A campsite in the Beartooth Mountains
Going ultralight has many advantages, but it also has limitations. Lightening your pack load also requires you to change your thinking about how a trip can work. The hurdles to lightening your load - new gear, new techniques, new thinking - can seem daunting but they don't have overwhelm you. Light gear can reach its limits in the backcountry, but this need not restrict you as you gain confidence in yourself. I discuss these issues with Mike Clelland!, Carol Crooker, and Glen Van Peski in this roundtable discussion.
While there is no doubt that some trips require additional gear - a summit attempt on Mt. Denali for example - even those more extreme trips can benefit from a lightweight approach. What gear do you need to be safe? What gear are you taking to improve your enjoyment of the trip and how important is that gear to you? Are you carrying an item that only helps at the margins of safety and comfort or is it truly a must-have item? Does the nature of the trip demand this extra gear for you to get by? Some trips do, but many do not. The answers to these questions are influenced not only by the physical aspects of the trip you are planning but also by your perceptions and assumptions about the trip. Coming to sensible conclusions over time and through experience is the best way to refine your kit and lighten your load in a manner that permits you to travel safely and well while affording you the greater flexibility that comes from being able to move more easily through the wilderness.
Ken Knight, Michigan
I've been an avid lightweight and ultralight backpacker for the past several years and a day hiker for longer than that. I travel solo and with small groups and have done so throughout the country. My primary stomping grounds though are the the midwest (including parts of Ontario, Canada) and the east coast. I have steadily lightened my load over the years and see traveling light as an ever-evolving process. What can I do without? What extra weight will I carry to make my life easier or the overall trip more enjoyable? I lighten my load to open up options even if those "options" add weight back into my kit (e.g., journaling stuff including a camera and sometimes even a tripod). With these items that some would consider superfluous my non-winter base weight is still around 10 to 12 pounds. In winter this weight goes up a handful of pounds with the additional of more insulation and changes in shelter and cooking options. If I elect to haul my winter gear in a pulk I will let the weight rise considerably.
Carol Crooker, Arizona
Carol spends about 36 days each year backpacking. She lives in Arizona and many of her trips are there, but she gets out of state several times each year, often to the western mountains. Her trips are usually three to five days long, on trail, solo, and storm free. Carol likes her comfort both on trail and in camp. She prefers to carry as light a load as possible with just enough gear and clothing to keep her warm and sleeping in semi-comfort. Her three-season base pack weight varies from 5 to 10 pounds depending on the weather and trip length, and her winter base pack weight is about 16 pounds.
Mike Clelland!, Idaho
I work as an illustrator for magazines and instructional books. My drawing style is decidedly cartoony - a result of reading MAD magazine as a little kid in Michigan. I lived and worked in New York City for the full decade of the 1980's, doing mostly advertising and animation. Presently, I live in rural Idaho and work as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) . This involves doing 30-day courses across North America, including Alaska, British Columbia, the North Cascades and throughout the Northern Rockies. I teach winter backcountry skiing, glacier mountaineering and rock climbing. And, I've also worked on the new Light and Fast Program at NOLS.
Glen Van Peski, California
Glen Van Peski is a native Californian who grew up in the western outdoors. Through his youthful involvement in Boy Scouts, he developed a love for being in the backcountry that continues to this day. When his oldest son joined Scouts as a pre-teen, Glen got involved again, serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop Committee Chairman, and Backpacking Program Director. Through those experiences, he became intrigued by lightweight backpacking.
Bringing to bear his degrees in Engineering and Business Management, Glen soon started sewing his own backpacks and other gear. His personal efforts gradually developed into GVP Gear, generally acknowledged as one of the first cottage manufacturers of ultralight backpacking equipment. With the recent brand change to Gossamer Gear, the company has expanded it's offerings to a full spectrum of innovative ultralight gear. Gossamer Gear products have been featured in Backpacker and National Geographic Adventure magazines.
Known for his humorous, information-packed presentations, Glen is a sought-after speaker on ultralight backpacking equipment and techniques. He has been interviewed by numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Footprints magazine. Dubbed "The Guru of Lightness" by one writer, Glen has developed a loyal following for his innovative designs, and his commitment to showing people the "way of enlightenment" for their pack weights without unduly lightening their bank accounts.