Podcast: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light?

Senior NOLS instructors discuss the major hurdles to NOLS going light and propose solutions.

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by Carol Crooker | 2007-04-11 03:00:00-06

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NOLS is Ready to Go Light - 1
NOLS instructors and Backpacking Light staff enjoy dinner and sunset on a three-day lightweight backpacking seminar in Saguaro National Park, Arizona.

Introduction

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has an over 40 year tradition of "heavy weight" backpacking. Founded in 1965 by Outward Bound instructor, Paul Petzoldt, NOLS prides itself on being a leader in the outdoor education field. With lighter loads increasingly becoming the industry standard, NOLS launched its first "Light & Fast Backpacking" course out of Wyoming in fall 2006 in partnership with Backpacking Light and GoLite. NOLS leadership has also mandated lower initial pack weights (40 pounds) for its Rocky Mountain backpacking courses as of 2008. Forty pounds may not sound that light, but it is a huge improvement over the typical 60 pound loads students start courses with now. Pack weights include instructional material to support continuing education credits and an extensive kitchen to create the culinary masterpieces NOLS is known for.

The NOLS commitment to going lighter has been justified by the near immediate filling of four Light & Fast courses out of Wyoming for 2007.

In late March 2007, four Backpacking Light staff and a GoLite representative spent three days with ten NOLS instructors in a lightweight backpacking seminar hosted by NOLS Southwest. (NOLS Southwest has hopes to get approval for another lightweight course to be held out of Arizona in 2008.) At the start of the seminar the NOLS instructors were cautiously interested in lightening student (and instructor) pack weights but expressed reservations about gear durability, cost of switching to lighter gear, how/if lighter pack weights would still support the NOLS instructional goals and, very importantly, how delicious meals like fried pasta and cheese currently prepared in the nearly 2 pound "fry/bake" pan would fit into a lightweight culture.

In this podcast, I talk to NOLS instructors in the field and then back at NOLS Southwest after they've spent some time hiking with light packs about the hurdles for NOLS to go to lighter weight packs overall and to run a lightweight course. Ryan Hutchins-Cabibi, lead NOLS instructor for the seminar, talks about the overall issues. Scott Christy gets more indepth about gear durability, Lindsay Nohl (NOLS SW Assistant Director and NOLS instructor) addresses cost factors, Iris Saxer and Ashley Wise (NOLS SW Program Supervisor and NOLS instructor) discuss gear durability, and Stephen Brutger gets poetic about the importance of good food when you live in the field for a month with no zero days in town to satisfy your cravings.


Citation

"Podcast: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light?," by Carol Crooker. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/podcast_031807_NOLS_lightweight_hurdles.html, 2007-04-11 03:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light?


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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 04/10/2007 20:10:14 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 04/11/2007 02:14:13 MDT Print View

> NOLS leadership has also mandated lower initial pack weights (40 pounds) for its Rocky Mountain backpacking courses as of 2008. Forty pounds may not sound that light, but it is a huge improvement over the typical 60 pound loads students start courses with now.

Ye Gods!
Look, from a skeletal and neurological point of view, carrying more than 25% of you body weight gets to be a questionable action. Some people, especially younger people with softer bone and cartiledge, may cause themselves skeletal damage (vertebra, cartiledge...) if they go too far over the 25%. I weight 10 stone: 140 lb. 25% of that is 35 lb. Young students start with 60 lb packs? I question the ethics of the NOLS leadership who recommend this.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
NOLS? 40 lbs EASY. on 04/11/2007 03:36:04 MDT Print View

I have never attended an NOLS class, but 40 lbs seems reasonable for say.. a 3 day winter hike. 20 lbs base weight, 10 lbs food/water, and 10 lbs of maybe mountaineering/safety gear? (rope,harness,helmet,ice axe,snowshoes,crampons,etc). I assume they are going out there to learn something like mountaineering.

I have a similar FSO weight for an upcoming 3 day mountaineering trip. I have what I would consider "light", but still durable gear. (Snowpeak, Montbell, GraniteGear, etc.) But admittedly I carry many contingency items, truly waterproof stuff sacks, enough insulation for freak storms, freestanding tent, etc..

Reading the forums at other sites, I commonly see 60 and even 80 lb loads being discussed. So 40 lbs for NOLS is really cutting edge! (except around here at BPL)/

You are all welcome to review my 3-season gear list at my profile; comments are welcome. I hope more of you all post your gear lists as well.

Edited by Brett1234 on 04/11/2007 03:39:41 MDT.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: NOLS? 40 lbs EASY. on 04/11/2007 06:53:02 MDT Print View

The NOLS standard was that no student should carry more than 40% of their body weight whenever possible. On my Instructor Course, including climbing gear, I stepped off the bus at the trailhead with an 87 pound pack for early May snowpack. This was slightly over my 40% at that time. As an instructor I was able to never carry a load over about 67 pounds because I meticulously cut the weight of all my personal gear. However, it was still largely made up for with group gear and extra food.

I haven't been able to listen to much of the podcast yet, but kitchens will have to take a SERIOUS hit to even hope to achieve a 40 pound standard weight. And Claudia Pearson and bulk rationing are so ingrained in the school heirarchy I honestly don't see it happenning. 40 pounds is a pipe dream as early as 2008 IMO. It took incredible efforts to get a 110-lb young lady's pack down to 42 pounds when I was there, such as moving most of her food to other team members.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/11/2007 07:47:54 MDT Print View

Shawn, thanks for the insight. Was/is the problem at NOLS the Quantity of recommended gear, or a matter of taking bombproof(thus heavy) gear, or a liability fear which prompts them to take many "what if" items? Or a combination of all these?

David Olsen
(oware)

Locale: Steptoe Butte
NOLS gear? on 04/11/2007 08:27:24 MDT Print View

Stuff like bringing 4 pairs of different kinds of shoes,
Fishing gear, baking and cooking gear, lots of climbing gear, large first aid kits. They are often doing several
different kinds of activities per trip.

Also 200 denier tarps.
I have tried to talk them into lighter tarps, but they like
using the ones that are made the same as the one they have
in the Smithsonian (not kidding).

Peter Headland
(pheadland) - MLife
It's a religion on 04/11/2007 09:58:56 MDT Print View

To me, the whole NOLS thing has always been like a religion - you have to do it their way or you are "wrong". I think the lightweight backpacking ethos is far more questioning/accepting/inclusive.

I also think the NOLS tradition is an exploitative/dominating relationship with the environment. Lightweight backpacking forces you to integrate into and adapt to your environment, not overwhelm it with brute force.

So, all-in-all, this is a very interesting attempt by them to change direction, but I question whether they are capable of doing it.

Edited by pheadland on 04/11/2007 10:02:07 MDT.

Kenneth Knight
(kenknight) - MLife

Locale: SE Michigan
Max. carrying weight based on your weight? on 04/11/2007 10:59:17 MDT Print View

Roger started this off with the 25% carying weight of your total body weight. I've heard this number forever, but I've never been able to track down if it really has a basis in actual fact. Does the number of days the load is being carried matter, the distance or hours per day matter? You have to figure the location of the weight matters too, right?

We've all seen scores and scores of people carrying loads that are clearly more than 25% of their weight. This is not anything new. How much does an infantryman carry today - less than they did 30 years ago but still a lot more than that 25% rule. A hunter schlepping his gear plus a dresed down deer is going to be breaking that barrier. And I've only listed examples where that weight is external. I've left out fatter people let alone pregant women.

Now, I would absolutely hate to carry 60 to say nothing of 80 pounds. I am not even sure I could get an 80 pound pack up and on to my shoulders. I don't think I've broken 40 in quite some time and that includes the two-week trip in the Seward Peninsula 2 years ago.

Jason Ham
(jasonham) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Institutional Lightweight Backpacking, NOLS or otherwise on 04/11/2007 11:20:21 MDT Print View

I run a program here in California that has done 25 day backpacking courses for the past 30 years. My wife and I just took this program over after many years of instructing and one of our missions is to lighten the packs. It is harder than you might imagine, even for a program that isn't as hierarchial or ingrained as is NOLS or OB.

The main difficulties are durability and longevity for the gear in our gear shed that gets issued twice a year to students. Students are not the most attentive to gear care even with very good instructors providing feedback constantly. This results in light gear getting trashed within a course's time (25 user days) or within a year at best (50 user days).

I want this to work so I am committed and open to any gear change possible.

Aside from gear, the majority weight on our trips is from food or water. We have 12 days of rations to carry, being resupplied once on our 25 day Sierra course. Add to this the weight of a required bear canister (we just purchased Wild Ideas Expeditions, an improvement of 4 pounds over the double garcias we used to carry) and you have a hefty amount of food (nearly 22 pounds per person.)

Our Death Valley course has shorter ration times (4-7 days), but students have to carry a two to three days worth of water between water sources (24 pounds when topped off.)

Gear seems like the least of our concerns, but we look at every piece anyway and encourage extreme frugality in our students choices for personal clothing, etc.

Still, 40 pounds for our courses sounds like a pipe dream unless we do something drastic like change our resupply points, which would result in a very different itinerary.

I'll be interested to see where this discussion goes and if any innovations come out of it.

Our current innovations have mostly been in the realm of not taking things that have gone in the past...

No frypans, instead of the two that were issued per group. (NOLS uses Frybakes...awesome to cook on, but weigh a lot.)

3-4 33oz bottles of fuel instead of 5-6 33oz bottles. (We use Whisperlites, this is just enough to make it for 12 days of cooking for 10-12 people on two stoves.)

No canned food. We only use pouched tuna and chicken for meat products, tomato powder, etc. Thus, no can openers or swiss army knives necessary.

No climbing shoes. Students carry running shoes for camp or backup hiking shoes and hike in boots. On climbing days they can choose one pair that works best. We aren't climbing 5.10, so getting up 5.5 in boots is plenty challenging.

You get the idea...

Edited by jasonham on 04/11/2007 11:23:45 MDT.

Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
Nols on 04/11/2007 11:33:41 MDT Print View

Seperate from the gear weights, course focus, thier enviormental/teaching/cooking/leadership approaches, etc, of NOLS- I hear a growing voice that is starting to loudly say Business Opportunity!

NOLS charges $3,600 tuition for a 14 day LW course that is not all that light or travels all that far, at least by BPL standards.

The fact that thier LW course grew 400% in one year with limited advertising tells me that there is a market for that type education. I suspect that the NOLS leadership might be scrambling a bit in light of this fact. Anyone willing to fork out that much $ will at some point start looking for the best value that fits thier goals. With web info so avialble, they won't have to look far.

Since NOLS is non profit, they might not have the same business urgency to explore this area as quickly as possible. I understand that they do have a different educational mission and so may never go too far toward UL, at least not to keep pace with the majority of backpacker both Trad, UL and SUL.

It would not surprise me if BPL or some other established SUL entity starts a SUL school in the next few years....I know I'm looking at it.

-None of this is intended as a negative comment of NOLS or of their well trained staff. They 're just a differnt animal.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
UL/SUL school on 04/11/2007 12:35:13 MDT Print View

I would love to be able to take a course on UL/SUL backpacking and get college credit for it! Doing something like NOLS, where I go out and do something that I love and get credit for it always appealed to me, but the price of NOLS and the fact that I already had a fair bit of experience hiking held me back. That and the big pack weights! I had always been under the impression that NOLS was more focused on teaching outdoor skills to people who had little to no experience. I've also seen some schools that have an Outdoor Pursuits program, like the Univ. of Oregon, and was quite disappointed when my school didn't have anything like that. I guess that's what I get for going to an engineering school (that's getting a name change next year if you hadn't heard).
The same kind of deal kept me from going to Philmont when I was in Scouts. It sounded like lots of fun to go out hiking for a week but some of the other aspects kept me out. Like walking just a few miles a day and camping at designated campgrounds. I did do Northern Tier, canoing the boundary waters, and loved it. There we camped where we wanted, covered as much mileage as we wanted and carried all of our supplies for the whole week with us. It just seemed like a more 'full wilderness experience' to me.

Adam

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Nols on 04/11/2007 13:47:54 MDT Print View

Ron Bell, you or BPL should start that school. NOLS may not change unless they have more competition. Their current thinking seems out of date.

Edited by jshann on 04/11/2007 13:48:57 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
SUL school on 04/11/2007 14:02:44 MDT Print View

Yes, I want to learn the venerable art of marmot garroting from Ron Bell (he knows that which I speak of). ;-)- Videos please!


In a slightly more serious vein---Yes, there's definitely room for a wilderness skills centered program in the UL or even the SUL vein. NOLS is very good at what they do, and I have always respected them highly. Whether there is a need to emulate or convert NOLS w/ a SUL emphasis is the question. Perhaps workshops or perhaps Sierra Club (or other groups w/ an outings focus) sponsored backpacks w/ a UL emphasis might be a more practical way to proceed. It's very hard to change established institutions.

Edited by kdesign on 04/11/2007 14:18:44 MDT.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/11/2007 14:57:55 MDT Print View

Longevity of gear is a major issue. Students routinely manage to damage the old heavy MSR Dromedary bags. Despite repeatedly showing, explaining and modeling the care taken when putting on the fly of our NukTuks, we had two ripped open by the mast pole on one of my courses. A 30 denier silnylon fly or tarp would have evaporated with these students, and these were all college age, not high schoolers. Of course, starting with 8 pound Lowe Alpine packs that can be "adjusted" for over 8 inches of torso length is another immediate weight issue.

But kitchens are the ultimate weight hogs. Yes, students carry about 10 days at a time. The result is about 20 pounds of food per person per cook group. Now add two big pots, and a big Frybake pan. Now add a Whisperlite stove and 3-4 33 ounce bottles of fuel. Now add a gym bag that is at least 1/2 a pound just to hold the stuff because students who are new to bear baggin have a history of shredding nylon bags. Oh and don't forget the MONSTROUS 2 pound spice kit. (AT LEAST 2 pounds - plastic bottles of salt, pepper, garlic powder, hot sauce, soy sauce, oregano, chili powder, baking powder, yeast, dill, cumin, curry, oil, vinegar, etc). Being the biggest member of every expedition I was ever a part of, I consistently wound up with 35 pounds of "kitchen" on my back at the start of a ration period, with at 27 of it being food and spices.

Bulk ration food is a way for the school to save money, but there has to be a major overhaul. Currently students bag their own rations one pound at a time in the rations the first morning of their course. Perhaps they can start bagging freezer bag meals instead, which would be more economical. But the four pounds of flour per cook group per ration period will likely go by the way-side if a truly lightweight approach is followed. I can make a mean lasagna or mess of biscuits in the backcountry, but I have never even considered it on a personal solo trip.

The other key is to change the marketing perspective somewhat. NOLS courses are outrageously expensive courses for priviledged youth (and a few scholarship kids) with little or no backcountry experience to learn solid fundamental wilderness skills. But a "light and fast" approach would be ideal for the 20-to-30-something professional who already enjoys backpacking and wants to lighten the load and increase the intensity of their treks, but can only get a couple of weeks of vacation time. This could be a core group if marketed correctly. Only time will tell if this proves to be the case.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Max. carrying weight based on your weight? on 04/11/2007 17:24:14 MDT Print View

> Roger started this off with the 25% carying weight of your total body weight. I've heard this number forever, but I've never been able to track down if it really has a basis in actual fact.
I would have to search through medical articles. It has to do with the strength of young bones and cartiledge. It applies especially to calculating safe loads for teenagers and younger chilfdren. I am assuming that the NOLS students are all young of course.
When you get to my age the 25% rule applies for quite different reasons! (Intelligence being one of them.)

> Does the number of days the load is being carried matter, the distance or hours per day matter?
Nope. Just the load on your bones and cartiledge. Obviously it is not a 'hard' limit, but I have found it works well.
One thing to note: the rule (or guideline) applies to people whose weight is in the 'normal' range. If you are 16 kg above that range, you should not automatically add 4 kg to your limit. Taking 4 kg off might be a smarter move.
See forthcoming 'Gear List for Four Months Walking' article, to be published fairly soon.

> How much does an infantryman carry today - less than they did 30 years ago but still a lot more than that 25% rule.
Very true. The trouble there is that there are different 'authorities' within the military, and each one is responsible for part of an infantryman's gear, but there is no-one in the hierachy who has the responsibility or authority to lay down the law about a limit overall. None of the individual authorities are willing to reduce their part of the load.
You see the SAS guys get out of a chopper with 80+ KILOs. What they don't tell you is that the first thing they do is to cache most of it, becasue they simply canNOT fight while carrying all that stuff.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Re: Max. carrying weight based on your weight? on 04/11/2007 18:33:29 MDT Print View

Forty pounds sound pretty reasonable, actually. However, for me anyway, I would immediately shave another two pounds by ditching the "fry/bake" pan!

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
NOLS instructor speaks on 04/11/2007 20:42:48 MDT Print View

Glad to see the discussion getting fired up here. I was the lead instructor of this seminar, and want to start by saying it was a great success in that everyone (NOLS/BPL/GoLite) all learned alot.

I think it's important to remember that there are two different things going on at the school.

1)Lightweight backpacking courses, which go out with w/ 25# packs max, and are (for now) 23+ y/o students.

2) the Rocky Mountain initiative (and other locations are embracing it too) to have no wilderness hiking course go out with a pack weighing more than 40#'s by summer 2008.

I Think that goal will happen by next summer. The school is committed, and changes have already been made to move us closer.


I'm going to go back and reply to some of the above observations and comments. I guess my biggest hope is that folks here understand that NOLS is aware that our packs are too heavy and we are working to change that.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/11/2007 20:50:19 MDT Print View

There are a lot of issue.
1) quantity of reccommended gear - yes we need to take less.
2)bomb proofness (and thus heavy) - yup that exists too. We need backpacks that will hold up to a minimum of 200 days of field time/year for example. Hopefully for 3+ years. If someone here can point us in the direction of a pack that will do this that weighs in the 2-3 # (or less) range please send me the info.
3)a liability reality that requires that we take many "what if" items.
4)a somewhat large organization that for better or worse can get caught up in our way of doing things, and then takes a bit of time to change direction.
5) a curriculum focus that goes beyond just hiking. I think this was disscussed in the podcast pretty well, but I already get that so I may be hearing it differently.

Hope that helps clarify a few of the challenges we face and are embracing.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: It's a religion on 04/11/2007 20:58:45 MDT Print View

Peter,
I have to ask, are you being "far more questioning/accepting/inclusive" by using the above labels?
We are a founding partner in Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics, and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone at NOLS who believes in having a "exploitative/dominating relationship with the environment."

NOLS is certainly ingrained in certain ways of doing things.
To suggest that we think others are "wrong" is, I understand your opinion, but speaking for myself, as an instructor, one of the biggest things I want students to leave with is an understanding that there ARE different ways to do things, and they need to figure out what works best for them.

Edited by ryan_hutchins on 04/11/2007 21:21:34 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Institutional Lightweight Backpacking, NOLS or otherwise on 04/11/2007 21:00:47 MDT Print View

Jason,
You express the challenges very well. Feel free to contact me to talk about what we are doing that might work for you too. I would love to hear about the successes that you have had in going lighter, particularly in the durability of gear areas.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Nols on 04/11/2007 21:16:56 MDT Print View

There are other lightweight course providers around. BPL even offers courses. I am not sure if those programs have the infrastructure that NOLS has in place, and thus the potential reach.
We were certainly suprised by the enrollment of these courses - sometimes we offer a new course type and it doesn't enroll at all. As far as business urgency goes, I think Ron has a good point.
We aren't trying to make money here (the Lightweight courses is more expensive than others because students are outfitted with an entire lightweight kit that they take home at the end of the course) and the most important thing is that it supports the mission of the school.
I think -and this is my hope and opinion- the school will continue to lighten up in all course areas, will it take some time -yup. We may never go truly UL or SUL, but we will, as my friend Scott says "go less heavy". And we will try to support the growth of lightweight backpacking by teaching the best courses we can and trying to stay current on the skills being used. That is why we have partnered with BPL and GoLite.

This is a big step for the school. Maybe we are a bit behind in this movement, but getting 600+ instructors and 600+ support staff in 17 locations around the world to change direction takes some time and careful consideration.

I would love to hear ideas that you all have to make the transition easier/faster. What have your experiences been with gear durability? Tips and tricks for really good cooking? What are the most important things for new lightweight backpackers to learn?

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/11/2007 21:37:29 MDT Print View

Ryan,
It is interesting to watch NOLS adapt its gear, because I watched first hand as the US Army did the same thing; sacrificing a bit of bombproof-ness(no pun intended) for lighter weight; although with the end result that soldiers carry a larger NUMBER of lighter-weight items. But I digress..

You asked about a pack that could survive 600+ field days and weighs 2-3 lbs. The closest PROVEN pack to come close is probably the Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian which lasted 8,000+ miles as used by Justin Lichter. It is a 60 liter pack weighing about 3.5 lbs. It has several different shoulder/waist belt combinations in narrow/wide, and regular/long, and the strap mounts adjust with a screwdriver for width and height 18-21 inches (regular frame) so your students can quickly dial in the size they want. Belt and lid can be stripped off to make a light-weight summit pack, and it has an extension collar for those high volume trail head days.

This might be an applicable pack for the 40lb limit starting in 2008. As per the podcast you could phase them in for the UL class first; and I bet GG would give you a smokin deal to be the "pack used by NOLS on their UL course".

Review here:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/granite_gear_nimbus_meridian_backpack_review.html

The OEM site with Justin's three season 13 lb packing list is here:
http://www.granitegear.com/trauma/2006/gear/index.html

granite gear nimbus meridian after 8000 miles

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: Nols on 04/11/2007 21:47:04 MDT Print View

As one of the BPL staff who participated in this workshop, I'll share a few thoughts.

1. I was impressed with the sincerity of the wilderness ethic among the NOLS staff and their enthusiasm to take on this challenge. I had no previous exposure to NOLS or its programs.

2. As discussed in the podcast, it will take some creativity to reach the 40 pound goal, but it certainly can be done. It may require some significant changes, but I think most of the core values and flavor of a NOLS course can be retained, and still make huge reductions in pack weight.

3. I bet NOLS will see immediate benefits - happier students, fewer injuries and blisters. And that will only fuel the desire to move this transition more quickly.

4. We discussed items carried on NOLS classes. There seems to have been little awareness of weight in the past, so many things were simply carried because that's the way it's always been done. A lot of weight reduction can be had simply with more awareness - reduced spice racks, smaller pharmacy, lighter sleeping bags (still durable), integrated sleeping/clothing systems, etc. Lots of the things we take for granted at BPL, but which are not mainstream.

I look forward to seeing how things evolve at NOLS - and I hope I get a chance to work with them again.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/11/2007 22:18:22 MDT Print View

Thanks Brett,
I will check out this pack some more. A few years back we field tested a lot of prototype custom GG packs with mixed success re: durability. I myself found them to be very comfortable and the weight reduction over the older "NOLS Green Giant 8# potato sack" was stellar. I did blow out a shoulder strap after the third 30 day course that summer, but it wasn't anything my "anything but light" speedy stitcher couldn't fix!

I've always liked Granite Gear Stuff, and it would be nice to get back around the drawing board with them and see what we come up with (being an instructor, I'm not in a position to make that happen, but I can talk with the folks that can)

We are currently testing a prototype ~2# pack from a manufactuer that we hope will work well, we'll see.

I really appreciate your sharing things like this, it is a huge help in making this happen.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Nols on 04/11/2007 22:23:29 MDT Print View

Hey Don!
It was good to see you at the Film fest.
In the last two days I have given clinics to two courses on going lighter. One was to an Instructor Course which will be training new instructors, and the other to a month long Gila backpacking course. The Instructor course students seemed extremely excited about it as many are former grads and had the experience of carrying a heavy pack w/ NOLS in the past! The Backpacking students seemed interested as well. I'll see what their pack weights are when they head out.

Everitt Gordon
(Everitt) - MLife

Locale: North of San Francisco
Nols going lite? on 04/11/2007 22:49:32 MDT Print View

Years ago I took a Nols course. My pack was over a hundred pounds, and we were skiing. I remember frying canned bacon on a stove that kept catching on fire by the fuel cap. A fat
girl got frostbight taking a pee, another guy blew out his knee, a woman broke her arm... It was an adventure and I've been having adventures ever since, just lighter ones!
EvGo

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Nols going lite? on 04/11/2007 23:09:30 MDT Print View

Everitt,
Not sure how many years ago that was, but I am happy to say that things have changed a lot since then. We are pulling sleds and carrying way lighter packs, have plastic tele boots and shaped skis - and the bacon isn't in cans anymore!

Hope you can still use some of what you learned out there today.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/12/2007 02:47:10 MDT Print View

Hi Ryan

> 3)a liability reality that requires that we take many "what if" items.

I wonder ... what would happen if you left nearly ALL the 'what if' items behind, and took a good mobile phone instead?
The very high probability is that you would not miss any of the 'what if' items, and because people would lighter packs they would be less likely to have an accident anyhow. In the event of a serious accident you would never be that far from help anyhow: my understanding is that there just are not that many really roadless areas anyhow. If the accident is severe - a broken leg for instance, SAR chopper is THE way to go.
Just a thought.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/12/2007 03:57:18 MDT Print View

>>But kitchens are the ultimate weight hogs. Yes, students carry about 10 days at a time. The result is about 20 pounds of food per person per cook group. Now add two big pots, and a big Frybake pan. Now add a Whisperlite stove and 3-4 33 ounce bottles of fuel.........Oh and don't forget the MONSTROUS 2 pound spice kit. (AT LEAST 2 pounds - plastic bottles of salt, pepper, garlic powder, hot sauce, soy sauce, oregano, chili powder, baking powder, yeast, dill, cumin, curry, oil, vinegar, etc). <<

What strikes me is that it seems every student is carrying two big pots and a frying pan, each student is carrying a whisperlite and each student is carrying 2 pounds worth of spices???

I have no idea of group sizes in these course but i think that it's perfectly possible to share these two pots and one frying pan with at least 5 people. In fact, I think it's entirely possible to carry one cook set for an entire group.

Than the spices; I have many spices at home, but all of these together don't even come to 2# and they last for weeks. Can't you go without spices for ten days? Even if you can't make sth like an allspice kinda mix than you need say 5, maybe ten grams per day? Thats about 2 to 3 ounce per person for a ten day trip. I just can't get around Nols student needing 2# of spices. Seems to me these courses teach "take-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" ethics.

I think most weight savings can be done by sharing gear. One HUGE bombproof tarp can house ten students and will be much lighter than 5 four-season, two-person tents. Although if the course includes some high alpine camping a four-season tent is a good thing to have.

So I think sharing gear is a good think Nols can do to lighten up.

Eins

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/12/2007 06:59:36 MDT Print View

">>But kitchens are the ultimate weight hogs. Yes, students carry about 10 days at a time. The result is about 20 pounds of food per person per cook group. Now add two big pots, and a big Frybake pan. Now add a Whisperlite stove and 3-4 33 ounce bottles of fuel.........Oh and don't forget the MONSTROUS 2 pound spice kit. (AT LEAST 2 pounds - plastic bottles of salt, pepper, garlic powder, hot sauce, soy sauce, oregano, chili powder, baking powder, yeast, dill, cumin, curry, oil, vinegar, etc). <<

What strikes me is that it seems every student is carrying two big pots and a frying pan, each student is carrying a whisperlite and each student is carrying 2 pounds worth of spices???"

You might notice that I mentioned per COOK GROUP. The food is per person but the kitchen is per GROUP. There are usually students in a typical cook group. But the fact is that the bigger students often wind up carrying most of the kitchen for their group.

Instructors are worse off because there are usually just 2 or 3 in an instructor team, with the same gear as their students plus HUGE overdone first aid kits in tupperware, ground-air radio, cell phone, books for instructional planning, map sets, markers and mylar for classes, and massive field repair kit.

As for spices, they are heavily overdone, no doubt. As long as baking remains a part of the curriculum, kits will be heavy. I have to questions whether frybake pans really are two pounds (I would have guessed maybe one pound) but they are a requirement for baking. I would actually take the frybake and leave the heavy clunky pots if it were my call.

Any chance of a fundamental shift in the "Gulch" (food issue area) of going to freezer bag style meals? It would be a fundamental shift, but it would go a long way to lightening up.

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
NOLS frybake on 04/12/2007 08:42:09 MDT Print View

At the semianr, after so much discussion about the frybake, we were curious about it's actual weight - so we weighed one when we got back to the NOLS southwest facility. I believe it came in at 1 pound 14 ounces, including the lid.

It certainly seems possible with a little thought and experimentation to design a pan that could do all of what a current frybake does, and maybe cut the weight to 1 pound. There's a challenge for someone.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: NOLS frybake on 04/12/2007 09:30:18 MDT Print View

Can I ask why in god's green earth anyone NEEDS a fry pan in this day and age? I know the stuff fryed/cooked in it does taste good...but does anyone really NEED it?
Same on carrying 4 lbs of flour! :-O

Now granted, I am a UL backpacker, and I cut corners whenever I can, but for me, food was one of the biggest areas to cut weight in. And one of the easiest areas. Maybe I don't get home baked goodies, but I won't die from that either ;-) It isn't hard to use freeze dried or dehydrated meats, TVP, vegetables, pasta, rice, etc for a wide range of recipes/meals and still cut in half. I guess what has me thinking is this: NOLS is well known for it's gourmet meals (nothing wrong with that!) but to go truly light, you need to do some sacrificing. In most cases you won't be able to take the eating style and translate it to UL backpacking down the road. Most UL'ers I have encountered have similar kitchens to me: stove,fuel, cup, spoon or spork and a UL pan to boil water in. That is it. Food is spiced up with very light spices and olive oil. You can do spices and still be UL, just no wheels o' spices in the pack. Instead use craft sized ziploc bags.

I cannot think of carrying 40 lbs these days. The thought of 60 lbs causes my back to scream. Maybe if I was 23 again I could ;-)

But hey, thats my view ;-)

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Sarah re:NOLS guides are hardmen on 04/12/2007 09:38:14 MDT Print View

Sarah,
Maybe seeing one of these beauties will change your mind..

It's shown here with climbing gear. When you are already carrying 30 lbs or so of climbing gear on top of a 20 lb winter base load, I'll bet the pot does not seem so significant.. but, yeah, I'm with you, I would not want to carry one.
These pans are for hardmen who carry canvas packs, hemp rope, and canned bacon; not cuben fiber, dyneema, and powdered protien-infused soy late.
And I'll bet they make some great meals.

http://frybake.com/
frybake

Edited by Brett1234 on 04/12/2007 09:46:37 MDT.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Re: Re: NOLS frybake on 04/12/2007 09:59:16 MDT Print View

The thing to keep in mind is that NOLS is an institution with a long tradition of a specific type of cooking. They are proud of how good they eat in the field. Gourmet eating is part of the signature NOLS experience. Change needs to be gradual for it to happen. I think LW cooking methods like Sarah and the rest of us espouse will (and already did) go over well in the Lightweight Course. But, for across the board changes in the regular backpacking courses to be accepted, the gourmet experience needs to be preserved. It's just a matter of figuring out how to retain most of the "flavor" with lighter gear and food.

The NOLS instructors in the seminar were all senior instructors. They are steeped in the NOLS tradition of good eating but were very eager to figure out how to lighten packs once they felt how good 15 lb packs feel on the trail.

I can't emphasize enough how impressed I was with these guys and gals. They aren't weekend or week-long warriors like most of us. Many live in the backcountry 6 months of the year and live out of their cars in between trips. Consider that they are responsible for the safety of a group of young, beginner backpackers and that they do most of their travel off-trail, and you'll understand why the instructors who make it to senior status are incredibly self reliant and are creative problem solvers. After meeting these 10 instructors, I have absolutely no doubt that NOLS can figure out how to cut 60 lb packs to 40 lbs.

Peter Headland
(pheadland) - MLife
Re: Re: It's a religion on 04/12/2007 10:09:34 MDT Print View

>I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone at NOLS who believes in having a "exploitative/dominating relationship with the environment."

When you take a large group out into the wilderness, loaded with "just-in-case" gear, everyone knowing that if anything bad happens help is a satellite phone call away, cooking meals that are better than many students eat at home, you are not embracing the wilderness, you are dominating it, whatever your intentions. This is the American pioneer culture which is at the root of traditional backpacking. Contrast the NOLS wilderness experience with how Kalahari bushmen or Australian aboriginals used to live and you will see what I mean.

I think it is an unavoidable part of what NOLS does/its clientele to have a methodology that is adhered to fairly strictly and put across firmly as the "right way" to do stuff. That may not be how the instructor views the world, but I believe it is what the students hear.

Just visit the NOLS web site and read all the puff about the methodology, how NOLS is the best in teaching wilderness skills, etc. Personally, I'd kill to have one of the BPL gurus take me out on a SUL trip; but you'd have to pay me to go on a NOLS course. If I went out with a BPL guru, I would expect that person to share what they know, not teach me what to do (which is what NOLS has to do, given the clientele it serves).

Shane Perry
(Rymnel) - F
Re: Re: Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/12/2007 10:09:40 MDT Print View

Ryan,

It would seem to me that if I'm paying 3k+ for a 10 day course I wouldn't be averse to paying another 800 dollars for a new pack, quilt, and tarp. Why does durability have to be an issue? Cut a deal with some manufacturers to buy these items in bulk and send your students home with some real UL gear. Doesn't that make more sense? That shifts a significant financial obligation to the student and you could probably lower your customer costs and end up with a similar net profit per student with only a slight increase from the customers perspective. That would eliminate gear maintenance costs, storage costs, gear longevity concerns, etc. I guess this is an obvious question, why hasn't NOLS done something like this already?

Shane

Edited by Rymnel on 04/12/2007 10:12:32 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Sarah re:NOLS guides are hardmen on 04/12/2007 10:18:24 MDT Print View

Brett, I am a card carrying member of the Wussy Whiners. My level of whining goes up with every 5 lbs of pack weight. ;-)
Yesterday on the trail, my friend Steve and I had a long discussion over whether or not we would carry walking crampons this summer on our next PCT adventure. We argue about every ounce, and try to justify not taking stuff.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 04/12/2007 10:39:53 MDT Print View

One of the main purposes of NOLS is to teach students the art of being a guide, yes? As a guide it will often be your responsibility to carry extra cooking equipment and such luxuries as a spice rack because that's why people hire guides usually.

Granted, NOLS is most certainly able to reduce their gear weights required by students but it won't be at the cost of some spices or their bulk food system. I think refinements in this area would be extremely helpful to them however.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/12/2007 11:38:51 MDT Print View

Hi Roger,
To clarify, the what if items are: 1 (rather extensive) first aid kit/ Instructor. We usually hike in small groups and meet up at camp, this allows each group to travel w/ a WFR/WEMT trained Instructor w/ a first aid kit.
1 Sat phone and or 1 cell phone depending on the area that the course is in. Many of our course areas do NOT get cell reception, and a sat phone is necessary.

"In the event of a serious accident you would never be that far far from help anyhow: my understanding is that there just are not that many really roadless areas anyhow"

That's actually not true. We operate in some of the largest federally designated wilderness areas in the US and some of the most remote areas in the world (we just started an Amazon program). The turn around time between calling out for help and having a chopper land can still be up to eight hours, and certainly over 2, which is the definition of extended care wilderness medicine. We use choppers for injuries that threaten life or limb. it is unlikely that you will die from a broken leg, and there are other ways that one could be evaced for such an injury, though a chopper might be used.

Other what ifs, probably add up to more clothes than we need.

Paul Luther
(eredluin) - M

Locale: Northeast
Re: Re: Institutional Lightweight Backpacking, NOLS or otherwise on 04/12/2007 11:48:14 MDT Print View

Hi everyone, As a NOLS alumnus, Mountaineering in the Cascades 1983, I have mixed emotions about my experience. On the positive side I experienced a wonderful area, had good weather (for the Cascades), had a pretty good group of people (11 total), good instructors (especially Mal Miller),I could go without soap for 31 days!,and learned some outdoor skills that are with me to this day.

On the negative side I did more camping/hiking than climbing and the packs were a burden. we hiked in Koflach Ultras, used Kelty external frame packs, and slept in BIG synthetic bags. Group teams (3 people) divided-up the Otimus 111B, a Eureka Sentinal 3 person tent, spice kit, climbing gear, etc. There was more, but I don't remember what. Oops, forgot the pressure cooker.

24 years later I do 5+ days with a total pack weight of sub 18lbs, and I'm always on the lookout for ways to "lighten up" more.

Lets face it, we SUL/UL hikers are still a minority, but the gospel is getting around. Are you listening NOLS?

Cheers
Paul

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Shawn, NOLS gear? on 04/12/2007 11:48:55 MDT Print View

Thanks for clarifying the kitchen weight Shawn. I don't think we have met, but I appreciate your insights.
To update this a bit more,
cook groups are four person in general. We are looking at what a change there would do to lower weights. A cook group on a standard hiking course carries 1 3-4 liter pot, 1 frybake, 1 whisperlite stove, 4 33 oz fuel bottles, a spatula, pot grips that are way to heavy ( we find there are fewer burns if students use pot grips), a large spice kit, and obviously food, which is about 1.5 #/person/day.

First aid kits are no longer in tupperware, ground air radios are not being used except in specific locations, but the3 other stuff is all still there.

Yes - spice kits are over done. I think we could get away with one per course. Instructors are being encouraged to do that, or to simply down size the kit and have additions sent in at a reration.

I ageree about taking a frybake and having a less heavy pot!

The Gulch is lookinig at it's systems right now. I doubt we will ever go to freeze dried meals or even completely to boil in a bag meals as was explained in the podcast. But I am confident something will happen.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: NOLS frybake on 04/12/2007 11:53:19 MDT Print View

Sarah, please remember that we are talking about two things here- the lightweight courses which are already happening (and don't bring a frybake) and standard NOLS hiking courses where cooking is a major part of the curriculum. These courses will never be UL, and that is not our goal, our goal is to simply lower pack weights. FWIW a 60 lb pack causes my back to scream too.

David Olsen
(oware)

Locale: Steptoe Butte
lightening NOLS with Outward Bound techniques on 04/12/2007 12:13:32 MDT Print View

The NOLS instructors I worked with at Outward Bound (there is
some crossover, OB tends to pay better) typically had 45 lbs packs themselves. This included books and climbing rack, helmet, ice axe, first aid etc. And this was in the 80's and 90's before silnylon tarps etc. and with a weeks work of bulk issue food. There must be a lot of gear extra they have
to bring on a NOLS course.

My work pack, a 30 old Lowe, weighed 4.5 lbs and lasted
for 15 years of full time instructing. It was just pack
cloth and cordura. I have a durable and slightly smaller
NZ made Ravine that weighs under 3.5 lbs now too.

There is 'bout 4 lbs lost in just the pack and no loss in function, size, comfort or durability.

As for student groups-

NOLS uses cook groups of 3, OB cook groups of 10,
at least one less set of cook gear for OB style.

NOLS Thelma Fly 200d oxford light coat weight 3.5 lbs for 3 people.
OB Group Tarp 70d heavy coat 3 lbs for 5 people.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/12/2007 12:22:15 MDT Print View

Shane,
We are looking into this exact idea.

Again to clarify, on the lightweight course which is 14 days and a bit over $3k, the students DO buy all that gear and then some. A standard 30 day course, which on average is 100-120$/day (so a bit over 3k) does not do this (yet), nor does a 90 day semester with 3-4 different skill sections, or the new 180 day academic year programs.

Although our client/students in general come from upper middle to upper class backgrounds, we are trying very hard to make the courses accessable to more diverse populations. We offer a multitude of scholarships, and provide gear to those students rent free. If we gave them light gear that other were buying, our scholarships would have less reach. We are however working with companies to try to do this. We want to avoid having the folks who paid full boat have all the nice light gear and packs and the scholarship students get hosed with heavy stuff.

You are absolutely right that it makes sense (at least to me it does)

We started the discussion with BPL and Golite last year. We have made great strides since then, and continue to move forward. I realize that it can be hard to wrap your head around what we do out there (ask Andrew Skurka!) but it is way more than just recreational hiking that most people do.

I need to point out that the title of this forum is a bit misleading.

"Is NOLS ready to go light?"

YES! We are ready. we are already moving towards it on many different levels. Will major change take time? Of course. It's not going to happen over night. There are a multitude of bigger picture issues that need to be addressed along the way. Is the whole school going to only teach UL techniques on every course? No, probably not, and certainly not in the next 2-3 years. But how many of us went from a traditional backpacking weight to UL or SUL over night?

To the obvious question of why hasn't NOLS done something like this already? I don't have all the answers, but I think it comes down to knowing what works well for our courses and not seeing lighter weight replacements until recently, that might work. We are looking into selling students all the gear for thier courses but we need to balance the cost effectiveness for them and for the school.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Re: Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/12/2007 12:54:24 MDT Print View

"To the obvious question of why hasn't NOLS done something like this already?"

I would offer one idea from my personal experience. The people who buy gear for NOLS, set NOLS accepted field policies (NAFP's), and make liaison with potential students are NOT the people in the field. They all have had an NOLS field experience at some point, but for many this was 20 years ago.

My experience with this disconnect looks like:

Students showed up for a course with a 5 pound pair of boots, when there are SO many 3 pound pairs that would do the trick. Why? Folks sitting in an office in Lander, who honestly don't know what modern gear is available insisted that students "need" heavy boots for a course.

Packs that weigh five pounds were shunted off as "too small". Students were told they will NOT be acceptable, and they should simply rent.

Many were told their down bag may not be allowed and that a 4-pound synthetic bag was the way to go.

West Nile Virus caused the school to mandate full enclosed mesh tents for all courses in the Wind River range and Absarokas. Full tents, and bombproof ones at that, mean heavier packs and instructors can to nothing about this field policy.

As an instructor team, WE were (in theory) the final arbiters. Is was OUR responsibility first and foremost for our students welfare. But the school pays a fortune in liability insurance any way (Two students' tuition paid for the entire instructor team, while the other 10-12 students' tuition went to "overhead", which supposedly was insurance in a large part). And when the student arrived with ancient heavy gear, it was too late for us to intervene.

Instructors have made MANY efforts to lighten gear for close to a decade. But they were largely shut out of the selection process in the past. The folks who make the big decisions for the school have more often than not led a group in the field in 5-10 years. At least this was my experience in the 2001-2003 timeframe that I was associated with NOLS.

THIS is why I have real doubts about a one-year turnaround to 40 pound packs. I just remember too much institutional inertia to listen to field staff.

Edited by Bearpaw on 04/12/2007 12:55:05 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Ryan, 8000 mile pack;4lbs on 04/12/2007 14:06:24 MDT Print View

Shawn, you make some good points.

The 40# initiative came from the branch level (and from the pushes that you speak of from Instructors). I think there IS a large amount of disconnect above the branch level, at the same time, the school as a whole does support this iniative, at least in word so far (budgets are being decided for Fy 2008 as we speak).
As a school we try to buy gear in larger quantities to get a better price break, that may be changing as different branches realise that what works in the SW may not in Alaska. I think this is key to making major changes. The 40# initiative has been in play since spring of 2006, so it is actually a two year plan and initially only at the Rocky Mountain location, though the SW is going forward with it as well.

We had good success last summer lowering pack weights to around 45-50 lbs, while still using the "traditional" NOLS gear, so I think another 5-10 can happen by next year. Particularly if the initiative remains a major part of briefings for Instructor teams. I guess time will tell.

There certainly is a lot of institutional inertia to overcome, that is part of being a big organization. My hope is that we shift the inertia from where it has traditionally been to a lighter weight focus.

An example of this happening is that both the Rocky Mountain and SW branches are offering fully subsidized seminars for instructors to learn the techniques involved. They are doing this despite the seminars not making it into the budget cycle for this (2007) year. I think this shows a great commitment. Next year the Seminars will be budgeted and hopefully each branch will offer one.

FYI the rocky mountain seminar starts today and Ryan Jordan and Coop from GoLite are up there as I type.

That should equate to 20 instructors that are bought into the concept and ready to start lowering pack weights on courses they work. In addition, 6 folks from NOLS rocky mountain were involved in the exploretory process in the spring of 2006, one of whom is the Assistant Director of the Rocky mountain branch and one who is the Director of the SW branch, the rest were program supervisors who will be briefing every instructor team that comes through the branch.

In the last two days I have given clinics to an Instructor course (3 Instructors, and 15 future instructors) as well as a Gila backpacking course (3 Instructors, 15 students). Everyone was excited to see this happening.

That totals almost 50 folks (or ~10%) of the working (worked a course in the past 2 years) instructor pool who have been introduced to these concepts now. A lot of these people are senior staff and are course leading courses. This means thay will be able to share the light with junior staff.

Is the 2008 goal ambitious? Yes I think it is. But we set it as an amitious goal to force the issue. And the goal was set by the rocky mountain leadership, not by instructors.

I'm not sure what you are up to these days, but coming back to work a course one summer would be awesome, you have obviously been doing a lot of personal UL stuff, and I am sure we could learn a lot from you and you could help spread the word.

I have been working for the school for eight years now, and I can honestly say that this is the most exciting thing that I have seen happening, pedagogy wise, at the school in that time.

We need to keep the momentum going to make it happen, and I am committed to making that happen. I know I am only one Instructor, but there are others that feel the same way, including many Branch directors (I know this because my wife is the SW director and has been championing this at the Branch director meetings that are happening right now).

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 04/12/2007 14:12:44 MDT Print View

On 4/12/2007 10:39:53 MDT Sam Haraldson wrote:

"One of the main purposes of NOLS is to teach students the art of being a guide, yes? As a guide it will often be your responsibility to carry extra cooking equipment and such luxuries as a spice rack because that's why people hire guides usually.

Granted, NOLS is most certainly able to reduce their gear weights required by students but it won't be at the cost of some spices or their bulk food system. I think refinements in this area would be extremely helpful to them however."

I think guide in the broad sense of the term. Outdoor leader for sure, and in the bigger picture, Leaders in general.

I agree that guides/leaders are often responsible for carrying more.

I agree that refinements of the spice kit and the bulk food system will help a lot. I for one will likely never carry the full NOLS spice kit into the field again, and I will trim it down significantly for my students as well.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: SUL school on 04/12/2007 16:10:47 MDT Print View

Ray Jardine has a 6-day outdoor course called Journey's Flow and a 10-day Connection Camp. I never took it and don't know all of the details or differences between the two, but it's obviously UL focused. It appears that the students sew their own backpacks & tarps, which helps with the cost while contributing to their knowledge. It also covers LNT principles. The students' comments that are listed are very favorable.

Check out the photos and info.

http://www.rayjardine.com/ray-way/classes/013-jf-04/jf-04.shtml

http://www.ray-way.com/classes/002-cc-01/cc-01.shtml

Does anyone have any personal experience with either course?

Tom

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: lightening NOLS with Outward Bound techniques on 04/12/2007 16:43:37 MDT Print View

Posted: 04/12/2007 12:13:32 MDT by David Olsen (oware)

"The NOLS instructors I worked with at Outward Bound (there is
some crossover, OB tends to pay better) typically had 45 lbs packs themselves. This included books and climbing rack, helmet, ice axe, first aid etc. And this was in the 80's and 90's before silnylon tarps etc. and with a weeks work of bulk issue food. There must be a lot of gear extra they have
to bring on a NOLS course.

My work pack, a 30 old Lowe, weighed 4.5 lbs and lasted
for 15 years of full time instructing. It was just pack
cloth and cordura. I have a durable and slightly smaller
NZ made Ravine that weighs under 3.5 lbs now too.

There is 'bout 4 lbs lost in just the pack and no loss in function, size, comfort or durability.

As for student groups-

NOLS uses cook groups of 3, OB cook groups of 10,
at least one less set of cook gear for OB style.

NOLS Thelma Fly 200d oxford light coat weight 3.5 lbs for 3 people.
OB Group Tarp 70d heavy coat 3 lbs for 5 people."


Thanks for this input David.
Most NOLS tent/cook groups are going out at 4 folks, but that's minor.

Thelma fly's - the ones mentioned here and that hangs in the Smithsonian are mostly used only on base camps now. We are typically using Garuda Nuk Tuks and Mountain Hardwear Kivas as a 3-4 season tent and some Mtn. Hardwear tents for Alaska, Patagonia and PNW mountaineering sections.

Still, there are lighter options around. One of the things we need to address is mosquitos and west nile. Although I believe that it doesn't pose a significant threat to our students, you would be amazed at how big of an issue it is for parents. Ryan Jordan had some great ideas on easy, inexpensive ways to either modify our existing shelters or future shelters to be bug proof, while still saving a lot of weight over what we are currently using.

I haven't worked for OB, though I am somewhat familiar with the school and have worked with a lot of former OB instructors at NOLS. My understanding is that the pedagogy is different between the two schools as well as the stated "desired outcomes" - though I believe that there are a lot of similar outcomes.

10 person cook groups would not really support our LNT curriculum, and would pose a challenge to the skills side of learning to cook in my opinion. At the same time, cook and tent group sizes is something we are looking at.

Do you think that fuel consuption increases with the larger cook group sizes? We are doing two person cook groups on the Lightweight courses and found that it increased our cooking efficiency significantly over a four person group.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 16:54:26 MDT Print View

This morning I took a detour to Barnes & Noble, and picked up a copy of the NOLS cookbook (for some reason I don't own it, and I own pretty much every trail cookbook). So I got reading and whatnot.

Here is my question:
What is the reasoning behind the carrying of supplies of food? Is it to keep it as a group? I guess my question is behind carrying bulk items, not premade up meals. My question comes, I guess, from that I have never done much traditional group backpacking. I have always carried my food, and only my food. Even in group trips we all do this. We are responsible for feeding ourselves. That means unless we make arrangements with another person, we are cooking, cleaning and feeding ourselves. Doesn't mean we don't share ;-) But I guess if I had been a boy and did Boy Scouts or such I might have got the group mentality.

The other question I have about the book is they use traditional items like raw rice, etc. Will that change in an effort to lower weight? If you go to instant items, you use less fuel, hence less weight. Your cleanup is also easier, meaning less things like scrub pads, soap, etc. And cuts camp time down. Will this change? It sounds like the small groups cook their meals in one pot? Will this change at all to cut pack weight? What type of pans do they use currently? Will they go to Ti?

Also, you mentioned that cooking is a big part of the curriculum. That is interesting.

Anyways, sorry for the ramblings.....maybe if I hadn't gotten back into backpacking in my late twenties, I might have done something like NOLS.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 17:32:15 MDT Print View

Posted: 04/12/2007 16:54:26 MDT by Sarah Kirkconnell (sarbar)

>This morning I took a detour to Barnes & Noble, and picked up a copy of the NOLS cookbook (for some reason I don't own it, and I own pretty much every trail cookbook). So I got reading and whatnot.

Here is my question:
What is the reasoning behind the carrying of supplies of food? Is it to keep it as a group? I guess my question is behind carrying bulk items, not premade up meals. My question comes, I guess, from that I have never done much traditional group backpacking. I have always carried my food, and only my food. Even in group trips we all do this. We are responsible for feeding ourselves. That means unless we make arrangements with another person, we are cooking, cleaning and feeding ourselves. Doesn't mean we don't share ;-) But I guess if I had been a boy and did Boy Scouts or such I might have got the group mentality.<


Great question Sarah,
The idea behind cooking as a four person grouop is that each person has to learn to cook and do things for others, rather than just for themselves. This is an excellent educational tool that helps facilitate group dynamics, conflict reolution and teamwork, even communication. I might go so far as to say it can be one of the most powerful tools in teaching those skills.

I think that solo cooking is somewhat unique to lightweight hiking, though I can't say for sure. I actualy think it is a neat piece of self reliance in the wilderness, and the fact that it can be done is really cool. My experience (even outside of NOLS) has always been group cooking. It wasn't until I got into lightweight that I experienced solo cooking. Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!


>The other question I have about the book is they use traditional items like raw rice, etc. Will that change in an effort to lower weight? If you go to instant items, you use less fuel, hence less weight. Your cleanup is also easier, meaning less things like scrub pads, soap, etc. <

Hmm,
I haven't looked at the cookery in depth in a while. As far as I know, we DO use instant rice and other items, like oatmeal. Do you know which edition of the cookery you got, I know there is a new addition out. I'll have to run down to the issue room and take a look to see what's going on there!


>And cuts camp time down. <

absolutly premade meals will cut down camp time, but there is a big difference between learning to cook and learning to boil water ;)


> It sounds like the small groups cook their meals in one pot? Will this change at all to cut pack weight? What type of pans do they use currently? Will they go to Ti?<

One pot and a "frybake" pan (see earlier posts in this thread). Not sure how you could go less that one pot for four people? If you mean a smaller Ti pot each, that is about what the lightweight courses do. Some courses will be using Ti pots in the near future, or aluminium at the least instead of Stailess steel - EEK!

You are right about fuel consumption for sure! Right now we aren't using soap and scrubbies to clean up, so not a lot to lose there.

>Also, you mentioned that cooking is a big part of the curriculum. That is interesting.<

I hope the info above helps explain it a little bit. On the lightweight courses it is less of a focus than on standard wilderness backpacking courses. Mostly b/c we haven't figured out how to bake a calzone in a 1 liter Ti pot, over an alchohol stove yet!

>Anyways, sorry for the ramblings.....maybe if I hadn't gotten back into backpacking in my late twenties, I might have done something like NOLS.<

No worries on the ramblings these are good questions!
FYI - We offer 23 & over courses which usually have an age spread of 23-48 y/o. That's how the lightweight courses are running for now.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 18:06:05 MDT Print View

Hmmm...maybe one Ti or aluminum pot per person(holding about a capacity of 3 cups), but no bowl to eat out of. That lowers gear to carry. I note they take insulated mugs? Dump that and carry a Ti cup. That and a spork is all a person really needs. Sure an insulated mug is nice, but it isn't needed, unless you are doing extensive snow camping.

You do make a point though: most people who join our hiking group, if they are not lightweight packers, usually have done group cooking. I am upfront about it though, and most find it easier in the long run. They pick what they like and can eat when they want. I have actually gotten to the point that I bag my kid's food separately from mine, so that he can eat when I don't want to. And I make him carry his food also. This year he is getting his own stove, and learning the art of boiling water..lol!

Though we usually all eat together in the evening. We just cook separately :-) There is definitely a connection between light packers and an independent streak.

Maybe someday I will do a course. Just cannot imagine leaving my weasel for that long. I'll just have to wait for him to hit 23. ;-)

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 18:56:59 MDT Print View

Sarah,

Yeah, I've never understood the insulated mug thing myself, keeps my drink hot too long! One idea that came up during the seminar, was 1 (lightweight)2L pot/4 people and a Ti mug/bowl/cup. Still lets us do group cooking, but lowers the weight overall, and I think will increase fuel efficiency - I think it would be more efficient to boil 2 2L pots of H2O than 1 4L, just a gut feeling though.

I actually like to use a .5L nalgene or a gatorade bottle for a hot drink container. It allows me to make a hot drink and bring it to a class or group meeting and not have to carry it in my hands or worry about spilling it. Recently there have been some questions about the health issues of using plastic for hot drinks though, so Ti is nice in that respect!

What's the deal with the spork? I see alot of sporks in the lightweight world (I have even aquired a few in my travels) but have always been partial to to a legit spoon. What's the advantages of a spork?

Your "weasel" could be as young as 14, if you didn't mind being on different courses!

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 19:06:55 MDT Print View

Are you questioning the spork!?! Blasphemy!
I like mine because its titanium. It also seems to grab Ramen a hair better than a normal spoon. Mostly because its titanium though :).

Adam

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
sporks on 04/12/2007 19:46:22 MDT Print View

Hahaha,
No blasphemy.
Just making sure I am not missing some bigger secret that the spork holds. All the one's I've found are Ti too, which is nice, but I have a Ti spoon that I prefer. Mostly because it doesn't poke holes in things!

Paul Luther
(eredluin) - M

Locale: Northeast
Re: Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 20:27:03 MDT Print View

>NOLS is certainly ingrained in certain ways of doing things<
Ryan, that is an understatement. I applaud your efforts to change philosophy at NOLS, but liability, insurance, loss prevention, and lawyers will be impediments to change. When is the last time members of the NOLS board of directors hoisted 60lb. packs to go for a hike?
Maybe change can come through enlightened (no pun intended)instructors, younger directors, and lightweight oriented clients. Don't know. Good luck.

Paul

Karl Keating
(KarlKeating) - MLife
What have been the long-term results? on 04/12/2007 20:48:56 MDT Print View

The stereotypic Boy Scout is a young fellow carrying a pack so large and uncomfortable that he thinks of backpacking as a chore, not as a pleasure. Most Scouts end their backpacking careers in the Scouts. They don't continue with the sport later in life.

This is one reason that the number of backpackers is in decline. Those who otherwise would be expected to continue with backpacking are turned off by its perceived discomforts.

While some Scouts go on to become long-term backpackers, most don't. (If most did, our trails would be full.) As for being a means of producing new backpackers, Scouting, on the whole, seems to have failed.

What about NOLS? Its web site says it has had 75,000 graduates in the last 40 years. How many of them continued to backpack as adults? Has NOLS taken surveys of its long-ago graduates to find out?

It is one thing to learn wilderness skills. But that learning is frustrated if never put to use in later years--like learning ballroom dancing as a kid and then never stepping onto a real dance floor in later life.

Edited by KarlKeating on 04/12/2007 20:50:17 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Ryan, a question on 04/12/2007 20:56:46 MDT Print View

Paul,
I can't say for sure when the BOD hoisted sixty pound packs last, but they go on two retreats every year I believe, doing different activities.
So I would bet they have (some at least) been backpacking relatively recently.

Remember though, the 60# packs are for month long trips not weekend excursions. I am not the only person helping to drive these changes (I just seem to be the only one who is trying to explain it in this forum!) Everyone is acting like this is a huge question of how, but I need to reiterate - IT IS ALREADY IN PLAY - We are already running courses that are going out at 25 lbs or less. It is important to understand that the Board of Directors does not look over our shoulder on every little decision. Day to Day operation of the School is done at a very different level.

Do you think that there will be more injuries carrying lighter packs? It seems to me there might be fewer. Even if it means that Instructors need to carry more than students, that would be fine.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: What have been the long-term results? on 04/12/2007 21:17:58 MDT Print View

Posted: 04/12/2007 20:48:56 MDT by Karl Keating (KarlKeating)

>The stereotypic Boy Scout is a young fellow carrying a pack so large and uncomfortable that he thinks of backpacking as a chore, not as a pleasure. Most Scouts end their backpacking careers in the Scouts. They don't continue with the sport later in life.

This is one reason that the number of backpackers is in decline. Those who otherwise would be expected to continue with backpacking are turned off by its perceived discomforts.

While some Scouts go on to become long-term backpackers, most don't. (If most did, our trails would be full.) As for being a means of producing new backpackers, Scouting, on the whole, seems to have failed.

What about NOLS? Its web site says it has had 75,000 graduates in the last 40 years. How many of them continued to backpack as adults? Has NOLS taken surveys of its long-ago graduates to find out?

It is one thing to learn wilderness skills. But that learning is frustrated if never put to use in later years--like learning ballroom dancing as a kid and then never stepping onto a real dance floor in later life.

This post was edited by KarlKeating at 04/12/2007 20:50:17 MDT.<

Excellent points Karl.
I do not have survey info on of how many of our grads continue to hike. I like to believe that even those that do not hike anymore, have some appreciation for the wilderness and fight for it's preservation. I'll make some calls tomorrow to see if that data is available.

We also are not necessarily taking folks backpacking to make them backpackers for life, we are trying to teach them leadership skills through backpacking. Of course we want them to gain the skills to backpack for life too, but Leadership is a huge part of what we do.

I think that this initiative to go lighter will help us to promote wilderness travel even more. by making it more enjoyable we help to increase the # of participants in a lifelong pursuit.

It is interesting that you mention the scouts. I know that Ryan J. is very active in promoting lightweight backpacking within the scouts, he is in many ways helping us to do the same. I think it will benefit both organizations to pursue this trend, and ultimately it will help to create a more engaged population to defend the wilderness.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: sporks on 04/13/2007 02:39:44 MDT Print View

There is no bigger secret you're missing concerning sporks. The problem when you try to combine two (or more) functions into one item that usually both functions don't work well anymore. Take a look at these PDA-mp3_player-cell_phone-camera items. They can do all these functions, but none of the very well, usually the mp3 player sucks or the phone doesn't work that well. Same with sporks: the teeth of the fork are just too small to actually stick into sth and when eating soup, the soup mostly runs out cause basically a spork is a leaking spoon. All the meals i eat are perfectly eatable with a spoon.

Hope this blasphemy won't end up in a trip to the stake for me.

When I look at Ray Mears he usually cooks in a fire pit, over open fires and never uses a stove. But that of course is the opposite of any LNT ethics, so I guess that's why NOLS cooks on stoves, which I completely endorse.

Eins

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Branch level reform on 04/13/2007 06:59:42 MDT Print View

"The 40# initiative came from the branch level"

That should help tremendously. I always got good support from program supervisors and the issue room at the RMB.

For those who don't know, in Lander there are two very different incarnations of NOLS. The International HQ is probably the largest building in Lander, and it offers three stories of offices filled with all the folks who run human resources, set policy, handle finance, provide publicity, perform research, handle records, and coordinate visa and whatnot for the (I believe) 9 different branches of the school (plus the assorted "twigs" which are offshoots of the twigs worldwide). Most of the full-time employees for the school work here. This is sort of the Pentagon for the school.

Then you have the branches which are on the ground meeting directly with students and making things happen. This is where folks draw their gear, bag their rations, get checked over for itinerary, and so forth before heading into the backcountry. Most of the people working here are seasonal employees on a contract.

It is MUCH easier to make a change here than in the "big building" up the road. It was at the Rocky Mountain Branch that I was first introduced to Aqua Mira in 2002. And it was here that I actually had the chance to sit down with folks and offer a few thoughts to the program supervisors who were creating the GPS curriculum the school began using in 2003. Folks at the branch are generally intimately concerned with what happens in the field and the program supervisors listen to what instructors and even students have to say.

If the push toward lighter packs is happenning at the RMB (Rocky Mountain Branch - which by the way is by far the biggest of the branches) then the intitiative will likely be successful, so long as funding and liability issues from above don't prevent the branch from making it happen.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: sporks on 04/13/2007 09:44:15 MDT Print View

Hehheh...
I use a Lexan GSI Foon. Love it! I even have other sporks as well. We have the normal GS spork as well.
The Foon is pretty nifty as it has a huge spoon bowl for liquids.
I like that I can get my pasta with it. Though a normal spoon does work just fine ;-)

Now, for the true lover of utensils, the GSI Rehydration long handled Lexan spoon is too cool!

I am odd in that I don't use Ti utensils. I can't stand metal clanking on my teeth. Gives me the willies!

eric levine
(ericl) - F

Locale: Northern Colorado
Solutions may be more complex than status quo on 04/15/2007 10:23:01 MDT Print View

I found the podcast really necessary to understand the problems faced.

I don’t know about Ray Jardine calling his insightful lightweight paradigm a pyramid: perhaps a “systems approach” would be just as good. And that’s just what NOLS needs to go light.

How do you get bag weight down using zero degree synthetic bags? (my guess is the safety factor when wet with beginners argues for synthetics) Certainly zero degree bags are not always needed, and a systems approach using clothing, liners, would help at the expense of more complex purchases and instruction on NOLS’s part.

Light weight tents may not take rough beginner abuse very well, and with the best cheap substitutes such as floorless tarp tents or plastic/nylon tarps, you may have to deal with biting bugs and very different use methods for staff to learn and teach.

Alcohol stoves are not that easy to do fine cooking with, as opposed to meal in bag water boiling, and disposable canister stoves may not fit into the environmental ethic of NOLS.

Additionally, I can imagine the life of a rainshield suit used in brush by a novice 16-year old. (or average adults, for that matter)

Without lightweight solutions to most of these, you won’t be able to use a light pack, and thus use light shoes or very light boots. And there goes your lightweight backpacking system.

I believe this can be done, but I also suspect the solutions will involve more complex purchases than NOLS is used to, along with teaching some basic field care and repair as well as buying some lower priced gear with more frequent replacements.

I'm not at all convinced that much of this change can be gradual, however, because in a systems approach, everything is connected to everything else. (as John Muir said)

Edited by ericl on 04/15/2007 10:36:58 MDT.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
What about buy-in? on 04/15/2007 19:52:56 MDT Print View

To be blunt, when I hear stories about so-called "students" destroying bomber gear through pure belligerent ham-fistedness, I want to call them spoiled brats.

I was a scout, and from the first time I touched a tent or a stove I knew darned well that I was to learn to handle these items with care. Why? Because it was what we had to keep the rain off of our heads and to put food in our bellies, and most importantly it was *all* we had. It was all we had for that trip, but it was also all we had for that season or longer.

We spent countless hours going from door to door collecting empty bottles and cans to buy that equipment, and a given tent could already have survived a decade or more of 4-season camping before it kept the snow or rain off of our faces. We were taught to respect our gear, to protect it and maintain it.

Imagine a soldier standing in front of his drill instructor, asking for a new rifle because his was full of sand and dented. Would the DI say "this guy's just new; he's never even handled a weapon before"? No way. When your life depends on your kit, the number one lesson is caring for your kit. You'd be embarrassed to be the guy who blew a hole through his shelter or who slammed his pack down and wrecked a seam.

Are these students so spoiled that they're allowed to thrash steel-and-cordura equipment to within an inch of its' life, and the instructors just sigh and pull a 3lb repair kit from a 70lb pack? Is that an instructor, or a servant?

In my opinion, caring for your kit (and not being a hoon with it) is one of the most basic lessons of outdoorsmanship. Whether your kit is made of silnylon or 200-denier smithsonian fabric, if you refuse to be a responsible steward of it then are you really "with the program"? Or are you just acting like a city-dwelling consumer who has repair and replacement at his fingertips 24 hours a day?

Supposing the students had buy-in on protecting their kit? Supposing they were charged for damage, or penalized in some other way? Their grades maybe? I'm just brainstorming; I know nothing of NOLS.

Supposing that students were informed at the outset that one of the great challenges of outdoorsmanship is to have a safe and enjoyable time using only available resources?

I think that the whole you-smash-it-I'll-repair-it philosophy goes along with the previous poster's comment about dominating the outdoors vs. being in harmony with it. If you need bomber combat-grade tackle just to get from point A to point B, have you really learned the lesson that nature is trying to teach you? If you're not capable of returning a siltarp and a ULA pack in the *same* condition in which they were rented to you, *have you really passed the course??*

Jason Ham
(jasonham) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: What about buy-in? on 04/15/2007 20:29:12 MDT Print View

The idea of buy-in isn't the only consideration when considering the "Bomber" issue.

My program (very similar to OB and NOLS) uses heavier gear just to get enough mileage out of every piece to make it pay for itself. Our students do a good job of taking care of equipment, but they are first time users who do make errors from time to time. Now figure that ALL of our students are first time users of the same reused gear that we are trying to get maximum mileage out of for the money that we spend.

So, really we aren't talking about students that are spoiled, just beginners. They do this one 25 day course and then all the gear gets deissued and prepped for the next course that will be filled with another batch of beginners.

I understand your point about the DI's response to the new soldier. As with our instructors, we do our best to instill good practices, but accidents happen and they are learned from. The DI teaches soldiers to care for, clean and repair weapons. The outdoor instructor teaches students to care for, clean and repair gear. That cycle occurs every course with the exact same gear that the last beginner was taught on.

Our program uses everything until it falls apart because its part of the school ethic to not be consumers of convenience. So we have to find a balance between durability and weight. Ideally, the best option would be durable and light.

And that is where this whole discussion is hopefully headed...what is the best gear that is both durable and light?

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: What about buy-in? on 04/16/2007 02:00:52 MDT Print View

>>>>Posted: 04/15/2007 20:29:12 MDT by Jason Ham (jasonham)

The idea of buy-in isn't the only consideration when considering the "Bomber" issue.

My program (very similar to OB and NOLS) uses heavier gear just to get enough mileage out of every piece to make it pay for itself. Our students do a good job of taking care of equipment, but they are first time users who do make errors from time to time. Now figure that ALL of our students are first time users of the same reused gear that we are trying to get maximum mileage out of for the money that we spend.

So, really we aren't talking about students that are spoiled, just beginners. They do this one 25 day course and then all the gear gets deissued and prepped for the next course that will be filled with another batch of beginners.

I understand your point about the DI's response to the new soldier. As with our instructors, we do our best to instill good practices, but accidents happen and they are learned from. The DI teaches soldiers to care for, clean and repair weapons. The outdoor instructor teaches students to care for, clean and repair gear. That cycle occurs every course with the exact same gear that the last beginner was taught on.

Our program uses everything until it falls apart because its part of the school ethic to not be consumers of convenience. So we have to find a balance between durability and weight. Ideally, the best option would be durable and light.

And that is where this whole discussion is hopefully headed...what is the best gear that is both durable and light?<<<



This is a great summary of what we are dealing with (not sure that's the right phrase).

Imagine sending 8 beginners out with UL gear (the same set of gear) every 30 days. Even with coaching, there will be issues (whoops, ripped that 1.6 oz shelter!) That is why the gradual approach - ie: specific lightweight courses, and a general pack weigh reduction is the way to go. We get to test the light weight gear on multiple courses, and reduce weight in general.

I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the support on this board. I would have thought that we would hear more " right on, good on ya, it's about time!" type comments.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: What about buy-in? on 04/16/2007 02:23:19 MDT Print View

>>>>Subject: What about buy-in?
Posted: 04/15/2007 19:52:56 MDT by Brian James (bjamesd)

To be blunt, when I hear stories about so-called "students" destroying bomber gear through pure belligerent ham-fistedness, I want to call them spoiled brats.

I was a scout, and from the first time I touched a tent or a stove I knew darned well that I was to learn to handle these items with care. Why? Because it was what we had to keep the rain off of our heads and to put food in our bellies, and most importantly it was *all* we had. It was all we had for that trip, but it was also all we had for that season or longer.

We spent countless hours going from door to door collecting empty bottles and cans to buy that equipment, and a given tent could already have survived a decade or more of 4-season camping before it kept the snow or rain off of our faces. We were taught to respect our gear, to protect it and maintain it.

Imagine a soldier standing in front of his drill instructor, asking for a new rifle because his was full of sand and dented. Would the DI say "this guy's just new; he's never even handled a weapon before"? No way. When your life depends on your kit, the number one lesson is caring for your kit. You'd be embarrassed to be the guy who blew a hole through his shelter or who slammed his pack down and wrecked a seam.

Are these students so spoiled that they're allowed to thrash steel-and-cordura equipment to within an inch of its' life, and the instructors just sigh and pull a 3lb repair kit from a 70lb pack? Is that an instructor, or a servant?

In my opinion, caring for your kit (and not being a hoon with it) is one of the most basic lessons of outdoorsmanship. Whether your kit is made of silnylon or 200-denier smithsonian fabric, if you refuse to be a responsible steward of it then are you really "with the program"? Or are you just acting like a city-dwelling consumer who has repair and replacement at his fingertips 24 hours a day?

Supposing the students had buy-in on protecting their kit? Supposing they were charged for damage, or penalized in some other way? Their grades maybe? I'm just brainstorming; I know nothing of NOLS.

Supposing that students were informed at the outset that one of the great challenges of outdoorsmanship is to have a safe and enjoyable time using only available resources?

I think that the whole you-smash-it-I'll-repair-it philosophy goes along with the previous poster's comment about dominating the outdoors vs. being in harmony with it. If you need bomber combat-grade tackle just to get from point A to point B, have you really learned the lesson that nature is trying to teach you? If you're not capable of returning a siltarp and a ULA pack in the *same* condition in which they were rented to you, *have you really passed the course??*<<<<

I'm There with you Brian. I wish our students had the experience you did.
Had they spent "countless hours going from door to door collecting empty bottles and cans to buy that equipment, Then maybe they would have a better appriciation of the value of it."

Our students do not have that experience. They show up the night before, often on a smaller plane than they have ever imagined, the next day they are are issued gear, they ration food, have a little time to meet each other, the next day they are in the field. Maybe more in town time would be beneficial to going lighter? I am not sure.

Please do not think that we are not teaching students to respect and care for their gear. They are, in fact evaluated and graded on this.


>>>"Supposing the students had buy-in on protecting their kit? Supposing they were charged for damage, or penalized in some other way? Their grades maybe? I'm just brainstorming; I know nothing of NOLS."<<<

As I stated above, students are graded on care of the equipment. Maybe it would be easier to gauge w/ lighter weight gear?
Students are charged for damage, and it is reflected in their grade, at least on the courses I run.

There is a big difference between an organization that runs weekend trips, and one that runs 30 day trips back to back. And I'm not trying to discount your experience, but a week or a weekend is a different thing than a 30 day course, particularly when the gear is turned around in 24 hrs.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: What about buy-in? on 04/16/2007 10:08:35 MDT Print View

---"I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the support on this board. I would have thought that we would hear more " right on, good on ya, it's about time!" type comments."---

I'm really sorry to have sounded critical. I wrote that post in a hurry. Having read the article and all the posts here and having listened to the podcast, I just had the impression that the gear had to be bomber to tolerate abuse. I didn't realize that simple *use* (with the occasional oopsie) could degrade and destroy gear that quickly. My apologies for my naiveté on the subject. I'm definitely impressed that your organization has this goal and I think your journey towards lightweight will be very positive for you and for your students -- as it has been for all of us! I only meant to convey some of my thoughts on the subject; I didn't mean to come across as unsupportive.

I note that the discussion of lightweight gear has been based on the general assumption that it's all very fragile. And a lot of *ultralightweight* gear really is -- for instance some of what you guys were probably shown on this seminar (sailcloth shelters and such) probably seemed more delicate than a butterfly wing to backpackers who are accustomed to 8lb packs.

There is, however, a lot of lightweight gear that is very robust. No, Dyneema will never be as wear-resistant as cordura. But then again with a lightweight pack the forces involved are quite different too. A 40 or 50 or 60lb pack hits the ground with *way* more force than a 25 pounder: both because it weighs more but also because it's more likely to be out of control as it falls! I think that 25lbs is a weight that many or most people can have good physical control over, whereas 40lbs+ is a weight that will overwhelm a significant portion of students and lead to "letting it drop" rather than "setting it down" a lot more often.

The same goes for shelters: wouldn't a big, seemingly over-designed, urethane-coated bomber tent with zipper pulls the size of a volkswagen just *seem* tougher, and therefore engender less conscious and unconscious respect from users? And conversely, wouldn't a papery-feeling pyramid tarp that rolls up into nothing actually elicit gentler handling? And of course if it only costs 1/4 as much, it only has to last 1/4 as long. If you put these two factors together, I feel that the total value of equation of lightweight gear isn't as cut-and-dried as "it isn't built as tough so it won't last as long." But once again, I'm just brainstorming.

A company whose packs get high marks for load-carrying and durability on these forums is ULA Equipment. (www.ula-equipment.com) Brian Frankle's goal is to make lightweight gear that is specifically *not* disposable, but is well-built with durable fabrics and achieves weight reduction and longevity through smart design. He's also a relatively small shop, which might make him more amenable to "tweaks" for a big customer like NOLS. I don't think I've ever seen a negative review of his products here on BPL. He also constructed a very innovative (and load-worthy) pack system for Ryan Jordan's recent Arctic trek:

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/ula_arctic_dry_pack.html
http://www.ryanjordan.com/2006_arctic/2006/05/backpacks_for_a.html

This is a pack system that's durable enough and supportive enough for long days with 40+lb loads, and is modular so the packbag can be replaced if worn or damaged. Seems like a tailor-fit for your goals, no? Again, just brainstorming.

Cheers!
Brian

Edited by bjamesd on 04/16/2007 11:37:37 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: What about buy-in? on 04/16/2007 12:08:51 MDT Print View

Thanks Brian. My support comment wasn't directed at anyone specifically.

>>>"There is, however, a lot of lightweight gear that is very robust. No, Dyneema will never be as wear-resistant as cordura. But then again with a lightweight pack the forces involved are quite different too. A 40 or 50 or 60lb pack hits the ground with *way* more force than a 25 pounder: both because it weighs more but also because it's more likely to be out of control as it falls! I think that 25lbs is a weight that many or most people can have good physical control over, whereas 40lbs+ is a weight that will overwhelm a significant portion of students and lead to "letting it drop" rather than "setting it down" a lot more often.

The same goes for shelters: wouldn't a big, seemingly over-designed, urethane-coated bomber tent with zipper pulls the size of a volkswagen just *seem* tougher, and therefore engender less conscious and unconscious respect from users? And conversely, wouldn't a papery-feeling pyramid tarp that rolls up into nothing actually elicit gentler handling? And of course if it only costs 1/4 as much, it only has to last 1/4 as long. If you put these two factors together, I feel that the total value of equation of lightweight gear isn't as cut-and-dried as "it isn't built as tough so it won't last as long." But once again, I'm just brainstorming."<<<

This is exactly were we are coming from. The SUL stuff would likely not make it, but UL or lightweight should for the reasons you point out above. To me this is one of the exciting aspects of the transition. It can be hard to get some of the 'old school' folks to wrap thier heads around that concept though.

One thing that impacts our gear significantly is the UV degradation. I should search for research about that in ragards to lightweight materials. It is amazing to see a brand new dark green pyrimid shelter go out on the first course in may and by the end of the summer come back faded and pale!

We should definately check out ULA. I got to check out the Arctic Dry Pack when Ryan was down here for the seminar and it is cool. Very robust.

Thanks for the ideas and links!

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
NOLS on 04/17/2007 09:36:51 MDT Print View

My name is Mike Clelland, and I have been a NOLS instructor for 12 years. I've been closely involved with the new Light & Fast Course at NOLS right from it's inception, and I was an instructor on the inaugural course.

Last summer eight students, myself and a co-instructor, walked into the mountains with packs all under 25 pounds, and that's with 6-days of food, and full water bottles. Our team spent two weeks in the Big Horn Mountains of Central Wyoming, and we accomplished a lot of miles, curriculum, hard skills and we had tons of fun too. Most of our group were beginner campers, and they all came away with a solid foundation of skills and insights into lightweight camping. Every single one of them is now capable of LEADING trips with their peers. And, I can say with confidence that the next backpacking outing they organize (weather a weekend or a month) will be done with high style and a focus on risk management and group dynamics. I'm super proud of that course on a lot of levels.

Reading through the comments that are listed above, my one reply would be this: NOLS does 30-day expeditions in some challenging and very remote Wilderness environments.

Some of our courses are longer and some are shorter, but the 30-day experience (the core of our courses) requires some extra stuff compared to a weekend. The goal of our expeditions is to teach a wide range of skills - and then let the students USE those skills to lead themselves. Our emphasis is on leadership, technical skills, care of the environment and team building.

The school isn't just made of instructors, there's a very dedicated crew of folks behind the scene that work hard to support the student experience in the field. I've sat with this team and we've all tried to creatively solve some of the issues that are articulated in this forum. Everybody is working with a tight budget and a small staff, but we're all on-board with the evolution of the program.

If you ask any instructor (or ANY employee at the school) what the focus of the NOLS experience is, you’ll get a different answer from everyone. But, I can say with confidence that the replies would give you an insight into something ambitious and a dedication to very high standards.

I work at a job I love, and at the end of these courses, I'll often hear: "That was the most important and rewarding experience of my life, from this point on, I can accomplish anything!"

That's something I feel really good about.


peace from idaho,
Mike Clelland!

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: NOLS on 04/17/2007 09:49:39 MDT Print View

Like Mike, Ryan, and others from the BPL crew that have actually been on the NOLS instructor training seminars, I'm pretty excited about where NOLS is going.

Mike and his crew left NOLS basecamp last year with base weights of less than eight pounds. EIGHT pounds. For a two week trek in the Bighorn Mountains of Montana. Pretty cool.

Is 40 lbs achievable or a big deal for NOLS? Heck yes, that would be a huge accomplishment. A 40 lb kit - with a 10-day ration of food @ 1.75 lb/day = 22.5 lbs of gear, which would include the heavier gear that is such a core part of the NOLS curriculum: instructional books, fry/bake kit, the additional weights of gear that must have "institutional" durability (longevity), etc.

NOLS teaches classes in the field. It's a school. That means, you really are sitting out, sedentary, in the pouring down rain, freezing snow, and wind, taking notes, asking questions, and having a class. The "ultralight" four-piece clothing system isn't going to cut it.

There are other institutional barriers as well, including managing cost and cash flow to replace gear, the permeation of lightweight experience so NOLS instructors can effectively manage crisis scenarios with lightweight gear, and educating NOLS administrative leadership, including LNT , medical, and risk management personnel, about the changes required to travel in the wilderness safely and effectively with lighter gear.

NOLS' students are known for carrying packs that are too heavy. They really do take too much stuff, they really do take stuff that has lighter alternatives yet still institutionally relevant, and they really can improve on their adoption of wilderness techniques that can capitalize on the synergies found in lightweight gear "systems" -- BUT --

They are committed to lightening their loads across the board and have to be commended for taking this risk - it's a big one for an organization like NOLS and it will take time.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
NOLS on 04/21/2007 20:24:39 MDT Print View

I'm really happy that Ryan Hutchins was willing to respond to all of our criticism. Thank-you Ryan for all of your time. I would like to ask our membership to consider our goal. Is it to convert people to a lightweight wilderness experience we think they will enjoy more? Is it to criticize and feel superior? Would we rather have people defending the wilderness we love carrying heavy packs or not have them out there at all?

Getting people out there is our most important goal. The wilderness experience is a life changing one that places a high value on self-sufficiency, independence, and away from a dehumanizing way of life that our complex society leads us to. Lightweight technique may allow people to enjoy the outdoors that otherwise couldn't, it may make people more committed, and able to spend more and longer periods of time in wilderness areas. It is a tool and not the ultimate goal.

How then can we convert people to our point of view? I submit that acceptance of where they are, gentle encouragement, pointing out the benefits of lightweight travel (and acknowledging its' limitations (less durable gear, need for more experience, less "safety margin") and not criticism are the best techniques to convert people closer to our point of view.

Edited by ksawchuk on 04/22/2007 00:04:00 MDT.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Well said, Kevin! on 04/21/2007 20:34:15 MDT Print View

Well said, Kevin!

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: NOLS on 04/21/2007 22:40:45 MDT Print View

I'm also happy Ryan jumped into this site with both feet! It is too bad some of us are lighting tinder between his toes. I've been silently following this thread because I feel I have far more to learn from Ryan that I have to give. Please pardon me while I generalize. Most of us here have little concept of the group experience that is a big part of NOLS, combined with spending a month out in the field. Some of us (not me) have been out for a month or more but it's appears more often than not to be a solo endeavor. As an ASM in Scouting I can appreciate institutional inertia, and I get in a small way the group thing, but NOLS takes group outings to another level. It's apparent to me the NOLS has hit the tipping point and will eventually achieve their goals without sacrificing what it is that makes NOLS, NOLS. Despite explaining what makes NOLS unique numerous times, it is interesting how hard it has been for some to get beyond their UL frame of mind.

Ryan, I have a few questions about the ownership of the gear. If I were to sign up with no gear, would my fee include the cost of the gear issued to me and would that gear then be mine, or would I be renting gear? If I showed up with my current gear (in the SUL, Ultralight range) would that gear be dismissed out of hand or would each piece be evaluated on it merits and my skill level?

I think ownership of the gear has a big impact on how the gear is treated. Even a loaner is often treated better than something rented, particularly if it's loaned from an individual and not an institution. A couple of responses above make this issue unclear to me. I really liked Brian James's last post about gear issues. If the ownership or responsibility issues are worked out and the right UL gear is used, I think replacement costs for gear should be at least no worse than what you deal with now.

Congratulations on heading down a lighter and more efficient path. It makes your courses more appealing to me and I think it will others as well.

Edited by ericnoble on 04/21/2007 22:46:34 MDT.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
NOLS / Light & Fast Backpacking on 04/23/2007 11:45:57 MDT Print View

Hello Eric.

You asked some specific questions about the NOLS Light & Fast Backpacking Course, specifically about gear.

Visit:
http://www.nols.edu/courses/locations/rockymtn/lightandfastbackpacking.shtml

This is the web-page with two links, one its the course description, and the other is the equipment list.

I think you can even access the FLIKR site, and find photos from the LFB course last august. It was a fun course in a cool part of wyoming.

If you have any questions, feel free to get ahold of me directly. (mikec@pdt.net)

thanks!
Mike Clelland!

Steve .
(pappekak) - F

Locale: Tralfamadore
Re: NOLS / Light & Fast Backpacking on 04/23/2007 18:37:30 MDT Print View

Mike, what type of tarps is NOLS using?

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Tarp Reply on 04/24/2007 07:51:23 MDT Print View

What kind of tarp is NOLS using? Remember, NOLS does many hundreds of courses each year, all over the world. And - we use a LOT of different shelters, tents, tarps, igloos, etc...

But - specifically, on the Light & Fast Course last summer the students used a GoLite HUT-2 (1 lb. 7 oz), it's a nicely designed 2-person tarp with a zipper. We sat out a hail storm (with lotsa lightning) and they worked great.

here's a link to the GoLite web page:
http://www.golite.com/product/productdetail.aspx?p=SH6015&s=1

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Thanks on 04/28/2007 21:11:31 MDT Print View

Thanks Guys for the comments. Glad I could shed some light on what is happening at NOLS.

Anitra Kass
(Anitraten) - F

Locale: SoCal
Totally switching the subject on 05/31/2007 01:26:56 MDT Print View

So, I just listened to this podcast and I'll admit I haven't read every part of this thread but...
During the podcast I heard mention (many times) about muffins and trying to bake them and how difficult it was on an alcohol stove etc. It didn't go into detail about how they were "baked" so as someone who doesn't do much cooking when hiking I wondered what method was used.

Today I also happened upon a website that demonstrated how to cook a muffin on an alcohol stove and I was curious if it was the method used on the LW Nols trip or if another method was used (as the podcast indicated there were mixed results on the muffins made during the LW training). I found the video at backpackingvideos.com
Look under "Latest Videos" for May and click on the video "Baking with Rocks". I found it very interesting as I had no idea that you could cook it that way...I am thinking about trying it out with esbit as well. Could be interesting. Enjoy!
NITRO
p.s. I am really interested in hearing how they were cooked in the LW training course. Thanks!

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Totally switching the subject on 05/31/2007 08:36:29 MDT Print View

Hi Anita,
That's pretty much the way we do it on the lightweight courses, though with a smaller pot. There were mixed results on the training, but we were trying it in a live environment and many folks had never used an alchohol stove yet. I think that practicing in your garage is a great way to figure out the nuances of your particular stove and pot combo and figure out what will work for your system. Having said that, I will be teaching students how to do this in the field this summer. I'll let folks know how it goes when we get back (not until the end of AUG)

The rock technique has also been ilustrated (literally) on BPL somewhere by Mike Clelland! He has baked many a muffin this way and is quicly earning the title of Muffin Man!

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Losing the pounds on 06/29/2007 11:23:09 MDT Print View

Well, I just got back from a 5 day NOLS Professional training course in the BIG HOLE Mtns. in Idaho. This course was not intended to be particularly light weight, but as an instructor team we stressed this pretty heavily. Considering students used the standard 30 day backpacks, kitchen and sleep systems, we did pretty well. Lowest pack weight was 32# (mine) with water, food, sat and cell phone, paper work and first aid kit. The highest pack weight was 46# for a student who used his own extremely heavy expedition pack (it was ridiculous, must have weighted 10-11#!) most came in between 36-40#. All pack weights are with 2 liters water and 4-5 days of food (1.75 PPPPD for students 1.5 ppppd for Instructors).

We stressed carrying fewer layers than often taken on courses, reduced group gear considerably, and coached the students heavily on what to bring. Still, many brought extras (large multi tools, 2 t-shirts, and one fellow brought 3 pr. of shorts) We had a scale for students to weigh things on and they loved the challenge of going lighter. We had mild weather, but all students stated that they had everything they needed and no extras (from their perspective.)

We have about 3 weeks before the first light weight backpacking courses of the season head out. I will be working with NOLS Rocky Mountain and Mike C! to prep for these courses. We are going to run two w/ 25# or less packs and a resupply half way through, and two with 30# or less pack and no resupply - all are 12 field days.

Let the revolution commence!

Edited by ryan_hutchins on 06/29/2007 12:34:36 MDT.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Losing the pounds on 06/29/2007 11:36:56 MDT Print View

Sounds great! Its good to hear you all were stressing lightweight and it looks like it worked pretty well. Still pretty heavy by most of our standards but a huge improvement over what I hear the packs used to weigh. The actual lightweight courses sound like they will be very good too.
Great job and keep up the good work!

Adam

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Losing the pounds on 06/29/2007 11:45:16 MDT Print View

NOLS is making more progress quicker than I expected.

Keep up the good work!!!!

Thank you for the update.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
First 2 lightweight courses of 2007 are back! on 08/06/2007 21:14:04 MDT Print View

Hey all,
I just got out of the field working one of the first two lightweight backpacking courses of the summer. The last two left for the mountains yesterday.

This will be just a quick update, stay tuned for a full write up in the near future.

The course I worked was a great success. We spent 12 days in the Absoroka mountains of Wyoming. We shortened our route mid course so ended up covering 78 miles over that time (details will be in the trip report) We had tons of rain - creeks were carving new channels and there were flash floods in some areas! Everyone was able to stay warm and dry for the most part despite that, and we saw a lot of great terrain and a lot of bear activity (grizz) though no bear sightings.

And I guess this is the important part - heaviest pack was mine (IIRCC) at 27.03 lbs - six days of food, fly fishing gear, institutional first aid kit (reduced it's weight), course paperwork (uugghh!), and personal gear.

Stay tuned for the full trip report!

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: First 2 lightweight courses of 2007 are back! on 08/07/2007 09:46:49 MDT Print View

That's great news! I can't wait for the full report. I just finished a week long guided trip with the scouts and they added about 16 lbs of gear and food to my pack. My pack weight was about 27 lbs as well, but you were out twice as long. Mine was the lightest pack of the group.

David Laurie
(bushwalker) - F

Locale: NSW Australia
NOLS going light(er) ? on 08/15/2007 09:22:17 MDT Print View

I have some NOLS books in my personal library here, but I have never been able to take their gear lists, in those books, too seriously; (plenty good info' in other sections, just not their main suggested gear lists..), - basically because the pack would have weighed 20 - 30 lbs more than what I intended to carry, even when not planning to go (ultra)light.

Even back in the !970's, the target weight for a pack for a 3-4 day walk, down here in Australia among bushwalkers I knew at that time, was in the range of 30 -35 lb. ... And that was well before any of today's L/W and UL gear...

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 09/02/2007 19:47:55 MDT Print View

Quick Note about the Lightweight thing at NOLS.

I taught one of the 4 Light & Fast courses at NOLS this summer in the Wind River Range.

And - It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at the school in 14 years of instructing. A wonderful experience, for me, my co-instructor (Lexy) and my students. A ton of fun, and a cool challenge all around.

There will be a trip report due out soon on this site. We (Ryah H. and the rest of our lightweight comrades at NOLS are all chiming in) are eager to tell what worked great (95%) and what still needs some fine tuning (5%)

Peace,
M!

matthew morriss
(shishcabob30) - F
NOLS mountaineering pack weights on 08/23/2008 08:19:06 MDT Print View

I stepped off from the Pacific Northwest Branch in Washington state in June for a mountaineering course, and I was carrying a 69 lb pack. One of the heaviest packs in the group for one of the lightest persons in the group. I also happened to have the smallest pack. I think a 40 lb limit would be great for backpacking courses; however, it wouldn't work so well on a mountaineering course. Because there is just so much gear you have to take to stay safe, we had to carry ropes, ice axes, pickets, flukes, books, webbing ect... so maybe mountaineering courses could do with a downsizing of other aspects such as food trying to find lighter food that doesn't cut back on daily calorie intake.

On our last and longest ration; food was by far heavier than anything else in the pack. My pack easily wheight 80 lbs the first day of that ration and which was just INSANE!.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: NOLS mountaineering pack weights on 08/23/2008 08:50:17 MDT Print View

Matthew,
A couple of questions-

What was the food/person/day weight?

What was the calories/day target?

Were dinners "add hot water" or "simmer 20 minutes" style?

June would imply "Summer Weights" for clothing and sleeping, at 15#, with a little care. Two pounds of food/person/day should meet a high caloric target, for 15# for a week. (And many on this site would argue that these number are too generous.)

Implying 50# of climbing gear?

Or is there a dutch oven in the mix?

robert hogrefe
(rhhrhh) - F
northern tier, be forewarned on 02/15/2009 18:07:52 MST Print View

I have really enjoyed all you info and expertise, it is indeed the best. If you ever want a real challenge, go and see what the BSA Northern Tier program still uses. Last summer we carted 60-70 lb "kettle" and "elephant" packs on portages, along with 70lb aluminum canoes, sometimes carrying both together. It is, I was told, a tradition thing at NT to do things like the pioneer/voyagers of long ago. Needless to say, many sprains, near misses on bad steps resulting in broken bones and very sore bones and muscles were the norm. As the only adult with our crew (NT provided an 18 yr old guide also), I was shocked at not only the safety issues but what it was teaching the boys. Literally every boy but one got sick to a varying degree with a cold, cough, or sore throat by the end of the 9 day trek. It was just too much exertion on top of many hours of paddling every day. The entire NT program needs an overhaul in terms of today's light and ultra light options for every aspect of the program. We have heard it said that NT is the most demanding of the BSA High Adventure camps, and the present design guarantees it will continue to be, but only to the detriment of the campers, young and old. It would be wonderful to see the advantages of going light and efficient realized at NT, they just might get more people to return and enjoy the wonderful environment up there. YIS, RHH.

Edit

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: northern tier, be forewarned on 02/16/2009 10:13:07 MST Print View

Quote RHH:
"they just might get more people to return and enjoy the wonderful environment up there."

And that's so important in this day and age of Nature Deficit Disorder and development of open space. Thanks for sharing this story.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: northern tier, be forewarned on 02/16/2009 12:35:52 MST Print View

Yeah, the Northern Tier crews travel heavy.

But to be fair you have to consider their clientele.

Youth (also inexperienced adults) can be every hard on gear. NT is already costly enough without adding $150 per head so that less durable canoes can be replaced annually. Spending a week constantly nagging kids to do what does not come naturally is another way to not get people to come back (been there ...) If I'd spent $2000 ... oops, sorry $2900! on a black/gold Bell Northwind there's no way it'd be used by anyone until they'd demonstrated that wet footed landings are their personal norm, not the exception.

There are other programs up there that tend to get repeat campers, often many time repeaters. There are more possibilities with that situation. The typical ethic is that you earn the right to use the better gear and go on more interesting outings thru your behavior and experience. The younger ones see that as something to aspire to, a sign of achievement.

Disclaimer: I've only observed NT crews from a safe distance, never as a participant. Being located in MN, our scout troop has access to people and gear that make it possible to outfit and lead our own BWCAW trips.

A N
(claruswi) - F
Re: northern tier, be forewarned on 03/01/2009 01:22:58 MST Print View

Robert, here appears to be a significant disconnect. You complain about large "elephant"(Duluth) packs. This is personal equipment that your crew choose to take that has to be divided up somehow.

For the "kettle" pack, about the heaviest item with the large pot. About 4lbs could be saved by using a lighter and less durable pot that Northern Tier has to replace twice a summer-- a cost that of course is passed on to you. The two stoves are Peak 1st and you could save maybe 4 pounds by bringing your own. Most of the equipment is already light weight (trail oven, etc). It's just a matter that you are taking gear for nine people.

As for canoe weight, 70 pounds is rather standard for any durable model provided by an outfitter. However, you had the option with Northern Tier to rent Kevlar canoes at a below market rate. Kevlar canoes are lighter but still range from 45 to 55 pounds. These are very delicate and cost between $2,500 to $3,000 each. These canoes have to be replaced very often. If everyone was issued a Kevlar canoe your trip cost would be more than double what you paid.

As for the exertion and paddling you mentioned, remember you get to choose the route. There is nothing preventing you from adjusting the route after you head out to make it less demanding.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
northern tier program on 03/01/2009 09:11:33 MST Print View

great points on the northern tier challenges in going lighter. Many seem to be the same as NOLS has and does face. Maybe this thread should become a place to share ideas about institutional lightweight, or should we start a new one focused on that?

Jeremy Cleaveland
(jeremy11) - F

Locale: Exploring San Juan talus
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 13:08:46 MDT Print View

How is NOLS currently doing with there quest? Did they achieve, or approach the 40 lb Initiative?
Have they decided on what packs and shelters to use for standard backpacking trips?
A new gear list would be very interesting

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light?" on 03/31/2009 13:16:15 MDT Print View

> We have heard it said that NT is the most demanding of the BSA High Adventure camps, and the present design guarantees it will continue to be, but only to the detriment of the campers, young and old.

I've known a lot of guys who went on the BSA NT canoe trip, and didn't have any of those problems. I'm not saying BSA doesn't need to lighten up, but most of the problem you described are due to the difference in boys from 25 years ago, and today. You just don't learn toughness playing video games.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 14:15:30 MDT Print View

"How is NOLS currently doing with there quest? Did they achieve, or approach the 40 lb Initiative?
Have they decided on what packs and shelters to use for standard backpacking trips?
A new gear list would be very interesting"

Great question Jeremy.
I wrote an article that I believe was published in the last print issue of BPL reflecting where the school was as of summer 2008. I am unsure if it was actually published or not. Regardless, quite a bit has happened since the article was written.

Just to recap for those who don't want to read all 5 pages of this thread, we have been talking about two separate things here.

1. the NOLS lightweight backpacking program which is designed to teach lightweight backpacking skills and goes out with packs weighing no more than 25 lbs. for 12-14 days.

2. The "40 lb initiative" which was a somewhat arbitrary goal weight for all hiking packs at the school.

To answer your question specifically, things are going well.
NOLS Rocky Mountain has consistently been sending courses out with 45 lb average pack weight. A bit higher than our goal weight, but a huge achievement none the less, considering where we began. This has been done using primarily the gear we already have on hand and just working harder with our students and staff to be conscientious of their choices.
Here at NOLS Southwest, we are seeing the same results. We are currently right around 45 lbs using standard gear. Neither of the these locations is including lightweight courses in this average btw.
NOLS SW is looking at gear options to reduce pack weights further. We have had plans to phase in new sleeping bags, but were unable to get them from the vendor, so we will try again in the fall. Our next order of packs will be GoLite Odyssey's, taking another 1-2 pounds off the weight of our packs alone. We have started selling puff pants as an alternative to fleece. Our puff rental and sales program has been hugely successful. Both decreasing pack weights and in student satisfaction. We continue to look at cookware that is both light and durable.

We are about to run an Instructors course that will be run half traditional backpacking skills and half lightweight. And out lightweight staff training seminar continues to be hugely popular and we have refined it quite a bit from it's inception.

NOLS Alaska is running some lightweight sections on combo courses this summer, and i will be trying to make the sell to the staff at our PNW location while I am up there in June.

We continue to learn, apply and refine the programs, both lightweight and traditional to better serve our students.

Feel free to ask any other questions. I am excited that folks are still interested in what we are doing at NOLS!

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: northern tier, be forewarned on 03/31/2009 15:20:46 MDT Print View

"It is, I was told, a tradition thing at NT to do things like the pioneer/voyagers of long ago."

On the face of it, that sounds good. I would be interested in hearing more about just exactly what that means, though. I am shocked by the bad aspects you cite -- I am very sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience.

One of my fondest memories is the summer (late '1960's?) I spent leading canoe trips in the Temagami area of Ontario for a camp. I had the same 13-14 year old boys all summer. We started with shorter trips and worked up to a 2-week trip by the end. The boys were good to travel with from the beginning. By the middle of the summer, they were a true joy to travel with.

Very traditional North Woods traveling -- canvas-and-wood canoes, wanigan boxes, wood fires, fire irons, iron frying pans, canvas dining fly, 2-person canvas wall tents, duffel bags (not packs), tump lines, etc. All loads, including the canoes, were carried on tump lines (that took some getting used to). Most suppers, between bread, dessert, and main dish I cooked 2 of the 3 in reflector ovens.

Portages ranged from well used to the occasional one where I went over first with my axe, limbing it enough for the boys to portage the canoes. Some were smooth, some pretty rough. For this age group, we did portages as "one-and-a-half's".

Unlike your experience, we had no sickness or injury that I can recall. The boys enjoyed it enough that many of them came back to the camp year after year; the older boys often graduated to such things as one and two month trips canoeing down to James Bay (being a returning camper was prerequisite for these longer tougher trips).

As to too much exertion -- I set up longer trips than the other counselors (a bit less than twice as long). I decided I must be doing OK on exertion when one night around the campfire, part way through the summer, the boys asked me "why the kids in the other sections did not get bored -- they never seemed to do very much".

In short, my experience is the exact opposite of yours. I am all in favor of tripping light -- that's what I would do myself at this point. But that summer of traditional tripping was an experience not to be missed -- and as far as I could tell the boys felt the same way. (FWIW: the camp is still in business, run by the same family, and still very traditional.)

Not sure what the difference was. Could be the boys 40 years later?

Could it also be the leadership? What was your own training for this? Did you have training and/or experience with traditional north woods ways of canoeing before taking the trip out? (As a spot check, what stroke were those in the stern paddling? Please don't tell me it was a J-stroke.)

Or were you just depending on your 18-year old guide? (I gather that you were.) What was his level of skill and training?

I had an equivalent with me -- he was good, but still had things to learn. Example: one night we pulled into our campsite late, after a long rainy day. He, unbeknownst to me, put the kids to bed without supper, telling them that since we could not start a fire, there would be no supper! (I thought they were just staying in their tents out of the rain.) I built the fire and cooked supper. When I discovered the situation, I made him go around and tell each one (waking them if need be) that there was hot supper. Coming to supper was optional, but the had to know that hot supper was available. I don't recall numbers any more, but most/all of them showed up for supper.

-- MV

Edited by blean on 03/31/2009 15:23:50 MDT.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Please post Northern Tier info and opinion in a new thread. on 03/31/2009 15:34:01 MDT Print View

Can I please request that comments relating to the Northern tier program which is not part of NOLS be moved to another thread. The hijacking of this thread could lead to confusion, and is not contributing to the information regarding NOLS lightweight program.

I understand that the BPL forum software is limited and that many people are clicking on a single post in the new posts section, but I implore folks to please take a moment to look at an entire thread before responding to a single off topic post and continuing the hijack.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 15:54:27 MDT Print View

"1. the NOLS lightweight backpacking program which is designed to teach lightweight backpacking skills and goes out with packs weighing no more than 25 lbs. for 12-14 days."

Does that weight include food for 12-14 days? If so, wow! 14 days at 1.5#/day is 21 lbs all by itself.

-- MV

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Please post Northern Tier info and opinion in a new thread. on 03/31/2009 15:59:36 MDT Print View

Sorry -- I did note the NT postings and so added one.

It does seem desirable that replies be in the same thread as the original. What is the mechanism to get the (entire) divergent topic off into its own thread, so that the original is not hijacked?

-- Bob

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 16:16:54 MDT Print View

"Does that weight include food for 12-14 days? If so, wow! 14 days at 1.5#/day is 21 lbs all by itself."

Hi Bob,
That weight is with six days of food. We reration in the middle of the course. There has been a lot of discussion amongst those of us involved in the program about running a fully self supported trip for 12-14 days. With careful planning we estimate we could make it happen with packs weighing around 30# (assuming we start with 20# for 6 days!)

BTW we are using a 1.4 #/person/day (ppppd) ration using calorie dense foods based on the Mike C! (who is a NOLS instructor, and lightweight champion at the school) groovy biotic cooking recipies found here on BPL.

I pm'd you about the hijack, no worries.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
One other consideration about NOLS going light on 03/31/2009 16:31:12 MDT Print View

I do not know the current NOLS goal/philosophy, but back when Papa Paul started NOLS the goal was to prepare leaders for taking youth on outings -- everything from your local church group or Boy Scout group to Outward Bound instructors. That meant one consideration was teaching people to use food and equipment that youth groups, especially under-privileged ones, could afford.

That was one of the driving forces behind using NOLS tarps for tents. Also, wool was good -- not only was it warm, but one of the really good things about it was that you could put together warm clothing from the thrift shop. Etc.

If that is still a NOLS goal, then going lightweight needs to be thought of in that context. That automatically rules out pricey equipment. Which makes setting up light-weight more of a challenge.

So, someone, please enlighten me as to how much of Papa Paul's goal remains?

-- MV

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Decision making Vs. Equipment on 03/31/2009 17:21:05 MDT Print View

Paul Petzoldts goals are very much at the forefront of what we do at the school today.

Keep in mind that there are a total of 5 lightweight specific courses every year out of hundreds of courses that we run. Arguably, the leadership skills are the same in leading a group in the wilderness regardless of the gear, so lightweight course or not, our graduates should be able to lead people in the mountains with all types of equipment.

The one piece that may (or may not, I only met Paul once) have changed since Paul started the school is a much clearer focus on leadership. We have developed a clear and powerful leadership curriculum that builds on what Paul was doing back then. Don't get me wrong, Paul clearly taught leadership, we have just refined that curriculum to be clearer - and to extend beyond just wilderness leadership. Transference is a very critical focus for us now.

I do think that there is great value in being able to work with what you have, in regards to under privileged populations in particular, but in all cases as well.

My experience is that it is a myth that light weight gear is more expensive than traditional backpacking gear. Sure it is more expensive than thrift store buys, and you certainly can go backpacking by going to thrift store and outfitting yourself in army surplus woolies. but if you are buying backpacking specific gear new anyway, lightweight gear is typically less expensive (excluding some niche and cottage industry companies). Durability can be brought up as a challenge for these programs certainly, though in many cases that is improving as well. But maybe lightweight isn't the right choice for some programs. It certainly isn't for every NOLS course. There is something to be said for the learning that comes through physical challenge, and a heavy pack insures that challenge!

Regardless, lightweight backpacking, despite attempts to market and sell the latest and greatest gear buy manufactures is more about making good decisions. Judgment and decision making is one of the most important skills a leader can have.

An example of the impact of decision making Vs. Equipment is the last Instructor training seminar we ran for the lightweight program. For various reasons, the economy being one, we could not provide participants with a full "kit" of lightweight gear to use for the seminar. We made due with the equipment that people already had and were still able to go out with SUL packs on a three day trip. It just took making better decisions about what to bring and being informed of the conditions we would encounter. The only thing that Instructors had that was different from what they would use on a 30 day course was the pack. This was incredibly powerful for these instructors as it really helped to illustrate that they can decrease their (and more importantly their students) pack weights by simply making better decisions about what to bring.

The core competencies are all the same though. Care of the equipment (whatever that may be), Care of self, care of the environment.

There is a lot more to our skills and leadership curriculum than that, but for me it sums it up pretty well.

Jeremy Cleaveland
(jeremy11) - F

Locale: Exploring San Juan talus
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 17:45:00 MDT Print View

Thanks for the informative replies. I am Gear Manager for a Wilderness Program in CO, and am looking to gradually replace our backpacks (and other gear) with lighter, better stuff.

We were looking at the Osprey Program Packs, but how does the Golite Oddessy compare in terms of durability, in the abusive context of a camp program?

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 03/31/2009 18:17:20 MDT Print View

Jeremy,
We have found that the Golite Odyssey holds up very well. We ran some of the Osprey packs for a while, and we don't any more, for what that's worth. Various reasons, I don't have all the details. In General I am a huge fan of Osprey packs though. One thing that we have come to realize is that our super durable gear can have too long of a life. We have a lot of Older packs that still have some life left but that we have retired and we have had trouble even giving them away. We are currently evaluating our rotation for equipment to make sure we retire stuff before it's useful life is over so we maintain some resale-ability and it is still new enough to be relevant in the market (not obsolete).

We are confident that the Golite packs will hold up well for us, we have been testing them for about 3 years now, and I know a bunch of instructors that have them personally. I'll be borrowing one from a friend to work an instructors course in couple days, and his has 2 solid years of full time field work on it. Another friend just mentioned that they do take a bit more care than a burlier pack, but that she loves it and the increased care is minimal forthe function and weight savings.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Decision making Vs. Equipment on 03/31/2009 19:04:54 MDT Print View

Agreed that leading the trip, personal skills on the trip, and outfitting the trip to begin with, are separate skills.

On the outfitting side, original NOLS went as far as to actually issue some thrift store stuff -- for example the long sweaters (the body of one sweater sewn to the bottom of another sweater). I do not know how much was NOLS' own finances and how much was a teaching point. At a minimum, they did take advantage of it as a teaching point, though.

"if you are buying backpacking specific gear new anyway" -- agree with your point, but the problem is the premise -- the idea was to teach ways to avoid buying backpacking specific gear new. To some extent, this was suggesting places like thrift stores. To some extent it was talking about getting a bit creative with the thrift store stuff, such as the long sweater, or sewing a reinforcing patch on the seat of wool pants.

The food was in the same vein -- their teaching point was that you could have good food from the grocery store -- no need to go to specialty backpacking food.

In the original NOLS spirit, it would be fun to have a thread on who can come up with the *cheapest* lightweight or ultralight pack.

-- MV

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Decision making Vs. Equipment on 03/31/2009 21:40:57 MDT Print View

Excellent points.

I think the gear piece was more a factor of NOLS finances.
Paul actually got himself in some trouble designing, building and then selling gear to the school.
It taught a valuable lesson for sure, but I would bet that those lessons were more a function of need than desire.

Outdoor Education has come along way since those days. It is a career now, Instructors are Professionals, many making a decent living and a career doing this. Many of us have a B.S. M.S. or even Phd in Experiential education. The expectations from parents and students is not to come to an established international program and be outfitted with thrift store gear. Is this good or bad? I don't know, but it is the way of things.

As my mom always told me: "change is inevitable, growth is optional, choose wisely."

Food fortunately has stayed similar to the old days.

I like the "cheapest lightweight kit" kit idea.........

Game on!

Jeremy Cleaveland
(jeremy11) - F

Locale: Exploring San Juan talus
Is National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Ready to Go Light? on 04/01/2009 11:56:34 MDT Print View

Ryan, thanks for the info. I'll look into them some more.
Very true about gear lasting too long. We have been rotating our mountain bikes out yearly, and want to move that direction with more gear.

What is the upcoming choice in shelter for NOLS? Still tarps, perhaps, but what model? I personally love tarps, and hate zippers, but some here prefer pyramids (we currently have aging Kivas) which are much better than traditional tents.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
shelters on 04/01/2009 12:09:20 MDT Print View

Our shelter choice depends on course area and course type. For wilderness hiking, we have moved primarily to pyramid style shelters (BD megalight). Mountaineering courses use mountaineering tents of some persuasion depending on the location. Tarps are mostly used at base camps now.

I agree Tarps are awesome, and the art of "tarpology" is being lost in the outdoor community. Etowah gear makes some nice ultralight tarps that you should check out if you go that direction. They say that OB has used them with great success. Our primary reason for going to a 'mid style shelter has been managing fears of eposure to west nile virus. The upside is that the 'mids, even with a bug net liner are lighter than the NOLS Thelma Fly.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Stove fuel consumption and reduction research on 04/06/2009 20:00:49 MDT Print View

Check out new research from the NOLS research department. Since most courses at NOLS use whisperlight stoves, this is pretty exciting for the school. NOLS PNW is already sending pot parka out on courses, NOLS RM will begin this summer from what I hear, and NOLS SW will likely follow suit when we return in the fall.

http://rendezvous.nols.edu//content/view/1900/803/

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Hitting the hills on 04/09/2009 23:39:29 MDT Print View

Leaving tomorrow to work a NOLS SW Instructors course. We will be running this course w/ 8 days of traditional style backpacking, shooting for 40 pound packs, and then switch gear at a re-ration and go lightweight, 20-25 lbs for 9 more days. We'll see how it goes, it's our first time trying it. We'll be in the Gila Wilderness in NM. Trip report to follow...

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Hitting the hills on 04/10/2009 04:22:42 MDT Print View

Interesting course idea. I hope you can report some on your student's before/after impressions.

Ryan Linn
(ryan.c.linn)

Locale: Maine!
Re: Hitting the hills on 04/10/2009 07:29:18 MDT Print View

I would also be very interested in hearing how that goes. I've been thinking of doing an instructor course since racking up a bunch of americorps education awards, but I've been spoiled for the past couple years with light packs. At the end of the NOLS course I took several years ago, we did a week with 65-70 lbs packs... I don't think I could do that anymore.
Happy trails!

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
back from the hills... on 04/29/2009 23:30:27 MDT Print View

Well, I got back from teaching the hiking section of the NOLS SW Instructors course (IC) yesterday. Students are now out at Cochise Stronghold for their climb camp. We did an eight day ration in traditional style, with a focus on reducing our initial pack weights, followed by a nine day ration using lightweight food and cook systems and further lowering our pack weights. Initial pack weights ranged from a low 38# (I came in at 39#) to a high of 47#. We used a standard NOLS ration of 1.75pppd (pounds per person per day) in the first ration with a traditional NOLS kitchen including the Banks frybake and MSR whisperlite stove. Our shelters were Black Diamond Mega-lights. Tent/cook groups of 3. At NOLS SW, we are making the transition to Ti pots (2L MSR Titan) for 3 person cook groups. We have replaced the standard 6" channel lock pliers used for pot grips with a much much lighter 4" channel locks that weigh significantly less but can still lift a full 2L pot securely.
We spent considerable time prior to heading into the field weighing our gear and coaching the IC students on making smart gear choices to lower their pack weights.

In the second, 9 day ration, we swapped out our traditional cook and food system for Trail Designs Caldera Cone kitchens and a ration designed for these alcohol stoves. The lightweight ration came in at 1.4pppd. Students and staff traded their traditional packs for Golite Jams or Quests with the frame sheet pulled out. We further refined our layering and sleep systems to reduce our base weights. Pack weights at the beginning of this ration came in weighing from ~30-37#'s. Of note is the fact that students were not using much, if any specialized gear beyond the cook system and a switch to trail runners for most. Our shelters remained the same, but we went to 4 person tent groups with 2 person cook groups. Because we had an odd number, I cooked solo using a bush buddy stove.

Above 30# the Jam is reaching it's load carrying capacity, and for the first few days, I wasn't sure students were too excited about the lightweight switch. They liked the efficiency of the cook system, but the packs were a bit "trying" on the shoulders those first three days.
After the packs reached a reasonable carrying weight, Students were very excited about the system.

We practiced lightweight techniques including quickstarts, while still covering the NOLS 4-7-1 leadership curriculum and a lot of natural history curriculum as well as a full LNT Masters certification.

At the end of the hiking section, Students commented on how the lightweight system had changed their perspective on backpacking. In 17 days we covered at least 110 miles both on but mostly off trail in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. We traveled through 3rd and 4th class terrain and even swam through canyon potholes in a snow storm. Wether was mostly sunny, though we traveled through snow at 10,000' and saw wet snow and moderate winds as well.

Overall this trial of running a combo traditional/lightweight IC was a huge success. We are excited to get these instructors working courses to share what they learned on their IC about lightweight systems. Currently, NOLS SW is the only NOLS location running an IC in this fashion. Based on the success of this test, we will likely make some small tweaks and continue with it in the future.

Although the lightweight program at NOLS remains a niche, steady and definitive progress continues to be made in reducing pack weights school wide, and expanding the use of lightweight skills.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
2 LW courses in the field on 01/14/2010 12:17:37 MST Print View

UPDATE
We ran 2 LW courses this summer out of the Rocky Mountain location, NOLS Southwest has 2 more lightweight courses running right now, woohoo! Running another instructor seminar first week of February, and we will be running the Instructor course as a split again this year (see above post).

3 day pack on the '09 NOLS seminar

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 16:09:44 MST Print View

http://nols.blogs.com/nols_news/2010/02/nols-instructors-lighten-packs.html.html

Great Seminar with awesome folks. NOLS continues to lead the industry in lightweight backpacking skills education through excellent instructor development and training, experienced instructors and the most in depth risk management in outdoor education.Santa Theresea Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, AZ

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 16:16:55 MST Print View

I would argue that BPL's own school leads the industry in skills education related to lightweight back country travel but I suppose that's a subjective statement to make.

Edited by simplespirit on 02/09/2010 16:34:39 MST.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 16:30:51 MST Print View

Ryan,
What are typical base weights (skin out)?
What is the typical food weight, per-person-per-day?
Last, where are these courses being held?

I'm curious how NOLS 'lightweight' translates to the field.

Thanks

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 20:16:53 MST Print View

Greg,
Base weight and skin out weights are calculated differently. And at NOLS we are focusing on base weights of 8-12 pounds. Obviously this does not include consumables or clothing worn.

Typical food weight is working out to 1.4 ppppd.

Courses are held in the rockies of Wyoming (Absorokas, Winds, Big Horns) in the summer, and in southern Arizona in January, typically in the Galiouros mountains.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 21:00:20 MST Print View

Chris can you expand on your argument?

It would be hard for anyone to compare NOLS and BPL without having taken a course with both, and since I haven't I can only rely on information from those that I know who have taught for both.

Like you, I have a relationship with BPL, and I respect what Ryan is doing greatly. I sincerely hope that his school thrives as competition will keep us all fresh.

I'd love to hear more about your opinion on the matter.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/09/2010 22:22:30 MST Print View

Ryan,
Thanks for the numbers. They are impressive.

Perhaps there is hope after all.

What a wonderful thought of folks learning how to connect with the outdoors, while leaving the kitchen sink at home.

Nice job.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/10/2010 05:25:00 MST Print View

@Ryan: Encouraging news

@Chris: no doubt that BPL leads the industry if packweight is the prime criteria. But running 4 instructor courses in the past year (8-12 lb base weights) far exceeds the volume of BPL's instuctor training output (zero WTS3 in the past year).

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: Re: Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/10/2010 06:02:29 MST Print View

Well, for one, BPL was recruited by NOLS to help develop their outdoor program. That says a lot by itself.

The WTS in 2009 ran courses from 3-14 days including instruction on packrafting, lightweight backpacking, and a more specific course based around thru-hiking. There are also courses developed but not being currently run around long distance packrafting and lightweight winter travel. I believe NOLS still runs 2 courses, one in the Rockies and one in the Southwest both with instruction only on lightweight backpacking.

I don't have first hand experience with a NOLS course because, IMO, the leadership-based courses require one to carry far too much weight. The lightweight courses don't offer the leadership component so most of us that are already experienced with lightweight techniques wouldn't get much out of it.

It is true that the WTS has only run 2 instructor training courses where NOLS has run far more. I would argue the reasoning behind that is the WT3 course is far more challenging and thus there hasn't been a lot of interest shown. Of course, I can't say that for certain. I believe the NOLS course is based on teaching existing instructors how to lighten their load. The WT3 course is based on ensuring you are prepared to successfully lead a group expedition in to extreme conditions. The goals are entirely different.

I also don't have the curriculum for both in front of me so I can't say for certain which is more developed. Going off what I do know, I believe the WTS courses offer far more variety in regards to equipment. I'm pretty sure the NOLS courses heavily push GoLite. Feel free to correct me on any of this since I'm going mostly off memory and that can be a bit fuzzy the older I get.

I suppose you could spin the statement in either direction.

Edited by simplespirit on 02/10/2010 06:13:04 MST.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/10/2010 14:32:28 MST Print View

Thanks Chris,
It's great to hear an outside perspective of the NOLS Lightweight program.

I'd like to respond to your thoughts here, just to clarify some things, I by no means want this to turn into an argument, as I am a supporter of BPL and of what Ryan is trying to do.

A few thoughts...
Your comments in "quotes"


"Well, for one, BPL was recruited by NOLS to help develop their outdoor program. That says a lot by itself."

True, BPL was recruited to help NOLS get the program started, and that was extremely helpful to the school. NOLS has continued to ask BPL to be involved and BPL has stated that "you [NOLS] don't need us any more, you know what you are doing." There has also been a lot of cross pollination from NOLS to BPL, which has contributed significantly to the development of WTS. NOLS instructor Mike C! ran the WTS school last year. Some of the language on the WTS web page is directly pulled from NOLS, which is great.

"The WTS in 2009 ran courses from 3-14 days including instruction on packrafting, lightweight backpacking, and a more specific course based around thru-hiking. There are also courses developed but not being currently run around long distance packrafting and lightweight winter travel. I believe NOLS still runs 2 courses, one in the Rockies and one in the Southwest both with instruction only on lightweight backpacking."

All the NOLS LW courses are 14 days (13 in the field). NOLS is based on expedition learning, and over the last 45 years we have found this length to be effective for both honing skills and practicing leadership. Though we believe longer is ultimately better, this is the length we have decided on for the LW program (for now).

I'm excited to hear that BPL is developing new courses to be run in the future. NOLS is as well. We have a packrafting course being developed (30 day) and myself and others are trying to internally promote a 30 day unsupported packraft and lightweight backpacking course for outdoor educators. NOLS runs lightweight courses in the rocky mountains and the Southwest. we run between 2-4 courses in the summer out of the rockies, and we ran 2 courses out of the SW this January, so that's 6 courses if enrollment is doing well which it seems to do with these courses.
NOLS is a bigger organization than BPL, and as such, it sometimes takes us longer to make sure all our ducks are in a row. Permits, qualified staff, Insurance, equipment and scouting appropriate course areas all take time. In this case, BPL may be more nimble and able to make things happen faster. I'm not sure faster is always better though.

"I don't have first hand experience with a NOLS course because, IMO, the leadership-based courses require one to carry far too much weight."

Your not required to carry anything more than you need to be safe and comfortable and to be able to support the expedition. On my scale, leadership weighs exactly 0.0 oz.

"The lightweight courses don't offer the leadership component so most of us that are already experienced with lightweight techniques wouldn't get much out of it."

I'm not sure where this information has come from, but it is not true at all. The NOLS lightweight courses offer the same leadership curriculum as our standard courses, albeit in a compressed time frame and with less time to practice the skills (based on course length). The two lightweight courses that just ran in the southwest spoke at length in the student debriefs about the quality and depth of the leadership curriculum and the ability of instructors to effectively deliver it. This aspect of the NOLS curriculum was a highlight for all 20 students.
I will concede that as an experienced LW backpacker, you may not get a ton out of the LW skills, you will though get leadership education and your basic outdoor skills will improve.

"It is true that the WTS has only run 2 instructor training courses where NOLS has run far more. I would argue the reasoning behind that is the WT3 course is far more challenging and thus there hasn't been a lot of interest shown. Of course, I can't say that for certain."

The WT3 may be more challenging than our instructor seminar, but The NOLS Instructor course is extremely challenging. Prior to applying, candidates must have documented experience leading extended (ten days+) wilderness trips, teaching experience and personal wilderness travel experience, in addition to solid wilderness skills such as map reading, off trail navigation and superb camping skills. If accepted, you must arrive to your course with a minimum of a WFR, and then the first day of your course you must take and pass a first aid test as well. After 35 days of training you are assessed and ranked, and then either recommended or not for work. Only after you work your first field course (usually 30 days) are you officially a NOLS instructor. So that's 60 days of training, plus an 80 hr (10 day) WFR, plus countless weeks and months in the mountains before you even get on an IC. Heck, I have a B.S. in experiential education.

"I believe the NOLS course is based on teaching existing instructors how to lighten their load. The WT3 course is based on ensuring you are prepared to successfully lead a group expedition in to extreme conditions. The goals are entirely different."

This is true. We don't think we need to retrain our instructors how to "lead group expeditions into extreme conditions" because they are professionals in the field (see above) and do this as their job all the time. We do need to help them learn how to lower pack weights, consider the differences in curriculum (mostly resources) and risk management on lightweight courses. We also try to hold our trainings during a time when there is a high probability for challenging conditions. With all due respect, to suggest that BPL staff are better trained is, as you might say, a bit of a stretch.

"I also don't have the curriculum for both in front of me so I can't say for certain which is more developed. Going off what I do know, I believe the WTS courses offer far more variety in regards to equipment. I'm pretty sure the NOLS courses heavily push GoLite. Feel free to correct me on any of this since I'm going mostly off memory and that can be a bit fuzzy the older I get."

NOLS does recommend Golite equipment because they have actively supported and stayed involved in our lightweight program, and in general we have found GoLite gear to be a good balance of weight Vs. durability, though they are experiencing some weight creep. If you go to our website and look at the equipment list for the lightweight courses, you will see that we also recommend other companies, including BPL/BMW.
NOLS uses Caldera Cones, though we also bring esbits and Anti gravity gear .4 oz pop can stoves. We use a variety of shelters, though this is an area that we could reduce our weights further.
I don't think though that either NOLS or BPL would say that their curriculum is based off the equipment they use, rather it is based on the skills needed to safely and efficiently travel in the lightweight style.

Again I hope this clarifies the NOLS program a bit. Although I have spent countless hours talking to NOLS Instructors who work for BPL about the BPL program, I will leave it to them to chime in w/ their experience b/t the two. I prefer not to assume I know the details of a program I have not worked for. In the end, I think both NOLS and BPL are great programs offering similar yet still unique educational opportunities. There are things you will get out of a NOLS course that you won't get from BPL and vice versa I am sure.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Read about the latest NOLS instructor lightweight seminar on 02/10/2010 15:32:07 MST Print View

That definitely helps clarify some things. I got all of my information from your student welcome packets and website.

In regards to course count, I was only including those where content might vary which is why I listed 2. IMO, multiple instances of the same course is still a single course.

Your not required to carry anything more than you need to be safe and comfortable and to be able to support the expedition. On my scale, leadership weighs exactly 0.0 oz.

One look at the pack list for a standard NOLS course says otherwise. Ex. "If you bring an internal frame pack, it will be examined by your instructors to determine its suitability for your course and route. It must have a volume
of 5500 to 6100 cubic inches."