Chris Wallace joined our team as Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Trekking School Manager in 2010. We’re pleased to welcome him aboard as our new Gear Editor to see us through 2012 and beyond!
Chris brings a unique blend of analytical, perceptive, and experiential talents to this position - firmly grounded on his growth in and participation from our community, and in our school (as both a student and an instructor), for several years. Chris is best known for pushing the limits of ultralight in contexts that require extreme levels of fitness and tolerance for the unknown, rapidly evolving skill in gear design, manufacturing, and do-it-yourself projects, and an awareness of the wider market for ultralight gear that allows him to fairly evaluate trends and opportunities for lightweight hikers.
In appointing Chris to this position, my primary goal was to increase Backpacking Light’s reputation as a voice of authority in the analysis of lightweight gear. In 2012, we will:
- Increase our coverage of cottage industry gear;
- Increase the extent to which we evaluate gear under harsh conditions (I have promised Chris a “test-to-failure” budget);
- Increase the fairness and objectivity of Backpacking Light’s whole review program by not only reviewing the products we think are worthwhile, but also by reviewing products that we feel have serious limitations and shortcomings;
- Increase the engagement of our readers during (not just after) our review process.
In that context, we expect to:
- Increase the visibility and awareness of the cottage industry as providing high-performing, viable, and useful product alternatives to what is available from specialty and mass market retail outlets;
- Challenge the status quo of performance expectations for lightweight gear in order to urge the industry as a whole to produce goods that are more durable, higher performing, more repairable, more sustainable, more soundly designed, and lighter in weight;
- Educate our readers not only about the benefits and limitations of lightweight philosophy and techniques, but also about the benefits and limitations of every bit of gear we review. It is my sincere desire that Backpacking Light helps you make informed decisions about what you spend your money on. We are entering a new age where waste in spending and in gear disposal are no longer acceptable options, and we’d like to help you travel down a path that keeps you in the backcountry more and working overtime less.
Please join me in welcoming Chris to the team, and we look forward to the exciting changes he will bring to Backpacking Light in 2012!
- Ryan Jordan
A Letter From Chris
Dear Backpacking Light Reader,
Thank you for the opportunity to serve your interests and to help you grow as a lightweight hiker.
I’d like to start by discussing some of the important changes that we’ll be implementing immediately that relate to my role as Backpacking Light’s Gear Editor:
- The introduction of multi-part rolling gear reviews;
- Expansion of technique-related content;
- Exploration of other modes of lightweight backcountry travel;
- The use of alternative media.
Multi-Part Rolling Gear Reviews
To address delays in reviewing gear, publishing information as it becomes available, publishing inadequate information about key pieces of gear that deserve more comprehensive review, and consolidating gear review information about a particular product in one location, we will launch “living” reviews that will be hosted at a single URL and that will change over time. These living reviews will most often be launched with a preliminary review of a product based on our initial industry research, and/or “unboxing,” and/or our first field experience. Then, over time, we’ll post information to the review as it becomes available during our testing period. At the end of the test period, we will release the review rating for the product, so that a product only garners a review rating in response to validation of its long term performance. We feel that this change will improve the relevance, quality, and publication time of our reviews, as well as engage our community more by involving them in the review process with an opportunity to contribute feedback during the review period as our results are released.
Expansion of Technique-Related Content
In the past two years, we have focused most of our non-gear content on trip reports and photo essays (don’t worry, these won’t go away), but we expect to invest much more in the near future on technique-related content, largely due to an overwhelming amount of feedback from our members in our winter 2011 reader survey. From the newbie interested in learning how to pitch a tarp or build a fire, to the MYOG enthusiast needing to know how to fell a seam properly, to the experienced ultralighter who wants to know how we pitch an ultralight tent in wind-driven rain without getting soaked, we realize the need to address these requests.
I've noticed two primary camps in the BPL community. The first are new to lightweight backpacking and mostly interested in gear, gear, gear (although some of us never fully leave that camp). The second have been at it for a while, are mostly content with their gear choices, and are more interested in refining their kit, their style, and their knowledge base.
Exploration of Other Modes of Backcountry Travel
While BPL has historically been very focused on foot travel, we will be exploring other modes of human powered travel as well, consistent with our mission. The lightweight methodology has long been migrated and integrated into other methods of backcountry travel that deserve more attention. Look for increased content on packrafting, kayaking/canoeing, cross-country skiing, adventure cycling, and more.
All of these travel modes provide great opportunities to see more while carrying less, and we are discovering that more and more of our members are exploring these modes of travel as their experience with lightweight hiking increases.
The Use of Alternative Media
You made it loud and clear in our reader survey that you want to do more at BPL than just read. An overwhelming number of you asked us to bring back podcasts, to introduce more video to our reviews, and to make more video instruction available. We have made significant steps in this direction already in 2011, with the introduction of the first Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp (an online video course) offered last fall, and our decision to become the Executive Producer and sponsor of Hendrik Morkel’s ULAZ video series. Hendrik is a long time BPL member, and we’re proud to be his partner on this project.
In addition, we plan to revive Ryan Jordan’s popular “24” series, and we are exploring other film projects (in both short and long formats) as well.
In the meantime, look for the increased use of video in our gear reviews and technique articles, and stay tuned for an announcement later this spring about the possibility of reviving the podcasts.
I’m looking forward to my tenure as Backpacking Light’s Gear Editor.
- Chris Wallace