Lots of thoughts on the article and all the comments, especially after having been a very active member here since the beginning and involved with UL for more than 14 years. Wanted some time to contemplate before I said anything. In many ways this is a painful discussion, almost as if we are having to look back upon our decade-long obsession and question the legitimacy of spending so much time going bonkers over all those things.
In reading all the comments I felt a great inner conflict between the philosophy that Ryan is advocating (and that he has been deeply reflecting on for quite a few years now, especially in his blog) of keeping life simple and non-wasteful and non-damaging, and the philosophy of being involved with an activity in which gear is a big part of enjoying that activity, thereby spending too much time thinking about gear, and yet the focus of that activity is to get away from the trappings of modernity and its "things". A paradox that is very, very difficult to resolve. How do you love simplicity and frugality and efficiency while at the same time loving gear, too?
I don't agree with Ryan's premise that Cottage Manufacturers are stagnant, but I thought his essay and people's responses were great.
May I suggest a different approach to the problem that seems to be afflicting the entire UL movement, including a great number of UL cottage manufacturers and BPL itself? Perhaps it is the very UL philosophy that is stagnant, and not simply the technicians implementing it?
I think we have reached the same crossroads that manufacturers like The North Face, Sierra Designs, Patagonia, and Marmot encountered when their early designs were no longer the revolutionary game changers they were at the beginning. So, like them, has UL run out of steam?
My guess is that the crux of the problem is the conflict between UL as a way of life and philosophy versus economic and reputation interests. When UL is practiced purely as an approach to backpacking without regard for protecting self-interests other than safety, ability to move, and enjoy your particular activity then it grows innovative simply out practical necessity… you simply use what works and toss aside that which doesn't. It never accumulates. At its very purest your belongings would consist of no more than a single pack (or two at most, when considering winter) with one set of essentials and no more. As some said earlier, you would just grab your pack and head out the door without endless hours calculating weights, materials, design, etc.
What do you do, though, when you also simply love gear for gear's sake? It doesn't fit into the UL philosophy… anything that is extraneous or duplicated immediately makes the philosophy conflictual. Ryan is one of the most guilty in the UL community in this regard… constantly promoting simplifying and discarding what is not necessary, and yet over the years has probably used more different kinds of gear than most of us will ever see (not meant in a disparaging way… I am sure a lot of us here would love to try out all the different gear he's tried if we had the chance). In this article for instance he promotes the MLD Trailstar, but that was definitely not the first time he nominated a certain product as the bees knees. Over the years I recall him saying the MLD Duomid, the Black Diamond One Shot, the BPL Nanotarp, the ID SilShelter, the GG SpinnTarp, and others as "the best". We all have done this, so I'm not trying to paint Ryan as worse than any of the rest of us, but it does call into question our reasons for going UL besides just to lighten up.
One of the things that impressed me immensely about Glen Van Peski (I met him last year and we've been in touch for over 10 years) was that he does almost all his hiking with one pack and one pack alone… his trusty Murmur. That's it. Everything else he deals with as contingents along the way, adapting what he has to the situation and making do. I've tried reaching this way of thinking, but my gear obsession (which I've lately been doing my best to completely rein in) and also my, as Andrew Skurka wrote in an email reply to me, "packed fears", keep me heading to the outdoor stores and loving so much of what I see. Admittedly, like Doug, I don't get out as much as I'd like to. Having been first ambushed by a major earthquake earlier in the year, a completely disrupted life, then getting big healthy problems has made it hard to get out as much as I would have liked. Heading to the outdoor shop in the real world or online is a kind of candy; it relaxes me and allows me the closest I can get to the natural world that I love so much that is possible when getting out there is an infrequent option.
So the question is, what should the UL philosophy reflect beyond backpacking? Ryan has often written about carrying UL over into everyday life, and here I point specifically to the amount of stuff we haul around in our daily lives. Having tried myself to get rid of what I don't need I can say that it is far more difficult to do than any hiking trip is.
What happens though when we begin to live our lives according to this life of simplicity? It means we no longer support cottage manufacturers as much and buy less. Cottage manufacturers are far more sensitive to supply and demand than the big companies are. They can't take the same risks, especially in the bad recession we are in right now. Remember they have to support their families, too. Witness the Brooks Range Rocket tent… major problems began cropping up with the cuban material they used, so the company had to pull the product. Since their reputation depended on that particular product and the material it used, the problem with the material basically ruined their reputation, especially for a product that was as expensive as the Rocket was. What, too, happened to Wanderlust Gear? Dancing Light Gear? Or even the aborted preparations for Colin Ibbotson's new cottage gear company "TrampLite"? A lot of them must have financial and personal reasons for not making it and deciding to discontinue. Lack of innovation is not the only reason these manufacturers disappear.
The funny thing about having gone UL is that when I was a "mainstream" backpacker I owned one bomber pack, one pair of Italian heavy leather boots, one tent, one stove, one sleeping bag, and a few assortment of clothes. It is only after going UL that my closet has overrun with stuff. I began buying obsessively from cottage gear manufacturers, entranced, as everyone else, by this new "magic" gear. But the spell is wearing off and I'm coming to my senses. I miss maintaining my single pair of boots for ten years running, miss the attachment I felt for my 10-year-old Lowe Alpine Contour 60, miss the wide variety of conditions my The Northface Tadpole was able to handle without my ever having had to regret taking it. My gear WAS simple. The only thing that UL opened my eyes to were weight and all the possibilities opened up in trying to bring the weight down. I have felt guilty and frustrated with the "weight" of things in my home. It's decidedly not simple anymore.