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The SUL Mindset
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Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 12:59:58 MDT Print View

Just depends. Not sure about paying for all the additional kit, .. but if needing to do really high mileage (or getting real old), it's worth considering.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: mindset on 05/11/2013 15:25:26 MDT Print View

One reason to separate your clothing weight from pack weight is due to the fact that 5 pounds of clothing has less of an impact on you than 5 pounds in your pack. Since the pack sticks out further from your center of gravity than clothing it exerts a greater effect (the bending moment increases 8 times with just twice the distance from your center). Just take your pack then hold it either close to you than extend your arm to see the effect.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
ouch... on 05/11/2013 15:59:04 MDT Print View

you guys are making my head hurt...

the weight of all this philosophizing and pontificating is too much to carry in my pack!!!

I think I need to go backpacking... some heavy breathing and blessed exhaustion to clear my head of all this...! :)


Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 16:05:18 MDT Print View

I'm extremely excited to see a series on SUL. I really like this first article and want to see more. I particularly connected with the statement "I get far more personal satisfaction about practicing skills when faced with a challenge, than when relying on an advanced piece of gear to meet that challenge." If there is one thing I have found that SUL means to me is simplicity more so than weight.

I admit I don't always have the exact piece of gear to cover every situation. I also admit that I am not always comfortable. But these are not the reasons I travel the mountains. Heck if I wanted every item for every situation and I wanted comfort then I'd stay home. The discomfort and reliance on my skills over gear has taught me a lot about myself and it brings me great joy.

I also admit I worked hard to make achieve my first 5 lb trip and having a target was extremely helpful. Some of you may even remember my post some years ago. I was and am still today truly humbled by the responses I received from this community. That included one that I will always remember from Ryan himself.

I do to this day keep a detailed list of each item I carry for every trip. Its just part of my planning process. I still use the information to learn and teach myself. I only get to backpack 3-4 times a year so its not a big deal. Yes I can pack a 5 lb pack in probably 5 minutes for a 32 degree trip without any spreadsheet, but I still spreadsheet because its part of the fun.

The only part of the article and responses I had trouble with was a reference to competitiveness and words like "cheating". You guys can see my gear lists on my website. I post them out of gratitude to those that have taught me so much, a way of giving back. Gear lists from Ryan and others helped me so much. I have just never felt like I was in a competition or trying to beat anyone or brag about how much I do or do not carry. I have only felt gratitude.

In all candor I have been hanging back not posting much over the last year because the atmosphere seemed to be changing. Instead of helping and challenging and learning, I read more and more posts with references to "stupid light", "cheater", and "you can't do that". Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT. I wanted to reply YES YOU CAN, but just said what's the use things have changed here.

I hope this is the beginning of coming back to saying YES YOU CAN. And stopping all this talk about competition. There never was a competition and I don't care if you list your chap stick in your pocket. These things don't matter to me.

What matter's to me is to continue to learn and support others in enjoying the great outdoors in ways that I never knew was possible...before I found

Keep these articles coming.


Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 17:26:30 MDT Print View

the weight of all this philosophizing and pontificating is too much to carry in my pack!!!

It's fun talking about all this, even on a philosophical level. To me it adds dimension to the practice, and helps steer thinking about what it is we're trying to achieve. After all, the "philosophizing" and "rationalizing" came before the first actual move to redefine how one carries everything. It was the philosophy that gave shape to the whole movement, and that philosophy evolved over time.

Jamie, I still keep referring to your visual gear lists, both on your site and the printed copies, whenever thinking about my own gear lists. It's still one of the best I've ever seen. I've never thought of you competing, but always as a humble practitioner who has really challenged yourself. I love the simplicity of your thinking and your ability to get the gear down to the very bones. It's poetic, even. And I very much admire that. I still remember the transition you went through and the steps you took with each trip to lighten up more. I even remember every photo you took, both of the gear, and the trips. You've inspired me a lot.

The gear lists I keep returning to time and time again are yours, Glen Van Peski's, Andrew Skurka's (though usually far too ambitious for me), Ryan's (though they change so often I get confused), and Alan Dixon's. There are others, of course, but these are the one's that have made me take a hard look at my own gear and to rethink, again and again, how I carry things. Each one reminds me of haiku, each a little different, each with a personality all its own. It may sound ridiculous to those who are completely practical, but after taking UL seriously now for nigh on 15 years, the nuances have become part of an aesthetic appeal. And for me this is part of the fun of all this.

There are those who are completely honest about their lists, and those who are not. And those who very much do make it into a competition, and those who don't. I really don't see anything wrong with friendly rivalry and making the whole exercise into a game, which is what it is, basically. It's a lot of fun. But when people start speaking the way you described above, well, that is going too far. That's the kind of competition that puts a sour taste in my mouth. And undermines the beauty and fun in doing all this.

Tom, about the weight being worn. Good point about the way weights are carried in different points along a fulcrum. But that still doesn't remove the weight from the equation. When climbing a hill, the more weight you have, the harder the climb, whether or not there is a fulcrum to deal with. It's the same as the adage about wearing boots, "A pound on your feet is five pounds on your back." (which, admittedly, does, in part, have something to do with a fulcrum) It's still weight. If you had a backpack that piled all the gear weight straight up above your head so that there was no pulling back of the pack, would that make a difference? That would still be weight, too, and wouldn't carry any less heavily if the weight was high. You'd still have a hard time getting up the hill.

Jennifer, very good point about body weight! How exactly would you measure that and then do something about it? And yet that is weight nonetheless, too. And matters. And then there would be factors like how strong you are, how efficient your cardiovascular system in being able to carry weight for a long time or over rough terrain, how determined you are, and how much pain you can tolerate. Oy, the consequences spiral out of control!

Edited by butuki on 05/11/2013 17:36:58 MDT.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 17:27:26 MDT Print View

I like to camp exposed with big scenery. I'd rather carry suitable gear that makes my vacation enjoyable, than functional gear for traveling from A to B that compromises what I enjoy most.

SUL seems to be a lot of "skill" instead of gear.

Cold in the morning ?, break camp and use your skill at walking in the dark to warm up.

Want an epic storm photo ?, use your google skill to download one from a heavyweight photographer who posted up in conditions your kit won't take.

Need to save weight in water treatment ?,use your skill at evaluating the water by eye and use too few drops for a couple of minutes as needed.

Want to enjoy your camp ?, use your skill to convince yourself your happier walking than watching.

I think SUL is a mindset, but I see lots of people enjoying themselves with double or triple a SUL base, and not struggling to carry it.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Friends on 05/11/2013 17:30:21 MDT Print View

"or unless after 3 miles they are exhausted and whining about how they need a break and not sure they can make it as far as you planned."

See above about knowing my friends, how they are knowledgeable and pack light already. Just don't know what they carry to the lb..never mind the ounce. :)

If the above situation in quotes happened, then I need new friends! :D

When I did trips for an outdoor group (or work as an asst guide), sure we'll look through the packs..but that's a much different scenario. Much like
I said in my post above.

re: Watermelon

Nature's candy. Absolutely delicious!

re: Beer

Yes...VERY good point. But I am well known to pack in the good chow and wine on hut trips. And more than the occasional libation on weekend backpacks. ;)

On a more important note, took a hike today. The wildflowers are out in force in the Boulder foothills. Pasque flowers are blooming, sand lily are popping up and the overwhelming color is green. Beautiful time to be in the Boulder foothills!

Edited by PaulMags on 05/11/2013 17:35:24 MDT.

Brian Lindahl
(lindahlb) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 20:03:15 MDT Print View

"The gear really hasn’t changed that much. Down sleeping quilts are still down sleeping quilts, and they’re still light. Backpacks made with whisper thin fabrics that tear to shreds in brambles and can’t hold sewn seams when they’re loaded with food are still around. “SUL” tents still don’t hold up to mountain storms very well. There’s been no drama in materials engineering for titanium, carbon fiber, or fabrics that weigh less than 0.5 oz per square yard."

I'd disagree. Innovations in materials and gear over the past few years have definitely changed the landscape. The main one being cuben fiber. Lightweight gear is now finally becoming readily available from mainstream manufacturers as well (particularly, of note, rain jackets and down jackets). Innovations in shelters have turned out more unique shaped tarps, such as the Hexamid and Trailstar, which provide a lot more coverage, stormworthiness and ease of setup than previously used tarps, but yet are not pyramids, which tend to be heavier and isolated from the environment. There are a TON more choices in terms of backpacks available from cottage manufacturers as well.

That being said, I agree with the rest of the article.

Edited by lindahlb on 05/11/2013 20:45:28 MDT.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Re: Oy vey on 05/11/2013 22:54:33 MDT Print View


I'm all over that! I don't care what my mates carry on a trip. I have no idea if they pack heavier or lighter than me. But I make very certain I call the beer situation in the first communication that we have about the trip. Ie I'm taking a six pack for the weekend, what are you taking?

I'm happy to share my chips and jerky, but the beer is mine, my friend.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
Wikipedia: SUL stands for singular user log-in. Shrug. on 05/12/2013 00:46:03 MDT Print View

Fair enough :)
I guess that speaks more to how obsessive I can be about packing, than to a real situation. It does come up when I'm going with someone less experienced, and I want to shoulder more of the load. I'm also planning some oz sensitive ski tours where its well worth convincing my friend that the hexamid twin is in fact a two person shelter.

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that challenging myself physically in the wilderness was fun and beneficial. That means when I look at a map, I'm most attracted to routes that I don't really know if I can finish. It keeps me more engaged with the process from packing to nutrition and fitness, and the element of uncertainty adds to a sense of adventure. I've bailed enough that I want to give myself (and partner) the best chances of finishing. So, I save the fried chicken for afterward. There's no glory or recognition in these types of trips (and certainly not in my gear list), but I get a lot of personal satisfaction from them. Its a particular approach thats not for everyone, and not one I always practice, but its where I find the M-SUL concept most useful.

I haven't drank alcohol in a long time, and given my personality type, if I start bragging about how much I pack in, you have full permission to worry about me. And please, lets not shift the measure of 'coolness' from lack of oz to abundance of alcohol or heavy delicious fruit. Human powered travel in the mountains is pretty cool in general, eh?

Edited by sgiachetti on 05/12/2013 00:58:15 MDT.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/12/2013 19:41:52 MDT Print View

"In all candor I have been hanging back not posting much over the last year because the atmosphere seemed to be changing. Instead of helping and challenging and learning, I read more and more posts with references to "stupid light", "cheater", and "you can't do that". Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT. I wanted to reply YES YOU CAN, but just said what's the use things have changed here."


This is why we need folks like you posting more to jump in there & show others that some things aren't as crazy as they look. BPL is swinging back to the center where durability & comfort are just as important as weight. While I completely agree that those are important, we still need that lunatic fringe out there trying to find ways to do "more with less". Heck, I still remember seeing Bill Fornshell's .33oz cuben backpack 10 yrs ago & it knocking my socks off. Things like that are where innovation come from & get people thinking about what's possible. SUL is that vehicle today so I say bring it on.


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 09:52:57 MDT Print View

The 5x8 tarp and bivy question pertained to hot and buggy conditions and no one said "you can't do that" but there were comments about the comfort per conditions.

That aside, as to BPL moving to the center, it may be that some don't want to drink the SUL Koolaid to the last drop and will talk about it now The fanatic fringe IS good for product development and new techniques.

Much like third party politics, those on the edge may not make for a majority, but they do shift the center. Much of my gear is SUL, but it varies to seasonal and climate variations and my personal comfort/whims. I'd hazard to guess that my mix is common amongst the readership here.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 10:24:31 MDT Print View

"Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT."

The responses were a.) just bring a larger tarp and ditch the bivy for weight savings and b.) the combination the OP was referring to was heavier than some other options like 1 lb tents and c.) bivvies in humid conditions are simply not fun.

I don't see the post that shows NO YOU CANT DO THAT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 12:53:38 MDT Print View

"I value durability, function, and compact size more than light weight."

I could not agree more. Thanks, Ryan!

wayne clark
(waynowski) - MLife
what seasons does SUL pertain to on 05/29/2013 16:55:24 MDT Print View

is this just for summer? or three season? or four season?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: what seasons does SUL pertain to on 05/30/2013 16:27:31 MDT Print View

At what weight? I think the assumption is that the 5 pound barrier is 3-season, but that varies by region at the least. That's why an arbitrary weight is practically useless. As light as possible for the conditions is the way it should be read. The arbitrary weight falls apart by user size too: someone who is 5'5" and 130# has a different kit than someone who is 6'7" and 275#.

Jason Mahler
(jrmahler) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Tricks on 06/05/2013 09:00:29 MDT Print View

I found it very easy to go SUL or even XUL. I simply bought my dog a pack and loaded him up with all of my gear. Kidding of course.

In all seriousness, I am not SUL, but try to keep this mindset mainly so that I can carry most of the gear for my 6 year old and 60# dog. Sure they have their packs, but I carry the majority and if I didn't think from a SUL perspective, it wouldn't be as much fun. This website is just an awesome resource that helps everyone hike their own hike.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: The SUL Mindset on 06/05/2013 11:37:17 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."

This is exactly how I feel about the lightweight mindset. I went sub 5 pounds BPW for a 3-season kit and decided I had to sacrifice too much comfort and enjoyment for my personal tastes. Now I carry a heavier BPW in 7-8 pound range, but I feel much more connected to my gear I do decide to take. And I'm constantly experimenting based on conditions, duration of trip, and if I'm solo, which I usually am.

The other thing I've never understood is people who obsess over every gram and proudly pronounce themselves an SULer or XULer and are 30+ pounds overweight. Maybe this won't be a popular statement with other BPLers, but I feel the UL/SUL mindset is also about connecting with your body, not just nature or gear. In fact, I feel the most important aspect to being a backpacker is your mind-body connection. I know not everybody can be a ripped model type, but I think if you're an outdoorsperson, then you should care enough about your body to take care of it even when you're not outdoors. Knowing I'm in great shape boosts my confidence on trail.

Seems to me, if you drop 10+ pounds of fat by running, hiking, and eating healthy, instead of cutting 8 ounces from your BPW, you'll be in a better place to push yourself further along on a trail.

I believe this connection becomes even more important when taking minimal gear and truly testing your limits. I realize many backpackers, whether UL, SUL, or more traditional heavy haulers, aren't necessarily aiming for bigger miles every trip. But for me, that's part of the fun. I love attempting 30 miles in a day, though that's not always my goal by any means. I've also added more bouldering and scrambling to my trips, and that changes my gear list a bit as well.

In summary I feel the SUL mindset is a combination of skill, fitness, and a well thought out gear list working in harmony to create an enjoyable, memorable trip.

Edited by Damager on 06/05/2013 15:11:33 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 06/06/2013 04:28:28 MDT Print View

I think I can agree with that. But, body fat is natures way of storing up for the next backpacking trip.

But, this points out an alludued to, and stated by Ryan, degree of systemization with UL or XUL backpacking that has not been well explained. You wrote: "In summary I feel the SUL mindset is a combination of skill, fitness, and a well thought out gear list working in harmony to create an enjoyable, memorable trip."

To me, I see this as a statement that, like many here, all components of backpacking are important to the "having fun." Not only the gear, skills, and fitness of your body. But planning, completion and even storage of gear are important considerations.

Planning is when you decide you want to go packpacking somewhere. It involves logistics, material resouces available, what you need to purchase, plotting a route (tentative as it may be,) and other facets.

We talk a lot about gear, here. Soo, I'll skip an explanation other than to say the local, elevation, forest cover, etc will effect that.

Skill is about the same. We trade a lot of different techniques here. Knowing how to shit in the woods for example.

Fitness is another one. This comes up at different times.

Completion of a trip, knowing what worked well and what failed adds to experience and skills. Unpacking gear, cleaning gear(if needed,) and noting what needs to be refilled/resupplied.

Stowing gear can be important by the time we get to UL or SUL weights. We usually have enough gear to make selections. Putting it all in one box doesn't work. If you cannot find your wood stove when you leave, it doesn't make much sense to even *have* the stove.

These are systems that are not as interesting, not as vital, to a backpacking trip, but, without them, a trip can quickly loose the memorable quality.

For all these, a good system of making sure each thing gets done in it's correct sequence is used. Sure, we all forget stuff, like I forgot to get gas, or I forgot to get a new lighter. Systems make things easier to remember as well as more efficient to use. You are alluding to this quality about backpacking that is often ignored by simply listing things to take. Using a pad as a pack frame, is a classic example of where this breaks down. There is no clean way to join these two components together in a simple list. Secondary usage or dual usage should be considered, then the gear list will look like Ryans, 11 items plus personal preference. With these bloody computaters, it should be possible to do better by taking a lesson from database normalization.

Edited by jamesdmarco on 06/06/2013 06:58:15 MDT.

mark henley
(flash582) - F
SUL mindset -- i don't even like the term SUL anymore. on 06/06/2013 10:48:08 MDT Print View

I love this article ...

I hit a 5 lb baseweight for weekends in 2007, then my world fell apart and I had to have a double back fusion.

I don't sleep on the ground anymore, I sleep in a Hammock. My baseweight is between 6.5 and 7.5 lbs depending on the time of year ... 8 lbs if I have to carry my bug zapper and a generator (kidding).

Am I SUL ...?????

Yes ... I'm SUL, why do I say that? I'm not under 5 lbs anymore (right now several people reading this are thumping their chests, trying to get their hearts started again or flipping the bird at the computer screen) ..... because SUL is a state of mind, not a bunch of stuff in a sack. It's enjoying being outdoors more and the stuff you carry less.

Story time ....

I was in the Peco's wilderness with my Sons, at 11,500 feet, and we stopped to camp for the night. I won't go into the details, but a freak storm kicked up and my brand new single wall tent acted as if it were made of Noseeum. Everything I owned was soaked.

The sun was going down, all the availible tinder and wood for a fire was soaked, the sun was going down, temperatures were dropping fast twords the nightime low of freezing, what do you do?

My old traditional mindset would state that I needed to have extra fleece gear in the pack in a waterproof stuff sack. The traditional viewpoint on UL would state that I should have just curled up and died of hypothermia.

No ... i pulled out my emergency fire starting kit, used the skills I had mastered about finding dry tinder in a wet forest, used my knife to batton some tinder, and finally even tore a chunk off my synthetic shirt to act as an accelerant for the fire and to dry out ever larger pieces of wood, until we had a roaring fire (we had not intended on having a fire that night) and I dried out my insulation and my son's insulation, we had dinner, and a great time was had by all.

My point .... this encapulates the difference between SUL thinking and backpacking thinking. With SUL you are going to find a way to endure, thrive, and survive when a oh-crap happens. With Traditional packpacking you are trying to pack stuff for every single contingency, an impossible task. Your planning takes on a new dynamic, how am I going to deal with a broken leg, a case of hypothermia, gardia, snakebites, etc. instead of how can I be lazy and find something I can buy to deal with that contingency for me .... Snakebite? oh ... I'll just toss this snakebite kit into the bottom of my pack and never bother to read the instructions. Broken arm, Oh ... I better carry a splint instead of taking a first aid course.

I grow weary of traditional backpackers calling SUL stupid, unsafe, etc. when I see the reality of it is that Traditional Backpackers are actually lazy, counting on gear intstead of taking the time to learn, carrying 50 lbs instead of 15 because it makes them feel safer, when in reality it's more dangerous.

SUL is a part of your mindset, learn, learn, and keep learning ... enjoy.