older four pound+ tents! One fellow that we spoke with had completed his thru-hike of the AT 2 years before was also carrying a traditional pack.

Two years ago my pack weighed 34+ lbs with food and water. This year my pack weighed 23 lbs with food and water at its heaviest.

Party On,


Charles Vandenbelt
(chuckwagon) - F

Locale: Nashville
Australian point of view .... on 08/21/2010 22:22:34 MDT Print View

Don't want to speak on behalf of all my fellow hikers Downunder, but I've noticed that there is still the leaning to the older, heavier gear out here. It's probably because we seem to follow the US in the trends but a few years later. Thanks to guys like Roger and Franco Australian hikers are becoming aware of the trend of lighter walking. I'd love to get my hands on some of the gear you guys have (a 6 Moon Gatewood tarp/rain outfit springs to mind here !) but the shipping is killer. If a local guy becomes the agent for nice gear - he usually jacks up the price so high it's hardly worth it. I paid about $880 Aust for my WM Antelope bag a week or so back, and that was on sale ! 20 % disc. Sil nylon is just starting to get around, but no sellers of roll stock. That rules out the MYOG idea. I had to order my copy of Ray Jardine's Trail Life from England. Be thankful for what you have guys ! In Melbourne Victoria, where I live, there is only one dedicated lightweight gear store. Thankfully we have access to this wonderful site for ideas and inspiration. FWIW - my w/e pack with 1 l water and food averages about 13 kgs (26 - 27 lbs. ?) That's about half of what I used to haul. Thanks for the great site, keep up the good work. Regards, Charlie.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
no on 08/21/2010 22:55:49 MDT Print View

I think I can pretty safely give you the answer to your question. No; lightweight backpacking has not yet "caught on" with the typical backpacker. I have to admit that it's actually quite surprising that it hasn't, but nothing that I've seen on the trail indicates that lightweight methods have been adopted by the mainstream backpacking community. In 13 years of backpacking, I can't remember ever running into another ultralight backpacker and just a few lightweight backpackers who still had some pretty heavy gear here and there.

I actually think the Hierarchy of Effects Model is pretty useful here. People are "aware" of lightweight backpacking. They've heard of it and most likely read something about "going light." So, there's some level of knowledge among some people, but very limited. They may have even made a change or two to their gear kits, but generally there is very little "liking, preference, conviction, or purchasing."

What really amazes me is that many of the people I backpack with still haven't figured it out. They see my 7 to 8 lb base weight and the fact that I don't seem to suffer from the same pains and suffering that their packs cause, but that doesn't change their gear choices. People are all interested when they see a tea light stove and beer can pot, but it seems like they are still stuck in the mindset that backpacking gear must look and feel a certain way.

For instance, this morning my GF and I took one of my family members and her husband on a short (and I mean really short) hike in the woods. I mean we were 5 to ten minutes down the trail. They didn't want to go further because they weren't prepared with hiking boots, but they had on good running sneakers. They walk and run in these sneakers, but they seemed to believe that hiking requires some special kind of boots. No amount of explaining on my part that people actually do hike in sneakers could convince them otherwise.

Some days I think to myself, it's not my problem. But, other days I listen to the stories of painful knees and injuries, and I just want to shake them and say: it doesn't have to be this way. Hiking doesn't have to mean pain and blisters and stress, it can just be fun!

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
It depends on how much they go out on 08/22/2010 06:17:23 MDT Print View

I would say it is directly related to how much a person goes out and with whom. Most people probably go out once a year for the big summer trip, probably an annual event with family or old friends and don't think about or want to buy new equipment because it is just an occasional hobby.

It is difficult to change your kit substantially unless you are really committed to it or have a lot of money. Many people have what is adequate gear for the occasional trip and see no need to change for once a year or so, especially when the old gear is so well built that it never wears out. You don't buy a new bicycle or any other recreational item until it wears out unless you are really serious about the sport or hobby.

We see more people with newer lighter gear in the winter or off season because these are usually the serious hikers not just the fair weather, summer break hikers. It also seems that the people with light packs hike together and reinforce each others interest in both walking and improving their equipment.

As someone said above, you can lead them to water but you can't make them buy the water.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
reasons on 08/22/2010 07:35:29 MDT Print View

Although I can't claim to know other people's minds, there are several things I've seen and heard that have given me some ideas about WHY lightweight backpacking is not the norm.

First, as the above poster mentioned, some people just don't hike regularly enough to bother spending more time or money on even the easiest or cheapest changes to their gear. My guess is that many of these people would WANT to backpack more if it wasn't such a big production to get loaded up and such a pain on their bodies. I suspect that many of these people will adopt some aspects of UL backpacking slowly, over time, but never really get the whole idea. I think this observation above most likely applies to a lot of these people. "I did notice quite a lot of lighter weight tents in use by hikers carrying traditional packs." -John

That said, there is another group of people who haven't yet adopted UL backpacking concepts. Most of my hiking partners fall into this group, so I feel like I know them pretty well. These are people who are avid backpackers and who take several trips a year. Many of these people have pretty extensive backpacking experience, they may have lead trips in college or among their friends and family. I'd say that many of them have an "expedition" mentality. Again, I'm sure that many of them have heard of LW and UL backpack and some may even have bought some lighter weight gear, but they generally bring the kitchen sink and so they're stuck with large, cluttered packs.

For example, one friend of mine is a very experienced backpacker. This person has done 20+ day backpacking trips, lives out in the woods right now, used to lead groups in college - fits the entire profile. This person even uses SilTarps and treats with chemicals, but is still in an expedition mentality. This person has a light shelter system, a light weight down sleeping bag, and a reasonable backpack. It's just they this person carries several backpack pairs of cloths, full family size rolls of tooth paste, and a 1st Aid kit that a EMT might carry. This person has a million little things that they NEVER use, but MAY one day need.

This is the group we need to communicate with more effectively if you want to help people.

Just some ideas and observations.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: It depends on how much they go out on 08/22/2010 11:35:40 MDT Print View

I think that a lot of people are 'scared' of what might happen if they get caught in some situation without the appropriate gear. Obviously this can be true, but we all know (around here, at least) that some good technique can do a lot.

Also it seems like many people carry a ton of extra clothes. A change for every day, sometimes. Only in America (probably an overstatement)do we 'need' to shower every day. Personally, I only shower once or twice a week. I have told co-workers after having worked at different places, and they seem amazed by this fact and were otherwise not aware of my implied funkiness ("funky as you wanna be!"- James Brown)"

TMI I guess, -long, unnecessary story- but the point is just bring one set of hiking clothes and the pertinent layers, and maybe a change of socks.

YMMV (my wife brings a sleeping shirt- which is a good idea for keeping body oil out of the sleeping bag) Sorry for the ramblings

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Expedition mentality on 08/22/2010 12:01:19 MDT Print View

Yeah, that's it. The expedition mentality. There seems to be multiple variations on this theme.

There are the outward bounders, the "better to have it and not need it" people. They've learned the 10 essentials and all that stuff and by golly they're not going to risk their lives like people like me. (As if romping in the woods in summer time requires so much equipment.)

There are the don't know any better expedition folks. They want to go on a trip and they think about their regular life so they match it for the trip. Put in the full tube of toothpaste, the change of clothing for every day, pajamas, sweatshirt, winter coat, the plate, cup, bowl, spoon, fork, knife, frying pan, coffeemaker etc.

Then there is the trip of a lifetime kind of expedition. A trip of a lifetime requires a lot of planning and details and certainly lots and lots of gear. You couldn't go out and do a trip of a lifetime wearing clothing and shoes already in your closet or carrying items you scrounged in the garage. It requires all new, top-of-the-line stuff and lots of electronic gadgets while you're at it, too.

There's the macho expedition type. It's gotta be hard or else it's not a manly sport. You have to have huge boots because of snakes and because we're ruggedly manly men in a rugged, dangerous environment. That sort of thing.

And then there are the experienced people who've been doing this for 40 years and are still using the same equipment. I really respect those people because they are committed to getting out there, they've been a lot more places than I have, they seem happy and undeterred. There does come a time in these folks lives, however, when they do recognize the need to replace their old heavy stuff with newer lighter stuff so that their old knees can keep going. They just haven't reached that point yet. More power to them.

Here's a lady I met from this last category.

Barefoot hiker's pack

She actually hikes the trail in flip-flops and bare feet. I followed her bare footprints for a mile before I met her. She's been using the same gear for 35 years. Spends 3 months a year backpacking. No way am I going to tell her to do anything differently.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Expedition mentality on 08/22/2010 12:11:07 MDT Print View

Here's a lady I met from this last category.
Holy cow is that an extra backpack strapped on the outside of her backpack? yowsa!

James Ennis
(JimEnnis) - F

Locale: South
Apparently not!! on 08/22/2010 13:15:34 MDT Print View

I ran across a group of boy scouts last spring on a 2 day hike and one of the boys was carrying this!!Propane Tank on a backpack!
Felt sorry for the kid, but the Scout Master or person in charge should have known better.

Jarrod Handwerk
(PA_Hiker) - F

Locale: Orwigsburg PA
so true on 08/22/2010 13:21:02 MDT Print View

yeah lightweight backpacking has not "caught on"
last time i was out on the AT i seen so many ppl with heavy packs...alot of External frame packs too...
I ran into a group of guys and the one guy hurt his knee...
he had to hike out 3 miles on a bum knee with a 50lbs pack...his kid was with him...and his pack had to be 50lbs as well..heck the one thru hiker i met had a 75lbs pack
when he lifted up my pack he was in shock that my pack was only 13lbs for 3 days ....
i think that weekend i passed by at least 15-20 ppl with 50+lbs packs ..and i'll tell you this..they did not look happy to me in the heat of the summer
don't get me wrong UL backpacking is not for everyone..
but this day and age with the internet and all the good info and gear out there,there is no need to suffer with a 50lbs pack just my .02

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Has lightweight packing really caught on? on 08/22/2010 13:45:09 MDT Print View

I took my 3 yr. old daughter out on her first overnight backpacking trip this weekend, so I had a traditional (actually state-of-the-art lightweight 18 years ago) Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2-person tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 pads, 2 kids books, blankie, etc. I was thinking that I can't believe I had EVER hiked with 25 lb. base weight...and that was only ~1/4 mile on a nice flat trail. Can you say, "spoiled"?

It is hard to upgrade (lightweight) if you only hike once a year, and aren't aware of the alternatives to traditional REI backpacking.

I still believe that the best way to spread the word it what Glen van Peski does, and switch packs with the other person for awhile!!

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Has lightweight packing really caught on? on 08/22/2010 17:52:30 MDT Print View

We regularly come across miserable people with monster loads. I feel so sorry for them, they clearly are not enjoying the trail, and in many cases can't muster the energy to say hello back to us.

They set up wonderful camp sites with all kinds of doo-dads, and I guess they think it is worth it.

Maybe one day they'll learn, but I suspect too many of them just give it up because it's so much work. In fact, I almost did, but fortunately I came across Jardine's book "Beyond Backpacking" and BPL.

In truth, "fortunately" just doesn't cut life was totally changed by my realization that in my 50's, with my aging knees and ankles, I could still go backpacking and not kill myself.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Expedition mentality on 08/22/2010 18:49:23 MDT Print View

>>Holy cow is that an extra backpack strapped on the outside of her backpack? yowsa!

Yea, that's a Sierra Club backpack strapped on. Oddly, it was not the only time I saw that, and all of the strapped on backpacks were Sierra Club backpacks.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Re: Expedition mentality on 08/22/2010 19:08:48 MDT Print View

It depends if you're out there for the camping or hiking/walking. I don't see a problem carrying a lot of weight if it means fulfilling the goal of having a better time in camp. I personally don't care for time in camp, but I do care for having more lounge time on my next thru-hike attempt, so I will be happily carrying more than I need to if my only goal was to cover a lot of miles.

What doesn't make sense is when backpackers have the knowledge and means to replace their gear with lighter variations that do the same job.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Re: Expedition mentality on 08/22/2010 19:18:54 MDT Print View

I saw many packs within a 6 hour window on my aborted Rae Lakes Loop hike that were like that photo. The packs I saw were amazing! They were towering over folks as tall as myself! With today's ability to seek out stuff on the internet, it really makes me wonder. As I passed many hikers heading out from Roads End, I gave words of encouragement and they looked at me with my small pack and thought I was a day hiker. I am sure they would have patted me on the head saying .......thanks son! Each to their own, I say. I cannnot physically hike like that person in the photo. No way! Nor do I want to. Sometimes you need to lighten your hike. No one is wrong with the way they do their hikes. But for the last 10 years my wife and I have enjoyed hiking lightweight and with no problems. I guess it comes down to comfort level???

Edited by kennyhel77 on 08/22/2010 19:23:02 MDT.

BER ---
(BER) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Chuckling at myself on 08/22/2010 20:32:11 MDT Print View

I'm pretty sure that orange pack in Jim's photo is a Camp Trails Astral Cruiser (circa late-1970s). The reason being that I have one in my basement from my teen years. And while mine never held a cast iron fry pan or a full sized LP tank, I do remember the pack, at times, weighing 60-80#. While I know I am nowhere near UL like most of the folks here, each year my wife and I find new ways to spend money, leave things at home or multiuse to lighten the load. It's an evolutionary process going from traditional "bring the kitchen sink" thinking to this UL mentality. Some of you have made the evolutionary jumps faster than we have, but we'll make it there someday...and be grinning from ear to ear.

Edited by BER on 08/22/2010 20:47:30 MDT.

Charles Vandenbelt
(chuckwagon) - F

Locale: Nashville
Gradual shift .... on 08/22/2010 20:46:44 MDT Print View

+1 Brian - I find (for me anyway) that it has been a gradual shift. The awareness of lightweight, the gathering of information and forming of opinion, the investigation of gear; it's weight and cost, and the assimilation into your system. Little by little my system is evolving - I was very happy hiking with a 3 lb tent a while back. Now, I'm about to purchase a 10' x 10' silnylon tarp that weighs a fraction of that. I find many different factors affect our choices ; financial situ, marital status (see above !) et al.... This site and Ray Jardine's new book (Trail life) have been Godsends. Regards, Charlie.

Edited by chuckwagon on 08/22/2010 20:48:59 MDT.

Gregg Meyer
(oscar52) - F
Has light weight packing really caught on? on 08/22/2010 21:29:44 MDT Print View

IMO not in scouting, yet But there is hope.i think it's just education, or a lack of it. I am 52 and spent some time camping lighter, this June. I am an Eagle scout and I am totally relearning about the wonderful aspects of UL I camped with a tiny day pack and didn't really miss anything. i did bring some other heavy items but I am re beginning to change out my heavy gear. I LOVE IT. I am also on the trail to reduce the size of me by 30 lbs. That too will make a huge difference, from here on out. i really enjoy all your comments and in formation, so thankful.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Found BPL first... on 08/22/2010 22:11:21 MDT Print View

Thank heavens I found this site before I started buying all my gear. Using UL principles as a framework for buying decisions has proved invaluable.

It made complete sense to me, so I just jumped in with both feet.

It may be personality. A lot of people on this forum seem very analytical, systems oriented... and slightly obsessive (it's a good thing, I only trust opinions from obsessive people in other hobbies).. and from another thread I read, a lot grew up listening to punk rock/skateboarding/sub-culture types.

There was one thread about personality types (normally not much credence for such things, but the myers-brigg is good) and there were a lot of INTJ BPL members... independant thinker, efficiency etc. It's only suppose to be 1% of the population.

But the big one is likely how much they go out, that makes perfect sense.

So far, everything I've tried, gear and techniques has worked like a charm. I haven't noticed any loss of comfort. Sometimes I wish I had a full freestanding tent at some sites.

Folding my BA insulated aircore, putting it against the back, and using a trash compactor bag for quilt to fill volume works great. Hiking with runners, worked great because you can feel the ground and your foot breathes. Using chlorine dioxide tablets for most situations is fine (I can't taste the difference) and crystal lite drink mix for times the water isn't crystal clear.

And I'm happy everything fits into my MLD Burn with room to spare. I just carried way more weight than I should have (water weight) in the pack, to test its limits, and it wasn't bad at all. Only 9km and 2000 ft though.

Took a leap of faith with a Katabatic quilt and like it a lot. The Hexamid solo (no door) has kept me dry in a heavy rain and has been awesome to sleep under this summer. The Double Rainbow is a very well designed, comfortable tent for two.

However, I have realized there is a line to be drawn. At around a 8-10 lb base weight, I already don't feel the pack and I'm not a big strong dude. I understand it's a hobby, but FOR ME I don't see any point in incurring more expense, comfort or safety. It's good to carry a little extra for others that might need it, 3/4 length pads suck, an extra 2-3 ounces of bag is likely a good idea, and mesh doesn't weigh that much...

I tell everyone about BPL. I just met a kayaker who hiked for the first time. Told him about the site. He use to be in British army so knew that you needed little to survive. When I left for a moment, he told my friend that UL was likely not for him, but his wife confided to my friend that she was very afraid he's going to start spending all this money now on new gear....

Edited by elf773 on 08/22/2010 22:40:52 MDT.

Daniel Gamboa
(abadmango) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Has lightweight packing really caught on? on 08/23/2010 13:49:35 MDT Print View

I'm still relatively new to all this but from my experience so far, to successfully be lightweight requires a lot of knowledge and that knowledge does not come from a quick convo with a retail associate at REI or reading a book and calling it good. It comes with time, effort, study, and quite a bit of experimentation to find the right system that works for you. Sure there are lighter "traditional" products out there for those with the cash and you can tell someone to leave some luxuries behind and squeeze out excess toothpaste, etc. These only get you so far, though, and everything else requires a measurable degree of knowledge and confidence before you can actually go out and do it safely.

Like I'm sure many people on this site have, I started out heavy not knowing any better. I took some stuff I already had, bought a bunch of fancy gear that I didn't have and thought I needed (mostly on advice from sales people at the gear shop), bought way too much heavy foods, and loaded it all up together and me and a buddy headed out to do four pass loop in the Rockies. That is quite an aggressive hike for a first timer and my 55+ lb pack didn't help much (funny thing is that I was told to cut the handle off my toothbrush so I That was 2 years ago. The next time I went backpacking was a year later and I took me and my girlfriend (also a first timer) to the same area but a much easier trail. Using lessons learned from the previous year, I was able to leave behind some extra clothes, cut down on luxuries, switch to mountain house meals, and build packs for the both of us that weighed 40-45lbs each with food and water (didn't bother with cutting the toothbrush this time though). Quite an improvement but still felt too heavy for my tastes (and hers). I really enjoy backpacking in the mountains, and want to do it more often than once a year, but if I was to continue doing this, I had to find a better way. I went online and found sites like since there really isn't any kind of local source that taught lightweight packing in my neighborhood. Since then it's taken me months of research, experimentation and study to get me just to the 18lb base weight (with bear cannister) on my 3rd major trip that I took this past month. I went to Glacier National Park for 6 days and my total pack weight was 28lbs with food/fuel/water at the trailhead.

I know this is only just on the border of actually being considered lightweight but to me it was quite an accomplishment. Even with all the knowledge I've gained and things I've tried, I still consider myself a rookie because there's so much more to learn and experiment with. I've bought and sold quite a few pieces of equipment and spent a lot of money on trial and error, experimentation and agonized over whether this or that was the best decision or not... I'm sure a lot of you have done similar things to get to where you are now. Am I done? Heck no, my goal is to get lighter and lighter until I've found my ideal system that works for me but the point is that's it's not going to happen overnight. If it were an easy matter of just copying someone's UL gearlist, buying the stuff and just hitting the trail with it, I would have done so and saved myself a lot of time, money and headaches. I would have also lost out on the fun and had less appreciation for what I've accomplished.

Like someone posted previously, most backpackers we see out there are casual types that get out maybe once or twice a year (if even that) and usually want to do big trips. They don't have the time or inclination to figure out all this stuff. They want to be able to get out there as easy and efficient as possible, have a good time and then get back to life. They don't care to spend time at home looking at spreadsheets and weighing out each of their items or even doing a bunch of short outings to try out new techniques. Modern advancements in technology have allowed more and more people to get out there but what that does is just produce more and more traditional style and fly-by-night backpackers. You don't need a lot of knowledge to survive in the backcountry these days if you have enough modern (heavy but easy to use) equipment. Load a person up, give him a big heavy survival kit to boost confidence and send them on their way.

To sum up this long winded and direction-less post, I think lightweight backpacking is and will likely always be a niche in the big wide world of backpacking. As more and more people are introduced into backpacking, I'm sure that the lightweight community will continue to grow as some people convert over, but it will still be on the small side of the overall ratio of traditional to lightweight packers.

I personally like that it's still a relatively small community that I can claim to be a part of. As bad as this sounds, I for one cannot wait for the day that I get to fly past a bunch of packers huffing and wheezing their way up a pass as they ask me about how my "day hike" is going.

Edited by abadmango on 08/23/2010 14:09:58 MDT.