I want to start by saying that I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this endeavor. My hopes are very simple. If through my ramblings, I can help my fellow backpackers to enjoy their time in the great outdoors a little more, then mission accomplished.

I would like to be able to tell you that I’m the genius that originated the concept of light weight hiking equipment, however, I’m not even close. I’m not even a good student of the concept. Most of the gear that I use and recommend has developed over years of learning everything the hard way. To be clear, there is no right or wrong way. You will most likely find that many of my recommendations just don’t work for you. That’s OK. I welcome discussion and debate. If you think that I’m way out in left field, I want to hear about it. Challenge me. Together, I hope that we can develop some standards that not only work as a baseline for going light, but also develop concepts and gear recommendations specifically for the Pacific Northwest. First things first… I’ll start with the basics and as we progress, we can delve deeper into each individual piece of equipment. To start, I’m going to ask you to open your mind to reality. FACT #1: Mother nature is not out to get you. She’s not going to rub your nose in it, contrary to what you’ve been told.

Myths and Marketing:

The biggest myth for outdoor gear is that everything you carry needs to be ultra heavy duty. If you have spent much time in an outdoor gear store, I’m sure some helpful associate has tried to sell you a bomb proof pack, tent, jacket, fill in the blank. I am amazed at the amount of over engineering that’s present on most high-end backpacks. All the extra BS, (buckles and straps), just add weight. The thing to remember when shopping for a pack is to eliminate the BS wherever you can. The marketing approach for most of the high end equipment companies is to instill an unhealthy fear of mother nature to get you to purchase their gear that’s way more elaborate than you will ever need. There are a couple of reasons why they build their equipment the way they do. Outdoor equipment gear manufacturing is a very competitive market to say the least. With Facebook, Twitter, and a multitude of ways that we the consumer can communicate these days, it doesn’t take long to spread the word about something that breaks the first time out or falls apart with minimal use. The way the big guys counteract this is to over engineer everything they make. Fewer returns means supposedly happy campers. The problem for them is how to convince us that we need to carry all this extra weight. They try to make you believe that without their product, you’re as good as dead before you step out of the car. Unless you’re a Navy Seal or an Army Ranger, your gear doesn’t need to be able to withstand a direct hit from an RPG, (ricocheting package of GORP). OK, we’ve identified the enemy. Let’s get started.

Advantages to going light:

There are many reasons to lighten up, here are but a few: a lighter load is easier on your body, a lighter pack is safer to carry, reduces stress and chances of injury, lessens fatigue, increases mobility, easier for beginners as well as experienced hikers, simplifies trail life, and increases potential for enjoyment. Ultralight weight gear is constantly evolving. Much of the current ultralight gear is extremely durable. So, by giving up weight, you’re not necessarily settling for reduced longevity. Evaluate everything you carry, then do it again, and again. Everything in your pack should serve at least two functions. An example would be a fleece hat. Well, yeah, it’ll keep your grape warm, but it can also be used as a cozy for your freeze dried meal while you wait for the noodles to cook.

Attack the big three:

If you’re really serious about lightening up, here is where you score the most dramatic cut in weight. The challenge is to get the combined weight of your pack, shelter, and sleeping bag below 6 lbs. Trust me, it’s not that hard to do. I have three backpacks that are all under 2 lbs. Two of the three are ruck sacks, ie; they do not have a frame or padded waist belt. The third does have an internal frame and padded waist belt, but still comes in under 2 lbs. The packs are very basic. There are a bare minimum of pockets, straps, and other attachments that add weight. I recently completed a six day thru hike across the Olympics. Excluding food and water, my base weight was just 17 lbs. BTW, that included an MP3 player, speakers, and extra batteries. Total pack weight at the start was 30 lbs. So, I started with a pack that weighted 2 lbs. Next, my shelter tipped the scales at 3 lbs. That left me with 1 lb to spare. Here’s the first example of dual purpose gear in action. I used a 50 deg F down sleeping bag that weighed 12 oz. Two of the nights got a little chilly. On those nights, I supplemented my sleeping bag with a down jacket. The combination kept me warm as toast.

FACT #2. Yes, the lighter the gear, usually, the more expensive it is, however, you do have options. I recommend surfing the web for ultra light gear. Many of the web sites not only offer products for sale, they sometimes have detailed instructions for making the gear yourself. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can outfit yourself for little to nothing.

Home work assignment:

If any of this interests you, then get a scale and weight your current pack, tent, and sleeping bag. How close do you come to meeting the six pound limit? Next month, I will evaluate in detail each of the big three. We can pick them apart and discuss the pro’s and con’s of the construction, materials, and designs. I’ll give you my experiences, likes, and dislikes. I’ve provided some links to light weight gear sites to help you open your mind to shedding those nasty extra pounds. Over the next few months we will examine all the gear required to be ultra light and self sufficient.

As a parting thought, “If your weekend pack weights more than 20 lbs, it sucks 2 B U…”

See you on the trail, Pat


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