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SUL and UL: Seeking Converts
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Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 08:35:15 MDT Print View

I wanted to throw out the question of how to increase the number of SUL and UL users. What can the small manufactuers and/or individuals do to spread the word, educate and bring more converts to the Light?

I'm betting folks have some good ideas I've never thought of that span the range from individual gurellia tactics to things the SUL/UL cottage industry can do as a collective.

Perhaps the idea is one that is already known but needs focusing or a kick start to be more effective. Maybe it's an idea that needs to be planted now to get results 10 years down the line.

Think BIG and small ideas. No idea is too out there as it will add to the syneergy of creative thinking. Restating already existing ideas could also be helpful.
I have the perception that there are a lot of pople who would do more (or start) casual backpacking- an ocassional overnight or weekend on good trails- if they did not feel they would be pack mules or need to buy and carry so many items. Annyone else sense this?

Edited by mountainlaureldesigns on 06/28/2007 08:47:31 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 09:27:12 MDT Print View

For my part I demo UL products for free to retailers (actually buyers) here in Japan; UL is really not well known here, except by those few who have been doing it for years. This is an emerging market for UL, with the target audience being old people who want to continue their hobby into their senior years, and young people who want to go farther in a tight 48 hour weekend.

My goal is to create "informed advocates", a hundred voices out on the trail are of course better than one. First things I suggest are branding, differentiation, and buzz marketing. Make your logo prominent, and worthy of a high price, and get your target audience talking about it on the trail.
Thought about marketing your products here, Ron? Good place to start is the retail store ODBox.

Edited by Brett1234 on 06/28/2007 09:27:43 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 09:32:39 MDT Print View

An idea. Why not set up a demo station at a major trailhead that gets alot of foot trafffic. There are many in The Sierra's where you could set up a small table with all the gear needed for a 2 day 3 night trip. Show them the bivy, sleeping bag, tarp, etc. Show them how much their pack weighs and how much you kit weighs. Have literature on hand for those that are interested and with web addresses of the sites of major cottage manufacturers so that they can check out what is for sale.
Just a thought.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 09:40:56 MDT Print View

I think that the seminars that BPL and Andrew Skurka do are great at getting the word about UL out. I know a lot of people I talk to about UL backpacking think I'm crazy or being unsafe to go out with such little weight.
Like you said Ron, when most people thinking about backpacking they picture someone with a 5500 ci pack with stuff hanging off of it and the person carrying it sweating up a storm. If we could change that image to someone with a much smaller pack ambling down the trail enjoying the scenery it would make many people much more apt to try it.
I think one of the main reasons people have the previous image is from mainstream publications that recommend all this great stuff that you 'just have to have' in order to be comfortable or safe while hiking. The average person looking into starting backpacking is going to look for magazines or books to get an introduction, and unfortunately those are going to be sponsored by gear manufacturers that want you to buy their stuff. For the more tech savvy person looking into getting into backpacking, they will probably do a Google search for 'backpacking'. The first two pages on the list are followed by Fortunately for me, when I was getting started I chose, joined the forums, started with a moderate pack weight and worked down from there. In my time there I heard about other sites, like this one, and joined and learned even more about going even lighter.
I'm not sure of ways we can draw new backpackers in, but we can start with the one's we meet on the trail. Instead of blowing by people you meet and scoffing at their enormous packs, take a break with them and talk to them about their gear. Ask them how long they're going to be out and what they think about their gear. Then tell them about your gear. Not in a condescending 'Mine is better than yours' way, but let them know you've put a lot of thought into your gear and its what you are comfortable with. Maybe even pull some of your gear out and let them actually see your UL gear. Don't forget to mention this and other sites with information about UL backpacking as well.
Listening to a podcast with Glen Van Peski, he plays a dirty trick where he says "Wow that a nice looking pack you have there, mind if we switch for a little bit so I can see how it works?" Thus letting the unknowing soul carry his pack for awhile and see just how much more fun backpacking is if they aren't suffering the whole time.
Another thing we could do is get involved with the scouting programs or other organizations. We could teach the kids about UL backpacking so if nothing else, the next generation will have a different idea of what a backpacker looks like.
I don't know if any of these are good ideas or not, but I figured I would throw them out there.


Edit: Read on another forum about a guy carrying business cards to hand out to people he meets on the trail with activities he enjoys. Maybe the same thing could apply with UL, with websites and gear makers URLs. Something like
"Adam Rothermich
UL/SUL adventurer
Lists of websites:"

Edited by aroth87 on 06/28/2007 09:43:54 MDT.

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 09:44:16 MDT Print View

Great post Ron. I’ve been talking about this issue with so many friends lately, all of whom are interested in doing trips with me but for various reasons feel held back. There is still this perception that “its just a lot of gear to put together”, and that’s pretty daunting and of course financially discouraging. Add to that the perceived need for ‘extra skills’ in order to go light, and the notion of actually making a trip happen begins to seem even more remote. None of this is necessarily the way it has to be, of course, but I hear this from almost everyone.

For starters, a package deal would be cool: poncho tarp, sul pack, and synthetic bag w/ bugnet, all made VERY durably. (ime, cuben fiber and the like seem especially idiotic to the uninitiated, and maybe they have a point.) More generally, this endless consumerist chase about the latest and greatest gear has got to be down-played! Its just not resonant with the values we all profess that backpacking is about. I’ve received better responses from people by presenting a reasonably light ‘all-purpose’ kit that can take a person through a lot of places and conditions, rather than my getting all gushy about specialist gear, or strictly summer kits that just happen to meet an arbitrary weight limit.

Also there is a lot of gear-related disclaimers about proper use and it being the users responsibility to educate themselves; however if you don’t know a skilled UL’er already, its not exactly self-explanatory how to do that, and just browsing the forums is way insufficient. Understandably a lot of cottage manufacturers kind of pass the buck. So a package deal should include a concise, step-by-step treatise of sorts, just on how to get ’er done. As a first read I usually recommend Don Ladigins Lighten Up!, but something even more concise, and strictly oriented towards “how do I pitch this tarp, how do I pack this pack” is still lacking. Kind of an SUL Overnighter for Dummies pamphlet.

And I'll second the idea of an SUL Backpacking School or Retreat, which has been discussed here before.

Edited by PA_Jay on 06/28/2007 09:45:49 MDT.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 10:59:32 MDT Print View

I have the perception that there are a lot of pople who would do more (or start) casual backpacking- an ocassional overnight or weekend on good trails- if they did not feel they would be pack mules or need to buy and carry so many items. Annyone else sense this?
I don't. Not at all. I get the feeling that most folks backpack for social reasons, more than to "get out into the wilderness". And social backpacking is 6mpd with lots of comfy clothes, fancy meals and sitting around a campfire drinking boxed wine. In this scenario, pack weight isn't an issue.

Just the other day I was talking to my local outfitter, he mentioned that 80% of their customers aren't even aware of "on-line" resources for gear information. They walk-in with this year's backpacker gear guide and start buying. And they know their customers as they are opening another store on the other side of town.

We are the fringe of the fringe. We seem like a big group when we come together on-line, but we are not. The same is true for thru-hiker types. Any one doing more than 8-10 mpd is a fringe hiker. Anyone spending more than 4+ days on a trip is a fringe hiker. So, those of use that hike 20+ mpd for 5+ days are complete freaks in this industry.

I think gear cost (regardless of weight) vs the amount of use it will get, gear storage when not being used, how to get time off, who to go hiking with (no one hikes alone) are the biggest factors in getting more folks to hike.

Edited by tlbj6142 on 06/28/2007 11:33:39 MDT.

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 11:08:09 MDT Print View

A key way to enroll a consumer in a good or service is to establish emotional and intellectual relevancy of the product to the context of its use within the consumer's lifestyle. With that in mind, here are some ideas. This thread is, of course, addressing marketing as much as it is outreach and lifestyle, but this postulate still holds.

- The Web is still your best friend; almost everyone researches online before making a purchase, even if it's in a physical store.

- That said, nothing can top hands-on experience with a product. In-store demos, trailhead demos, speaking engagements, and friends sharing gear (all these have already been mentioned in this thread).

- Be sure to do demos, however, at events in adjacent or related areas. Kayak companies regularly have open paddlefests for users to try their toruing products; that's a great place for an UL/SUL manufacturer to show up. Ditto for hunting events, rock climbing events, endurance atheletic events...the list can be quite long.

- Consider other non-traditional channels of communication. Since many UL/SUL advocates talk about how much easier backpacking becomes on the body, what about speaking to those in physical therapy for injuries, or through sites or groups who support such recovery? Many who need PT live active lifestyles - that's why they got injured in the first place - so the appeal would be clear.

- Sponsorships can be expensive, but think beyond just individual or athlete sponsorships. How much would it be worth to have FuelTV on-air personalities wearing stuff with your logo on it, for the cost of a handful of products?

- Equipment rentals have a huge impact on future purchase patterns. UL/SUL may not hold up that well for rental usage, but certainly some kinds of gear could. Reaching out to local rental outdoor outfitters could be an interesting take on things.

- Mainstream outdoor retailers and manufacturers go to great lengths to justify the increasing price points of their products by extolling the technologies used in them. This is a big advantage that cottage manufacturers have; outdoor pro's are certainly aware that the most exciting innovations are coming from the small shops and gearmakers, but the mainstream needs to know this as well.

- Tell the story. This is where BPL is gaining ground: not just reviewing the gear, but telling the stories surrounding its use and inspiring others to buy in (literally) and test their own limits. Aspirational marketing 101. Compelling content, in this way, can absolutely help increase customer conversion, general interest in UL/SUL techniques, and get more people in the wilderness more often, hopefully "haloing" efforts like conservations and LNT ethics.

- Finally, I think it's fun and helpful to aim for nothing less than ubiquity; anywhere an outdoors enthusiast turns, there should be UL/SUL alternatives to their gear and techniques, in the mainstream or on the fringe. That's a lofty goal (down pun not intended!), but one that will help to set strategy and tactics to reach farther than if one's goals are more modest.

I've been running the creative department of the agency that runs for seven years (tomorrow is my last day!), so I've been steeped in this kind of thing for a while. If Ron, or anyone, wants to dive deep into this kind of topic, I'm taking July off and therefore can spare a lot of time to chat more at backpacking(at)atomick(dot)net.

Edited by atomick on 06/28/2007 11:10:40 MDT.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 11:19:33 MDT Print View

- The Web is still your best friend; almost everyone researches online before making a purchase, even if it's in a physical store.
I use to think this was true, but it is not. At least not in this industry. I am constantly amazed at how many hikers/backpackers I meet and talk with that don't even consider going online to find information. They seem to "learn" everything from friends and/or friend of their friends, magazines and/or their local outfitters.

In larger part I think this is mostly an age issue. As it seems as though most casual backpackers are older (say 45+). I'm 38, but then I've been doing the "online thing" forever (use to work for CompuServe before Al Gore invented the Internet).

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
SUL/UL "conversions" on 06/28/2007 11:55:38 MDT Print View

Hire Apple's marketing dept. Geniuses, all.
Sponserships (in the form of free equipment---something most cottage industries could do to at least a small degree) and paid "evangelists" such as are employed by Patagonia and Black Diamond have been effective at targeted niche audiences. Of course most small SUL/UL focussed companies probably couldn't do the latter ( although, from all accounts, Ryan Jordan and Coup have been waving the flag pretty effectively) but as a Industry Assoc., maybe such a approach could be entertained.

I know many a Mountain Shop in the West that hasn't had as much as a single clinic on UL backpacking. I might, myself, do a clinic in the future at my favorite local brick and mortar establishment. I've done some staff education...

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 14:31:41 MDT Print View

Get some trail divas to model the gear? If it's good enough for warmlite, it's good enough for ultralite.

Edited by jshann on 06/28/2007 14:55:35 MDT.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 14:31:49 MDT Print View

Ron, one place to start selling SUL and UL backpacking is in Scouting.

Adult Scout leaders are busy people focused on delivering a values based program. I am one. Many Scouters that I know are interested in ideas to make backpacking more fun for the boys and easier for the adults. I think UL is a great tool. The guys in our troop are enjoying the basic ideas of lighter weight gear and techniques.

So, my idea is a clinic for Scout troops planning for a Philmont trek. There's some research required with those backpackers that have successfully used UL techniques there. I think there is an interest for this message across the country every year.

The message in this clinic isn't a generic UL/SUL story. It will have to conform to the specific requirements for Philmont -- groups of 7-12 hikers sharing kitchen gear and food, meeting certain safety requirements, and accommodating specific shelter requirements. Gear cost is a bit more of a constraint for boys. UL backpacking works for Scouts.

As for a long term benefit, most all these Scouts grow up. Many will be long term consumers of outdoor gear.

But there are bigger objectives too. Helping these young folks have a positive and fun experience in the wilderness is essential to the goals of BSA. It also helps sell Scouts and Scouters on the value of the wilderness.

Edited by flyfast on 06/28/2007 14:32:47 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Seduce the audience? on 06/28/2007 14:42:21 MDT Print View

Oh, yes---trail Divas and Divos (?!) are a must. UL Glamour would work wonders. :-)>

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Seduce the audience? on 06/28/2007 14:58:12 MDT Print View there's a market niche, especially since the cuben fiber ponchos are basically see-thru anyway.

Not that a similar aesthetic did much good for the old Warmlite site. :)

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
UL Naughty Pictures on 06/28/2007 15:06:09 MDT Print View

Re. Stephenson ---I thought it did..... >:-)> ... in it's time.

Edited by kdesign on 06/28/2007 15:06:39 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Seduce the audience? on 06/28/2007 15:21:46 MDT Print View

Well, there is a big duh ;-) I always take a better looking female with me to shows. Gets the men in ;-) Booth babes are a staple! So are hot booth boys :-D Mountain Hardwear has those.....


Seriously though, I talk lightweight backpacking whenever I can. When I do presentations, that is a big soap box spiel of mine, of how you can cut back weight in your kitchen, which helps you learn to lighten your load overall. Over the years I have gotten a number of emails from people I have met or came to my site, and came back changed. Maybe they didn't go SUL, but they did start lightening their packs :-)

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 17:47:35 MDT Print View

I know you're looking for solutions but the problems that exist to create a solution are not what the general crowd needs.
I've discussed with someone who wasn't happy with his hiking socks due to blisters to try injinji's. I told him I've run over a 100 miles strait with them and did not even get a hot-spot with them.
His reply was that they would take up too much room in between his toes that it would not work.
When mentioned that it wouldn't, the answer was that they would take too long to put on.
I just left wondering why in the heck he was complaining in the first place if he wasn't willing to take in information to make it better.

Most of the general hiking population is like this.
They can't switch pads because there's actually not enough room in there bazzilion cubic in pack.
They can't get their packs down in the millions because they would have to get another sleeping bag.
They will never wear lighter hiking boots or even trail runners because there packs weigh too much.

It's a no-win no-win situation because the hiker has to take many big steps all at once in order to be comfortable enough to make it work. This costs a lot of money.

I fell that in order to convert and convince someone that it can work that they would have to take someone else’s gear out with an U/L'er to show them it works.
Then that person would have to buy everything they would need before they went out on there next hike.
In reality, this doesn't work.

Sorry about just going around in a big circle, but thi is really what it's like to try to get someone over to the dark side.

Edited by awsorensen on 06/28/2007 17:49:58 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: SUL and UL: Seeking Converts on 06/28/2007 17:55:03 MDT Print View

Whenever I hike I tend to socialize quite a bit. I notice people looking at my pack (GG Vapor Trail or a ULA Conduit) and I notice that they are looking at my pack in disbelief and then I try to explain my hiking system. I get some strange looks but when I let someone pick up my pack the looks on their face are priceless. I always try to tell other hikers of websites to look at and that anyone can do it. If it makes a small difference then cool. Most of the time I think other hikers think I am crazy. Oh well.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Seeking converts....Create the rituals first :-P on 06/28/2007 18:13:22 MDT Print View

Is there an initiation ceremony that needs to be adopted? Something ecunemical? Clip something off? Immerse in a liquid (Single Malt Scotch=my choice)? Or something involving flames (see relapse section)?

Gotta add drama and a decided public act of contritive severance from the unenlightened old ways.

Will it be recognized by the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox wings of the UL movement, alike?

Finally, what to do with people who relapse? Live and let live, Excommunication, or death by stoning?

Oh,yes----who gets to be Pope (Big Kahuna, Arch Druid, shady Charismatic Tele-evangelist, etc.)?

Edited by kdesign on 06/28/2007 18:14:29 MDT.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Seeking converts....Create the rituals first :-P on 06/28/2007 18:30:20 MDT Print View

I'd be down for trying some Scotch.
For the initiation ceremony would could toss the new members onto the trail with a 5 lbs base load to prove they will survive and be comfortable with that little weight.
As for the fire, how about singeing of the knuckle while lighting an alcohol stove?
Picking a leader might be more difficult... We may end up breaking into factions if we can't agree. Maybe the better decision would to have a group of leaders with people like Dr. J, Glen, Ron, and the like.


Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Seeking converts....Create the rituals first :-P on 06/28/2007 18:56:00 MDT Print View

But this doesn't really hit the masses.
I'll second the scotch though.