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The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel
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eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/19/2011 22:16:40 MST Print View

someone was kind enough to point out this post of mr jordans in another thread ... rather than change the topic of that thread i posted it here

i find it quite interesting ... paralysis by analysis IMO ... many of us have been guilty of it at some point including myself, some i suspect still are ;)

as nike says ... just do it

The amount of time people spend spreadsheeting, buying gear, testing gear, returning gear, weighing gear, cutting tags off of gear, weighing gear again, finding the right stuff sacks for the gear, packing their gear, unpacking their gear, repacking their gear, and then repeating this whole process in preparation for a walk borders on insanity.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/19/2011 22:37:16 MST Print View

I read this article a while ago...

I find it interesting because I had never considered spreadsheets, postal scales, and the general level of obsessive gear scrutiny mentioned in this article until, years ago, I found Ryan Jordan and BPL ferociously advocating their use. I've learned a lot since then, but in many ways, I've found the "simplicity" (the typical selling point) of ultralight backpacking is anything but simple; that is, until you learn to let go, to let it all come back around, to not obsess over things. Remember? Just like the old days when we all owned only one pack, one sleeping bag, one shelter...And they were all good enough because they were what we had.

It's taken me a long time and much experimentation to realize that the best shelter is the one I'm sharing with my children, a good friend, or waking up in to a beautiful sunrise. The best pack is the one I'm carrying, on my way to somewhere magical. The best stove is whichever one that happens to be cooking dinner under a pitch dark and star filled sky. Everything else is just quibbling over details.

I guess we all come full circle at some point.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
skills-smart and gear-stupid on 12/19/2011 22:58:01 MST Print View

Getting into backpacking has been more frustrating than I like to admit. I wrote about it a little bit ago.

I’ve found to my frustration and frequent chagrin that the process of becoming a backpacker is less about the finer points of extended woods-walking and more about navigating the sea of products that claim to let me do so comfortably, safely, and simply. Despite the claims, however much we’d like to believe UL is synomynous with simple, when we are honest with ourselves it’s usually not. The gear might be simple in design and function, but the process by which we acquire, use, and discard it is usually the opposite.

I've been hacking on a piece about branding and choice fatigue for a while. Maybe someday I'll get it sorted out enough to post. I love the woods, I love being in the woods, I love using gear that fits its purpose. But I do not like the cultural process I have to navigate to find equipment that's not cheap crap that'll fall apart on me, or monster bombproof gear from yesteryear that weighs a ton.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
So only do it (all the prep) if you enjoy it. on 12/19/2011 23:39:26 MST Print View

You should only own a boat if you enjoy working on a boat. Likewise any British car.

My father only took two weeks of vacation a year and we'd go to some different part of Cailfornia each time, 30-odd different places over the years. But he'd spend months researching each region, picking where to go, looking over maps, etc. He probably spent more waking hours in preparation than on the trip itself. And until the later years when we camped, it was just hotels, picnic lunch in an ice chest and dinner at Denny's. Plus the local parks, sights, museums, etc. Not much logistics. But much of the enjoyment was the anticipation and the planning.

I do an annual mental-health road trip. Fly somewhere, rent a car, drive 4,000 miles in a week over new-to-me roads. Part of the mental health is the anticipation. Much of the mental health that week are the forks in the road and deciding on the spur of the moment which way to go. It's an odd balance of planning and spontaneity.

BPing pre-kids, in California, for a weekend - I could be packed in an hour. (unless I was bringing a hot tub or something similar).

But working in a BP shop, regular customers would come in, talk about their planned trip (months off), and buy something minimal like mosquito repellent or a magazine. Clearly they came in because they enjoyed the planning and the anticipation. Now you don't even have to leave your desk to interact that way.

perfect on 12/20/2011 21:38:08 MST Print View

Sort of reminds me of a cartoon on the wall in an analytical laboratory where I work.

It says something like :

"Sooner or later in the course of every project you are forced to shoot the engineers so that you can actually finally finish the project and start it up"

Many engineers will keep changing and modifying and improving and tweaking ad infinitum if allowed.

(It only has to work, be on time, and on budget. It doesnt have to be perfect!)

A lot of folks are seeking the "perfect" kit.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: perfect on 12/20/2011 22:07:09 MST Print View

A nice succinct version of this (attributed to Benjamin Franklin's grandfather):

"Tis better to strike a straight blow with a crooked stick than to spend you whole life trying to straighten the d*mn thing out!"

Edited by jcolten on 12/20/2011 22:07:39 MST.

Joslyn Bloodworth
(JoslynB) - F

Locale: Southwest
Re: So only do it (all the prep) if you enjoy it. on 12/20/2011 22:39:50 MST Print View

+1 to David!

I love the planning!! It's so much fun to just set out everything I own and start mixing and matching. I don't get a lot of time off and planning helps me stave off the frustration and disapointment of every perfect day I watch go by without the ability to really enjoy it. Also the more planning I can do, the more likely a trip will go smoothly. Not to say things go perfectly, but there are less big snafus. For me it's not in the pursuit of the all encompasing "perfect gear list" it's just about trying new things and maybe discovering new ways to combine my gear.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: skills-smart and gear-stupid on 12/20/2011 23:30:55 MST Print View

The gear might be simple in design and function, but the process by which we acquire, use, and discard it is usually the opposite.

thats actually quite insightful IMO

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/21/2011 08:22:15 MST Print View

I'm one of the anomalies here, but even when I started down the lightweight backpacking road, I didn't do a spreadsheet, I didn't weigh things, etc. Actually had lots of disagreement when, after someone new here posted asking for help in going lighter earlier this year, I posted a response contradicting a few before me and telling the person that a scale simply wasn't necessary, that you knew when your pack was getting lighter.

Every post after mine that addressed my point (if I remember correctly, if not, then the vast majority) disagreed, some rather strongly, and said a scale was essential. And spreadsheets were highly recommended.

I still disagree, and agree with the sentiments in Ryan's blog post. I still don't weigh gear unless I'm selling it (because I know people will ask). I still don't have a spreadsheet. I don't even take notes when I'm out on a trip. I bring what I think I'll need/want, remember the things I didn't use, and adjust accordingly for the next trip.

Of course, I get my enjoyment out of buying gear, lots of gear, and seeing if it works for me. I'm sure folks could just as easily say that how I buy and get rid of gear borders on insanity - and I wouldn't disagree.

Then again, I'm not an engineer, I don't play one on TV, and I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night..... ;-)

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
RE: "The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel" on 12/21/2011 09:13:36 MST Print View

Generally a good job. "Analytical backpackers might do better to spreadsheet less, walk more, and pivot." A strange name for dealing with daily, weekly, monthly, crisis issues. But it works! " any other name..." the meaning comes through loudly.

I can no longer get out in winter, my diabetes and me do not fare well in cold weather. But I can still drool over the pleasant solitude and inherent simplicity of simply using the “grab and go” method for hikes.

As of ten-twenty years ago, we had paper lists for camping and finally got them on a computer. We added a spread sheet of weights and for a couple years I weighed EVERYTHING. Later on I found myself more and more, simply saying “I think I’ll head out” on a Thursday. Pack my bag, email my boss, and go...spontaneity works. Be it for a few days or a few weeks.

I decided a few years back not to pursue the lightest, nor the best performing, nor the easiest to use piece of gear. Rather, the smallest, most reliable and durable piece of gear for the above reason. I will continue to look for light, durable, reliable gear. Someone elses definition may vary, though. Yeah, I guess that makes me a gear head, but my definition is a bit different than most. AFTER it gets good reviews, and they quit making it of course, I might find a good piece of old used gear somewhere...and put it back in service.

Gone are the days of pusuing a the XUL perfection, though I've been there. Spread sheets, gram counting and XUL gear simply was not durable enough for a long hike. UL gear has good durability, not excelent, and will let me go for a couple weeks easily with no problems. So, my base load is back up to 9-11 pounds, depending.

I am retired. As of last year, I am trying to spend more time reading my email and posting, esp in colder temps. (No, you wont get wet from my drool, that is reserved for my computer.) I try to visit various web sites to keep current with newer concerns, gear, philosophy and techniques, regardless of using it or not Learning…well, learning is always essential. Contributing to teaching those of lesser learning, is part of the same… you learn from your students, too.

One thing that I have learned, that Ryan has so eloquently stated. “Spreadsheeting is interesting, pivoting means you have some amount of intelligence, but trust me when I tell ya: walking is where it’s at.” Perhaps in my case, more paddling than walking, these days. But, still with a simple, “Lean Approach.” This applies to durability, repairibility, and reliability, too.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/21/2011 11:02:39 MST Print View

I found that hiking the PCT cured me of things like obsessing over the exact weight of my gear. I never did get a scale anyway. Sometimes if I need to compare two items I've found it works to hang each item from the corners of a hanger. The heavier one will hang down more.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Piper hit it! on 12/21/2011 11:28:08 MST Print View

"I found that hiking the PCT cured me of things like obsessing over the exact weight of my gear."

I can't imagine ever again weighing or tracking the weight of my gear again. I have a system that works and have zero need to get lower weights. I actually love the freedom of just grabbing the gear and going. Maybe I have come out the other side.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/21/2011 11:29:59 MST Print View

... paralysis by analysis IMO ... many of us have been guilty of it at some point ....

Might be that theres a time for planning and analysis ... and then a time for doing. Get all my ticket and gear purchases done for 2012 in front of the fireplace, weigh the gear at work, cut off my kwappy cable/Internet bundle after the Superbowl (usually resort to getting on at starbux anyways), give my annual Aprils fool's card to my broker, the taxman, etc... , and do some serious hiking for the summer. Return when it's time to vote.

Edited by hknewman on 12/21/2011 11:36:18 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/21/2011 11:58:13 MST Print View

Ryan can toss the spreadsheet and minute analysis because he has the experience, but it helps newbies and converts get understand the concepts and get their kit to UL weights. At some point you need to start walking and an infinite tweaking process will begin as well.

I think the spreadsheet and analysis process appeals to some personalities more than others. There was a thread on personality types that was interesting (, and I think it is obvious that some will enjoy working through the details while others will be more prone to hitting the trail and working it out as they go.

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet - Act II, Scene II)

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
I do both on 12/21/2011 12:10:15 MST Print View

On nearly every expedition, I manage to simultaneously be making spreadsheets with weights, and making a whole bunch of last minute choices (gear constructed 2 days before we leave and never tested, gear bought on the way out of town, etc...)

This is not because I am anywhere close to UL in terms of actual weight (2 kids and a packraft will do that), or working to shave the last few ounces.

But we're nearly always doing something large, that is significantly different than we've done before, and is significantly different than other people generally do (so no real template to follow). Like figuring out how to take a baby and a toddler to an Alaskan glacier for two months of fall weather.

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the planning. I would dearly love to be able to "grab and go" and find the planning and weighing stressful, but I love doing unique long-distance expeditions so much that I'm willing to put up with what seems like a necessary evil.

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: Tahoe
Re: The Lean Approach to Wilderness Travel on 12/21/2011 12:37:59 MST Print View

I agree with Dale. When I began converting to UL I found the spreadsheet analysis helpful. I also found it enjoyable, especially during the times when it's not feasible be out on the trail, like in the evenings after work. As my kit gets dialed in I don't spend nearly as much on the analysis and pretty much just use my spreadsheet as a checklist.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
note on 12/21/2011 22:17:47 MST Print View

that spreadsheets are only one thing ... theres all the other fun stuff including cutting off labels ;)

i think the point was that you just have to go out and do it instead of analyzing it to death ...

speaking solely for climbing ... id rather take a climbing partner that just goes out and does it (with a bit of sensible prep of course), than one that sits around all day reading guidebooks and trying to find the "best" gear rather than going out and climbing

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: Tahoe
Re: note on 12/22/2011 10:37:59 MST Print View

Agreed, but are there really that many people like that? I had just assumed that the people that spend all that time with spreadsheets, label cutting, guidebook reading, etc. were just doing that during the down time between backpacking trips or climbs....not instead instead of them.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: note on 12/23/2011 00:18:31 MST Print View

well ive been trying to convince people that its perfectly fine to climb up here in the winter ... as long as sun is shinning on the rock, its plenty warm ...

quite a few people have this mental block in their mind that you simply cant climb outside unless its summer ... no amount of convincing will get em to try it out ... they would rather surf the internet about what gear they will buy for the crazy climbs they will do next summer ... unfortunately by that time their skills have often atrophied and they spent most of the summer getting "ready" again

now thats climbing ... but i suspect we see quite a bit of this in the "off season" backpacking ... or when people feel lazy and would rather dream about doing something rather than just going out and doing something

excuses i heard today alone
- im not in shape ... well you arent going to get in shape couch surfing
- its too cold ... i brought out some yuppie princess last week to go climbing in above freezing temps, and she did just fine and had fun ... if she can do it anyone can
- i dont have the "best" gear ... well you need safe gear, not the "best" gear ... get what allows you to get out as much as you can

fortunately i can usually find someone who is eager enough to go out and give it a try

now you dont need to go crazy and do an expedition or mountain every week ... a quick day hike or a training run through the local trail works ...

there is no point of buying all that gear if you dont at least test it well on day hikes ... how else will you know itll really work when you need it to ....

i think its a fundamental truth that the people who do the most started with the least when they first started ... they just went out and did it ...

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Piper and Greg +2 on 12/23/2011 02:18:43 MST Print View

I concur with the sentiments expressed by these PCT veterans. Experience a long backpacking trip, one that spans weeks and months,and gear becomes, well, just a means to an end.

Many people initially obsessed about their gear during the fist 700 miles or so on PCT. By the end of the journey, gear choices were nearly irrelevant - the journey was what mattered. Nobody cared that you possessed the finest tarp or the heaviest sleeping bag. They cared about you as a person, about the trail, about the hiking experience.

Now, it's fun to look at that stuff when planing a trip. Much the same way camera specs are interesting to compare. My point-and-shoot camera doesn't produce as finely detailed images as friend's high-end Nikon dSLR, but it doesn't make my photos any less valuable to me. We all realize that lighter gear is ideal, but let's not let get in the way of the reason we go out there in the first place.