Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack
Display Avatars Sort By:
Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack on 04/01/2014 22:46:57 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Typo on 04/02/2014 07:39:35 MDT Print View

The above should read that the RayWay strap padding in 5/8" thick.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack on 04/02/2014 08:08:32 MDT Print View

Great article and interesting thought about Ray's physiology (shoulder musculature) playing a role in his choosing a hipbelt less pack design for plain old backpacking. Think others could go without a hip belt with less weight but there's always that 'bounce'.

Add I remember from Ray Jardine's PCT guide, him writing about hiking along with just one shoulder strap for awhile as a mental picture.

Edited by hknewman on 04/02/2014 08:30:53 MDT.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack on 04/02/2014 11:12:01 MDT Print View

Great article David. It has been interesting to watch this transformation both in cottage products and in the BPL forums. The mantra 5 yrs ago was to put up with a little (or a lot!) of discomfort to save 8oz in a pack, but I rarely see that philosophy anymore.

Ryan

Tony Ronco
(tr-browsing) - MLife
"The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/02/2014 12:57:30 MDT Print View

Just a few tid-bits to add to this narrative:

The historical antecedents of a Ray-Way pack can be found decades before Ray popularized it. Packs such as the sew-it-yourself Atom-Wate pack or the Litepac . Both packs were sans hipbelt, both were labeled ultralight. By the way Litepac also had a sew-it-yourself tarp.

The packs that Chuck Kennedy and Fred Williams made for themselves in their Superlight Challenge are much more in line with the more "current" modern thought (and were lighter weight). That was published 10 years before (in 1982) than Jardine's first book (1992). By the way for a sleeping system, Kennedy used a top quilt that zipped into a bottom sleeping pad.

About the same time in 1982 on the commercial offering front, Alpenlite re-branded itself as AlpenLITE and introduced its Superlight Pack Series models that ranged in weight from 10 oz to 24 oz ... models that corresponded to a max carrying capacity of 10 lbs to 30 lbs, with the heaver model having more carrying capacity because of its internal laminated frame to effect hip transfer. Those models have a definite place in the genealogy of modern ultralight packs.

- RE: "Ray Jardine made the first RayWay packs in 1992, for a 1993 Appalachian Trail thruhike1Photos of Ray and Jenny Jardine’s 1993 packs look remarkably like a traditional alpine rucksack: the drawcord top, dual side compression straps ... These packs even had a hipbelt and dual stays"

Just a clarification - Ray didn't make those particular packs. If you read his PCT Hikers Handbook a little more carefully, you'll see those packs were actually commercially sourced internal frames that he "cut and whack" down. He outlines his recommendations of what to do in the Equipment Chapter. Many reflected Jardine's climbing background as many of his recommendation were standard de rigueur for shaving down pack weight (such as eliminating the pack lid). The clearest picture of that pack is where he has on that light blue Campmor Gore-Tex parka.

Ray Jardine was brilliant to market to a group of motivated early adopters (PCT Hikers) among who, he had creditability due to his thru-hiking accomplishments. Later, the ADZPCTKO became a perfect venue to continue the movement among early adopters and served as a starting point to close the gap for the early majority in the backpacking community. Golite also played a critically important role by adopting Ray's designs and then marketing them to the general public. Their efforts (Coup & Kim Coupounas, Golite's founders) were key in raising general awareness about going ultralight to the general backpacking community (and of course, their efforts also raised the awareness of Ray too)

Ray was definitely a driving force in bringing back & promoting self sufficiency. He also had neat design innovations for old school approaches such as all mesh packets on his packs (instead of partial mesh or all fabric pockets; moving the poles to support his tarps outside of the tarp beaks WITHOUT the use of a ridge guyline. And one of his biggest accomplishments of all, was him bringing back quilts as a legitimately viable alternative sleeping system for backpacking (almost 50 years past their "death knell" ... heck, he even made it with yarn ties just like gramma would have done, but utilized Polarguard as an updated innovation). Got to give him both respect and his due! What he's done is impressive. (... But with that said, historically he still was not the genesis of modern ultralight packs).

EDIT: In terms of quilt like designs, it should be acknowledged that there were several designs available on the market that both predate Ray and showed quilt influences. Chuck Kennedy's company Down Home (as mentioned above) produced a system that basically was a top quilt zipped to a bottom pad (with an available modular hood). Marmot also had their Grouse bag which could zipped open like a quilt, then zipped into their Couplet bottom sheet to serve as a couple's top quilt like sleeping system. My wife and I used a modified version of of the Grouse/Couplet system for a long time ... I modified it by remaking the Marmot bottom sheet into a all synthetic sheet (instead of a cotton/poly material that it originally was made of) and added a few obvious features to help with better draft control. But never-the-less, even with all that acknowledged, it was Ray, who was the one went all the way and revived the old school, simple, no bottom sheet quilt for a viable back country sleeping system.

Edited by tr-browsing on 04/07/2014 12:26:42 MDT.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: "The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/02/2014 19:02:59 MDT Print View

Great link Tony.

Regarding the Ray-Way, my thinking is that he "popularized" ultralight backpacking. Before he did his thru hikes, I saw references to Ultimate Direction in BP mag doing fastbacks in the 80's. Then Grandma Gatewood and Earl Shaffer for minimalistic gear on the AT up to and into the 1960's. BP did a page w/photos on the latter - showed an old Army ruck sans frame, but here's an article after he passed (link - gear talk spread throughout article)

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/12/us/earl-shaffer-first-hike-length-appalachian-trail-both-directions-dies-83.html

ADD I did not get interested in backpacking until Dec 1995, era of the "bombproof" gear.

Edited by hknewman on 04/02/2014 21:33:19 MDT.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: AlpenLITE Superlight packs on 04/02/2014 21:14:19 MDT Print View

Alpenlite re-branded itself as AlpenLITE and introduced its Superlight Pack Series models that ranged in weight from 10 oz to 24 oz

My all-time favorite pack was the 24 oz AlpenLITE pack. Just big enough, just enough features, comfortable with 30 pounds ... And not a gram of silnylon, cuben, or titanium to be found. Just great design.

Too bad various parts rotted and fell off after 30 years. I had to throw it away.

Lots of mainstream lightweight backpacking equipment was available in the early 1980s, then vanished.

Ray Jardine helped bring it back.

Thanks, Ray.

-- Rex

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: AlpenLITE Superlight packs on 04/02/2014 21:24:44 MDT Print View

Rex, I had three models of their packs. The little one was about 1500 cubic inches. The medium one was maybe 2400 cubic inches. The big one was about 3000 cubic inches. That was good stuff.

--B.G.--

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Does this author hate Z-Packs? on 04/02/2014 21:55:33 MDT Print View

This author,in multiple articles, seems bound and dtermined to deny the existence of Zpacks. Is he at war with them? Or are they financial competition?
"Disclaimer: The author enjoys a non-renumerative relationship with both Seek Outside and Gossamer Gear in product development and as an ambassador." Maybe it's because the Arc Blast blows all of the authors home-made packs, and the packs he mentions here, out of the water.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Does this Author Hate Zpacks on 04/02/2014 22:09:37 MDT Print View

David has only been a Gossamer Gear ambassador for a short while. He was using rugged packs way before that. The arc blast is definitely a cool design but its not the most durable in the world according to multiple users. For the kind of trips he does this would be a concern. I've worn out packs made of more durably material then the arc blast and I don't get out as much as David does.

Edited by Cameron on 04/02/2014 22:11:07 MDT.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: Does this author hate Z-Packs? on 04/02/2014 23:22:09 MDT Print View

"Maybe it's because the Arc Blast blows all of the authors home-made packs, and the packs he mentions here, out of the water."

April Fools was yesterday.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
cheese and rice! on 04/03/2014 06:21:56 MDT Print View

(Better than my usual religious based expletive)

Not mentioning a brand does not imply hate.

There are so many cottage gear makers now. Unless you collect gear as your hobby [1] or get lots of gear sent your way it is impossible to use every brand and model. And if you are blessed getting so much gear, how effective is the testing, really? :)

In any case, seems a rather sharp barb and accusation for what was an overview article and not really gear specific.


[1] Seems there are many people who collect gear as their hobby first. :D

Edited by PaulMags on 04/03/2014 06:22:56 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Does this author hate Z-Packs? on 04/03/2014 07:15:18 MDT Print View

Robert, I've seen very few Zpacks products first hand. As Luke mentions, their design priorities don't mesh well with my own. The Arc Blast looks like a cool pack, but as a consumer I hesitate to spend so much on something I fear I'd break, and as a reviewer I'd struggle to do it justice.

I mentioned Golite here for obvious historical reasons. I mentioned Gossamer Gear because the BPL archives have more GGear reviews than any other, and thus it made the most compelling example by a wide margin.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: "The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/03/2014 07:22:29 MDT Print View

Excellent post Tony.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: "The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/03/2014 07:56:29 MDT Print View

Tony, that Litepac catalogue is very cool. Thanks.

Beyond RayWay the trail gets very diffuse, and the print evidence even thinner. That '82 Backpacker article is about the only thing I could dig up from that decade. It would be great to tell the tale of how those products lost favor, but I couldn't get enough sources. It doesn't help that my own recollection of gear trends begin in the early 90s.

Tony Ronco
(tr-browsing) - MLife
RE: "The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/03/2014 10:25:03 MDT Print View

- RE: "Beyond RayWay the trail gets very diffuse, and the print evidence even thinner."

David, you mean the google trail becomes thinner (*smile*)

Actually, there were many print articles from that time.
Some of the ones that influenced me more were are earlier Backpacker articles by Chuck Kennedy, and the earlier Backpacker article done on Fred Williams. Even early than that, Doug Robinson wrote some great advice on going light (more aimed towards cross-country skiing), and a while later Bela Vadasz wrote a fantastic article on going light (aimed more toward back-country climbing).

There is a BPL thread on Marlyn Doan's "Hiking Light" book (1982)

My Scoutmaster (who helped launch me down this path) was heavily influenced by Albert Saijo's book "The Backpacker" in 1972. The author was kind of an Eco-Buddhist in promoting this as a lifestyle and avoiding woodcraft (among other things): "The only way to break this cycle is to begin thinking in terms of an ultra-light wilderness style … And ultra-light comes to mean not only cutting back on the load, but also treading light on the wilderness, thus helping to preserve it”

For history students David Brower's "Going Light with Backpack or Burro" (Burro?? LOL) never the less, the book had many of the concepts (yup, the author is the Sierra Club's David Brower - one and the same)

Of course there were the writings of Horace Kephar (1906) the weights of his big three: Backpack = 2 lbs, 3 oz; Sleeping = 3 lbs: Shelter = 2 lbs, 4 oz
(of course back then, there was a lot of woodcraft included too)

While she didn't publish any articles, Emma "Grandma" Gatewood (as previous mentioned in this thread), was a pioneer for being the first woman to thru-hike the AT back in 1956.

- RE:"It would be great to tell the tale of how those products lost favor"

For AlpenLITE, their driving force (and a market force) was Don Douglass who an ultralight promoter that (among other things) set a speed record for the JMT because of going ultralight ... anyway, he decided to leave the business and sail around the world (which was a disastrous trip - but its a good read). The company lost its rudder when he left (to add an nautical analogy to the summary *smile*)

But in a nutshell, the rest is just the result of the market ... it didn't sell, as there was no marketing venue for movement to close the gap between the early adopters and the early majority. Because of an uneducated user base within the early majority there was also a backlash on the movement because of perceived durability problems coming from those folks who didn't know how to properly use the gear. More traditional companies were also nervous about warranty issues as well.

But most important factor was closing the gap on the user base. For example, Gregory was one of the more traditional company with a iron clad warranty and a high quality product, came out at the time with a superlight version of their Snow Creek backpack ... which they ended up dropping long before the Snow Creek model ran its course. I had an opportunity to ask Wayne why he dropped it from his line (it was a good pack, I was saving my money up for it), his reply was an exasperated "It didn't sell, I have to sell people what they want, and by the sales they didn't want that"

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Vintage ultralight on 04/03/2014 10:25:12 MDT Print View

There was the book "Hiking Light" by Marlyn Doan published in 1982.

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/xdpy/forum_thread/83309/index.html?skip_to_post=720933#720933

I think Jardine radicalized the process a bit, really looking to weigh everything and cut it all down to the bare minimum with an engineer's cold eye for efficiency.

The hurdles to cross were emotional and romantic notions of what was right and proper to equip yourself for wilderness travel. Once those idols were toppled, it kicked the door open to much more scientific layering systems, analysis by spreadsheet and using modern materials to full advantage.

You can still see the process in sharing gear lists, where people overpack due to fear of weather, wanting clean clean clothes every day, separate sleeping clothing, heavy boots and so on. There are some leaps from double wall shelters to simple tarps, Spartan thin sleeping pads and trading out heavy jackets for 2oz windshirts that run parallel to the grocery sack packs.

As far as pack evolution, I think there has been parallel development of SUL frameless packs right along with UL internal frame packs. Gossamer Gear is a good example of both within one company with the G4/5/6 packs vs the internal stay models like the Gorilla and Mariposa. The grocery sacks are still out there for those who want the lightest possible alternative.

IVAN DOMINGUEZ TEJERA
(idtejera) - MLife

Locale: CANARY ISLANDS
Thank your very much David for your article on 04/03/2014 12:38:29 MDT Print View

I have enjoyed reading your article. Good job.

Andy Jarman
(AndyJarman) - M

Locale: Edge of the World
ARC BLAST Fragile? on 04/03/2014 19:43:17 MDT Print View

Try one, I've just spent two years wearing one canyoning, reversing backwards through impenetrable thickets and dragging it along rock shelfs. They are tough as.

Ripped the netting on mine crawling under some thickets in January, repair cost for replacement of the entire mesh pocket by Zpacks a princely $15. What's not to like?

Whilst the carbon fibre struts look fragile (Zpacks gave me a spare strut when I expressed incredulity that it was adequate ... that was a waste of postage), believe me they are far from fragile. Couldn't get the buckle to loosen enough to remove the strut when returning the bag, very nervously flexed the strut to a rediculous degree (wincing and sweating) the thing didn't even creak.

468grams(16 ounces) of pure ingenuity, and a thoroughly decent bunch of people to deal with too!

Edited by AndyJarman on 04/03/2014 19:55:33 MDT.

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: "The Grocery Sack Grows Up: A Genealogy of the Modern Ultralight Backpack" on 04/05/2014 20:52:14 MDT Print View

Thanks! This was a great read, a trip down memory lane as it were. I have the GG Whisper and the original Jam and still use them but sure appreciate the latest GG Gorilla for heavier loads. Again, nice work.