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Lighten Up!

Weighed On Our Scales » 6.8 oz (192.7 g)

Falcon Press Lighten Up!

A complete handbook for light and ultralight backpacking. Comments

Lighten Up! takes a (pun intended) lighthearted look at ultralight backpacking and offers the beginning hiker useful and very sound tips for getting into lightweight backpacking. With Mike Clelland's supremely entertaining illustrations, and Don's easy-to-read prose, this little book is a gem to have on your bookshelf. We've known Don for several years, have enjoyed hiking with him on some fabulous treks in fine ultralight style, and there is no question that he's a seasoned pro perfectly capable of bringing lightweight philosophy and technique to the unseasoned beginner. Even if you've been going light for years, Lighten Up! will provide some fresh tips and tricks for keeping you up to date with modern lightweight backpacking techniques. - Ryan Jordan


Don Ladigin was “packing light” decades before most backpackers had ever heard the term “ultralight.” My first acquaintance with Don was on a backpacking trip in 1975, back when large and heavy packs were the norm, and bragging rights went to the person with the most gargantuan load.We had agreed to car pool, so early on the first morning of the trip, our group met at the agreed upon meeting point in town.When Don arrived I was surprised to see that he had with him only a tiny pack, barely big enough for a day hike, yet only partly full. Apparently he had either forgotten his real pack or thought we were intending only a very short day hike. Always the mother hen, I inquired and was astonished to hear that the small sack on his lap was indeed his full pack. I was skeptical, to say the least, but it was midsummer, the weather conditions were mild and stable, the intended hike was an easy trail hike in nontechnical terrain not far from the road, and my assistant leader agreed that we would be able to provide whatever else Don needed. So, we allowed him to go, though with considerable trepidation.We kept a wary eye on him all the while, wondering what other odd behaviors we might witness, and curious as to how he would manage to stay comfortable at the near freezing temperatures that we expected by morning. As it turned out, I’ve been learning from Don ever since. Instead of having to assist him, we spent much of the trip envying his light kit as we slogged under our towering loads of “essentials” and did our best to keep up to his pace.We had assumed that the small size of Don’s pack meant that he might be ill-equipped, yet he had everything he needed and, adding to our chagrin, he was the only one in the group who had the tools needed to repair a participant’s broken pack frame. Over the years I’ve led many trips with Don in the full range of weather conditions, in all seasons, from the Cascades to the Alps. He’s completely at home in the wilds, where he’s always relaxed, observant, and ready to assist others regardless of the conditions.

Don continues to amaze me and countless friends and students. He has led dozens of outings for the University of Oregon, assisting me in my work as director of the Outdoor Pursuits and Outdoor Leadership Training Programs. Participants on our outings must comply with extensive gear and clothing requirements, which often result in substantial pack weights. Don’s become a living legend among local outdoors enthusiasts for his ability to comply fully with our stringent gear requirements while not exceeding the weight and volume of what most of us would consider a light “day pack.”

A few years ago students on a snow-camping trip came to me to express their concern that Don’s small pack might not contain enough to sustain him through the major snowstorm that was due to hit us during the second night of the outing. Needless to say they were even more concerned (and even I was a bit anxious) when the overnight storm dumped 26 inches of heavy Cascade “powder” on our campsite. Don was, of course, just fine, and as several of us were peering out of our half-buried tents at first light, his head erupted from the meadow where he’d been buried in his tiny shelter during the night. Before we could even get ourselves out of our tent, he’d brought us tea, and soon thereafter he was cheerfully scurrying about, helping others dig out from the storm.

Packing light requires careful planning (and a good measure of self-discipline) to assure that every item of gear and clothing is truly necessary, and that each item is as light as possible. On the other hand, packing light can make it possible to indulge in occasional whimsy. On a canyoneering trip in exceptionally rugged country, as our group prepared for unexpectedly cold, wet weather by dressing in fleece under rainwear pulled from our clumsy, heavy packs, Don astonished us by pulling a full wet suit from his impossibly tiny pack. By packing light he was able to afford the luxury of a wet suit while enjoying better mobility and safety on the slippery boulders and walls of the canyon. On a recent late-October backpacking outing, he arrived with his typical twelve-pound pack, which seemed impossibly small next to Lighten Up! the thirty-five- to fifty-pound packs carried by most of the other participants.Two days later, camped on an alpine ridge during one of the first snowstorms of the season, the group members could hardly believe their eyes when he pulled a large plastic pumpkin full of Halloween treats from his tiny pack!

The most obvious benefit of packing light is, of course, a light pack. A light pack makes almost every aspect of outdoor travel easier, safer, and a lot more fun. And packing light may offer even greater advantages in the long term. Most longtime hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers eventually suffer serious knee, hip, and spine damage, much of it related to their having carried large loads too often.With Don’s help we now offer an “ultralight backpacking” course at the University of Oregon, and we’re pleased to see that lightweight gear and techniques are finally becoming widely popular among outdoors enthusiasts of all ages. Perhaps the next generation of backpackers, backcountry skiers, snowshoers, and mountaineers will be able to enjoy healthy feet, knees, and backs throughout a lifetime of outdoor adventures!

—Jim Blanchard
Director of Outdoor Pursuits
University of Oregon

Walking into the wilderness with a pack on your back is an empowering experience - even more so when that pack you're carrying isn't weighing you down! Lighten Up! shows you how to pack light without sacrificing the essentials or your safety. Featuring solid advice and trail-tested tricks from outdoors expert Don Ladigin and more than 150 humorous and helpful illustrations by the incomparable Mike Clelland, Lighten Up! is the ultimate guide for beginners and old hands alike. Make it a staple of your lightweight backpack.

Don Ladigin has been hiking for more than twenty-five years and has taught the Ultralight Backpacking class at the University of Oregon since its inception in 2000.

Mike Clelland is a NOLS instructor and illustrator who studied Mad magazine rather than go to art school. His other oboks include Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book and Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book.

Bonus Content

Includes commentary from the world famous Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear Fame!

Sample Pages


  • Format:  Illustrated paperback
  • Pages: 112
  • Authors: Don Ladigin, Mike Clelland
  • ISBN 0-7627-3734-4


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