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Should BPL go metric?
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Tony Beasley
(tbeasley) - MLife

Locale: Pigeon House Mt from the Castle
Should BPL go metric? on 08/03/2007 21:56:51 MDT Print View

I am getting frustrated at the different measuring standards (volume, mass and Temperature) being used on BPL.

BPL is an International Magazine and the International Metric measuring system (SI) should be used.

I would be easy for BPL to insist that all of the articles, features and reviews were only in metric and for BPL to encouraged forum users to use metric. SI is not a hard system to learn or use or understand.

An example: on a recent forum alcohol vs canister debate two very interesting Graphs were posted comparing the same type of data, one used metric mL and the other in US pint measurement and I found it difficult to compare the two graphs.

Many other forum postings use cups. A quick search of the net about Cup (unit) found 2 US cup sizes 240 mL (current legal definition) and 237 mL (customary definition), 2 main metric cup sizes 250 mL (Australian, New Zealand and Canada) 200 mL (Japanese). An Imperial cup is 10 Imperial fluid ounces.???????


Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Probably on 08/03/2007 22:31:10 MDT Print View

You're right, it's not that hard to learn, and a heck of a lot easier to translate between units. What is difficult is the hysteresis in the system: There is a fair amount gear still in English units. For the sake of argument, it's unlikely I'm going to start calling my Marmot 'Pounder' in metric units?

Anyone want to buy my Marmot five elevenths of a Kilogram?

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Yes, it should go metric on 08/03/2007 22:42:49 MDT Print View

But you could by the US REI sub KILO..

Jesse Glover
(hellbillylarry) - F

Locale: southern appalachians
Because of the metric system on 08/04/2007 07:10:36 MDT Print View

How about just calling it the Marmot royale with cheese?

Edited by hellbillylarry on 08/04/2007 09:37:52 MDT.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Why not both? on 08/04/2007 10:43:14 MDT Print View

For an American, I'm pretty familiar and comfortable with the metric system. I used it extensively as a Marine, particularly in NATO operations. I work as a science and math teacher now and teach it regularly.

However, even I have to stop and think occasionally when I hear metric terms, especially temps. I can mentally convert 15 C to 60 F, but I don't think of 15 and 60 interchangeably the way I do of 1 meter and a yard and 10% more. And as I said, I am not the average American (or Brit for that matter).

While the scientific community uses metric, this site exists specifically to serve a community of recreationalists. When I tell someone here in the States that a pack is 45 L, it means next to nothing to them. I have to convert the volume to cubic inches. If pack weights were stated in kilograms, most folks would ask what was the weight in pounds and ounces.

Most of the members on this site are Americans, and America is not going to convert to the metric system in our lifetime, if ever. Hardware stores still sell lumber and other items in feet, gas and milk are sold in gallons, quarts, pints, and half pints (which by the way is a cup on this site, consisting of 8 fluid ounces or 236.59 ml). I think it would be a grave disservice to the majority of members on this site to discontinue use of imperial units. It would effectively say that their culture and upbringing was not "good enough".

Conversely, for this same reason, I would support giving BOTH metric and imperial measurements in formal articles. This has become standard in many places and would be an important asset for Canadian and overseas members. It would probably be a good idea to encourage such practices (though not require it) in reader reviews as well, perhaps with a link to a converter program such as:

It's not rocket science. But if we're looking to list only metric units, perhaps we should also insist on writing all articles in Pig Latin. Sure it's not hard to convert it, but it would get annoying very quickly.

Edited by Bearpaw on 08/04/2007 10:45:39 MDT.

Siegmund Beimfohr
(SigBeimfohr) - M
Re: Why not both? on 08/04/2007 10:59:15 MDT Print View

Shawn, I agree. I find myself constantly converting in one direction or the other in order to properly compare items. I keep a conversion program handy on my desktop and use it frequently. Using both systems in published product specs would be a big help.

The free CONVERT.EXE program (no installation required) is available at:

Fred eric
(Fre49) - MLife

Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
brazil brazil :) on 08/04/2007 11:20:04 MDT Print View

CHARLIE : Bloody typical, they've gone back to metric without telling us


Screenplay by

Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
US climbers went metric and we can too. on 08/04/2007 21:34:54 MDT Print View

Shawn, you mention a good point about conveying information, which is to format the information for the audience. I wouldn't use calculus when describing a solution if my audience did not know it. But the metric system is drop dead simple and takes a very short time to understand. We can not force customers coming into a shop to use the metric system, they might not even understand the imperial system; but a motivated and curious person who wants to access more of the wealth of information on the international web would be well served by understanding the metric system as well as the imperial system.

One tip about conversions; they are easier if you don't do them. For example, realize that a 10 gram-of-fuel boil of 500ml is great without having to convert it.

There IS a current example of an entire American recreational sport going metric; the climbing community. Even beanie wearing boulderers know what a size their one liter Nalgene is, and ropes and hardware use KNs, milimeters, and meters. For a climber studying impact forces, the algebra involved in things like F=ma is simpler in the metric system.

I would encourage anyone who bothered to read this thread who does not yet know the metric system to jump over to wikipedia etc.. and become conversant in both systems.

When quoting specs in a post I would probably stick with the original units, and when making my own analysis I would probably use metric for the ease of calculations (everything is base-10).

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
A cultural frame of reference. on 08/05/2007 00:05:41 MDT Print View


I think you'd be hard pressed to make a case that American climbers have truly gone over to the metric system. For most, they're carry ropes measuring 165 ft, not 50 meters. Typically only those concerning themselves with rigging rescue systems are ever going to delve heavily into many of the load-bearing elements dealing with force, so they don't spend much time on a crag with figuring force. They walk a certain number of miles to the crag, not kilometers or meters. The temp will be 87 F, not 30 C, and their pack will weigh x number of pounds, not kilograms. Customary units are their natural frame of reference.

I think it's worth noting that when Mr. Beasely began this thread, he was concerned about an article which used both metric and imperial/customary units. He explained that he was confused and began stating his case to rid BPL of imperial units because they were confusing, and he insisted that the publication should use metric only. Of course imperial units can be confusing if he didn't grow up using them and doesn't have a frame of reference for them.

But the just the opposite can be said for Americans. Most would have to take your word that 10 grams of fuel is great efficiency for boiling 500 ml of water, because we just don't measure liquids with those units very often. But they would agree that 1/3 of an ounce for a pint or 2 cups is very good because they immediately know each of these. To make sense, in real terms of our frame of reference, we would have to convert, as painful as it may seem to Mr. Beasley.

My concern is that if Mr. Beasley is confused when BOTH systems are used, how can he possibly justify suggesting elimination of one when the MAJORITY of members here use the one he objects to? If an American suggested we do away with any reference to metric units on this site, there would likely be a backlash from international users. Well, I'm here to say that I find Mr. Beasley's suggestion quite preposterous and a bit offensive.

I agree that the metric system is easy to convert from ml to grams to cc's. But I don't think it should be used to the exclusion of imperial units when MOST of the people who pay their money to find out about recreational gear on this site use imperial units. Talk about Americans converting to SI in their daily life is a pipe dream, and culturally those who say it's easy to change just don't get it.

Tony Beasley
(tbeasley) - MLife

Locale: Pigeon House Mt from the Castle
re:A cultural frame of reference. on 08/05/2007 01:37:26 MDT Print View

Thanks to all for your comments.

For your information Shawn, I grew up with and I understand the Imperial (UK) system and I still sometimes have to use it, I am not familiar with the US volume system which use the same names as the Imperial (UK) system but has different values, 500 millilitres is 500 millilitres all over the world where a Pint, cup and fluid ounce is not, and an ounce can also be an ounce by weight.

If I posted that I used 1 oz of fuel to boil 2 cups of water, would you be confident that you knew what volume measurement system I was using or am I using oz weight.

SI is an International Standard set up to solve this problem.

Water at sea level freezes at 0C and boils at 100C what is simpler than that.


Edited by tbeasley on 08/05/2007 04:59:04 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Should BPL go metric? on 08/05/2007 07:28:24 MDT Print View

Shawn, thank you for that considered reply. We totally agree on the theory that Americans will not convert to SI in our lifetime. Maybe we disagree whether they should, because I would like to see it.
Maybe similar resistance was encountered when much of Europe went to the Euro currency? A rich cultural heritage of monetary history was given up for conformity. Jeez, even the French did it! But it happened.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Should BPL go metric? on 08/05/2007 07:49:36 MDT Print View


Just to show you how slow the US and Americans are to changing from US/Imperial to metric measurements: I completed my Masters Thesis in Geology in 1987 (gee is it 20 years already???). For the whole thesis, all the data and discussions were presented in both systems. Things are still being conducted and presented in the US in the US/Imperial system 20 years after completion of my work.


Edited by naturephoto1 on 08/05/2007 07:51:40 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Should BPL go metric? on 08/05/2007 08:17:39 MDT Print View

Yeah...what was it...1984? I was 11 years old and I remember my teacher "in the near future our whole country will be going over to the Metric system! We must be prepared!".

And it is what, 2007 now? feelings on the Metric system is the same as for those flying cars I was promised back then. In other words, I am not holding my breath and waiting for it to happen ;-P

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Every other country gave up something to go metric on 08/05/2007 08:49:24 MDT Print View

Many Americans (other than me) think going metric is such a sacrifice. We all realize that every culture that went metric gave up their own domestic measuring system for SI, right? And they all dealt with the hassle of converting historical data.
For example here in Japan there was a convoluted measuring system which had for example, 'shaku' and 'suun' for long and short measurements, and 'jo' for floor space. They switched to SI, but kept a dual-system for some things like that 'jo' (the size of one tatami mat). As you might expect, even the tatami mat was not standardized, with ones from the south being a different size than ones from the north. So a '6-jo' room still means slightly different things to different people, but the 'square meters' representation of the entire apartment is clear.
I think this thread will not settle anything; if a particular site considers itself international enough, it will set a dual-standard or go metric. We can each express our preferences by the data we post.

Fred eric
(Fre49) - MLife

Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
twelve pints on 08/05/2007 10:44:47 MDT Print View

I had to learn imperials when i started to play Dungeon and Dragons in 1981 so for me they are associated with fun :)

And "pint" always reminds me of the day i ordered "two half pint " in a pub
the guy thought i said "twelve pints" due to my terrible english pronounciation.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Re: Should BPL go metric? on 08/05/2007 11:07:01 MDT Print View

I don't care one way or another whether BPL goes metric. Being in an engineering school I get a healthy dose of metric mixed in with my standard. In fact most everything I do in my EE classes is in metric. (Kiloohms, milliamps, meagwatts, etc) so I have a good feel for both systems. I do kind of prefer metric since it is much easier to convert from kilometers to meters than from miles to feet. Unfortunately when it comes to distances and volumes my mind still thinks in standard. I have a much better feel for how far a mile is or how much a gallon is. Nalgene has helped me along in that, since the bottles are marked for both systems. In any case whether BPL, or the US for that matter, go metric it makes no difference for me. Either way I still get usable specs. And if I'm not sure, Google is a click away to convert to a more familiar measurement.


Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
No argument with your logic on 08/05/2007 11:15:18 MDT Print View


I don't argue the points you make. As I said before, I find the metric system easier to convert within its own system than customary units. It IS taught in U. S. schools, in EVERY school (so far as I know) at multiple points in a student's education. If they used it in every day life, they would retain it, and it would be natural just like using a foreign lannguage. But, like a foreign language, when they don't use it, it becomes just a bit of theory that gets filed away and becomes dusty/rusty.

If the U. S. government said you WILL convert, in 60-70 years the U. S. would be a metric country, once the generations that grew up with customary units had passed on. (Much the same was the case with Japan, which took 78 years to fully integrate, and the crucible of WWII I suspect helped the population to adapt more quickly than our country might.)

But the likelihood that the U. S. government will pass laws changing our system of measurement is very small. In international business, we DO use metrics. But in day to day life, the will of the people just wouldn't tolerate it. For many, tradition is worth a bit of reduced efficiency.

And the inefficiency is not of a degree that some might imagine. In the tire factory where I worked for a little over a year, tire parts were measured in tenths of an inch. When set for overseas companies, we still used tenths of an inch. The truth is that the tolerance in building a tire is enough that we could use a tenth of an inch (= 2.54 ml) for the internal parts (belts, ply, chafer, etc) and produce a tire that converted, after curing, to metric units and international tolerance with no problems or issues of consistency.

As for fluid ounces having different values, a US fluid ounce measures out to 28.41 ml, a UK fluid ounce to 29.57 ml. In a chemistry lab, this difference might make a miniscule difference if compounded in to many many gallons. But not nearly as likely as you might think. And when measuring fuel for testing an alky stove in a garage, 1.16 ml is the amount that might be accidently left on the threads of the bottle. It might be noticeable with a graduated cyclinder, but not in the real world. In the backcountry, with the measuring devices used (such as a nalgene or lines scratched into a mug or bottle), the difference for practical purposes between a US fluid ounce and UK fluid ounce is nil.

Americans use the metric system when they have to. But in daily life, we simply don't have to.

My principle point in this discussion is that I strongly disagree that we should do away with customary units ON THIS SITE. I support the idea of dual listing of measurements, both American and SI. As a sign of my sincerity, I'll gladly include a metric equivalent with US units whenever I give a measurement in my postings. (And you may have noticed that in my couple of hundreds posts that I already respond to international users by giving metric units out of courtesy.) I just hope this discussion raises an awareness that among many Americans (though not all of course - Americans aren't completely united on any thing), this is a very serious cultural issue. Measurements should be listed in both systems.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Metric and standard- aren't we doing both? on 08/05/2007 14:15:26 MDT Print View

Hello everyone,

Good discussion here but I'm a little confused- aren't we already doing both? I've been writing and reviewing for BackpackingLight for years now and even my very first review back in '02 had all stats in both measurement systems. One of the first things I mastered here was the use of

Is there something I'm missing? We cater to a readership with two different systems, obviously, and I was under the impressiont that we were doing this quite well, at least in our reviews. However, I do see that in the Gear shop there are many standard-only measurements...

Some things are typically metric only as well, such as the fact that all of my pole lengths are typically stated as cm only.

Wouldn't one system be nice? I sure wish the US were metric. It would sure save a lot of work and hassle!


Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
The issue is EXCLUSION of standard units on 08/05/2007 14:55:42 MDT Print View

Doug, you asked:

"Good discussion here but I'm a little confused- aren't we already doing both? ....Is there something I'm missing?"

For me, the issue goes back to Tony Beasley's original post:

"I am getting frustrated at the different measuring standards (volume, mass and Temperature) being used on BPL....

...would be easy for BPL to insist that all of the articles, features and reviews were ONLY in metric... ["only" capitalized by me for emphasis]

...An example: on a recent forum alcohol vs canister debate two very interesting Graphs were posted comparing the same type of data, one used metric mL and the other in US pint measurement and I found it difficult to compare the two graphs."

The point I take issue with is not whether BPL should publish data in metric units. Mr. Beasley clearly states that the article he referred to DID use metric data. His case, to which I think many BPL members would object is that he feels BPL should use metric ONLY and NOT use customary/imperial units at all. I find this to be very short-sighted at best, and somewhat rude, considering that the majority of subscribers to BPL are Americans who would be inconvenienced if ounces, pounds, cups, pints, miles, and inches suddenly disappeared from all articles.

Mr. Beasley seemed confident that we would all be better off WITHOUT US units. Apparently UL should now be defined as a base weight of less than 4.545 Kg. I felt compelled to offer an honest counterpoint, in which both systems were respected and used. It's the OP's proposal to do away with customary units entirely that I find objectionable, and I believe this is the point you may have missed Doug. I appreciate your concern.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Should BPL go metric? on 08/05/2007 15:17:36 MDT Print View

For the average American the metric system is what scientist use because of the international nature of it. But most Americans arnt scientist, when you grow up with a system your judgemnt and how you precieve the world is measured by it.
The metric might just be another system in most cases- as good or better than any other(pounds,volume ect.), but in some instances I think the "English" is better. Im talking about how much of it is based on the "human" scale,
- a mile is about 1000 paces ( add 280 feet because of farm equipment)
- a foot is a few inches more than the average mans foot ( because the king was bigger than the average man of course)
- hold your thumb and fore finger comfortably apart in a relaxed position and theres your inch.
In reality congress is so busy stealing and wasting or money that they will never bother with the huge unpopular project of a national conversion- its just not going to happen.