Sweet spot

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    jacob thompson


    Some of us now are putting up our gearlists and really working them down to the absolute limit. Many of us are sub 5lbing now and even a few of us are sub 3lb. Now I’m sure it can go further (if we can all go from 50lb down to 10 pretty easily surely we can go from 5lb down). I’m sure most of us have now realised how much comfort we usually carry and what is really necessary in the backcountry.

    The issue I wanted to raise is where do you think the sweet spot is. If I wanted to go for a 3 night trip just for fun, not for site seeing and total enjoyment. I would feel fine with carrying a sleeping bag, a bivy made from garbage bags, a lighter in my pocket, a photon LED and my food and just head out for fun. But there comes a point when I think that this weight saving isn’t really assisting my pleasure any more than a 5lb pack would for a 1 or 2 week voyage. And even longer than that where do we set our limits? Sure we can do it for a lot lighter but were not really going to notice 3lbs difference in the end and the discomfort after 2 weeks without a pad might not be one that I want.

    I think my real question here is to find out how light everyone could make their gear and still be fully happy, in the warm season just for standardising for 1-3 nights, 4-20 nights and 21+ nights.

    for me I beleive that it would be
    1-3 2-3lbs
    4-20 4-5lbs
    21+ 5-7lbs depending on how much longer it would be.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    This is a very interesting question. I’ve thought about it a lot.

    However, for me, I find that my sweet spot graph is exactly opposite of yours.

    When I’m out for a night, my food weight is low, and I can “afford” a luxury or two.

    When I’m on a 20-day trek, my food weight is absurd, and I prefer to pare down the rest of the equipment.

    That of course, addresses the heart of the practical issues.

    Mentally/emotionally, I think it’s easier to do with a 5 lb kit for 20 days than with a 5 lb kit for 1 night.

    The reason is that as you … engage yourself on a long trek, you distance yourself from the pleasures and securities of relying on equipment; these are displaced by the pleasures and securities of knowing you can live with the wilderness and go with the flow a little better.

    I find that my anxiety level of dealing with things like bugs, inclement weather, and long trail miles is highest during the first few days, and decreases with each day out. Frankly, the ideal situation for me would be to start the trek with 10 lbs of gear, then start ditching it as my stress level went down! But that’s not exactly LNT, so if I know I’m going to be out for a long time, I simply do without, suffer some for the first few days, and then get into the groove once I ditch that gear security.

    Carol Crooker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Desert Southwest, USA

    A side issue I’ve noticed, I find it easier to go lighter if I’m solo. Part of it is comfort envy – I don’t miss my X piece of gear if I’m not sitting next to someone who has one. Part is that I’m more inner directed when I’m solo and it doesn’t matter if I need to spend more time, or thought, cooking because I have just a pot, rather than a pot and a cup. And part is embarrassment. I feel a little self-conscious with some of the compromises I make when I go lighter.

    As to the sweet spot, I agree with Ryan. The longer the trip, the more I drop weight.

    jacob thompson


    Now that you mention it it does sounds more profitable to go in the order that you were pointing out.

    The reasons that I put down those values was as such.
    Short duration: I’m really going to want to put in extra miles and more than likely I’m going to be using the most minimal gear because I’m not going to miss the comfort for only a few nights. This is the most frequent trip distance for me. Maybe I should be going along with your theory to an extent because thise first few days are the real killer for bugs and comfort. But I sense that If I’m only going for that long I might be able to just put up with it. Also the extra weight only carried for a few days will not be as noticable in the end.

    Medium length: These values are also the same as what I was using before. For longer distance I’m going to need to more gear. Things like aquamira and better gear for more weather variation etc.

    Longer length: Here I am totaly in agreeance with you now. If I’m not resupplying then I’m carrying a lot of food, so I will have to get rid of the extra weight. But as I said before a lot of comfort issues are going to spring up during this time period.

    Maybe what I should be concentrating on is the actual quality of equipment. By this I mean I should be cutting down weight but trying to maximise comfort with the reduced gear that I have.

    I definitly agree with you Carol on the solo description. Theres nothing worse than that feeling of “I should have brought a full length pad instead of the 30″ model” when you see someone pull one out of their pack. Though if you do feel like bragging it is nice to see the envy from people when you have next to no gear and are equally as comfortable.

    Thanks for the insights guys

    John Mackey


    The question for me is always about what kind of tradeoffs to make for comfort in camp versus comfort on the trail. A lighter pack equals more comfort on the trail, but at some point reducing packweight also reduces comfort in camp. Hence the question of what the “sweet spot” really is. Obviously each person needs to answer that question for themselves.

    I find that my base packweight is in reality higher on longer trips. Why? More food for more days results in a heavier total pack weight which means that I prefer to use my Gossamer Mariposa instead of my Gossamer G-5 to handle the higher weight better. That is an extra 10 ounces in packweight for the heavier (but more comfortable for heavier loads) Mariposa.

    A longer trip also means greater variances in weather, so since I want to make sure my gear will keep me warm and dry I have less room to skimp on weight. I may be willing to gamble a bit more on a 2 or 3 day trip with a good forecast, knowing that if the weather turns really bad that I will only have to suffer through it for a couple of days. However, on a longer trip it is almost a certainty that I will eventually run into nasty weather and I will want to have more than “emergency” type protection. This means I will likely use a slightly warmer bag and puffy jacket as additional insurance which equals a little bit more weight.

    The sleeping pad is one of the pieces of gear that gets heavier for me on longer trips. If I’m out for only a few days, then I don’t mind using a torso sized piece of closed cell foam. No big deal. I’ll trade off a little bit of comfort in camp for more comfort on the trail. However, on a longer thru-hike I will want to go with a more comfortable pad to better insure ongoing quality sleep.

    The bottom line is that my base pack weight has dropped down to right around 5 pounds for trips of less than 4 days in the summer. It’s about 6 pounds for trips from 5 to 10 days. It’s about 8 pounds for trips longer than 10 days. On all these trips I assume I’ll be able to resupply every 4 to 5 days.

    Bottom line for me is that the longer the trip the less willing I am to trade off comfort on the trail for comfort in camp. I’m super comfortable in camp at 8 pounds (and still pretty darn comfortable on the trail too!). On shorter trips, I’m willing to trade off a little bit of camp comfort for even greater comfort and longer hiking days on the trail.

    Glenn Roberts


    Locale: Southwestern Ohio

    My perspective on “How light is right?” is a little different. I originally got into lightweight camping because I was looking to recapture the simplicity of my early trips – when I was broke, had to outfit both my Scout-age son and myself quickly, and couldn’t afford a lot of bells and whistles. That make for a base load of over 20 pounds – inexpensive gear (a la Eureka/Camp Trails/Coleman/K- or Wal-mart, etc.) is heavy gear. But, we didn’t have much gear, so we didn’t really think about it – and we had a ball.

    As the years unfolded, and my passion for the sport grew, I replaced everything with better gear – lots of bells and whistles, and lots of extras, and eventually a Dana Terraplane to haul my 35 pound base load around in. Comfortable? You bet – but I needed to rest well after lugging it all around on those high-mileage (10 – 12) days.

    Over time, I noticed that I was focusing more and more on gear: setting things up, taking them down, packing, sorting, unpacking, drying, etc. – and I no longer had that “footloose” feeling from the earlier hikes. So, I started simplifying. Leaving out the stuff I didn’t truly need (the second pot, complete change of clothes for a weekend, etc.) was a big help, and obviously lightened the load. But the 25 pounds of stuff that was left still required a lot more attention than I wished.

    So, I started replacing things, placing a high priority on bells and whistles that worked. My Whisperlite stove (plug it in to bottle, unplug it because I forgot to put the heat shield on, put the heat shield on, plug it into bottle, assemble windscreen, pump, prime, light) got replaced by a Pocket Rocket (screw canister to stove, twist valve, light); my two man Moss mountain tent got replaced by a series of tents, culminating in a one-man Hubba – one pole, 6 stakes, and the fly-only pitch gives me a quick-pitch lunch shelter in the rain. I quit cooking meals that took two pots, simmering, and combining the sauce from pot 1 with the pasta from pot 2; freeze-dried meals may not be a gourmet’s delight, but they’re easy (the Lipton side dishes are almost as easy.)With simpler meals, I only needed one pot – and eventually ended up with a Titan kettle, which eliminated the need for a cup. You get the idea: simplicity, not weight, was the driving factor. But, a side benefit I noticed was that my pack weight went down to about 18 pounds. Hmmm.

    That started me consciously trying to reduce weight, and gradually the ultralight thing took over. I actually got down to 10 pounds, once, but found that the lightest gear was adding to the fiddle factor: Aqua Mira had to be mixed, then added to water, which then had to be allowed to sit; the Silshelter and bug liner (I hike in the Midwest; bug protection is not a luxury) required two hiking poles and thirteen stakes and took about 30 minutes to get the pitch right (though “almost right” was the best I ever managed.) I carried it all in a Granite Gear Virga pack,but found that it was a hassle keeping the folded Thermarest pad positioned just right to be a frame while I packed everything else – it usually took two tries to get it all just right.

    So, after going back to the simplest gear I could find, regardless of weight, I’ve decided my own sweet spot is at 14 pounds, with a Vapor Trail (so comfortable I forget to take it off at rest stops), Hubba tent, Miniworks water filter, and Pocket Rocket stove with Titan Kettle, plus a few other carefully-chosen items. It’s just the right blend of simplicity, comfort, and weight – the footloose factor is once again high. (If you’d like the boring details about my gear, leave your email address and I’ll forward the Excel spreadsheet.)

    A side note about sub-5 pound loads: One thing I keep noticing is that there’s a strong flavor of enduring, rather than enjoying, the trip. I don’t want to disparage them; it’s just that my priorities are different. I think the best thing SUL will do for me is spur mainstream gear makers to make the gear I like even lighter, which will let me lower my pack weight without raising the fiddle factor – and for their pioneering efforts, I thank the SUL’ers.

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest


    Good post. Well written. Enjoyed it.

    I concur with you on the points you made regarding simplicity & comfort. I can’t enjoy the trek as much if either is missing to any significant degree.

    When you get a spare moment, please send a copy of your XL spreadsheet to [email protected] (that’s the numeral zero in the email address, not the letter ‘O’) – appreciate it.

    I’m at 7lb, 9oz base pack wt. right now for above freezing temps. For me, it’s tough to get any lighter until I start using a tarp w/bug enclosure. However, even the GG Spinnshelter with 3oz bug insert will save me a only ~9oz over my current bivy setup, but will reduce the simplicity factor. Could save a little more if i only used my bug headnet instead of the bug insert. Trekking in NewEngland in the warm weather also makes bug protection obligatory. yesterday, i ran into someone i’ve known for yrs. he was wearing shorts. the red bite marks on his legs were unmistakeable. literally, 100’s of black fly bite marks on his legs. boss doesn’t like him wearing shorts to work, so recommended 2 OTC ointments for the swelling & itching. (once a corpsman, always a corpsman, i guess).

    Playing a “what-if” game, I’ve adjusted my Gear Spreadsheet drop-down menu choices & have only gotten down to 5lb & 1/2 oz. Can’t seem to lose enough wt to get under 5 lb. unless i plan just for a summer’s trek with night time temps warm enough that i can dump my 15oz WM Highlite (short bag – hence the 15oz) & some other colder weather gear.

    So, at this point I’m happy at ~7.5lbs base wt. I have all that I need to be comfortable & enjoy the trek & the night’s rest regardless of weather & bugs as long as the temps are above freezing.

    If I want to do some nightime orienteering, which for some strange reason i enjoy (“baggage” fr/my early 70’s military days??? didn’t enjoy it then, however!!!). now, i guess, it’s b/c it’s a diff world in the forest at night – i am light enough @7.5lbs to add a 8-16oz “heavy-duty” headlamp with 3-4AA or 4C batts (& even spares) & still be under 10lb base pack wt.

    I guess there’s theory & there’s practice. While sound theory is impt to good practice, perhaps at some point a personal limit is reached, where if the theory is carried to an extreme, it starts to have an adverse impact on practice – if not on safety, then, perhaps at least, on one’s enjoyment – Your point exactly if I read your post carefully enough.

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