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Ultralight Backpacking: The "Why" and the "How"

By JackStraw in Meta
Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 05:37:25 PM EST
Tags: backpacking, ultralight, hiking, nature, howto (all tags)

Are you out-of-shape? Neurotic? Feel like society has cornered you into a prescribed job where you cannot express your creativity? Welcome to K5.

Do you desire to rid yourself of it all, move back to a more simple, pure existence, at least for a few days?

Do you want a vacation that you can't find on TripAdvisor?

Do you know that the answer is wilderness backpacking, but don't want the pain and expense that comes along with it? Or, do you love efficiency and the idea of streamlining your material existence? Then, I give here the experience of 6+ years of painful experimentation, hoping that you can build upon my learnings.

This story is about ultralight backpacking: exploring the wilderness with an extreme minimum of equipment.

The Status Quo

What is backpacking? I'm not talking here about traveling Europe, taking busses from hostel to hostel (although, I'm sure that's a fun thing to do). I refer to wilderness backpacking... finding a way to condense all of your material necessities into one bag, strap it to your back, and head out self-sustained into the wilderness. Typically, you'll spend between several days to a couple of weeks walking a trail, sleeping in a tent, and every few days you would resupply at a town along the trail (which might be the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail , or any number of others). Along the way, you'll sleep in the woods; you'll drink water from natural springs; you'll exist in the moment and experience a primordial, ascetic, wholly simple and uncompromising lifestyle.

Sound good? Here's the catch, and here's the problem that this article purports to solve: You'll walk 15 miles per day. The pack on your back will weigh 50, 60, even 70 pounds. Worse yet, it is strapped to your hips so that you walk like a drunk arthritic gorilla. Your joints hurt, your shoulders burn from the pressure of the straps... you stare at the ground as you labor under the weight of your belongings. Plus, you spent two weeks salary on the damned equipment. I will resist drawing parallels to our contemporary lifestyles, and tell you:

There's a better way.

Ultralight Wilderness Backpacking
You saunter along wilderness trails; head-up, light of breath and foot, humming sweet melodies. Life is good. Occasionally, a sparrow chirps, and you smile. Aaah. You're not sweating; you feel no pain. You walk 25-30 miles each day, but what of it? The human body was designed for traveling the wilderness, and you've harnessed its power. Your backpack weighs just 15 pounds. Your movements are unhindered by straps or heavy boots. You wake by the sun and you sleep by the stars.

Occasionally, strange frantic people pass you on the trail, laboring under Herculean loads and chanting obscenities--you smile knowingly. These are the well-meaning but misguided "traditional" backpackers, shouldering the weight of the preposterous equipment that "experts" (high schoolers) advised them to buy (on commission) at the local Sports Authority. Several minutes later, you tend to pass these misguided souls; they are usually panting, sweating, frowning, leaning against stumps.

You know better than them. If they'd ask how you do so well with so little (they rarely do), you would tell them:

"The Answer Begs the Question."
Your zen cannot be accomplished by piecemeal changes--it requires holistic, all-encompassing change.

If those sorry souls wore your running shoes, their ankles would snap under the pressure. If they loosened their hip-belts, their shoulders would ache with contempt. No, the change must be holistic; it must be a philosophy of existence, not a bag of tricks from which to pick and choose.

This is the essence of ultralight backpacking. How can an ultralight backpacker trek 30 miles per day with 15 pounds of equipment (costing perhaps $200 in all), while a highly trained traditional backpacker, having spent thousands of dollars, barely manage with 70 pounds, and thousands of dollars, of gear, to go 15 miles?

Here's the key: Assume your pack is only 15 pounds. Assume that you will walk 30 miles per day. Assume that your backpacking life will be simple, optimized, and elegant. If this was so, how little could you make due with? Will it all work out?

Below is what I've found to be the answer. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Ray Jardine and his book, Beyond Backpacking

The Ultralight Toolbox

This is an illustration comparing a typical, traditional solution, with my favorite ultralight solutions; you can and should take the surprisingly fulfilling journey of finding what works for you.

  • Tent
    • The Status Quo 6 lbs
      A fully enclosed tent with frame, medium-duty, and optimized for backpacking. Still, these tents are surrounded by zippers and multi-layer windows. On hot nights, these tents are stifling; on cold ones, they become damp with condensed moisture.
    • Ultralight 2 lbs
          Usually, a simple tarp suspended between two trees with no frame, and made of rip-stop silicon-impregnated nylon. A ground-cover protects from dirt and moisture from below. The tarp exists only to block rain, so that air flow freely. On clear nights, it is not even erected. Backpacking Hammocks are similar in weight, obviate the need for soft flat ground, and are my personal favorite shelter solution.
  • Backpack

    • The Status Quo 8-12 pounds
          These expensive monstrosities have hip-belts, adjustment straps, numerous pockets (with zippers), padding along the hiker's back, and are constructed of heavy-weight fabrics.
    • Ultralight 12 ounces
          With 15 pounds of weight, who needs a hip belt? The hiker's hips can swivel unhindered. Because of the small packweight, no frame is needed, and the fabric can be of lightweight ripstop nylon. Padding is provided by a curled-up sleeping pad (below). The importance of un-hindered hip movement cannot be understated--it is essential to efficient walking, and one of the reasons that ultralight packers can walk so far, so comfortably.
  • Sleeping Bag

    • The Status Quo 6 pounds
          A traditional sleeping bag, 2-3 inches thick, and even surrounding the hiker's head. Usually accompanied by a 2 pound full-length inflatable sleeping pad.
    • Ultralight 2 pounds
          These bags employ an important realization: the bottom of a sleeping bag is worthless. The thickness of a sleeping bag is what inhibits heat conduction, and the bottom of a sleeping bag is squished into nothing by our body weight. Ultralight bags are just quilts (i.e., they only cover the top half of the hiker), with thin "skirts" to inhibit convection.
          Further, they're thinner (1/2 the thickness, since the user wears all of their clothing while sleeping, and has natural body-heat from walking such a distance), and do not cover the head (that's what hats are for).
          Finally, the sleeping pad is a lightweight closed-cell foam pad, trimmed to fit the bodyshape of the hiker, and cut to 2/3 length. (Spare equipment is placed under the feet to provide insulation for the lower 1/3.)
  • Shoes

    • The Status Quo 4 lbs
          Most hikers wear "heavy-weight, waterproof hiking boots".  Heavy-weight is bad enough, but the "water-proofing" is just self-defeating; because these shoes have so little ventilation, perspiration produces enough moisture to cause foot blisters even in dry weather.
    • Ultralight    1 lb, very lightweight tennis shoes
          The human foot was designed to travel cross-country--so, why handicap it with heavy boots? Ultralight hikers wear extremely light running shoes which provide excellent ventilation. In wet weather, tennis shoes get wet (as do "waterproof boots", after an hour or so")... however, tennis shoes dry out quickly. Without a 70 pound backpack, hikers don't have to worry about having strong, restrictive boots to protect their ankles.
          Furthermore, an army study (not cited, unless someone cares) found that 1 pound of footwear causes as much fatigue as 5 pounds on the back--this is one of the biggest reasons to go ultralight.
  • Food

    • The Status Quo 10 pounds
          Typically, backpackers carry enough food for about 5 days.
    • Ultralight 7 pounds,   
          When traveling twice as far per day, ultralighters can carry half the food as traditional backpackers. This weight savings is somewhat offset by carrying better food, since food plays such an important part in a hiker's psychological well-being.
  • Water

    • The Status Quo 13 pounds
          4 Liters/day, with a lightweight camelback and nalgene containers, plus a filtration system, comes out to about 13 pounds on their back.
    • Ultralight 5 pounds
          Ultralighters often drink no caffeine. Without its diuretic effects, they can store huge quantities of water in their bodies. Further, because of their speed they encounter water sources more often. Finally, they tend to use iodine tablets in clean water sources, instead of filters, further eliminating weight.
  • Clothes

    • The Status Quo 4 lbs
          Most backpackers bring an extra change of clothes, including a lightweight jacket for cold nights.
    • Ultralight 2 lbs
          Ultralighters wear an "aviator hat" with compressible insulation that covers their head, neck, and cheeks. Their vest, likewise, is filled with lightweight compressible insulation (down or, better, synthetic insulation), and their single set of clothes are thin, synthetic, and easy to clean.
  • Rain Gear

    • The Status Quo 4 lbs
          A full "waterproof-breathable" rainsuit, which tends to be stuffy and humid in wet weather.
    • Ultralight 2 lbs
          Rain is miserable; ultralighters tend to use umbrellas and baseball caps to combat it, and to remain in their quick-drying hiking clothes (which get effectively washed with every rain). This solution is lighter than a raincoat--it is also far more pleasant. In cold weather, lightweight waterproof-breathable Frogg Toggs to keep the moisture out, and double as insulation on cold nights.
  • Cooking

    • The Status Quo 4 lbs
          A $100 Whisperlite stove, three pans, and a suite of metal utenstils: that's the norm. Much weight, expense, and effort goes into cooking. It's not needed.
    • Ultralight 2 lb
          Some ultralighters use Whisperlite stoves. But, most use either homemade alcohol stoves (cheap) or solid fuel Esbit stoves (the lightest and most reliable). And, come on, you only need one (very lightweight) pot, with Lexan (strong plastic) utensils. Interestingly, although cooking is a heavy and time-consuming endeavor, most ultralighters agree: it's very necessary for motivation and happiness on the trail. We go out of our way to make delicious, nutritive meals, even if it adds a few ounces.
  • Accessories

    • The Status Quo 3 lbs
          Cameras, medical supplies, writing tools, toenail clippers, the list goes on and on. It's especially easy to get caught in this trap.
    • Ultralight 1 lb, cleanly organized
          Ultralighters might carry a simple camera, maybe a 2 oz radio, and 3 ft of duct tape wrapped on a BIC pen. Generally, journals are kept on back of maps (which, besides, carries much more nostalgic value than a notebook!).Also, a 1 oz ultralight headlamp with lithium ion batteries, which are rarely replaced (since we live by the sun).
  • Best Practices

          Just as ultralight hikers limit our weight to leverage our in-born ability to travel, we also design our daily routines to fit with what is natural.

      An ultralight backpacker wakes to the chirp of his (lightweight) wristwatch several minutes before dawn. He takes down camp and packs his bags in anticipation of the order in which he'll need each item.

      Morning is cold and bitter, but we immediately start walking. After perhaps 3 miles, we sit down for breakfast. After breakfast, we walk around 10 miles, and eat lunch. Of course, we stop whenever the spirit moves us; walking is easy, but the journey is the key, not the destination. It is common to rest for five minutes for each mile traveled. After lunch, another 10 miles, and then dinner. Leaving the smells of our cooking behind, we walk another three miles before sleeping (then, the bears and rodents will not smell our food, and we needn't hoist it to the trees).

      By the time we reach camp, 25 to 30 miles from our start, we're ready for bed as the sun goes down. We scarcely need our flashlights, and wake ready for another day of trekking.

    Well, that was a long explanation--but I feel it's an important subject. Backpacking is a way to revert to our simple, primordial existence--if only for days or weeks. The ultralight philosophy draws on the innate abilities of our bodies, instead of inhibiting them with unnecessary equipment. And, god damn, it's fun, motivating, and exhilarating. I encourage anybody on this site, who's interested in ultralight backpacking, to contact me.

I want to say this in no uncertain terms: I have put unbelievable amounts of thought and effort into many aspects of ultralight backpacking, and if anyone is interested, I would love to write stories detailing each of them.


Voxel dot net
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My feelings on ultralight backpacking:
o I still don't know what it is 0%
o I've done it 0%
o I want to try it 36%
o I'm ambivalent, but this was interesting 40%
o This was useless 4%
o Why is this story not mocking Michael Crawford? 20%

Votes: 25
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Appalachia n Trail
o Pacific Crest Trail
o Ray Jardine
o Beyond Backpacking
o Hammocks
o Frogg Toggs
o homemade alcohol stoves (cheap)
o Esbit stoves
o Also by JackStraw

Display: Sort:
Ultralight Backpacking: The "Why" and the "How" | 91 comments (78 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
the lightest load of all: (3.00 / 12) (#1)
by Jobst of Moravia on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 04:45:48 AM EST

dying alone

   .,-;-;-,. /'_\ ---Did this Negro say "Street Moor"?
 _/_/_/_|_\_\) /
  ""     ""    ""

(also unloved) (3.00 / 4) (#2)
by Jobst of Moravia on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 04:46:22 AM EST

never knowing the touch of a woman (take note skynight)

   .,-;-;-,. /'_\ ---Did this Negro say "Street Moor"?
 _/_/_/_|_\_\) /
  ""     ""    ""

[ Parent ]

shoes (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by j1mmy on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 07:54:18 AM EST

these are great for any sort of outdooring

fascinating (none / 0) (#47)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:22:58 AM EST

I can't wait to try these out, thanks for the link.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]
trhurler comment $ (2.50 / 6) (#6)
by Nimey on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 09:32:45 AM EST

Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

It's too late for that now (none / 0) (#9)
by Vampire Zombie Abu Musab al Zarqawi on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 12:02:50 PM EST

The timing of this story is practically what killed trhurler. Bloody murderer. -1.

[ Parent ]
Too soon (none / 0) (#78)
by Phssthpok on Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 07:46:19 PM EST

The timing of this story is practically what killed trhurler. Bloody murderer. -1.

affective flattening has caused me to kill 11,357 people

[ Parent ]
Mosquito net (3.00 / 6) (#8)
by Nimey on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 09:43:08 AM EST

Your ultralight tent is great if there are no biting, stinging, or disease-carrying insects at all in your area.  You should at least include a mosquito net in your "tent" arrangement.

Also, s/Frogg Toggs/Ogg Frog/.

Interesting article, though. +1FP.
Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

That, or DEET. (none / 0) (#16)
by Pentashagon on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:49:38 PM EST

Or just some mosquito netting large enough to drape over some twigs to cover your exposed skin while sleeping, namely your face.

I mean, come on, primordial man had to get bit and stung a lot, and his descendants survived.

[ Parent ]

Primordial man (none / 0) (#65)
by joto on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 06:00:49 PM EST

Primordial man probably didn't like mosquitoes either. They probably knew about some local herbs instead of DEET, which we have forgotten about today. And they used fire, as the smoke gets the insects away, especially inside a tipi, cave, or similar structure. They were also nomads, and I'm sure lots and lots of mosquitoes would be reason enough to leave for another area.

[ Parent ]
It's definitely a considertion (none / 0) (#43)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 03:54:55 AM EST

That's a very important point, althought the solution depends on where you hike; in the south west, mosquitoes don't matter; in cold weather, they are uncommon also.

I agree that DEET is a very important tool, but I think that in populated areas it seems to be of less effectiveness (that's pure conjecture, though).

The Hennessy hammocks do have full mosquito coverage, and many tarp tents include mosquito nets that hang down (they're negligible in weight, but are a bit cumbersome in their use).

Mosquitoes are definitely a huge deal; I agree with you. I've been surprised, though, that for some unknown reason they don't seem to bite very much once you set down for sleep.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

CO2 (none / 0) (#58)
by kshea on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 01:09:40 AM EST

Mosquitoes are actually attracted to you by the Carbon Dioxide that you breathe out. So it would make sense that they aren't attracted to you when you're sleeping, because you're not breathing very much.

[ Parent ]
Protips (3.00 / 6) (#12)
by GhostOfTiber on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 02:24:41 PM EST

I hunt, therefor I camp.

First Aid - Forgoing the first aid kit will result in death. The correct first aid kit is the smallest one you can find plus a snakebite kit. If you're going to suggest the tape, then be sure it's the ultra sticky stuff, which makes it easy to remove splinters and ticks. The kit should have one roll of gauze and one razor.
Meals - Canned goods are awesome. Build a fire. Open can. Put can in fire. You win. If you can get a metal spork and your buck knife, that's all you need for meals. If you want to lighten the load even more, get the condensed soups. It's less space in your pack but you will need a mug for it of the correct size. Make sure you boil them thoroughly if you're using natural water also. Your fire kit is kerosene in a small bottle (CLEARLY LABELED) and a striker. Your striker can either be a self contained one or a piece of flint to smash against your buck knife. Spray the kerosene on the kindling, don't treat it like a charcoal grill.
Shoes - Military surplus. But, I think you missed the point. The padding on the heavy "waterproof" boots exists because people don't make comfortable choices. Then they've got huge gaps between their legs and the boots or they buy the wrong size or they buy huge boots. It ultimately boils down to you deciding how much ankle support you need or want. Since I need to drag 120lbs of dead animal out of the woods, I wear army boots with steel support and really tight lacing of the legging. Big padded boots are wrong - you either need low cut hiking "shoes" which are a boon, or you need military boots. Both of them should be configured when wet - wear them into the shower and lace them up as tight as you can while they're soaked and then sleep in them. Not pleasant, but they'll be the most comfortable things you'll ever hike in again. Once they dry out, put a layer of polish on them for leather military boots. It doesn't have to shine, but it's the polish, not the boot, that keeps the water out.
water - camelbak + gatoraid or in a pinch use salt. The idea that skipping caffeine is going to somehow magically help you use less water is silly. Your water isn't caffeinated anyway unless you're drinking bawls, so it's out of your system in the first day. You would be much better off carrying either electrolyte powder (gatoraid, whatever), avoiding "low sodium" soup (salt is good for you), and carrying water purification tablets. Boil water at night when you're done eating your dinner in a can (you can re-use the can) and leave it out when you sleep to cool down and you won't even need the purification tablets.
Odds and ends - Mirror (first aid item), LED flashlight, shoelaces, chapstick.

Anyway, +1 from me.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne

by GhostOfTiber on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 02:32:44 PM EST


[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

or (none / 1) (#37)
by horny smurf on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 04:02:26 PM EST

bring along your toilet slave. You can let him carry all your supplies, too.

[ Parent ]
In all seriousness (none / 1) (#68)
by JackStraw on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 01:56:31 AM EST

(1) toilet paper is overrated. Start looking for smooth, round rocks a few minutes before the deed... also, try holding onto a tree while you lean back to let it go. This seems to be a very natural way to let it out, and much more effective than our normal posture; just make sure you don't fall ;)

(2) Sanitizing afterwards is incredibly important, it cannot be over-stressed. The worst parasites multiply in your digestive tract and bet on the fact that you won't sanitize...

Effective hand sanitizer is probably the most important safety tool you can carry.

-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

Also (none / 0) (#73)
by Sgt York on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 11:59:16 AM EST

Face uphill when you poop, downhill when you pee.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

THAT IS INAPPROPRIATE $ (none / 0) (#85)
by schlouse on Sun Aug 31, 2008 at 09:08:45 AM EST

[ Parent ]
THIS IS K5 (none / 0) (#87)
by Sgt York on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 09:27:47 AM EST

(James Earl Jones voice)

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

what's the rock for? (3.00 / 5) (#75)
by horny smurf on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 08:32:18 PM EST

find a hike who had the foresight to bring along toilet paper, then bash his head in?

[ Parent ]
Soup (none / 1) (#14)
by Nimey on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:31:12 PM EST

get the condensed soups. It's less space in your pack but you will need a mug for it of the correct size.

Say what?  The condensed soups I'm familiar with will eat just fine without added water, so you can eat them out of the can and alternate bites with drinks of water.

Are there good soup concentrates that come in plastic pouches?  Those would be even better for saving space and weight.
Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

[ Parent ]

yes, it's called an MRE (none / 0) (#17)
by GhostOfTiber on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:50:04 PM EST

I only like two of them, I think they're overpriced unless you're buying 500 at a time (I still have something like 350 of them at the farm and still loathe to eat some of them), and they make quite a bit of waste. The can, at least, will corrode quickly once the liner is gone.

Anyway, campbell's makes those single serving soups, but they're not condensed and they're in plastic. My wife will bring along ramen - it's lightweight, if you can find the water to make it into soup it's a decent meal (not terribly balanced, but whatever), and if you can't find the water you can eat the noddles dry. I think it's gross and I'm fairly beefy as an individual, so lugging along condensed soup doesn't bother me.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

There's a lot of wasted space in an MRE pouch (none / 1) (#31)
by Nimey on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 11:27:59 AM EST

so that would be sub-optimal for an ultralight hiker. Maybe if said hiker cut into a bunch of pouches and stuffed one or two of them full of the entrees, making themselves a little ratfuck bag.
Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

[ Parent ]
You add water to MREs (none / 0) (#36)
by GhostOfTiber on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 02:34:53 PM EST

But a real ultralight hiker doesn't even use water, he just collects his spit.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

Huh (none / 0) (#38)
by Nimey on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 05:57:12 PM EST

Not the one I ate a couple months ago. It had a "pork rib", a couple moist crackers, cake, instant coffee, "gatorade" mix, and some kind of meat/noodle entree. Only water needed was for the drink powders and the heater. It was all pretty good except for the rib, which was too greasy.
Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

[ Parent ]
That wasn't water (none / 0) (#40)
by GhostOfTiber on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 09:00:51 PM EST

That was oil. Real ultralight hikers just squeeze out their hair.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

If you like ramen, (none / 0) (#67)
by nuntius on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 01:15:06 AM EST

try the local Korean or Japanese store.  They usually have different noodles, seasoning, and variety.

Raw "shin ramyun" (korean) broken into quarter-sized pieces with half the spice pack sprinkled over the top (save the dried veggies and remaining spice for something else) isn't half bad.

Just in case you didn't already know.

[ Parent ]

re: polish on boots (none / 1) (#15)
by Sgt York on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:33:37 PM EST

Back in another phase of my life, a very reliable source told me to NEVER polish combat boots. Not only is it verboten, but it can actually break down the waterproofing of modern (at least post 1990) boots. A SCANT bit of bootblack to cover the parts that get faded if needed, but otherwise just keep 'em clean with a brush. I never used polish on mine as a result, and I slogged through God only knows how much water, only to come out with dry feet.

I think back in the day (Vietnam, maybe even Korea) the polish = waterproof was true, but today you aren't supposed to.

And canned goods weigh a TON. It's not the can, it's the fact that it's filled with water.

Leaving the water out: Accidental experiments in the lab have informed me that sterilized water, if left in an open container overnight, WILL get contaminated with bugs. Maybe not pathogens, but it does get stuff in it. Quite a bit of stuff, actually.

And stove? Hell, that's what the forest is for. Use your steel canteen cup as a pot and your ever handy bandana to avoid leaving your skin on said canteen cup. DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

that works until... (none / 0) (#19)
by GhostOfTiber on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:57:10 PM EST

...they get well worn in. I THINK they're glued together somehow and the glue starts to give up at some point. Then again I've had these boots for about 5 years of hiking and hunting (and they may have been made god knows when since I bought them from the army-navy surplus store) and the leather itself is giving up. The argument for polishing boots is when the leather gets a bit cut, scuffed, whatever and then water gets in there, the water can freeze and screw up the boot and it gives bacteria a place to live. Even tanned, the leather will break down if you can't keep the water out of it, and the spongy middle is going to want to wick it up, then will become brittle as it dries. Some stretching is good, it's what you want and why you wear the boots through the shower when you need to break them in. This particular pair is missing significant portions of the leather face and they were resoled about two years ago and they're still cheaper than buying new hiking boots from timberland or whatever.

And bugs? We call that "bonus protein". ;)

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

*shrug* (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by Sgt York on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 01:50:44 AM EST

Mine worked fine for three years of really heavy use before I stuck an ax through one. Waterproofing (and my little toe) kind of failed after that. The pair I got after those lasted me...damn, I don't even know how long. I just stopped using them at one point. Sitting in the closet, I think. Meh, whatever works, works.

Bugs: I don't mean the "Hey, is that a mosquito?" kind of bug, but the "Oh my God, I think I just crapped out my duodenum" kind of bug.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

haha (none / 0) (#26)
by GhostOfTiber on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 08:12:40 AM EST

Your new nickname around here is 9 toes.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

Modern Crap (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by unknownlamer on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 09:24:26 PM EST

I think modern leather boots are waterproofed with some weird synthetic crap, but I'm pretty sure it wears off after six months. The main problem I've found is that most boot oil is petrolium based which does indeed destroy the leather. I've had very good luck with just glycerine soap, neatsfoot oil, and mink oil from a saddle supply company. $10 and I have enough soap and oil to keep my boots good for five years...

A quick brush down every evening with a saddle soaping when it gets grungy and neatsfoot oiling every few weeks with a good mink oiling once every four or five months seems to keep my boots wonderfully waterproof and looking as good as they did when they were new excepting a few nicks from running over my foot with a lawnmower and whatnot.

<vladl> I am reading the making of the atomic bong - modern science
[ Parent ]
neats, huh? (none / 1) (#48)
by Mystery on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:39:26 AM EST

I may have to look into this. I actually wear custom military boots I order from Corcoran every few years (side-zipping waterproof jump boots specifically) and I've been looking for a new way to treat them other than boot black.

In my experience, if you get your leather boots from a reliable company and they put a good amount of effort into making them (in this case steel shanks, supports and toes; wrap-around leather all the way up to their tops, good strong lace holes) and don't go cheap on the outermost layer... They can still last a good 4 years or so without cracking or wearing down too much. I've seen a pair totally untended by polish or brushing last 3 years of every day wear in all sorts of weather (from shoveling snow to trekking through rivers of clay-laden mud).

Personally I think the key is getting boots that are -stitched- together (even the soles) rather than just glued. Rinse them with water when they get dirty, black them when the leather starts to show through the polish even a little, and they'll last for years of good ankle support.

I'm going to try these alternative oils, I'm hoping to make the current pair last for 6 years.
Failure is not an option -- It comes bundled with the software.
[ Parent ]

Alternative Oils! (3.00 / 2) (#53)
by unknownlamer on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 10:29:20 AM EST

Neatsfoot and mink oil are standard oils (or at least were) being made from animal hooves and fat respectively. The synthetic oils are pretty bad because they end up drying out the boot in the end (something about unnatural oil being bad for the natural leather). But yeah, full grain single piece boots are the best and hold up nicely (who would have thought that high quality leather would be ... high quality) even under heavy abuse it seems.

A word of warning: don't overuse mink oil because it both darkens the leather and softens it greatly. I'd say no more than twice a year really (I like to throw some on at the end of spring and beginning of winter) lest you end up with (very waterproof) mush. It is, however, amazing what a few coats (apply, sit overnight, repeat until some oil hasn't been absorbed by morning) can do to very dry abused leather. We're talking faded and cracked leather that was never oiled or cleaned for years.

<vladl> I am reading the making of the atomic bong - modern science
[ Parent ]
Mink oil FTW (none / 0) (#72)
by Sgt York on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 11:45:30 AM EST

Normally I just use that on my hiking boots, and don't have any trouble. Keep 'em clean with a bootbrush and reapply the mink oil each winter. Smells godawful when you put it on, but works great.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Interesting points, but I very much disagree (none / 1) (#45)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:12:32 AM EST

FIRST AID: I agree 100% w/ you, this is very important; but, beyond the scope of this article (maybe a follow-up?)

MEALS: Canned goods are good (1 part of a balanced diet), but every ounce of water you carry in canned goods is almost totally wasted (considering you can refill water 2-3x/day over 5 days, there's no reason to carry wet food).

SHOES: I don't understand your point, but I think I disagree anyways ;) When I advocate tennis shoes, it's because the pack is so light that nothing more is needed... I'll detail this more in another comment.

WATER: I just speak from experience that drinking coffee really prevents my body from holding fluids in an optimal way--I love coffee, but in the wilderness I think it's self-defeating. One interesting point: we do need "electrolytes"  to function, but NaCl (salt) is rarely in short supply; we need potassium more than sodium for health. Sodium has interesting effects on water retention; but overall, I think that the rule is: eat what tastes good, drink huge amounts of water when it's easy to come by, and things will work out.

ODDS AND ENDS: I agree with you 100% on this.

Thanks for this thoughtful response.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

Re: Protips (none / 0) (#64)
by joto on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 05:55:34 PM EST

First Aid: Don't overdo this. One roll of sports-tape will do the function of bandages, blister tape, orthopedic cast, etc.... And yeah, bring your water purification pills, snakebite kit, and whatever depending on your locality. A few shots of heroin might also be a good idea in case you need something for the pain, and it's easier to get hold of than the legal stuff...

Meals: Butter, sugar, chocolate, oat and salt. You can even mix it all together for a tasty snack. Oat contains fiber and helps your digestion, as well as being easy to carry, easy to store, and easy to prepare (oatmeal). When making oatmeal, add sugar on top for taste, and butter inside for calories. Butter contains the maximum amount of calories possible per kg. Chocolate tastes good, and contains lots of sugar which helps when you are tired. Salt is needed when you sweat a lot, and it helps you retain water. If you want a more varied diet, bring a few fishing hooks... and that's another reason to bring salt (and pepper).

Shoes should be comfortable. Military surplus are usually not. In general, military equipment is made to be cheap, and last a long time, not to be comfortable. "Regular" military boots are made for strolling around in the camp (and to look "tough"), not for mile-long hikes with a heavy pack. The equipment the special forces get is of course different, and is comparable to mountain or hunting boots in a similar price range. You might be able to get SF boots cheaper with the right contacts. But get what's right for your foot, not somebody elses. Don't polish your boots, you're not in the army and don't need to look good. The best way to waterproof leather boots (regardless of manufacturers instructions) is to use a beeswax-based shoe cream. Do it before you leave, and don't bring it with you unless you're going for a trip longer than 14 days. But bring a set of sneakers, if the terrain, pack, and weather permits it, it's far more comfortable.

Water flows in rivers. It can be stored in an empty PET bottle, although the wide-mouth nalgenes are easier to clean. Water purification pills are the most weight-efficient way of getting safe water, if that's a concern where you travel. Gatorade and fancy bladder-systems add weight and complexity. We're hiking, not competing, or being shot at, and can afford to stop for a few seconds to take a drink and/or a snack.

Odds and ends: Map. Compass. Waterproof matches or equivalent. Knife. Insect repellent. Needle and thread. And of course some luxuries, such as clean socks, hand-disinfectant, toilet paper, etc...

[ Parent ]

Huh (none / 0) (#90)
by khallow on Tue Sep 09, 2008 at 04:32:42 PM EST

I had to log in and spout just because of this comment about boots. The whole ultralight backpacking thing is a bit silly. The poster doesn't mention the substantial dollars required to put a pack in the ultralight range. But there is considerable value in lighter packs and clothing.

Military boots are designed for the sort of work you mention. Hauling a lot of weight in rough terrain. If you're not doing that, then these boots are too heavy and too uncomfortable. Padding doesn't automatically make a comfortable or safe boot, but frankly military boots aren't made for comfortable, lightweight hiking.

Finally, canned food just is a bad idea. It's heavy and you end up with a lot of sharp-edged litter (the leftover tins) that you either have to pack out or bury somewhere.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

I prefer the primordial caveman experience. (2.33 / 3) (#18)
by Pentashagon on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:55:21 PM EST

Basements work.

Basements with computers in them work so much better.

This is a well-written article (2.35 / 14) (#22)
by debillitatus on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 02:29:52 AM EST

but unfortunately about an extremely stupid subject.

First of all, you're trying to convince me that people are actually choosing to walk around the woods and eat some shit from a can.  Now, I don't doubt that there are people doing this in Uzbekistan or Tanzania or some other dirtbag country where people cannot afford three hots and a flop, but I refuse to believe that any human being would willfully go through all of this bullshit.

Second, it's impossible anyway.  Everyone who has ever gone into the woods in the manner you suggested has, without exception, died by:

  • heart attack, or
  • being eaten by bears.

I defy you to prove that statement wrong.

You're coming up with some crazy solution to a problem which really doesn't exist.   In short, you're telling me that if you wanted to do this particular impossible crazy thing which would guarantee a horrible death, then you have a program for doing so with less weight on your back before you die said horrible death.  Decent sci-fi/fantasy concept, but way too theoretical.

Maybe your next article should be about lower-energy solutions to powering rockets with which you can launch yourself directly into the Sun?

Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!

I despise you and everybody who voted this cmt up (2.50 / 2) (#51)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 05:45:55 AM EST

You, and moreover the people who voted that comment up, are the reason that people don't write serious, intelligent articles on this site.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]
Don't be so presumptuous. (none / 1) (#66)
by livus on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 06:30:37 PM EST

people have many reasons for voting up a comment.

Voting something up does not necessarily mean that the voter agrees with it.

As for the comment in question, at least it engages with your subject, takes you seriously and advances an opinion.

Your ire would be better spent on comments like tl;dr kthnx bai - or my pastiche of Planet of The Apes for that matter - which add nothing at all to discussion.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

ror (none / 0) (#81)
by some nerd on Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 06:34:14 PM EST

and I despise Jack Straw, so I suppose we're even.

Home Sweet Home

[ Parent ]
a belated apology (none / 0) (#91)
by JackStraw on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 12:54:35 AM EST

Looking over my recent comments, I realized that my response was totally out of line--please accept my apologies ;)

-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]
mandatory trhurler link (2.85 / 7) (#23)
by nostalgiphile on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 07:37:26 AM EST

also sprach the Archive

+1fp, very cool article.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler

Coolmax and similar fabrics, whack or crack? (none / 0) (#25)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 07:47:17 AM EST

I sweat quite a bit and have been considering getting a bunch of Coolmax t-shirts. Are they actually any better than cotton t-shirts? Any differences in the fabrics?

It's hard to be humble when even Mr Bigballs rates me as #1 Kuro5hit.

er (none / 0) (#34)
by tetsuwan on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 12:23:38 PM EST

most fabrics are better than cotton for t-shirts when it comes to keeping you dry and warm.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

the answer depends on your needs (none / 0) (#50)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 05:19:53 AM EST

For a short hike, it doesn't really matter- wear what feels comfortable, and what is convenient.

For longer hikes, my feeling is that you want to take clothes entirely out of the picture, in terms of moisture;  that means polyester, nylon... I prefer Nylon for shirts because it's tough, and polyester for everything else b/c it's comfortable.

The key, if you're going for multi-day backpacking, is protecting against the worst-case scenario; that's what "ups" your pack-weight. That's why cotton is horrible; it's absolutely inexcusable, you just cannot include it in any major article of clothing. If you really get wet, then cotton is useless, while polyester is about the same wet as it is dry.

I make it a point to have no cotton at all in my backpacking wardrobe; as far as the trendy clothings go, I don't buy into it, but that may be a mistake... but, i've had good luck with the cheap stuff.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

Natural fabrics only IMHO (none / 1) (#52)
by drsmithy on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 07:27:30 AM EST

In my experience (admittedly not extensive with hiking), synthetic clothes of any form are less than optimal - they don't breathe well (unless they're full of holes), don't deal well with being wet, and after a day or more of wear they start to reek.

I've been a very satisfied customer of Icebreaker's Merino-wool clothes for 7-8 years now. While they've started to go a bit commercial and flashy the last few years to pander to the American market, the product is still solid from a practical perspective.

Several of the other "outdoors" companies Kathmandu started making their own Merino wool lines as well, but in my experience they're nowhere near as comfortable and don't last as well.

[ Parent ]

wool is awesome (none / 0) (#63)
by JackStraw on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 02:30:14 PM EST

I hadn't heard of these before--wool is definitely a fantastic fabric, I'll have to check it out.
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]
It depends (none / 1) (#59)
by joto on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 07:23:41 AM EST

  1. Dries fastest: Coolmax (no competition)
  2. Absorbs the last amount of water: Coolmax
  3. Smells "best" after a workout (or several days of sweating): wool (no competition)
  4. Best insulator: Wool
  5. Best insulator when wet: Wool (no competition)
  6. Most comfortable to skin when dry: Cotton
  7. Toughest in terms of rips and tears: Definitely NOT wool!

In other words, coolmax is great for sports, and if you don't mind the smell, great for hiking too. Wool is also a great and traditional choice. Cotton is not.

[ Parent ]

Yes (none / 0) (#74)
by pizzza on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 04:25:18 PM EST

I've been bike commuting a ~10 mile round trip for the past few months; I started with cotton t-shirts and would end up hot, sweaty and soaked after 5 miles. I bought one of the CoolMax polyester shirts a few weeks ago and have since bought another. They make a huge difference; they are lighter and cooler than cotton and they wick away sweat whereas cotton soaks it up.

The only downside, predictably, is that they offer no warmth whatsoever, whereas a cotton t-shirt does offer some on a chilly night. I would recommend them for any situation where you know you're going to sweat; and as far as backpacking goes the light weight is a plus and you should layer up anyways (I do for biking).
[ Parent ]

cotton & warmth (none / 0) (#80)
by rusty on Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 11:01:26 AM EST

Cotton is a little warm if it's dry, but the hassle of keeping it dry isn't worth it. Something you can wear while active plus a polyester fleece to layer on if it gets chilly is the way to go.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Your vote (0) was recorded. (2.75 / 4) (#29)
by gr3y on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 10:10:38 AM EST

You violated Rule 12: There is no "we".

The people who no doubt participate in such activities do so for diverse reasons, and have strategies as various as their personalities.

Also, you make too many assertions for which you advance no evidence. Really. "The human foot was designed"? Maybe to some brain-dead advocate of Intelligent Design. A modern combat boot weighs 2 to 2-1/2 pounds. A modern running shoe: a little less than one pound. You sacrificed ankle support, and exposed yourself to greatly increased risk of injury, to save two pounds weight, roughly the weight of a few days' stool, which will definitely be accompanying you on your Ultralight Backpacking Experience.

And you advocate some practices that are, in fact, dangerous. Like most "back to nature" enthusiasts, your perspective is one of extreme naivete, and applies only to areas of temperate climate with well-traveled trails and few man-killers.

I would have voted you down, but I am a fan of doing more with less. Most people huff lifestyle gear they don't need when they backpack.

I am a disruptive technology.

dangerous, smangerous (2.50 / 2) (#39)
by rhiannon on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 07:57:16 PM EST

You're guilty of your own accusation, if the practices he advocates are dangerous, then provide the evidence.

If you want a danger-free vacation go golfing.

In my experience you're much more likely to fall and injure yourself with a heavy pack and boots than a light pack and running shoes.

I continued to rebuff the advances... so many advances... of so many attractive women. -MC
[ Parent ]

why tennis shoes are good (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:21:13 AM EST

Let me be clear: do NOT wear tennis shoes with a 70 lb pack.

However, with a 15 or 20 lb pack, if you ankles are not prone to injury, tennis shoes seem to work really well.

I give 3 arguments here:

  1. If you wear tennis shoes, and get into hiking shape before the big event, then your ankles will naturally strengthen (they might not if you wear large boots).

  2. According to a survey of Appalachain Trail Walkers (citation not given unless requested), most people started out with hiking boots, and then switched to sneakers. Hard to argue with that...

  3. Imagine walking barefoot... you would be much more careful in your steps. Likewise with tennis shoes vs. boots; You walk at the same pace but you are more careful.

I think that a well-exercised person wiht an ultralight pack has minimal risk of ankle injury; I've certainly never had one. More risky is falling down a pile of rocks because your boots inhibited your motion...
-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]
You assert that someone who is... (none / 0) (#57)
by gr3y on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 12:15:23 AM EST

"well-exercised" has minimal risk of injury.

Of course that's true. However, most of the people attracted to the "back-to-nature" lifestyle are inadequately prepared, and they are unwilling to invest the time or money to become "well-exercised". Usually day hiking is part of an "exercise regimen", which follows a prolonged period of inactivity. And usually, the "big event" follows inadequate conditioning.

So ten out of ten for wanting to get in better shape. That's great. But minus several hundred for not thinking things through.

The problem is that the ones who overestimate their ability to negotiate terrain with sneakers and a light pack are the same ones who won't bother to become light and nimble with a 70-pound pack. The best weight training is carrying more weight. When you carry 120 pounds, 70 pounds feels like air. When you carry 70 pounds, 15 pounds feels like nothing, 45 pounds is an inconvenience.

Obviously, if you're planning to overnight somewhere, you intend more than a day's hike. The best preparation for that is conditioning which demands more than a day's effort.

Just so we understand each other, I used to average twelve miles in three hours in less than ideal conditions, carrying a full combat load, as they say. Although I never succumbed to the temptation myself, I had squadmates who liked to wear their armor under their kit, because carrying 120 pounds wasn't "hard" enough.

And as for a "survey of Appalachain Trail Walkers", I'll take the collective experiences of several hundred thousand Civil War veterans, who regularly marched thirty miles a day for days on end carrying loads up to 70 pounds.

So yes, to my original point, your perspective is one of extreme naivete, and applies only to areas of temperate climate with well-traveled trails and few man-killers, where the chance of life-threatening injury is much less, and backpacking in general is a sport, and therefore unimportant.

I am a disruptive technology.
[ Parent ]

It'll work with predictable conditions (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by izogi on Sat Aug 23, 2008 at 11:56:49 PM EST

Thanks for the article.  My usual kit for a weekend is on the order of 14-15 kg plus water.  (That's about 31-33 lbs, I think, according to Google.)   It seems like an interesting thing to do and I use lighter gear when I can, but I also have mixed feelings about sacrificing potential safety items to save weight.  It seems like the sort of thing that you'd really want to get right and that if you don't, you could be in a lot of trouble.

There are some things that you can definitely leave behind. It's not necessary to take a plate if you can just eat straight out of your cooking pot, and I know several people who use the same dish again for drinking coffee.  With other things I'm much less certain.

Unless I knew that I was going somewhere very tame, I wouldn't ever ditch my boots for a pair of running shoes.  Boots are better protection and far more stable in many situations, including things like wading through rivers (which I do a lot of).  They'll also stand up to a lot more where running shoes will potentially wear out at a bad moment.

I usually wear shorts with a long-cut raincoat if necessary, even when its raining a lot, and I almost never wear overtrousers since they'll just get wet.  I pack them though, because I've found they're essential in strong winds.  I'll definitely pack them if I'm going near high altitudes.  I also don't think I'd want to leave behind a first aid kit or warmer gear like a complete sleeping bag.  Packing a radio (I presume you mean 2-way) is okay if you can rely on someone to receive your signal and quickly getting there to help you, but that might also be very dependent on the weather.

Some things can be constructed lighter but it's just hard to get them.  eg. I really want a simple, single-compartment single-access pack, but all the major brands these days only make packs that have pockets all over them, extra access points for the same pockets with excessive zippers, and things unnecessarily hanging off them designed to look as if someone might want to tie stuff to one day.  These extras can make a feature list look more impressive to a buyer, but they'll also add 50% to the weight of a pack for not much advantage.  Having an adjustable harness mechanism is also just another luxury gizmo  for the manufacturer's benefit which adds weight for the user. Personally I'll never use it at more than one setting, so if they'd just make it the correct size for me in the first place it'd be far better.

Also, if I could easily get decent boots that weren't waterproof, I would. A waterproof seal is meaningless when water's likely to flow over the top, and some of the techniques used for "waterproofing" have the opposite effect once something actually gets wet.  eg. Gore-Tex is marketed as being extremely breathable, but it doesn't breathe at all once it's wet, meaning that an expensive Gore-Tex raincoat isn't much better in the rain than many alternatives. Once saturated, my Gore-Tex lined boots will easily take a week to dry whereas the water just runs out of simple leather boots and they'll often dry overnight.  What's important for boots is to make sure the leather stays properly treated between trips, so the moisture that gets to it doesn't wear it down too quickly.

A lot of it probably depends on what conditions you're expecting and how predictable they are. If they're predictable then going without certain things will work well. There's a guy in New Zealand who's worked quite a lot on figuring out the best products for ultralight backpacking (although it's probably biased towards NZ conditions).

- izogi

Arrgh (3.00 / 7) (#44)
by garote on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:00:37 AM EST

I'm a backpacking n00b, but it seems to me that if I was to follow these "recommendations", I would be exposing myself to serious safety hazards.

You actually sleep in the wilderness, on the forest floor, on a thin pad and a blanket?  Just how often have bugs crept in beneath the hem, attracted to the warmth of your body?  How often have they been the infectious kind?  Do you get scorpions in your neck of the woods?  I do.

If you're trimming a pad to fit your body shape, I assume you do not move AT ALL when you sleep.  That's got to make for a sore next day of walking.  I tend to move like a rotisserie, and alternate which knee I bend, so my back is always comfortable.  I would never, ever give up that freedom of movement, especially just to save a couple of pounds of weight.

A single set of thin clothes?  And you actually hike more than a single day out from your car?  When you get scuffed by a dried branch the wrong way and get a huge gash in your thin shirt, do you turn around and walk home, because you deemed your sewing kit to be too heavy?  One needle and a wad of thread isn't exactly a backbreaker (old sayings about camels notwithstanding).

I feel the same about a good pair of sunglasses.  I observe that they are not in your equipment list.  That's kind of silly.  They offer a lot of protection for almost no weight.

I'm ambivalent about shoes.  When I go bouldering I prefer a pair of tennis shoes, because I need the ankle flexibility and the better surface adhesion they offer.  But in a real hiking/exploring situation, I needs me some hiking boots.  The high-top design is not to support my ankle, it's to protect it and the rest of my foot, from sharp low-lying shrubbery and jagged rocks.  All you need to do is slip on the edge of a rock once and have it LACERATE your ankle on the way down, and it's a lesson learned.  A sock will not protect you, but even a thin army boot will.  But, I suppose, if all you do is waltz along the forest floor from dawn to dusk, through wide glens and short grass, then you're fine.

I guess there's something I just fundamentally don't understand about the idea of "ultra-light" backpacking.  If I'm carrying more, the biggest consequence is that I cover less ground, ... if I cover half the distance but in twice the comfort and five times the safety, without changing my mode of transport, what have I lost?  You yourself say, "the journey is the key, not the destination".  If I feel like carrying an iPod Nano and listening to spoken-word poetry (for example, the works of Robert W Service) as I hike, I am in clear violation of the rules.  But I've made the journey much more engrossing.  For these reasons, I have to conclude that you, sir, are a gearhead.  You've become more interested in refining your GEAR, than in actual travel.

Hey, no problem.  I understand.  You should see how long-winded the debates are among people who pedal bicycles across entire continents.  Every goddamn scrap of material is endlessly argued over, in forums just like this one, by people sitting at home typing on computers (and conspicuously NOT outside pedaling their bikes).  Welcome to the club.

great questions (2.75 / 4) (#49)
by JackStraw on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 04:55:43 AM EST


Awesome questions, the same ones I asked at first:

Re: Safety Hazards: Nonexistent; this is just as safe as normal life; although, you need to make that assessment for yourself.

Re: Bugs: They exist, and depending on your location they can be horribly annoying. If so, I suggest a Hennessy backpacking hammock; it's ~ 1 lb in weight, and bugs are just nonexistent. I've found, personally, that bugs crawling on me aren't a big deal; share the wealth ;)  But, there are lightweight solutions.

Re: Sleeping Pad: It sounds drastic, and "shaping" your pad is definitely not the first thing to cut; but, you might be surprised how your sleeping habits change when you trim your pad. Still, I hear you, and this is a 2 oz weight cut; it's something you do after you re-do your multi-pound tent, backpack, and sleeping bag.

Re: Sewing Kit: Definitley, a small sewing kit is a good thing to bring; I'm the type to ignore the rip, but if you're the type to pro-actively fix it, then you're even more hardcore than me! Right on.

Re: Sunglasses: Agreed, I didn't list sunglasses, along with 20 other things; I will write a followup article about how to actually pull this off.

Re: Shoes: You hit the nail 100% on the head on this one, and I can't agree more. When you go ultralight, and wear tennis shoes, you have to actually look where you're walking. I was surprised how easy this was to integrate into my hiking routine; I took the risk handling from my equipment, to my brain: I just looked at the ground before I stepped on it. It soon becomes natural, and no drain at all on my enjoyment of the trail.

Re: Here, I must include your well-spoken critique:
I guess there's something I just fundamentally don't understand about the idea of "ultra-light" backpacking.  If I'm carrying more, the biggest consequence is that I cover less ground, ... if I cover half the distance but in twice the comfort and five times the safety, without changing my mode of transport, what have I lost?  You yourself say, "the journey is the key, not the destination".  If I feel like carrying an iPod Nano and listening to spoken-word poetry (for example, the works of Robert W Service) as I hike, I am in clear violation of the rules.  But I've made the journey much more engrossing.  For these reasons, I have to conclude that you, sir, are a gearhead.  You've become more interested in refining your GEAR, than in actual travel.

This is EXACTLY how I felt at first, but I'm SO confident in saying that, comparing my ultralight weights vs. my old "traditional" ways, I walk in MORE comfort and MORE safety.  

Feel free to cover less ground, more comfortably; Feel free to bring along a radio (I do, also). But, while you're slowly walking and listening to that radio, wouldn't you rather have your head up, your shoulders free and without pain? I'm not against technology at all--but, I am for not wasting energy lugging useless gear on our backs.

-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

'forums just like this one' (3.00 / 3) (#70)
by daveybaby on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 06:54:49 AM EST

Sweet jesus, there are more forums like this one?

[ Parent ]
Re: - 'forums just like this one' (none / 0) (#88)
by Aphexian on Wed Sep 03, 2008 at 07:09:46 PM EST

Came out of a long lurk-hood just to say: Thank you for reading my mind and making me chortuckle. :-)

[I]f there were NO religions, there would be actual, true peace... Bunny Vomit
[ Parent ]
oh i get it (2.60 / 5) (#54)
by circletimessquare on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 11:24:20 AM EST

you want to get all of us alone in the wilderness

then kill us like you got trhulrer

nice try

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Exactly (2.66 / 3) (#69)
by daveybaby on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 06:51:43 AM EST

You'll notice that the ultralight backpack philosophy precludes the carrying of everyday defensive weaponry such as firearms, samurai swords or surface-to-air missiles.

Totally vulnerable!

[ Parent ]

flamethrowers (3.00 / 3) (#71)
by circletimessquare on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 10:31:09 AM EST

flamethrowers are the sensible choice for the recreational backpacker

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
Don't you see? (none / 1) (#89)
by lawngnomehitman on Fri Sep 05, 2008 at 11:41:36 PM EST

The POINT of carrying a 15 lb pack is so that you can carry your two samurai swords, and your eight pocket knives, that shit's heavy!

[ Parent ]
this is normal where I am in Australia (none / 1) (#55)
by danny on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 07:05:43 PM EST

At least around Sydney, most bushwalkers would carry around 12kg (~25 pounds) on an overnight walk, and my usual pack for a weekend trip is around 8kg (if I don't take camera gear).  For a week-long trip in the Australian Alps (with potential weather risk) I might reach 15kg.

I wouldn't even attempt a trip where I had to carry more than 20kg any distance!

I should add more equipment notes to my bushwalking pages.


[900 book reviews and other stuff]

um (none / 1) (#56)
by livus on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 07:20:40 PM EST

Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it.
You Maniacs! You voted it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

Not my style (3.00 / 3) (#60)
by scart on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 11:46:59 AM EST

I was a member of a hiking club for about two and a half years, during which I went on a two or three day hike once every four to six weeks. My experiance ranged from trails in commercial forests, through shrubland to desert conditions in mid-summer. I can only assume that you are only hiking during mild weather, on easy trails. Much of what you describe is simply inappropiate for general use.

I saw quite a few people who tried using tennis or jogging shoes for their first hike, but they all changed to hiking boots by their second hike. Desert sand will get into shoes, leading to severe discomfort and blisters. Deep mud wil suck shoes of your feet. Dry vegetation will cut your ankles. Crossing a river that is too deep for you to see the bottom can lead to twisted feet and cut ankles. Walking on any kind of slope will deform a tennis shoe, leading to strain on your ankles, and on a downhill slope your toes get pushed painfully against the front of the shoe. During cold, rainy weather tennis shoes provide no protection against heat loss from your feet. All of these problems are avoided by good boots. To me, synthetic boots with one set of thick mohair socks per day are the first items that are packed. My only experiance with leather boots was with cheap Chinese imports, so I can't comment on their effectiveness.

I've done a couple of day hikes with a light shoulder pack, but for all my multi day hikes I used a pack with a light frame, hip, chest, and shoulder straps. I'd rather carry a 30Kg proper pack, than a 10Kg shoulder pack. A shoulder pack raises your center of gravity, all of it's weight is transferred through your shoulders to your back, and I've never been able to strap a shoulder pack down tight enough to prevent it from bouncing. In contrast, a properly packed pack with hip support lowers your center of gravity, leading to greater stability, and  it's weight is carrier by your hips, leading to less pressure on your back. The hip and chest straps also prevent the pack from moving.

To me, starting each day with at least 4 litres of water is mandatory. I've been on a couple of routes where expected water points were dry, so I made the choice of assuming that the only water available on any trail will be at the overnight camps. In addition to the water, I always carried around 1 litre of fruit juice or cola per day, just to treat myself.

Your comment about the bottom of a sleeping bag being unimportant is wrong. If you are sleeping on the ground, then the majority of heat loss will occur to the ground. Even with a pad, you still want as much protection as possible below you. The rest of your sleeping arrangements are quite sensible. I used a 1.2 meter long inflatable pad with a foam core, a 2.5 centimer thick bag, and in cold condition I wore a tracksuit, jacket, wool cap and the next day's socks. Sleeping fully dressed in winter is especially usefull if you have to get up in the middle of the night.

I always took 2 spare sets of shorts and t-shirt, with 1 set of socks and underwear per day. A warm jacket, jeans for protection against vegetation, raincoat(wind-chill will ruin your day), tracksuit, wool cap, gloves, large hat and a pair of sandals rounded out my clothes. On many hikes this was overkill, but I also found each piece very welcome on more than 1 occasion.

Food was very important to me on hikes. After trying various foods I settled on pre-cooked, irradiated meals, with  powdered pudding and canned fruit. Cooking consisted of dropping the sealed foil packet in boiling water, and waiting 5 minutes. On many nights the guys who packed lightly were staring hungrily at my steak and gravy while they were forcing down noodles with soya mince.

I must admit that being capable of easily carrying a 30Kg pack slanted my view towards the 'more is better' view, but I feel that if you are going to spend a few days out in nature, you might as well relax and forget about any time pressure.

As I said, u can't take these changes piece-meal (none / 1) (#62)
by JackStraw on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 02:27:10 PM EST

True--you can't wear tennis shoes with your 30kg pack. But, with this equipment, multi-day hikes become more like the day hike where you used a shoulder pack.

I think the difference btwn shoulder packs & packs with hip belts is not appreciated: having your hips constrained by a hip belt makes your gate totally unnatural and far less efficient.

Pay attention to your hips as you walk down the street; they sway and rotate as you walk, transferring power from one step to another, and keeping the trunk of your body steady. Constrain that with a hip belt, and you'll tire more quickly, have more wear and tear on your knees, and be less maneuverable.

In fact, a lot of ultralighters even carry their pack on one shoulder, switching it back and forth every 20 min. or so. I do this on hot days, as wearing a pack on  shoulders is like having a winter parka on your back.

Regarding the pad: the sleeping bag bottom helps, but exchange the weight from the bottom for a thicker sleeping pad, and I think you're still better off. Compare 1mm of squished sleeping bag vs. 1 cm of sleeping pad--they're ~ the same weight.

I definitely agree w/ sleeping fully dressed.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

-The bus came by, I got on... that's when it all began.
[ Parent ]

What sort of food would you pack for this? (none / 0) (#61)
by Kariik on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 01:54:49 PM EST

I really am curious about what standard fare is, at 7 pounds of good food for 5 days. How is this usually done in regular backpacking, and in ulralight?

my bushwalking/hiking food (none / 0) (#76)
by danny on Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 12:23:24 AM EST

Some typical lightweight choices for me are: For breakfast, muesli with powdered milk - just add water.  For lunch, dry crackers with salami.  For snacks, dried fruit, nuts, etc.  For dinner, couscous with dried peas and tuna, plus packet soup.

It may sound terrible, but when you're walking it tastes fantastic.  (Just remember that things that taste good while hiking may not be so good back home...)

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

fuck couscous (none / 0) (#82)
by rhiannon on Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 05:22:17 PM EST

ramen noodles all the way.

I continued to rebuff the advances... so many advances... of so many attractive women. -MC
[ Parent ]
noodles are good too (none / 0) (#83)
by danny on Sat Aug 30, 2008 at 02:05:16 AM EST

The advantage of couscous is that it cooks very quickly (so less fuel is needed if you're using a stove) and can be made edible by being left in cold water in an emergency.

For any long trip, you want a bit of variety in your carbohydrate staple.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

you know what the advantage of ramen is? (none / 0) (#84)
by rhiannon on Sat Aug 30, 2008 at 09:06:51 PM EST

It's practically free, basically pure salt and weighs nothing, doesn't get much better than that.

I continued to rebuff the advances... so many advances... of so many attractive women. -MC
[ Parent ]
Yummy. (none / 1) (#77)
by rusty nail head on Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 06:38:09 AM EST

poison ivy in all the right places. Yes, I think this could be fun...

welcome back $ (none / 0) (#86)
by horny smurf on Sun Aug 31, 2008 at 04:00:11 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I was going to do a copycat of this story (none / 1) (#79)
by undermyne on Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 01:56:12 AM EST

titled "Ultratight Fudgepacking..." but you made it too long and there are only so many Nimey and debillatatus references I could have made.

And I lack dedication.

GhostOfTiber - "I also changed Obama's religion to "nigger" on wikipedia, it doesn
Ultralight Backpacking: The "Why" and the "How" | 91 comments (78 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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