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Current conversations with JMT hikers
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Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: Lazy Luddites on 08/05/2013 22:47:50 MDT Print View

In all fairness to heavy backpackers, perhaps they just don't care. Obviously people here are passionate about lightweight gear, but some others quite simply could care less.

I don't spend an awful lot of time researching things that aren't my hobbies. Backpacking light is just another hobby. It captivates us, but is boring and inconsequential to some other people - even if backpacking or hiking is something they enjoy.

I could make similar arguments about cars or fishing gear and a large group here might see and understand the logical arguments I could make about those hobbies, yet go about their lives driving some boring car or fishing with some crappy gear that gets the job mostly done.

Others here are pretty passionate photographers. I like taking pictures. And I understand the value of high end camera gear. But I'm not passionate about it, so I'm content to get by with the camera I've got. It doesn't mean I'm ignorant about photography equipment.

There are all kinds of niche hobbies out there that aren't for everyone. Guess what? The community here happens to share one such niche hobby. It doesn't make us better or smarter than others...just different

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Lazy Luddites on 08/07/2013 08:02:28 MDT Print View

You have a point. I don't carry heavy camera gear either. I am happy with snapshots and a point and shoot. I don't pursue photography as a passion. But I think this is different when we're talking about people on a JMT thru-hike or something. I mean, these ARE people who have backpacking as a passion. And their response to those of us who do have lightweight gear is really odd. And the response of the retailers is really odd.

At least the retailer I spoke to did say that he is phasing out the big expedition packs. He thinks they're not necessary for most people. He has two in stock and all the rest of his packs are really nice ones that I would actually use. Osprey has an ultralight model that was available, and there were a number of similar packs. I used an Osprey Aura 65L pack for part of the PCT. Carries 22lbs of added water a lot better than a G4. He also had numerous other things on the low end for standard non-cottage companies.

Richard May
(richardmay) - M

Locale: Swamplands.
fear on 08/07/2013 09:13:22 MDT Print View

a long time ago I stopped trying to convince anybody of anything. people tend to live in fear of what they are not accustomed to so, they resist.

to think that you 'need less' in society that applauds 'having more' doesn't make sense. in itself it's a fringe idea and one that isn't conducive to consumption. the core of ultralight philosophy runs counter to pop-culture.

on the flip-side this idea of 'needing less' can lead to puritanical, self-righteous, extremes. which isn't much better than wanton, fear driven, consumerism.

my 2 cents

Steve S
(idahosteve) - F

Locale: Idaho
hurts to see others hurting on 08/09/2013 14:52:46 MDT Print View

I guess that while hiking along the trail, and really enjoying the pure love of just walking in the mountains, it's hard to see folks who outwardly are in pain, or who are expending an obvious amount of effort to move on the trail. I don't want to preach to any of these folks, but I sure feel for them, especially since I know from 35 years of climbing just what it feels like to carry those big loads. I guess as humans we do kind of stick to that maxim of "... will we ever learn..."

Edited by idahosteve on 08/09/2013 14:53:51 MDT.

K Magz
(lapedestrienne) - F

Locale: somewhere without screens
great thread on 08/12/2013 10:37:27 MDT Print View

ULers often replace heavy gear items with experience and skills, rather than just going out and buying a lighter version. For people who only get out for one trip a year, acquiring those skills may not seem possible. For example, a tarp instead of a tent, or a twig fire instead of a canister stove.

If someone is really into hiking, they'll get out and do it and learn what works for them--at their own pace. I love talking gear and technique with people who are genuinely interested and eager to learn, and I meet more and more of those people. For instance: I regularly drink out of a Platypus at work, which my students find totally intriguing--and just about everyone can appreciate the convenience of a bottle that collapses down to next-to-nothing when it's empty. "Whoa, it's like a reusable Capri Sun!" a kid once exclaimed to me.

A lot of people I meet who've been bitten by the UL bug are older folks facing the possibility of knee/ankle/hip surgery, back and shoulder problems, etc, who simply wouldn't be able to get out in the mountains if it weren't for UL gear. After being warned you'll never backpack again, it must feel great to get out and prove the medical "experts" wrong.

Younger folks are often resistant to UL gear for lots of reasons. There's an element of machismo to "proving" you can carry a heavy pack up a mountain. When you're young and your body repairs itself easily, you may not be aware of the damage you're doing until years later.

Moreover, many people are intimidated by the apparent cost of replacing gear, especially "Big 3" items; I carried the same pack from the time I was in high school til well after I was done with university. Luckily, it "only" weighed 3 lbs and fit well, but justifying a new pack was very hard for me until I had all but destroyed my first one. And if I didn't hike and travel regularly, it would have taken me a lot longer to destroy that Gregory. :) I'd love a 1 lb shelter, but it's not in the budget right now, so my 2 lb option will have to suffice.

The heart and soul of UL, however, isn't buying fancy gear; it's being able to look long and hard at what you take with you, what you take for granted, and ask yourself whether you really need it or not. I see people carrying 16 oz bottles of Dr Bronners, sunscreen, bug stuff, etc, on weekend trips. Putting your toiletries in mini bottles costs next to nothing!

In my experience, it isn't possible to "convert" people, and I'm not a fan of anyone who treats their beliefs like gospel that must be preached--especially when I'm in the mountains. But, if you're out with an 8 lb base weight and you are clearly safe and comfortable and happy (and good company on the trail), *that* makes a strong impression on other hikers, and is probably the best way to be a UL "ambassador".

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Current conversations with JMT hikers on 08/12/2013 12:50:03 MDT Print View

UL might equal less gear carried, but it does not equal less gear in total. Browse some of the pictures of the gear rooms people on this site have. Multiple packs, multiple shelters, a sleeping bag for every season, 5 stoves....

And the "traditional" backpackers that I know are not any less seasoned than many ULers out there. How many UL people on this site have endless posts on gear with a trip report nowhere to be found?

Many of the "traditional" backpackers I know still carry their heavy gear because:
A) They are not chronic consumers and do not want to replace functional gear already owned to save some weight.
B) They are not held back in their objectives by the heavier gear they have. Case in point: many climbers and surfers I know. They could care less about shelters and packs and stoves because backpacking is not the goal- the goal is to set up a camp to climb or surf from, not make high trail mileage or simply backpack.
C) They are just not interested in gear. My surfing partner, who has traveled the world, climbed Kilamanjaro and McKinley, and is sleeping outside on boats, islands, or beaches just about every weekend of the year doesn't give a damn about gear. To him, if it keeps you dry and warm, a tent is a tent. Why does he carry a 6lb. North Face shelter and a 7lb. Gregory pack? Because they're what he has and will continue to use until they're worn out. His money goes to gasoline, food, and trips.

And to think some newbie UL convert might run across him in the Sierra some day and judge him to not know what he's doing because he has a Gregory on his back....


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Current conversations with JMT hikers on 08/12/2013 13:41:20 MDT Print View

Some of us have arrived at a ripe old age, well over 45, and we simply are not speedy anymore. I keep going by reducing my base weight each year by one pound. I can't keep that up for long. However, I can stay in the game.


K Magz
(lapedestrienne) - F

Locale: somewhere without screens
UL vs minimalism on 08/12/2013 15:33:37 MDT Print View

"UL might equal less gear carried, but it does not equal less gear in total."

Not always the case. At least a few of us are drawn to UL because we're minimalists, not because we crave the latest and greatest. When I buy a piece of gear, I don't want to have to buy two more iterations to fill specific niches, and I don't want to have to buy a replacement every season for stuff that disintegrates. I strive to use as much of my gear as possible year round and not own things that only see the light of day once a year. Because of this, I'll never set any records for lowest base weight ever. But, as a 100 lb person, there is simply no way carrying a 7 lb pack or a 6 lb tent would be smart choices for me, especially since I put in roughly 500-1000 miles of hiking on a yearly basis (I'd love to be able to afford more). I might not do any damage on a weekend trip, but I know my knees couldn't handle that weight for a month of continuous trekking, and it sure wouldn't be fun for me.

Moreover, I live mostly off-the-grid, in a 100 sq ft space. I simply don't have the space for stuff that I don't use, nor do I want to accumulate objects I don't really need. Most of my backpacking gear sees regular use around my home. I sleep with my down quilt when it gets chilly. I eat with my spork and drink coffee out of a snowpeak mug. If it weren't for some fond heirloom dishes, it would probably be my only mug. When friends visit, I pitch the tent or hammock for them to sleep in. Indoors, my hammock doubles as a storage loft, and prior to that it was my at-home bed. A tarp helps make my outdoor space livable in iffy weather.

Carrying lighter gear has improved my outdoor experience, plain and simple. Going from nearly 20 lbs to 10 lbs of baseweight means I get out in the woods more often, for longer stretches, and enjoy it more. And I don't have more gear than when I started. Everything I don't use is either sold secondhand or gifted to friends and family, but most items don't get replaced until I've worn them out. Impulse purchases and redundancy aren't really in my budget--I like to travel.

Long story short, it's silly to make generalizations about why people have the gear they have, whether heavy or light or anywhere in between.

gear on 08/12/2013 17:37:40 MDT Print View

"UL might equal less gear carried, but it does not equal less gear in total."

No one set of gear, suits all trips, all seasons, all conditions.

Especially not a UL set.

If one was to cherry pick times and trips, they could certainly get by with one set much of year however.

There are a few that enjoy being out in adverse conditions, and a very few that seem to seek out the worst mother nature can sling at them.

Brian Mix
(Aggro) - MLife

Locale: Western slope, Sierra Nevada
How? on 08/14/2013 17:32:51 MDT Print View

I read thru this thread when it first started and again now. My question is how/ when do you have these conversations? I briefly notice peoples' gear as I am approaching to pass, generally the only "conversation" I'm having with them is "Passing on your right" or left whichever the case may be. When I get passed it generally plays out pretty much the same.
Maybe I'm in the minority but I visit the wilderness to get away- I'm not there to make friends. If it happened that would be pretty cool because it would be a like minded hiker but it hasn't yet.
When I do chat with people who are stopped I never talk about gear. I figure we are out there for the same reason and discuss the area not the gear. If someone were to ask, I'd have no problem explaining but until then...
But then again, I'm not UL- my last 4 night trip I carried 26lbs including two quarts of water so maybe my opinion doesn't count.

Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: How? on 08/14/2013 18:25:35 MDT Print View

"I read thru this thread when it first started and again now. My question is how/ when do you have these conversations?"

Try reading a third time. OP answers your question in his 3rd sentence.

Brian Mix
(Aggro) - MLife

Locale: Western slope, Sierra Nevada
Re: Re: How? on 08/14/2013 22:56:51 MDT Print View

"Try reading a third time. OP answers your question in his 3rd sentence."
Thanks. I guess it was somewhat rhetorical. Or maybe I lack reading comprehension.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Current conversations with JMT hikers on 08/21/2013 06:55:50 MDT Print View

I also believe that outfitters are big contributor to these heavy packs you see.

I don't usually buy from outfitters because of their lack of light hiking gear.

Some stores do actually stock ultralight gear because of requests from experienced hikers, but they keep this gear in back rooms or high up on a shelf in the corner and the sales people will almost always try to talk you out of even considering it.

In front they will have displays of car camping tents, heavy big backpacks and other items that a backpacker wouldn't like carrying on their backs.

Lets face it, car camping is by far more popular than backpacking and those that do backpack are only doing it once every two years.

So they run to the outfitter a couple days before their hike and the salespeople will proceed to sell them a bunch of expensive heavy junk. High profits and commissions can be made this way.

We've all heard the sales person in the shoe department who uses his extensive hiking experience to convince you to buy the heavy, waterproof high top boots.

Or maybe they convince people that they need the so-called backpacking tent that they have on display. It only weighs 5 lbs and it's on sale this week.

Of course, since they will be carrying a lot of heavy gear and 20 lbs of food for a 4 day hike, they will need the 8 lb framed pack to make hiking more comfortable.

They will also need a lantern, hatchet, two cooking pots and a mug, plates, knife, spoon and fork, heavy ground cloth(don't want to get dirt on your new tent) and a few other perceived necessities.

These sales-people are experienced backpackers and so they know what is required for you to enjoy your hike and they will make sure you get all this gear at their shop.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Current conversations with JMT hikers" on 08/21/2013 10:47:30 MDT Print View

"So they run to the outfitter a couple days before their hike and the salespeople will proceed to sell them a bunch of expensive heavy junk. High profits and commissions can be made this way."
I would think that the average outdoors store makes as much money or more on UL versions of gear than they do on heavy stuff. I could easily buy a much roomier, much more comfortable 2-man tent for a lot less than I spent on my Fly Creek UL2 if I were willing to carry 2 or 3 lbs more. My Western Mountaineering sleeping bag cost me a small fortune and I could have spent less for an equally rated, much heavier synthetic bag from REI. For that matter, I could have simply continued to use my 10 year old heavy gear that all of this replaced. I could provide more examples but you get the point, I'm sure. Unless you're a DIY'er, you probably spent more money on your UL gear than you would have spent on equivalently rated heavy gear. So I don't think stores are doing it out of profit motivation.

I think the heavier gear is driven from three other things:
1) Liability to the store. Bombproof heavy gear will be less prone to failure, reducing legal liability to the store (possibly) and reducing the chance of a warranty return (definitely). UL gear is often more fragile than heavy gear, excepting things like titanium and carbon fiber.
2) Ignorance on the part of the seller. In all honesty I think many people that work in sporting goods stores are actually rather ignorant of what they sell. Or they may legitimately think that the buyer wants some heavy, bombproof gear when the reality is that...
3) The buyer is ignorant. They don't know about UL, they only know that when they were kids they hauled in 50 lb packs of gear and so as an adult they plan to do the same and they scoff at the gossamer thinness of some UL gear and think, "There's no way that would hold up". They want gear that won't fail, and they convey that message to the seller. The seller just wants to keep the customer happy, so they sell them what they "want" rather than educate them on UL. Assuming the seller knows anything about UL to start with.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Current conversations with JMT hikers on 08/21/2013 10:50:27 MDT Print View

Yes, but all that light stuff is sitting right by the stuff they buy.
They are ultimately making the choice. If anyone even wanted to look into lighting thier load, it doesn't take much to find out what to do anymore.

The ones who don't even try are the ones with the huge heavy packs.
Okay, so it's 80-90% of the ones out there.
Ignorance is bliss.

It seems obvious to me that the UL crowd is not getting the word out to enough people. Either that or there needs to be Ultralight gear shops popping up everywhere that can compete with REI or similar outfitters.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Current conversations with JMT hikers on 08/21/2013 12:13:38 MDT Print View

My experience has shown that the salespeople in most outfitters do talk people out of purchasing UL gear.

Time and time again I have had sales people try to talk me out of an item that was in stock, hidden on a corner shelf.
Insisting that I would be happier with much heavier item.

It may be because the markup is not as high on most UL gear and so they make less profit.

I know when I went to replace my shoes, I went to two different stores because they didn't have my style and/or size.

In both cases the sales people asked if I was going to wear them hiking. When I said yes, they insisted that I buy high-top waterproof boots instead of light trail runners.
Telling me that the lighter shoes are unsafe and that trail runners are only for paved or smooth gravel trails.

My wife went in to try on backpacks and was also looking at daypacks a few years back.
There were no UL packs in stock at any of the stores.
One store was a Golite dealer at the time, yet they didn't stock any of the Golite UL packs, only the heavier framed packs.
Even the Golite daypacks they stocked were the heaviest models. And this was when Golite were making the Ion.

When we asked about weight, they didn't know and didn't think it was important, blabbing about how heavier packs are more comfortable and all the usual sales crap.

I do want to support local businesses, but I am frustrated with the choice and the sales people and so usually order online.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: "Current conversations with JMT hikers" on 08/21/2013 21:21:29 MDT Print View

"I would think that the average outdoors store makes as much money or more on UL versions of gear than they do on heavy stuff."

Typically retailers look for a gross profit margin (GPM) across the board of XX%.

So lets say they want 40% GPM. They get this by multiplying Cost x 1.67.

Product #1 Cost = $200. Selling price = $200 x 1.67 = $334. Gross Profit = $134.

Product #2 Cost = $100. Selling price = $100 x 1.67 = $167. Gross Profit = $67.

Sometimes if they buy a large quantity of product on sale, they will lower the expected GPM because they can move it quickly and take in profit quicker.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
durability on 08/21/2013 22:07:22 MDT Print View

Many people are afraid that lighter gear will not hold up. They want rugged stuff, and when they handle the lighter gear it feels flimsy to them, so they stick with the bombproof stuff. Durability has always been a big selling point in the outdoor gear industry, and lighter gear is simply not going to be as durable unless it is made from more expensive stuff like Dyneema. Also, people like "features", features are easy to sell and features add weight.

Outdoor gear shops will sell anything that they can make money on. I've worked in both large(REI) and small shops in the past, and that was true for both. They may be conservative in trying new products, but if it moves off the shelf they will get more of it. Of course, it it's REI they want a LOT of it. They aren't going to carry something they can't stock in every store and order in large quantities, so the cottage makers aren't in the game.
And I do think they are going to be conservative in their recommendations. I think the assumption in a big store has to be that the customer is not knowledgeable or skilled - that is the safe assumption to make.

Another factor is that the store naturally wants to sell you as much gear as they can, since that's how they make money. Especially the small stuff - accessories. Not only do they make a bigger margin on accessories, but a lot of that stuff is consumable to a degree. So the salesperson is happy to sell you lots of nice widgets that sure seem handy but that all add weight to your pack.

Joseph Brody
Day Hike? on 08/23/2013 00:12:31 MDT Print View

That last 5 day trip I did. I was asked a lot, "Are you on a day hike?".

Some of the conversations turned into 45 min talks.

The thing that makes me cringe is seeing a pair shoes dangling from the outside of packs.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: "Current conversations with JMT hikers" on 09/02/2013 18:34:33 MDT Print View

Just got back from several days on the JMT, and I only saw one SUL person (guy with a tiny Cuben pack - dead giveaway!). Most people seemed to be med/lt backpackers (Osprey 60L packs seemed to be the "average"). But let's face it: the absolute requirement for bear canisters is a game changer. Unless you don't really eat (and I know some of you on BPL don't believe in bringing much food - but that's another thread), those 30L packs won't fit even a small Bearikade (much less a standard Bearvault or Garcia).
I don't think the JMT is a good place to "preach" about UL, because it's a "name brand" hike, thereby attracting all kinds of people who don't normally backpack (akin to a Grand Canyon "rim-to-rim"). If you really want to talk about minimalism, here's a shout-out to the NY-sounding guy who jogged up to the stone building on John Muir Pass in running shorts/t-shirt/running shoes, and was carrying only a small water bottle (not even so much as a snack!); or the two girls with teeny 3L Camelbacks who ran through LeConte canyon at 6am....
No question that most outdoor store employees are less knowledgeable that someone who ACTUALLY gets out there and DOES this stuff...and most people will just listen without researching for themselves. But money is also a big factor -- don't forget, a $100 sleeping bag is heavy, but cheap; a WM bag is light, but VERY pricey. Not everyone has the financial freedom to spend what's required for a "comfortable" UL set-up.
Anyway, I don't think this should be a competition. Everyone has different wants/needs/comfort levels, and at the risk of being a giant cliché factory: HYOH!