Was UL a phase for you?

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    Jason Byers


    Locale: Western NC

    For several years now I've been a praticing ULer and looking back on it I've gotten pretty silly at times…drilling holes in stuff, trimming this and that, bringing just enough to be comfortable and not to mention spending gobs of money on as much cuben as I can fit in my pack! Just this year I've been adding extras back in my pack and been very happy with it. Actually all late spring and summer I've probably been right at 10lbs base where before I was under 5lbs. I've been dusting off my sil shelters and right now actually prefer it to cuben! Extra cloths, fishing equipment, knives, saws…all the fun stuff!

    How many of you guys got crazy venturing into UL backpacking and later settled back into a light weight packer?

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Not a phase, but I think it is very common for folk to become zealots and then back off a bit. Stuff like sleeping pads separate the SUL Spartans from the garden variety Epicureans :) UL is good, but if you are too cold, wet, hungry, or tired from lack of sleep, you might be too light. After surviving 50 pound kits, the difference between 5 pounds and 10 is pretty easy to live with and it's just that margin that allows a better shelter, a good clothing system, and a comfy pad.

    jimmer ultralight


    Your definitions are wrong for starters..

    If you were striving for a Sub 5lb base then you were doing for SUL -not UL.

    If you are now at a 10 lb base, then you are still on the high side of Ultralight

    "Lightweight" backpacking is a sub 20lb base..

    So the mainstream backpacking community ,you are still a lightweight freak at a 10lb base.

    And your UL "phase" still contunues…

    Its the SUL insanity that you have outgrown..;)


    And, I still bet you have plenty of Cuben,Titanium etc in your kit..:)

    Bob Moulder
    BPL Member


    Locale: Westchester County, NY


    10lb base is UL. Easy to do for most 3-season situations.

    My winter base (down to 0°F) is about 13lb, which is plenty damn light for that temperature.

    Highly dependent upon on where you're going, when you're going and what you're doing…

    Jason Byers


    Locale: Western NC

    "Its the SUL insanity that you have outgrown..;)"

    Haha, yeah that's more like it I guess! I'm sure I'll never see north of 20lbs again but I'm just surprised of where this journey is going. Things I said I'd never bring again "now that I pack smarter" are now back in my pack, haha!

    Yeah I'm aware of the weight definitions…I was just surprised my pack weight doubled from what it used to be! Hell maybe this is a phase and I'll go back "stupid light" next season!

    BPL Member


    As above, rather than a phase, my own experience is more of a series of ever-narrowing pendulum swing between UL and comfort — until I arrived at my own "comfort weight" balance. Since then, I've been much less of a gear freak.

    Art …
    BPL Member


    there are only 2 types of people who can legitimately claim a sub 5 lb base :

    1. multi day ultra runners or FKTers with support teams

    2. those who never go outside and simply spend all their time cutting down the wait of their "kit" to absolutely unsafe levels so they can brag on BPL

    Robin B
    BPL Member


    Locale: NorCal

    I've found that I spend a LOT less time thinking about pack weight and gear than I used to when I first go into lightweight/ultralight…but mostly because I now have my setup pretty well dialed in and working well for me. At first, I spent a lot of time and effort obsessing over all sorts of options and modifying gear. Now that I've figured out what works for me, I worry a lot less about each item and minimizing every ounce. I find that right around 11lbs base in the summer, I'm comfortable and my gear isn't limiting my distance or enjoyment. So I don't worry too much beyond that (although I often go lighter simply because I choose not to take things like bulky cameras or a stove).

    BPL Member


    Locale: SE USA

    While I never reached SUL, I did get down to 7 lbs for awhile.

    I'm still usually sub-10 but I even picked up a used REI camp chair that I'm dying to take on a trip!!!!!! Oh the horror!

    AND, I recently re-purposed an old wool jacket liner with button holes so that I can now close it up for warmth in camp. I also trimmed the hood and re-sewed it to be more fitted. I love it! (I haven't posted it on this site since it weighs more than my UL pieces; although I haven't bothered to weigh it. Didn't feel like getting flamed.) Something about the low-tech feel of the wool that makes me feel closer to nature – corny, but the truth.

    Above all else – it's about enjoying the experience. Getting to Low, low weights helps in this regard. Adding things back helps make it even better.

    Jim MacDiarmid
    BPL Member


    +1 to much that's already been said. UL wasn't a phase, but more of a new awareness.

    The most useful part of going UL was just weighing everything and putting it in a spreadsheet, a necessary (for me) visual representation of the fact that everything weighs something, and the little, just in case things like spare batteries or a change of clothes add up. Strip the kit down, use it, and then if you have to, build it back up to where you're comfortable, mindfully, with that new awareness.

    There are still times when I will find myself staring at a spreadsheet, the cumulative total weight of my gear something like 13lb 5.65oz, and spend too much time wondering what I could cut to get the weight under 13lbs, just because. I got close to 10lbs at one point, but decided it was futile, since just about everywhere I go requires a bear cannister, so I start out 2lbs in the hole(okay, yeah, I treated myself a few years ago to a Bearikade Weekender; I'm not sure I'd do it again, but it is nice to have.)

    I've crept back up above 15lbs for my summer in the Sierras baseweight, but I'm happy with what I have right now, and there's not way, outside of buying more things made of cuben,(I have a Zpacks square tarp and an Arc Blast now) I could get much lower without leaving things behind.

    I use an inflatable pillow now and carry a mid-size camera with filters, rather than a point and shoot. I bring an Ipad mini(which I carry in an Otterbox, because I'm clumsy)when I could just use the same Kindle app on my phone because I don't trust the battery in the latter, and even in the woods, getting caught with nothing to read is unthinkable to me.

    But I still don't see the point of having straps longer than necessary, or excess shock cord, even if that stuff only saves grams. And I went out with my Arc AT, rather than a full length quilt because I'm already carrying upper body insulation, so why not use it? And if it gets down to 37F(which it did) I put on my rain pants and jacket and just sleep a bit cold. I still sleep on a small NeoAir with my pack under my legs, even if sometimes I lay there and think how comfortable a full-length one would be. Of course, the Ridgerest I cut down to torso-size would save 4oz over the NeoAir. . .

    It's a compromise, but I wouldn't call it a phase.

    Paul Magnanti
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Plateau

    "there are only 2 types of people who can legitimately claim a sub 5 lb base :"

    To be fair, I'd add a third item to the list:

    "3. Those who are backpacking in known mild conditions."

    I would never do a sub-5lb list on my backpacking trips (that's just me). But if I was in the mid-Atlantic in the summer, for example, I think I could easily bet to 5 lbs BPW for a weekend trip.

    Admittedly, it would be a very niche kit…but very doable.

    Sumi Wada


    Locale: Ann Arbor

    Never got to the real crazy stage, though my non-backpacking friends who heard about me weighing my underwear might disagree. I guess it's all relative. I got down to about 10lb base weight and have just stayed there; sometimes will take 11-12lb base for an overnight. I don't get hung up on labels like SUL/UL/light-weight but when I see hikers hauling 30-40lb for a weekend, I'm just happy I saw the light…

    Mike V
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    I have never ventured into SUL range as I have always found that to be the barrier between comfort and bare necessities, ex: torso foam CCF pad instead of full length air pad; That being said when I started lightening up I did do some "foolish things" like drilling holes, trimming this or that; none of which had that much of an impact on my total weight. However over time my method was more in line with the BPL slogan, I just learned to bring less "traditional" backpacking items that I found I didn't need or hardly used. My average base weight in 3 season trips is under 7 pounds and I have never found myself missing something I could have brought… except for more bourbon.

    Tipi Walter
    BPL Member


    I used to be very light back in the late 1970's with just a bedroll and a tarp but then I encountered some extreme winter conditions which required better pads and bags and an upgrade to tents etc. Nothing like waking up under a tarp at -10F covered in wind blown snow i.e. spindrift. Time for a tent.

    Beyond this, we need to think about what Martin Rye has to say about using labels to categorize backpackers.

    I think jimmer ultralight sums up the whole problem in his post with backpackers identifying with base weights or a pack's weight. It's old news and a non-starter in my opinion.

    Martin Rye once had a blog on the interweb called (now removed for some reason) and he says UL as an identity needs to die. Here are some of his points:

    " . . . there is a notion that others take a shelter like us, food and the like and achieve more. I am of course referring to those who profess to go ultralight."

    "What is UL? The pursuit of an identity in backpacking for the sake of claiming some stupid pre-defined base weight as the goal rather than seeking the real aim—to go outdoors."

    "It's backpacking and nothing more! . . . and not a defined base weight to stroke an ego and say look at me . . . Just go backpacking."

    "The end is to go outdoors . . . not to identify as an UL elitist who somehow does more than others." ALL QUOTES MARTIN RYE.

    I think of BPL's tag line: PACK LESS. BE MORE.

    Anyway, you get the idea. I think Martin Rye's quotes tie very well into UL being a phase for him.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    All quotes by Martin Rye. Except that the true context of each statement is unknown. And a perfectly Tipi post. I'll ask the question I've never seen you answer Tipi? Why post on BPL and what do you get out of it? There seem to be absolutely no interest from you in any weight reduction whatsoever.

    Tipi Walter
    BPL Member


    Ken T says:
    "All quotes by Martin Rye. Except that the true context of each statement is unknown. And a perfectly Tipi post. I'll ask the question I've never seen you answer Tipi? Why post on BPL and what do you get out of it? There seem to be absolutely no interest from you in any weight reduction whatsoever."

    I'm not the only one who has mentioned Martin Rye in UL blogs. Check out Skurka's "Is the Lightweight Backpacking Label Dead . . ." He cites Rye—

    Or check out Dave Chenault's blot "UL Is Dead". He also mentions Martin Rye—

    Nick Gatel even talks about UL "elitism" here—

    So point is, a "perfect Tipi post" is shared by others as above.

    And why do I post on BPL? Because the first word in the website is Backpacking and we all backpack despite the labels. Keeping me out of the discussion sort of proves UL elitism does it not?

    To your last point of having no interest in going lighter, well, that's just stump wrong. My -15F WM Puma down bag is very light at 3.5 lbs for its rating. My four season tent is 2 to 3 lbs lighter than the equivalent North Face or Mt Hardwear four season tent with the same sq footage. I have the lightest white gas stove on the market, an MSR Simmerlite. My cooking pot is very light—MSR titanium kettle.

    I think you want to believe that I have absolutely no interest in weight reduction whatsoever (keywords: "absolutely" and "whatsoever") so as to marginalize my input and label my outdoor experience as being substandard. Sort of the opposite of the BPL tagline: PACK MORE. BE LESS.

    Identifying with the UL and SUL labels isn't even in the BPL name—it's backpackinglight not backpacking ultralight or super ultralight.

    spelt with a t
    BPL Member


    Locale: Rangeley, ME

    It's hard to see it as a phase or not a phase when I've primarily viewed it as an approach to a process. I don't want to carry extraneous cr*p, and the stuff I do carry I want to do what it's it's supposed to at the lightest weight possible.

    What I need and want from my kit is a function of my goals, which continue to evolve with my experience and skills. Mostly this makes my pack lighter, or at least not heavier, which is a result I'm happy with, and one I owe a lot for to UL principles and the shared experience of people who practice them, even if their goals differ wildly from mine.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    I got down to below 10 lbs gear weight and keep it about there, … realizing that food for weeklong trips will be several pounds more (at least).

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Well, yes, I guess so.
    The phase started when I realised I was carrying too much weight and that I was not getting any younger.
    The phase got a boost when I found the joys (and comforts) of going lighter.
    So far, the phase persists.


    Bob Moulder
    BPL Member


    Locale: Westchester County, NY

    Tipi, I've looked at your blog and from the photos it's clear that you carry a lot more stuff than I do, but I don't have to carry all your stuff so I really couldn't care less. It strikes me as a little odd to use a winter tent and stove in the summer, however.

    While I'm definitely not SUL/XUL, I enjoy reading related posts because sometimes there's an idea in there that I can adapt for my style of backpacking.

    In all those links you provided the authors were not advocating for abandoning UL concepts and returning to trad, but rather avoiding "stupid light" and carrying appropriate gear for the location/season/conditions instead of striving for a weight threshold.

    Pretty much what everybody in this thread has said, so it's a bit confounding exactly what it is you're railing against.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Well, no. Not really. SUL was. I got cold several nights in a row. No fun being wet, cold, being rained on and nothing hot to drink for three or four days in a row. I added a stove, some extra insulation, a larger tarp, a saw, a neoair, … about 5 pounds to my SUL kit. So, now I am comfortable down to 32F (0C) and can even handle a couple days lower than that (around 27F this spring.) I can get lighter if I have to, but UL seems to work fine for me for 2 weeks at a time. I suppose a bit longer if I can have a laundry in there to get stuff actually clean, not just rinsed out.

    Hiking Malto
    BPL Member


    A phase, not a chance. But I did overshoot my ideal base weight and added back some hard fought ounces. I pretty much honed in on about 8 lbs. which is light enough that I rarely notice my pack. I have found that many others also overshoot and add back as well.

    When that magical point happened then gear became very uninteresting. my posts on BPL went down significantly. Gear became the means, not the end. interesting though, per Mags post above, in known weather I have pushed down into SUL range not for any bragging rights but more of a test for very specific ultra high mileage days. but in the end, I have my backpacking gear dialed in and can concentrate on either cool trips or physically demanding type 2 trips.

    BPL Member


    Somewhere between 20-15lb baseweight, I entered the world of diminishing returns. I'm currently in the neighborhood of an eight lb baseweight depending on camera gear.

    I'm still glad that I set 10lbs as my initial goal when I switched over to UL backpacking. It forced me to make choices and really look at each piece of gear I packed and consider whether or not I really needed it or if it really added to my enjoyment in any meaningful way.

    I've hiked in the rain in conditions where the temps dropped to low 40s and high 30s without feeling like I was at risk at all of becoming hypothermic with an eight lb baseweight. I used the right technique with the right gear and was fine.

    It's not just the weight, it's the bulk. Regardless of weight, I don't like carrying a large ruck, especially when bushwhacking. Tarps pack away smaller than a tent does. Down sleeping bags compress better than synthetic ones do. My cook kit is the size of a grapefruit.

    It's also about simplicity. No zippers on my tarp or backpack to break. No hipbelt to adjust. I carry solid fuel so no white gas or alcohol to leak out. Heck, even if I ran out of fuel, I can soak my meal in the sun and get by. The gear I have is built to last so I have the opportunity to buy once cry once.

    It's also about utility. I don't blindly fret over what ifs and grab random gear and fill my backpack to capacity and ignorantly proclaim to the world that I'm categorically safer because I've added thirty pounds of unnecessary gear. If I run into problems or obstacles in the wilderness, I've got the skills and knowledge to problem solve, mitigate risk, and to work with wilderness to return safely to the trailhead. Every piece of gear that goes into my backpack has multiple uses. I don't need stakes to pitch my tarp. I can analyze the ground and have a pretty good idea where water will pool up if it rains that night. My FAK weighs a few ounces but can dress lacerations, reduce swelling, combat insomnia, treat allergic reactions, give someone who's having a heart attack a fighting chance, and when combined with other gear on me, stop arterial bleeding and provide traction on a mid shaft long bone fracture.

    I really couldn't care less what Tipi or any other heavy hauler carries. If you like it, carry it. I don't much care for zealots who preach down to other people on how to backpack. If it works for you and doesn't unreasonably impose on others who are trying to enjoy the wilderness, or the wilderness itself, it's really none of my business.

    I'll admit that I get a kick out of people who look at my pack in disbelief that I'm not dayhiking but I really do like that I barely notice my pack when I'm hiking and that it isn't a source of misery for me.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    Well said Ian.

    David Ure


    +1 Ian.

    "I really couldn't care less what Tipi or any other heavy hauler carries. If you like it, carry it."

    Agreed. But yet he continues to troll threads like this. I still want him to post a typical 3 season gear list so that we can help him. I hope he includes the watermelon, hard cover books, and cartons of eggs that I have read about so fondly in trip reports.

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