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Backpacking Light is embarking on a new series about "SuperUltraLight" (SUL) backpacking, an affectionate term that has become one descriptor for carrying a base weight of less than five pounds (other descriptors that I've heard include "arrogant", "pointless", and "stupid"). The purpose of this commentary is to expand the definition of SUL that considers a bit less rigidity, a bit more principle, and a bit more opportunity for the backpacker who chooses to study this subject intentionally.

When the concept of SUL was first introduced here in 2003 {}, I mistakenly offered as its basis a metric (one's base weight) and a performance standard (a base weight of less than five pounds). This sparked (sometimes pharisaical) competitiveness in our community that led to new standards (e.g., "eXtreme UltraLight - XUL") because too many people were adopting SUL style (and early converts were no longer uniquely identifiable by their five pound base weights). In our effort to meet these new standards, we discovered that pants with bellowed cargo pockets could hold a lot of gear that didn't count against our base weight.

In reviewing the progress of "SUL style" over the past 10 years, I had to ask myself what SUL has evolved into, and I've come to the conclusion that SUL hasn't really changed much.

I know, I know. This makes it tough to sell subscriptions. But it's true! The gear really hasn't changed that much. Down sleeping quilts are still down sleeping quilts, and they're still light. Backpacks made with whisper thin fabrics that tear to shreds in brambles and can't hold sewn seams when they're loaded with food are still around. "SUL" tents still don't hold up to mountain storms very well. There's been no drama in materials engineering for titanium, carbon fiber, or fabrics that weigh less than 0.5 oz per square yard.

I could end this article here and you'd know most of the story, probably.

Except that SUL has evolved into something much more than just the gear. In fact, where SUL in 2003 was all about the gear (and the weight of that gear), I think SUL today is independent of the gear. It's all about you, and your mindset.

If you've been around this community for the past 10 years, and have tried and practiced SUL style, then you've probably gone through some evolution in developing that style.

Here's a few highlights that I've learned along the way.


  • Introduction
  • 1. By the time my pack weight gets this light, I no longer care about the weight.
  • 2. I value durability, function, and compact size more than light weight.
  • 3. I take fewer things.
  • 4. Even when my pack weighs 40 pounds, I may still be practicing SUL.
  • Living an SUL Mindset

# WORDS: 1150

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