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How important is pack weight to your overall experience?
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Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 15:30:43 MDT Print View

5) How comfortable I am at camp
6) Pack weight

In the OP these two variables were listed as 5 and 6. I think it is important to note that camp comfort is prioritized here over pack weight which I equate to mean trail comfort.

I think these two points are the balancing act. The question I ask is how much weight can I remove and still be sufficiently comforatble in camp and does losing that weight make my trail time more comfortable.

What I have found is that I can be around 10lbs of weight without sacrificing camp comfort. The only thing I seem to miss is a chair. (That might be a winter project for me to develop some sort of UL chair or srtip down an existing chair.) However this reduction to sub 20lb 3 day trips has greatly improved my trail comfort level from 30lb 3 day trips.

So how far down the light weight trail you go is really a function of how you rank trail vs camp comfort. And anyone who actually evaluates the two is follwoing a lighweight backpacking mindset.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
A means, not an end on 08/31/2012 17:21:58 MDT Print View

The goal is a great backpacking trip, A lighter pack makes that easier, but it isn't the end goal. EVerything is a compromise, and our packs are a compromise between cost, weight and comfort. All of those matter, but we backpacked 45 years ago with very heavy euqipment and still had a great time.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Fun on 08/31/2012 18:05:44 MDT Print View

Its all about going out and having fun ...

If a lighter pack allows you to do that good for you, but just because most others are carrying a bit more weight, never assume that they arent having fun ...

A person with a single set of gear may simply spend his money on going out more despite a heavier pack

He likely has more fun outdoors than someone who has tons of gear but doesnt use much of it an is constantly unhappy when something lighter/better comes out

Worry about how much fun yr having ... Not someone with somewhat heavier gear

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 08/31/2012 23:05:02 MDT Print View

Thanks to a combination of old age and past injuries, for me, it's go lightweight or don't go at all! The other consideration is that the lighter my gear, the longer I can stay out (i.e. the more food I can carry). As my dog (about the same age as me when you count 1 human year = 7 dog years) and I get older, we'll have to take shorter trips, but I expect we'll be going out as long as we can put one foot in front of the other. By BPL standards my base weight of 12 lbs. is on the heavy side, but it includes camera and fishing gear, items which seem to be absent from most gear lists (even when photos of the trip are published with the list!). And that 12 lbs. includes everything (except food, water, fuel) that this aged, creaky body needs in order to keep warm, comfy and well-cushioned!

Edited by hikinggranny on 08/31/2012 23:11:23 MDT.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: How important is pack weight to your overall experience?" on 09/01/2012 10:08:32 MDT Print View

As with Mary D, I wouldn't be backpacking today if it weren't for the lightweight/UL revolution (and hiking poles!).

After raising the kids and only doing car camping for two decades I'd given up on backpacking, no way I could carry the loads I used to carry. But to my everlasting great luck and fortune I came across Beyond Backpacking by Ray Jardine. His book convinced me we could go backpacking again, with the kids, and not bust the bank. I made lots of lightweight equipment and we planned a leisurely two-week trek around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail for our 25'th wedding anniversary.

We had the time of our lives, and it transformed us. Ray Jardine: thank you, thank you, thank you!

That being said, once our base weight gets below about 13 or 14 pounds we just don't notice it any more. As equipment wears out I replace it with more modern and lighter gear, but I have no plans to jettison lots of perfectly good lightweight equipment and spend a fortune to save a few ounces here and there (but I sometimes do it anyway!).

Edited by ewolin on 09/01/2012 13:52:34 MDT.

Daniel Cox
(COHiker) - F

Locale: San Isabel NF
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 09/01/2012 14:41:41 MDT Print View

For me it's all about the diminishing returns. I was ecstatic when I traded my 3lb BA bag for a 1.5lb one, my 5.75lb tent for a 2lb one, and my 6lb pack for a 1.8lb one.
In this respect, pack weight is of utmost importance.

I understand your statement "but how much does those last 2 oz (or 2#, or 10#) really matter?"
10#- without a doubt, it matters.
2#- I'd wager the majority of people can't tell 2lb difference in a pack over 15lb. 2 pounds of weight has zero impact on my miles traveled.
2oz- please. let's be real.

Not long ago I realized I had crossed over to an unhealthy obsession with baseweight when I found my self taking a torch and a drill to my 1.25oz pot lifter because it was 'heavy'. LoL
I think there is a strong undercurrent of 'pi$$ing contest' here to see who can go the lightest and smallest. Ridding your kit of 'dead' weight is awesome; drilling holes in your .5oz spoon is stupid.

I take that back, if someone wants to obsess about their 6lb kit that they use twice a year, more power to you. Everyone's gotta have a hobby. Just don't judge others for the choices they make.

Dave Ploessel
(mailesdad) - F
Thanks! on 09/01/2012 19:39:14 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the responses! My motivation was to provoke a little thought, and generate some responses so I could see the thought processes of people on here... I got some. I'd like to address some:

"I think what this boils down to is, why not have both? Who says you need one or the other."

I'm not saying you can't have both...In fact, I LOVE having both, I was just asking if people see simple pack weight as being the end all be all of if you enjoy the trip or not...

to wit:

John Shannon wrote " I don't want to backpack if I can't backpack light."

To me, that's tragic. I see people out in the wilderness with massive smiles on ther faces after the experience something truly amazing/beautiful/inspring...
Ask someone who just watched their first sunrise at 14000+ feet how much their pack weighs and they'll tell you less than nothing...

"The UL community doesn't seem to me full of gram obsessed gear fanatics who have lost sight of what backpacking is all about and like to laugh at those with heavier packs."

I'd heart to believe this, but I'm not too sure.. When I read threads about trail communism where I see people saying they don't want to help other, weaker, hikers by taking on some of the weaker hiker's load, even if it might make the difference in that person enjoying their trip or not, because it will take them from UL to L, or when I read comments where ULers say that traditional hikers don't appreciate nature as much, or practice as good of LNT, all because their packs weigh more.... I just see a bit of... not sure what the best word is, but it's not cool, and it makes me feel like they've lost sight..

"the awareness of base weight for me is a means to an end not the end itself."

I agree - and that was my point entirely.

also I agree with:

"I don't personally understand why some people find it fulfilling to shoot for an arbitrary weight goal, e.g. why a trip with 5 lbs counts as SUL but one with 6 lbs is only UL. I think making these sorts of fine-graded distinctions drives a lot of the numbers-talk around here, but that in real life most people don't fuss with pack weight unless it is approaching or crosses the threshold where it negatively affects their experience. Cutting weight, weighing everything, and trying new gear and techniques is how a person finds that limit for themselves. After that, playing with gear is just gravy.

So to answer your question: once a person knows their limits, pack weight is unimportant, until it is."

In fact, I think the last bit summarizes how I feel perfectly.... Focusing only on numbers, and cultivating a "slight condesecending attitude towards trad" (as someone else wrote) seem to come across in a number of threads, instead of a focus on what the lighter packs allow people to do..

Just some thoughts from the outside looking in. I appreciate all the thoughtful responses.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
but what's especially sad on 09/01/2012 20:28:19 MDT Print View

Dave, if you note, in all of the responses, precisely one person, you, mentioned nature.

So let me give you my list of priorities, which goes along somewhat with what you are saying:

1. This one is far above all other factors: to be in nature.

No pack weight I have ever carried has made me unable to achieve 1. And because 1 rules all others, I never actually cared that much about weight. Amusingly, while carrying that weight, I have never seen a UL backpacker in any difficult terrain or climate or weather, particularly not in rainy winters, where usually I see either nobody, or one person. I had hopes for the columbia gorge this July, but was denied, and again I was the only person I saw for 2 days, and the only other backpackers I came across in that time were regular folks, except on the weekend a few miles from the trialhead, then I saw a few guys with lighter packs, with their ipods, of course, to avoid actually hearing anything around them I guess. And that was in the middle of summer 30 miles start from Portland.

Some of the best trips I ever have taken in terms of experiences were with starting weights of over 50 pounds. I had an old friend who did a lot of High Sierra backpacking, he had a thing about dried or freeze dried foods, he hated them, so he carried nuts and trailmix for food, no stove, single wall tent, etc, way ahead of bpl people in that regard, resulting in a pack weight of 80 pounds to start. Given his body weight was probably 140 or so, that's saying a lot. He used pretty light expensive gear too though. One of the best backpackers, and most serious, I've ever known. I never heard him mention a word of complaint about pack weight, nothing. Because it didn't matter, he was achieving his goal, totally, and in exactly the way he wanted. And he'd still be one of the very few people I'd consider going non solo with. I'm not what I'd consider a very tough guy, so I really have to scratch my head at guys who wouldn't go if they had to carry 40 pounds, am/was I really in that great shape? Maybe I am, but it doesn't feel like it.

2. Having a lighter pack really helps here, to 'climb the mountains, and get their good tidings' (quote from John Muir). Or descend to the creeks and valleys, and get their good tidings, the trick is to get them. He's not speaking metaphorically there, I would have thought maybe he was before this year, and hearing those tidings finally, he actually means it. I call it the song of nature. Weight of pack can help you get there, but by no means should it matter that much, after all, if you are too rushed or busy to get the tidings, pack weight isn't going to matter much.

I enjoy the hobby of trimming off weight, a few grams here and there, adding some on, what, you say, I can get a hard steel 0.7 oz 3" blade folding knife? I'm in. 1 million gallon alleged sawyer squeeze at about 3 oz, fantastic, count me in.

And like others here, I've arrived at a weight around 12 pounds give or take one or two, that seems to the actual sort of natural cutoff point. 12 pounds gives me a 25 pound pack for a 7 day trip's start, which is great. If I make my own tarptent I might be able to cutoff one more pound, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of areas to cut, I mean, I still expect to be the only light backpacker I run across in weird terrain or weather, but I will truly enjoy the day I run into one, will be something of a relief to be honest. Maybe we are sort of like mountain lions, where only one is around in each area? Who knows.

After 2. it largely does not matter, I like testing the various ideas I come across here, the materials, myog in particular, very liberating in many ways. I am in camp roughly the same or more time as I am hiking, the trick is to optimize the whole thing, not to sacrifice one for the other, as far as I can see, and that seems totally doable.

Well, ok, food/energy mix, that's fun too, best taste for least weight, that's an interesting one, but that doesn't require anything modern, all you have to do is see how it was done, more or less, then do it. But good super light food, home dried ideally, organic ideally, not junk, count me in there too, that means more miles with more energy and more enjoyment eating that energy.

Best UL type method: alcohol stove, silent, and really helps in 1 and 2, majorly. Total silence, nature is there and listening, and it's cool to not interject some machine roar into the process. Well, and a sawyer squeeze, simpler better and lighter, no moving parts, no chemicals, easy to clean.

personally, I do not count any trip under 3 days as backpacking trip proper, so nothing in terms of gear or weight that is only designed for such a short term scenario interests me that much, ideally 3 nights, 5 nights is really my minimum now, unless I just want to go somewhere to test some gear or ideas.

As a very welcome respite from the excess of some of the ideas of some people here, I picked up a nice pacific crest trail book by national geographic, two guys hiked it all at a point only a few had, in 1974 or so, took two summers. Most of what they are talking about is nature, people, people in nature, and so on. Very little talk of gear, gear just was what you needed to have to do it. Healthy perspective.

Edited by hhope on 09/01/2012 20:56:39 MDT.

importance on 09/01/2012 20:51:22 MDT Print View

Very important if talking about a difference between 20 and 50 lb packs.
Not so much if talking about the difference between 15 and 25lbs.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
exactly right on 09/01/2012 21:02:02 MDT Print View

Exactly, the trick here is to not confuse a really fun hobby, super light gear and methods, with some absolute that has any larger value in itself. Then one can learn to share one's enthusiasm for such techniques with others without also having to put them down, ie, let your enthusiasm speak for you, but learn to hear what makes others find their own way.

Of course, the real pay off is being able to wear lighter foot gear, which means, easier fits, and more walking comfort. I should have listed that as number 3 above, I forgot that one, it's a big one, being able to use running shoes, which have an admittedly inferior grip and tread to good hiking shoes/boots, is really cool. That's my top reason to really give UL methods serious consideration and learning time, aside from the inherent geek factor, which is what makes most geeks happy after all, and that's fine too.

Much easier to preface to other regular backpackers that you personally enjoy geeking around with gear and techniques, but you are aware that not everyone shares that notion, then show some stuff. But it takes a fair amount of work and time to really get the light stuff down I find, that effort shouldn't be discounted, can be respected but not ignored. It's a big reason people aren't interested too.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: exactly right on 09/02/2012 11:02:34 MDT Print View

I have been in to being SUL or even lighter for about 8 years now.
I have never been a big gram counter on my big items.
The meticulously go through the little things.

I start with what would be considered UL. I then try to cut that weight in half (SUL). Then I try to cut it in half again.
So a spray bottle of deet weight 1.5 ounces and you get it down to less a 1/3 of an ounce without compromising anything about the hike.

You do this for your cooking items and any other "small" items and it makes the trip much more enjoyable carrying "less weight".

I look at gear as a simplified matter of-
1. Staying warm
2. Staying dry

So the easiest way to get this is with two items. A jacket (1) that is warm enough for camp. So it weighs 20 ounces, but it works.

Next is a quilt or bag that is warm enough (with the jacket).
So it's 30 out and you have a 20 ounce jacket and a 20 ounce quilt and stay warm.

So you add up these 2 pieces of gear and carry an extra shirt and change of socks and you can enjoy going SUL in 30 degree weather without sacrificing anything.

As far as shelter, anyone can stay dry under a tarp.
If I need to worry about bugs, I just cinch my hood to only leave a small opening and pin a small piece of netting over it.

I don't even know or understand what people bring with them that weighs so much anymore? The only way I could make this happen would be carrying a 12 pack of beers with me.
Maybe that is considered comfort?

I don't understand how carrying over 10 pounds in your pack makes camp more enjoyable? It's not what you bring; it's what you don't have to.

Seth Brewer
(Whistler) - MLife

Homeostasis on 09/03/2012 21:24:52 MDT Print View

The natural act of trying to bring something into balance is what I think defines each hikers unique attitude about their experience. I've noticed the following things about myself:

1) Any long trip (over 5 consecutive nights out) the focus becomes on just one or two "splurges" and the rest is on how light can I hike yet still be safe. I've found that full out for a 5 day trip I like to keep it at 20lbs when going 30* to 50* temps for the low. Enjoying nature is a primary motivation, and once I get over 26 lbs or so I can actually notice that it annoys me and slows me down. Hence I adjust my gear so that I'm always trying to start a trip at or around 20 lbs if possible.

2) I love to test out new gear, and enjoy the challenge or trying to MYOG or make something freakishly light - just for the simple challenge of seeing how it goes, and if I can still have a good experience while pushing my comfort level.

3) As long as you get out and take the trip - and come home safely with a smile on your face, and good stories and pictures to share, then your pack weight is just fine.

Dean Tweddle
Horses for courses on 09/04/2012 01:11:20 MDT Print View

For me there are two types of trips I take. First one is a group trip with friends and family that may have 3 + people. Second is solo or with another like minded person, mainly my son.

When going with a group, the weight is much less of an issue as the trip is more social. I know I won't be doing the same miles as I would on my own and will be spending more time in camp. Sometimes we will set up a basecamp for a no of days and make trips from there. For these trips my gear is going to be geared around being comfortable when at camp and will choose my gear accordingly. My shelter will be enclosed for a bit of privacy and may share it with someone. I take a remote canister stove and a larger cook pot for communal cooking and have a 3L badder with a gravity filter attached that can provide water for us. I am usually the only ULer in my group and am happy to take the extra weight.

When going solo I am not interested in social activities and only want the most basic equipement. I am only out there to get away from normal life and to enjoy nature. Extra gear doesn't appeal to me for this and I would rather cover ground and see more than be comfortable at camp.

This all really comes down to planning. I look at the type of trip first then plan a route and then choose the gear. When choosing gear I will always take the lightest possible that suits the type of trip and the weather that is expected and will provide the most enjoyment. The wrong gear, no matter how light or heavy, will affect the trip but may provide a good tale at the end of the journey.

carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Horses for courses on 09/04/2012 06:32:32 MDT Print View

For me the lighter I can go the better I enjoy the trip. I am plenty comfortable using a Neoair or Bender's pad. I can stay warm and sheltered with what I have. Location, company and food make the trip. Lighter makes the trip nicer.

andrew brown
(abrown3mtg) - F

Locale: High Rockies
principles over restrictions on 09/06/2012 02:15:16 MDT Print View

I have gone through phases in weight and ultimately swung back to more creature comforts.

In principle, being mindful of the weights each item you have are critical to allowing many traditional comforts without the impact of its weight.

I bring a full sleeping bag: monbell UL #1, a exped synmat ul7, a chair, monarch butterfly, snow peak 700 and giga with jet boil coffee press and a big Agnes ul3 tent when not traveling alone. This selection is not necessarily UL however even with food it is a very manageable weight. Extra clothing is a rab microlight hoodie, base layer, 1 pair extra socks, and minimalist trail shoes for around camp, water, and shorter day trips. I've found the arc'teryx altra 65 works fabulously for me in terms of function. And fit/comfort. I've tried light packs, but they feel heavier with same load.

Note. I split the tent with my hiking partner.

After cutting unnecessary extras, I've found I can bring my dslr, or more gourmet food alone for the trip. I base difficulty and elevation gain and length when fine tuning that base. If I did not make proper gear selections, this would not wbe possible as my pack would exceed what my 5'8" 150 lb body can carry in comfort in 10,000-12,700 elevation .

Bottom line, buy the best gear for you (lightest option that has the features you require, then cut duplicate and unnecessary items. Works well for me! Id rather carry some extra tasty food as a treat or my tab,etc/a book to read......

I am intrigued by this community and coming from cycling many of these considerations are the same. Awareness is the first step to building a kit that keeps you comfortable in every category will balance out.

Sorry if rambling. Late at night on a phone!

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: principles over restrictions on 09/06/2012 07:11:22 MDT Print View

I follow the same approach you do, Andrew, and I've used insight and wisdom from backpackers here to winnow down my gear and weight, as time and budget allow.

This year, I quit carrying the DSLR, started using only freeze-dried coffee (Trader Joe's) instead of home-roasted and the press and bucked-up for a new tent that weighs half of what my old one does, but I still have my folding stool, a comfy set of camp shoes, fishing gear and my 30+ year old backpack that I LIKE, ha ha.

Hey, there's my baby next to my new tent in my avatar image. Contrasts in technology. May the tent prove as worthy!

Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Settled on a sweet spot on 09/06/2012 19:07:52 MDT Print View

For years my goal was to go as light as possible and last year I hiked a 56 mile loop in the GSMNP with a 9.5 lb base for a four day trip. It stormed like crazy, folks I hiked with got hurt, and I missed some things I didn't take because I wanted to try a sub-10 lb kit. So I've since come to a sweet spot at about 12-15 lbs, where I am light enough on some things that I can throw in a Nano hammock with bug sock and tarp (17 oz) to relax in when I get sore, a book (6-9 oz) for at night, some wine (6-9 oz) for relaxing after dinner, and a tarp with better coverage (TS at 19 oz compared to Zpacks 12 oz cubin tarp). For me being lightweight is more enjoyable than being UL but I am still a far cry than the 35+ lb base weight I was at just 9 years ago.

Steven Thompson
(stevet) - M

Locale: Northeast
Pack Weight Importance on 09/06/2012 21:00:53 MDT Print View

For me, 30lbs seems to be the breakpoint. Less than that and it doesn't matter, more than that every additional pound matters.

Knowing this about me I try to plan trips to keep total pack weight below 30lbs. With a baseweight of 15/16lbs, I can squeeze a one week trek. Anything longer I look for resupply opportunity.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: How important is pack weight to your overall experience? on 09/06/2012 22:26:11 MDT Print View

Having a light pack means that I will get out and go some places that I wouldn't even attempt with a heavy pack, and go more often. Being sore and exhausted doesn't do much for my enjoyment of the outdoors. I like visiting beautiful natural places and camping. Hauling a heavy load up a steep trail is not why I'm there! I'm not out to set any records, but to get some fresh air and re-creation.

Sure, some folks get a little extreme. It is a game I think, and a challenge to see what they can accomplish. I fiddled with it when I first got into UL backpacking and I've found a happy medium that suits my needs. I figure those folk on the fringe keep me honest and they explore new materials and techniques that might lighten my load, or make me more comfortable.

Nick G
(HermesUL) - F
Informed Decisions on 09/07/2012 06:53:59 MDT Print View

It is my belief that most heavy packs come from people who are not making informed decisions about their gear. They don't look at each piece of item and consider the alternatives--for example, finding a lighter sleeping bag that doesn't sacrifice comfort or cost extra saves a significant amount of weight without losing anything at all.

I value weight highly but this doesn't detract from my general method of considering every gear choice and its lighter alternatives. This does not equate to always choosing the lighter item.

If somebody goes through every gear choice and makes an informed decision about each item they bring, than any pack weight might be appropriate. I sincerely doubt that anyone would be over 25 lbs BPW after doing this, typically much lighter. Personally, that type of decision making got me from 20 lbs BPW to under 6, and even allowed me to add in some items I was leaving at home.

The satisfaction I get from being lightweight is not a comparison of numbers to other people--its from knowing that I am well informed and as prepared as possible for my outdoor adventures. And I love covering lots of ground in a day.