What is ultralight backpacking? (how we talk about ultralight)
Feb 12, 2020 at 7:11 am #3630931Jeff McWilliamsBPL Member
Ya know, the JMT group does a hiker survey every year and tries to do a lot of analysis of the data. You can dig through the survey data and reports here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9Fz_vc-zml_d1JIUGtpbzJ1aXM
And if you look at this document: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B9Fz_vc-zml_SmRDZmd1X0gyV00
You’ll see a significant correlation between pack weight and miles hiked per day, like this graph:Feb 12, 2020 at 12:17 pm #3630965
Pretty cool! Thanks for the data!
Since we are BPL – I am going to restrict those who carried upto 35 lbs – which should be pretty easy to do on JMT especially since most carry 1L or so of water. People who are carrying more are gluttons for punishment I suppose or carrying for family etc Though I did come across some fit hikers carrying 50 lbs or so on JMT in 2018 and who abandoned the hike as they were missing their family is what they said.
Looking at the blue graph – for men:
20 lbs on average hiked 17- miles or so.
25 lbs on average hiked 16 miles or so.
30 lbs on average hiked 15+ miles or s0.
35 lbs on average hiked 14.5 miles or so.
To me this is not statistically significant at all. It seems like 35 lbs guy can easily do what the 25 lbs guy did if these two were hiking together – a 10 lb difference. Even if they were not able to do the same miles, the 35 lbs guy has to spend probably an additional 45 minutes (1.5 miles – assuming 2 miles per hour) in a day to get to the same point as the 25 lbs guy. And 45 minutes in day is nothing if you are hiking 8 hours or so in a day.
Thanks again for the data! Awesome data!Feb 12, 2020 at 2:09 pm #3630979
To me this is not statistically significant at all.
There may be some correlation there (I am sure there is), but the data is massively confused by the big differences between people.
The results are ‘interesting’, but if you want to get useful results you would have to test just one person at loads from 5 kg to 25 kg, then repeat that with several other persons.
On the other hand, if you want to show that there are huge differences between people, well, there’s the data.
CheersFeb 12, 2020 at 6:40 pm #3631007
It seems to me to be intuitively obvious that miles hiked will vary inversely with various pack weights for each individual, particularly on a longer trail like the JMT. The data that would interest me most are, as Roger commented, multiple hikes by the same individual with the various pack weights.Feb 12, 2020 at 7:36 pm #3631021
I was thinking we should ask triplets of similar athletic abilities to do the JMT with varying weights:-)
Even if we ask the same person to do JMT in sequence with different weights – one can argue that the second attempt is biased as second attempt will happen with better fitness etc. If the person did it in two consecutive years – then again, you can argue that the person is one year older, fitness level etc etc.
Looking at broad populations gives us more data points and make general conclusions which is what I think this data shows – combine this with the army studies which come to similar conclusions. I mean there is a difference when weight increases, but the differences are insignificant.
I think you should try it with yourself with different weights – say 5 lbs more or so. Don’t do it on two consecutive days. Train for a month with weight A – your normal backpacking weight – say 25 lbs. Take the best time from that experiment. Train for a month with 5 lbs more – 30 lbs. Take the best time from that. And compare the two. My claim is that you will not see any difference. Long trails etc doesn’t matter. Actually, the longer the trail, the better the fitness gets and the ability to do larger distances in a day. Your average speed goes up in the 3rd or 4th week of a long hike as your body adapts to the hike.
I retired 3 years back and my normal exercise nowadays is carrying my backpack with weights I plan to carry on my month long hike. I typically do 100 miles in a month with a backpack. I keep a log as well – miles hiked, time it took etc.
My timing between a year when I carried 40 lbs or so in an external frame pack/internal frame packs and today with a frameless pack with 24 lbs is not very different. Yes, I am faster with the frameless pack – but not by much.
Anyhow! Maybe we should just agree to disagree:-) or maybe a few of you will do this exercise and report back:-)Feb 12, 2020 at 7:50 pm #3631024
I did notice, a long time ago when we went UL, that getting my pack weight (everything) down below 16 kg made a lot of difference to how much I ENJOYED the walk. Let us not forget the enjoyment factor.
Getting below 12 kg complete for a full week trip made it even more enjoyable. I could look around at the view and enjoy things. With 20 kg it was just ‘head down and slog’.
CheersFeb 12, 2020 at 7:57 pm #3631027W I S N E R !BPL Member
Enjoyment is key!
I’ve been in the habit of taking a UL kit on local explorations. Maybe I’ll spend the night out, maybe I won’t. But with a <10 base weight with a little food thrown in, I have the freedom to walk, scramble, boulder hop, and comfortably explore in ways that simply would not be as easy with a big pack. In my case, a very light pack provides the ability to be spontaneous; fast and easy to pack and equally easy to carry. If I abort an overnight and turn it into a dayhike, it’s no big deal or extra effort. I like this style of trip quite a bit.Feb 14, 2020 at 1:30 pm #3631278Rex SandersBPL Member
Why ultralight? Heavy loads damage bodies.
In my mid-20s, I tried to hike the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail without resupply, starting with a 50 pound pack. Part of the route followed a steep trail-less canyon for a couple of miles. I literally jumped 3 to 5 feet down from one rock to the next, dozens of times, while wearing that monster pack.
The next day I could barely walk and ended the trip early. It took more than a year to mostly recover. I’ve had knee problems ever since.
On other trips carrying 40-50 pound loads, I tightened the padded hip belt on an external frame pack so much that it caused temporary nerve damage in my thighs. That problem alone stopped me from backpacking until I lightened up.
I was also plagued with serious foot blisters. Hard to hike with you have one giant blister running across the balls of your feet, or bleeding heel blisters at risk of infection.
Could I have prevented these problems while carrying the same load with changes in conditioning, gear, techniques, or routes? Maybe. But I didn’t, and the excess weight was a major contributing factor. I’m thankful the nerve damage wasn’t permanent.
I’ve had no trip-limiting injuries since lightening up almost 20 years ago.
Light packs mean less body trauma and more enjoyment. Excellent reasons to reduce pack weight, even if my “performance” didn’t improve significantly.
— RexFeb 14, 2020 at 6:41 pm #3631331
“Even if we ask the same person to do JMT in sequence with different weights – one can argue that the second attempt is biased as second attempt will happen with better fitness etc. If the person did it in two consecutive years – then again, you can argue that the person is one year older, fitness level etc etc.”
I think we could get the data we need to answer the question with a shorter route hiked multiple times in one season, say, a 1 week route of 80-100 miles.Feb 14, 2020 at 6:46 pm #3631333
I will stick my neck out and suggest you could useful results by timing the same person with various pack weights over a nominal 2 HOUR walk on every second day, preferably off-trail.
CheersFeb 14, 2020 at 9:21 pm #3631351
Roger/Wisner: I agree enjoyment is key. We should never do anything that we are not enjoying doing.
Rex: Agree completely that heavy weights can damage bodies and cause wear and tear.
When I say that weight doesn’t matter, I am not suggesting or recommending carrying 40 to 50 lbs. Nope – I am not saying that. I was just showing data out there that says that heavier pack weights do not affect performance significantly.
We all carry lightweight stuff. But, we are always on this quest to go lighter – me including. I just feel that if you have a SO Divide or SD Flex Capacitor or your favourite framed backpack, trying to reduce 2 lbs in order to get to some base weight for whatever reasons is not worthwhile while spending $1000 or so. Those weight reductions will not make you enjoy your hike better or cause less additional wear/tear etc. Of course, lighter is better. But in the long run, you will not notice it is my belief. I just picked 2 lbs – don’t know what the upper limit is – maybe 3 lbs or maybe 5 lbs – don’t know.
Tom K and especially Roger: The 2 hour hike you suggest is exactly what I do with the trail near me. Check out reviews of River Place Nature Trail in Austin Texas on Google or Alltrails – 50 feet away from my house. This is 5.5 miles long, off trail, has 3000+ physical steps due to steepness, climbs 1000 feet.
I was 50.5 years old in 2018:
I carried 40.7 lbs in Kelty Trekker in Jan/2018 in 117 minutes – under 2 hours.
42.7 lbs in Kelty Tioga in Feb/2018 – 116 minutes.
39 lbs in SO Divide in Mar/2018 – 118 minutes.
52.5 years old in 2020:
I carried 23.5 lbs on MLD Prophet in Jan/2020 – no hip belt and 1 lb in a fanny pack: 106 minutes
I carried 25 lbs on HMG 4400 in Jan/2020 – 106 minutes
I just took the best times from these two years – I had many hikes where I was slower of course.
So the time difference is around 10 minutes between 2018 and 2020 – best times. Loads were in 40 lbs in 2018 and 25ish lbs in 2020. So there is a difference – but, not significant time improvement. 10 minutes over 5.5 miles and if you do 20 miles in a day on the trail – then you may save 40 minutes. Not that significant in my book.
I think I enjoyed both sets of hikes – on 2018 and 2020. This is just my data. Wear and tear – no idea on long term effects – I am sure it affects negatively with heavier loads.
But, again, I am not suggesting that you increase your weight using this data.
I am just saying that trying to reduce 2 to 3 lbs and spending 1000’s of dollars is not worth it.Feb 14, 2020 at 9:43 pm #3631352
trying to reduce 2 to 3 lbs and spending 1000’s of dollars is not worth it.
Ah, there’s the crux.
If I can knock off 2-3 lb just by ‘not packing my fears’, I will do it.
If I can knock off 2-3 lb by spending $50, I will probably do it.
But $1000s for 2-3 lb? Nope. Better ways exist.
CheersFeb 15, 2020 at 3:00 pm #3631440Jeffs ElevenBPL Member
I usually carry lux items. Bluetooth speakers and dumb stuff. String lights. Beer. Well beer isnt dumb but you know what i mean.
i only bow to the spreadsheet gods on longer trips where weight really matters. I can carry 30 lbs with ease so on overnighters (what i do mostly) i take lux items to mess with. I carry new clothing items to test out so i know how they perform on my body in my weather. No worry if its an extra lb or two.
‘Its just an over nighter’
on long trips is where i put my UL know-how to work and pack smartly- few/no lux items.Feb 15, 2020 at 8:10 pm #3631490
“Tom K and especially Roger: The 2 hour hike you suggest is exactly what I do with the trail near me. Check out reviews of River Place Nature Trail in Austin Texas on Google or Alltrails – 50 feet away from my house. This is 5.5 miles long, off trail, has 3000+ physical steps due to steepness, climbs 1000 feet.”
I think a 2 hour hike is not sufficient to show how performance is affected by packweight. My sense is that a person could carry a 50 pound pack for 2 hours nearly as fast as he could a 30 pound pack, but not for 8 hours day after day. Anyone who remembers the Arctic1000 epic will remember that when Dial and Gek started out, they were carrying in excess of 50 pounds and making 18-20 miles per day. Toward the end, their pack weights were down aroud 20 pounds, IIRC, and they were doing over 40 miles per day. FWIW.Feb 15, 2020 at 8:52 pm #3631499
I think a 2 hour hike is not sufficient to show how performance is affected by packweight. My sense is that a person could carry a 50 pound pack for 2 hours nearly as fast as he could a 30 pound pack, but not for 8 hours day after day.
That might or might not be so, but it IS theory at this stage.
Let’s have some experimental results for real people from the real world.
It is always possible that the criteria might need changing: you might need to include a 300 m climb and then descent for instance, or you might need to make it 3 hours instead of 2 hours. But as long as the conditions are constant except for pack weight and prior exercise, the results will be interesting. Of course, change the person and you have to start again.
Yes, I do remember the Arctic 1000; I also remember that Dial had some fairly well-researched data on load vs distance. The results of the walk did seem to support his theory.
PS: this is an excellent use for a whole platoon from the army!Feb 16, 2020 at 8:17 am #3631549
“Let’s have some experimental results for real people from the real world.”
Precisely, which is why I suggested an 80-100 mile route repeated 3 times by the same person(s) with varying pack weights. We can quibble about the exact route length, but I think the idea is both feasible and sound. I concur that decent elevation gain/loss should be included. My suggestion on that would be somewhere in the range of 600 meters of each per day. That is not excessive, and many real world mountain routes will present that amount and often more. But I stand firm on the proposition that 1 3 hour hike is not sufficient to produce results useful in the real world. Different pack weights will produce different results, in terms of wear and tear on the body over longer distances repeated on several consecutive days. This much I know from a lot of personal experience.Feb 16, 2020 at 9:07 am #3631556Bruce WarrenBPL Member
I learned an interesting pack weight metric when I was a Boy Scout leader and we started a backpacking Patrol. I was designing my new backpack and needed real world testing. So I made eight packs and filled them with all the gear…. sleeping bags, tent, stove, etc. We did a hike most every weekend. Usually 4 hours in/camp overnight/4 hours out. It became clear that if the pack weight was 30 lbs or less even the little guys (80-90lbs) had no problem. But add 5-10 lbs and they started fussing a LOT. Even the adult size teens fussed at 40lbs. I think 30lbs is a magic number for a human to carry weight with zero stress. Probably because of evolution… once a kid grows up to weigh over 30 lbs (~3 years old), no more getting carried by Mom or Dad. The kid can walk fine by himself and fast enough to keep up.Feb 16, 2020 at 10:22 am #3631568James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
There are way to many variables with using a single person for this type of exercise. I would rather simply logic my way through it.
Rather than say any set distance is the max, since there are simply too many people to compare, simply say that a persons maximum distance in 10 hours with no carried weight is his limit. Looking at packs, we can safely assume 5lb or around 2-1/4kg, is the lightest pack for a weekend. Assuming there are “animals” out there, assume 100lb would be a maximum weight for a weekend.
Does it make sense that someone could carry 100lb of weight the same distance as that person with a 5lb weight? Come on…it doesn’t make sense to me.
The nature of the performance (as measured by distance) could be linear as was posted above. But, I doubt that. I would suggest a more of a hyperbolic curve. For example a weight lifter can do about 250kg (around 550lb) but he will not travel very far carrying this weight. Yet he might go 30 miles as his maximum with a 5 pound load. Just an example…
I would suggest a simple ‘S’curve graph:
Given what I know about physiology this is reasonable, but would vary greatly among people. I know I hit the wall at about 40 pounds. This means I can travel about half my usual distance. Increasing the load means a rapid fall of off distance to a point. But, I am an old man. After that I can just slog out a few miles between 70-100 pounds. The 30 pound difference becomes of lesser importance. I am sure every individual will perform somewhere along this curve with differing weights and different exact metrics.Feb 16, 2020 at 10:57 am #3631573
“There are way to many variables with using a single person for this type of exercise.”
So use > 1 person on the same route, with the same weights. That should provide a basic idea of how people in general perform with varying pack weights on a set course, preferably one over multiple days to measure degradation of performance over time, when pack weight is likely to become a decisive factor. What is hard to correct for is the varying levels of basic athletic capabilities and fitness, without a degree of testing that would likely not be feasible in the real world. Still, as the number of subject participating in the test increases, the results should begin to stabilize.
“I would rather simply logic my way through it. Rather than say any set distance is the max, since there are simply too many people to compare, simply say that a persons maximum distance in 10 hours with no carried weight is his limit. Looking at packs, we can safely assume 5lb or around 2-1/4kg, is the lightest pack for a weekend. Assuming there are “animals” out there, assume 100lb would be a maximum weight for a weekend.”
This requires assumptions, which may not always reflect actual conditions in the real world. I would submit that those in your text, above, are representative in that regard, IMO. I would prefer to begin by developing a test course that correlates with real world conditions, both in regard to the course hiked and the pack weights likely to be carried, rather than theoretical ones, and then use a significant number of subjects to derive results from which we can begin to draw some conclusions. At that point, we would be able to see how closely actual results correspond to what you are suggesting. Perhaps you are correct in your logic, but experience has taught this equally old man to distrust results not grounded in real world conditions, at least in subjects like this one.
One thing that would have to be considered in this approach is the altitude at which the tests are run. There is a world of difference between a test conducted at sea level-2,000′ and one conducted at, say, 8,000-10,000′.Feb 16, 2020 at 11:54 am #3631577James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Well, yes, to some degree. But this is based more on experience with the same trail after more than a dozen passes. Using the Northville-Placid Trail, I did 13 pases as a thru hike. Many were self limiting because it only took about 9 days to do it, but I could only be picked up in weekly increments. My worst time was with a Gorilla (before I suggested the frame changes) with 32 pounds in it for 10 days. My best time was a Murmur with 23 pounds in it for 9 days. Average was 25 pounds for 9.25 days. Neither is really meaningful though. The rest of the time I pretty much did some fishing and not hiking, often spending 2 nights in one spot making up the two week pick-up schedule. I started one hike with my daughter with 29 pounds…one of my worst times overall, but this was NOT a solo hike. Not much else to do except watch the scenery & critters when you are solo.
Anyway, I understand what you are saying, but these were all rather consistent for the same person over the same distance with only one 3200′ hill in the middle (though the whole trail is hilly…around a thousand feet per day.)
Perhaps the biggest difference I could note was how I felt at the end of a day. I can defintly state that it was more tiring with the heavy pack than the light one.
I also did sections with a canoe and fishing gear, about 40 pounds total. The three times I did that, I ALWAYS managed about 50% of what I did with a thru hike or around 8mi/day.Feb 16, 2020 at 12:15 pm #3631581
Sorry Ryan – we have hijacked your initial post into the weeds:-)
I am going to do the Colorado Trail this July/August. I could do my optimal weight the first 250 miles. And then add 3 to 5 lbs for the next 250 miles (which is supposed to be more intense elevation wise).
I am more interested in the 3 to 5 lbs range as I think most of us spend lots of money trying to reduce the last 3 to 5 lbs (like the last mile:-)).
Maybe others can do such experiments and report back…Feb 16, 2020 at 6:05 pm #3631638
To be honest, IMO this is pretty much a sitting around the campfire type of conversation. Each of us is bringing their personal experience to a subject that will likely remain based on personal experience. I doubt a rigorous study of what we are discussing is likely to be done within our lifetimes, if ever. Still, it’s fun to bat it back and forth. Almost all of my experience has taken place above 10,000′, and I can say with a certainty that the difference between a 40 pound + pack and my current 18-20 load is dramatic, both in distance and hours hiked on a sustainable basis. But I, like the rest of us, I think, am an experiment of one. Our body weights, fitness levels, and genetic gifts are likely all over the map, making valid conclusions which could be extrapolated to larger populations difficult to achieve.Feb 16, 2020 at 6:11 pm #3631640
But data from an experiment of ONE is infinitely better than a theory with no experimental data.
CheersFeb 16, 2020 at 8:26 pm #3631662
“But data from an experiment of ONE is infinitely better than a theory with no experimental data.”
CheersApr 6, 2020 at 3:34 pm #3640004Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I remember when my Tarptent Moment DW was considered “light”. Now I lust after a Notch Li. And yet some SULers would consider that too heavy. Sheesh!
My Osprey EXOS pack (minus a few extraneous parts) is “light” for me but “not light enough” by some standards. However it is comfortable and for a few extra ounces I’ll take it every time.
Recently got an REI FLASH Insulated regular air mattress at 15 oz. For some a full length mattress is too much weight.
And yeah, I could lighten my 1 pound REI eVent parka. (And 1 lb. eVent pants) but more $$$, ya know. For the hard core ULers if a WPB parka weighs more than 8 oz. it’s “heavy”.
As Ryan says, it’s not always about the lightest gear but about durability (my eVent parka), comfort (Osprey EXOS pack and REI FLASH air mattress) and sometimes $$$ (that Notch Li solo tent I lust after).
Since the pandemic cancelled our drive around Spain and Portugal this spring I do have some “disposable income” – and especially since I’m retired and have no job to lose in what will be, at the least, another global Great Recession I can afford more UL gear. So that Notch Li is likely ending up on my gear wall soon. And for that 3 oz.more than the AEON Li I’ll take the double wall of the Notch. Comfort, ya know.
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