Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ultralight Means Practical

Ray Jardine is most commonly referred to as the father of ultralight backpacking. His contributions to hiking, backpacking, camping, kayaking & other venues of outdoor activities have been limitless. For decades, Ray & his wife Jenny have tirelessly explored the world, building their own gear & constantly seeking ways to improve upon their own ideas. If you've never visited their site, check it out at .

Steve Gillman is another outdoor enthusiast who's done much in promoting ultralight hiking. Steve gives a lot of great ideas, many of which I've incorporated into my own hiking & backpacking lifestyle. His site, has been a resource for thousands of hikers & wilderness students for several years. He runs the gamut with countless ideas regarding ways to shed grams & save weight, not all of which he practices himself. Of all the articles and info I've read by Mr. Gillman, one thing that impresses me is how practical he is. It's one thing to cut weight from your pack, but to go as far as some people go, I feel borders on absurdity.

Ultralight hiking & backpacking isn't just about going "light & fast," a slogan which I feel is mis-leading & not truly indicative of what the ultralight philosophy is. UL hiking isn't just about going as fast as you can. You want to enjoy where you're going & what you're going through, right? UL backpacking isn't simply about cutting as much weight out of your pack as you possibly can, but also in being a practical hiker & common sense backpacker.

It cracks me up sometimes when I hear of extremes that some hikers go to to shave a few grams off their pack weight. Things that go a bit further than cutting your toothbrush in half. I won't go into details here, but I'm sure if you've been around long enough & have dropped in on some hiking forums, you've heard or read some pretty funny things. Some of the things you'll see & hear are that which hikers make up & poke fun at, joking at their own expense. It can be entertaining. One thing every hiker or backpacker needs at all times is a knife. It doesn't need to be a Bowie, but you should have some type of knife. In my pants pocket everyday I carry a Mini-Paraframe by Gerber. There's seldom a day that I don't use it.

UL backpacking is a philosophy which I subscribe to, but not to an extreme degree. My goal here isn't to give a list of ways to cut your pack weight, as Steve Gillman has covered this in depth in his writings. Yet I'll just give some observations concerning UL hiking & backpacking.

  1. Buy reusable equipment. This may sound odd, but in this day of instant this & disposable that, it makes more sense that if one is concerned with going ultralight, they'll invest in equipment that's durable and dependable. This is more practical and in the long run, saves money. I read in a forum where a hiker was looking forward to getting some throw-away toothbrushes, where you get one use from one toothbrush. Huh? Disposable toothbrush, come on now! How practical is that? What a waste of money & time. Not only that, but how can you actually believe you're shedding weight by having to buy several of these things if you're going on a mulit-day hike? UL here means ultra-lame!
  2. When thinking of cutting weight, first think of what you want to carry. We don't usually have too much problem thinking of all the things we'd like to have with us when away from home.
  3. Next, think of what you should carry. This narrows down your list quite a bit. Of course we all bring an item or two that may not really be needed on a hike. That's our choice, and allowing yourself a small luxury in some cases is a good idea.
  4. Decide what you will carry. Sounds simple, but far too many of us have items in our packs that we bring along just because we're not sure if we should. When in doubt, do without.
  5. Focus & be concerned with what you carry, not what others are carrying. Stop telling others that they shouldn't be packing something just because you're not. If they ask for your opinion, that's one thing. But too many hikers feel that they have the authority to pick on other hikers.
  6. This is another should be no-brainer. Hiking your own hike doesn't mean that you're way of hiking is the only right way and everyone else's is wrong. If you're not carrying an mp3 player, fine, but don't expect everyone else shouldn't either. Hike your own hike doesn't mean "you hike the way I hike." 

Last year hiking the AT I met a lot of good people. Some folks I'd love to see again, some others well, you get the idea. I learned some things from both groups of people. I learned that UL is a relevant term, that it's translated in various ways. What works for one doesn't for another. What helps one is a hindrance to another. Hike your own hike, be a practical hiker & common sense backpacker. Be resourceful & take care of your equipment. Respect your fellow hikers & always be ready to help. And of course, always carry a knife. smile_wink

Thanks for reading,

~The Pilgrim.