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Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers?
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Aaron Croft
(aaronufl) - M

Locale: Oregon
Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 14:56:23 MST Print View

This a question that has been knocking around in my head for the past few days:

Is the UL philosophy (or moreso, the gear fanaticism we engage in here on BPL) producing materialistic backpackers?

If this is the case, where do we draw the line?

Do we all need a daypack, a pack for overnighters, and a pack for longer distances?

Do we need 2 or 3 different stoves to minimize weight on short vs longer trips? (I almost fell intro this trap because of lust for a caldera cone vs my jetboil, but I resisted at the last second).

Can we live with the tradeoffs of our gear choices without needing to indulge in purchasing more?

I guess what I'm thinking is, all gear has tradeoffs, but the BPL philosophy tends to use these tradeoffs as justification for the purchasing of situation-specific gear. My proposition is that instead of worrying about the few ounces we might be saving from bringing that alcohol stove on an overnighter instead of a Jetboil, maybe we could free ourselves from the paralysis by analysis that occurs in our gear closets and choose lightweight gear that works well generally. Now don't get me wrong, this might not be the best idea for EVERY gear choice (I don't need a 60L pack on a dayhike, so I should probably pick up another pack), but if we spent less time spreadsheeting and more time using, do you think we would be better off? I feel like this conversation was started by Ryan Jordan in a roundabout way with his cottage stagnation post (to which people took offense), but I'd like to have a constructive conversation about the idea.

Just some random thoughts. Feel free to weigh in. As for me, I'm going for a trail run on this beautiful Colorado day!

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 15:05:55 MST Print View

Your comments are timely. It seems that a number of BPLrs are feeling the same way. Going back to one size fits most style of kit.
I'm sure the prolonged economic situation has been the driving factor as I do not hold on to hopes that we are getting more introspective as a people.
If you can afford a different kit for each situation, you still might go that way.
If money is tight, you have to trim the fat somewhere. Recreational equipment and non essential belongings go on the block.
After the GGG I can tell you that there is no reduction in the interest of gear.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 15:12:39 MST Print View

Short answer? Sometimes. It depends on the person and how they approach gear.

Personally, I keep a limited gear closet. By that I mean I have basically one kit for 3 season hiking, and some additional items for winter.

I have one pack that works year-round for me.

I have two sleeping bags: one 3 season and a winter bag.

I have two pads: same reasons as sleeping bags.

I have one set of winter clothing that I layer over my other 3 season set of clothing.

I have two stoves: one alcohol and one remote canister for winter.

And so on...

Since I truly do have everything I need, if I am looking to buy another piece of gear, it has to perform the same wide range of function and be better in some way than what I currently have. And if I do purchase an item, 90% of the time the old item it replaced will be given away or sold.

I want my gear kit to be as well-rounded as I can make it so that it will function well on an overnighter, or on a week-long trek. If I want to go lighter for an easy overnighter, I will simply carry less. But even then I've already minimized my gear list, so I might only be leaving a few small things behind like a compass (if traveling on a well-maintained trail), knife, stove (if I go no-cook), or rain jacket if the forecast is good. I don't need to buy more/different things to accommodate a shorter trip.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 15:20:34 MST Print View

Part of UL is to not take stuff that you don't really need, which is anti-materialistic

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 15:28:27 MST Print View

Well said, Travis and Ken. I finally started buying into the idea of UL (and I do mean buying) within the last nine months. But I've had the gearhead personality disorder for much longer than that.

For the virtue of simplicity, my goal is to develop a strong 3-season kit for most/all conditions, get well-acquainted with it, and then delve into winter backpacking. I'm most of the way there on the first one--I'd still like a true UL backpack and I'm sewing up a tarp.

Personally, I've found the allure of MYOG to be really helpful in combating my innate materialism. More than anything, that is what BPL has done to open my eyes and help me move away from the all-consuming drive to buy, buy, buy! I've realized that a lot of the things that I am interested in can be made if I'll only learn more and work on my skills. Before I do that, I'd like to develop my backcountry and UL skills some more so that I truly know what I need/want in my gear.

I'm not sure that UL backpacking is much better or worse than a lot of things. Wealthy people (in the worldwide sense, not just the 1% in the U.S.) have a lot of extra time and money on our hands, and we tend to use most of it toward selfish ends.

Edited by GlacierRambler on 02/25/2012 15:29:40 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Good Question on 02/25/2012 15:35:41 MST Print View

I think the UL philosophy of "Take only what you need" turns into "Take gear thats just adequate for the task." That means you need a closest full of gear so on any given trip what you take is just barely enough for what you are doing. So on on overnight SUL trip with a good weather forecast you have a 40 degree quilt, a tiny pack and a poncho tarp. But on a long trip you really need more so than you have a bigger pack, a warmer bag, and a tarp plus raingear.

I agree this is a bit ridicoulous and I'm gradually eliminating some of my stuff. The catch is a lot of my "situation specific" gear I got really cheap so changing it out for something more flexible will cost money. Right now the idea is to wear out what I have and eventually and up with more of a "one size fits most" gear lists with a few things I'll swap out depending on condtions.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers?" on 02/25/2012 15:53:43 MST Print View

Different means to meet different ends.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 16:04:27 MST Print View

Yup. We seek the highest performance at the lowest weight and each item is thoroughly scrutinized. I call that hyper-materialistic.

But that is a different issue from having multiples-- several packs, sleeping bags, shoes, clothing, etc,etc. It is hard to get away from that if you are going 4-season and/or doing associated sports like climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and the like. Accessories like hats, gloves, knives/tools, lighting, and gadgets in general can be a material trap.

Other outdoor sports and pastimes can be as troublesome: hunting, fishing, boating and cycling are all gear-centered. Photography is particularly nasty that way.

I find another facet in maintaining street AND hiking clothing, finding myself "saving" the hiking clothing so it isn't exposed to daily wear and tear. If I were really going to get down to basics and living with as few material goods as possible, this would be the place to start.

Sustainability is something to consider as well. I think it is important to consider where the raw materials come from and the environmental impact, the working conditions for the people who make them, the durability of the gear, and the final disposal of the gear when it is worn out. Buying responsibly seems to be part of not buying too much.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 16:19:19 MST Print View

The short answer: No. A hobby, no matter how passionate you are about it, does not create these sort of traits.

I think a better question might be, "What type of person embraces the UL philosophy?" Previous threads have suggested a strong association between personality type (INTJ) and UL backpacking, as well as an over-representation of certain careers (eg. engineer). I think the hobby provides the outlet to express traits that are already there. And if you weren't spending the money on gear, maybe it would be car or bike parts, cookware, antiques, or whatever else you were into.

I'm personally introverted, performance-oriented, and minimalistic, so UL backpacking and fastpacking are great matches for me. And while, like most here, I have situation specific gear (at least a 3 season set and a winter set with some crossover), I use everything I own pretty frequently. If I don't, it gets sold or donated. The questions we all ask, "Do I really need it", "Could I use something multipurpose instead", "Is this the lightest of its kind" before each trip, now get asked of all my possessions and before any purchase, so net possessions have been steadily going down over time.

It is pretty clear from the variety of postings that everyone has a slightly different perception of UL backpacking, but these differences mostly stem from what each individual brings to the table.

edit- I really like Dale's theory on hypermaterialism. Owning a few select really, really good items, selected for specific criteria and used frequently, vs a whole closet of crap used once in a while.

Edited by Ike on 02/25/2012 17:21:23 MST.

John Doe
(jessearl) - F
Gear Whores on 02/25/2012 16:22:44 MST Print View

Of course it does. We have entire sections of the forum devoted just to gear, gear and more gear. Gear upgrades, gear sales, gear swapping, making your own gear, etc.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 16:41:08 MST Print View

"I think a better question might be, "What type of person embraces the UL philosophy?" Previous threads have suggested a strong association between personality type (INTJ)and UL backpacking, as well as an over-representation of certain careers (eg. engineer)."

Wow. I'm definitely an INTJ. Though, I wish I was an INTP. Damn you, Fates.

Aaron Croft
(aaronufl) - M

Locale: Oregon
Re: Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 17:45:18 MST Print View

Thanks everyone for your comments.

@Dale: Thanks for making the distinction between the idea of "hyper-materialism" and having multiples of gear. Try as I might, I can't use the same pack I use to thru hike to backcountry ski, and so on. I've been trying to untangle the concept of materialism from having the necessary gear to engage in your activity. I guess the bottom line is we have to accept some degree of materialism to even purchase all this gear for different activities. Therein lies the rub. Also, even buying/selling used gear via the gear swap uses resources through packaging and shipping. It would seem that we have much more demand for products and less demand to hold companies accountable for their production choices.

@Everyone else: I think my goal as of late is to streamline my gear as much as possible, creating a "do it all" gear list, but this causes obvious conflict with always going UL. How about you - would you mine carrying a little more weight to forego buying more stuff?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
numbers on 02/25/2012 17:54:26 MST Print View

the 2 forums with the most amount of posts are the gear and gear swap forums by far .... the gear list and gear deals forums are quite high up there as well ...

that should tell you about the "importance" posters place on gear and what they obsess about ...

my personal view is that the more you do something, the less you go gaga over the latest shiniest gear ... im sure there are exceptions, but in general the people i know who do more than me can easily do so regardless of specific gear ... gear basically becomes consumables ... the people who still obsess over gear at the elite level i think are elite level athletes where a few oz can mean a day or two of fuel to save yr life, or are looking to break records and likely sponsored ... very few on BPL are at that stage methinks ...

some people, rather than spend the money on a pack/quilt/jacket for every occasion, spend it on going out and honing their skills and racking up their experience ... they will likely never have the lightest or "best" gear ... but they may well be the best prepared

i personally think that if yr gear closet cant fit into the trunk of yr car, thats a bit much ... and i include myself into that category ... ive moved away from buying gear, unless i absolutely need it (or its a 19$ puffy ... lol) ... to spending the money on gas to the hills

IMO ... excess gear is often a cover for certain inadequacies ... and i say that in a polite way ...

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 18:02:26 MST Print View

Depends on the person.
I hate having a ton of extra gear that I don't need or use.
That being said, I like to have enough gear to fit a certain situation ideally. I might end up with a few different packs, but they will all fill a little niche for certain trips. Even 3 different down jackets that are used in different temps would be ok by me. But I couldn't stand having two things that perform the same function.
All that said, I am currently unemployed and broke so I am severely lacking in gear.

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: numbers on 02/25/2012 18:06:52 MST Print View

I think we need a new Forum called Gear Swamp.Swamp

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 18:37:41 MST Print View

Justin, you are in an enviable position, you have in abundance a resource that most of us can't afford: free time. String together some inexpensive trips that will make the whole forum jealous. People were exploring the world and sleeping outside long before 900fp down and Cuben fiber. "Time" is the only hard and fast requirement for the trips we all want to do. Everything else is a variable.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Time on 02/25/2012 18:47:13 MST Print View

"Time" is the only hard and fast requirement for the trips we all want to do. Everything else is a variable."

True - although some of us have time but not enough time to go on a trip. This is probably where a lot of gear geekery is born.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers/ on 02/25/2012 18:49:22 MST Print View

INTP in the house. I really like to try out new shelters--lets say I am addicted to new shelters. I just got a new tarp(avatar) and already own a BPL NANO tarp(BUMP)For sale. For the family I have a TT Rainshadow 2 and I am just about to pull the trigger for a new TT Contrail. All my other gear fits my needs but when it comes to shelters I want to try them all..MLD Solo Mid could be next after the TT Contrail.

Edited by Creachen on 02/25/2012 18:55:37 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 18:51:00 MST Print View

IMO ... excess gear is often a cover for certain inadequacies ... and i say that in a polite way ...
Not necessarily.
Some of us like playing with gear.
For example I have/had several wood burning stoves including a couple made to be used inside a tent (ie with chimney) but have no intention of using any of them backpacking.
Same with tents. Out of the average 12-14 tents I usually have , on any given year I only use two or three and lend some to mates, the rest are just there so that I can fiddle with them..
BTW, with a canopy on and careful positioning, I could fit all of my gear in the trunk of my car.
my trunk


Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Does the UL philosophy produce materialistic backpackers? on 02/25/2012 19:09:41 MST Print View

If the goal is the lightest kit for every trip then yes you will have a lot of different gear.

In high school I backpacked most weekends year round plus longer trips over school breaks- winter and summer. Probably 60 days per year. I had one pack, one sleeping bag, one shell parka/pants, one tent, one pair of skis, etc.

In the summer my 0f rated bag was often hot. In winter it was sometimes cold. My skis were slow on groomed xc trails, difficult at the resort, and usually imperfect in the backcountry. My tent was big for one or two and small for three or four. My kit list involved mostly the same gear year round. I knew my gear but it was often not ideal- my base weight was around 30 pounds summer and only 5 more winter. (Bag, pad, pack, and shell garments added up to 20 lb!)

Now I hike way less but have way more gear. The Internet exposes me to more options and I have more money to spend. Also I never get rid of anything so some of my 10+ tents are almost 30 years old.

With kids, wife, and job I have plenty of spare moments to daydream about trips and gear, but sadly little time to take them. Still, the dreaming is fun too.

Edited by jimqpublic on 02/25/2012 19:16:41 MST.