Aug 21, 2010 at 9:28 am #1262478
Just back from two, five-day trips in the Sierras.
On both trips I was shocked, really, at (1) the number of people with big heavy packs (the vast majority); and (2) the sheer size of some of those packs including the fifteen items strapped to the outside.
I think I saw a lot more lightweight packing when I did the JMT in *1999* than when I crossed the region in 2010.
Has lightweight packing failed to catch on in the U.S.? In the Sierras? Elsewhere in the U.S.? Did it catch on for a while, but then fade?
What about Europe, Canada, Australia, etc.?
What do you think is going on?
– ElizabethAug 21, 2010 at 9:37 am #1639239
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
You can lead a horse to water…….Aug 21, 2010 at 10:54 am #1639257
I think it's a macho thing with guys. And I bet most of those people started backpacking in the 80's.Aug 21, 2010 at 11:18 am #1639262
@kieranLocale: Seattle, WA
Have you been to an outfitter recently? I just started backpacking again in the last couple years, after taking about 12 years off. If you are just getting into the sport, or like me coming back to it, you start shopping for your gear. You start with your big 3, and most outfitters don't carry anything terribly light in those areas. They list the weights, but that doesn't really translate to a lot of weight when you're shopping. There's so much to learn, especially for the person who is completely new to the sport, that it's not till you get out there that you realize how much the pack weighs. And of course after you buy your big 3, you start seeing all sorts of neat gimmickey things, like ice cream makers and stuff, that a lot of people feel they have to have. I used to carry a lot of weight, but when I got back into backpacking, it was knowing that I'd have to be the family sherpa, so I re-entered backpacking looking for lightweight solutions. If I wasn't going to be the sherpa, I probably would have just bought what the outfitter and backpacker mag told me to buy.Aug 21, 2010 at 11:23 am #1639264
I don't see any true light-weight BPers here in Ohio. In fact, there is interest, but it doesn't translate into action, so far as I can see. At most campsites, people ooo and awww over my Hexamid (especially) and Moment (Is that really a tent?), but they are still carrying the heavy, heavy gear.
Mostly, people talk about how uncomfortable it all looks, and they look at me skeptically when I say that I am perfectly fine sleeping in such a "flimsy" or "tiny" shelter. But I am, and I'm certainly more comfortable cranking out the miles and climbing the stiff, unswitchbacked uphills of the Shawnee State Forest.
Earlier this summer, I passed a couple climbing a particularly nasty climb on the Shawnee North Loop. The agony on their faces spoke volumes.
StargazerAug 21, 2010 at 11:38 am #1639267
@creachenLocale: East Bay
I do not think so-I have been on a lot of trips this season and always see backpackers w/ HUGE packs and stuff hanging and dangling from them. Once in a Blue Moon I will see a UL person on the trail and will start chatting with them because we have something in common. Two weeks ago I saw a backpacker carrying in a double burner Coleman stove that weighed at least 10 lbs-He was a good 8 miles from the TH..Here is a good example of a heavy pack:
Aug 21, 2010 at 12:00 pm #1639272
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
Poor devil… amazing how much is outside the pack. Gaging by the sleeping gear, he's comfy at camp— and probably needs the rest :)
You still see EXTENDED external frame packs loaded to the hilt trudging up the switchbacks with a human being hidden somewhere underneath.
It's all a degree of education, experience and superstition.Aug 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm #1639299
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
The poor guy in the photo is missing a few things. I don't see any axe or cast iron skillet. For sure I don't see any hard-back books for reading in camp.
–B.G.–Aug 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm #1639303
At least the guy is using a tarp.Aug 21, 2010 at 1:22 pm #1639304
>Two weeks ago I saw a backpacker carrying in a double burner Coleman stove that weighed at least 12 lbs.
I used to carry one of those in my misspend youth. Base weight: 65 lb. The enormous canvas tent didn't help. What was I thinking?
I know the guy with the heavy pack must have a pack under there someplace, but it's hard to see with all the stuff he has strapped to the outside. There but by the grace of Dog (or God, if you are so inclined)n go I.
StargazerAug 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm #1639317
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
I'll bet that poly tarp is the ground cloth for his tent.Aug 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm #1639321
Maybe so… Might that climbing rope be for guying out his tent?Aug 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm #1639328
+1 W/ Joe
I'll be selling somebody some gear and talk about light weight and they're like "Oh I can carry 50lbs… I'm not concerned with weight"
I answer " Well I CAN carry 50 lbs, but why would I WANT to?"
Then I enjoy their dumbfounded looks:)Aug 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm #1639329
Last year when my son and I did the Sierra High Route we were on the JMT for a short section going into Red's Meadow. We passed some folks carrying massive packs and we started playing a game of "what is in that pack?" It almost got one hiker mugged after we decided that it had to be an iced down case of beer. My son started after it…
So, what is really in those packs?Aug 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm #1639333
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Elizabeth, I just got back from 5 days in the Sierra on the JMT and I was thinking the exact same things.
HUGE packs. I was completely astonished. And their external frame packs weren't big enough so they strapped day packs and garbage bags fully loaded to the outside.
I would say hello to people on the trail and ask if they were hiking the whole JMT. Everybody answered back, and then whether they were doing the whole JMT or not they always added "We're just taking it slow, trying to soak it all in." It was like an apology for standing there in front of me with my tiny pack, skirt and sandals.
Women seemed to actually be worse offenders than men when it came to carrying too much weight. Many women were rest-stepping on level ground. Some women were so overloaded their legs were shaking with instability and they could barely lift their legs over rocks and things.
If I was hiking near a trailhead most people said things to me that indicated they thought I was day hiking. Like "Have a nice day" instead of "Have a nice hike." I got more "Have a nice hikes" further in.
One man said to me that he thought I was the strongest hiker he'd ever met. I thought he was the strongest hiker since he was carrying 65lbs and keeping up with me on a big hill. I told him I only look strong because I have a tiny pack. He said that didn't matter! How could it not matter?
One man seemed actually offended at my choices and tried to convince me that sandals were inappropriate (my feet were never happier.) He warned me that he hikes pretty fast and not to be surprised if he had to ask me to step aside and let him go by in a few minutes. After 5 minutes he faded into the distance behind me and I never saw him again.
I never evangelized to anyone about my gear. I just went for my hike and minded my own business. I never criticized anybody for their gear except one guy who said something in jest about going up hill and I responded with something like "you need a tiny pack like mine, then it would be easy." We talked for a while and he admitted that with his heavy pack he can rarely go as far from the trailhead as he plans to.
I really got the feeling that people actually LIKED their heavy packs, that if it wasn't really super hard carrying all that weight it just wasn't backpacking. That if it didn't take 12 days to go from Happy Isles to Silver Pass you were violating some kind of wilderness ethic. I think people actually do not want to hike light and fast. They really don't.
Eventually I started to wonder if I was somehow not enjoying the wilderness enough by doing it my way. Hiking 20 miles a day, was I missing something? Was it wrong to skip merrily up a big pass not even feeling the altitude, then go quickly down the other side and have it all done and conquered in about 4-5 hours? Should it have taken the whole day instead? Would I have savored it more, experienced it more, been more present to the extremes? I walked faster than expected and ended my trip a day early. Was that worse than running out of time?Aug 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm #1639336
There are 40,000+ participants in the BPL community here. Is that enough?
StargazerAug 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm #1639342
"One man said to me that he thought I was the strongest hiker he'd ever met. I thought he was the strongest hiker since he was carrying 65lbs and keeping up with me on a big hill. I told him I only look strong because I have a tiny pack. He said that didn't matter! How could it not matter?"
So that's why young women wear those tiny backpacks!Aug 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm #1639347
>Was it wrong to skip merrily up a big pass not even feeling the altitude, then go quickly down the other side and have it all done and conquered in about 4-5 hours? Should it have taken the whole day instead? Would I have savored it more, experienced it more, been more present to the extremes? I walked faster than expected and ended my trip a day early. Was that worse than running out of time?
Beautifully written, Piper. (Good use of rhetorical questions.) You capture the instinct toward minimalism (what UL really is, IMO) well.
Rock on! If you decide to stop and catch the glory of the view, won't you enjoy it more if you aren't exhausted by your enormous pack? (another rhetorical question) ;-)Aug 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm #1639353
No, it has not become the norm (except in the marketing of gear), IMO.
Last month my wife and I hiked almost a week with three relatives who were traditional backpackers: bro-in-law, his wife, and his son. My bro has been backpacking since the seventies both in the East and West. He is mid-50 like me. Wears the hiking boots, big pack, tent, bag, etc. Same with his wife and his son. His son has hiked with him before he could walk.
My wife was the lightest. A Zpack Z1, small pad (for frame and sitting), our water, two NeoAirs, two quilts, cocoons, clothing, and misc. Did not weigh her pack, but my bro picked up her pack and could not believe it. He said that it was like a pillow. She does not hike often. My strategy is "if she is happy, I am happy : ) ". She had no problems. Light is good.
I was next. With our food 21 lb (Bearikade weekender and a Bear Vault 350). 3.5 lb decrease per day as we ate our food. Pinnacle pack, DoubleRainbow tarptent, Steripen, SUL1100 pot, Snowpeak LiteMax stove, two poncho tarps, CoolPix camera, cell phone, two nesting bowls, two Trappers Mugs, two spoons, and that was about it. Felt comfortable on day one and then by day three became very comfortable.
The other three packs were what you usually see. We did not really debate pack weights at any time during the hike. I do believe that they were skeptical about us at first. After a couple of days, without arguments or debates, I think we showed three really good traditional backpackers that going light can be done very comfortably and safe just like traditional style.
It was a fun hike for all of us. My wife and I like the light and simple style while the others like doing what they are familiar and comfortable with. It really doesn't matter what others carry or do not carry. Everyone ends up doing what is right for them.Aug 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm #1639369
– -K.T.- –Participant
Saw a ton of people in the Trinity Alps a few weeks ago(unfortunately)with huge packs. Only saw two with lightweight packs. Was amazed that I saw those two as I rarely see anyone else light minded other that when hiking with BPL alum. Saw some poor dad wearing 2 packs piggybacked. Must have had eighty pounds or so there. Did not look like fun. People just don't seem to know that it can be done differently. Saw a lot of gear of the early eighties bombproof mindset. I think they're out to haul not hike.Aug 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm #1639379
@newtonLocale: Southeastern Louisiana
I believe it has caught on.
But it is not the most prevalent style on the trail.
On a ten day section hike in the first two weeks of June of this year on our first night of camping there were at least 15 tents and a full shelter at our campsite.
I was the only one camped out under a tarp. My MYOG pack weighed in at 10.5 ounces. My two hiking partners were using a ULA Ohm pack and another of my MYOG packs. The second homemade pack weighed less than mine because it lacked some additions that I had added to my pack. Of my two partners there was a Sierra Designs Lightyear tent and a Wenzel Starlight Hiker tent. The Wenzel was the shelter my older hiking partner's 15 year old son was packing. His overall pack weight however was only 15 to 17 lbs depending on food carried.
I did notice quite a lot of lighter weight tents in use by hikers carrying traditional packs.
Supper time brought out many and varied canister stoves used to prepare all manner of fresh produce, pasta and meat products. As we boiled our water for our Mountain House backpacker meals there were quite a few amazed looks at the shelter's picnic table.
We did meet up with a budding thru-hiker going by the trail name Whitebeard. He was carrying a GoLite Pinnacle pack. By his own admission his lightweight pack had too much weight in it. As I remember it he was shipping things back home and seeking replacements for others from outfitters along the trail.
Even some of the other thru-hikers that we met admitted to carrying older four pound+ tents! One fellow that we spoke with had completed his thru-hike of the AT 2 years before was also carrying a traditional pack.
Two years ago my pack weighed 34+ lbs with food and water. This year my pack weighed 23 lbs with food and water at its heaviest.
NewtonAug 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm #1639404
Don't want to speak on behalf of all my fellow hikers Downunder, but I've noticed that there is still the leaning to the older, heavier gear out here. It's probably because we seem to follow the US in the trends but a few years later. Thanks to guys like Roger and Franco Australian hikers are becoming aware of the trend of lighter walking. I'd love to get my hands on some of the gear you guys have (a 6 Moon Gatewood tarp/rain outfit springs to mind here !) but the shipping is killer. If a local guy becomes the agent for nice gear – he usually jacks up the price so high it's hardly worth it. I paid about $880 Aust for my WM Antelope bag a week or so back, and that was on sale ! 20 % disc. Sil nylon is just starting to get around, but no sellers of roll stock. That rules out the MYOG idea. I had to order my copy of Ray Jardine's Trail Life from England. Be thankful for what you have guys ! In Melbourne Victoria, where I live, there is only one dedicated lightweight gear store. Thankfully we have access to this wonderful site for ideas and inspiration. FWIW – my w/e pack with 1 l water and food averages about 13 kgs (26 – 27 lbs. ?) That's about half of what I used to haul. Thanks for the great site, keep up the good work. Regards, Charlie.Aug 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm #1639412
I think I can pretty safely give you the answer to your question. No; lightweight backpacking has not yet "caught on" with the typical backpacker. I have to admit that it's actually quite surprising that it hasn't, but nothing that I've seen on the trail indicates that lightweight methods have been adopted by the mainstream backpacking community. In 13 years of backpacking, I can't remember ever running into another ultralight backpacker and just a few lightweight backpackers who still had some pretty heavy gear here and there.
I actually think the Hierarchy of Effects Model is pretty useful here. People are "aware" of lightweight backpacking. They've heard of it and most likely read something about "going light." So, there's some level of knowledge among some people, but very limited. They may have even made a change or two to their gear kits, but generally there is very little "liking, preference, conviction, or purchasing."
What really amazes me is that many of the people I backpack with still haven't figured it out. They see my 7 to 8 lb base weight and the fact that I don't seem to suffer from the same pains and suffering that their packs cause, but that doesn't change their gear choices. People are all interested when they see a tea light stove and beer can pot, but it seems like they are still stuck in the mindset that backpacking gear must look and feel a certain way.
For instance, this morning my GF and I took one of my family members and her husband on a short (and I mean really short) hike in the woods. I mean we were 5 to ten minutes down the trail. They didn't want to go further because they weren't prepared with hiking boots, but they had on good running sneakers. They walk and run in these sneakers, but they seemed to believe that hiking requires some special kind of boots. No amount of explaining on my part that people actually do hike in sneakers could convince them otherwise.
Some days I think to myself, it's not my problem. But, other days I listen to the stories of painful knees and injuries, and I just want to shake them and say: it doesn't have to be this way. Hiking doesn't have to mean pain and blisters and stress, it can just be fun!Aug 22, 2010 at 5:17 am #1639436
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SW
I would say it is directly related to how much a person goes out and with whom. Most people probably go out once a year for the big summer trip, probably an annual event with family or old friends and don't think about or want to buy new equipment because it is just an occasional hobby.
It is difficult to change your kit substantially unless you are really committed to it or have a lot of money. Many people have what is adequate gear for the occasional trip and see no need to change for once a year or so, especially when the old gear is so well built that it never wears out. You don't buy a new bicycle or any other recreational item until it wears out unless you are really serious about the sport or hobby.
We see more people with newer lighter gear in the winter or off season because these are usually the serious hikers not just the fair weather, summer break hikers. It also seems that the people with light packs hike together and reinforce each others interest in both walking and improving their equipment.
As someone said above, you can lead them to water but you can't make them buy the water.Aug 22, 2010 at 6:35 am #1639442
Although I can't claim to know other people's minds, there are several things I've seen and heard that have given me some ideas about WHY lightweight backpacking is not the norm.
First, as the above poster mentioned, some people just don't hike regularly enough to bother spending more time or money on even the easiest or cheapest changes to their gear. My guess is that many of these people would WANT to backpack more if it wasn't such a big production to get loaded up and such a pain on their bodies. I suspect that many of these people will adopt some aspects of UL backpacking slowly, over time, but never really get the whole idea. I think this observation above most likely applies to a lot of these people. "I did notice quite a lot of lighter weight tents in use by hikers carrying traditional packs." -John
That said, there is another group of people who haven't yet adopted UL backpacking concepts. Most of my hiking partners fall into this group, so I feel like I know them pretty well. These are people who are avid backpackers and who take several trips a year. Many of these people have pretty extensive backpacking experience, they may have lead trips in college or among their friends and family. I'd say that many of them have an "expedition" mentality. Again, I'm sure that many of them have heard of LW and UL backpack and some may even have bought some lighter weight gear, but they generally bring the kitchen sink and so they're stuck with large, cluttered packs.
For example, one friend of mine is a very experienced backpacker. This person has done 20+ day backpacking trips, lives out in the woods right now, used to lead groups in college – fits the entire profile. This person even uses SilTarps and treats with chemicals, but is still in an expedition mentality. This person has a light shelter system, a light weight down sleeping bag, and a reasonable backpack. It's just they this person carries several backpack pairs of cloths, full family size rolls of tooth paste, and a 1st Aid kit that a EMT might carry. This person has a million little things that they NEVER use, but MAY one day need.
This is the group we need to communicate with more effectively if you want to help people.
Just some ideas and observations.
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