- Dec 6, 2016 at 12:12 am #3439017D TBPL Member
@dealtoyoLocale: Mt Hood
I first got on to BPL back in 2006. Dove in with both feet into the SUL world with a Gossamer Gear Whisper G6, Nunatak Arc Ghost, Mountain Laurel Design Cuben poncho, BPL bivy, Possum Down beenie and gloves, Patagonia Houdini, BPL Cocoon jacket, BPL 500 ml ti pot, etc, etc, etc (you get the idea). Then the industry went flat, that was probably 5-6 years ago. So my question is, what’s new?
The industry still seems stagnant. It appears that most of the cottage manufacturers have gone away from the SUL products in favor of UL products. Still Cuben but heavier weight (thicker). Spinnaker fabric is all but dead and the only real innovation is very light double wall tents made of cuben (not SUL but UL in my opinion). What happened? It seems that no one is pushing the envelope regarding innovation with gear, fabric, and technique. And to top it all off, this web sight classifies SUL as 7 pounds!!!!! I thought it was under 5:
“Discussion of SUL hiking/backpacking – that is, the practice of carrying insanely light packs (e.g., 7 lbs or less) – and intense study of about how to trim even MORE weight from your pack.”
Please, please, please, someone tell me that I’m missing something big, this can’t be the end of SUL!!!!! It just can’t be the end, nooooooooooooooooo!!!!!Dec 6, 2016 at 2:47 am #3439019Robert MeurantBPL Member
“very light double wall tents made of cuben” – who makes those, please?Dec 6, 2016 at 4:21 am #3439025Andy BernerBPL Member
I think generally speaking people get into backpacking and then discover ultralight. It becomes a journey and then after being down that road for a while they realize its not all about weight. We as humans like our comfort. I think you will see more comfort items continue to get lighter. Think of sleeping pads, Coffee making devices, framed packs….
Finding that happy medium is a lot lighter these days.Dec 6, 2016 at 6:51 am #3439032James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
SUL at 7 pounds? I have never seen that. UL has always been 10 pounds, SUL has always been 5 pounds, XSUL has always been 3 pounds.
I started back in the 60’s with a nylon 2#6 tent for two. Yup, it misted badly in any rain. But, today, I still hear talk of 2pound+ tents. I see no advance in the past 40-50 years other than quality. Maybe dropping to a Zpacks Solomid Plus will save a half pound over what things were in the 60’s-80’s, but that does not include poles nor stakes. It doesn’t let you get wet in a major rain storm, though.
Packs have not changed much in weight. I started with an old WWII style 6pound pack. In the early 70’s I picked up a 2#2 pack with a magnesium internal frame. I use that pack daily on training hikes and walks. Quality has gone to hell for little advancement it weight savings over 45 years. If you want a lighter pack, you simply sacrifice quality. SUL and UL gear has gotten heavier, improving quality, but loosing the light weight focus.
When I picked up a GG G5, in spinnaker, I was shocked how flimsy it was. Coming back from every trip, it needed repairs. A few years back, I finaly gave up on it. My daughter opted for the Sil version, but she doesn’t go out nearly as much as I do. She still uses hers. For a 7oz pack that seems like it is durable enough.
Much of my SUL gear is home made (tarps for example) or adapted from a different purpose (Kmart grease pot for example.) Today, I cannot purchase a 5oz G6(Murmur,) it is easily double that weight.
Grant at GG explained it to me. The biggest sellers were the larger more rugged packs: 2x more sales for the Mariposa than the others combined. People WANT 1) size 2) durability even if it means a 31oz pack. They do NOT purchase a 3200ci pack that can only carry 15-20 pounds. So the much discussed “weight creep” has pretty much destroyed the SUL options. MLD, GG, Zpacks, etc all have similar stories. I wonder how many ZPacks “zero” packs were sold compared with the newer ARC lines. At least he still has the Zero, unlike GG.Dec 6, 2016 at 9:39 am #3439069
Excellent post, James.Dec 6, 2016 at 10:13 am #3439078Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
I think that the biggest innovation in the SUL world may be food as a 7 days supply probably outweigh your baseweight. Assuming that the goal is to go SUL and not go calorie negative real progress could be made here. I would make the following assumption: Daily meals in the 2500 to 3500 calorie range, meals would be no cook, there would be a variety of flavors and maybe textures so that you don’t go crazy, minimize pack volume, preparation time less than 30 minutes. A while ago, there was a guy expounding about eating only Spirulina on a long trip. I am not sure that I would go that far.
A big advancement in the SUL (or even UL) world would be a light weight Bear Canister (sub 1 pound) (agency approved). Of course, if you make the food sent free, you might be able to go without a bear canister. Food for thought.Dec 6, 2016 at 10:44 am #3439086Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
This happenedDec 6, 2016 at 11:52 am #3439095David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
I wonder if the boom and bust of UL gear manufacturers was because there was a much larger market to retrofit experienced backpackers than there was a sustainable market of people new to the activity.
While I was working in a backpacking store in the early 1980’s, the big innovations were:
MSR stoves that out-preformed the previous Optimus and Bluet stoves (a Svea 123 still had its niche, but the niche got smaller),
Self-Inflating Thermarest mattresses,
Backpacks with “yoke” suspension systems that carried a traditional pack weight more comfortable,
High-performance thermal underwear, first from Patagonia and then from everyone.
So we were retrofitting a lot of backpackers’ 10-, 20- and 30-year-old gear with better stuff. But I’ve still got my MSR, frame pack, and Thermarest, 30+ years later. Only the first-gen poly-pro underwear was really a consumable because it was so easy to crisp it in the clothes dryer, but I’ve got my PP UW from the late 1980s and it still works fine.
Point being, in the space of a few years, we sold upgraded hard goods and soft goods to people who’d become backpackers from 1950 to 1980+. A few years later, we were only selling to those new to backpacking. Eventually the store closed. I suspect a similar thing happened when SUL items first came on the market. Maybe even more so, because you kind of have to be an experienced BPer to take that plunge.Dec 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm #3439126W I S N E R !BPL Member
It seems to me that SUL has been relegated for the most part to fringe/novelty status these days. I’m guessing that the majority of people that try it do so as an exercise in gear weights and seeing if it can be done….and then the novelty wears off, the lack of durability of much of the gear becomes a reality, and people realize that the extra 5 – 10 pounds of gear makes a pretty negligible impact on performance vs. the benefits of increased comfort and utility. Realistically, there are very few things that I can do with a 5 lb. base that I can’t do just as well, more comfortably, and with more margin for error/weather with 10. At a certain point the scale begins to tip and increased weight becomes an issue but I certainly don’t experience it between 5 and 10.
Or at least I’m describing my own trajectory.Dec 6, 2016 at 4:43 pm #3439145Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Agree with most all above.
When the conditions are juuuuust right I will go SUL-ish (about 6 lb base, never quite SUL) just because I can, and because it’s fun.
But my normal summer UL kit is about 7.8 lbs (including my Duplex and my beloved GSI coffee mug) and ~1.8 lbs ain’t gonna make or break the experience.Dec 6, 2016 at 6:37 pm #3439174Adam KilpatrickBPL Member
@oystersLocale: South Australia
I think SUL quickly got where it needed to be a few years ago, based on learnings from the mass of ultralight that was happening, and material advances that came with it. From here it will mostly be tweaks in performance.
Manufacturers, even cottage ones, will always be hesitant to offer truly SUL gear. SUL gear almost always relies on user skill, not just in operation, but in preventing it from being destroyed. In modern developed countries, consumer law is very heavily weighted to the customer. The burden is on the manufacturer to constantly make good of any damage to products they produce, even if they are used inappropriately. This is a big risk if you are trying to run a small business. Hence you see weight creep even in pioneering brands like GG and Zpacks.
In the last few years there have been some further good innovations for SUL.
Lightweight running vests and packs are starting to become more proliferous and much more comfortable. Prior SUL packs were basically just stuffsacks with what may as well have been string straps.
Inflatable insulating mats have taken big advances. The NeoAir (doesn’t work for me personally) is a huge advance, and Sea to Summit and others are producing similar matts at a comfort, warmth, weight level that was previously unheard of. Go back to 2006 and every SUL hiker used CC foam exclusively.
Cameras, in particular smartphones, have become far better. To get similar performance* in a digital camera in 2006 to what you get out of the camera of a mid range smartphone today, you had to carry at least a pound. To make SUL in 2006 with a camera was close to impossible in all but perfect conditions; SUL debates raged over whether one was allowed to include a camera or not!
Incremental performance improvements. In the SUL game, these all add up quickly. Even down quilts have advanced quite a bit… a cutting edge regular size 32F down quilt ran around 16oz in 2006. Same performance down quilt is now around 12oz. Thats a 25% weight saving!
Options. There are far more non MYOG options now for SUL. One can go spend $1000-$2000 online and be SUL almost instantly. You can much more easily be SUL now without having to run a poncho-tarp set up…in fact it seems like most SUL hikers now run seperate rain gear. This is a huge change.
I think things will continue to slowly evolve in the future with SUL. Advances in materials are still most definitely continuing, even in waterproof nylons. These all benefit SUL.
*Performance in a camera is pretty loose and dependent on a plethora of factors; specification, conditions, subject, skill, user preference… however in a nutshell, the ability of such a smartphone camera to enable the average hiker without a high amateur photography skill level to take good photos (on auto settings; in focus, exposed as per what they want in the situation…framing and artistic skill not withstanding) of the majority of their subjects, absolutely blows away the consumer digital camera market in 2006, especially anything approaching light enough to meet an SUL list.Dec 6, 2016 at 11:19 pm #3439210Paul S.BPL Member
Not to mention SUL can get you killed up north, or at least give you a bad time if the weather isn’t perfect. It’s only applicable in small windows of the year or in warmer climates.Dec 7, 2016 at 4:05 am #3439216James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Paul, Yes. I take more than five pounds for sleeping at -20F out ice fishing (enclosed tent, 2 pads, -20 bag, plastic ground cloth) here in the ADK’s.
SUL is really only applicable in late July, maybe a week either side, or about a month and a half-two months per year. There is a reason it’s called tourist season in the ADK’s. ‘Corse shooting them is frowned upon and the weather allows them to survive, so it is a lot like black fly season…something you just tolerate.
I agree with those that say comfort is important. The difference between 5-10 pounds is little and really makes a huge difference in comfort. Durability and Weight are important, most are carrying less gear and focus on lighter weight when making selections. Rarely do I see a frying pan and never a coffee pot two days into the woods, anymore. Another example: More people use canister stoves than white gas as of three years ago.
No cook or easy cook meals are also the norm, even though these are heavier than making your own food packets. Freeze dried foods, ready to be eaten, are very big business.
I have seen fewer and fewer 40# packs in the ADK’s. Most are using some form of frameless or internally framed pack. Generally around 30# for a weekend. And, most are in fair physical shape.Dec 7, 2016 at 9:16 am #3439234
I still do quite a few SUL trips — its pretty easy to do 2 or 3 days in 3 season weather. To be honest I don’t understand the “comfort” or “luxury” item concept. For me comfort is how my pack carries. If the total pack weight gets around 12 or more pounds (due to consumables) then I opt for a more comfortable pack with a frame, and that pushes the base weight past SUL.
I have gotten to the point where the UL, SUL, and other labels are stupid. Our bodies don’t care about base weight; they care about total pack weight. The inherent problem with SUL is the need to resupply often on a long trip. You want to be in the wilderness but are willing to leave the wilderness often to obtain more food. What happened to the days when it was common for backpackers to do 1 or 2 week trips without leaving the wilderness?Dec 7, 2016 at 2:18 pm #3439309
Manufacturers, even cottage ones, will always be hesitant to offer truly SUL gear. SUL gear almost always relies on user skill, not just in operation, but in preventing it from being destroyed. In modern developed countries, consumer law is very heavily weighted to the customer.
I think Adam has hit a major point here. The novice user is a major financial hazard for the mfr.
Not to mention SUL can get you killed up north, or at least give you a bad time if the weather isn’t perfect. It’s only applicable in small windows of the year or in warmer climates.
And Paul covers the other half of the story. Again, it is novices.
My 2c. CheersDec 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm #3439313Stephen MBPL Member
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
I have gotten my summer gear down to Sul a few times and then always end up adding gear back in. No real hardship in carrying some extra weight.Dec 7, 2016 at 2:56 pm #3439316W I S N E R !BPL Member
Same here Nick, though I almost do those trips accidentally or at least without SUL intentions. Short trips in good weather, SUL isn’t much of a challenge.
I think trying it is educational. You pick an arbitrary number and you try and stick to it. It can teach you things about what you really need (or not). So I’m not knocking the whole practice.
But defining trips based solely on pack weight seem ridiculous to me now. I’m no longer interested in creating a gear list and seeing how far I can push it or what kind of trip I can do with that gear- though I understand the appeal.
I’m more interested in creating a trip and matching logical gear to that trip. And a lot of SUL gear, especially dedicated SUL packs (in my experience), isn’t very functional outside of this strict category. They’re so highly dependent on trip style and the other gear you’re carrying that they’re sort of frivolous to me. I’d much rather have a pack (and gear in general) that fits a range of conditions.
HMG packs seem to hit a sweet spot for me here. Light enough, yet robust enough. I was out hunting/backpacking this last weekend. Food for a night and two days, 2 gallons of water, and rifle alone were nearly ~25 lbs. Yet this same pack doesn’t feel like overkill on an overnight with only a few pounds of gear.Dec 7, 2016 at 4:58 pm #3439360Paul S.BPL Member
Roger, my point wasn’t that SUL gear isn’t made due to novices going stupid light and getting in trouble but that SUL is too niche. I would love a 5 lbs base weight but as Wisner mentioned, I’m not going to buy specialized gear that only works for 1-2 months out of the year, e.g. a SUL weight pack.Dec 7, 2016 at 5:36 pm #3439369Hiking MaltoBPL Member
Why no innovation? Because, at best it is an incredibly tiny market. You could have the best SUL gizmo and corner the entire SUL market and starve. Heck, it’s even a niche group within BPL.Dec 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm #3439403
I agree somewhat, but on the other hand, if cottage mfrs could sell SUL gear without the financial risk, you might see more of it on the market – which could then drive a greater acceptance of SUL raising it above the ‘niche’ status. And that gear could then be better and cheaper.
But right now there is always the risk of a lawsuit due to a novice either trashing the gear or going ‘Stupid Light’.
I sell my Winter Stoves – and my wife worries about the risk.
CheersDec 7, 2016 at 9:14 pm #3439418
I sell my Winter Stoves – and my wife worries about the risk.
Which is why here in the US small businesses buy liability insurance and “errors and omissions” policies.Dec 7, 2016 at 9:56 pm #3439427
Well, yes – and the cost of such insurance?
CheersDec 7, 2016 at 11:09 pm #3439436
Cost is more than you are doing in gross sales. Of course we have insane consumer laws, regulations, shady lawyers, and people looking to make a quick buck from legitimate businesses. Ah, modern problems. You couldn’t sell your tents in Calif either… not fireproof or whatever the regulators say they need to be.Dec 7, 2016 at 11:14 pm #3439438Adam KilpatrickBPL Member
@oystersLocale: South Australia
I wonder if producing and selling out of a third party country could help in this regard? Buyers of SUL gear are often willing to buy straight of the internet without having laid hands on a product.
Eg, I’m betting producing and selling straight out of the Philippines would get around such issues.
Of course this introduces a whole host of other issues for a business.Dec 8, 2016 at 12:00 am #3439441
Oh, I would not sell my tents IN Cali. Too many hassles. I would sell them in Australia.
Then acting as a shipping agent I might ship the customer’s goods on behalf of the owner to wherever he wants. Just as there are companies in USA who will buy stuff for you from vendors who won’t deal with overseas customers, and then as your agent ship them to you overseas. I have been there several times. Yes, that does include paying for the goods with their own USA credit card. This is the Age of the Internet, after all.
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