I've been thinking about many of these topics at great length lately and have come to some conclusions that make me really question many of the assumptions we make about UL/SUL backpacking and the environment. The fairly recent thread, I believe titled " SUL and Environment" had some enlightening ideas in it.
As backpackers, we let ourselves off the hook too easily. There are many assumtions about UL/SUL that are not really getting addressed fully. In a preceding post "simplicity" is mentioned. I have spoken of the same "simplicity" of UL backpacking to many friends as well. But is it really that simple? Maybe the pack you shoulder at the trailhead is full of rather simple implements, but was it simple getting there? Look at the discussion on these boards; case studies, scientific investigations/product reviews, and endless scrutiny of objects and materials. Don't get me wrong, I love it (or I am obsessed with it) but it's certainly not that "simple". What ever happened to the days when we all had only one of everything? I certainly started like this and had many, many, great days in the mountains. One good bag, an external frame pack that will last 20 years (if not more), the old trusted tent, etc. There were no spreadsheets, calculators, and digital scales when preparing for a trip- you just packed what you had and left. This was simplicity.
How many of us have 3 stoves now? 5 stoves anyone? Anybody have more than 4 sleep systems/shelters? (All neatly categorized, of course, by weight, temperature, terrain, expected rainfall, desired speed of travel, etc.) At least 75% of the content on this site is about "stuff"- new stuff, old stuff, better stuff, lighter stuff, which stuff you NEED...
Generally speaking, environmental degradation is fueled by an ever-increasing mass of people demanding an ever- increasing amount of stuff. And yes, backpackers included. While our packweights may be getting surprisingly low, this practice meshes with our hyper-consumer culture suspiciously well. Better. Lighter. Faster. Newer. Polargaurd HV vs. 3D vs. Delta. How fast must we go, how light must we get, how much new stuff will be enough? Are we turning nature into a giant gear test? Somehow UL/SUL is more environmentally enlightened? Why?
News Flash: SilNylon, state-of-the-art DWR's, and Primaloft are not organic. Take a look into the companies behind the manufacturing of these materials/chemicals. Stewards of the environment? Don't think so.
As I plan for an upcoming trip and pour over gear lists on the computer, I'm about to order some SilNylon/Epic yardage
for a new bivy and am considering a new cooking system (Firelite SUL 500 + BPL Ti Esbit stove). I could save 8 oz. over my current gear with the changes. I can also take pleasure that I am helping burn who knows how many pounds of jet and diesel fuel to get my sub-10 oz. package shipped across the country. What would UPS do without us??? Environmentally speaking, this is beginning to border upon the absurd. 8 ounce savings???
I'm not trying to put down the UL packing ethic or insult anyone (this is as much a critique of myself as the community), but I think we really need to see it for what it is. The mere fact you carry a 10 lb. pack through the woods doesn't mean you're doing ANYTHING for said woods. In fact, if we keep "upgrading", our purchasing decisions are only doing more to hurt the environment.
I ask, I wonder, when will it be enough?