SuperUltraLight: For the Masses?
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May 25, 2005 at 12:55 am #1216181Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
Well, in spite of claiming that SUL is for the masses, I’d rather pose the question: is it no longer just for freaks?
This forum is a companion discussion to BackpackingLight.com’s growing body of literature about SuperUltraLight backpacking. In particular, appropriate topics for discussion here include: safety, comfort, gear choices and availability, and what is accomplished (practically and philosophically) by invoking a “SuperUltraLight” style. Our mission is very simple: to get y’all to try it just once every now and then…May 25, 2005 at 11:12 pm #1337607Randy BrisseyBPL Member
@rbrisseyLocale: Redondo Beach, CA
I forgot something to my posting…
It would be interesting to learn where the various backpackers have evolved from.
What I mean is when did people have their first experiences, how many years have they been at it, how often does gear get retired (or passed on). Have people adopted the downhill ski axiom of a new season=new skis and boots?
thank you, RandyMay 26, 2005 at 2:19 am #1337609AnonymousGuest
A pair of running shoes can certainly be worn out in one season, so getting a new one every year comes natural. (I guess most lightweight hikers aren’t wearing heavy boots)
I noticed the trekking poles in the articles gear list. Personally I never use trekking poles, and I can see why those with a heavvy pack might feel the need for them. -But with a SUL or UL approach? You should be very agile anyway with such a small load, and not a lot of extra pressure for joints to handle. You’ll spend more calories when hiking with poles, our bodies aren’t optimised for that. So the poles = more weight carried and a need for more food = even more weight. (At least for longer hikes)
/MoeMay 26, 2005 at 5:52 am #1337613
“To each their own”. Not to be contrary, but I take a little diff. view on trekking poles & why they should be inlcuded in a SUL / UL / LW ‘kits’.
Trekking poles are not a new fangled invention. Perhaps in their modern form they are new, but people have used hiking staffs made from branches for as long as people have been around. They must have some benefit or they would have been discarded long, long ago. First order of business for my grandmother upon entering the forest was to find a branch to use as a hiking staff. These branches sure weighed more than a modern pair of CF trekking poles. It’s not that she was elderly or infirmed, for even in her mid-70’s, while on vacation, she climbed the Alps to a pick flower she remembered from her childhood.
You’re absolutely right about needing to do more “work” when using trekking poles. You’re also right that this is not the most efficient way to use the muscles of the upper body. This extra work can be minimized, however, by using poles of the proper length such that the hands, generally, unless ascending a steep grade, do not rise above the level of your heart while using the poles. Doing so places more load on the heart to pump add’l blood to a higher level, i.e. particularly your forearms and hands. This principle is readily grasped by anyone who has ever experienced an episode of orthostatic hypotension upon rising up from a reclining or seated postion too rapidly and experiencing a period of light headedness or even blacking out. [NOTE: You young’uns may not yet have experienced this, but live long enough & your chances become greater of doing so. I think keeping your cardio-vascular fitness level up will reduce this likelihood even with aging, but I am not a physician & so someone better qualified should perhaps comment on this point.]
Since even proper use of poles increases slightly the work you are required to do, how does using poles produce any benefit?
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the following are some of the reasons/benefits:
1) Increased stability – particularly on rough or uneven terrain. Even with NO pack, stability is improved by having a wider “base” which is one thing trekking poles do. Having a base as wide as possible relative to one’s CG (center-of-gravity) produces more stability. This is true whether one has a heavy pack, light pack, or no pack. Is it Leki that has T-shirts printed with the words “Four legs good; two legs bad”?!!! Certainly the benefit is less noticeable on flatter/smoother terrain.
2) Redistribution of Workload: I believe, though I have no carefully controlled empirical evidence, only my own anecdotal knowledge/experience, that the redistribution of the loads and work, which would only be done by the muscles of the lower body, which is now possible through the use of poles has an overall benefit of being able to hike faster/longer and/or with less fatigue as muscles of the upper body are now being recruited to do some of the work. The net effect, even considering the slight increase in overall work being added by the use of the poles, is to reduce somewhat the work being done by the muscles of the lower body. Therefore, these key muscle groups will NOT fatigue as rapidly, enabling one to hike longer. How often have you seen someone ascending a grade press the palms of their hands on their thighs to “help” their legs by reducing the workload on the leg muscles?!! The tricep muscles of their upper arms & their lats & pects are prob. contracting forcefully to assist the gluts/quads in extending the upper/lower leg, respectively, as one steps up. Isn’t this basically what trekking poles would do in a similar scenario. [The use of trekking poles vs. no poles might be a good senior project or graduate level thesis(???) for someone in any number of fields of study. Research would include both field study, plus oxygen consumption measurements to help determine workload/efficiency & electromyograms in a laboratory enviroment – plus many other technical methods of acquiring data. I for one would be interested in reading the thesis and learning something. It would be nice to have an empirically determined quantification of the redistribution of loads & work as measured in a laboratory experiment & any overall benefits that would/might result.]
3) With each step, I notice, particularly when descending steep grades, the stress to the lower joints is reduced when I use trekking poles. Just climb & descend a ladder wearing your pack. Try it once using your hands & a second time w/o using your hands. Which is easier on your legs & feels more balanced? Yes, the ladder has a steeper “grade” to it than most terrain on which poles would be used, but then again one isn’t climbing the ladder for 10+ hours a day as one does on treks. If some benefit is realized during a short, more intense test, then perhaps a similar benefit is to be realized for a longer, less extreme hike. I hope this point is clear? Perhaps a better example could have been chosen to illustrate it? If you have one please share it.
4) For tarp & many tarptent campers (depending on the tarptent they are using), when trees/branches are not available for use as tie-off pts for guylines, instead of having to carry single duty poles for pitching their tarp (these also add wt. & increase the work needing to by done by the hiker, do they not?!), they can make their trekking poles do dbl-duty by also using them when pitching their tarp. Obviously, this point is only valid, if trekking poles actually serve at least one other useful purpose, which I believe they do.
5) Some trekking poles are fantastically light, e.g. GossamerGear’s LightTrek & LightTrekPlus poles, & the BMW/BPL StixPro poles & prob. weigh less than sng. duty poles intended solely for pitching the tarp – and so, would then be a better choice for lightening one’s full skin-out wt & base pack wt.. Even though these are fixed length poles, there exist techniques for joining them together if a longer support pole is req’d for pitching a teepee or pyramid style tarptent which req. a single center pole [NOTE:The stiffer one piece poles would be a better choice for these long support poles since they have less flex.], as well as techniques for preventing the guyline from slipping down the pole when used with flat/shaped tarps and the pole happens to be too long. Heavier, adjustable poles are NOT mandatory for tarp campers. What I’ve just written is NOT first-hand knowledge & perhaps someone who tarp camps w/fixed len. poles should be commenting on this point.
This post is gettin’ a bit long winded, so I best stop here. Hope someone else will continue with any other benefits of trekking poles I failed to mention and why they should be included as part of a SUL ‘kit’. ‘Nuff said.May 26, 2005 at 6:14 am #1337614
Though I will probably never be able to be super ultralight backpacker due to my heavy camera gear, the trekking poles are of great value nontheless.
Any photographer will tell you that the use of a monopod or better yet, tripod will give much better support for camera equipment than hand holding a camera. When using a monopod (equivalent to a single trekking pole) as an example, your legs function as the other two legs of a tripod. A tripod allows more consistant composition and allows for greater depth of field in photos because the lens can be stopped down to a smaller aperture. Those additional “legs” of the trekking poles do the same thing for the human body, offering additional stability.
Also on steep inclines in particular whether climbing or decending (as Paul points out) whether using a heavy or light pack you will have less chance or slippage, or loss of balance, and you will put less stress on ankles, vertebrae, or hips.May 26, 2005 at 6:15 am #1337615jacob thompsonSpectator
Paul when I first read the post that was the exact answers I was going to give. I use my poles for balance and to reduce stress on lower muscle groups. At the end of the day my arms and legs hurt rather than just my legs but its not nearly as bad. Inclines be they up or down are much easier. I find that I get more speed going downhill with poles then without and my muscles do a heck of a lot less work. Uphills are even more noticeable, when you work the poles as supports for lifting nearly you whole body weight the tiredness that quickly comes to your legs is much less (on a side note, I goto the gym several times a week and do a lot of work on triceps and chest and this helps a lot with pole usage).
I use my poles as supports for a shelter tarp as well. So they save me the 3oz I would carry for supports for my tarp.
Poles are REALLY light these days. CF makes such a great material for poles and even with minimal pack weight it just seems so beneficial in the end to use them.
I have another use for them as well which I will put up in the near future. I’m just getting the plans done now and after I get a workong prototype I will post it all up for people to give me some feedback.May 26, 2005 at 6:58 am #1337617Bill FornshellBPL Member
@bfornshellLocale: Southern Texas
I made my own SUL trekking Poles that I can turn into a full size Tripod. The Trekking Poles are 3.2oz each and the extra necessary to make a tripod weigh 5.7oz. Most of that weight is the adjustable ball thing on the top of the tripod.
This is part of my 4 month AT Thru-Hike SUL mostly "home-made" gear.
Can A sane person truly enjoy a SuperUltralight AT Thru-Hike? I may find out next year.May 26, 2005 at 7:02 am #1337618
Thanks for the input and comments. As a photographer much appriciated. And that ball thing is just a small ball head.
By the way check the weights you listed. If the poles weigh 3.2 oz each how can the total weight of the complete tripod weigh 5.7 oz? Did you mean 15.7 oz for the tripod weight or that the trekking poles total weight were 3.2 oz?
RichMay 26, 2005 at 7:58 am #1337620
Can you go into some more detail on your technique? What spots did you place the first 3 and second 2 stakes? Wrap guyline around poncho and pole?May 26, 2005 at 8:05 am #1337621
I’ll delete this post, if I remember to do so, after Mark replies with the real answer. However, just in case it takes him some time to reply, here’s what I pictured in my mind.
He said “diamond” cfg. [More on the “diamond” shape later.]
So, how ’bout this.
the 3 stakes: one corner of the diamond (windward corner), center of one side, & the other corner of that side. (so now 3 stakes are all on one side).
the two stakes: on a side adjacent to that side just staked down by the 3 stakes, place one stake in the center of that side & the second stakes down the remaining free corner of that side.
the adjacent side to pick to stake down with the two stakes is selected so that the opening of the tarp will be leeward.
so now, 2 adjacent sides & their 3 corners are staked down by the 5 stakes, in other words these are the 3 corners & the centers of the 2 sides “bounded” by the 3 staked down corners. The two staked down sides form a letter ‘V’ shape with the apex of the ‘V’ facing into the wind. The ‘V’ shape also represents, pretty much, one-half of the tarp. The other half, not yet staked down, being an upside down ‘V’. In truth, the sides of the ‘V’ won’t be the same length since the poncho is a rectangle and not a square.
The remaining two sides & one corner (the “flying” half of the diamond, i.e. the entry when the pitch is complete) are still free until afixed to the trekking pole.
Does this sound right to you? Something is still bothering me about this. Since the ponchoTarps are not square in shape, they can’t be used to make a symmetrical diamond shape. Does this make any diff when you pitch it? That is, when attempting to pitch it as a diamond it would end up being asymmetrical. Not being a tarp camper, I don’t know the practical ramifications of this. Does this make any difference? Maybe one of you tarp campers can enlighten me on this point please.
If I understood Mark’s pitching method correctly, then wouldn’t you also want to guy out the centers of the two “flying” sides to minimize flapping? (after all there prob.is no cat. curve to the sides of the ponchoTarp)
Also, here’s a technique I came across a few mos. ago while surfing. It’s taken from Brawny’s Dancing Light Gear website. Here is a salient excerpt followed by the URL from which the quoted text is excerpted:
” Have you visualized setting up your Poncho/Tarp/Pack Cover as a shelter in the pouring rain at the end of a long, hard day? In cold, wet and windy conditions this can mean removing your weatherproof/windproof layer at a time when you may need it most, which can increase your chances of getting hypothermia. One way to set up the Poncho/Tarp/Pack Cover as a shelter in such conditions is to have 5 tent stakes available. While kneeling down in a suitable spot, stake out the front corner, then the back corner on one side of the poncho. Spread it out as far as you can (a taut, straight line is best), creating a back wall. Then, stake out the other front corner and other back corner, so that the front is about 3 feet shorter than the back wall. Then insert one hiking pole in the slack side, lengthening this pole until the slack is taken up. Remove your pack. Then, remove yourself from the poncho and guy-out the front pole. You can then adjust the Poncho/Tarp/Pack Cover while inside the shelter. This technique should be perfected while you are at home, not on the trail.”
She has pics of this pitch on the webpage. It’s sort of a trapezoidal shaped pitch.
Here’s a link to Dancing Light Gear’s PonchoTarp & Brawny’s pitching methodMay 26, 2005 at 8:07 am #1337622Bill FornshellBPL Member
@bfornshellLocale: Southern Texas
I hope this is easier to understand.
Each Trekking poles weighs 3.2oz or 91 grams. The extra parts to make the Tripod are: 3 sections of Aluminum tubes for the thrid leg, the attachment parts to connect the 2 Trekking Poles to the Ball Head part and the Ball Head for the tripod (see picture) weigh 5.7oz or 162 grams. Total (I think) is 3.2oz + 3.2oz + 5.7oz = 12.13oz or 344 grams. Grams are so much eaiser to work with.
The Tripod Aluminum third leg parts will also act as replacement parts for my Trekking poles if necessary. I can also attach them to the Trekking Poles for Tarp extentions. I have an idea where I can turn the three pole parts into the support for a camp stool.
May 26, 2005 at 8:09 am #1337623jacob thompsonSpectator
How light do you think SUL can go before it becomes dirtbagging. By that I mean if each of us here were to only bring shelter (ponch or tarp), bag, warmth (sleeping bag and layers) most of us would fall well below the 4lb level. Sure we only have gorp and cold food to eat but were not carrying anything and thats what I would call dirtbagging. There must be some level where SUL becomes wilderness survival. Or is it more Gear orientated than weight orientated.May 26, 2005 at 8:14 am #1337624
Thanks Bill, much more understandable.May 26, 2005 at 8:32 am #1337628AnonymousGuest
When hiking on low-land trails, I don’t bring a pole. I have lines with prepared loops in my pocket (the lines are about one arms lenght with a loop at each end), and start off (if it is raining) with attaching the first line hooked into the loop in the front of the poncho to a branch/small tree ahead of me. (About eye-height usually.) Then I take a step back to tension the line a bit and take of the hood so I get “under” the poncho-tarp and can twist around 180 degrees. Next is a line in the middle of the backside of the poncho, which gets attached to the ground with a stake. My arms may get a few drops of rain here, but not much.. After that, the 4 corners are staked out, directly to the ground if windy, or with lines of the same lenght or half the lenght as the front and back ones. I think the end result looks pretty much like Mark Verber’s setup. Obviously the highest point towards the branch/tree is on the leeward side from the wind.
/MoeMay 26, 2005 at 9:47 am #1337630
Ahh, I see. Thanks. Mark and Ryan’s tarp setups are the same except that Ryan uses a rear pole to lift the center of one of the “Vee” edges (like the photo on the home page). I just played around with a BMW SpinPoncho and the rear pole is definitely needed to create more leg room. Jacksrbetter.com is sending me an 8’x8′ tarp that converts into a rain cape to try out in the sub-5 challenge. I’ll have to try Mark’s setup technique with it.
Moe, you’re technique might be possible with a trekking pole with practise. Attach a long guyline to the front corner (or center front for A frame), stake it out while wearing the poncho, back up and set the front pole. Slide your head out of the hood, turn around and stake the rear and sides. Of course, you’d have to maintain constant tension to keep the pole upright. On second thought, that would pretty much be a recipe in frustration because the pole is going to flop over. Anyway, I like your tree idea, Moe.May 26, 2005 at 10:15 am #1337631
I’m wondering if the reason why Mark’s pitch doesn’t require a second pole (on the windward side) is for one or both of the following reasons:
1) He is perhaps on the shorter side??? And so, achieves ample coverage even though he can’t make use of the extreme portion of windward apex since it may be pitched very low to the ground to prevent wind driven rain from entering.
2) The DLG ponchoTarp which Mark mentioned [that he uses???] in his original post is significantly larger than the BMW spinPoncho & so provides more coverage area. The DLG ponchoTarp is 116″ x 63″ according to the DLG website. Whereas, the BMW SpinPoncho is of a more typical poncho size being only 92″ x 51″. The significantly larger size of the DLG ponchoTarp is at the cost of ~3oz in wt though (6.5oz for the BMW vs. 9.5oz for the DLG). A litttle Trig will give us the diagonal lengths of the ponchos which would reveal why Mark maybe doesn’t need to use a second pole even with the windward ‘V’ pitched close to the ground. The proof is left to the student. [Not being a teacher, I always wanted to say that.] Even w/o resorting to using the Law of Cosines or the Pythagorean Theorem, we know that the diff. in diagonal lengths b/t the 2 ponchos is something greater than the diff in lengths of the two ponchos longest sides. So, there should be more than two extra feet of coverage with the DLG ponchoTarp.
Never having used a tarp, I’m wondering if it truly comes out that way, i.e. 2 xtra ft of coverage since the rectanglar ponchoTarp would not truly form a diamond shape, once they are pitched using Mark’s method (and other somewhat similar methods). Would anyone care to enligthen me please? Also, I edited my first post on this topic with a question that I don’t know the ans. to. Hope someone can address that question dealing with using a rectangular shaped poncho for a diamond shaped pitch.May 26, 2005 at 11:18 am #1337635
Right you are. The two diagonals are 11′ and 8′ 9″ from the numbers you listed. Exactly the reason the BMW tarp needs a rear pole to create more usable length.May 26, 2005 at 5:07 pm #1337644Mark VerberBPL Member
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Indeed… I used to use a DLG poncho which is larger and heavier than the BMW poncho, and the pictures from Brawney’s site show the pitch I was describing. There are a number of other pitches which work well, but that is the easiest to perform from the inside.
But that’s the past. In the last six months I switched back to using a rain jacket (Rainshield O2 when going extra light) and use a Spinnshelter as my tarp. I am much happier, even if it is several ounces heavier. What’s more, it’s lighter then when I used poncho + DWR bivy which was required when facing heavy wild/rain.May 31, 2005 at 7:21 pm #1337726David HicksMember
So much weight could be saved in packing alone that its crazy.
Store all your items in a large stuff sack. Then slip the stuff sack into your sleeping bag. (oops your using a quilt) well, wrap it around your stuff sack. Then put the whole thing in your pack liner along with your pad. close the pack liner and for extra protection wrap the ground cloth around the whole package. The packliner has holes for the straps of you pack if im not mistaken. sew some homade straps onto your pad. Use your guyline to compress it all. you’ve now eliminated many duplicated items
keep fast access items betweenpack liner and ground cloth (ex: poncho)
Why even bother with the smell proof bag. theres going to be smell on the outside anyways. You can also elliminate the bear bag and soft goods stuff sack. just hang everything you dont need in the stuff sack mentioned above.
Why do you need the poles to stow? If you stow the poles when you dont need them you must stop and remove your pack and then adjust the poles to your height and replace the pack then use the poles when you need them. this eliminates any hiking efficiancy you may gain with the poles. They are dead weight if you dont use them. you can save 3/4 a pound by switching to gossamer gear poles.
Your carrying almost as much out of the pack as in.Thats like cheatingMay 31, 2005 at 9:53 pm #1337736Antonio AbadMember
Ok, I’m going to play the contrarion and write that I don’t know if I buy into SUL backpacking. While I admire the scrutiny it entails when making a gearlist, I think any benefits it can possibly offer are offset by the drawbacks. The drawbacks I write of include:
1) The Poncho/Tarp set-up. In my experience, while the set-up in inclement conditions can be accomplished without getting too wet, I feel that it is way too much of a pain at the day’s end when I am tired. One particular time, I had just slogged through late Spring snow, with a combo of sleet and rain blowing down hard. I was using an ID silponcho, all cinched up, yet I was soaked! So, I’m cold, miserable and just want to get the #$%$^@! shelter set-up. Oh man…it took me forever to set up that tarp. My fingers were clumsy and numb, I was tired, cold…it was a terrible experience that soured me on the whole poncho-tarp experience. The fact that I’m 6’3″ doesn’t help either.
2) It seems to me that it is more of a pi**ing contest mentality rather than just sound gear selection based on consideration of weight, safety margin, and cost. One example that I can cite is these new lines of synthetic insulation SUL garments. Sorry, but I’ve shopped around and tried out some of the stalwarts and feel that they offer so little in the way of warmth that they are practically useless to me (and I am VERY much a cold weather person). I live out East, so a down synthetic piece is out of the question for me given that I use a down sleeping bag. Thanks, I’ll save money for gas and park fees by sticking with my now “roamy” 20 oz. Coal.
3) Creature comforts are not evil. Along the way, I have to give up the only lightweight pack that doesn’t leave my shoulders hurting during day’s end (Jam), I have to ditch the inflatable pad (sorry, 1″ is useless to me…1.5″ is heaven), and I have to ditch the comfort of sipping cocoa *while* eating breakfast and dinner because I can’t bring my mug along. Someone rightly observed that cutting down on the big 3 is not enough to get you in the SUL domain. I agree: other sacrifices are warranted. I think it is a clear case of diminishing returns for me at that point. Sure, simplicity is great, but unfotunately most of my life is spent living an urban life. I get away 4-5 days at most. There is a certain level of discomfort that obscures the enjoyment of being outdoors for me. I want restful sleep, a painless shoulder, a happy lower back, and that perfect moment of sipping cocoa while eating my cous cous and watching the perfect sunset. That’s more important to me than shedding the 3.5 extra pounds in my gear.
This might be anathema, but my name is Tony and I AM a staunch 8.5 lbs base weight backpacker. ;-) But, by all means explore the SUL domain and I’ll keep enjoying your exploits!May 31, 2005 at 10:41 pm #1337738
If wearing clothes and shoes while hiking, and using trekking poles is cheating, I’m guilty! The 4.0 lbs of “Total Worn or Carried While Hiking” consists solely of clothes I’ll be wearing while hiking and the trekking poles.
You make some good points. I could use Gossamer Gear poles and probably will for the rest of my SUL trips. I chose collapsible poles for this trip so when I need to swim sections in the canyon, I can tie the collapsed poles to the TorsoLite along with the pad when I’m floating my pack. Of course Lightrek poles float, so that would be another option.
I could save some pack weight (3.9 oz) by ditching the pack. I’d need to add back in the weight of the straps for your configuration (1.5 oz?) and I’d need to use a pack cover with holes for the straps instead of the pack liner (like a big plastic bag) that I’m using. That wouldn’t work well for my canyoneering trip when I’ll be counting on the pack liner to help keep my sleeping bag dry, but would on other trips. The ground cloth I’m using is so small, I’m not sure how well it would wrap around the “package.” Also, I can’t quite see trying to glue straps to the self-inflatable TorsoLite. Ditching the pack would save approximately 2.4 oz, a significant savings, so it’s worth some experimentation to try to come up with a packless system that would work with my gear.
I’m only using 1 stuff sack (turkey bag for sleeping quilt and clothes) and want the redundancy of a waterproof stuff sack and pack liner since I’ll be floating my pack.
I can, and will, eliminate the Aloksak OP sak. There aren’t bears, just small animals. I’ll keep the 0.2 oz food bag (plastic Walmart bag), but I can get rid of the 0.5 oz “bear” rope. I’ll use my food as a pillow, and tie my pack to the TorsoLite with guyline. So, your ideas will save me 1.4 oz. Thanks!May 31, 2005 at 10:43 pm #1337739
Ha! Good movie, Tony.
My name is Carol and I AM a SUL experimenter.Jun 1, 2005 at 1:30 am #1337744Andrew BrowneBPL Member
@andrew_browneLocale: Mornington Peninsula AUSTRALIA
Can you post your gear list as I agree with you, some basic comforts are a requisiteJun 1, 2005 at 7:48 am #1337756David HicksMember
You could actualy put the pad on the outside of the liner mabey. But realy youve cut down your list beyond need everywhere but in the pole department. With the litetreks you could bring some extra luxery items.
What kind of canyon is it? If its a slot canyon then why bring all this sun protection? But then its your list.Jun 1, 2005 at 8:42 am #1337758
Changing poles won’t allow me to bring more luxury items – the poles aren’t included in the total in pack base weight – what I’m keeping sub-5-lbs.
The canyon is not a slot canyon. West Clear Creek goes through sections of narrows, but I think I’ll be exposed to the sun most of the time.
I could use line wrapped horizontally around the package, and slide some kind of webbing straps formed into a loop under the lines to form straps. No sewing or glueing to the pad required.
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