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The bright green wooden frog that caused an UL epiphany.
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Loren B

Locale: London UK, Greenville USA
The bright green wooden frog that caused an UL epiphany. on 05/28/2013 09:20:30 MDT Print View

Hi all,

The last couple of years have been an amazing learning experience for me. As it happens, I came across the concept of UL backpacking totally by accident. It all started on last day that I would be living at my apartment in London. Opening up my eyes, it dawned on me that today was the day I had to pack up the masses of possessions which had been accumulated over the last 3 years and move out. Someone had apparently slipped a hangover into my drink at some point last night which made it all the more difficult to get up, but eventually, I stumbled out of bed. So my girlfriend and I started to pack up all my belongings. Some things were thrown into the trash, some carefully placed into boxes, some into bags destined for charity shops.

After a couple of hours it became more and more clear just how much junk had somehow snuck through my front door and taken up residence with me. Standing in the hallway faced with a mountain of bags full to the brim, my eyes stopped when I saw this bright green, wooden frog poking out from under one of the bags. I picked it up and stared at it blankly trying to recall just where on earth it had come from. Why did I have it? Ah, that was it - it had been bought on holiday a few years ago in Greece as a memento. It was heavy, heavier than I remembered so out of curiosity I went to the kitchen and weighed it. It was 2 pounds. Likely carved from 3 pounds of wood which was no longer growing somewhere, transported by boat and train to a chinese factory and carved down. Then shipped to greece to be bought by me, who then flew it back to the UK. How wasteful.

What the heck in the moment had made me think that I needed a bright green wooden frog? What was it's function? I like tail-less amphibians as much as the next guy, but how did it improve my life by owning it? The answer, I thought to myself was that it didn't, in fact it occurred to me that this innocently smiling little frog sculpture had made my life ever so slightly worse. It didn't really make me happy to look at it in the way that the photos I had taken that holiday did, It wasn't useful like the rain jacket I had taken with me and it certainly hadn't helped my bank balance. I would be better off without it so placed it in the good will pile.

It was after this day of moving out that I decided that something had to change. So over the next few weeks I sorted through absolutely everything I owned, selling or giving away most of my stuff all the while remembering that green frog. Finally I was left with the bare essentials I really needed. Whenever I had to buy something I would look online to find the best and lightest option and that's when I started to find out about the wonderful world of UL backpacking mostly through BPL. I began to use some of the principles in my everyday life especially the concept of multiuse items. Now my hiking clothes are for the most part, the same as my everyday clothes (with a couple of exceptions). My hiking backpack is my everyday bag and my carry on. A smart Pendleton wool shirt has become part of my hiking gear, but I also wear it to work. I use a titanium spoons and sporks in my kitchen etc.

I believe strongly that the UL backpacking revolution can also do a lot for people in their everyday lives. Allowing people to buy less, but use more and at the same time reducing whatever harmful effects we may be having on the planet. Who knows how much effect we are really having but why not err on the side of caution and try to make a change for the better.

So that's my story of how, I became an UL backpacker in a bit of an unexpected way. It would be really interesting to hear from other people. What's your story? Has all this UL madness spread to other parts of your life? Can you think of other ways that UL principles can change the way we live outside backpacking?

Edited by ljamesb on 05/28/2013 09:30:08 MDT.

Bogs and Bergs
(Islandized) - F

Locale: Newfoundland
UL epiphany on 05/28/2013 09:49:54 MDT Print View

Not my story, but I am reminded of a young woman who was exasperated by her mother's insistence on keeping every doll, toy and stuffed animal the young woman had as a child. She finally gathered them together and posed them nicely for a group photo. The picture got framed, the toys got tossed. And that's how you have a sentimental memento without the clutter. :)

I'll add that a backpacking habit does wonders to highlight the amount of unnecessary stuff in our lives. When you come home with everything you need to live on your back, looking around at a house full of stuff can be puzzling. What's it all for, if you just left it all behind for weeks and didn't even miss it?

Edited by Islandized on 05/28/2013 09:55:03 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
more on 05/28/2013 09:52:21 MDT Print View

ironically ... i think youll find that UL may have very little to do with having LESS gear here ... many people actually have MORE gear, "optimizing" their gear for every possible situations, thus many different bags/packs/clothes

if you want only one set of gear for many situations, youre sacrificing some lightness for durability, functionality, etc ...

also when people chase ounces and buy marginally lighter gear every time something new and shiny comes out ... their closets often accumulate the older "obsolete" stuff that still works perfectly fine and light

UL does NOT mean having less gear in yr closet if many threads and gear swap are anything to go by


James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
same here on 05/28/2013 09:57:33 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing, its fun to hear people with similar stories

My "epiphany" was a little more spread out, but due to similar circumstances. My family moved into 3 new houses in the last 3 years, and I personally leap-frogged between 4 apartments. Having to pack my stuff up and drive it all around the country made me seriously consider having less. I wanted, but did not need five fishing poles or three snowboards or two guitars or twelve pairs of shoes. I guess all my hobbies take up a fair amount of space. So each time I moved my stuff the pile got smaller, and by the time I moved out to San Diego I had pretty much slimmed down to one of everything (although I admit I brought two skateboards). Being 23 and poor makes it really easy to live UL. I cook everything in a single frying pan, I only have one knife, one plate, one bowl and a spork. I only brought 10 hangers for my closet and won't buy any more, and my shelf space is really small to help limit my quantity of clothes. All of this happened independent of BPL, but this place has had enough impact by shedding pounds off my pack weight. This is obviously just for now, and who knows what will happen when I grow up but I can see myself having to purchase a pot and dinnerware set and a few more shirts with collars.

Johan Engberg

Locale: Wrong place at the right rime
quite the opposite on 05/28/2013 09:59:42 MDT Print View

I admire your effort to lighten up and think! My own UL state of mind unfortunately stays within the silnylon (no cuben.. yet) walls of my backpack when I'm out. I like new gear too much and think like the mayority (?) who likes to consume "stuff". I've kind of realised that the less time for backpacking I get, the more gear I buy... both strange and quite sad.
But my history of lighten my load came out of a need to be able to go further, faster...and pack more ammunition at the same time. A reason as good as any other, or maybe not.


Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Coleman Peak 1 ball of fire on 05/28/2013 10:11:22 MDT Print View

I also fell into UL by accident. I’ve been backpacking since the early ‘80s; my memories of Philmont were of carrying a ruck that was probably in excess of 30 and possibly 40 lbs. I spent the ‘90s in the military carrying an Alice pack which places all of the weight squarely on the shoulders. I never had an Alice pack that weighed much under 70 lbs and there were a few times where it was over 100 when I was an assistant gunner or RTO.

So that was my idea of backpacking. Fill up a ruck full of crap, carry it, feel miserable, and enjoy time in camp (or patrol base) where I could take the load off. I was no stranger to bivy camping or sleeping under a poncho but in hindsight, a 2.5 lb USGI bivy and 1.5 lb USGI poncho aren’t the proper tools to migrate to the UL lifestyle with.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m in the Cascades backpacking with my daughter. I felt I was going light at the time. I had a 5-7 lb ruck, a 3 lb tent, a 2.5 lb circa 1984 Thermarest, 2.5 lb sleeping bag, and probably another 20-30lbs of what-ifs, 4 liters of water, etc.

Hidden among this clutter was a juggernaut Coleman Peak 1 white gas stove which was stored in a very heavy aluminum case which doubled as a pot. I won it back in the ‘80s when I was in Boy Scouts for selling the most fertilizer (our biggest annual fund raiser).

Before this trip, I fired it up on my porch and it worked fine. I mistakenly thought that it would hold its own through the weekend. I was wrong. It cooked a few meals for us without missing a beat. At the end of our trip and on our way back to the trail head, we stopped to boil some water. Suddenly fuel started leaking out of it somewhere and I was staring at a Molotov cocktail looking for a forest to burn down. I instantly hit my target heart rate and started a bucket brigade with a pot to put the fire out.

One we returned home, I started looking online to find a replacement stove. Through my search, I stumbled upon alcohol stoves. Searches relating to alcohol stoves provided links to UL backpacking blogs, BPL, etc. My eyes were opened to a new possibility and the rest is history.

The process of refining, lightening, and maximizing the utility of my gear has had a beneficial impact on other areas of my life. I laugh when I tell people that I spent the first half of my life acquiring clutter and I’ll probably spend the second half of my life trying to get rid of it. Like my ruck, I’m learning to get rid of all of the what-ifs in my house and life in general.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 05/28/2013 10:19:01 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/07/2015 15:36:28 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The bright green wooden frog that caused an UL epiphany. on 05/28/2013 11:14:40 MDT Print View

I love the symbolism in that wooden frog. I'm also relieved to know that TMS (Too Much Stuff) isn't just an American syndrome :)

I wrote a blog article on this at

I long for those days when I could move everything in a car load or two. We've raised a family in the same house since 1986 and there is clutter--- that being an epic understatement.

I like the comment about coming home with everything you need to survive on your back and confronting a household full of stuff.

My favorite paradigm for this is a one meter cube: you can have personal items that you want, but but they all have to fit in a one meter cube. For a large part of the worlds population, that would seem generous, but for most of us in the "industrialized" nations, it appears to be an impossible goal. I think it makes a great mental exercise to try. The process is very similar to our UL gear lists

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: The bright green wooden frog that caused an UL epiphany. on 05/28/2013 11:31:11 MDT Print View

My moment was when my ex moved out. I looked around, and the house was still completely full of stuff. A lot of that stuff, I admit, is in my mom's basement right now. I have been living without much stuff for over a year now, but really need to get on the project of getting rid of the excess for good.

Loren B

Locale: London UK, Greenville USA
Re: UL epiphany on 05/28/2013 14:45:03 MDT Print View

Nice to hear about your stories of how and why you came across BPL and UL backpacking in general. It's good to know that it's not just me that has had ultralight principles spread over in to my non-backpacking life.

Bogs: The story of the photo definitely made me laugh, what a brilliant idea. I should have taken a photo of the frog. lol

Eric: ;) good point. Things like sleeping bags and sleeping mats are a good example of what you are saying. It's kinda necessary to have two or more of those for summer and winter. I try though to make them work together so rather than having a winter sleeping bag I have a 3 season and a 1+ season which when combined give me a winter sleeping bag. Sure it is a bit heavier, but still gives me a base pack weight of 7-11 lbs which I am happy with.

Ian: Wow, a very big change then in your pack weight over the years. I understand where you are coming from. My family's house is just packed with years of clutter collected over time. We've been gradually trying to sort through it all, but it can seem like an impossible task. Just when a shelf gets emptied, someone in the family will be moving out and need to store a shelf full of stuff which never gets collected.

Dale: Certainly not an American thing I don't think ;). I think you guys have it much worse though in a way since the average home size in the UK is much smaller than in the US. More space to fill equals more space filled eventually.

Extremely interesting article, thanks for linking it. I'll have to try the 1 metre cubed experiment. If that includes appliances, I'm screwed though! I think I could fit clothes, most used electronics, bike...maybe.

Spelt: I think putting stuff in storage somewhere is a real eye opener to how little of the stuff you own ever gets used at all. Good luck sorting through the excess!

The main way I've found to avoid accumulating more stuff is to constantly ask myself "do I really need this?", all the time. It's astonishing just how often the answer to that question is no :).

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Meter3 experiment on 05/28/2013 16:25:04 MDT Print View

I wanted to use the meter3 concept for *everything*, but it is a bit radical. I've conceded to just personal items other than bedding, furniture and kitchen. Like UL hiking, you can take it as far as you like (or dare).
So you take a meter3 box and add:

Toys (yes, your hiking gear)

This really isn't that hard. I originally proposed this around 1995, and with flat screens, ebooks, cheap laptops, MP3 players and smart phones the music and books can be shrunk to almost nothing. Clothing really depends on lifestyle.

I could easily pull off a family-sized kitchen kit in a meter3 box, minus the major appliances. I wouldn't need the extra box for myself.

My workshop is one wall I ran into, but just on the "major appliances" side of things. Small hand tools can be chosen carefully, much like the performance issues we get into with UL gear.

Here's something to aspire to:
Studely tool chest

The principle can certainly be carried to making an effort to minimizing furniture and decorations-- a green frog comes to mind there. Some find it easier of imagining a trip to a remote island or travel to another plant. Those who have lived aboard a sailboat or a camp trailer have done this exercise. When I was in college, I lived in a 21' camp trailer with no problem at all.

I'm enthralled with the idea of "Tiny Houses" and would live in one in a heartbeat. On a tangent, my wife wants a teardrop sleeping trailer for travel. I want to build an ultralight sleeping trailer using the same techniques as strip-built canoes and kayaks. Really just a hard-sided tent on wheels with some storage. Keeping the towing weight down is the same exercise as preparing for a through hike.

Ultralight travel has been discussed here. I think Rick Steves has it down to a fine art and his methods have few surprises to anyone familiar with UL hiking. If you don't pack like Emelda Marcos, it isn't difficult. Our Ben2World is a master of UL travel.

Loren B

Locale: London UK, Greenville USA
Re: Re: Meter3 experiment on 05/31/2013 09:33:20 MDT Print View

For me, the difficulty I would run into would be bicycles/bicycle related tools and my drums ;). I think I would need to make the difficult choice to leave the drums behind, but hey, I could always play pots and pans instead. My clothes, hiking gear, laptop, mp3 player/phone/camera/gps, radio would easily fit. As for kitchen stuff, a microwave/oven combo and two ring burner should be plenty for most things. Very interesting photo btw where did you find that?

I wonder how much weight and volume astronauts on the ISS are given? I found it very interesting that in the now famous Space Oddity rendition by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, he has a full size acoustic guitar floating around him in the video. My first thought when I saw that was, 'is he going to bring that back with him to Earth?'. then the image of a guitar floating endlessly through space came to mind, imagining a situation where they had to release it out of the airlock to save weight for the return journey.

I, too have become fascinated with the concept of small space living in the last few years. My favorite source of info is the kirstendirksen channel on youtube which you should check out. it inspired me to design a few apartment layouts, RV layouts and a few items of furniture just for fun with a focus on efficient use of limited space. I plan to build one of the RV designs and the furniture to fill it. I use google sketchup for this which I've found to be a nice tool to use.

My next project is going to be an aquaponics system for growing vegetables and edible fish.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Meter3 experiment, drums, bikes, etc on 05/31/2013 11:11:34 MDT Print View

It made you think, didn't it! Of course, that's the point. With hiking, we are limited to weight and pack volume. By using the meter3 paradigm, we create a limit and limits are one way of getting our lives and consumption under control.

I'm a drummer too, but I lean to percussion and smaller "ethnic" drums like doumbeks and frame drums. A djembe would fit in a meter3 box, and there are several brands of "travel" drum sets that all nest in one case. I've always envied flute and clarinet players, with their small cases and light loads.

I didn't mention my TMS (too much stuff) epiphany. It came with not being able to find something and having to wade through TOO MUCH STUFF to find it.

In his book, Walden, and the Economy chapter, Thoreau describes a neighbor dragging houses and barns and teams of oxen behind them through life. Jacob Marley's ghost in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the icon of greed and consumption, with his chain of ledgers dragging behind him for eternity. All the major religions caution against materialism, because it comes between us and others (and God of course). We are owned by our possessions. We worry over them, needing to create security and insure them, store them and maintain them. If you're not careful, your possessions can suck the life out of you.

The photo of the toolbox was originally published in Wooden Boat or Fine Woodworking magazine--- I don't recall which one. It has been a tradition among woodworkers and the photos spawned a whole little subculture I think. It certainly appeals to the ordered minds of UL hikers.

Now I'm going to flip this soap box over--- it will make such a nice storage box :)

Thoreau's cabin at Walden pond

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/31/2013 12:14:31 MDT.