Backcountry hunting is a categorically different pursuit than backpacking and its variations. I've tried to make this point a stark one with the epigraphical quotation, a forum post from Kifaru rep, Rokslide.com co-founder, and famous internet hunter Aron Snyder. Backcountry hunters obsess about and discuss pack weight just as fervently as backpackers, but as the above figures reveal, the foundational assumptions used by the two camps are very different. In this article I will attempt two tasks: first to describe the conceptual gulf between backpackers and backcountry hunters and how it explains the difference in ultralight pack weights between the two, and second to make an initial foray towards establishing a numerical standard for an ultralight backcountry hunting base weight.
When it comes to the evolution of gear, technique, and mindset, the ultralight standard of less than 10 pounds base pack weight (i.e. everything but consumables) has been around for an eternity. More than long enough for the term to become co-opted for every imaginable marketing angle, for cottage companies and garage tinkerers to push gear well past the ultralight threshold, and for mainstream companies to at last make gear which easily fits into an ultralight gear ensemble. I still don't put much credence in Ron Moak's infamous 2012 pronouncement that prior to the early "oughts" an ultralight baseweight required "black arts," but his larger point from the Ultralight: State of the Revolution series of blog entries is inarguable: advancements in technology have stripped much of the relevance out of the accepted ultralight standard of 10 pounds. It is much easier than it once was, if not just outright easy, to build an ultralight kit and use for just about any trip you might conjure up in (for example) the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere between April 1st and November 15th.
A hard metric for ultralight backpacking baseweight is useful for the same reason it is useful in anything, we humans love to ask for exceptions. Be it a higher baseweight figure for those over a certain height, or an extra SUL pound if you exceed a certain mean elevation, however compelling the excuse, the e-word remains nothing more than an attempt to get away with something rather than embrace the extra challenge of meeting an objective standard. There's no inherent value in pack of a certain weight, the value can only be found in the trip such a hiker can only now do, as well as the extra consideration and learning meeting a rigorous weight standard can bring about. As Ryan Jordan wrote in 2013, "For me, SUL as a mindset has motivated me not only to be very intentional about what I take on the trail, but also to be very intentional about how I count the costs of all sacrifices that I make with time, finances, material possessions, and relationships." Establishing a rigorous comparative standard with no wiggle-room helps you learn more. As will be discussed below, when it comes to hunting such things are highly relevant.
Backpacking is the prime mover of overnight ski touring, wilderness packrafting, and to a large extent alpine rock climbing and mountaineering. One does these things to travel through a given landscape in a certain fashion and see what is to be seen along the way. Even climbing is most often dedicated to experience in the landscape more than reaching a summit, witness the profusion of excellent routes which end when the good climbing does. Hunting is different. While pursuing animals in the backcountry is a good way to talk yourself into visiting and looking closely at some obscure, rough, gorgeous country, in the ends it's like Fight Club. The first three rules of hunting are that to succeed you must kill something. If you spend five days in the mountains you went hunting, and probably succeeded in executing a fantastic backpacking and nature-watching trip, but you did not have a successful hunting trip, however satisfying the overall. I say this not as a value-based statement, but to highlight the principle around which any standard for an ultralight backcountry hunting baseweight must be built. If it will help you kill your prey, it makes the cut, no matter how heavy. As will be seen below, this is a hugely important distinction, because the backpacking pieces of an ultralight hunting pack will be among the lightest items on board.
- Introduction: That Other Ultralight
- Building an Ultralight Hunt
- 35 pounds: The debate begins
- Conclusion: What's next
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