Feb 12, 2012 at 12:21 am #1285559
Some of you may already have seen this, but there's a blog post on Six Moon Design's website. It is a response/reflection on RJ's "cottage stagnation" article by Ron Moak, and I think it's a worthwhile read. There are 7 parts, with a link to the next at the bottom of each section.
My intention with this post is not to rehash the controversy that took place on the original thread to RJ's article, but rather to propagate salient literature. Rather than point fingers and flame away, I'd rather see constructive discussion if any is to take place.Feb 12, 2012 at 3:32 am #1838283
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
"Thorough" is an understatement! He really addressed all angles of what was being discussed earlier, put things into perspective, and was extremely honest, including with more worrying things like the future of his own business. One of the best reflections on what ultralight is, its history, where it came from and where it is going that I've read. Really nice response to Ryan Jordan, Ron.(and not at all derisive in any way).Feb 12, 2012 at 5:11 am #1838294
This was a great read. It seemed to be a very honest assessment of the state of UL gear and the UL gear manufacturers in particular. It hits dozens of issues have been talked on BPL lately. Thanks Ron for writing and Travis for posting!Feb 12, 2012 at 5:45 am #1838300
@rutilateLocale: Pacific Northwest
This was perhaps one of the best articles I've read in a while. It expertly provides a fascinating summary of the cottage industry's rise and peers into the potential for decline.Feb 12, 2012 at 7:41 am #1838315
@kat_pLocale: Pacific Coast
Great article indeed. It takes a lot of honesty to get past the initial gut reaction and come up with an article like that.
It is also very, very well written and a pleasure to read.
Thanks!Feb 12, 2012 at 8:17 am #1838330
Nice job Ron!!Feb 12, 2012 at 8:18 am #1838331
most interesting quotes
With each reduction in gear, more skill is required to master both the gear and environment. Ultralight enthusiast were continually pushing the envelope, constantly searching for the limits of man, gear and the environment.
A review of the Ultralight literature written over the last twenty years reviles some startling facts. There has been a lot of writing about the Principles and an enormous volume written about gear. Meanwhile comparatively little has been authored about the Ultralight Skill Set. Attempting to write about how the wide range of gear combinations available will play in an equally wide range of environments is an impossible task. At best, all an author can do is to lay out a few ground rules and leave it to the reader to discover the rest for themselves.
When people reminisce about their days Before Conversion, they’ll frequently comment about how their gear closet was pretty minimal. Maybe they’d have one pack a sleeping bag or two and various other sundry items needed to complete their kit. Frequently items would stick around and be used for years before finally being replaced.
After Conversion they’d find themselves swimming in piles of gear. Multiple packs, tarps, tents, dozens of homemade stoves, pads, clothes, cooking sets littered every nook and cranny of their homes. Frequently gear was used just a few nights before being abandoned as its owner bounced around looking for the next big thing.
The thing is, that once we started thinking about gear as systems with items interconnected in all sorts of ways, it triggered something almost primeval in our brains, thought. We didn’t just buy and use gear, we really thought about it. Soon we were hooked attempting to construct a complex backpack jigsaw that would lead to the perfect kit. The fact that perfection doesn’t exist didn’t dampen our quest.Feb 12, 2012 at 8:23 am #1838333
Great read . Nice to see Jardine getting credit . Ryan Jordan's critique of him as a mystic kook always left me feeling cold . And when I took Ryan's book out of the library I found every piece of recommended gear in it was already obsolete. The things that are not said here are interesting. Does it matter where things are made? Does it matter under what conditions? Is the internet able to take down or virally raise the stature of any company or producer? Does this increase the volatility of the production and sales chain? Is this forum Yelp or Groupon at times? Is it our Facebook?Feb 12, 2012 at 8:30 am #1838336
– -K.T.- –Participant
Really good article. Thanks for bringing it to our attention Travis.Feb 12, 2012 at 10:42 am #1838387
@walksoftly33Locale: New England
This was a great article. One of the best articles I have read pertaining to the UL gear world.
Interesting history in light of the news Golite was going to a direct sale model. (if that is true)
Interesting topic about the production of gear. Do you do it all in house or outsource to a larger manufacturer? Benefits/limits to both.Feb 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm #1838432
"After Conversion they’d find themselves swimming in piles of gear. Multiple packs, tarps, tents, dozens of homemade stoves, pads, clothes, cooking sets littered every nook and cranny of their homes. Frequently gear was used just a few nights before being abandoned as its owner bounced around looking for the next big thing."
I think this hit home most of all for me. Both where I've been and where I'm getting away from by returning to durable, all season, multi-use gear when possible.Feb 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm #1838469
One step ahead of me Travis! I stumbled upon Ron's article while looking for some MYOG backpack inspiration on the SMD site. I was just about to post a link when I saw you beat me too it.
Being relatively new to the UL culture, it was absolutely fascinating to read Ron's perspective of the movement from inception to what's next. The topic was clearly given serious reflection and presented in a well written format. Nicely done Ron!Feb 12, 2012 at 4:54 pm #1838538
@hhopeLocale: East Bay
That article was a very welcome breath of fresh air. Agree with the above posters re the points found interesting, plus many more. One thing I missed was that fact that most of the big companies today were cottage yesterday. I used to go to the old northface shop, the old sierra designs shop in emeryville, by the water tower, where their warranty repair was in the back room. Took my by then 15 year old or so sleeping bag to them to get it restuffed on the bottom, they sliced it open while I waited and filled the bottom back up with down, for free. Lifetime warranty meant lifetime.
I particularly liked that Ron is fully aware that the cottage industry of today depends totally on the radically complex structure of the internet to function,. and it was nice to see someone appreciate the irony in depending so heavily on such a heavy structure to achieve such a light goal.
So I see this cottage thing as more of a cycle, the big companies start small, become big, and at worse, incorporate, which pushes you to the shareholder value maximization requirement, a legal thing, which pushes you to the adding features thing, to boost yearly sales, to create growth, revenues, new models, all that, and to making stuff heavier because light stuff just isn't as durable and careless treatment tolerable. Opening the door to the next generation, which is now starting to age a bit.
Very nice retrospective of the process, but it didn't start with ray jardine, he just started this last iteration. But ray's entire point was to NOT buy your gear at all, but to make it, to free yourself from the entire consumerist mentality. That point was not subtle in his book I read, don't remember which one it was. Very much in the same sense of using free software to free yourself from using proprietary software in the computer world. Bit of a pain, but it does actually work. And that point only got more strong when he got disgusted with golite, from what I gather. Not that I agree with his thru hiker focus on weight over everything and anything else, mind you, I don't. But he definitely made people reconsider their behaviors, first time I came across his book, by chance, in the library, I was kicking myself as I read it, I'd always been thinking of how to improve my gear but had never taken the real step, like learning to sew.
To me the entire original article re stagnation and all that was a total non-starter, all the cottage guys do is refine and polish and bring craft back into mass production, and that is not a small thing, it's a great value in and of its self. Craft, care, is a big deal, and the constant refinements I see coming out from all of them show that craft and care as an ongoing process. Apparently it's not enough to keep Ryan interested, but the point of gear is to take you into nature, not to give fodder to gear reviews and gear focused web sites. If constant innovation is reuqired, that means the gear sucks and doesn't work, but that's not the case, the gear has always worked, and the refinements make it nicer to use, lighter, stronger, whatever the parameter is that matters to you. Bike bags, for example, focus on durabilty and waterproofness, weight barely matters, especially not to messengers and people using city bikes for transport. Lots of innovation there too, was just checking out their latest stuff, and lots of cottage guys there as well, including my old friend who does Zo bags.
I particularly like watching how Joe at zpacks and Henry at tarptents keep refining and evolving their concepts, testing, new development, etc. I always see what I can imitate from especially joe re how he has approached and solved some issue (in the sense of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, not of ripping them off). These are just the guys that ring my particular bell, I don't even want to use or emulate their gear often, but I really like how they think and solve their problems, just like others like how smd, mld, etc, do their stuff. I see no stagnation at all, just constant tweaking and refinements, ongoing. Not ignoring mld or those others, just looking at the ones that draw my particular eye. Taking one of my personal favorites, the dyneema 2mm + lineloc3 cord from lawson, and the 1.5 and 1.25 mm yellow/black cord from zpacks. That stuff is good, it's quality, what exactly needs to be advanced on it? Maybe the dacron shielding will be improved a touch, but that won't warrrant a new review, but it is a refinement.
The only thing I can think of in my decades that I really considered a huge improvement was the msr stoves, xgk and whisperlite. And even those were really just refinements of the earlier primus primed/kerosene type stoves, ie, much lighter and easier to use, but not fundamentally different in how they work.Feb 13, 2012 at 7:30 am #1838811
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Very interesting read. I thought this quote was particularly interesting.
Fortunately, advancements in gear in the last few years has reached the point, where one can now purchase ultralight gear that will provide all of the advantages of traditional gear. You can easily put together a sub ten pound pack that'll let you hike without needing to utilize the Black Arts.
Who killed UL Revolution? This golden goose of the Cottage Gear manufacturers. Those same happy warrior Cottage Gear folks that worked days and nights spewing out an endless supply of new gear killed it. If you don’t find this the least bit ironic, I don’t know what you would.
It does seem that many people just buy light gear and backpack the normal way, no need to learn any "Black Arts." It's the Black Arts that make the whole thing work, in my opinion. It's the Black Arts that made the whole thing interesting. I need more Black Arts, not more gear. I really don't care that much about the gear. I didn't know the UL revolution was dead, but if selling product was the whole point, I guess it is destined to die. Consuming is boring. I will buy a new tent not because it's lighter–mine is light enough–but because the one I have has worn out.Feb 13, 2012 at 9:09 am #1838857
@gregfLocale: Canadian Rockies
The lack of needing to learn "Black Arts" is what got me into Ultralight. For around $1000 (far less if you are creative) you can have the same level of comfort and safety as a traditional hiker but with a 10lb base weight instead of 25.
Now that I am here I am looking at going lower and have SUL dreams in my head of being able to run for 3 days with a 10lb total pack weight covering 150 miles. The biggest obsticle in this task is getting into better shape as dollar wise it is only another $500 to get a cuban shelter and pack.
So by having "traditional" ultralight gear makes the whole thing accessable to the masses. I think maybe that the biggest thing to take from these two articles is that for light weight backpacking no furthur inovation is required. Even with SUL another year or to of work with Cuban should refine it to a point that major innovation is not required (it might have already reached that point).
And the furthur you push weight down the less it matters as food and water will always way the same. You really can't get lighter food then a jar of peanut butter and our efforts to dehydrate water always seem to fail. So for a 3 day hike you will always have around 5lbs of consumable weight regardless of gear weight so at some point you hit diminishing returns.
For innovation occur it requires a problem to be solved. We see very few threads saying "I wish a company made X product"Feb 13, 2012 at 9:14 am #1838861
but we see many threads where its …"OMG i gotta buy this new 2012 model (insert brand) pack/stove/tent/etc that is marginally lighter and shinier"
its not about innovation … its about marketing ;)Feb 13, 2012 at 9:34 am #1838869
@artemisLocale: Great Plains
Very good article! I don't think the UL revolution is dying, but I do think it has limited opportunities for further market growth, and those limitations are going to be set primarily by the average consumer's perceptions. Most people at a gut level seem to equate sturdiness with bulk/mass; the bulkier or heavier the item, the sturdier and more durable we believe it is. Set up a cuben fiber tent next to one of those heavy el-cheapo Walmart tents, and the average customer will pick the Walmart tent out as being the more weather-worthy and durable of the two. Good luck convincing Joe and Jane Average Camper that a tent with walls so thin they're practically see-through will offer them ample protection in the wilds! The same dynamic holds true with stoves, backpacks, sleeping bags, etc. Heavy = quality to the uneducated buyer, and most buyers are always going to be minimally educated.Feb 13, 2012 at 10:26 am #1838887
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
I guess it's just that I see the excitement of innovation, for me anyway, as coming more from knowledge than from expensive fabrics or tweaks of design. I think there are lots of opportunity for innovation outside the realm of products. Simple basics like learning to read the land, the plants, the weather better. Improving compass skills. Learning more about camping in snow (I only did it for the first time last November, pitching a tent on snow). Finding new ways to reduce food weight is my latest one now (through a change in diet and more knowledge of wild edibles), as is my never quite fulfilled desire to make my own perfect minimalist hiking footwear.Feb 13, 2012 at 10:31 am #1838888
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
"Consuming is boring. I will buy a new tent not because it's lighter–mine is light enough–but because the one I have has worn out."
Piper, truer words were never spoken.
Gear is hardware. Any one can make hardware. Look at all the great UL packs we now have available. People talk about how comfortable one is over another. Gone are the days when we talked about how light the pack was. The fact of the matter is, any adult in any kind of reasonable health can carry a 20 pound pack. Shooting for SUL or XSUL is not real 3 season packing to most. You can only do that IF the weather is good.
Basically, it takes a systems aproach to utilize older, UL gear in a light role. Using a pad as a pack stiffener. Using a tightly rolled tarp to help add support to a framless pack. Using your shoes in a sleeping bag sack makes a good pillow. All the little things that save weight. This is the real importance of UL packing. The bits of knowledge that make up the "Black Art" of UL packing.
Granite Gear has a new pack that goes 13oz without the frame sheet. And it is 3600ci! Sectionhiker.com reviewed it this morning. The main stream companies have indeed caught up with the cottage manufacturors. And the new pack is modular: optional frame sheet, lid and belt pockets. While not a first, there are several companies out there that make modular components: GG, ZPacks, SMD, etc. About 35 years ago I bought a 2lb pack that had modular components. This is now reaching trend setting proportions. A day pack? A weekend pack? A week long pack? Or even a two week long expedition type trip. All become possible with one pack at light weights.Feb 13, 2012 at 10:53 am #1838899
"Granite Gear has a new pack that goes 13oz without the frame sheet. And it is 3600ci! Sectionhiker.com reviewed it this morning"
That's a misprint. It is 1lb, 13oz without the minimalist framesheet.Feb 13, 2012 at 11:24 am #1838912
I've gone lighter without sacrificing comfort, and entirely without the cottage industry. I think that's real change–that's not only possible, but I don't feel like itch to do more. I could cut more weight, but it's seriously diminishing returns for lots more money.
Lowe 60 liter pack-3lbs
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2-3.5lbs
Neoair (long) 1lb
Stoic Stoic Somnus 30~1.5lbs
That's ~9lb base weight buying stuff mostly on sale, from big brands, without any less comfort than I enjoyed using heavier equipment. Toss in a stove, headlamp, knife and you're looking at maybe ~11-12lbs.Feb 13, 2012 at 11:56 am #1838925
"I don't think the UL revolution is dying, but I do think it has limited opportunities for further market growth…"
Wouldn't the limited further market growth spell the end of the revolution?Feb 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm #1838936
While your list includes light gear, you're going to have a difficult time getting your true base weight under 15 lbs. You haven't included your conditional clothing (cold or rain), water treatment, first aid, etc. etc. Using mostly big brand stuff, my 3 day, 2.5 season trail weight was right around 25 lbs 10 years ago. 20 years ago, my 3 day to 7 day trail weight was typically 50 lbs.
Now I'm working at getting my 3 day weight down to around 15 lbs (base weight between 8 and 10 lbs). Is it worth the money and coordination to take another 10 lbs off? To me, yes. This will allow me to cover more ground (about 50% gain in distance without an increase in discomfort) or make my regular trips easier.
Could I still pack with my older gear? Yep. Would I rather pack with my newer gear? Yep. Could I make my own gear? Yep. Do I want to make my own gear? Not really. The cottage companies like Tarptents, Gossamer Gear, Trail Designs, LightHeart Designs, and others have made it fairly convenient to get my pack weight down another notch.
But I believe that the point of this topic is the point of diminishing returns. 10 years ago, I cut my trail weight in half from 50 to 25 lbs. Now I've dropped another 40% from 25 to 15 lbs. Realistically, cutting another 40% just isn't there, regardless of the gear. And big brand stuff can get you more than 80% of the way to where I am today. That translates to less room for the cottage guys. But for now, I think that they still play a crucial role in our hobby. You can tell because the people that are focusing on getting their pack weight down still only mention the big brand stuff for less than 1/2 of their choices, at least around here. Only time will tell if the cottage guys will continue to be relevant for another 10 years. I think they will….Feb 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm #1838941
"But I believe that the point of this topic is the point of diminishing returns."
I reached that point when I no longer thought about the gear weight and decide to add a couple of oz. back in. That occurred at about an 8lb. base weight. I'm done and will need no normal backpacking gear other than replacement for items worn out or broken.Feb 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm #1838965
Eric, definitely agree with what you're saying. But I'm young, fit, and the gear I have is light enough. I could go lighter, but I don't need to. If I need to take weight off, I'll take it off my belly, not my back. Or take a bigger crap in the morning. Cottage makes great stuff, and I've owned some of it in the past, but I've sort of accepted my gear is good enough for what I do (probably better than what I need, truthfully) and that's that.
I worked out my weight weenie tendencies in the the cycling world years ago, where it's a hell of a lot more expensive to cut a pound of your bike than a pound off your baseweight. I guess I kind of gave up when I realized three things.
1. The practical differences between a 25lb bike and 15lb bike are not insignificant. The practical difference between a 16lb and 15lb bike were insignificant.
2. I wasn't competitive enough that a 1lb difference was going to win me a race. Similarly, 1lb more on my back on a 3-day hike isn't going to make me enjoy the view any less.
3. When these 250 pound dudes were trying to cut their bikes down to 12 pounds, it made me realize I need to worry about my body more than my equipment. 5 pound baseweight is fantastic, but if I'm 20 pounds overweight, that's what matters, not what's on my back.
Edit: I also know what I need for equipment in terms of what I do outside. I don't do through-hikes–if I did I might feel differently.
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