Aug 16, 2005 at 2:23 pm #1216633
I get the impression from backpacking magazines that people think safety is one of the things we trade off to go light. I may go too light at times, but my balance is better, and I’ve never had a blister since I started going light. Of course safety is a matter of knowledge and experience too. A trained survivalist will be safer backpacking with no shelter than a neophyte with the best tent.
What do you think? Is ultralight backpacking more dangerous, safer, or about the same?
SteveAug 16, 2005 at 3:18 pm #1340437
@foodLocale: Colorado Rockies
My base weight is about 15 so I am only lightweight. Seven years ago I was coming back from an injury and realized that I must go lighter or less miles.
Injury from falls stopped when I switched to trail runners.
I have only used first aid supplies for other people for several years.
With the lighter pack it is possible to walk out to safety so you can remove a lot of “what if” gear from the pack.
What is sacrificed is gear durability.Aug 16, 2005 at 3:19 pm #1340439
@davidlewisLocale: Nova Scotia, Canada
I think it’s safer. As long as you are knowedable and have enough clothes and some essential first aid items… as well as an emergency fire kit… all of which could be under 3 pounds (carried)… you’re fine. I think it’s safer because you have much better balance, much better feel for the terrain (with light shoes), no crushing loads on you knees and back, much less chance of turning an ankle with your light load… and if you DO turn an ankle… you’ve got a much better chance of walking out on your own with a 10-15 pound pack than with a 50 pound pack.
I recently went on a trip with a number of traditional backpackers… and they were all in a lot of pain… and most of them had blisters and duct taped feet… etc… and one person (with a very top heavy load) almost lost their balance at one point off the edge of a pretty serious slope… a slope that only lasted a few feet before becoming a cliff!!!! Seriously… it was a really close call! For me, it was like a day hike.
The funny thing is, everyone assumed I left stuff behind! That I was taking advantage of gear sharing to lighten my load (i.e. shared stove, water filter, etc). They were amazed not just at the huge size of my shelter (a Squall)… but also that I had everything… stove (alcohol)… water treatment (pristine)… first aid kit… etc. I was completely self-sufficent. I also had twice the shelter space of one other member who had probably 50 pounds. Ok, so I didn’t have an espresso maker or a huge buck knife or a high powered canister stove… but who needs all that stuff? I don’t go to the land in order to drink espresso. That’s what the city is for.
Anyway, I’m getting off track. My vote is for safer. Of course, that depends on the conditions. Crazy 5 lbs. base loads only work in certain conditions (3 season, below treeline, etc.).Aug 16, 2005 at 4:31 pm #1340444
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
speaking for myself, I think that it is safer. There are many reasons that I believe that this is true. Firstly, lghter loads increase mobility which in turn makes my body feel soooo much better at the end of the day ie no turned ankles, sore knees, and shoulders. I do most of my hiking in The Sierras and I am usually within a day of bailing out if somehow things get dicey. It never really happens becuase weather is usally the concern and in the summer we get afternood thunder showers sometimes. But if I had to, I can. I carry a base load of 10-14 lbs depending on what part of The Sierras that I am in and I have everything that I need to be self sufficient. No mooching from me. I love the look I get when traditional hikers see my pack and wonder what a day hiker is doing “way out here”.
Knowledge!!!Aug 16, 2005 at 4:35 pm #1340445
@kdesignLocale: Mythical State of Jefferson
A crazy 5 # base weight ( well, actually 5.25 #) is exactly what I plan to be carrying this Fall on a week long above tree line trip. Quite do-able, actually.Aug 16, 2005 at 6:35 pm #1340446
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
For me, going lighter is all about conservation of energy. The times I’ve felt less safe were when I was carrying a too heavy pack, getting tired, and feeling my mental accuity slipping. The problem can be compounded with a storm coming in and/or steep terrain. With a lighter pack, I feel more rested while hiking and so can make better decisions. Currently, my base weight is about 11 lbs. for three season conditions in Colorado but I’m keeping a close eye on you “crazy” five pounders out there.Aug 16, 2005 at 7:54 pm #1340452
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
I too and looking at the Super Ul and thinking if this is a possibility for me for an overnighter in The Sierras. Especially if your 8 miles from the TH, there could be a level of safety for me. Kind of a hand rail so to speak. Has me thinking.Aug 17, 2005 at 3:23 am #1340462
@davidlewisLocale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Hey Kevin. I don’t think you’re crazy at all. That word is actually more of a compliment :) I was just making the point that there CAN be a point where conditions warrent carrying more than the typical 5 pound list would include and that our weights, rather than sacrificing safety, are actually *based* on safety… i.e. we are always asking the question, “what is the lightest and most efficient way to go to location A for X number of days with everything I will need in reasonable safety”.
It’s not about sacrifice, it’s about putting a lot of thought and research into that question… a whole lot more thought and research, time, effort, etc. than most people want to spend. It’s easier to just go to the local outfitter and select one of the many bombproof 6 pound packs and 4 pound tents etc. that they have on display. I imagine this may change in the coming years as mainstream companies start getting more interested in *truly* lightweight gear and techniques. I mean, there was a time when the only way to do this was to sew your own. Now there are great cottage industries online. And eventually it will become more mainstream.Oct 14, 2005 at 1:36 pm #1342917
I give seminars to Scout leaders about UL, and tell them UL is safer than conventional backpacking because:
1) Carrying a heavy load changes center of gravity. New hikers are especially vulnerable to trips and falls.
2) When you fall, you fall harder, and the pack itself can cause inuries.
3) Fatigue from carrying a heavy pack can contribute to accidents.
4) Heavier packs mean heavier boots which – contrary to popular belief — do not protect the feet any better than a glass cast; when they fail, they fail catastrophically. Past a certain point, boots switch from protecting to causing injury. Light packs mean you can wear shoes your body knows how to use – such as athletic shoes. Light shoes will not break your ankles or the small bones in the foot – as boots can.
5) The most common trail injury is blisters. Boots cause blisters unless your feet are hardned to their use. Lightweight shoes are much less likely cause blisters.
6) You cannot carry enough gear to avoid all risk. At the same time, your gear can give a false sense of security that leads to danger. For example, relying on a tent to keep you dry while not giving due consideration to its location and its proper use is an invitation to an uncomfortable night if not worse.
What is in your head is more important than what is on your back. Awareness, alertness, skill and knowledge make up for lots of weight.Oct 14, 2005 at 2:10 pm #1342925
Vick, amen. As a Scouter, I often find myself defending UL as a safe approach and philosophy to those oriented to traditional backpacking. But when you hike with those carrying 40, 50, or 60 pound loads they are usually impressed to see what is possible when they open their minds and realize that safety is not necessarily compromised with a different approach.Oct 14, 2005 at 2:32 pm #1342928
Good for you. I also like to show scouts and leaders how to save money while building skills. I like Tyvek tarps for scouts. They breathe, so have less condensation, and they require some skill, thinking, and planning to set up… which is what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it.
Home-made cook sets, alcohol burners, first aid kits, even Jardine-style comforters and packs are within the abilities of scout-age kids, and there are merit badges in them thar hills.
In other words, scouts can go lighter with less expense and be safer. It’s a no-lose deal.Oct 16, 2005 at 9:29 pm #1343020
I too wonder about this, but also I’m concerned about the durability of ultralite equipment. This summer I set out with my new tarptent and light pack. Within a few days the pack had many holes in the bottom, and on a windy evening, the tarptent (which held up well, btw) really took a beating. The next morning there were holes in the thin, sylnylon material.
My sylnylon rainjacket also got a few holes in the back which I repaired with ducktape. But will it hold up?
I wonder how I’d fair if I were days from civilization, or if the storms lasted longer….Oct 16, 2005 at 9:43 pm #1343024
“I too wonder about this, but also I’m concerned about the durability of ultralite equipment. This summer I set out with my new tarptent and light pack. Within a few days the pack had many holes in the bottom, and on a windy evening, the tarptent (which held up well, btw) really took a beating. The next morning there were holes in the thin, sylnylon material.
My sylnylon rainjacket also got a few holes in the back which I repaired with ducktape. But will it hold up?”
What the hell were doing with this stuff? Were you anywhere near a campfire?
I’ve got UL gear that I’ve had going out for three or four years now and it looks pristine. Along with UL gear goes some UL education — you just don’t beat this stuff the way you did the old 1000 denier Cordura. I had to explain this to one goofball friend of mine, who stuffed all his old heavy gear into a 14-ounce pack, complained about how his (38 lb) pack weight was just uncomfortable in this thing and then, at one rest stop, tossed it down, sat down on it hard and blew out a seam. We spent a season re-educating him, and since then he’s been just fine with his own UL gear.
Will it hold up? Yeah, it holds up just fine if you treat it well. I know people that have had Stephenson tents for 25 years and more, and that’s one of the early leaders in very lightweight gear.Oct 17, 2005 at 10:49 am #1343056
I have abused UL gear for years – long trails and lots of other uses including the freight compartments of busses – and it’s held up. That said, I probably do lots of things unconsciously to protect it. Going UL means doing things differently, so be forewarned.
Silnylon is strong for its weight, but it is still a very lightweight fabric. 1.1/1.3 oz. silnylon generally has higher ‘bursting strength’ than an equivalent weight of uncoated fabric. And it is stonger in most ways than polyurethane coated fabric. ‘Tongue tear strength’ is about the same, but ‘cut strength’ and abrasion resistence are much lower because the silicone holds the fibers of the fabric so they cut instead of deforming. Oddly, the 1.8 oz silnylon fabrics are weaker than the 1.1/1.3. Don’t know why.Oct 18, 2005 at 5:45 am #1343092
Inaki Diaz de EturaParticipant
@inaki-1Locale: Iberia highlands
Agree with your comments on silnylon strengths and weaknesses but why do you think the 1.8 oz is weaker than 1.3? weaker in which sense?
I’ve never had anything made with either damaged but the heavier one looks stronger.Oct 18, 2005 at 10:22 am #1343099
I don’t know why the 1.8 I’ve used has lower tear strength than the 1.3. I used it for reinforcement to make a more durable UL pack for a thruhike. It developed V-tears and abrasion holes easier than the 1.3 oz. body. I got curious and informally tested the two using the tongue-tear and the grab-hook methods. The 1.8 lost.
The following procedure ain’t scientific, but it will let a do-it-yourselfer failure-test fabrics for 2 types of failure. There are other tests, but they get tricky.
Tongue-tear: Cut a 2-inch ‘tongue’ of cloth, on one side of a 6″ strip of cloth; clamp the remainder so the strip hangs vertically; attach weight to the tongue until the cloth tears.
Grab-hook: clamp a 6″ to 8″ strip of cloth vertically; snag a shark hook into it below the clamp; attach weight until the cloth tears.
Run several tests for each sample.
A good way to add weight is to use an empty 5-gallon water can and fill it until the cloth fails. Then weigh the can.
The main problems with silnylon are cut-strength and abrasion. That is, it cuts more easily and abrades more easily than other fabrics of the same weight. The problem is, the silicone does not let the yarns of the fabric move when a sharp edge or abrasive surface pushes against them. Held firmly at the microscopic level, they are cut through. Uncoated fabric and (perhaps) polyurethane coated fabrics is more resistent to cutting because the fibers can slide out of the way. However, that is also why such fabric gets runs in it.
The best thing for all of us would be for a mill to use Spectra or maybe Kevlar yarns for the ripstop grids in UL fabrics. The web (the rest of the fabric inside the grid) could be even lighter. Daydream about really strong 0.7 oz. or lighter.Oct 18, 2005 at 11:07 am #1343101
I have bought 2.3oz silnylon from seattlefabrics.com, and I’ve gotten 1.3oz from many sources, but I’ve never seen 1.8oz for sale.
I didn’t run the tests that Vick describes, but my subjective impression is that the 2.3oz silnylon (1.9oz uncoated) is really durable stuff. I used the 2.3oz silnylon for the bathtub floor of a bug bivy I made. 2.3oz silnylon is much less slippery than the 1.3oz silnylon, which is a good feature for ground sheet and floor. It means my bug bivy slips less on the grass, and my thermarest slips less inside the bug bivy. I also used the 2.3oz silnylon for a tent stake bag. A big advantage of silnylon over similar strength 2.9oz polyurethane coated nylon (1.9oz uncoated), for both tent stake bag and bug bivy floor, is that silnylon dries faster and hence is much less likely to mildew.
(Edited to correct PU weights)Oct 18, 2005 at 11:38 am #1343102
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
nice to have you back in the Forums. missed your insightful posts over the last few months.Oct 18, 2005 at 1:10 pm #1343106
1.8 oz is just some stuff I got about 3 years ago (OWF, or Seattle Fabrics, I think). Haven’t seen it listed anywhere for a while.Oct 19, 2005 at 5:19 am #1343149
Inaki Diaz de EturaParticipant
@inaki-1Locale: Iberia highlands
Thanks for all that info, it seems the silnylon family is wider than I thought. If you know the silnylon used by Golite in their shelters or the one used by Fanatic Fringe in their packs (they’re announced as 1.8 and 1.9 oz. respectively if I remember right and look quite the same to me), are they any similar to that 1.8 silnylon you tested? Anybody know if these are the same as the 70 denier silnylon in use by Six Moon Designs for the floor of the Lunar? Is then the heavier version from Seattle Fabrics yet another different one? just curious…Oct 19, 2005 at 8:21 am #1343160
I devoutly hope the current stock of ‘heavier’ silnylon is better than the stuff I used. Even more, I hope manufacturers do their own testing to ensure that each shipment is up to spec.
A good 1.8 or 1.9 oz. would be desirable at least for bottoms and other rub points on packs.
What I REALLY want is a lightweight fabric reinforced with Spectra or Dyneema (the rest of the world’s name for Spectra): preferably a polyester for its UV resistence and low water uptake. The wish list includes a super UL fabric (dare we hope for 0.10 oz.?) for tarps and radical SUL packs as well as something in the 1 oz range for UL packs.
The design situation with Spectra and other ultrahigh molecular weight materials is similar to what we experienced with Nylon in the early days and still see in conventional backpacking gear: Our *perception* of a fabric’s strength and suitability is based on our experience with weak fabrics. We just can’t believe that a 1.1 oz. nylon fabric can be as strong as it is — until we have some experience with it. It just don’t seem right.
Our perception gap gets even worse with fabrics below 1 oz. And the prerception issue gets bigger with super materials such as Spectra – which is 3 times stronger than Kevlar – let alone nylon. So, what kind of fabric could you get if it were reinforced with fibers 15 times stronger than steel?Oct 20, 2005 at 11:29 am #1343301
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
1.1 oz silnylon used in parachutes etc. is
type 66 nylon, same used in climbing ropes.
Stronger than the cheaper type 6 is used in most fabrics.Oct 20, 2005 at 7:59 pm #1343356
Yep, 66 is stronger than 6. And I’m glad. But nylon still can’t hold a candle to Specra. It’s just that Spectra hads a lower melting temperature, so it doesn’t calender (heat set) at the same temperature as nylon or polyester… So getting a tight weave that doesn’t pull out of shape is trickier.Oct 23, 2005 at 11:30 am #1343512
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
Brain weight probably has more to do with backcountry safety than equipment weight.
I carry more first aid gear gear than most ultra-light gear lists show, but the philosophy of less-is-more certainly helped me cut down there as everywhere. It is the main area that really struck me as a safety issue with UL gear lists– I really want more back-up than a few bandaids and some moleskin.
I agree that lighter loads are safer for balance, falls, stress on joints, overexertion, dehydration and heat-related issues.
Many in this thread have concerns with durability. New materials breed new techniques. This has come up in many areas: bicycle, motorcycle, automobile and aircraft design all come to mind. Again, the less-is-more concept makes for lighter gear, first of all be leaving off all the extraneous fittings, pockets, zippers, etc. Next the load in the gear is lighter for using the same less-is-more concept and the lighter materails used– we get a nice snowball effect right away. THe lighter pack load allows use of lighter materials and the snowball continues to grow. Thin fabrics require a little more attention, but I was never a fan of throwing my gear around or sitting on my pack as one person told of here. I’ve seen some sleeping bags ripped now and then, but is was more inexperience and accident than material durability.
The other area of the safety of UL gear centers around appropriate gear for the conditions– going beack to brain weight rather than gear weight. Knowing how to pitch a tarp takes a little knowledge and practice. Tarps make sense to me in summer, but offer less protection in windy wet weather in fall/winter/spring travel. I live in wet country and prefer a little more shelter than a tarp, but going back to the less-is-more idea, I don’t need a 10 pound tent to keep myself dry either.
Another related question to ask: is UL travel healthier? I think so. It is less stressful on body parts, and offers better protection from heat-related issues. The effect on attitude and enjoyment of the journey goes without saying.
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