May 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm #1303316
There has been a lot of SUL info on this site lately.
Are there any members here that have recently taken the plunge to the SUL world?
I would like your input as to what it took in order to others to convert.
Going SUL is just taking simplicity to a little more of a degree, yet can also be much cheaper if done right.May 23, 2013 at 5:53 pm #1989255
@andrew-fLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Aaron, I've personally never done a SUL trip myself, or hiked with anyone that had an SUL load for that matter. After I got my base weight down to 9-10 lbs, it seemed like a better use of my energy to improve my fitness than shuffle around more gear. But a few of us are talking about trying it out for a weekend trip sometime this summer, as an educational experience. I doubt I will adopt SUL for more than a small fraction of my trips, but I am sure I will learn something.May 23, 2013 at 9:08 pm #1989306
@gregfLocale: Canadian Rockies
Are you trying to sell SUL to others to convince them to do it?
I have done one SUL trip last year though it was in the fastpack / trail run style. My driving reason for it was I wanted to be able to jog as much as possible on the flats. The problem with SUL especially low cost SUL is that it is significantly less comfortable than UL. So for me the trip needs a specific goal that SUL enhances otherwise an going from a 10lb pack to a 15lb pack for a weekend isnt worth the comfort loss. The other problem with SUL is that it is a solo pursuit. On a trip with multiple people I perfer a more social trip rather than a taxing trip where SUL shines.
My SUL kit was basically a blizard bag, foam pad, jacket, rain coat. No shelter. My additional cost compared to my UL kit was a $16 backpack and the blizzard bag at $40.May 23, 2013 at 9:43 pm #1989314
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
As a creaky, arthritic old woman who really feels the cold, I need some comforts, like a really warm sleeping bag and a soft, cushy, well insulated air pad. This gets me a few ounces above the "UL" stage, never mind "SUL."
On the other hand, I'm following Will's SUL article series with great interest for ideas. It never hurts to lighten up more. Lighter weight helps offset old age, too!
Looking at the pack Ryan is carrying in his video, though, my shoulders started aching. Even with 6-8 pounds, all the weight hanging from my pressure-sensitive shoulders would be excruciating!May 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm #1989318
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
I would be SUL if I had unlimited funds.
My gear sucks. But it's very simple.
I spend almost all of extra cash on gas costs.
If you measure SUL by the simplicity of someones gear and not by the weight, I have been SUL since my first backpacking trip.
The only extra gear/weight I would add to an SUL list is clothing that is functional when wet (hypothermia is a big danger) and gear that can handle a beating from some of my off trail adventures.May 24, 2013 at 8:26 am #1989395
I would consider myself a "new" SUL hiker, I have only been at it for three or four years… need a few more before I would move myself out of the noob category.
What it took for me to become a SUL hiker was mostly: (in no specific order)
(a) a rethinking of the fact that I really did not need all that gear that I was lugging around
(b) a rethinking of how much bulk space each piece of gear that I was taking with me – because the less bulk space you have, the smaller backpack you can take, and thus a lighter backpack – a sub 100 gram backpack is a heck of a lot nicer than a 600 gram backpack.
(c) experience, experience, experience. I spent a good year or two forcing myself to learn as much as I could within the UL world before I allowed myself to go SUL. Once there I have had to learn a whole new set of skills. Going XUL was mostly about dealing with issue (a) above.
(d) education, education, education. I spent hours and hours emailing other SUL/XUL hikers bouncing questions of them, and joining mailing lists such as the pct-l was one of the most valuable and educational things I have done to help my hiking education.
(e) bought a crap load of gear to see what worked best for me. Obviously this does not have to be the case, especially with more and more SUL hikers posting their gearlists online these days.
(f) spending time looking at every SUL/XUL gear list I could find. When you can find a hiker that has all of their gearlists online, you can start looking through the different years of gearlists that they have used… chances are when you find a SUL/XUL hiker (or a number of them) all listing the same piece of gear that they have used for a few years, that is a very good indication of a solid piece of gear worth checking out for yourself. This got really hard for me when I moved into the XUL work, because there are probably less than a half-dozen hikers that have any real experience in the XUL world that have posted more than one or two years worth of hiking gear lists. With SUL becoming more viable to more hikers around the world, this will really start to change (for the better) over the next few years.
I tend to think that the biggest hindrance facing the SUL movement (and especially the XUL movement) is that not enough hikers have enough time on their hands to really get out there for a good percentage of the year and really test their gear. I see so many hikers buying all this SUL/XUL hiking gear, and they are lucky to get out for 20 nights a year (think: 10 weekend hike throughout the year). These guys that own the cottage companies making our gear are being forced into a position where they have to start taking feedback from such a small percentage (less than 1% maybe) of the hiking community and try to produce next year's updates for their gear on that crazy small sector of the market. SUL has not reached a point where most thru-hikers, or hikers spending 90-150 days a year on-trail, are out there and able to get enough use on the gear being made for them to be able to go back to the cottage companies and say "ok, this was good, but this needs reworking". For a decade this is the way it has been as the UL movement has come about, but the numbers are just not there enough in the SUL world yet.
Hope all that makes sense. Just my thoughts on the matter facing both SUL hikers and the cottage company owners.May 24, 2013 at 10:33 am #1989426
Great post John.
I'm in the process of taking my kit down to SUL right now & it's been a lot of fun so far. The challenge of having an enjoyable hike while also having a SUL kit has been terrific. It really helps that the weather where I live is very mild compared to other places. I can get by with less than most folks due to that fact.
As far as converting others to SUL – I've not tried to convert anyone, but I think it would be difficult. I think it would be tough to convince some UL'ers just due to the fact that they will have to buy more gear. Some can't afford that. Plus, the weight difference may only be 5-10lbs compared to a traditional backpacker going UL where the difference is +25lbs in most cases.
RyanMay 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm #1989460
@nedjursekgmail-comLocale: Pacific Northwest
I am in the process of assembling an SUL kit. Like my move to UL, I expect this process to take several years to acquire the education, gear and the technical expertise required to hike SUL safely and comfortably. I am also keeping to a tight budget, waiting to score items on the Gear Swap Forum, Ebay and Craigslist. This kind of bargain hunting also takes time, but I am in no rush and I like the hunt. I am also reading the collected wisdom out of the internet to gain the necessary "book" learning to help make my field training and testing more successful and less painful.
This season, as time and conditions permit, I will start testing out portions of my kit that I have already gathered. For example, I am car camping with my family this weekend. There is a good chance of rain, so while they sleep in our family tent, crazy Dad will be sleeping under his poncho/tarp and checking out his new cuben/momentum bivy he scored last week on the Gear Swap Forum. I will be the only camper praying for rain. I will also slowly work some SUL gear into my UL kit to both lighten the load and get more familiar with the gear.
I see my move to SUL as a natural evolution, not as a revolution. It would be foolish for me to throw a few grand at going SUL and charge off into the field. Instead, it is something I can worry, study, obsess, and implement for years to come, and when I am finally there . . . . . what is that XUL thing all about?May 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm #1989464
@oroambulantLocale: San Francisco
SUL is < 5.0 lbs base? I have work to do.
Cold, wet, and hungry are the only real concerns I have in the wilderness.
I don't think it takes much to prevent those, but I err on the side of more down.
New for this summer season I am dropping 5 pounds from last year's pack.
I am also dropping 10 pounds by switching to a lighter weight material for my skin, which is unnecessarily thick.
As of today for 10+ days, my very, very heavy base:
_33.7 oz Pack is Golite Jam70 w/added stays
_34.8 oz BV500
__0.0 oz No cooking and I love it!
__4.2 oz Shelter is polycryo 8×14.
_19.0 oz Quilt is myog 15 oz 900fp, M50
__9.0 oz Pad is 1/8 GG thinlite over Klymit Xlite, no pump.
__7.7 oz Hydro is 2L dirty zip-top Nathan bladder through Sawyer in-line.
_11.0 oz Jacket is myog down
__2.0 oz Balaclava is myog down
_15.0 oz xtra socks,underwear,merino top/bottom, gloves
__7.6 oz headlamp,multitool,bug net,pencil,map,duct tape,compass,lighter,glasses
_15.6 oz Toilet,pills,foot goop,first aid,sunscreen,deet,alcohol
__5.6 oz iPhone
__4.3 oz iPhone recharger
__8.5 oz inReach
__2.1 oz Batteries for headlamp,inReach
__1.3 oz Spare platy
__1.1 oz Sucky for myomalt
182.5 oz (11 lbs 6.5 oz)
What I plan to reduce for this year's JMT fasthike:
-21.7 oz Saved by sewing a 12 oz MyoPack
-34.8 oz No BV500
– 4.3 oz No iPhone recharger
– 1.3 oz No spare platy
– 9.3 oz No spare merino top/bottom
– 6.7 oz Replace hydro with drops
– 2.1 oz Delete/reduce some toiletries,etc..
-80.2 oz Shavings
102.3 oz (6 lbs 6.3 oz)
I can get really get down if I were so inclined, and at the moment I'm not :)
-11.0 oz Lighter jacket,quilt. Uhh, just finished the last two…
– 7.7 oz Nix iPhone/inReach/batteries. My wife will love not knowing where I am…
– 5.5 oz Nix Klymit pad. This I could put up with.
-10.7 oz By calling pills/deet, etc.. "consumables" and not counted as base. :)
_67.4 oz (4 lbs 3.4 oz) And I would call that SUL!
__3.9 oz Hat, generic broad rim
_13.2 oz Trekking Poles
_13.3 oz Pants: Kuhl renegade – just awesome in all weather.
__6.3 oz Shirt: HH
__2.8 oz Ex Officio Give n Go Boxers
__1.2 oz Ininji lightweight
__0.7 oz Belt
__1.2 oz Gaiters
_27.5 oz La Sportiva Wildcats
_70.0 oz (4 lbs 6.0 oz)May 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm #1989479
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
I am not that close to SUL for a number of reasons.
1. NZ weather conditions are unpredictable.
2. Don't want to have multiple versions of the same item of gear.
3. Don't want to buy more gear.
4. Limited time to go hiking and test options.
5. Limited time and inclination to think about gear. I don't even spreadsheet my setups at the moment. When I get the chance to hike I just want to get my gear together ASAP and get out there with a system I know will work.
However I would like to simplify my system if I could, as I still seems to have a lot of stuff, even if it is a lot lighter than before.
@John Once there I have had to learn a whole new set of skills.
What were these skills? I have been backpacking on and off for over thirty years, but am always keen to learn.
@Aaron. I would love to hear how you have simplified your set up. This would allow me to potentially drop weight without having to get anything new and would make getting ready to hike easier and trail life simpler. What do you typically carry now?May 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm #1989497
I've been intrigued by SUL for a few years, and finally did my first sub-5 pound trip last week on the superior hiking trail. I used a lot of light but simple homemade gear that i've pieced together over the years. I had fairly wet and cold conditions and was completely comfortable. I can easily see the limitations of the kit I brought, but I'll likely keep doing trips in the 5-6 pound range because I enjoyed it so much. Plus, once you've done a trip with five pounds of gear its easy to see how much more function you can gain by adding a few additional ounces here and there.
I do fall into the camp that thinks a 5-pound cut off is arbitrary…but not that arbitrary because I specifically packed a sub-5 pound kit for this trip :) I basically went with very light gear to a) make the hiking portion enjoyable b) keep things simple in camp and c) have a ridiculously light pack during my 14-mile bike shuttle at the end. I am planning on posting a gear list and a short trip report but don't have time at the moment.
MattMay 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm #1989541
I may do a SUL trip sometime.
I normally hang around 6.5 lbs. I like comfy sleeping pads, hot food, bugproof shelter.May 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm #1989552
"What were these skills? I have been backpacking on and off for over thirty years, but am always keen to learn."
Jason, I fully agree with what John says about skills. I can list some to provide insight but I imagine without truly experiencing several days of SUL by yourself it will be hard to relate.
Some example skills…
– How to pitch a tarp that will survive a wind storm using light weight stakes
– Knowing when and where to find water since you carry much less than a traditional backpacker
– How to sew since you might make much of your own gear
– How to use the basis weight of a fabric and how it translates into weight of a garment or weight of a tarp
– How to sleep using a quilt instead of a full bag in sub freezing temperatures
– How to specify gear needed from a cottage manufacturer
– How to know what cottage manufacturer makes the exact item you need
– How to wait 2 months while that item is being manufactured to your exact specifications, much easier to go to REI
– How to sell gear you no longer need to others
– How to calculate the grams of down you need in a baffle that is 54" wide x 5" wide x 2.5" high
– How to find natural materials to bolster the insulation under your mat
– How to sleep on a thin closed cell foam pad and get a good nights rest
– how to sleep on your back when you are a stomach sleeper
– How many exact ounces of food you will consume in a 24 hour period
– How to pee from within a bivy without getting up
– How to treat most first aid conditions with just duct tape (I don't carry much else)
– How to work with a razor blade as your only cutting instrument
– How to dehydrate hamburger
– How to dehydrate tooth paste
– How to make your own freezer bag meals
– How to rehydrate that meal with just an esbit tab for fuel
– How to eat, drink, and be merry with just a single 475mm tie mug
– How to make your own alcohol stove from a pepsi can
– How to pack a pack that has no frame, but does have structure when packed
– How to retrieve a water bottle from your pack, open it, take a drink and place it back without stopping
– How to take pictures of yourself without a tri pod or friend
– How to protect your feet with only one pair of spare socks
– How to not loose anything when leaving camp…because you have nothing extra to loose
– How to make a gear list and have a system to make sure you pack exactly each item that you need
– How not to have to depend on anyone else but you once you walk down the trail
Sure many of these skills are the same skills that a traditional backpacker uses and you might argue many of the skills aren't needed….right do I really need to dehydrate my own hamburger? The answer is no you can go buy mountain house. But you did ask for examples of skills that a SUL might learn. The above are all examples of skills I learned as I transitioned to lower pack weights.
The real difference is in the SUL world is that you strive for total independence and that independence only comes from finely honed skills… on the surface it might appear that SUL is all about the gear when in fact it is about skill so you don't have to have the gear… it is about absence of gear.
JamieMay 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm #1989564
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
I can list some to provide insight but I imagine without truly experiencing several days of SUL by yourself it will be hard to relate.
Ouch – I think you may be reading something into my post that isn't here. The perils of communicating on line :). Thanks for your helpful list – some things to think about.
I am good to go with much of what you list and making my own gear is something I just don't have time for given all my other commitments. I always hike solo and often don't see a single person for 2 days at a time, so I am used to having to be completely independent. In NZ you are almost always a long way from the trail head. Also by NZ standards I would be probably considered a SUL hiker:).
Interestingly on my last hike I left my tarp, mat and cook gear at camp and went to climb a peak. I was unable to make it back to camp that night and had to bivy out under a rock. I only had a back pad sized bit of foam from my GG Gorilla as a mat. I found a rock overhang, made extra ground insulation from vegetation and my waterproofs, a hole for my hips and sometimes slept on my back. Luckily temps only went down to 28F for a couple of hours and I had my water resistant bivy and quilt. I was warm all night and slept surprisingly well. The next day I was able to get back to camp and walk out. I returned home a little wiser.
I am going to be using Esbits this weekend for the first time in 33 years. Wish me luck!
Just spent some time on your website Jamie, and was super impressed with all your MYOG efforts. You have obviously put a lot of time and thought into how to travel as light as possible. I really want to learn how to make my own gear in the future and your site will be a good resource. I applaud you for your efforts and for sharing so much detailed information on line.May 25, 2013 at 5:04 am #1989602
Jason, My comment on not relating comes across much stronger than intended. It was not meant to be harsh at all. It is sort of like…having a child. I truly believe you really can not relate to the experience of raising a child until you have done so. Its not meant to be harsh it just the way I see it.
The difference with SUL is it is a continuum of a relationship. Someone who travels with 12 pounds of gear for a multi day 30 degree trip has a much greater understanding of SUL than does someone who carries 25 pounds of gear. I would say that the 25 lb person probably could not truly relate to 12 lb mindset. I think this is why we see comments from the heavies like… you are not safe, you won't be comfortable, etc.
But please know that I am not suggesting the 12 lbs of gear is better than 25 lbs of gear. It is just a different experience that some will prefer. Just like the 5 lb experience is not better than the 12 lb experience, but it is different. Some will prefer it, most will not.
I think night without much of your gear gave you a perspective into the relationship I am talking about. Your commented…"I returned home a little wiser." It is that wisdom that I seek on each trip. I try to change something up each time to continue to advance my learning. Many times I add heavier item to see how it changes my experience.
Thanks for checking out my web site. Another good source for UL "skills" is Mike Clelland's book…"Ultralight Backpackin Tips".
JamieMay 25, 2013 at 8:48 am #1989627
@jnelson871Locale: CA Bay Area
I have done some SUL in the past. Once I moved to hammocks my base weight rose to 6.3 lbs but the comfort has increased dramatically.
My conversion came about because of the horrible pain from carrying to much gear on my very first trip. Loved being out doors but by the end of a 4 mile hike I was exhausted. After that I discovered Backpacking Light and slowly whittled my way down to 4.6lbs using a very small cuben solo tarp and an inflatable pad. Now my mileage is around 20 miles/day and I am never sore or tired when I stop for the night. Much more enjoyable. On the ground I was never able to keep my knees warm at night so woke up in pain and did not sleep well, old injury, so I moved to hammocks and now need to set an alarm because I sleep so soundly! Even with my base weight being a bit over 5lbs I consider myself an SUL hiker as I bring very little gear that is simple and compact. For me the trade of of 1.5 lbs for a full nights sleep and the ability to go out for more days at a time is worth it. Your mileage may very. Definitely worth looking into and I am glad I went through my STUPID LIGHT phase and found the balance that works for me.May 25, 2013 at 1:22 pm #1989677
40 degree gear list, sub-5lb:
20 degree gear list, sub-6lb:
I'm still experimenting with Esbit options, and am planning on switching to a ZPacks Poncho/Groundsheet. I also want to experiment 20 degree temperatures with only the 1/8" spare pad. My 20 degree list should end up around 5.25lbs with said changes. Playing around a bit more, and maybe a cuben hybrid pack might get me down to 5lbs at 20 degrees, but at this point, it's more academic than any real improvement in my backpacking experience.
One thing, interesting to note, is that the biggest change in comfort I made recently, was switching to a hydration belt (Amphipod) to carry most of my water. Skin-out weight was a few more ounces, but placing the water weight directly on my skeletal frame made a BIG difference in comfort.
Oh, and I think people overemphasize "skill" when it comes to SUL backpacking. Other than pitching a stormworthy tarp, very little of it is actual skill. Most of it is just trying stuff that you think is way too light for you to be comfortable, and finding out that it works just fine. You don't really need to acquire much skill before going SUL, IMO. You just do it. For example, if you cut yourself and all you have is duct tape, it's not exactly a skill to learn how to create a bandage – you just do it. Same with using an alcohol or esbit stove. It seems foreign and scary, but if you just bring one with you, you'll figure it out on your first trip – hardly a skill, IMO. Navigation is a skill.
Honestly, I'd say there are 3 skills essential for SUL:
1) knowing how to pitch a stormworthy tarp
2) sacking up and cutting stuff you don't REALLY need (don't be a nancy about it – try it!)
3) knowing what items left on your list could be replaced with lighter weight options that may not be identical, but work the same way
The last two I would hardly call skills. More like balls and knowledge. You can also probably go SUL with a tent like the cuben Six Moon Designs Skyscrape-X.May 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm #1989709
Greg and John,
Excellent info. I also tend to only go SUL on solo trips and mainly while trying to cover as much ground on that trip. I have a really hard time going SUL if the temp is going to under 30 degrees. I am skinny and get way to cold at 25* without at least a 15* bag and a very warm jacket. Even then, I would have to eat a ton of calories right before I went to sleep. A small fire to be warm before going to sleep would also help, (yes I'm a little baby in the cold)
The 2 reasons SUL normally doesn't work with more than one is beer. That and I would seriously have to wait around all day if someone had a 25 pound pack on them. I have never been on a trip with the whole group SUL, but it would be fun.
My comfort level has gone way up with a short pad sandwiched in a double wide 1/8" full length pad. It takes up some space, but also helps the pack with some rigidity.
Boy do you have a lot of needs. Simplicity is key.
Try going SUL on an overnight that you have done before. That way you can leave walmart and sears at home. I'm willing to bet almost everybody already have the experience and most of the gear needed to at least do and overnight SUL trip, you just need to use "only" what you absolutely need. You really don't need to have every item as a mandatory item on a shorter trip.May 25, 2013 at 4:32 pm #1989717
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
Aaron, how many miles per day do you usually do alone?
Do you find that a 25lb pack slows you down more than a 15lb pack on high mileage days? Is it noticeable?
I haven't noticed a huge difference in my pack weight as long as it's below 25lbs, but most of my trips are off trail creek/canyon walking and exploring where I am forced to slow down considerably.May 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm #1989734
I did one SUL trip a few years ago (~8 lbs including everything I was wearing). I found that it made no difference in my comfort level while moving, no difference in the amount of mileage I could cover, no difference in the time I could spend moving, and no difference in how I felt at the end of the day versus a standard UL load. I decided I'd rather eat fresh food (pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc.) than meet some arbitrary number on a spreadsheet, and haven't flirted with SUL since. I haven't even weighed my gear (gasp!) or made a gear list (gasp!) in a couple of years except for when guiding/teaching. My two cents.
Honestly, most people would do far better lightening their own bodies by 5+ lbs than worrying about going from a 10-12 lb base to a sub 5 lb base. An added bonus is it's free. Of course if you can already do 30+ mile days with 15k+ elevation change, you can ignore that.May 25, 2013 at 10:40 pm #1989796
If we're talking higher milage, usually I am in higher 8-12k altitude.
Still push at least 40 miles and upwards of 60 per day, if less climbing.
I think 2 pounds makes a difference when going this distance.
A 13lb vs 15lb pack weight does feel better and 2 less is that much more.
I do feel there is a huge difference when your pack weight goes above 18lbs.
Then again carrying 9 vs 18 makes those higher mileages doable, which is the reason I go SUL.
My biggest factors in what kills me, in order, are
I have never been able to be up in altitude long enough to get used to it.
If I was better at altitude, the JMT supported and TRT unsupported record would be mine.
Still, while I am "hiking" these trails it is in the same fashion as any other hiker. carrying all my gear and hiking the exact same trail.
When going unsupported, you are really being in touch with the trail the entire way. Even more so than most thru hikers.May 26, 2013 at 8:50 am #1989865
Considering total pack weights: I found a pretty noticable difference in comfort and energy between a 15lb pack and a 10lb pack. The difference between 25lb and 10lb would be HUGE for me. I also do "high" mileage days at altitude. 20+ miles and 6k+ a day. I rarely drop below 10,000' for most trips (usually just the approach and return from my trip). I usually summit a few 13,000' peaks per trip.May 26, 2013 at 9:01 am #1989867
Aaron, I agree simplicity is the key. As far as what I need, I'd sum it up as freedom. SUL to me is about experiencing freedom. To get that freedom I seek to rely on my own skill rather than that of others. Does that mean I need to know much more than is necessary to experience SUL? I think the answer is yes. This is what I was trying to share in my list. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, but it is my style of SUL.
You've made me think that if I would give into my need for independence I could simplify my outdoor experience. Not the actual trip itself, my trips are extremely simple, but rather the energy that goes into preparing for a trip. This is anything but simple. An example where I did this last year was buying hawk vittles for dinners. It is much simpler than dehydrating my own food.
This is what I like about BPL, it always keeps me thinking.
JamieMay 26, 2013 at 11:32 am #1989903
Just when I thought I had some good gear and it doesn't get any better, I saw a SUL list that had not one item that was on my list.
Not only that, it was lighter and warmer with a few more luxury items.
It blew me away, and just goes to show how much you can learn on this site.
I think the best way to go SUL is to car camp and have what ever items you may think you need right in the car and just pull out the items you can only not do without.May 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm #1989915
> Just when I thought I had some good gear and it doesn't
> get any better, I saw a SUL list that had not one item
> that was on my list.
You can't just say that and not share!
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