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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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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