What is ultralight backpacking? (how we talk about ultralight)
Jul 23, 2019 at 3:34 am #3603069David ChenaultBPL Member
@davecLocale: Queen City, MT
“Identity culture, compartmentalization, and simplification through definitions are not inherently bad things. However, acknowledging their presence and recognizing their limitations is necessary if we are to release our hold upon them, and advance our sport and our community culture. Setting aside identities and the criteria that define them will allow us to foster a community that is open to new members, new ideas, and new methods that we can add to our growing arsenal of chaotic and unordered tools that we affectionately know as ultralight backpacking.”
Cheers Ryan.Jul 24, 2019 at 3:37 pm #3603266James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
In many ways, I have to be a bit contrarian to this view that categories don’t mean anything. Talking about UltraLight gear (or SUL/XUL) means understanding what Ultralight means. For example, a 5 pound tent is hardly UL. Yet people assume that lightweight is close enough to UL to count and join in discussions anyway. Sometimes they are learning, sometimes just because they want to hear themselves talk.
The items used in UL also have a place in any pack..A light is needed. A tent is needed. A pack is needed, And so on. Without a definition of items that will make UL, we end up simply philosophizing about these items, ie, is it necessary, is it useful, is it wanted or needed, can it be built lighter, can it be built more durable or simply is it light enough? Is this the name of the game now? Simply carrying things you want and talking about the good and bad?
There is nothing wrong with having a 6 pound base weight and carrying a 30 pound pack. I do similar to this for most two or three trips. Food, fuel, water, simply make up the majority of my load. If we didn’t discuss UL in terms of base weight, it would become difficult to think in systems. After all, it is rather hard to throw around a 30pond pack in the same manner I carry 2night, sub-10 pound pack. But, base weight is only another metric. No different from Ryan’s computation above. A bit tounge in cheek, but equally valid.
No, without a clear definition of what ultralight packing means, it is difficult to talk of such things. On the trail, it means nothing…you are comfortable or you are not.
In last week’s heat wave, I was out hiking and didn’t use my jacket or sleeping bag. UL philosophy would have me drop these from my kit because I DIDN’T need them. I carried a spare set of batteries for my Steripen. I didn’t need them. But, I surely would have liked them if the temps were 40F and I needed a drink.
Anyway, packing is always contingent on conditions. Climbing mountains at 2 miles per day is a LOT different from hiking over flatter terrain at 22 miles per day. In both cases, I carry UL gear, but the gear WILL be different. (And, no, I don’t carry a 6 pound tent.)Jul 24, 2019 at 5:44 pm #3603277DAN-Y/FANCEE FEESTBPL Member
The origin of Top X Lists and Best ___ of 2019 lists (i.e., listicles) are from the very well-studied field of “internet content marketing” – which has one goal – to sell you something.
Savvy internet marketers who’ve run a jillion A/B tests have determined that these two types of headlines are some of the most effective headlines you can use in order to invite clicks.
That means if you see someone using these headlines, you know they have read these internet marketing strategies and are employing them to their full potential with the primary motivation of getting ranked higher in search engines (because people search for these terms), and inviting clicks that lead to the sale of something else (ads, affiliate).
I’ve studied these strategies for years, and I loathe them. They are scammy, click-bait-motivated, with the end motivation being to sell something, not provide value.
I’ve even tested a few of them on this community through the years. Guess what, they work. However, this community is savvy and have called us out on them for being scammy, whether sponsored content that provides only advertising for the company, gear guides that only have affiliate links in them and don’t support non-affiliates, or headlines that aren’t honest. You hate them, so I stopped using them. It’s not worth giving up the soul of a community for the primary purpose of maximizing clicks from the outside.
Certainly, there are more creative and more honestly-motivated methods of generating website revenue that preserves trust and respect within a community.
Will comment on this in the near future.Aug 5, 2019 at 3:34 am #3604848ToddSpectator
I like your thoughts here Ryan. Nice job. The first time I went backpacking with my kids it had been more than 20 years since I last went backpacking. I had zero gear. I borrowed gear from a friend, took whatever I could scrounge up to make a trip work. The trip was 1 or 2 nights with less than 5 miles of hiking and a few hundred feet of elevation gain with the packs on. I don’t know my pack weight except it was a lot heavier than what I have now. But it was light enough to have a successful trip. We made it out there, had a good time, made it back, and we enjoyed ourselves. That was 4-5 years ago. I just returned from a trip with one of my kids and we went 30 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation gain. I don’t think I could have done this trip without improving my gear. The kit from that first trip just would not have cut it. Our packs were in the mid 20’s on this last trip which was light enough to complete our planned trip and not bust our budget. I came away with some things I will improve for the future. One improvement will allow us to break camp faster but doesn’t save weight. The other is that I would shorten up the distance to allow for longer time in camp because we had such a great time hanging out together there. So reducing weight is not the most important need from this trip. We just need to be light enough to complete the trip and enjoy ourselves without busting the budget. So… “backpackinglight enough”? :)Aug 5, 2019 at 3:20 pm #3604874Tom KBPL Member
” “backpackinglight enough”?”
Excellent!Aug 5, 2019 at 6:54 pm #3604902Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
As long as it feels like hiking and not hauling…Aug 5, 2019 at 6:57 pm #3604903ToddSpectator
As long as it feels like hiking and not hauling…
Agree! :)Dec 31, 2019 at 1:46 am #3624915Mary RandolphBPL Member
To me the base pack weight definitions are critical; 10 pounds, 5 pounds, etc. I regard them like breaking the 4 minute mile, the 10 second 100 yard dash, the 2 hour marathon. Abitrary yes, and these UL goals have taken me farther than I imagined.
When I was young and strong in NOLS and Outward Bound courses, a heavy pack was normal — In those days “you want a watermellon, sure through it in” … When I retired at 65 my 41 pound pack for 5 days was much more challenging than I remembered. I found Backpackinglight, and Ryan Jordan and took an UL Bootcamp. Then I thruhiked the Colorado Trail twice at age 67 and again at age 69, and my hiking partner for the second trip was 74. Our base pack weights were 10 pounds plus/minus 1 pound. Then I pursued a sub 5 pound base pack weight as a hobby for 3-5 day trips.
These weights were insane when I retired. With a numeric goal, I found a way to actually achieve 10 pounds and 5 pounds and 4 pounds. I grew my comfort envelope, increased my skills and radically reduced my pack weight.
Bottom line: without the ultralight goals, I would no longer backpack, I would have thought bakkpacking was something from my youth. And my doctor proclaims I’m in the best health ever. It is the healthiest thing I can do.
Meanwhile, I appreciate Ryan digging deeper. Thank you
Hike On!Dec 31, 2019 at 4:47 am #3624956Brad PSpectator
Darwin has some good thoughts on the subject.Jan 4, 2020 at 11:19 am #3625515HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
It’s an ever evolving evolution. My gear is now the roll-top pack (various volumes)/quilt/basic shell plus hoody variety. The volumes correspond with the season, then there’s the shelters. Those will correspond with the season and geography, though I’d like to ideally get some sort of low slung pyramid system for basic sleeping/changing clothes.
I remember a few nights at Point Reyes, one ultralighter had a very small pack, almost like a navy blue stuff sack with shoulder straps, but also a bungee system for strapping his ukulele on. He left as I set up so didn’t have time to inspect the set up, but it couldn’t have been much. Then still thinking of photography but that lends itself to 20 mm straps for tripods instead of 13 or even cordage. That’s where all the fun begins as hiking and simply sleeping outside is pretty easy in the 3-season forest scenario.
So there’s “multifunction” once I stop long distance hiking, just not to have similar sized packs sitting around gathering dust. Lately my gear dreams of the original version of the Mountainsmith Ghost pack – small volume but with a top zipper opening. Probably wait until I get old (whenever that is) and probably have Chris Zimmer do a commissioned version of the Ghosty above with only top zip in either dyneema grid or possible DCF hybrid.Jan 4, 2020 at 11:46 am #3625519W I S N E R !Spectator
I tend to think of ultralight less in terms of weight and more in regards to simplicity; fewer items in the pack and a minimal, streamlined packing/unpacking/backpacking experience. While gear is certainly getting lighter and allowing ridiculously high comfort levels for low base weights, I’m personally not too interested in exploiting those gains so I can carry 5 different electronic devices/chargers, camp furniture, and a wild assortment of gadgets, clothes, and other items. I find I get more enjoyment out of applying the “less is more” mantra to the actual packing list, not the final weight. Simple and streamlined is what I’m looking to perfect in my kit.Jan 4, 2020 at 2:10 pm #3625541jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I REALLY want to yank that guy peering through his huge heavy lens and adjusting it back from the edge of the cliff and at least make him take his frigging pack off. His whole attention is focused on the lens and he can’t see his feet. In a moment of inattention he could easily take a step forward…or simply stumble slightly…like on the rock just to his left.
maybe it’s just me.Jan 4, 2020 at 2:34 pm #3625546
I REALLY want to yank that guy … back from the edge of the cliff
Funny – that was my immediate reaction too.
It is always possible, if not very likely, that he was just posing there for the photo? But a bit stupid anyhow.
less in terms of weight and more in regards to simplicity; fewer items in the pack
Don’t pack your fears.
CheersJan 30, 2020 at 1:38 pm #3629332Matthew SBPL Member
To me it is about the weight. Under 10lbs is ultralight backpacking. If you have a 7lbs pack and want to bring 3lbs of marbles, well, you’re still ultralight. You just really enjoy marbles and want to bring them, because that’s your mindset.
The alternative mindset of “I’m only going to bring what i need,” that everyone is describing is called minimalism.
You can see how the two ideas don’t necessarily have to intertwine, especially when it’s SO EASY, to get to 10lbs these days.
This conversation might also be about “Should 10lbs really be the “Ultralight” mark anymore, since it’s so easy to get to.”Jan 30, 2020 at 2:01 pm #3629336Rex SandersBPL Member
How can we overcome first-hand experiences vs. theoretical fears?
I’ve gotten pretty good at discounting theoretical fears. But after too many decades of outdoor exploration, I have plenty of first-hand experience that drives carrying some of my “excess” weight and complexity, especially around first aid kits and shelters.
— RexJan 30, 2020 at 2:31 pm #3629340
I suggest it is a constant balancing act. There is no ‘perfect’ solution.
CheersJan 30, 2020 at 3:27 pm #3629344
To me, Ultralight means taking lighter gear that performs the same function as a heavier gear item with similar amounts of functionality, safety and enjoyment. Additional skill sets may be required to use that lower weight gear safely and with same amount of enjoyment as heavier gear.
For example: tent vs tarp/bivy – if I can stay dry and avoid mosquitoes, then tarp/bivy are a better lightweight solution.
You can eat food with Jetboil or BRS or pocketrocket or esbit or alcohol or cold soak. Lighter as we go down the sentence. Obviously cold soak is the lightest weight. But, if I am enjoying the food I am eating with cold soak, then that is a fine choice. I am assuming you are not going to be doing cold soak if you are not enjoying it.
External frame backpack, internal framed backpack and frameless backpack. They all help us carry – but at varying degrees of comfort, capabilities etc.
Tent stakes – MSR, titanium, carbon – they all do the same job. Can I get away with the lightest while it performs the function expected – without breaking etc.
Rain jacket/pant, poncho/chaps etc.
Ultralight is NOT not taking a rain jacket to reduce weight, not taking water filtration systems etc.Jan 30, 2020 at 3:44 pm #3629347
Also one more thing I should note. I road bike a lot and have spent thousands of dollars on getting the lightest frame, wheels, components etc and have realized that your body adapts. So, when switching from a heavier gear to lighter gear, yes, you will see an immediate improvement and that is when people write glowing reviews. But, after a few months, your body adapts and your average speed reverts back to what is was before when you had the heavier bike. So, to me, for 90% of athletes, weight doesn’t matter. It matters for professional racers where races are won by seconds or lesser.
I also think that our bodies adapt to heavier loads. With training, you can go as fast as lighter loads. The unknown is long term effects of stress on joints etc. I maintain a spreadsheet of my daily hikes, weight, time it took etc and some of my fastest times are with external frame pack with 40 bs – nowadays I am at 25 lbs or less.
I mean, people have used external frame backpacks to complete thru hikes right? Were they slower than present day thru hikers? maybe thru hikers of today “enjoy” the experience more because they have lighter gear? I don’t know.
I feel just like my cycling experience, backpacking is similar with respect lightweight stuff and maybe it is not required at all.
I wish there was a study of backpackers with varying weights completing thru hikes etc and how they fared etc – daily mileage, enjoyment factor etc There are lot of qualitative statements like lighter is better, will stress your body lesser etc etc. But with conditioning/training – I am not so sure.
Ironically, if you have osteoporosis etc, they tell you to do weight bearing exercises to make your bones stronger – with the body – the mantra – use it or lose it is more important. So, I wonder if weight is really that important in the long run:-)Jan 30, 2020 at 3:52 pm #3629348Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Southern Indiana
What’s the least amount of weight I can pack in order to complete the mission, yet still be comfortable and safe? Very simple really. The hard part is knowing which pieces to bring along. That takes experience and years of gear geekdom.Jan 30, 2020 at 5:45 pm #3629358
I also think that our bodies adapt to heavier loads. With training, you can go as fast as lighter loads.
Try that while climbing a mountain. Not a chance.
CheersJan 30, 2020 at 6:10 pm #3629366
I really wish we had data on thru hiker’s completing AT/PCT/CDT etc in the 90’s/2000’s versus now. It will be interesting data to compare and see. But, I still stand by my statement – that with enough training, a heavier load on a backpack that fits you will not impede you.
Here is a study from google results:
And its conclusions were:
<h4 class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>CONCLUSIONS</b></span></h4>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Our study revealed </span><span class=”s1″>the following information on the relationship between load and speed:</span></p>
– First, our data supports the previous research which recommends that loads be kept under 40% BW (1,3,4). The results from our study showed that loads over 40% BW result in a drastic and disproportionate decrease in speed.
– Second, although load does have a significant effect on speed, it does not appear to be as drastic as the effect shown in US Army FM 21-18.
– Third, the slower the initial speed (unloaded), the less of an impact load has on movement. This was clearly illustrated when comparing our horizontal trials (4mph) and our inclined trials (2.1mph). Based on the previous research we reviewed, this is likely the result of the prolonged ground-reaction time used at slower speeds (5-8).
– Lastly, we were able to develop the below equation to predict speed under loads.
EQUATION 2: MTI loaded speed equation:
</b><i></i><i><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>As an example, the equation predicts that an 175# individual who walks at 3.2mph on a 10% grade unloaded (approximately 4.5mph over flat ground) will be slowed to approximately 3.1mph with a 45# pack. If the load is doubled to 90# their speed will drop to around 2.8-2.9mph.</span></i></p>
Feb 1, 2020 at 12:39 pm #3629489Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Southern Indiana
Murali C, I was intrigued by the link you provide to Mountain Training Institute. Looks to center on military training.Reminds me of when I used to run into infantry guys from Fort Knox training (leave) on the civilian trails North of the base. The hills (Knobs) are very steep and undulate nonstop for miles. The last infantryman I saw there said his TPW was 60 lbs. I like the way the Army places a lot of the payload around the waist, especially water. I also noticed a lot of soldiers carrying weight on the front of the rucks too. Balances things out. The gear looks god awful heavy, but very durable to be sure.
As far as heavier pack weights not having much bearing on performance, that might be true for those who aren’t going that far, however, when the serious miles come into play the effects increase dramatically. And I’m not a physics expert by any stretch, but with steep gradients the workloads increase exponentially as the weights go up. The Green Berets I knew embraced ultralight in a big way. They covered a lot more miles than grunts did though. One told me he didn’t even wear a helmet, just a bandana and a boonie hat. Poncho was his only shelter for weeks.
When I see what a few pounds means in handicap horse racing it dawns on me just how important weight can really be. And those are 1,000 lb animals by the way. But as the MTI research you posted shows, the most measurable slow down was observed at speed when the weights increased.Feb 1, 2020 at 1:28 pm #3629498
I was looking for a study – but couldn’t find it – which I think said that when decreasing load by 10 lbs, the speed goes up by 6 to 7 seconds per mile – which is not that significant. Its the same study that said that 1 lb reduction in foot wear is equivalent to 5 lbs reduction in your pack weight.
The real example we have all experienced is on a 6 day hike when the food weight reduces by almost 10lbs from day 1 to day 6. I don’t think you become significantly faster on day 6 or hike more miles on day 6 compared to other days. Yes, when you resupply, your pack is going to be heavier relatively – but, does it really slow you down or reduce your miles when you are on a month long or multi-month long hike? My experience has been it does not. Actually on the day of resupply, I am most probably in a town and had a great breakfast of eggs/bread and multiple coffee’s that my day 1 is awesome typically!
My bicycling experience is real. I have reduced my bike weight by 3 to 4 lbs and my average speed has not changed over the long term. Actually bike fit is more important and helped me go faster. Which is true for backpacks as well.
I am not saying go hike with 45 or 60 lbs because weight does not matter.
I am saying that most of us are trying to reduce the weight by 3 ro 4 lbs spending lots of money and that 3 to 4 lbs will not help. Of course, if you are a frameless backpacker, there is a limit to how much you can carry on your shoulders and here trying to reduce weight is a noble goal. But, again with enough training, you can improve your weight carrying capability with training, packing etc. In a framed backpack, I don’t think we should obsess so much. Of course, every backpack and hiker combination has a knee of the curve weight after which it probably feels horrible – take this thing off of me kinda pain. At that point you can try to reduce weight for find a better backpack etc.
In my own experience, between 25 lbs and 35 lbs or even 40 lbs, I do not see significant slowdown. If you carry 25 lbs one day and 35 lbs next day – of course you will feel the difference and fall in speed. But, if you train for couple of months with 35 lbs – then you will slowly get better and 35 lbs will not be a big deal. Body adaptation plays a big role is what I feel.
I am a retired engineer and love data – I keep a log of all my hikes – distance, time, weight etc. I briefly tested Kelty Tioga/Trekker with 41 lbs on some 5.5 mile trails with 1000 foot elevation changes – this is the only trail easily available to me. The average speeds is not very different from the 23.1 lbs I am carrying with my MLD Prophet (without hip belt) + 1.5 lbs on my fanny pack.
I have also tried Seek Outside Divide, Zpacks, HMG, GG, ULA backpacks etcFeb 1, 2020 at 2:12 pm #3629504
When I see what a few pounds means in handicap horse racing it dawns on me just how important weight can really be.
An exceedingly good point. But horse racing has the horses going absolutely flat out.
I suspect that if you are walking at a gentle speed for a medium distance AND your pack fits fine, a few extra pounds might not matter very much. On the other hand, doing very long distances every day for a week on end as fast as you can – another matter.
CheersFeb 12, 2020 at 1:03 am #3630911Rex SandersBPL Member
I’ve been obsessed with pack weight for more than 20 years, and that’s changed my relationship with pack weight.
Regardless of actual performance differences, I can really feel a few more pounds. And that affects my enjoyment of the trip.
On my last trip – every time I refilled a 1-liter water bottle (1 kg / 2.2 lbs) and picked up my pack – I really noticed the difference. Every morning as I started hiking after eating dinner and breakfast (~350 grams / 12 ounces) – I could feel the change.
And my physical conditioning (or lack thereof) doesn’t affect the noticing.
I suppose there’s no hope for me now, unless the nice man in the black suit and Ray-Bans holds up that shiny pen and …
What was I talking about?
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