Mar 13, 2008 at 7:21 am #1227779
I'm working on an article for BPL that asks the question, "when have you gone too light?".
This is a wide-open topic. Any suggestions, stories or ideas of any nature on this would be great.
NicoleMar 13, 2008 at 8:11 am #1424147
@clbowdenLocale: Berkeley Hills
I'm guessing that 99% of us, even after cutting our base weights below 10 lbs or even more, could always cut a little more. Personally, the only time I've ever gone 'to light' is when I've forgotten something.
CaseyMar 13, 2008 at 8:17 am #1424148
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
I learned a good lesson in 2006. I cut back my food too far and had too many hard days that left me starving. I lost 10 lbs that trip and ended up hiking out a day early as I had no food left. That last day was 19 miles on well under 1,500 calories.
For a diet it was great…lol!Mar 13, 2008 at 8:17 am #1424149
@splproductionsLocale: Salt Lake City, UT
I think the time you have gone too light is the time when emergency strikes and you don't have the gear or skills to get yourself out of it. That means for some people they only need a sparklite, a Spyderco Ladybug knife, and a clean pair of underwear (just in case found dead). For others it means a 1 pound emergency kit.Mar 13, 2008 at 8:42 am #1424151
@cooldripLocale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
Learned my lesson in '98. I was really focused on cutting weight for a big trip I had planned. The forecast on Mt. Leconte in GSMNP was for lows in the mid 30's and light rain. I knew I should probably carry a winter stove, winter clothing, emergency shelter, maybe even snowshoes, but I was going light, right?
Two days and three feet of snow later, I made it out after a really cold, wet open bivy and six miles of trailbreaking in fresh snow. I was cold, wet, and wise to the fact that it is possible to go TOO LIGHT!Mar 13, 2008 at 8:46 am #1424152
@thomdarrahLocale: Southern Oregon
Years ago I took a early season backpacking trip in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho. This trip was planned to be four days, three nights and solo. It was raining hard at the trail head and never stopped the entire trip, this was the warning sign I ignored. Early the morning of the last day, with only twenty downhill miles to go I came to a stream crossing that had become a river due to the rain and snow melt. No matter how far I searched up or down stream from the trail I could not locate a safe crossing point. I elected to turn around a backtrack the entire route with less than a single days food. This was a true adventure and a personal test I will never forget. Was my gear to light no, but I was by the time I got back to the trail head.Mar 13, 2008 at 9:40 am #1424157
I understand the safety factor of going too light, but let's not overlook the fun factor. If you go so light that you don't have fun, I think you have gone too lite. While others may tell stories of near death experiences, I'll tell a story of the time I didn't bring any camp shoes in order to save weight. The site had abrasive ground and I had to wear my wet hiking boots while at camp – it wasn't fun, so I went too light. Solution, foam camp slippers @ 1.5 oz.
My $0.02Mar 13, 2008 at 1:02 pm #1424184
@jeremy11Locale: Exploring San Juan talus
Not bringing a warm enough sleeping bag, or not quite enough clothing for the 40 degree days when it rains all day. But a little mild hypothermia just builds character, right? There were no emergencies, and I lived to tell the tale.
After all, it could be worse – just read stories of alpine style epics in the big ranges…… being a little cold isn't that big of a deal in comparison.Mar 13, 2008 at 1:16 pm #1424186
@archnemesisLocale: England, UK
Early tarp camping above the tree-line.
An open tarp, a gale and a laughingly optimistically rated synthetic bag. It was a cold night. I learnt a lot about tarps and sleeping bag ratings.
Other time's it's been deliberate – seeing where my boundaries are for overnighting. Once you've gone too light you know what you are happy to carry and happy to leave.Mar 13, 2008 at 1:42 pm #1424189
Short answer: You die.Mar 13, 2008 at 1:52 pm #1424191
This was back in the 80's when I had been backpacking a grand total of one night in the Sierra in my life. Planning for Kauai's Na Pali coast trail, I decided we didn't need sleeping bags, since Hawaii is warm, right? And warm clothes – ha! Some light sweats for sleeping in was all we needed, probably even overkill (so I thought). No stove or firestarting equipment, we could eat cold food. A few hours into the hike, it started raining pretty steadily and kept up for the rest of the day. We did have Ultrex jackets, which of course wetted through in a couple of hours. We spent the night at the first camp and decided to turn around since it was still raining. When we got back to the "stream" we'd crossed on the way out, it was now a raging torrent of white water over our heads. No problem – we set up the tent and decided to wait it out. Only problem was, we didn't have anything dry left to wear. Amazing how cold Hawaii can be when you're wet! Luckily, we were not the only people stranded by the rising water. Some intrepid individuals repositioned the rope across the gully (which had been submerged), and used another rope to act as a lifeline for each person who crossed by floating our bodies on the whitewater while hanging onto the rope across the gully, moving hand over hand. Scary, but luckily everyone was fine (though one or two did lose their grip on the rope and had to be hauled in by the rope around their waist to keep them from being washed out to sea!). I learned several lessons on that trip, most notably not to underestimate the capacity of rising water, and to take steps to have clothing and gear appropriate for the situation (including possible worst case scenarios).Mar 13, 2008 at 4:33 pm #1424216
@fperkinsLocale: North East
Small stream on way in
Raving river on way back
McCandless like?Mar 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm #1424220
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
I have Type 1 diabetes. I use insulin. Back in 2002 I ventured into a little used, badly maintained mountain area in Oku-Nikko (Japan) and I ended up taking three days rather than two days to do the trail. I had tried to lighten my food load and so didn't bring enough to eat, in great part because I had just made an agreement with my wife to get divorced and I was not thinking clearly. On the third day my blood sugars suddenly plummeted due to the exertion of the steep and rough trail and all I had left was an energy bar and a tiny packet of instant soup. I ate both the energy bar and the soup and then had to calculate a way out of the mountains as quickly as possible so that I wasn't hit with low blood sugar again. It was a very close call and something I always worry about when venturing away from accessible food sources. Food is one thing you can't skimp on, even if you're not a diabetic.Mar 13, 2008 at 7:58 pm #1424255
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
On Robert Falcon Scott's backpacking trip to the South Pole, his food load was too light, the weight of his sledges and other gear was too heavy, and his skill set was too weak.Mar 13, 2008 at 9:25 pm #1424274
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I don't have any dramatic "too light" stories. The minor ones have been:
1) Trips where I thought there was no chance of precipitation and got ~1ft snow. I had either a 3 season mesh wall tent, or a tarptent. Kind of icky cause when the wind blew the snow would get in through the mesh. Had to be a bit more careful than normal to keep things dry and had to knock snow off shelter to avoid being collapsed, but not a big deal.
2) Several trips where the weather was worse than expected. One trip when I was expecting the days to be in the 60s F, and the lows to be 35F. Instead the high was 55F, low was 13F. We have a fair amount of wind in a tarptent. Sleeping gear was my hiking pants, featherweight shirt, thermawrap vest, wildshirt, polarbuff hat, ghost quilt (accurately rated to 30F) on top of a ba insulated air core which starts feeling cold below around 20F. Middle of the night my daughter was cold so I lost the vest. I was chilled through the night and didn't sleep well, but wasn't in danger.
3) When I was exploring my limits. I found that frameless packs were "too light" when carrying a load that wasn't :-) Basically I don't like frameless packs that weight more than 16lbs. Sleeping under a poncho/tarp in a storm with blowing rain without a bivy. Got wet, but by lowing the tarp so I was brushing against it… less water from the condensation that was getting blown in I was able avoid soaking my down quilt to the point it wasn't insulating. Luckly the low was around 40F. Carrying anything less than my BA Insulated Air Core. The result was either not sleeping well, or not sleeping at all. The two worse was one trip that all but 2 balloons in my ballonbed popped (haven't had that problem on the first few trips) and 2nd time I slept in a hammock without adequate insulation.
4) Several trips didn't take enough food. Found that I had trouble staying warm enough in the evenings and when trying to sleep. Once again, never at risk.Mar 14, 2008 at 8:08 pm #1424401
@awsorensenLocale: South of Forester Pass
In keeping along the lines of what question we are being asked;
I think once your base weight gets below 5 pounds you start loosing your minimum effective temperature as well.
There are a handful of U/L'ers on this site that post these amazing looking sub 5 lb highly CLO'ed,Cubenized gear lists that have the ability to keep you warm to below 20.
I have just about every piece of gear they have and I'm even working on a sub-3 base list.
The problem is there is no way I could or would take a sub 4 lb base in anything below 40 degrees due to the possibility of what could happen.
There is no way, (unless you are continually moving) that 4 pounds can keep you warm and dry under wet blowing conditions no matter what experience you have.
I can honestly lay claim to this when I fast-packed the JMT last year. My base weight was just over 3 1/2 lbs and a total pack weight for the entire JMT of under 16 pounds (with water).
No person doing a regular backpacking trip could do this.
I was moving about 21 hours a day so it made it doable.
However, if I did it again, I would shave another 1/2 pound off.
So does this mean that if I get in trouble, I am going to light?
We'll no, because I can only do this while moving for over 20 hours a day.
Getting back to the point, I think when light is too light is when you push past your minimum weight in climates that can not handle it.
I also think there are a lot of people that could get them selves into trouble if they followed the CLO method of warmth and headed out to wilderness and froze to death, (ha, ha).
Then again, some people just have the ability to sleep comfortably in a freezer just wearing what they have on at given time.
O.K, maybe I'm not keeping along the lines of what question we are being asked and just talking my self in circles, which brings up that this is a very good discussing and article to write about.Mar 15, 2008 at 8:16 am #1424421
@mikeclellandLocale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
One very real issue is getting so cold you get hypothermia.
But, There is a difference between Hypothermia and BEING COLD AND MISERABLE. Don't confuse these two!
Being miserable is a state of mind, and a savvy camper can usually solve the problem, even if it means sitting in the sleeping bag and doing sit-ups all night.
So, the only thing that would be make for "too-light" is skimping on an insulating layer. Exersize will keep you warm, but you gotta sleep.
If you sleep cold (because you left some insulating gear behind) get up early, start hiking, and don't complain!Mar 15, 2008 at 11:28 am #1424445
@skopeoLocale: British Columbia
…Mar 15, 2008 at 11:46 am #1424448
@bjamesdLocale: South Coast of BC
I think Mike makes an excellent point.
I feel that there are two different types of "going too light": 1) you don't have fun, and 2) your ability to function becomes impaired.
#1 just gives you a story to tell, but #2 will kill you in any weather. If you get cold and/or tired enough that you lose mental acuity or dexterity to the point where you can't care for yourself anymore, your fate is out of your hands.
As for "going too light," if you can't get a decent night's sleep for a few days your mental and physical abilities degrade. And if you have to fuss with Perfect Poncho Pitches and adjustable girth hitches in the ice cold rain, your dependence on those abilities increases.Mar 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm #1424450
@freeradicalLocale: Central TX
I've got a different angle on this question. I figured out about a month ago that I'd gotten too light because I came to like gear as much as I like getting out and hiking!
I learned nearly everything I know about backpacking through this community. Hooray! Unfortunately, I also became very gear-centered over the course of 2 years of reading, researching, buying, testing, and reselling. About a month ago, when I finally organized my entire gear inventory and put it on a big steel shelf unit, I was disappointed to see so many items (mostly small stuff, thankfully) that I'm not sure I'd ever get the chance to test out, because I accumulate gear faster than I can go out and test it! I think this might be a pretty common problem in this community . . . but I could be wrong.
I also realized that planning a BP trip had become a huge chore for me simply because of selecting from my possible choices what I was actually going to take! It had become downright annoying!
And on top of that, I feel like my gear-centered-ness had taken me very far from what I view is the heart of backpacking, which I guess is something like: getting out there and doing it, and not wasting time and effort fiddling and controlling the mess out of the endeavor. It's ok if it's messy–that's part of the fun.
Keeping all this in mind, I'm now selling about 80% of my gear on the Swap forum right now, and replacing most of my choices with single items that are simple, lightweight, satisfying, and long-term usable, unlike some of the tiny, thin, light, tinkery SUL pieces that I had before.
Now I know I'm not everyone, but this has been my experience in realizing that I've gone too light. I've now accepted a couple pounds of "fat" back into my gear for the sake of the piece of mind, simplicity, utility and durability that these items offer.
My $.02Mar 15, 2008 at 12:53 pm #1424456
@aroth87Locale: Missouri Ozarks
All of my trips so far have been weekenders and overnighters. Living and hiking in Missouri means the weather is fairly mild and I can get away with 5 lbs of gear most of the time. There is definitely an element of caution when I set my pack down and set up my tarp, but over a weekend I can deal with it.
However, I have my first extended trip (6 days) coming up and I've found myself adding a good amount of weight to add both peace of mind and convenience. Right now my tentative pack weight is about 8.6 lbs. I'm quite comfortable with the gear I have selected for the trip. Most of it is stuff that I bring on SUL excursions anyway, like my quilt, poncho-tarp, and windshirt. But I've also added some things like a pair of water resistant chaps and a SP 700 mug and a pocket to carry my camera on my hipbelt.
I had entertained the idea of doing the hike in SUL style, and while I think I could have done it, I opted to take a more comfortable approach. I have a feeling I would have come back with a great story for this thread if I had stayed with the SUL idea this time.
AdamMar 15, 2008 at 8:43 pm #1424489
Coming from south west Missouri and now doing my hikes in the mountains in Colorado I can certainly say the amount of sacrifice to reach the SUL categories is very, very different. In good weather in Missouri you could just set off with food and water treatment and maybe toss in a DWR bivy and long johns and be perfectly ok. There's plenty of duff to make into a ground pad and the weather is relatively predictable. Most MO trails are only a few miles from civilization as well.
I think the real point is at what point does sacrificing weight make the trip less enjoyable. This answer will vary from person to person. I personally don't like the fiddle factor of some SUL approaches and am happy with closer to a 8-10 lbs base weight for spring and fall. I've done SUL and at the end of the trip I couldn't say I felt any difference carrying the pack but I did feel I had to spend more time micro managing my gear or being a little more uncomfortable rather than enjoying the beautiful scenery and comradery.
Unless proving that you can do the trip in under 5 points is the point of the trip I know of no one else will tell you that you'll see a difference in fatigue of a 8 lb baseweight vs sub 5 lbs. After all 5 lbs is just a arbitrary number, 8 lbs is still very light weight backpacking. If you feel you have something to prove and that you need to keep it under 5 lbs for a 6 day trip, post up a gear list and I'm sure the BPL community can help you trim it down even more.
Your food and water weight is far more of a consideration at that point anyway. Once those types of weights are acheived it isn't the big 3 being gear, its the big two and both are consumables.Mar 15, 2008 at 9:26 pm #1424491
I think there are many more tales of people who went too light on knowledge rather than too light on gear. Looking back on some of my earlier trips I'm amazed we came out ok. For most scenarios keeping your wits about you and practicing your skills will do more to save your skin than any 3 lb med kit.
I wish I could remember who to give credit for but one of the sites I read long ago about alpine climbing survival summed it up as "Suvival is a cup of tea" which basically encourages someone who is lost or otherwise in a panic situation to sit down, make a cup of tea, go through what tools you have available and plan the next move carefully.
It's the panic that usually puts us in tunnel vision mode so we can use what resources we have with us and around us to get us out of a bind. When we are safe at home making our gear lists we aren't in that mode so we can optimistically say, oh if it gets cold I'll just use my trash compactor bag I'm lining my pack with as a vbl or that you'll always be able to start a signal fire those couple of waterproof matches if the going gets tough. When the situation hits you in the face it doesn't always play out how we arm chair expeditionists plan.
Gear wise I've went too light on several trips.
I mistakenly left a stuff sack behind on a 4 day sul kayaking trip. I get to camp to set up my hammock only to realize the bag with the sleeping bag and under insulation fell behind the seat in the vehicle. The forecast was very wrong. It called for 80s for a high and upper 60s for a low. We got non-stop rain for 3 days and it dropped into the upper 30's. I spent most of my camp time huddled around a fire and attempting to sleep in my foil emergency bivy sack. I had made a widly optimistic gear list for clothing (swim suit, synthetic T-shirt and sandles). I got cold enough that I was definately impaired on my thinking and made several other poor decisions on that trip – thankfully it turned out ok but I cut it far too close. In retrospect I could have at least used my PFD as under insulation and I would have been far better on the ground than trying to make the hammock work but I was too unfocused to think out of the box. It probably didn't help that I cut it far too close on food as well. I had cut back my rations too much and it too impaired my judgement. I had a lot of lessons learned from that trip.
More of a cold and miserable trip:
Me and my friend did 4 day trip late February trip in Missouri. Near the end of the trip a wicked cold snap had rolled in. I had barely sufficent insulation but only a torso length non-insulated inflatable ground pad. We had both packed so light that no extra gear was available to put under us and search as we might there wasn't much suitable duff or much else to provide insulation. We had no cookware (cold food only trip) and emergency only firestarting materials. Unfortunately we lacked the skills to make those 2 vaseline coated cotton balls and a fire steel start a fire with less than ideal tinder. I ended up doing sit ups and push ups for 3/4 of the night and even resorted to getting out, unhanging the food bags just to make something to eat.
While not life threatening as I could have bailed into another tent on another trip in southern Arkansas in Janurary we finished up a backpacking trip 2 days early so we stopped to do another trail on the way back to Missouri. I had packed properly for the weather for the first trip but didn't realize that a cold front had hit our 2nd destination. I had brought my hammock with JRB underquilt and a 20 degree bag. That setup was fine to 30 degrees (bottom insulation was the limiting factor) but that night it got down to 5 degrees with howling wind. Thankfully I was able to make shift more insulation by lowering the hammock into a pile of leaves and adjust all of my rain fly mostly sideways to make a massive wind break. I was still horribly cold but without some alternative rigging I'd have at a minimum been shamed into being the 3rd person in a very snug 1.5 – 2 person tent. Again, not life threatening but I certainly wasn't packed properly.Mar 16, 2008 at 12:28 pm #1424528
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
>>I've now accepted a couple pounds of "fat" back into my gear for the sake of the piece of mind, simplicity, utility and durability that these items offer.
Me too. I find that the fewer items I bring and the less fiddly they are, the more I can forget about the gear and spend my time out there experiencing nature.Mar 16, 2008 at 12:34 pm #1424529
@freeradicalLocale: Central TX
I think I realized recently that although getting lighter means getting lighter, if the fiddle factor increases or the durability significantly decreases . . . simplicity decreases! And I don't just go light for the sake of lightness . . . it's definitely also for the sake of simplicity, for removing my mind from the clutter of the real world.
So yeah, allowing a few lbs of well-chosen "fat" back into my pack really allows me to take a smaller number of things, and be more at ease with those things. That's really important to me.
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