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The SUL Mindset
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 09:11:06 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The SUL Mindset

Ben Klocek
(benklocek) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area
YES! on 05/08/2013 12:17:05 MDT Print View

Thank you Ryan for bringing balance back the the SUL idea.

It's a mindset that, for my part, is the main reason I get out as often as I do. Less stuff = more time out, even if if weighs more than 5 lbs. Less time packing, fussing with gear, etc.

Now that I have kids, I find my interest in the newest light weight fabrics, etc, just don't occupy so much mindshare.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 12:25:09 MDT Print View

Happy to see the re-birth of the SUL topic. Many of the veterans of BPL have brought our weight down to the SUL level and then come back up in weight finding the right balance between the variables of weight, comfort, and other aspects. Knowing your level of minimum is a great tool for determining just what you need and don't need. off to read Will's new article as well!

David Brawner
(dbrawner) - MLife
Finally a refreshing look at ability versus technology on 05/08/2013 13:01:19 MDT Print View

I've been backpacking off and on for over 50 years.

In the early days, we had to rely on "skill" because "stuff" weighed too much. One could easily exceed their load carrying capability just trying to bring "necessities".

As technology improved just about everything in our lives, campers became increasingly dependent on "stuff" over "skill".

Jardine made the case for lighter loads but the herd took over and obsessive race to minimal weight became the apparent goal.

I still carry the same basic items, some old, some new, and each trip I still strive to improve my skills rather than my gear.

I used to be called a minimalist; tarp, bedroll (now hammock), minimal cooking setup, etc. and it's still is my preferred load. But I find fewer and fewer friends who are willing to forgo a latte for a drink from a clear stream, fresh fish for a sushi taco, and leave their sleep number for a hammock or bed of pine needles.

So, I applaud your return to your senses and sensibilities. Welcome back to the joy of the outdoors versus the thrill of the equipment hunt.


Mark Turpin
(huckfinn) - MLife
The Thirty Pound SUL on 05/08/2013 13:15:40 MDT Print View

After reading Ray Jardine years ago, I sold off my beautiful old Dana Design Terraplane, weighing ten pound itself (it seemed) and everything changed, even though my packweight only dropped from forty to thirty pounds. I carry the same stove, but my tent goes up with trekking poles; my wife and I share one sleeping bag; our sleeping pads make camp chairs; we look forward to going off trail. Sometimes we'll carry climbing gear. It's less troublesome just to use the damn bear can even where they are not required.

Do I think I have an SUL mindset? Yes, absolutely: I am conscious of how little is actually needed—what else is carried is carried by choice. Would I go backpacking without a book (or my Kindle Paperwhite)? Never. Would I engage the wilderness in a purer way without my book? Perhaps, but really, I know my engagement with the wilderness doesn't depend on what I carry, it depends on who I am—and sometimes, being in the wilderness reminds me.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Experimenting is important for SUL mindset on 05/08/2013 14:14:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for writing this, Ryan.

By no means am I SUL in base pack weight.

But the biggest mindset lesson I first learned from Jardine years ago was to experiment. Take less stuff, take lighter stuff, cut unused stuff off, try new stuff and new techniques, and see how they work.

Some experiments worked, some didn't - I failed miserably at tarping, for example.

But my base pack weight is literally half of what it used to be, and backpacking is much more enjoyable now. Enjoyable because of less weight, enjoyable because of less stuff, and enjoyable because I get to try new things and learn new things on each trip.

-- Rex

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 14:16:21 MDT Print View

Absolutely agree. The SUL mindset is where you're fully engaged with the outdoors and don't even think about your gear. Where the gear you have is simple and serves a specific purpose--and that purpose is to let you enjoy the places you're visiting. It involves traveling in a style that takes advantage of natural features, shelter, sunlight as much as or more than gear to insure comfort. If fully connects you to something essential and bigger than yourself.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 14:42:14 MDT Print View

I've barely embraced LW, let alone UL or SUL- but I think a lot of it is about mindset.

Many years ago I came to a conclusion and made a pronouncement: "I can hike as far on a dayhike as on a two day overnighter; I will no longer do overnighters."

My old gear and old mindset meant that I carried 30 pounds (at least) for an overnight backpack trip. I stopped hours before sundown to set up camp. Dinner and breakfast were always cooked. It took hours to get rolling in the morning with all that gear and fancy cooking. My gear was almost the same for that summer overnighter as for a long winter trip.

My shift in mindset came from a long dayhike, where I realized that an overnight stop is just a long rest break requiring shelter for the conditions, not a mule's load of camping gear.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
SUL on 05/08/2013 17:52:57 MDT Print View

I take canned beer instead of bottled beer. Bonus: No need to bring a bottle opener!

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: SUL on 05/08/2013 18:13:56 MDT Print View


Finally, Ryan hit the nail on the head when it comes to SUL.
I've been preaching the concept of less (and smaller) is more for years.
All I get in return is "UL" noise, “what about this and that”.

It is so easy to go SUL with almost no gear.
The reason you need more gear is for your gear you already brought.
One item is almost never a lone item when it comes to backpacking.
Want to cock, you need a pot, lighter, and fuel.

All you need is a pack, 2 lbs of food a day, a light pad, a jacket for the evening temps and a bag/ quilt that combined with your jacket keeps you warm at night, and something to hold water.
Everything else is only something that UL hikers consider "necessary".

Less is always more...

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
SUL mindset on 05/08/2013 19:13:38 MDT Print View

My kudos to Ryan for characterizing it as a "mindset!" Numbers can become too much of an obsession, powered by the goal of "hitting the SUL mark." Framing it as a way to do more with less seems better.

Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Colorado
SUL booze on 05/08/2013 19:57:33 MDT Print View

"I take canned beer instead of bottled beer. Bonus: No need to bring a bottle opener!"

Mags, you mean you haven't graduated to freeze-dried Everclear Jell-O shots yet? That's XUL CU style :-)

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 20:51:07 MDT Print View

Two things I love about this article:

One, it doesn't come with a gear list.

Two, it harkens back to the joyous, free-spirited playfulness of early BPL and UL days. This is what I so loved about the community when I first got started. Hurray for Ryan! I've missed this!

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
Re: SUL on 05/08/2013 22:22:44 MDT Print View

Now I understand my path to SUL. Meet Mags. Make friends with Mags. Go backpacking with Mags. Let Mags carry all the beer. Winning!

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
nice on 05/09/2013 00:58:32 MDT Print View

Over the last couple years SUL has gotten increasingly poo-pood on this website from veteran hikers who would rather act manly and dirt bag. Fine, no problem. However, I don't think it ads much to the discussion.

I've been UL backpacking for a long time, and over the last couple of years, I've taken an interest in solo trips closer to my physical (and emotional!) limit which have driven me to reduce weight even further. I've gotten more fit, and more psyched than I've ever been to explore new terrain. One of the feelings that I live for in the mountains is to get up high and look at some beautiful far off feature in the landscape, and to feel totally empowered to just set off in that direction. No question, the lighter and the smaller my pack is, the more empowered and the more liberated I feel in the mountains. There is some incredibly beautiful and rugged terrain in my backyard, and its deeply satisfying to feel strong, fast, and at home, like I've somehow become a match for the landscape. Inevitably, I get humbled--I bail, I get lonely and I long for burritos back in town, but that feeling of liberated self sufficiency is a big reason why I do this.

No doubt, reading BPL articles on SUL in the early 2000's and seeing pics of RJ carrying what looked like a small daypack for serious multiday adventures opened my mind to a different, and I'd say, revolutionary way of experiencing the mountains. Thanks for reminding us, RJ, of that special SUL mindset.

I'm also in favor of scrapping the arbitrary 5 lbs base designation. I do think that staying in that ballpark matters as far as getting that liberated 'I could go anywhere in this pack' feeling. However, moving the definition away from a specific weight and toward a general attitude can help us to stop obsessing over oz's and spreadsheets, and spend more time training and scribbling on maps. Its not about the achievement of having that light of a pack, it about the new possibilities it opens up.

Edited by sgiachetti on 05/09/2013 07:36:38 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
The SUL Mindset- Can you give some examples of the decision making? on 05/09/2013 12:18:41 MDT Print View


Great to see that you have been writing artices and providing with us with your wisdom and presence!

You are one of the key voices of BPL and it is great to hear from you.

Appreciate the article, but can you give a little insight to the thought process that goes into SUL?

With UL Backpacking we are told to be "ruthless" in carefully examining and considering each item that we are going to put into our pack.

We are told that finding dual usage for an item is the holy grail of helping saving weight.

We are told that we should find something that it a lighter alternative to a traditionally heavier item like swapping a Nalgene bottle with a soft sided Platypus water bottle.

With SUL less is point out that beyond just a list of lightweight gear, you look to simply do without and not carry something.

Skill is our friend....the grey matter between our ears is the greatest tool to help save weight.

Can you give us some examples of what itemss/gear that you might not take with you and the reasoning of why you did not take that item?

Example that I can think of (I am not SUL/UL and maybe light weight with a 10.5-11 lb base weight) is going without a stove and eating cold food.

The reason why I ask is because in the quest for SUL there can be faulty decisions made in not bringing gear that could lead to what is sometimes referred as "stupid light".

Anyway, love the article, but would like you to elaborate a little more on the mindset/thinking that goes into the decision process of what and what not to bring.



Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/09/2013 14:04:07 MDT Print View

For me, the core concept in UL hiking is that you have total control over your pack weight. The revelation of UL is that you don't need to haul 50 pounds of gear to be comfortable and safe in the back country.

Many of us went through the exercise of getting everything down to a SUL kit and found that it wasn't all that much fun in practice. Not having enough food, reliable shelter, effective rain gear, or insulation suitable to the conditions is uncomfortable at best and could be dangerous.

As the pendulum swings, you go from just piling stuff on "just in case," to getting down to some absolute minimum and meeting an arbitrary weight, to knowing WHY you carry the gear on your back and how it works for you. It is supposed to be recreation and I'd rather have an enjoyable meal, get a good night's sleep, and be as warm and dry as practical. As I've said, the TOO factor tells you when your kit isn't working: you're TOO hungry, TOO cold, TOO wet, or TOO tired because you tried to get it TOO light. It's pretty much the same as Skurka's "stupid light" concept, which is simply admitting that your gear item is indeed ultralight, but it doesn't WORK.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: The SUL Mindset- Can you give some examples of the decision making? on 05/09/2013 17:17:22 MDT Print View

> some examples of what itemss/gear that you might not take with you and ... why

Reckon you could come with plenty here. Examples:

* Big knife for survival - but you aren't trying to do a 'survival' exercise

* Huge First Aid kit - if there is an accident that bad, you will need to GET help

* A change of underwear for each day - ...

* A full set of pots, pans and cutlery - when 1 pot and a spoon is enough if solo

* Camp shoes - wear light joggers, and take your socks off in camp

* GPS + iPhone with apps + Spot + PLB + ... - can you use a paper map and a compass?

> decision process of what and what not to bring
Am I bringing this 'just in case', or will I use it regularly? That will vary from person to person, but the mindset part is ASKING the question.

Btw - Dale has a lot of good points too, especially the 'TOO factor'.


Edited by rcaffin on 05/09/2013 17:17:57 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: stupid light on 05/09/2013 21:44:28 MDT Print View

"The reason why I ask is because in the quest for SUL there can be faulty decisions made in not bringing gear that could lead to what is sometimes referred as "stupid light"."

Andy's turn of phrase has grown a lot in less than a year. It's already become an excuse for folks to be lazy, to bring stuff they don't need and/or not function at their maximal level of skill out in the woods.

Not bringing things you'll need is a silly way save weight. Bringing more food, insulation, etc than you need is a silly reason to carry more weight. Honing the edge of understanding exactly what you need, being ruthless about holding to that, and using skills to push that edge is SUL.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: What not to take and essentials on 05/10/2013 09:24:10 MDT Print View

Roger mentioned not taking clean underwear for each day. I see separate sleep clothing listed often. The aversion of "dirt" is a weight inducing concept, with extra clothing and sleeping bag liners creeping into gear lists. Y'all don't need to take your jammies and sheets up a mountainside!

A tightly coordinated layering system is one of the most difficult I think. Clothing and sleep systems should overlap too. Fashion rears it's ugly (and heavy) head and we cling to what I call "city conventions." I've seen gear lists where the hiker had some attachment to a favorite clothing item that didn't fit into the scheme and I've seen a tendency to have one heavy monolithic insulation layer, just like Mom made us wear on snow days.

I think the core concepts here are knowing how your body and clothing systems work, and not fearing nature. IMHO, fear adds weight and knowledge tends to reduce fear.

One place I have departed from typical SUL gear lists is with the classic hiking essentials. I take a little more on the first aid side (3-4oz), a 3oz pocket knife, redundant fire starting items, and a "full sized" sighting compass. I carry some repair items, and both a flashlight and headlamp. Some of these items may never be used, but I will carry them, just in case. That doesn't exclude looking for the lightest alternatives and multiple use possibilities. I still raise an eyebrow when I see gear lists with only a single edge razor blade, a button compass, a book of paper matches and a first aid "kit" with 3 bandaids and a piece of moleskin. Other than that, if it is in my pack, I expect it to be used on that trip.