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Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life
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William Zila
(Ultralightwillinn.m) - MLife

Locale: Albuquerque
Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/25/2011 23:03:09 MDT Print View

Let me start by saying I am in know way bashing spreadsheets or there uses. I use them and they have there place. I am just bringing up a promblem I have faced and assume lots of my fellow bplers have as well. I have noticed that through my progression from normal backpacking to ul there has been changes in my thinking. As a average backpacker my mentality was I might need this. As a lightweight backpacker it was I will use this. And as a ultra light/ sul backpacker it is wether this absolutely necessary to keep me warm dry and comfy.I switched from a packing method of throwing gear that I may need in my pack. To slightly more thought packing. and from there to a gear list of exactly what I need to achieve my goals. Nothing more nothing less. I see a common promblem that I have also run into with spreadsheets. It's simply the numbers nothing else. The numbers can say something opposite of actual experience and field tests. The numbers tell me to carry a plastic bag as a pack.The numbers tell me to us a 1/8in foam pad. The numbers tell me to push my sleep system to a absolute extrem and spend nights shivering. Of course these are all exagerations but they still hold truth. I find myself looking at my spreadsheets and thinking of how much lighter it would be to do this or that. But experience tells me opposite some examples of this are very evident. Things like sleep I spent years tossing and Turning on foam I never slept well. Now using a much more comfortable pad" neoair or exped". I find that I generally sleep through the night without ever waking up. My spreadsheet says that the foam is better my experience tells a different story. Then theres the aspect of your quilt/bag I found myself almost buying a quilt that would only comfortably take me down to high twenties. When the truth of the matter is I am very offten in temps below that. The spread sheet shows 2 ounces saved but in all honesty will I notice that 2 ounces on my back. No but will I notice the extra warmth when the mercury drops? Yes I most certainly will.This thread is not geared to the experienced people out there That have there gear tuned to perfection. Those are the people I and lots of others go to for advice. I am writing this as someone who not to long ago was a average backpacker. Someone that is still working out the kinks in his list. I don't have my gear perfected but I'm getting there. I'm writing this to the people who are still in the main proces of dropping major weight. Going from 15 to 10 pounds from 10 to 5. More times then I can count has someone more experienced then me come around to slap me out of my spreadsheet thinking. And got me to realize that it's not just about the weight other things come into play . To anyone reading this keep that on your mind when researching gear that it's not just about weight. Yes a item may be lighter but that may also mean it won't suite your purpose as well dont let the spreadsheet syndrom catch you off guard

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/25/2011 23:06:11 MDT Print View

Spreadsheets tell you what is possible

Experience tells you what works for you.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/26/2011 01:02:14 MDT Print View

> My spreadsheet says that the foam is better my experience tells a different story.

I think this sentence is the core of your problem. Define what the word 'better' means. Most of what you are saying takes it to mean 'lighter', but as you have noted, that is not what you NEED. What you need, to put it very simply, is adequate comfort to enjoy the trip.

At 20 F a 1/8" foam pad may be lighter, but it simply is not serving its purpose, which is to give you a good night's sleep. You might as well leave the foam behind if lightness is the sole criterion.


Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/26/2011 02:16:25 MDT Print View

"And as a ultra light/ sul backpacker it is wether this absolutely necessary to keep me warm dry and comfy."

You have a clear idea of your requirements, and now you know that a spreadsheet does not always give the desired answer.
Weight is not everything - after all, you only carry your pack for 8-10 hours per day. Unless you are a masochist, you probably want to enjoy the other 16 hours as well. With experience you will find the level of comfort you need to enjoy your trips.

simon hackett
(minimalgear) - F

Locale: UK
Transition on 05/26/2011 04:07:42 MDT Print View

The way I see it, a lot of backpackers go through a transition. The spreadsheet is necessary to make you aware of how different components make up the weight as a whole. This is the move from heavy to lightweight. Then you can start to have fun and see how far you can go- the transition to SUL. Once you know your limits, then you can add a few more comfort items in until you reach the perfect weight/comfort zone. The cynical view of this is that it allows you to keep on buying new gear for a much longer time. It also seems to be reflected in the products that are available. There seems to be a greater availabilty of light framed packs now and tarp/tent hybrids- in line with hikers needs? Or just feature creep?

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
written trip notes too on 05/26/2011 05:01:48 MDT Print View

While the spreadsheet is helpful in sorting and choosing potential equipment and giving weight totals it is still important to write the "experience" down in some kind of way so you can refer back to it. I still use a paper equipment list for each trip that I both check off before the trip while packing and then make notes on afterward on many things. Equipment used, how it worked, problems. Fuel use, food good, bad, left over. Actual weather vs. what the forecast said (and I brought what I thought was the appropriate equipment).

Maybe it is old age but I can't remember all my trips and conditions, etc. so I now just refer to something similar in place and weather to help me plan a new trip.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/26/2011 06:57:39 MDT Print View

I thought the spreadsheet was just so you can calculate the weight of your gear so you can tell people here what it is. And to compare different gear. I didn't think that you are supposed to pick the lightest thing no matter what. I didn't even think anybody actually slept on 1/8 inch foam. I thought that was for additional warmth or to protect your neoair. But then I'm not as light as some people around here, nor am I an expert.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/26/2011 08:00:13 MDT Print View

William's last line is...

"Yes a item may be lighter but that may also mean it won't suite your purpose as well dont let the spreadsheet syndrom catch you off guard"

...he is preaching to the choir, not asking why.....

Michael Levine
(Trout) - F

Locale: Long Beach
spreadsheet on 05/26/2011 08:12:09 MDT Print View

As a spreadsheet crazed recently traditional backpacker I'd just like to say that the numbers don't lie, however they also as you point out don't tell the whole story. I find it easy to keep both of these things in mind when making decisions (I'm getting an inflatable mat for instance, heck maybe even a long). So I think it's one of those things that depends on whose making the spreadsheet, for what specific purpose, and how much they believe they can factor into pure numericals. I'll agree with you in that what you CAN fit into spreadsheets is helpful but.... not nearly everything!

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: spreadsheet on 05/26/2011 10:48:58 MDT Print View

Yet my axe is restless in my hand. Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!

And so your spreadsheet will rid your pack of darkness : )

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Spreadsheet on 05/26/2011 22:20:34 MDT Print View

The big thing the spreadsheet does is make you accountable to whats in your pack. The extra clothes and comfort items have a cost and that is represented on the spreadsheet.

The other things they are very good for is evaluating between options. With tents vs. large tarps vs poncho tarp and bivy a spreadsheet allows you to quickly evaluate the weight of various different options.

Also between manufacturers they have different ways displaying weights. Including guylines, including pegs, poles, etc. So the spreadsheet allows you to quickly equalize equivalent options.

My latest spreadsheet obsession is meal planning where I am working on a list of ingredients and making meals out of them trying to optimize fat/carb ratios, and caloric density. With that one you have to be real careful to remember you have to eat the food.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/27/2011 13:57:51 MDT Print View

I find spreadsheets invaluable and would never ditch them! There are so many, many uses for the gear spreadsheet in addition to pack weight!

I think that the OP's problem is that he's confusing "lighter" with "better," or at least thinks that those of us who use spreadsheets are doing so. Actually, what is really wanted is the lightest pack for the specific circumstances of the individual person and the individual trip. It also helps if this combination doesn't overwhelm the individual's bank account! I believe that nearly all of us who use spreadsheets realize that the ability to crunch numbers easily and quickly (the main function of a computer spreadsheet) is a convenient tool, not an end in itself. The spreadsheet is merely a convenient starting point to allow your brain to focus on items more important than number-crunching!

Of course my original gear spreadsheet was my primary tool to cut my gear weight in half, from a 40-lb. weekend pack down to 20. Since then, I've cut my base weight from 15 lbs. to 12. (Yes, that was a lot harder than the original 50% cut!) Since I do need some creature comforts (luxuries to others) to be pain-free in my old age, I probably won't get much lower!

The spreadsheet allows me to analyze my gear in terms of systems, which, in addition to reducing the likelihood of duplicate items, greatly helps me to organize my packing for a specific trip.

The spreadsheet allows me to analyze each piece of my gear periodically to see if I can eliminate (or add) specific items, or find something that would work better for me.

The spreadsheet lets me compare my list to other gear lists yearly to see if I'm missing an obvious (to others, not me) weight savings or, on the other side, a small item that would enhance my comfort. It's easy to move stuff around to put my list in exactly the same format as the list I'm comparing to.

The spreadsheet makes it really easy to do what-if scenarios to test the effect (both weight and dollar amount) of different gear combinations (both weight and dollar amount). This is especially important when a new and tempting gear item comes on the market! I would probably have spent twice as much of my retirement savings without this feature, and probably would not have a significantly lighter pack. With a spreadsheet, just set up the total weight/cost in a window at the bottom so the total is always visible while you're playing with individual items (like that $500 cuben fiber tent that ends up weighing only 2 ounces less than your current tent).

Once the numbers are crunched, I look at the items on my spreadsheet in terms of subjective items: need, comfort, experience, destination, etc. No, these items cannot be quantified, but I make notes of these on my spreadsheet.

Finally, an extremely important function of my gear list spreadsheet and of keeping it current is that I can quickly print a checklist before each trip. I check off each item as I pack. There's no danger of my finding out several days from the trailhead that I had a "senior moment" while packing! (I call them "senior moments" now, but I had them back in my 20's, too--it's far safer to have everything written down!)

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/27/2011 14:01:19 MDT.

Eric Swab

Locale: Rockies
Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/29/2011 12:52:43 MDT Print View


It's not the spreadsheet itself, it's that the over analysis is now taking away from your outdoor experience. In the end it's about walking and being outdoors, when constantly thinking about which set-up is the best you forget to notice the things along the way that make a trip memorable.

When car racing we used to analyze data constantly, but in the end you still had to drive the car and race the race. In business you look at budgets and projections but in the end you need to make sales.

Ryan Jordan seems to be moving towards the simpler side of things, it is reflected in his "24" hour themes, along with the "one-kit" blog posts, I like the idea of simplicity.

Maybe switch your spreadsheet time to trip planning time.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/31/2011 02:07:41 MDT Print View


You'll get over it, and settle down to using it as an inventory control tool. Different inventory for different types of trips. Plus if your boss (at work) or wife (at home) sees you working on a spreadsheet, the assumption is you are working. That is a good thing.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Moving away from the spreadsheet side of life on 05/31/2011 03:55:45 MDT Print View

Nothing beats experience. There is simply no other way to tell exactly how your body and mind react to certain gear and system configurations in certain weathers and locales. And part of that knowledge can only be gained over time. Using, over time, a silnylon pack, for instance, might show you that the material simply doesn't last or is unsuitable for the terrain that you hike. For me, using silnylon shelters over a number of years in the torrential rains here in Japan showed me that silnylon shelters, which did far more than just "mist" for me, just don't fare well in the conditions we have here. That could very well be due to the age of the material, too. But I wouldn't have found that out except with actual use in the field.

There were times when I ignored my extensive experience that I already had before going UL, in favor of what the spreadsheets (my own and others') said, telling myself that going lighter was more important. Last October, for instance, when Glen Van Peski visited Japan to go hiking with a number of us UL walkers here, I shared a spreadsheet with Glen in which he was advocating getting rid of an insulated piece to complement my light sleeping bag and sit about in camp in the October temperatures. 35 years experience of the mountains in Japan, and in particular the very mountains we were to walk, told me that at 2,000 meters in October I was going to need at least a down vest. But I followed the system that Glen was using instead and ignored my own knowledge. I ended up being so cold and miserable that I had to abandon the trip on the second day (besides getting quite sick from a pre-trip cold). That was just plain stupid.

Experience also shows me when conventional wisdom (even conventional UL knowledge) may not necessarily be true. In summer in Japan it gets extremely humid and hot, especially at lower elevations. It rains A LOT. Every time I've used any kind of rain garment I've always ended up getting badly drenched in my own sweat. 15 years ago I started hiking without wearing my rain jacket in the warmer rains and found I was far more comfortable and dried out immediately. From then on I just allowed myself to get wet on most walks, except when it started getting cold. Other walkers always thought I was crazy, but I was happy, comfortable, safe. Other walkers always looked like they were going to die on the steep, muggy climbs.

So yes, look at the spreadsheets to see what you have and work out a system, but then take your system out to a safer area and testit out. With time you'll see what works and doesn't work.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
danger will danger!!! on 06/01/2011 00:40:59 MDT Print View

the danger is when you start sacrificing functionality for the sake of a few spreadsheet grams

as said above, its all fine and dandy to be as light as you can be .... but spreadsheets dont reflect possible tradeoffs

yes gear does get "better" every year, and yes there are new materials ...

but just because someone can go sub 5 lbs with a poncho tarp, jacks r better quilt, no TP, and a frameless pack in the cali summer on a gear list ... doesnt mean you can do the same in a PNW winter ...

spreadsheets are extremely useful for quantifying the weight of your items and looking for maximum effect ...

but they wont teach you how to hike or climb

John Julyan-Gudgeon
(Cyanide) - F

Locale: Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
LAPTOPS are heavy on 06/02/2011 22:35:10 MDT Print View

The biggest draw back I see to the spreadsheet is the fact the laptop I have to take with me on a hike, in order to keep track of the weights on the spreadsheet, is heavier than my tent itself.