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Have you ever been challenged, pushed a bit out of your comfort zone? Where the mind and body both start feeling a bit uncomfortable; where fear starts to raise its ugly head? Lightweight backpacking is all about dealing with your fears and pushing yourself out of your comfort zones, both mentally and physically, only to make you more comfortable in the long run!

Freedom. You are ready and willing to try anything to push yourself even further than you thought possible. You are having a blast, because fear is the furthest thing from your mind. You are stretching yourself well beyond what you thought possible just a few short months ago (from your nice couch).

I saw some of these changes within myself in 2008 while planning another Philmont Scout Ranch trek for that August. I've gone a number of times and am very familiar with what to expect there and figured this would be much the same. However, in late spring, Backpacking Light announced a new series of Wilderness Trekking School courses. I signed up for the Wilderness Trekking I (WTS-I) in the desert southwest during October. I was interested in learning new skills, since I had never hiked with other lightweight backpackers, and I wanted to see how Don Wilson and Andrew Skurka taught the course.

Don Wilson was our primary instructor for the pre-hike planning via email, during which time I was also planning my Philmont gear list. Through a series of emails, I accepted a challenge from Don to go as light as I could at Philmont, which required me to scrap everything I was planning and to look again at every single gear choice. I got out my scale and weighed each piece of gear I was even remotely thinking of taking, then put all the weights into a spreadsheet. I then began comparing that spreadsheet to the gear lists of others, such as our other WTS-I instructor, Andrew Skurka and ones posted on

I started looking at areas where others were much lighter than I, such as sleep systems, tents, rain gear, clothing, and what I call 'doodads' - those miscellaneous items that are really cool, but not quite necessary, that somehow find their way into a lot of packs. In short, almost everything! I was forced to change my thought processes and to face a number of my fears. Would I have enough food and water? Would I get wet? Be warm enough? Be too hot hiking? Be comfortable enough to sleep at night? With Don's help, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone of known gear items to make some big changes in my gear and clothing.


  • Personal Equipment: Clothing
  • Personal Equipment: Gear
  • Personal Equipment: Sleep Systems
  • Crew Equipment Issued at Philmont
  • Equipment Provided by Your Crew
  • Conclusion

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