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The SUL Mindset, Part 1: Redefining SUL

The SUL Mindset may be more than gear weights, and performance standards.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2013-05-08 00:00:00-06


Backpacking Light is embarking on a new series about “SuperUltraLight” (SUL) backpacking, an affectionate term that has become one descriptor for carrying a base weight of less than five pounds (other descriptors that I’ve heard include “arrogant”, “pointless”, and “stupid”). The purpose of this commentary is to expand the definition of SUL that considers a bit less rigidity, a bit more principle, and a bit more opportunity for the backpacker who chooses to study this subject intentionally.

SUL Mindset - 1
That I can take a 1600 cubic inch volume pack into the mountain backcountry for an overnighter, without sacrificing comfort or safety, continues to make me smile and reflect in wonderment about this recreational niche we call lightweight backpacking.

When the concept of SUL was first introduced here in 2003 {}, I mistakenly offered as its basis a metric (one’s base weight) and a performance standard (a base weight of less than five pounds). This sparked (sometimes pharisaical) competitiveness in our community that led to new standards (e.g., “eXtreme UltraLight - XUL”) because too many people were adopting SUL style (and early converts were no longer uniquely identifiable by their five pound base weights). In our effort to meet these new standards, we discovered that pants with bellowed cargo pockets could hold a lot of gear that didn’t count against our base weight.

In reviewing the progress of “SUL style” over the past 10 years, I had to ask myself what SUL has evolved into, and I’ve come to the conclusion that SUL hasn’t really changed much.

I know, I know. This makes it tough to sell subscriptions. But it’s true! The gear really hasn’t changed that much. Down sleeping quilts are still down sleeping quilts, and they’re still light. Backpacks made with whisper thin fabrics that tear to shreds in brambles and can’t hold sewn seams when they’re loaded with food are still around. “SUL” tents still don’t hold up to mountain storms very well. There’s been no drama in materials engineering for titanium, carbon fiber, or fabrics that weigh less than 0.5 oz per square yard.

I could end this article here and you’d know most of the story, probably.

Except that SUL has evolved into something much more than just the gear. In fact, where SUL in 2003 was all about the gear (and the weight of that gear), I think SUL today is independent of the gear. It’s all about you, and your mindset.

SUL Mindset - 2
Logical cases can be made that most backpackers hiking only a few miles on the weekends aren’t going to enjoy the benefits of “SUL” style as much as, say, a thru-hiker. Nothing could be further from the truth. SUL enables and empowers casual recreational backpackers by motivating them to get out more often, going places they may not have had the confidence to go with a heavier pack, and giving them the confidence needed to engage more deeply with wild places.

If you’ve been around this community for the past 10 years, and have tried and practiced SUL style, then you’ve probably gone through some evolution in developing that style.

Here’s a few highlights that I’ve learned along the way.

1. By the time my pack weight gets this light, I no longer care about the weight.

It no longer matters to me whether my base weight is six, four point five, or three pounds. Being entertained by carrying an SUL pack on a high mountain trail is entertainment enough without having to know the exact weight of every item to the nearest tenth of ounce. I rarely, if ever, weigh gear if I’m practicing SUL, although I will weigh my pack, fully loaded, with food and water, before I hit the trail. That exercise still makes me smile.

2. I value durability, function, and compact size more than light weight.

Even in SUL gear, yes. I don’t save weight on an SUL trip by selecting the absolute lightest item possible. I save weight by taking fewer items (see #3 below). The biggest change I’ve made over the years is in my selection of a pack. Having shredded my fair share of sub-half-pound packs through the years while bushwhacking or scrambling, I’m over it. The monetary cost of a failed pack is always painful and I could never get over the feeling that backpacking gear shouldn’t be disposable.

SUL Mindset - 3
Even in a tiny pack and under the constraint of the arbitrary “five pound base weight standard”, I can pack a full set of raingear, a full set of down insulating clothes, and a full-perimeter tent, and be prepared - and comfortable - in the event of hostile weather.

3. I take fewer things.

This is the part about SUL I appreciate the most. I’ve learned to hike with fewer items through the years, and I’ve learned to care a lot about the items that I do carry. SUL takes “The Essentials” to a much higher level and mandates that your skills be exceptionally high when practicing this style of backpacking in inclement conditions. I get far more personal satisfaction about practicing skills when faced with a challenge, than when relying on an advanced piece of gear to meet that challenge.

4. Even when my pack weighs 40 pounds, I may still be practicing SUL.

This is the part that confuses people. But if I’m carrying an expedition pack capable of swallowing 70 liters and carrying 40 pounds, and 50 liters of the pack is occupied by 35 pounds of food, guess what? Yep, it’s SUL.

Living an SUL Mindset

In closing, it’s very hard for me today to uphold some sort of performance metric that identifies SUL, or for that matter, UL (“Ultralight”) or LW (“Lightweight”) backpacking. I recognize the value in these metrics in terms of educating newcomers, but beyond that, I see little value in them.

The real value of the “SUL concept” is its ability to identify an extreme implementation of this incredibly interesting hobby (lightweight backpacking), and then to practice and execute it on a real trail in real wilderness where previously, you carried more.

In conclusion, I see SUL as a manifestation of something far more important than your ability to comparison shop for the lightest gear or to show the world how light your pack really is. That “something” may be different for you, than for me.

For me, SUL as a mindset has motivated me not only to be very intentional about what I take on the trail, but also to be very intentional about how I count the costs of all sacrifices that I make with time, finances, material possessions, and relationships. To that end, the practice of SUL has not just made backpacking more interesting and rewarding for me. As a life strategy, the practice of SUL has made every day of my existence more interesting and rewarding, whether on the trail or not.


"The SUL Mindset, Part 1: Redefining SUL," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2013-05-08 00:00:00-06.


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The SUL Mindset
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 09:11:06 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The SUL Mindset

Ben Klocek
(benklocek) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area
YES! on 05/08/2013 12:17:05 MDT Print View

Thank you Ryan for bringing balance back the the SUL idea.

It's a mindset that, for my part, is the main reason I get out as often as I do. Less stuff = more time out, even if if weighs more than 5 lbs. Less time packing, fussing with gear, etc.

Now that I have kids, I find my interest in the newest light weight fabrics, etc, just don't occupy so much mindshare.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 12:25:09 MDT Print View

Happy to see the re-birth of the SUL topic. Many of the veterans of BPL have brought our weight down to the SUL level and then come back up in weight finding the right balance between the variables of weight, comfort, and other aspects. Knowing your level of minimum is a great tool for determining just what you need and don't need. off to read Will's new article as well!

David Brawner
(dbrawner) - MLife
Finally a refreshing look at ability versus technology on 05/08/2013 13:01:19 MDT Print View

I've been backpacking off and on for over 50 years.

In the early days, we had to rely on "skill" because "stuff" weighed too much. One could easily exceed their load carrying capability just trying to bring "necessities".

As technology improved just about everything in our lives, campers became increasingly dependent on "stuff" over "skill".

Jardine made the case for lighter loads but the herd took over and obsessive race to minimal weight became the apparent goal.

I still carry the same basic items, some old, some new, and each trip I still strive to improve my skills rather than my gear.

I used to be called a minimalist; tarp, bedroll (now hammock), minimal cooking setup, etc. and it's still is my preferred load. But I find fewer and fewer friends who are willing to forgo a latte for a drink from a clear stream, fresh fish for a sushi taco, and leave their sleep number for a hammock or bed of pine needles.

So, I applaud your return to your senses and sensibilities. Welcome back to the joy of the outdoors versus the thrill of the equipment hunt.


Mark Turpin
(huckfinn) - MLife
The Thirty Pound SUL on 05/08/2013 13:15:40 MDT Print View

After reading Ray Jardine years ago, I sold off my beautiful old Dana Design Terraplane, weighing ten pound itself (it seemed) and everything changed, even though my packweight only dropped from forty to thirty pounds. I carry the same stove, but my tent goes up with trekking poles; my wife and I share one sleeping bag; our sleeping pads make camp chairs; we look forward to going off trail. Sometimes we'll carry climbing gear. It's less troublesome just to use the damn bear can even where they are not required.

Do I think I have an SUL mindset? Yes, absolutely: I am conscious of how little is actually needed—what else is carried is carried by choice. Would I go backpacking without a book (or my Kindle Paperwhite)? Never. Would I engage the wilderness in a purer way without my book? Perhaps, but really, I know my engagement with the wilderness doesn't depend on what I carry, it depends on who I am—and sometimes, being in the wilderness reminds me.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Experimenting is important for SUL mindset on 05/08/2013 14:14:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for writing this, Ryan.

By no means am I SUL in base pack weight.

But the biggest mindset lesson I first learned from Jardine years ago was to experiment. Take less stuff, take lighter stuff, cut unused stuff off, try new stuff and new techniques, and see how they work.

Some experiments worked, some didn't - I failed miserably at tarping, for example.

But my base pack weight is literally half of what it used to be, and backpacking is much more enjoyable now. Enjoyable because of less weight, enjoyable because of less stuff, and enjoyable because I get to try new things and learn new things on each trip.

-- Rex

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 14:16:21 MDT Print View

Absolutely agree. The SUL mindset is where you're fully engaged with the outdoors and don't even think about your gear. Where the gear you have is simple and serves a specific purpose--and that purpose is to let you enjoy the places you're visiting. It involves traveling in a style that takes advantage of natural features, shelter, sunlight as much as or more than gear to insure comfort. If fully connects you to something essential and bigger than yourself.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 14:42:14 MDT Print View

I've barely embraced LW, let alone UL or SUL- but I think a lot of it is about mindset.

Many years ago I came to a conclusion and made a pronouncement: "I can hike as far on a dayhike as on a two day overnighter; I will no longer do overnighters."

My old gear and old mindset meant that I carried 30 pounds (at least) for an overnight backpack trip. I stopped hours before sundown to set up camp. Dinner and breakfast were always cooked. It took hours to get rolling in the morning with all that gear and fancy cooking. My gear was almost the same for that summer overnighter as for a long winter trip.

My shift in mindset came from a long dayhike, where I realized that an overnight stop is just a long rest break requiring shelter for the conditions, not a mule's load of camping gear.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
SUL on 05/08/2013 17:52:57 MDT Print View

I take canned beer instead of bottled beer. Bonus: No need to bring a bottle opener!

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: SUL on 05/08/2013 18:13:56 MDT Print View


Finally, Ryan hit the nail on the head when it comes to SUL.
I've been preaching the concept of less (and smaller) is more for years.
All I get in return is "UL" noise, “what about this and that”.

It is so easy to go SUL with almost no gear.
The reason you need more gear is for your gear you already brought.
One item is almost never a lone item when it comes to backpacking.
Want to cock, you need a pot, lighter, and fuel.

All you need is a pack, 2 lbs of food a day, a light pad, a jacket for the evening temps and a bag/ quilt that combined with your jacket keeps you warm at night, and something to hold water.
Everything else is only something that UL hikers consider "necessary".

Less is always more...

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
SUL mindset on 05/08/2013 19:13:38 MDT Print View

My kudos to Ryan for characterizing it as a "mindset!" Numbers can become too much of an obsession, powered by the goal of "hitting the SUL mark." Framing it as a way to do more with less seems better.

Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Colorado
SUL booze on 05/08/2013 19:57:33 MDT Print View

"I take canned beer instead of bottled beer. Bonus: No need to bring a bottle opener!"

Mags, you mean you haven't graduated to freeze-dried Everclear Jell-O shots yet? That's XUL CU style :-)

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/08/2013 20:51:07 MDT Print View

Two things I love about this article:

One, it doesn't come with a gear list.

Two, it harkens back to the joyous, free-spirited playfulness of early BPL and UL days. This is what I so loved about the community when I first got started. Hurray for Ryan! I've missed this!

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
Re: SUL on 05/08/2013 22:22:44 MDT Print View

Now I understand my path to SUL. Meet Mags. Make friends with Mags. Go backpacking with Mags. Let Mags carry all the beer. Winning!

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
nice on 05/09/2013 00:58:32 MDT Print View

Over the last couple years SUL has gotten increasingly poo-pood on this website from veteran hikers who would rather act manly and dirt bag. Fine, no problem. However, I don't think it ads much to the discussion.

I've been UL backpacking for a long time, and over the last couple of years, I've taken an interest in solo trips closer to my physical (and emotional!) limit which have driven me to reduce weight even further. I've gotten more fit, and more psyched than I've ever been to explore new terrain. One of the feelings that I live for in the mountains is to get up high and look at some beautiful far off feature in the landscape, and to feel totally empowered to just set off in that direction. No question, the lighter and the smaller my pack is, the more empowered and the more liberated I feel in the mountains. There is some incredibly beautiful and rugged terrain in my backyard, and its deeply satisfying to feel strong, fast, and at home, like I've somehow become a match for the landscape. Inevitably, I get humbled--I bail, I get lonely and I long for burritos back in town, but that feeling of liberated self sufficiency is a big reason why I do this.

No doubt, reading BPL articles on SUL in the early 2000's and seeing pics of RJ carrying what looked like a small daypack for serious multiday adventures opened my mind to a different, and I'd say, revolutionary way of experiencing the mountains. Thanks for reminding us, RJ, of that special SUL mindset.

I'm also in favor of scrapping the arbitrary 5 lbs base designation. I do think that staying in that ballpark matters as far as getting that liberated 'I could go anywhere in this pack' feeling. However, moving the definition away from a specific weight and toward a general attitude can help us to stop obsessing over oz's and spreadsheets, and spend more time training and scribbling on maps. Its not about the achievement of having that light of a pack, it about the new possibilities it opens up.

Edited by sgiachetti on 05/09/2013 07:36:38 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
The SUL Mindset- Can you give some examples of the decision making? on 05/09/2013 12:18:41 MDT Print View


Great to see that you have been writing artices and providing with us with your wisdom and presence!

You are one of the key voices of BPL and it is great to hear from you.

Appreciate the article, but can you give a little insight to the thought process that goes into SUL?

With UL Backpacking we are told to be "ruthless" in carefully examining and considering each item that we are going to put into our pack.

We are told that finding dual usage for an item is the holy grail of helping saving weight.

We are told that we should find something that it a lighter alternative to a traditionally heavier item like swapping a Nalgene bottle with a soft sided Platypus water bottle.

With SUL less is point out that beyond just a list of lightweight gear, you look to simply do without and not carry something.

Skill is our friend....the grey matter between our ears is the greatest tool to help save weight.

Can you give us some examples of what itemss/gear that you might not take with you and the reasoning of why you did not take that item?

Example that I can think of (I am not SUL/UL and maybe light weight with a 10.5-11 lb base weight) is going without a stove and eating cold food.

The reason why I ask is because in the quest for SUL there can be faulty decisions made in not bringing gear that could lead to what is sometimes referred as "stupid light".

Anyway, love the article, but would like you to elaborate a little more on the mindset/thinking that goes into the decision process of what and what not to bring.



Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/09/2013 14:04:07 MDT Print View

For me, the core concept in UL hiking is that you have total control over your pack weight. The revelation of UL is that you don't need to haul 50 pounds of gear to be comfortable and safe in the back country.

Many of us went through the exercise of getting everything down to a SUL kit and found that it wasn't all that much fun in practice. Not having enough food, reliable shelter, effective rain gear, or insulation suitable to the conditions is uncomfortable at best and could be dangerous.

As the pendulum swings, you go from just piling stuff on "just in case," to getting down to some absolute minimum and meeting an arbitrary weight, to knowing WHY you carry the gear on your back and how it works for you. It is supposed to be recreation and I'd rather have an enjoyable meal, get a good night's sleep, and be as warm and dry as practical. As I've said, the TOO factor tells you when your kit isn't working: you're TOO hungry, TOO cold, TOO wet, or TOO tired because you tried to get it TOO light. It's pretty much the same as Skurka's "stupid light" concept, which is simply admitting that your gear item is indeed ultralight, but it doesn't WORK.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: The SUL Mindset- Can you give some examples of the decision making? on 05/09/2013 17:17:22 MDT Print View

> some examples of what itemss/gear that you might not take with you and ... why

Reckon you could come with plenty here. Examples:

* Big knife for survival - but you aren't trying to do a 'survival' exercise

* Huge First Aid kit - if there is an accident that bad, you will need to GET help

* A change of underwear for each day - ...

* A full set of pots, pans and cutlery - when 1 pot and a spoon is enough if solo

* Camp shoes - wear light joggers, and take your socks off in camp

* GPS + iPhone with apps + Spot + PLB + ... - can you use a paper map and a compass?

> decision process of what and what not to bring
Am I bringing this 'just in case', or will I use it regularly? That will vary from person to person, but the mindset part is ASKING the question.

Btw - Dale has a lot of good points too, especially the 'TOO factor'.


Edited by rcaffin on 05/09/2013 17:17:57 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: stupid light on 05/09/2013 21:44:28 MDT Print View

"The reason why I ask is because in the quest for SUL there can be faulty decisions made in not bringing gear that could lead to what is sometimes referred as "stupid light"."

Andy's turn of phrase has grown a lot in less than a year. It's already become an excuse for folks to be lazy, to bring stuff they don't need and/or not function at their maximal level of skill out in the woods.

Not bringing things you'll need is a silly way save weight. Bringing more food, insulation, etc than you need is a silly reason to carry more weight. Honing the edge of understanding exactly what you need, being ruthless about holding to that, and using skills to push that edge is SUL.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: What not to take and essentials on 05/10/2013 09:24:10 MDT Print View

Roger mentioned not taking clean underwear for each day. I see separate sleep clothing listed often. The aversion of "dirt" is a weight inducing concept, with extra clothing and sleeping bag liners creeping into gear lists. Y'all don't need to take your jammies and sheets up a mountainside!

A tightly coordinated layering system is one of the most difficult I think. Clothing and sleep systems should overlap too. Fashion rears it's ugly (and heavy) head and we cling to what I call "city conventions." I've seen gear lists where the hiker had some attachment to a favorite clothing item that didn't fit into the scheme and I've seen a tendency to have one heavy monolithic insulation layer, just like Mom made us wear on snow days.

I think the core concepts here are knowing how your body and clothing systems work, and not fearing nature. IMHO, fear adds weight and knowledge tends to reduce fear.

One place I have departed from typical SUL gear lists is with the classic hiking essentials. I take a little more on the first aid side (3-4oz), a 3oz pocket knife, redundant fire starting items, and a "full sized" sighting compass. I carry some repair items, and both a flashlight and headlamp. Some of these items may never be used, but I will carry them, just in case. That doesn't exclude looking for the lightest alternatives and multiple use possibilities. I still raise an eyebrow when I see gear lists with only a single edge razor blade, a button compass, a book of paper matches and a first aid "kit" with 3 bandaids and a piece of moleskin. Other than that, if it is in my pack, I expect it to be used on that trip.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: stupid light on 05/10/2013 09:44:25 MDT Print View

Honing the edge of understanding exactly what you need, being ruthless about holding to that, and using skills to push that edge is SUL.

Hold on everyone. It seems that now that UL has become mainstream, it no longer deserves to be considered worthy of discussion. This description above is exactly what described UL when the movement started. SUL was carrying that description to the point of weight being the ultimate determining factor in what you carry. Let's not start twisting the original meaning around and pulling the rug out from under UL. ULTRA-light used to actually have a meaning. Let's not forget that.

Edited by butuki on 05/10/2013 09:45:50 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
The SUL Mindset on 05/10/2013 10:40:35 MDT Print View

+1 Miguel.

That's the first thing I thought when I read this article.

So if this game is no longer about pack weight, but instead about "honing the edge", then why even differentiate between SUL/UL?

In which case it seems all these silly labels have outlived their usefulness.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
labels on 05/10/2013 10:42:58 MDT Print View

"In which case it seems all these silly labels have outlived their usefulness."

In a large part, yes.

At least IMO.

Gear is just the the tool. Don't get too wrapped up in the tools themselves. Concentrate on how you use the tools instead.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: labels on 05/10/2013 10:47:21 MDT Print View

Exactly Paul.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: labels on 05/10/2013 11:07:37 MDT Print View

But then how do I quantify how cool I am?

Thats what I hate about when an adjective becomes a label. UL usta mean "I carry light gear" Now it seems to be a goal of BPers, cause plain ol hikin isnt edgy enough.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
The Process/Journey Is Important, Not the Label on 05/10/2013 12:25:42 MDT Print View

Lightweight, UL, SUL....labels are goals to strive for have their place in conjunction to a goal of enjoying the outdoor experience.

Any assigned value of the label associated with inflating someone's ego is indicative of that person's short comings.

Going lighter is merely means to an end, not an end all to itself unless gear is your porn....gear masturbationf for gear's fetish sake.

However, discussions about labels gets away from the point of it all.

What does the SUL backpacker have to offer the rest of us?

What skills, knowledge, or wisdom have they learned that they care share with the rest of us to help us evolve on our own lightweight evolution?

The fringe always influences the center.

UL was the crazy fringe at one point, which influenced the mainstream, which has seen a light weight revolution of its own.

Perhaps the bar has been moved and SUL is now the new fringe, which can teach us some new tricks?

I will likely never become SUL, but my mind is always open to new ideas to consider and to see what works for ME. HYOH.

I am excited to learn more and here more about SUL backpacking.

Maybe I will think that 98% of it is crazy for ME, but if I can learn one useful thing that helps me on my our lightweight journey, then it is all good!


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: labels on 05/10/2013 15:36:24 MDT Print View

> But then how do I quantify how cool I am?
The way any other spin doctor does: you make up meaningless statistics and quote them confidently.


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: labels on 05/10/2013 17:06:49 MDT Print View

"But then how do I quantify how cool I am?"

By publishing a gear list with the price of every item beside it. Add it all up and, VOILA, instant coolness. Sort of like the rich kid in high school that drove a rag top BMW to school every day.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/10/2013 17:13:44 MDT Print View

"So if this game is no longer about pack weight, but instead about "honing the edge", then why even differentiate between SUL/UL?"

Probably to get folks' attention, which he clearly has, and to establish a frame of reference using terms with which everyone is familiar. I, for one, look forward to seeing what he comes up with, particularly in regards to technique. He pretty clearly states that the development of Cuben has finally made the exerise feasible, so in that regard, it is a technical update of UL for application to high altitude mountain travel. Will's a very savvy guy, and I say let's hear him out. He's the last person I'd expect to make a fetish out of labels like SUL, M-SUL, whatever.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
The SUL Mindset on 05/10/2013 18:14:17 MDT Print View

While my pack is now at the weight and comfort level with which I'm quite happy, and I have no real desire to work harder or spend more $$$ on reducing it further, there's always something more to learn, and I'm hoping to pick up some ideas from these articles. If I can get rid of another pound or two of pack weight without reducing my comfort or going broke, fine. If not, that's fine, too! I've looked at the "SUL" stuff for ideas but rejected much of it as too spartan for my old bones and joints (which require increasing warmth and cushioning as they get older). However, I figure that if I ever stop looking at things "outside the box," it's time to curl up my toes and die. Lord willing, I'm not there yet!

Even if I don't change a single thing, these articles will still be interesting, and I look forward to reading them.

John Hendriks
(Twither) - MLife
SUL and Old Bones on 05/11/2013 00:06:07 MDT Print View

I would have to agree with Mary D. Always look at the new frontiers and at the moment that might be SUL. It provides and opportunity to consider and review what one can add or replace in the pack. Anything that will allow those old bones to do just one more trip to some out of the way place. It is always a compromise and there is always room for improvement.

I note that there was one mention of "dispense with the GPS + Spot + PLB" after all why not use compass and map. Maybe I got this wrong. Even UL I would never go without a PLB. Too many times, in remote areas, I have nearly placed a foot on a snake: brown, tiger, taipan, and I imagine the US would have similar surprises. And it is not just for me but for others I walk with to ensure some piece of mind.

I look forward to the next installment.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
mindset on 05/11/2013 00:57:33 MDT Print View

I'm surprised this has been so provocative for people. I don't think that it was Will or Ryan's intention to re-assert SUL as an important social category, but rather, as the article says, as a mindset. If you fixate on the concept as a public form of distinction, then it quickly becomes a petty way to differentiate yourself by the gear you carry.

When I come back from a trip, I just say I went backpacking. Its not important for me to differentiate in most situations. However, when I'm packing and planning for a trip, the mindset is everything. Similarly, if I'm planning a big trip with a friend, and I have a 6 lb base weight and they have a 10lb base weight, you can bet that I'll be doing what I can to balance that out or take more of the load depending on their fitness. Its not because I care if my partner is 'UL' or 'SUL', its because depending on the terrain and the mileage, it might be the difference between finishing the trip or bailing, or at least the difference between pleasure and suffering. I'm skiing a peak in RMNP tomorrow with a forecast of T-storms in the early afternoon. Its a good day to leave behind the thermos.

So, yeah, the attitude between UL and SUL is of the same category, but there is a difference in degree thats makes a practical and experiential difference in the mountains. Knowing the types of trips that Will does, and having traveled the same terrain, I've got no doubt that the difference between a 6 and 9 lb base weight is an important one, not for blabbing about here in the forums, but to carry on your back along with 4 days of food while you scramble up a remote pass in the Weminuche. It might literally be the difference between fun and suffering.

Its likely that I'll never use the word M-SUL again in my life (unless I hike with one of ya'll!), but for sure its a poignant concept that I already use. For me its just about being as light and mobile as possible while maintaing a healthy degree of safety and protection in the mountains. With modern lightweight equipment, I can carry a kindle, a fry pan, an SLR and a spacious tent and still be under a UL 10lb base weight (which is awesome!), but for the majority of the trips I've been looking at for this year, I will definitely leave that stuff behind in favor of a faster and simpler setup. For me, 6ish lbs is a good target weight.

Edited by sgiachetti on 05/11/2013 00:59:39 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: mindset on 05/11/2013 02:24:23 MDT Print View

As I stated earlier in the comments, I loved this (and Will's) article. I loved the playfulness and the sheer pleasure in practicing something we all love doing. The sense of looking forward seems markedly different from so many of the articles over the last two years.

My only beef with the focus on SUL and seemingly tossing aside of the word "ultralight", was that people who still "only" practice their weight carrying at the UL level are still being conscientious about their weights and still being ruthless in what they choose to carry. It is still going light. I think SUL is great, but going UL is no slouching matter either. And I think it is still something to be proud of when you reach those weights and that kind of simplicity. In an aside to Ryan's generous philosophy about SUL, I'd like to say that there is no need to flaunt any of the weights you carry. As long as there is a big smile on your face, and you're walking where you want to walk, and you wake up the next morning ready for more, UL is something just as impressive as SUL. Maybe it's the implied sense of smugness that makes me raise my eyebrow, the people who seem to need to set themselves up as "experts" because they carry SUL or lighter weights. As an exercise and a way to challenge yourself, wonderful! I, too, want to reach SUL loads, for my personal growth over all these years with lightweight backpacking. But "expertise" in backpacking has so many different ways of being interpreted. A heavy backpacker might have skills an SUList doesn't, and vice versa. The rivalry here is wonderful, too. It helps us all go beyond what limits we set for ourselves. But to me it is more discomfiting, and discouraging, to focus on who are the "elites" (thereby setting up a hierarchy), than to argue the (petty) differences between the terms SUL and UL. The second is harmless. The first often makes people who can't reach those weights feel like they are doing something wrong, when actually they aren't.

Does that mean I feel that talk about SUL should stop? No, of course not. It is a worthy, and exciting, goal. And if you can reach it and do it with safety, then you will have taken a step beyond your old paradigm. I love learning like this. That's why UL attracted me in the first place. The sense of accomplishment shines out more than only having bagged a particularly grueling peak.

I do have one gripe that has been eating at me for a long time... why do SULists (and ULists) often insist that the clothing they wear is not to be counted as part of the weight they are carrying? It's still weight, no matter where it is. You still have to carry it. A completely honest gear list and weight check would necessarily include everything you are wearing and carrying, whether in your pack or on your body, no?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: mindset on 05/11/2013 02:43:17 MDT Print View

Miguel, I think there is very little true honesty in gearlists. People hide weights so they can appear SUL or lighter. The easiest category to hide items is the worn/carried weight where items are stuffed into pockets so they won't show up in a packed base weight. Also, journaling items (cameras, etc) may not be included in weights. So, take most posted gearlists with a "gram" of salt ; ).

Below are the only items that I think should be included in a worn/carried weight, and sometimes I wonder whether trekking poles really should be there.

Trekking poles

Edited by jshann on 05/11/2013 02:53:09 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: mindset on 05/11/2013 02:53:01 MDT Print View

LOL! Oh I do, John! But if people are not going to be 100% honest about their gear lists then any talk about "expertise" or reaching some storied goal is just that, "talk". And it defeats the purpose of a gear list.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Skin out on 05/11/2013 07:36:48 MDT Print View

Yeah, I also wonder about the worn does matter how much you have to hoist up the side of a mountain no matter where it is on your person.

But then, looking forward, at what point do we start paying attention to, say, "spine-out" weights? Sure it's easy to drop some serious coin on lots of fancy cuben gear (mmmm....cuben.......), but if you are carrying 20 extra pounds around your middle, talk about some serious weight savings! So at what point, if we wish to include EVERYTHING you are carrying, do we need to consider BMI??

I'm so completely with Mary's point: I have done such a good job thanks to all of you guys trimming my pack weights, even though I am currently in the absolute worst shape of my life I can hike hikes twice as far as I could with my 40 pound pack and my marathon-running legs, still leaving my more fit friends panting in the dust. I make some amends to my aging and a bit arthritic bones (yeah downmat!!) but that makes me happy. If I learn new ways to trim a bit more, then great! If not, that's great too.

Now if I could just manage to drop those 20 pounds.....

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
oy vey on 05/11/2013 10:29:25 MDT Print View

"Similarly, if I'm planning a big trip with a friend, and I have a 6 lb base weight and they have a 10lb base weight, you can bet that I'll be doing what I can to balance that out or take more of the load depending on their fitness."


I don't even known (or care!) what the weight my friends carry in their pack.

I do know they are all competent outdoors people who carry light loads and have what they need dialed in. If they are four pounds more than me, I ain't exactly gonna shift gear around to balance things out. Then again, I wouldn't know that either. :) Now, if I take a group of different people (Mrs Mags for example) I'll pay more attention. But on a big trip where people are expected to be a little more self sufficient and (the very important part) the are people I've know for a long time? Not-so-much.

Look, SUL, UL, BINGO, ABC-123, are just labels that are guidelines and not the goals themselves. At least IMO.

I think the goal is to get out there and use the gear that meets your own personal definition of safety, comfort and desired trip goals while going as light as possible.

When you start obsessing if the Chap Stick in someone'e pocket should count towards their BPW or if your backpacking partner has two more pounds then you in his pack, then perhaps you are losing site of the goal. OTOH if you omit the Chap Stick just to get to some weight, that is just as kooky aw well. :)

Suspect the tile of the article is SUL *MINDSET* and not SUL *EXCEL SPREAD SHEET* for a reason. ;)

PS.I do spring skiing in the Rockies as well (Example: Mt. Toll, which is reasonably big day IMO). Don't take a thermos..but I did pack two cans of Fat Tire. :) On a 25 mile day with 10k gain I did pack a thermos AND fried chicken. See photo to the left. ;)

Edited by PaulMags on 05/11/2013 10:42:21 MDT.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: oy vey on 05/11/2013 12:08:58 MDT Print View

Mags, I've aways wondered what was up with your avatar.

That's hilarious! We took a few Eastside Deli (mmmmmm!) sandwiches on the Wonderland with us. Two days in to the hike having a deli sammich?!? Yessss!

Here's my buddy with the watermelon he hiked up Mt Defiance in the Gorge. Did it with a cantaloupe last time. Fresh melon is the best! Kinda sugary for just two people though.


Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Oy vey on 05/11/2013 12:16:53 MDT Print View


I don't even known (or care!) what the weight my friends carry in their pack."

Unless it comes down to beer. Then I worry about what my friends are carrying.
When everyone else has a six pack and I have a twelve pack, I get nervous because I know the sorry b@stards will run out and be eying my stash before long...

Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
Re: Oy vey on 05/11/2013 12:47:05 MDT Print View

or unless after 3 miles they are exhausted and whining about how they need a break and not sure they can make it as far as you planned.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 12:59:58 MDT Print View

Just depends. Not sure about paying for all the additional kit, .. but if needing to do really high mileage (or getting real old), it's worth considering.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: mindset on 05/11/2013 15:25:26 MDT Print View

One reason to separate your clothing weight from pack weight is due to the fact that 5 pounds of clothing has less of an impact on you than 5 pounds in your pack. Since the pack sticks out further from your center of gravity than clothing it exerts a greater effect (the bending moment increases 8 times with just twice the distance from your center). Just take your pack then hold it either close to you than extend your arm to see the effect.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
ouch... on 05/11/2013 15:59:04 MDT Print View

you guys are making my head hurt...

the weight of all this philosophizing and pontificating is too much to carry in my pack!!!

I think I need to go backpacking... some heavy breathing and blessed exhaustion to clear my head of all this...! :)


Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 16:05:18 MDT Print View

I'm extremely excited to see a series on SUL. I really like this first article and want to see more. I particularly connected with the statement "I get far more personal satisfaction about practicing skills when faced with a challenge, than when relying on an advanced piece of gear to meet that challenge." If there is one thing I have found that SUL means to me is simplicity more so than weight.

I admit I don't always have the exact piece of gear to cover every situation. I also admit that I am not always comfortable. But these are not the reasons I travel the mountains. Heck if I wanted every item for every situation and I wanted comfort then I'd stay home. The discomfort and reliance on my skills over gear has taught me a lot about myself and it brings me great joy.

I also admit I worked hard to make achieve my first 5 lb trip and having a target was extremely helpful. Some of you may even remember my post some years ago. I was and am still today truly humbled by the responses I received from this community. That included one that I will always remember from Ryan himself.

I do to this day keep a detailed list of each item I carry for every trip. Its just part of my planning process. I still use the information to learn and teach myself. I only get to backpack 3-4 times a year so its not a big deal. Yes I can pack a 5 lb pack in probably 5 minutes for a 32 degree trip without any spreadsheet, but I still spreadsheet because its part of the fun.

The only part of the article and responses I had trouble with was a reference to competitiveness and words like "cheating". You guys can see my gear lists on my website. I post them out of gratitude to those that have taught me so much, a way of giving back. Gear lists from Ryan and others helped me so much. I have just never felt like I was in a competition or trying to beat anyone or brag about how much I do or do not carry. I have only felt gratitude.

In all candor I have been hanging back not posting much over the last year because the atmosphere seemed to be changing. Instead of helping and challenging and learning, I read more and more posts with references to "stupid light", "cheater", and "you can't do that". Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT. I wanted to reply YES YOU CAN, but just said what's the use things have changed here.

I hope this is the beginning of coming back to saying YES YOU CAN. And stopping all this talk about competition. There never was a competition and I don't care if you list your chap stick in your pocket. These things don't matter to me.

What matter's to me is to continue to learn and support others in enjoying the great outdoors in ways that I never knew was possible...before I found

Keep these articles coming.


Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 17:26:30 MDT Print View

the weight of all this philosophizing and pontificating is too much to carry in my pack!!!

It's fun talking about all this, even on a philosophical level. To me it adds dimension to the practice, and helps steer thinking about what it is we're trying to achieve. After all, the "philosophizing" and "rationalizing" came before the first actual move to redefine how one carries everything. It was the philosophy that gave shape to the whole movement, and that philosophy evolved over time.

Jamie, I still keep referring to your visual gear lists, both on your site and the printed copies, whenever thinking about my own gear lists. It's still one of the best I've ever seen. I've never thought of you competing, but always as a humble practitioner who has really challenged yourself. I love the simplicity of your thinking and your ability to get the gear down to the very bones. It's poetic, even. And I very much admire that. I still remember the transition you went through and the steps you took with each trip to lighten up more. I even remember every photo you took, both of the gear, and the trips. You've inspired me a lot.

The gear lists I keep returning to time and time again are yours, Glen Van Peski's, Andrew Skurka's (though usually far too ambitious for me), Ryan's (though they change so often I get confused), and Alan Dixon's. There are others, of course, but these are the one's that have made me take a hard look at my own gear and to rethink, again and again, how I carry things. Each one reminds me of haiku, each a little different, each with a personality all its own. It may sound ridiculous to those who are completely practical, but after taking UL seriously now for nigh on 15 years, the nuances have become part of an aesthetic appeal. And for me this is part of the fun of all this.

There are those who are completely honest about their lists, and those who are not. And those who very much do make it into a competition, and those who don't. I really don't see anything wrong with friendly rivalry and making the whole exercise into a game, which is what it is, basically. It's a lot of fun. But when people start speaking the way you described above, well, that is going too far. That's the kind of competition that puts a sour taste in my mouth. And undermines the beauty and fun in doing all this.

Tom, about the weight being worn. Good point about the way weights are carried in different points along a fulcrum. But that still doesn't remove the weight from the equation. When climbing a hill, the more weight you have, the harder the climb, whether or not there is a fulcrum to deal with. It's the same as the adage about wearing boots, "A pound on your feet is five pounds on your back." (which, admittedly, does, in part, have something to do with a fulcrum) It's still weight. If you had a backpack that piled all the gear weight straight up above your head so that there was no pulling back of the pack, would that make a difference? That would still be weight, too, and wouldn't carry any less heavily if the weight was high. You'd still have a hard time getting up the hill.

Jennifer, very good point about body weight! How exactly would you measure that and then do something about it? And yet that is weight nonetheless, too. And matters. And then there would be factors like how strong you are, how efficient your cardiovascular system in being able to carry weight for a long time or over rough terrain, how determined you are, and how much pain you can tolerate. Oy, the consequences spiral out of control!

Edited by butuki on 05/11/2013 17:36:58 MDT.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 17:27:26 MDT Print View

I like to camp exposed with big scenery. I'd rather carry suitable gear that makes my vacation enjoyable, than functional gear for traveling from A to B that compromises what I enjoy most.

SUL seems to be a lot of "skill" instead of gear.

Cold in the morning ?, break camp and use your skill at walking in the dark to warm up.

Want an epic storm photo ?, use your google skill to download one from a heavyweight photographer who posted up in conditions your kit won't take.

Need to save weight in water treatment ?,use your skill at evaluating the water by eye and use too few drops for a couple of minutes as needed.

Want to enjoy your camp ?, use your skill to convince yourself your happier walking than watching.

I think SUL is a mindset, but I see lots of people enjoying themselves with double or triple a SUL base, and not struggling to carry it.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Friends on 05/11/2013 17:30:21 MDT Print View

"or unless after 3 miles they are exhausted and whining about how they need a break and not sure they can make it as far as you planned."

See above about knowing my friends, how they are knowledgeable and pack light already. Just don't know what they carry to the lb..never mind the ounce. :)

If the above situation in quotes happened, then I need new friends! :D

When I did trips for an outdoor group (or work as an asst guide), sure we'll look through the packs..but that's a much different scenario. Much like
I said in my post above.

re: Watermelon

Nature's candy. Absolutely delicious!

re: Beer

Yes...VERY good point. But I am well known to pack in the good chow and wine on hut trips. And more than the occasional libation on weekend backpacks. ;)

On a more important note, took a hike today. The wildflowers are out in force in the Boulder foothills. Pasque flowers are blooming, sand lily are popping up and the overwhelming color is green. Beautiful time to be in the Boulder foothills!

Edited by PaulMags on 05/11/2013 17:35:24 MDT.

Brian Lindahl
(lindahlb) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/11/2013 20:03:15 MDT Print View

"The gear really hasn’t changed that much. Down sleeping quilts are still down sleeping quilts, and they’re still light. Backpacks made with whisper thin fabrics that tear to shreds in brambles and can’t hold sewn seams when they’re loaded with food are still around. “SUL” tents still don’t hold up to mountain storms very well. There’s been no drama in materials engineering for titanium, carbon fiber, or fabrics that weigh less than 0.5 oz per square yard."

I'd disagree. Innovations in materials and gear over the past few years have definitely changed the landscape. The main one being cuben fiber. Lightweight gear is now finally becoming readily available from mainstream manufacturers as well (particularly, of note, rain jackets and down jackets). Innovations in shelters have turned out more unique shaped tarps, such as the Hexamid and Trailstar, which provide a lot more coverage, stormworthiness and ease of setup than previously used tarps, but yet are not pyramids, which tend to be heavier and isolated from the environment. There are a TON more choices in terms of backpacks available from cottage manufacturers as well.

That being said, I agree with the rest of the article.

Edited by lindahlb on 05/11/2013 20:45:28 MDT.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Re: Oy vey on 05/11/2013 22:54:33 MDT Print View


I'm all over that! I don't care what my mates carry on a trip. I have no idea if they pack heavier or lighter than me. But I make very certain I call the beer situation in the first communication that we have about the trip. Ie I'm taking a six pack for the weekend, what are you taking?

I'm happy to share my chips and jerky, but the beer is mine, my friend.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
Wikipedia: SUL stands for singular user log-in. Shrug. on 05/12/2013 00:46:03 MDT Print View

Fair enough :)
I guess that speaks more to how obsessive I can be about packing, than to a real situation. It does come up when I'm going with someone less experienced, and I want to shoulder more of the load. I'm also planning some oz sensitive ski tours where its well worth convincing my friend that the hexamid twin is in fact a two person shelter.

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that challenging myself physically in the wilderness was fun and beneficial. That means when I look at a map, I'm most attracted to routes that I don't really know if I can finish. It keeps me more engaged with the process from packing to nutrition and fitness, and the element of uncertainty adds to a sense of adventure. I've bailed enough that I want to give myself (and partner) the best chances of finishing. So, I save the fried chicken for afterward. There's no glory or recognition in these types of trips (and certainly not in my gear list), but I get a lot of personal satisfaction from them. Its a particular approach thats not for everyone, and not one I always practice, but its where I find the M-SUL concept most useful.

I haven't drank alcohol in a long time, and given my personality type, if I start bragging about how much I pack in, you have full permission to worry about me. And please, lets not shift the measure of 'coolness' from lack of oz to abundance of alcohol or heavy delicious fruit. Human powered travel in the mountains is pretty cool in general, eh?

Edited by sgiachetti on 05/12/2013 00:58:15 MDT.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/12/2013 19:41:52 MDT Print View

"In all candor I have been hanging back not posting much over the last year because the atmosphere seemed to be changing. Instead of helping and challenging and learning, I read more and more posts with references to "stupid light", "cheater", and "you can't do that". Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT. I wanted to reply YES YOU CAN, but just said what's the use things have changed here."


This is why we need folks like you posting more to jump in there & show others that some things aren't as crazy as they look. BPL is swinging back to the center where durability & comfort are just as important as weight. While I completely agree that those are important, we still need that lunatic fringe out there trying to find ways to do "more with less". Heck, I still remember seeing Bill Fornshell's .33oz cuben backpack 10 yrs ago & it knocking my socks off. Things like that are where innovation come from & get people thinking about what's possible. SUL is that vehicle today so I say bring it on.


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 09:52:57 MDT Print View

The 5x8 tarp and bivy question pertained to hot and buggy conditions and no one said "you can't do that" but there were comments about the comfort per conditions.

That aside, as to BPL moving to the center, it may be that some don't want to drink the SUL Koolaid to the last drop and will talk about it now The fanatic fringe IS good for product development and new techniques.

Much like third party politics, those on the edge may not make for a majority, but they do shift the center. Much of my gear is SUL, but it varies to seasonal and climate variations and my personal comfort/whims. I'd hazard to guess that my mix is common amongst the readership here.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 10:24:31 MDT Print View

"Heck there was recently a post from someone asking about bivy and 5x8 tarp and the first responses were NO YOU CANT DO THAT."

The responses were a.) just bring a larger tarp and ditch the bivy for weight savings and b.) the combination the OP was referring to was heavier than some other options like 1 lb tents and c.) bivvies in humid conditions are simply not fun.

I don't see the post that shows NO YOU CANT DO THAT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
The SUL Mindset on 05/13/2013 12:53:38 MDT Print View

"I value durability, function, and compact size more than light weight."

I could not agree more. Thanks, Ryan!

wayne clark
(waynowski) - MLife
what seasons does SUL pertain to on 05/29/2013 16:55:24 MDT Print View

is this just for summer? or three season? or four season?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: what seasons does SUL pertain to on 05/30/2013 16:27:31 MDT Print View

At what weight? I think the assumption is that the 5 pound barrier is 3-season, but that varies by region at the least. That's why an arbitrary weight is practically useless. As light as possible for the conditions is the way it should be read. The arbitrary weight falls apart by user size too: someone who is 5'5" and 130# has a different kit than someone who is 6'7" and 275#.

Jason Mahler
(jrmahler) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Tricks on 06/05/2013 09:00:29 MDT Print View

I found it very easy to go SUL or even XUL. I simply bought my dog a pack and loaded him up with all of my gear. Kidding of course.

In all seriousness, I am not SUL, but try to keep this mindset mainly so that I can carry most of the gear for my 6 year old and 60# dog. Sure they have their packs, but I carry the majority and if I didn't think from a SUL perspective, it wouldn't be as much fun. This website is just an awesome resource that helps everyone hike their own hike.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: The SUL Mindset on 06/05/2013 11:37:17 MDT Print View

"Happy to see the re-birth of the SUL topic. Many of the veterans of BPL have brought our weight down to the SUL level and then come back up in weight finding the right balance between the variables of weight, comfort, and other aspects. Knowing your level of minimum is a great tool for determining just what you need and don't need."

This is exactly how I feel about the lightweight mindset. I went sub 5 pounds BPW for a 3-season kit and decided I had to sacrifice too much comfort and enjoyment for my personal tastes. Now I carry a heavier BPW in 7-8 pound range, but I feel much more connected to my gear I do decide to take. And I'm constantly experimenting based on conditions, duration of trip, and if I'm solo, which I usually am.

The other thing I've never understood is people who obsess over every gram and proudly pronounce themselves an SULer or XULer and are 30+ pounds overweight. Maybe this won't be a popular statement with other BPLers, but I feel the UL/SUL mindset is also about connecting with your body, not just nature or gear. In fact, I feel the most important aspect to being a backpacker is your mind-body connection. I know not everybody can be a ripped model type, but I think if you're an outdoorsperson, then you should care enough about your body to take care of it even when you're not outdoors. Knowing I'm in great shape boosts my confidence on trail.

Seems to me, if you drop 10+ pounds of fat by running, hiking, and eating healthy, instead of cutting 8 ounces from your BPW, you'll be in a better place to push yourself further along on a trail.

I believe this connection becomes even more important when taking minimal gear and truly testing your limits. I realize many backpackers, whether UL, SUL, or more traditional heavy haulers, aren't necessarily aiming for bigger miles every trip. But for me, that's part of the fun. I love attempting 30 miles in a day, though that's not always my goal by any means. I've also added more bouldering and scrambling to my trips, and that changes my gear list a bit as well.

In summary I feel the SUL mindset is a combination of skill, fitness, and a well thought out gear list working in harmony to create an enjoyable, memorable trip.

Edited by Damager on 06/05/2013 15:11:33 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 06/06/2013 04:28:28 MDT Print View

I think I can agree with that. But, body fat is natures way of storing up for the next backpacking trip.

But, this points out an alludued to, and stated by Ryan, degree of systemization with UL or XUL backpacking that has not been well explained. You wrote: "In summary I feel the SUL mindset is a combination of skill, fitness, and a well thought out gear list working in harmony to create an enjoyable, memorable trip."

To me, I see this as a statement that, like many here, all components of backpacking are important to the "having fun." Not only the gear, skills, and fitness of your body. But planning, completion and even storage of gear are important considerations.

Planning is when you decide you want to go packpacking somewhere. It involves logistics, material resouces available, what you need to purchase, plotting a route (tentative as it may be,) and other facets.

We talk a lot about gear, here. Soo, I'll skip an explanation other than to say the local, elevation, forest cover, etc will effect that.

Skill is about the same. We trade a lot of different techniques here. Knowing how to shit in the woods for example.

Fitness is another one. This comes up at different times.

Completion of a trip, knowing what worked well and what failed adds to experience and skills. Unpacking gear, cleaning gear(if needed,) and noting what needs to be refilled/resupplied.

Stowing gear can be important by the time we get to UL or SUL weights. We usually have enough gear to make selections. Putting it all in one box doesn't work. If you cannot find your wood stove when you leave, it doesn't make much sense to even *have* the stove.

These are systems that are not as interesting, not as vital, to a backpacking trip, but, without them, a trip can quickly loose the memorable quality.

For all these, a good system of making sure each thing gets done in it's correct sequence is used. Sure, we all forget stuff, like I forgot to get gas, or I forgot to get a new lighter. Systems make things easier to remember as well as more efficient to use. You are alluding to this quality about backpacking that is often ignored by simply listing things to take. Using a pad as a pack frame, is a classic example of where this breaks down. There is no clean way to join these two components together in a simple list. Secondary usage or dual usage should be considered, then the gear list will look like Ryans, 11 items plus personal preference. With these bloody computaters, it should be possible to do better by taking a lesson from database normalization.

Edited by jamesdmarco on 06/06/2013 06:58:15 MDT.

mark henley
(flash582) - F
SUL mindset -- i don't even like the term SUL anymore. on 06/06/2013 10:48:08 MDT Print View

I love this article ...

I hit a 5 lb baseweight for weekends in 2007, then my world fell apart and I had to have a double back fusion.

I don't sleep on the ground anymore, I sleep in a Hammock. My baseweight is between 6.5 and 7.5 lbs depending on the time of year ... 8 lbs if I have to carry my bug zapper and a generator (kidding).

Am I SUL ...?????

Yes ... I'm SUL, why do I say that? I'm not under 5 lbs anymore (right now several people reading this are thumping their chests, trying to get their hearts started again or flipping the bird at the computer screen) ..... because SUL is a state of mind, not a bunch of stuff in a sack. It's enjoying being outdoors more and the stuff you carry less.

Story time ....

I was in the Peco's wilderness with my Sons, at 11,500 feet, and we stopped to camp for the night. I won't go into the details, but a freak storm kicked up and my brand new single wall tent acted as if it were made of Noseeum. Everything I owned was soaked.

The sun was going down, all the availible tinder and wood for a fire was soaked, the sun was going down, temperatures were dropping fast twords the nightime low of freezing, what do you do?

My old traditional mindset would state that I needed to have extra fleece gear in the pack in a waterproof stuff sack. The traditional viewpoint on UL would state that I should have just curled up and died of hypothermia.

No ... i pulled out my emergency fire starting kit, used the skills I had mastered about finding dry tinder in a wet forest, used my knife to batton some tinder, and finally even tore a chunk off my synthetic shirt to act as an accelerant for the fire and to dry out ever larger pieces of wood, until we had a roaring fire (we had not intended on having a fire that night) and I dried out my insulation and my son's insulation, we had dinner, and a great time was had by all.

My point .... this encapulates the difference between SUL thinking and backpacking thinking. With SUL you are going to find a way to endure, thrive, and survive when a oh-crap happens. With Traditional packpacking you are trying to pack stuff for every single contingency, an impossible task. Your planning takes on a new dynamic, how am I going to deal with a broken leg, a case of hypothermia, gardia, snakebites, etc. instead of how can I be lazy and find something I can buy to deal with that contingency for me .... Snakebite? oh ... I'll just toss this snakebite kit into the bottom of my pack and never bother to read the instructions. Broken arm, Oh ... I better carry a splint instead of taking a first aid course.

I grow weary of traditional backpackers calling SUL stupid, unsafe, etc. when I see the reality of it is that Traditional Backpackers are actually lazy, counting on gear intstead of taking the time to learn, carrying 50 lbs instead of 15 because it makes them feel safer, when in reality it's more dangerous.

SUL is a part of your mindset, learn, learn, and keep learning ... enjoy.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: The SUL Mindset on 04/09/2014 21:14:02 MDT Print View

Almost a year later, I wonder will there be a part 2?

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: The SUL Mindset on 04/09/2014 21:57:02 MDT Print View

"I wonder will there be a part 2?"

I guess that depends on the SUL Mindset.


David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
The SUL Mindset on 04/09/2014 22:02:25 MDT Print View

Less is more?

Mo Rodopsky
(rhodopean) - MLife
part 2 on 04/09/2014 22:09:56 MDT Print View

Here's part 2:

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: part 2 on 04/09/2014 22:14:27 MDT Print View

Ha! I even commented.

How many parts will there be?

I was linking part one in another thread. Noticed there was no link to part two. And here I am.

Edited by kthompson on 04/09/2014 22:15:53 MDT.

Kirk O'Brien
skin-out weight as a percentage of body weight on 06/18/2014 17:16:41 MDT Print View

If people are putting gear in their pockets to avoid counting it, wouldn't it be better to focus on skin-out weight? On trips with my buddies we like to measure skin-out weight as a percentage of body weight to compare efficiency with gear selection, clothing choices, and consumables all normalized with body size.

Virginia Craft
( - F

Locale: Feet dangling from the perimeter
SUL mindset on 03/03/2015 21:19:17 MST Print View

Great article and +1 to Dale for this:
"I think the core concepts here are knowing how your body and clothing systems work, and not fearing nature. IMHO, fear adds weight and knowledge tends to reduce fear."