I admire someone who is bold enough to contradict themselves. That said, this contradiction has me a little confused. Lets face it, this site is fueled by oz counting gearheads (reluctantly, counting myself as one). It has some of the more civilized and thoughtful forums that I know of, but I've become convinced that all the gear tinkering and oz counting taking place in the forums has less and less to do with actual backpacking. Its more like 'outdoor gear theory', which is admittedly fascinating. Its a great hobby. Its also a form of escapism when you are at the office and you would rather be in the mountains. The gear fetishizing helps us imagine we are actually out there, or to prepare ourselves for the the next time that we are. I'm talking from my own experience here, as I've spent a good portion of this past year struggling with injuries, planning long adventures that didn't happen, and endless gear tinkering/theory. It sort of has me wondering why I didn't pursue a career in fabric technology (?).
I've also spent a great deal of my time actually backpacking, hiking, trail running and more recently skiing and climbing. Its extremely satisfying to have all your gear dialed in, working as a system with as few and functional items as possible. I aim for this in all my possessions. When there is less to meditate your experience of the wild, adventures are more raw and beautiful. That said, I've actually noticed that all my (I like to call it) gearfectionism can really take away from the experience. Its seldom that I go on trips these days when new product ideas, purchases, custom designs etc. aren't popping into my head. Gear optimization is an endless process, with diminishing returns. I do get something out of this, otherwise I wouldn't do it. Humans are tool-users, and men are particularly tool-centric. Gear nerdery is satisfying (esp. for gear nerds) and I'd go as far to call it instinctual for some. My point is, I think there is more to be gotten out of taking a more experiential, less fetish based approach. Chenault's reflections over at bedrockandparadox.com are a perfect example. He gloats over his packrarft because it gives him another way of experiencing the wild, not because he likes how it looks on his spreadsheet or in his closet (although that may too be the case ;) The packrarft has no power when its sitting in your closet.
Similarly, McClalland's tips: he treats gear as just one means to the art of lightweight backpacking.
(Wow, didn't realize I was about to rant, but I guess the above article/rant got me in the mood.)
I originally intended to write a few simple things: the key innovations in lightweight backpacking were brought to light by Jardine long ago.
Next was Ryan's article 'clothing and sleep systems for ultralight backpacking' ( i forget the name. ) In a couple words: wool, windshirts, puffies, tarps, frameless packs
Perhaps Ryan has just gotten bored because much the forums have more or less just reiterated those principles in a 1000 different ways. Or, like someone else suggested, bitter since BPL's own attempts at the cottage industry were somewhat of a bust.
I might suggest that the lack of recent innovation has much more to do with the fact that backpacking is in the scheme of things a fairly simple activity. Its just walking through the wild for multiple days. As a species we are so far beyond surviving (in style) and with minimal weight while foot traveling. Thats why IMO we've gotten down to oz quibbling between 6 and 4 lbs on BPL--for those of us who choose to walk as a mode of wilderness transportation, we need to find a way to stay entertained when we aren't . For the newby, the information here is nothing short of an epiphany, but my point is that its an epiphany based on the collected insights of a rock climber/engineer/hippy adventurer some 20 years ago. Its no wonder to me all the interesting modes of travel that Jardine (quintessential gear nerd) has tried over the years.
I'm much more curious about the innovations taking place in other forms of outdoor adventure these days. For example, super lightweight ski touring boots capable of technical ice climbs. This presents far more of a game changer for wilderness adventure than a slightly lighter version of cueben fiber. http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2011/06/part-2.html
Packrafts, another obvious example.
I know thats getting away from backpacking, but thats what I'm suggesting: equipment for backpacking is far less interesting/relevant to the activity, than other modes of transport like skiing, packrafting, biking, climbing/alpinism etc. Layering systems for ice/alpine climbing or backcountry skiing are far more difficult and vital to get dialed in than for the general three season backpacking that most BPL's do. So, yes, this is a suggestion to us who have been around for a while: 1) present the info to the newbie as effectively as possible 2) spend more of your indoor time with maps, less of it in the gear forums (as I continue to boldly contradict myself ;)
Other ideas: try skiing, biking, climbing, rafting...wing-suit base jumping (?!? ;)
I think cottage manufacturers are not to blame for the stagnation. We are, for still being preoccupied with the next big innovation in walking with a pack on and sleeping outside.
If this forum is about backpacking why don't we talk more about technique? Philosophy? Trips? etc. Despite my love for the site, I think the answer lies in that its always been a little bit more about gear nerdery and consumerism than actual backpacking. Ryan's suggestions as of late are on point, but this definitely leaves me wondering about what's in store for the future of this site and will we continue to take an interest?
+ 1 on Katabatic.