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Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster

Steve Hinkle relays that carrying all the comforts of home ultimately made for a miserable trail experience, and how shedding "comforts" was actually more pleasant in the long run.

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by Steve Hinkle | 2009-01-20 00:00:00-07

It was a cool, cloudy spring morning on Snowbird Mountain heading to Max Patch. As I stopped for lunch, it began to rain. It didn’t stop until sometime in the middle of the night. Hours later, as I poured the water out of my Gore-Tex boots at a shelter, a thru-hiker asked me how they were working out for me. I looked at his trail runners and had to admit, I didn’t much like my boots at that moment. Those boots must have weighed five pounds apiece for the rest of the trip. Two days later in Hot Springs, while I was inspecting the blisters that the wet boots had left me with, I knew something had to change.

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 1

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 2

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 3

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 4

The old days, including chair.

I started out backpacking in winter. We didn’t care about how much weight we were carrying or how it felt; we had to take all the comforts of home: Gore-Tex boots, thick inflatable pads, and even relatively light aluminum folding camp chairs (with backs) that we got at Kmart. Man, those chairs were great for sitting around the fire or taking a break in the snow on the side of the trail. We knew that thru-hikers did all kinds of crazy stuff like drilling holes in their toothbrushes, but we were only out for three nights, and besides, we were tough and could handle all the weight. The more comforts you could stand to drag along, the cooler you were. Still, I can remember carrying a forty-eight pound pack six miles uphill on the first day out and wondering if we would ever get there.

On winter trips, being wet was not a problem because the cold air kept everything dry. But as we started going on more trips, I quickly learned that during warmer months in the Appalachians, it rains every day. And once everything is wet, it never dries. And when it’s not raining, the humidity makes you sweat so much you get soaked anyway. And the extra dry clothes and socks just become heavy wet clothes in your pack. I clearly needed different techniques for hiking in those conditions.

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 5
Although beautiful, climbing Big Bald with a 40-lb pack was the hardest day I have experienced. I sure could have used a smaller pack that day.

Ron, one of my hiking buddies, had discovered and told the rest of us about it. One of the first articles I read was Water Weight Gain and Drying Characteristics of Lightweight Hiking Shoes after Submersion. It was just what I needed. I replaced the heavy boots with Montrail Hardrocks and went on a short overnighter. I was pleased to find that the bottoms of my feet didn’t hurt (more than normal) from the protruding rocks and roots that are common in our area. Also I felt like the flexibility of the shoe allowed me to get a better grip on the rocks and react to uneven terrain better.

Over the course of the next year, my buddies and I learned the techniques of lightweight backpacking, replaced key pieces of equipment in our kit, and scrutinized the clothes on our backs and everything that went in our pack. I probably saved five pounds by just removing unnecessary items. My attitude changed from “Could I possibly use this?” to “Do I absolutely have to have this?” The surprising thing was that I really didn’t miss anything that I didn’t have.

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 6
Now I just go straight up the mountain!

Each step along the way, we would go on another trip and challenge our limits further. Each time the trips got easier and more enjoyable. On one of these we rolled into camp for the last night at 2:00 pm after a fifteen-mile day. We knew then that it would be nothing to go the additional seven miles into town.

Finally, the transition was complete: Ron and I were ready to see how fast and how far we could really go with our lightened loads. We set out for a week on the Appalachian Trail from Springer, with no definite plans for how far to go or where to stop each night. The idea was to go as far as we felt like going each day. I started with a base weight of 13.7 pounds and a total weight of 24.2 pounds including food, fuel, and water. Ron had a similar pack weight.

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 7
Ron’s Gatewood cape, Opsrey pack, and patented sit pad.

The first sixteen miles went easily. That night we stayed with a couple of college boys who came in with two huge packs, bursting at the seams with all kinds of stuff tied on the outside. Even though they were young and in good shape, we never saw them again after leaving the next morning. It’s kind of thrilling for an old guy to blow by so many younger people and just give them the 'nice ascent' nod while doing it.

The next day we got to the Walasi-Yi Center in the early afternoon and, while enjoying a Coke, decided to move on to the next shelter, 23 miles total for the day, including the lovely 1.2-mile side trail to the Whitley Gap shelter. After 19 more miles the third day, we stopped at the Cheese Factory campsite. During that day we took a break with a granddad and two girls that were probably eight and ten years old. He had them packed right, in small external frame packs, and these girls were having the best time. They didn’t complain about a thing. It just made you feel good.

I was pretty chipper eating lunch at Bly Gap, the GA/NC line, on the fourth day, knowing that many thru-hikers pass this spot on day six or seven. In all, we did 106 miles in six and a half days, ending up at Winding Stair Gap. The entire trip was validation that we could do this, and we could do it in comfort and style (there’s something very stylish about having a small pack with all your gear inside). I never could have made this trip with a traditional pack.

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster - 8
Cruising along after 15 miles.

We continue to refine our gearlists as lightweight backpackers do. This year we went 115 miles through Damascus and the Grayson Highlands. I have whittled my base weight down below 12 pounds, even though I still carry such luxuries as a water pump, Crocs, and an iPod.

For a fifty-something occasional backpacker, going light doesn’t seem like it would be that important. I mean, I’m not going on a 500-mile traverse of the arctic tundra. But actually, the less you are able to go, the more you need to get out of it when you DO go. See more, do more, and enjoy it more. I really love the hiking part - “moving on” along the trail and covering a lot of terrain. With a lighter load, I am able to keep gliding along all day and the trips are more enjoyable. After all, that’s what it’s all about.

Major equipment changes

Item From (lbs) To (lbs)
Pack Gregory Forester 5.0 GoLite Jam2 1.2
Tent Kelty Zen 5.0 Tarptent Rainbow 2.0
Sleeping bag Marmot Wizard long 3.5 Marmot Atom 1.2
Sleeping pad Thermarest Inflatable 2.5 Thermarest Ridgerest 0.6
Shoes Zamberlain Mountaineering 3.5 Montrail Hardrock 2.0
Total   19.5   7.0

Full gear list. Summer 2008, one week with resupply

Clothing Worn      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Short Sleeve Shirt REI 7.3 0.5
Shorts Speedo 4.5 0.3
Underwear Under Armor 3.1 0.2
Socks Smartwool Lightwight Trail Runners 1.6 0.1
Shoes Montrail Hardrock 31 1.9
Hat Scrunch Wear 1.3 0.1
Other Items Worn / Carried      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Trekking Poles REI Peak UL Carbon 12.5 0.8
Watch   2.3 0.1
Other Clothing      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Wind Shirt Marmot Dri-Clime 9 0.6
Rain Jacket Marmot Precip 12.1 0.8
Rain Pants Sierra Designs 8.1 0.5
Camp Shoes Crocs 13 0.8
Sleep & Shelter      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Shelter Tarptent Rainbow 32 2.0
Sleeping Bag Marmot Atom with Stuff Sack 20.1 1.3
Sleeping Pad Thermarest 3/4 7.9 0.5
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Pack GoLite Jam 2 21 1.3
Pack Cover GoLite 2.7 0.2
Stuff Sack Large Gray 0.9 0.1
Ziploc Bags Assorted 1.5 0.1
Cooking & Water      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Stove, Alcohol Etowah Stove with Windscreen 4.4 0.3
Fuel Bottle Dasani 12 oz. Water Bottle 1 0.1
Cook Pot Evernew .9 L Titanium 4.3 0.3
Utensil Titanium Spork 0.5 0.0
Cup Evernew Titanium 2 0.1
Cleanup Camp Suds & Scrubber 0.8 0.1
Water Hose Platypus 2.4 0.2
Water Bottle Platypus 1 L 0.8 0.1
Water Bottle Platypus 1.8 L 1.1 0.1
Water Bottle Platypus 2.4 L 1.3 0.1
Water Treatment PUR Hiker 13.2 0.8
Food Hanging Kit Homemade 4.6 0.3
Other Essentials      
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Maps     0.0
Light Petzl Tieka XP 2.9 0.2
First Aid Homemade in Ziploc 2.9 0.2
Firestarting Waterproof Matches, Case 0.9 0.1
Test Kit Test Kit 4.5 0.3
Sit Pad Homemade 1.2 0.1
Insect Repellent Cutter 2 0.1
Hygiene Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Contact Case, Comb 5 0.3
Emergency Snack Smartees 5.5 0.3
Wallet   2 0.1
iPod   5 0.3
FUNCTION ITEM (oz) (lbs)
Fuel, Alcohol   12 0.8
Food 24 oz per Day 96 6.0
Water   32 2.0
Weight Summary      
  Total Weight Worn or Carried 63.6 4.0
  Total Base Weight in Pack 196.6 12.3
  Total Weight of Consumables 140 8.8
  Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3) 336.6 21.0
  Full Skin Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3) 400.2 25.0


"Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster," by Steve Hinkle. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-01-20 00:00:00-07.


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Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/20/2009 20:37:06 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster

Michael Gonzales
(dynomo01) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Lightweight Diet on 01/20/2009 21:18:07 MST Print View

After a 5 day 4 night backpacking trip I realize that my 35 - 40 lb backpack with all my creature comforts can be summed up in one phrase, "The enjoyment of backpacking is proportional to the weight of your backpack."

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/20/2009 21:59:21 MST Print View

what is the "patented sit pad"?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/20/2009 22:21:03 MST Print View

no sit pad in gear list..hmmm

Scott White
(sdwhitey) - F

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Re: Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/20/2009 23:05:06 MST Print View

the gear list is his

the sit pad was his buddy's

Steve Hinkle
(sjhinkle) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/21/2009 03:56:37 MST Print View

Busted. We all carry one. A long time ago (30+ years) my other buddy Danny cut up a blue pad and "patented" it. It's great for sitting on mossy logs, damp ground, snow and standing on while changing clothes. The pad weighs 1 oz on my scale.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/21/2009 06:40:10 MST Print View


Great article -- you captured one of the main reasons I (soon to be fifty) lightened my load. That feeling of gliding along the trail is addictive...

Bill Ferriot
(bferriot) - F

Locale: Ohio
Sit Pad :: Double Duty on 01/21/2009 06:57:01 MST Print View

I've found that a few pieces of Velcro can turn a sit pad into a freezer bag cozy. Not patented, though... ;)Freezer Bag Cozy | Sit Pad

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Sit Pad :: Double Duty on 01/21/2009 07:42:43 MST Print View

Steve, good article. Bill,great idea of making the sit pad multiuse. I do like my sit pad for those cold/wet stops.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
UL on the AT on 01/21/2009 08:17:56 MST Print View

Enjoyed the article. I'd just add that very few AT thru-hikers go UL. I've done half the trail. With an 18 lb. base weight (this was before I went UL), I had a lighter pack than nearly every thru-hiker I met. Base weights of 20-30 lbs are typical on the AT, even though the shelters and the frequent resupply options make UL very easy and even comfortable. It's too bad that more AT hikers don't go UL--I suspect heavy packs are a major reason why so many people who attempt thru-hikes don't make it.

Edited by sschloss1 on 01/21/2009 08:25:13 MST.

Robert Bryant
(KG4FAM) - F

Locale: Upstate
Re: UL on the AT on 01/21/2009 08:42:04 MST Print View

A UL pack weight doesn't have a major correlation with finishing the AT. The people that finish are the ones that want it. A heavy pack will knock out those who casually thought hiking the AT would be fun quicker than those who have UL packs. If you want to finish the trail a few extra pounds on your back is not going to stop someone.

Also looks can be deceiving. I was hiking in Maine this summer with my dad. One girl that we hiked with was carrying a vapor trail and all kinds of UL crap. My dad was carrying a Kelty Trekker monster external frame and his total pack weighed less that hers. We both went into the 100 mile wilderness with 29 lbs (w/food, wo/water) ready for 10 days. My dad with the Kelty and me with a Dana.

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: Sit Pad :: Double Duty on 01/21/2009 09:39:35 MST Print View

Dang it. You beat me to the punch. One of us better jump on getting this idea to the market so we can earn our millions. I'd just like to say mine is thinner and manufactured with bigger butts in mind.

Seat Pad Cozy

Edited by regultr on 01/21/2009 09:44:19 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Sit Pad :: Double Duty on 01/21/2009 10:40:12 MST Print View

Pffffttt! If you were truly UL you'd use baby Velcro and put the other half on your pants rear. Then you'd have your sit pad ready to go :-D Just rip it off at dinner time.


Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: UL on the AT on 01/21/2009 14:01:10 MST Print View

Scott, it amazes me the things that AT hikers carry. Last summer I was hiking in Shenandoah with a ULA Circuit. Pack weight with 5 days of food and 2 liters of water was less than 25 lbs. A thru-hiker with a ULA Catalyst asked one of my hiking partners if I had every thing I needed. He was shocked to hear I was carrying even a tent.

Since that trip I attended WT1-RM and have gone to a ULA Conduit. I've cut my base weight to less than 10 lbs which would put me under 20 lbs. for the same trip.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: UL on the AT on 01/21/2009 14:09:16 MST Print View

Robert, three years ago I meet a number of those hikers who thought they could casually hike the AT. One I remember made the decision a week before departure. The last time I saw that hiker was somewhere before Tray Mountain.

My son and I are planning a thru hike in 2010. I am 56 and train daily to make sure I'm in the best condition I can be when the trip starts. I evaluate every hike I go on to lighten my pack and gear.

You are right that you have to want it, but a light pack sure makes it a whole lot easier!

Robert Bryant
(KG4FAM) - F

Locale: Upstate
Re: Re: Re: UL on the AT on 01/21/2009 15:16:39 MST Print View

Hiking the AT casually is fun as hell. Plenty of people finish the AT who started with a weeks notice. I have done 4 long hikes on the AT and never had more than two weeks serious though beforehand (its always in my head). Most of the folks that I enjoy hanging out with on the trail are the casual type(they usually end up being potheads). I had a buddy (this one was not a pothead) that I hiked with this summer who quit a engineering job with less than a month notice and started SOBO. He finished fine and is bumming around the country right now because he is going to hike the PCT later this year.

I have also seen plenty of people who have trained every day and carried the perfect gear and had their food planned down to a T who have failed.

You can't look at people who finish the trail and find any common ground between them except loving what they are doing and wanting to finish.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Re: UL on the AT on 01/22/2009 11:34:31 MST Print View

Robert, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. Especially planning to a “T” part. There is no one thing that will guarantee successfully completing the AT. However instead of hijacking this thread let’s start another and invite both section hikers and thru-hikers to list things that made their hike successful.

Hope you will continue your comments there.

The thread is under General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion;Looking for Help on How to Succeed on the AT

Edited by CaptainJac on 01/22/2009 11:39:57 MST.

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster" on 01/22/2009 12:50:10 MST Print View

Who on earth needs a sit pad if you already have a sleeping pad. I can understand if you would'nt want to damage your inflatable pad, but for closed-cell foam users???

You REALLY don't have an excuse to bring a sit pad if you are using a torso pad!!!


David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 01/22/2009 13:44:34 MST Print View


Edited by DaveT on 05/12/2015 16:08:35 MDT.

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
Re: "Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster" on 01/22/2009 13:46:45 MST Print View

I'm gonna have to disagree with you here, Evan. First, if you use your pad as a virtual frame it would be a pain in the ass to have to take it out to sit on at rest breaks and then have to fit it back in your pack. Second, even if you don't use your pad a virtual frame, it is much easier to pull out a small, conveniently packed sit pad than to dig out your sleeping pad. Also, your normal sleeping pad can be supplemented w/ your sit pad to increase the warmth and comfort of your sleep system.

EDIT: sry to repeat many of Dave T's points...i posted this before i saw his post

Edited by pedro87 on 01/22/2009 13:52:41 MST.

Roger Howe
(rogerhhowe) - MLife
Insulating Layer(s) on 01/22/2009 14:22:29 MST Print View

Great article evidenced by pictures with many smiles! I am just turning 58 and begun the light/ultralight pairing down of gear from years of mountaineering. The one noticeable piece of gear I would miss is at least one or two insulating layers. In Wyoming a long sleeved hoody and one of the 12oz polyester filled parkas go a long way to keeping me cozy on cool nights and mornings. How do you get along without either?

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Insulating Layer(s) on 01/22/2009 15:31:53 MST Print View


I have worn as many as 5 light and thin layers to keep me warm in the winter time and often three for my three season backpacking.

For me, this is typical layering system that I have available for three season:

1. Light weight thermals, long sleeve top and bottom 8-9 oz approx. combined weight

2. Light insultating layer; Montbell Thermawrap jacket 8.5 oz (This replaced my fleece jacket which was heavier and bulkier and provided about the same warmth).

3. REI Convertable Pants

4. Light Weight Rain Jacket & Pants (10 oz each, REI Jacket & Pants)

*Note: there much lighter options for rain gear than what I have. Currently, I am using 2.0 oz MLD rain chaps & a 9.5 oz poncho tarp for rain gear.

5. Wind Shirt with hood 3.5 oz, which I sometimes put under my Thermawrap Jacket for additional warmth

6. Light Fleece REI Hat 2.0 oz

7. Light Gloves 2.0 oz

8. Windproof/Waterproof Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Rain Mitts 1.0 per pair

9. Sun Hat 3.0 oz?? Sunday Afternoon Brand...add a little warmth and keeps the rain off my glasses.

If I expect it to be cold, I will bring thin glove liners and a light balacalva.

Having many light layers allows me to regulate my temperature in a wide range of temps.

As you can see, I do have at least three layers available to me at any given time.

Obviously, your clothing kit will be adjusted based on the conditions that you may be facing....swapping to maybe a mid-weight thermal vs. light weight....maybe you need a light weight, high 850 down fill jacket to stay warm.

I think that it is safe to say that light weight backers are not trying to go with fewer layers, but finding superior materials that offer a high ratio of warmth to weight.

Hope that this helps....I am sure that there are many other more knowledgable people who can chime in to add to this.


Edited by Valshar on 01/22/2009 15:35:40 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: "Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster" on 01/22/2009 20:34:38 MST Print View

Evan, I carry a sit pad due to that I don't want my sleeping pad getting nasty and as is buried in my pack. I have to have padding when I sit down on the ground or on a tree as well.....

I also use my sit pad as a pillow and if I need a stepping pad to get out of my tent at night.

Very multipurpose! :-)

Bill Ferriot
(bferriot) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: "Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster" on 01/23/2009 11:43:56 MST Print View

>>Who on earth needs a sit pad if you already have a sleeping pad. I can understand if you would'nt want to damage your inflatable pad, but for closed-cell foam users???

>>You REALLY don't have an excuse to bring a sit pad if you are using a torso pad!!!

I do use my torso pad to sit on or lay down for a power nap at lunch breaks and it is easy to access due to it being the "frame" on my Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

But, since I had my food bag out anyway, and my ziplock freezer bag cozy was in there anyway - I decided to open it up and sit on it one day. It was very convenient and warm.

By the way, my base pack weight is under 10 pounds and my full skin out weight is just above 20 pounds, so it's not like I'm taking a bunch of "extras".

I even let friends borrow it who don't have a closed cell or easy access to their pads. Sitting on a trash bag is cold and unpredictable on even the slightest incline!

Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
Re: Re: "Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster" on 01/25/2009 15:16:00 MST Print View

"also, if it's only 1 oz, perhaps that really doesn't matter much"

EEK! Heresy! You do know you are on BPL, the home of the biggest gram weenies on earth don't you?


Seriously though I agree with many of the others that a sit pad in addition to another pad can be a worthwhile addition.

Every ounce matters, some are just important enough to bring anyway.

Dennis Hiorns

Locale: Michigan
Sit Pad on 01/29/2009 05:21:27 MST Print View

I also use a sit pad, but I made it by cutting the bottom 15" or so off my CCF sleeping pad - so now I have a torso length pad (for structure in my pack) and a sit pad (which can be removed on breaks). The sit pad also fits into the footbox on my quilt, if so needed in colder weather.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Lightweight Testimony: Lighter, Farther, Faster on 01/31/2009 07:02:09 MST Print View

While I enjoyed the friendly discussion on sitpads, I think it's distracting from the main point of your article. It was testimonials like yours that opened my eyes and got me into the lightweight, then UL approach.

While the more experienced folks immediately start digging into the details, I think the newer members can get lots of inspiration and insight into your lightweight journey.

Thanks for sharing! This is great seris of articles.

Edited by TomClark on 01/31/2009 20:10:41 MST.

Roger Howe
(rogerhhowe) - MLife
Re: Re: Insulating Layer(s) on 02/08/2009 21:25:04 MST Print View

Tony, Great solution to the layers! The chaps at 2oz look like a good solution for the few showers, especially if carrying wind pants, too. I tried some Mt Bell full zip insulated pants for fall and winter and they added surprising comfort on very cold evenings and mornings. I also want to try the 3.5 oz windshirt vs a 1.5 lb Gortex parka for active hiking. The Goretex is just too heavy and always overheated for wind and is not breathable for rain. I tried some light wool layers and found them very comfortable and surprisingly resistant to odor retention. You have given me some great ideas. Thanks. -Roger