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SUL and Enviornment
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Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
SUL and Enviornment on 11/25/2006 10:17:06 MST Print View

I've always thought that SUL backpacking is an enviornmentally positive vehicle. Either by the nature that SUL backpackers go lightly on the land with stealth camping, greater distance between camps, minimal fuel/fires, long lasting Ti componets, gear made of light and thus lower impact to create materials, education outreach,etc.

I'd love to see folks generate a long list of ways SUL BP is congruent with the overarching goals of enviormentalism.

Perhaps one of the most important ways is if someone is very into SUL then might they also be more enviornmental aware and more likely to influence others to help protect the Earth?

I'm not saying in any way SUL'ers are better than any other mode, just looking to quantify the ways that we can and do help.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: SUL and Enviornment on 11/25/2006 13:13:46 MST Print View

I don't see SUL as any more environmentally positive than UL backpacking. Maybe I have SUL envy? I'll look into a pill for that.

Going light brings simplicity. Simplicity brings awareness. Awareness MAKES your environmental impact less. (best Risky Business impression I can come up with)

Edited by jshann on 11/26/2006 18:49:02 MST.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: SUL and Enviornment on 11/25/2006 17:30:55 MST Print View

I think backpackers (SUL or otherwise), are probably more likely than average to be pro-environment, due to their experiences in the wilderness.

If they then use that lightweight philosophy to bring other people into the outdoors who might have otherwise found it too difficult, maybe they'll add to the pro-wilderness feeling in the world.

But compared to global warming, deforestation, overfishing, mining, urban sprawl, pollution, etc... I don't think the difference between stealth camping and building a fire pit means much. What kind of car someone drives to the trailhead probably has a much larger impact than their backpacking style.

I do think it's possible to use our experiences in the wilderness to help try and protect it. Personally, I've been trying to use my trips and photographs to help raise awareness of the Pebble Mine project in Southwest Alaska:, and I plan to continue that kind of effort with my Seattle->Aleutians trip next year.


Edited by mckittre on 11/25/2006 17:31:29 MST.

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: SUL and Enviornment on 11/26/2006 17:26:33 MST Print View

I wholeheartedly believe the idea of UL or SUL backpacking helps to build a better ethic for stewardship among most (not all) of its practitioners. I enjoy reducing the amount of stuff I carry because I just generally prefer to reduce the amount of stuff in my life. And it creates a better experience for me when I venture outside. For me, simpler is better - on the trail and off. The notion that lightweight backpacking can help spread this ethic to other parts of our lives and also help people to value the wilderness is what attracts me to helping others learn about lightweight backpacking.

Walter Yates
(WHY) - F

Locale: Utah
SUL and Enviornment on 11/30/2006 12:03:47 MST Print View

Lightweight backpacking has led me to be content with less. For example a smaller home, smaller car, less gear, reusable/multiuse products… The art or practice of UL or SUL has spilled over into how I live and the way I want to live. In this way I am reducing my ecological foot print.


If you are wondering what your ecological footprint is check out

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: SUL and Enviornment on 12/03/2006 19:47:03 MST Print View

The previous posts linking SUL with a desire to minimize in the rest of one's life are right-on. SUL/UL backpacking gear and technique has been a great "meditation" on what's really necessary to survive in and enjoy the wilderness...This "meditation" definently extends to the rest of life. When one realizes that true beauty, comfort, and contentment can be had with minimal possessions it is a lesson that sticks. It teaches us that our intelligence and outlook on life are what create good or bad days, not how much gear we are toting around- whether in the mountains or in our daily lives. The philosophy behind the gear teaches us that having less can actually be a liberating experience.
Environmental destruction is, more often than not, simply a by-product of the ever increasing percieved "need" for more, for the new and improved, for the faster, the easier, the "better"...yet little thought is given to practical, creative, and multiple uses for what we ALREADY HAVE.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: SUL and Enviornment on 12/04/2006 00:15:45 MST Print View

(Hi Walter, great to see you here!)

I agree with all of the posts above but would like to throw a wrench into the mix.

SUL/UL is environmentally responsible because we do minimize the amount of gear we take into the backcountry.

However, my concern is that I've accumulated a lot of gear in the process that is just sitting around doing nothing. That's a lot of wasted fabric, metal, and labor. I'm struggling to figure out how to recycle it into the gearflow so that other people can use it to enjoy backpacking.

In addition, I have personal concerns, and I'm as guilty as anyone, about the use of poorly durable materials in ultralight gear. I find myself becoming increasingly distressed over the prospect of throwing things away after they wear out. I've not found it to be true personally, because I'm incredibly careful about my gear, but I worry that others jumping on the UL bandwagon are using more resources than what are "necessary" to enjoy the backcountry because they trash their gear more often.

john flanagan
(jackfl) - F

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Re: SUL and Enviornment on 12/04/2006 08:27:19 MST Print View

I'm "recycling" (in part) a response to another thread. First, I agree that what is in most of our packs at any given time represents only a fraction of what is in our gear closets. As others have pointed out, many of us have 2 passions - one is backpacking and the other is gear.

A lot of us are trying to reduce our contributions to global warming by using energy efficient appliances, vehicles, home heating, and so on. We are at least starting to grapple with the impacts of our habits on the larger environment. The issue has been there for decades – fear of global warming throws it back in the spot light. It makes sense to me that backpackers at least consider their passion from the same perspective.

Start by asking whether we have an impact beyond the backcountry through our purchasing decisions. Maybe minor (maybe not), but an impact none-the-less. Then think about how this could impact our behavior.

Some things that I am trying to be better about myself...

• Be thoughtful in selecting gear. Buy it with the intention of using it and wearing it out. I have the habit of "cool - I wanna try it." Many of these experiments languish in a corner. BPL has been tremendously helpful in making good selections - and a source of temptation. Now that I know that the Go-lite Jam is being updated...
• When I replace gear, I haven't been great about selling or giving the older stuff away to keep it in use...
• Reward manufacturers who are up front with their environmental practices and impacts, and offer recycling programs (Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Co-op come to mind)

As an independent force in the industry, BPL could make a difference is a bunch of ways (this is a brainstorm - just ideas that I don’t claim as “good” or “practical” from BPL’s point of view)
• A series of articles that outlines the “environment footprint” of commonly used materials – so that those of us who do factor this in can make more informed choices. For example, how is silnylon manufactured and what are the impacts of that process? What are the environmental (social?) impacts of aluminum versus titanium products from ground to smelter?
• Create a “green” category or criteria for annual awards.
• Use industry influence to encourage gear manufactures to include environmental footprint / practices in advertising (e.g. Patagonia and MEC. Include that information in reviews when available. If you feel that gear would be "disposable" in the hands of an "average" user - then say so.
• Stimulate thought / discussion with provocative questions in forums when the opportunity comes up
• Set up, or suggest outlets for some sort of “gear giveaway” program. If for example, I knew that a scout troop or social service agency would use my long-unused Mountain Hardware Kiva or Gregory pack, I’d consider this a great way to recycle. I kind of think that it's outside of BPLs scope, but a small web site that allows this kind of networking would be cool.

In fact, if someone has a program or young person who would benefit from some gear that I don't use, let me know.

Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Re: Re: Re: Re: SUL and Enviornment on 12/04/2006 10:11:31 MST Print View

It is no secret that many of us enamored with not only UL/SUL hiking, but also the unburdened life philosophy that it complements, find ourselves with gear closets (rooms?) full of excess possessions. There have been plenty of thoughtful and entertaining posts on this board on that very subject - never let it be said that we're not self-aware about our neuroses! I certainly agree that there is a paradox at work. Our – MY! – excessive experimental gear purchases help feed the consumer machine that we all decry. Of course, our main beef is that for years, that machine told us we needed more, sturdier, heavier, more versatile. Now they sell us absurdly specialized gear. Until I was introduced to UL backpacking, I never had to think about which sleeping bag, or which rain jacket to take on my trip – I only had one. Now I choose, and while performance is better and packweight, on average, lower, it does make me think.

My personal goal, quite recently established, is to continue simplifying my gear list and my life. My personal aesthetic drives me to choose slightly more durable gear so that my equipment isn’t a cause of worry, and doesn’t occupy much of my attention while I’m out. Hopefully, it helps combat the “disposable gear syndrome” that Ryan mentioned.
That’s just me – for some guys, babying their spinnaker and cuben packs is part of the fun. I plan to think twice about new gear purchases, and weigh a products materials and production into my decision rather than just weight/performance. I'll obviously have to learn a lot to be able to make that evaluation.

My question is this: at what point must we be willing to stop short for the sake of our ideals or our environment? How many of us would accept heavier alternatives, given that the lightest/shiniest is seldom the greenest?

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
All that extra gear... on 12/04/2006 18:33:13 MST Print View

A great point is mentioned here about the "waste" of extra gear and the constant purchase of new stuff, especially when bought just to try it out. Unfortunately, you really don't know if a particular piece of gear works for you until you've logged many miles with it.

I'm relatively new here, but one thing I already like about this site is the gear swap- I just bought a used tarp from another member. I wanted to experiment with a one-man tarp, something I don't own. Why buy new? If I like it but it's wearing out fast, I'll copy it and sew one up when the time comes...the old one will get chopped into stuffsacks, groundsheets, whatever- items where waterproofing isn't as critical.
While the sale and trade of used gear doesn't entirely end the problem of mass marketing, mass production, and the inevitable excess that comes with them, it certainly gets us going in the right direction. We've become WAY too picky about what's "good" these days...millions of tons of perfectly usable food and items go into our landfills every year...all for the sake of "profit".

I'm also a high school teacher- over the past few years I've been forming an outdoor travel/eco-education club. One thing holding many teenagers back: Even if someone was going to take them outdoors, half the kids don't have the basic gear to camp and would love anything they could get their hands on- it doesn't have to be the latest, greatest, or lightest. I've given most of my older, pre SUL/UL gear to my students. There are also plenty of people and groups out there that would be more than happy to give a tax writeoff for used stuff (yes, including all those "super heavy" 3.5 lb. sleeping bags/tents/packs nobody wants to use anymore!). I'm far happier knowing my old gear is going to good use than being stored for that "one day" I might need it again.

I suppose that if you're not using something it's really only going waste if nobody else ever gets their hands on it. I figure for every person out there that wants a tent, there's probably an unused one in someone else's gear pile.
Keep that extra stuff moving folks!

Jace A. Mellinger
(jacemell) - F
extra gear on 12/11/2006 19:06:36 MST Print View

I would like to emphasize Jackfl's comment on Scouting. When My son entered Scouts there was an immediate need for Backpacking equipment. Throughout Webelos they do a few camping trips but no backpacking. So each boy has a sleepingbag, but no backpacking gear of any sort. This brings me to my two fold response on SUL/UL and the enviroment. First, take your used gear to your local Scout troop. You will not believe the smile it will produce. You will give a scout a piece of equipment that he probably would not have ever owned under different circumstances. Secondly, The act of visiting the Scout troop gives you the chance to spread the SUL/UL mindset to a new, uninitiated group of future backpackers. Its a win/win scenario.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:SUL and Envio./more TOTAL weight now on 12/11/2006 21:23:11 MST Print View

I think UL/SUL is worse for the environment, if you consider consuming non-renewable resources 'bad'; at least judging by my impact. Before I went light, (similar to Benjamin), I had about one of everything; now I have multiples of each; bought for incremental reductions in weight.

I have more TOTAL weight in gear now than I did when I was a Heavyweight; I just carry less of it.

My partial solution is to give away gear to newbies who don't have that type of item. My 3lb down jacket went to a friend, etc..

However, getting an 'Ultralight Mind' (quoting Miguel), will ultimately reduce the scope of my wants throughout my life, and thus reduce my eco-footprint (for example, I rarely drive anymore). Having a UL mind leads one closer to an ideal: success is having what you want, happiness is wanting what you have.

Miles Barger
(milesbarger) - F - M

Locale: West Virginia
Less is more on 12/11/2006 21:49:54 MST Print View

A few days ago, a friend of mine related a conversation that she had had with a friend of hers who is Amish. The gist of their conversation was, "Freedom comes from having fewer choices."

Perhaps this could be interpreted as an un-American thing to say, anti-free market, anti-backpacking industry. However, I think the wisdom rings true. UL/SUL is great because we're not slogging a huge, uncomfortable load, so we can enjoy ourselves more, cover more distance if we care to do so, and be generally free of unnecessary physical pain. But it's also great because there's just less to think about, less stuff to unpack and repack each day, fewer choices to make. What pan to use? My cookpot. What cup to use? My cookpot. Where do I put my stove and windscreen and firestarter? My cookpot. The elegance and simplicity that comes with that type of system is very freeing.

Yet, it does seem true that really being into UL/SUL can lead to consuming more petroleum- and other-based materials, more gas to ship that 1oz-lighter thing all the way across the country, more space with that one specific thing that we use that one time once a year. Ultimately, the pursuit of the absolute lightest system can waste natural resources, consume the mind, and burn cash. Oh man can it burn cash.

So, UL/SUL doesn't necessarily equal environmentally friendly. However, a system that balances versatility, durability, and weight with the ultimate goal of enhancing freedoom might. SV-UL=super-versatile and ultralight. This is my real goal: a UL/SUL system that works in almost all conditions, has no redundancy, can be suited to different climates with very minimum change, and will last a very, very long time.

It seems clear that applying that system of thinking to the rest of my life, which seems an inevitable consequence, results in being a more environmentally-friendly person. Less redundancy, less material, greater efficiency, greater durability. Less choice because I already chose long ago, and the one thing I have is perfectly suited to my purposes. It feels great, friendly, efficient, and free.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Re: Less is more on 12/11/2006 22:00:13 MST Print View

>>The gist of their conversation was, "Freedom comes from having fewer choices."

"freedom of choice
is what you got
freedom from choice
is what you want"
--Devo, Freedom of Choice,

Edited by romandial on 12/12/2006 15:19:57 MST.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:SUL and Enviornment on 12/11/2006 22:56:17 MST Print View

Miles, your comments were very eloquent; you said it much better than I could. I agree with most of your points. This UL hobby is both the cause and the effect of change which I (and evidently you) have in our greater lives. I am not trying to be argumentative, but consider this alternate point of view on two of your points, as it relates to choice of UL equipment...

With all due respect to our fellow citizens the Amish, I do not agree that less choice is good. Think of it this way, you made many choices to whittle your cookset down to those components which work best for you. The choices were many, and were finished BEFORE you left. The choice was steel, aluminum, or titanium (for example). Your versitile system is the byproduct of having a great many choices, not few. The concept of a religious organization limiting my choices of clothing, gear, behavior, or mode of transportation (horses?) just would not be tolerated. Your Amish cookset might be a wooden bowl and worrysome choices there! A friend of mine put up with that until age 18 when he "escaped" and joined the military; what he thought was his only way out. (He had never touched a computer nor seen the internet before leaving!) They were giving him less choices of what was socially acceptable THINKING. Choice is good; choice and free will go hand in hand.

My second point is not so argumentative, simply the interesting observation that (if I read your post correctly) you are trying to minimize redundancy, and I am trying to maximize it! Two opposite approaches to minimizing weight. I thought maximizing redundancy was an obvious way to reduce weight (my watch has an altimeter, compass, and thermometer for example), and multi-use is a benefit in my mind. But your well thought out post is making me re-think; maybe I need to sacrifice redundancy to get to the next level of simplicity.

Thanks for your thought provoking post. I hope you find time to reply.

Miles Barger
(milesbarger) - F - M

Locale: West Virginia
Hi, Brett on 12/12/2006 00:03:52 MST Print View

I'm glad you enjoyed reading my post; I've certainly enjoyed reading your followup.

I completely agree with your first point, going to show that I wasn't quite clear in my original post. I do not adhere to any religious dogma. Choice is good, variety is good, and the more of both, the better. Having a personal choice made for you and limiting your ability to make individual choices, whether for religious, political, or other reasons, is unacceptable. I'm merely commenting that, for me, putting in some time and thought at the beginning of a process--carefully weighing as many choices as I see fit in an open-minded, thoughtful manner--allows me to take the often stressful task of making persnickety choices out of the equation from that point on. So if I'm looking for a great sleep system, I look at everything, take advice, try lots of things, make some critical decisions, and then--done. It does what I want, how I want it, when I want it to, allowing me to focus on my real goals: mental, emotional, philosophical, and spiritual contemplation and appreciation in the backcountry.

I think we're actually in agreement on your second point, as well. When I say redundancy, I mean either owning or carrying more than one piece of gear to fulfill a specific task. So, with your example, if I decide that carrying a watch with an altimeter, compass, and thermometer is the best choice for me in the largest variety of situations, I don't want to also be carrying a separate altimeter, compass, and thermometer. Ideally, I don't want to even own those pieces of overlapping gear (although in this case you have to consider things like batteries and extreme weather affecting the watch, so maybe you need tried-and-true backups in your gear closet for more crucial excursions). If I have one great solo cookpot, that's all I want both in my pack and in my gear closet: one. And since it'll make a great cup, storage unit, and maybe even something else, I don't want separate items to do those jobs. Multiple use all the way, baby.

The real balance for me is sacrificing a little bit of performance for simplification. To keep with the cookpot example, if there's a cookpot that's maybe a bit better for some really specific purpose than that one that I own, I'd rather just keep the one and exchange the small performance gain in that one situation to simplicity gained and money saved overall.

So... we cool, friend?

Edit: Roman, when a conundrum comes into your immediate vicinity, it is absolutely imperative that you lash it into a better state of being.

Edited by milesbarger on 12/12/2006 00:06:16 MST.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:SUL and Enviornment/We're cool, Miles on 12/12/2006 01:11:15 MST Print View

Thanks for the clarification; well said. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned sacrificing a little performance for simplicity. For example, I have four tents (returnable at REI thank goodness), but not one with ALL the features I want. Same goes for my titanium pots; and quite frankly, other aspects of my life as well! Hmmm..

Im just never satisfied with anything if I feel there is room for improvement. This keeps me employed as an engineer, but leads to frustration and expense for personal posessions. I remember paying $3,500 for a bleeding edge computer once.. it's CPU was 100MHZ.

Similar to a few other mind-bending posts here at SAC I'm going to think deeply about this subject and find ways to simplify my 'kit' as my Welch friend calls it, and extrapolate the process to other areas of my life. Cheers mate.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Less is more on 12/12/2006 03:14:03 MST Print View

About half your trouble is from wanting your way. The other half comes from getting it."

David Couch
(Davidc) - F

Locale: England
Re: Re: Re: Less is more on 12/12/2006 17:55:53 MST Print View

Wasn't it Confucius who said "fellow who pitches his tent on a hillside then invites a girl in is not on the level" ?

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Less is more on 04/24/2007 12:57:44 MDT Print View


I don't think that you and your friend's Amish pals could be more right. I get my most manic surges of "Less is More" bliss when I'm shopping at ALDI Supermarkets. For those who haven't experience the miracle of ALDI's, imagine your average grocery, (it has just about everything you might need from TP to TV's) but only ONE or TWO kinds of each product (no seven brands of Ketchup here!). You either buy or bring your own bags, the shopping carts require a quarter deposit (which you get back when you return them, eliminating the rogue door-denters). You don't have to buy platoon sized quantities, and and everything costs roughly HALF (or less) of what it would at a traditional market. Ahh, heaven.

If you think about it, once you do get into the over-choiced retail world, there are at least two prominant examples where people create their own arificial limitations in order to free themselves from the burden of inconsequential choices. Example A: Mr. Frugal. Always buys generic or what's on sale. So what if it's only 5% less, it's the cheapest and that's what he goes with to avoid all those extra (pointless) decisions. Example B: Ms. Loyalty. She always buys items of Brand X. Yes, Brand Y is on sale and appears to be in all other respects identical, but she's grown up with Brand X, and that's what she sticks with to avoid the burden.

I agree with Mr. Frugal, Ms. Loyalty and the Amish: Save your choices for things that matter*. Reduce other descisions to simple formulas where possible.

*like moral choices or political choices, where nuances do have consequnces.

Ultralight backpacking does the same thing: Gear is chosen in large part based on weight, and all that extra, heavy paraphenalia is left at home (or better yet, the store) and off our backs. Beyond that, I'm a firm believer that the ultralight spirit reaches it's purest form when you make your own gear. That could be( and surely is) a thread all by itself, but the lightweight/ home-made combination has saved me big bucks over traditional, high-end, high weight gear. The choices that are still left over - should I put a strap here, alcohol or esbit, down or primaloft - answer themselves on the trail, and are far more rewarding to ponder.