On most trips, my primary objective is to enjoy my hiking experience. Camping, from my perspective, is simply an 8-hour opportunity to recharge before another rewarding day of constant forward progress (CFP). To be this “ultimate hiker,” my gear, supplies and skills must be optimized with regards to:
- Weight, because carrying less allows me to hike the same distance with less effort, or to hike a greater distance with the same effort; and,
- Efficiency, because if I’m not hiking, then I’m not doing what I love to do most (and usually what I need to do most) on a backpacking trip — to hike!
Ten- or fifteen-thousand miles ago I believed fervently that “light is right” and “lighter is better.” I proudly considered myself a “lightweight,” “ultralight” or “super ultralight” backpacker, and I believed that the weight of my pack was linearly correlated with the quality of my experience — the lighter my pack got, the better the hiking became.
But in my blind pursuit to shed weight, I made decisions that compromised my efficiency, thus negatively impacting my trips. In other words, in an effort to “go light” I ended up going “stupid light.” (Special thanks to Phil Barton and Pat Starich for sharing this expression with me.)
I went “stupid light” by:
- Not taking gear and supplies that were necessary given the conditions, and
- Taking gear and supplies that were too light.
“Stupid light” decisions undermined my efficiency by compromising my comfort or safety. For example, I intentionally left behind rain pants during a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail, which resulted in uncomfortable soakings by afternoon thunderstorms. To avoid becoming hypothermic — a serious safety concern — my hiking partner and I had to pitch our shelter mid-day to escape the storms and warm up. Rain pants would have allowed me to hike in the rain — and, at 6 oz, I barely would have noticed them in my pack.
My efficiency was also undermined by “stupid light” gear and supplies that lacked adequate:
- Functionality, e.g. when I used titanium skewer stakes I lost time looking for campsites with firm ground because they don’t hold well in soft ground;
- Reliability, e.g. when I used goose down insulation in wet climates, I lost time drying my sleeping bag and parka in the sunshine or at the laundromat to restore its loft and warmth;
- Durability, e.g. when I used a backpack made of delicate material, I lost time stitching tears and holes, and was forced to take circuitous routes to avoid bushwhacking;
- Ease of use, e.g. when I used thin, knot-prone, and slippery guyline cord I lost time fiddling with rat nests and retying knots that had slipped;
- Versatility, e.g. when I used a fully-enclosed tarptent, I sometimes lost time carrying bug netting and a floor that wasn’t warranted by seasonal conditions; and,
- Time-effectiveness, e.g. when Roman Dial and I shared one 900ml pot on a trip in Alaska, each meal took twice as long as it should have. Afterwards, Roman called the pot, “gram wise and hour foolish.”
Not carrying what I needed = “stupid light”
Fleece clothing is often poo-poo’d because “puffy” clothing (insulated with goose down or synthetic fill) is much warmer for the weight. But in prolonged wet environments, I will inevitably get wet. And a wet puffy is cold and uncomfortable, regardless of the insulation type. The warmth of fleece is less effected: it retains less moisture and its loft is less effected. I longed for a fleece mid-layer to sandwich between my active layer and rain shell during the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, during which numerous storms overwhelmed my rain gear.
Gaiters add 1 oz to each foot but their weight is entirely offset by added comfort and time-effectiveness. My feet stay cleaner, reducing blister-causing abrasion. And I stop less often to rid my shoes of debris. I have used gaiters on every trip since 2006, when Glen van Peski let me “borrow” his after watching me spend an hour at Hiker Heaven picking grass quivers out of my shoes, a shared annoyance among Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
Bug headnets like those by Peter Vacco weigh less than an ounce and they will preserve my sanity if I encounter a bad stretch of bugs. Buzz Burrell and I would have paid megabucks during our Sierra High Route trip, which we unfortunately did during the High Sierra’s first mosquito hatch of the season. We had DEET but it was not enough: in bad bugs, full body armor (woven pants, woven shirt, and headnet) is the only solution.
Trekking poles might be considered 6-oz arm weights, but in fact they make me a more powerful hiker by allowing my arms to assist with forward and upward propulsion, and with braking on descents. With them, I feel fresher at the end of the day, I can hiker further, and I help avoid overuse injuries. I did not start the Appalachian Trail with trekking poles but within a few days I was envious hikers who had them. When I reached the Nantahala Outdoor Center, I promptly bought a pair — and have never gone on a serious hike without them since.
A one-liter Platypus Soft Bottle bottle weighs just .9 oz, yet I left it behind on an October trip in Montana’s Absoroka Mountains because I was encouraged to “simplify” my kit by taking more multi-use items. “A quart-sized freezer bag from the first morning’s granola should work, right?” Wrong! The bag was difficult to fill and to drink from, and would not reliably hold water.
Taking items that are too light = “stupid light”
Closed cell foam sleeping pads like the Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest SoLite are more reliable than air mattresses, and usually warmer for their weight too. But they offer inadequate nighttime comfort if I have to sleep on a hard surface, like the wooden floor of a lean-to or heavily-used/designated campsites. A plush air mattress is a smarter choice.
A poncho/tarp like the GoLite Poncho Tarp a classic “ultralight” item because it is multi-functional: shelter, rain gear, and pack cover. The truth, however, is that poncho/tarps offer sub-par performance in each regard, as I discovered during the wetter stretches of the Sea-to-Sea Route. Ever try to transform your raingear into your shelter during a downpour? For dry trips, poncho/tarps may be practical if you don’t expect any windy storms or bushwhacking.
Ultralight headlamps and flashlights like the Photon Freedom Micro are usually also ultra-dim. During extensive night-hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail and in Colorado I learned that these “just-in-case” lights are inadequate for regular use — it took me longer to complete camp chores because I couldn’t see well, and my nightime hiking speed was a fraction (probably 66-75%) of my daytime speed because I kept “out-walking” my vision.
Grosgrain ribbon might seem to be an ultralight alternative to conventional nylon webbing for hip belts and shoulder straps. But after I replaced the hipbelt on a backpack I immediately regretted it: I saved a half-ounce, but the grosgrain was too thin and too slippery for the buckle, and the pack’s waist belt has never been cinched securely tight again.
Your turn: When did you go “stupid light”?
Have you ever reduced your pack weight at the expense of your efficiency? How did it impact your comfort or safety? Or why was the item too light, lacking adequate functionality, durability, reliability, ease of use, or time-effectiveness?
Tell me your story by making a comment below. Based on the responses on Facebook and Twitter last week, I know that others have made the similar “stupid light” mistakes.
As I already mentioned on twitter I do regularely shorter hikes with very low weight to test if new items are just stupid light or if it’s just because I miss certain skills. (E.g. is the tarp too small or do I just need more practice pitching it?)
This prevents me from ruining longer trips!
One important thing with “stupid light” is that it’s not universally valid! Some techniques may work for some trips and hikers. For others it’s disastrous.
E.g. I spend a lot of time hiking in Scandinavia and Scotland. Both wet and windy climates. Never really needed a fleece as two base layers, a windshirt and a rainshell was more than enough when moving. (got a insulated jacket for reststops and for the night, too.)
When I spend four weeks of hiking in Iceland I really missed a fleece! Wind and rain became so severe that my layers were simply swamped. Even a thin fleece would have made a huge difference.
A serious planning can avoid both, going stupid light as well as packing too much.
As I like to say:
Ultralight is not about a single products weight! It’s about the interaction of all parts: The gear, the trail conditions and the person!
I do not understand people that walk without ankle support. All these hiking shoes/trainers and a really stupid(sorry) idea. Buy a decent leather pair(non-gortex) and brush polish to the outside to make boot waterproof. If you roll ankle or worse brake it, how do you imagine you are going to walk somewhere without help? Hop? I will carry you due to my moral code but i will be very annoyed as will others. What about when you hit snow? If you lose a crampon those hiking shoes aint going to save you and frost nip will settle in and trust me, you do not want that or even worse frost-bite. Take it from someone Ex-Military and wear some damn boots! They may feel heavy but your feet and muscles will adapt. Another thing do not go stoveless, Buy something light but buy something. A hot brew can save your life if temperatures drop and you have insufficent warmth. I will be on the Pct in 2018 and If someone starts a ‘ultra-light is the only way’ talk i will be asking some questions that will make them look stupid. Find a comprimise people, try go light but not at the risk of your safety. Same goes for too much gear, you aint doing a Army training exercise in the jungles that justifys carrying a small house.
Sounds like you’re going to be a joy on the PCT. I suggest you be more open-minded about the selections that successful thru-hikers tend to make — I’m sure that your military training will have some relevance on a long-distance trail, but there’s probably a good reason why thru-hikers don’t approach a thru-hike from a pure military perspective.
Sorry if i came across a little big-headed as that was not my intention and reading what i wrote does seem a little too over zealous. I do not mean to step on anyone else’s preferences either. I just can’t understand why so many people do not use boots. I just cannot actually imagine using foot gear without ankle support.
As I cannot edit my previous reply I just want to add that my over-zealous reply mainly stems from my general care for others safety and as such why my original post might of seemed very obnoxious or condescending. I am trained in first aid and just don’t want to see anyone get a leg injury in the outback away from safety especially when combined with shock and dehydration setting in after time. It may be down to my experience of a broken leg to why i am so pre-cautious with foot wear and leg support. I was merely trying to mention that boots can offer that little extra support especially over uneven terrain. With that mentioned maybe i am being too overly cautious but i certainly did come across rudely which i now sincerely apologize for if i have caused anyone offence.
Except for climbing, the traditional 3/4 steel shank, Goodyear welted 5 pound monsters are out of date for hiking.These boots DO NOT provide ankle support! They may provide a wider and sturdier platform for the bottoms of your feet but they will NOT support your ankle – no boot will. Try a lightweight trail (or running) shoe before you condemn them – yes, even on a multi day backpack trip.
I’m sorry Toni, I can’t leave this alone. Have you heard this expression: “To the man who wears shoes the world is made of leather”. We hike to experience the natural world not clomp around with thick, rubber soled boots. Do you remember when Grasshopper on the “Kung Fu” TV show finally could walk across the rice paper without tearing it? That is what we are trying to achieve on the trail. If my feet were tough enough I would love to backpack barefooted (please read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall). Did you ever think that your stiff, heavy, clunky “waffle-stomper” hiking boots may have contributed to your strained, twisted or broken ankle? You simply can’t feel the ground when you’re wearing those things. The lack of input causes you to trip, roll your ankle, stub your toe and slip on rocks. I started hiking with the huge boots the outfitter recommended. After years of blisters, plantar fasciitis, lost toenails, Moleskin by the yard and twisted ankles I said enuf! I tried a method I read about years ago. It was a guy who walked the AT in HushPuppies! I used lightweight running shoes from then on and never looked back.
Fair points made there Jack and i get where you are coming from. I do get that it is down to personal comfort to what we may wear but i do not feel this should be the case when going through a environment with changing weather conditions that may involve heavy snow, the chance of rain and the lack of protection a regular hiking trainer can provide vs a higher supported and better insulated boot. This is not from my opinion but experience in training i have received in extremely cold conditions like Norway in -30c in 2005 and the years after. I may have been a little vague in my information on how i broke my leg when i first mentioned it, It actually happened from hiking trainers and was when hiking in the UK’s Lake district when i was around 14. I was hiking downhill on a very thin layer of fresh snow(Maybe 3-4cm thick) at a regular speed and placed my foot forward but after my step i realized it was on uneven ground. It was too late at this point as i had already contributed my weight forward onto the leg and felt the brake which was nothing short of very painfu and left me completely un-mobile. My gear from what i remember was only two osprey 1L Bottle’s, Sleeping bag and a roll mat as my Father was carrying the majority of our gear. This was also before i joined the Army obviously due to my young age. Since i left the Military i have only ever used boots and i will not use anything else now. My parents still use hiking trainers though so i guess it will always be down to preference. I just see so many more pros of boots over trainers if they are well looked after, The only downfall being weight which is a little heavy yes and my boots together weight 1.5 kg which many will frown at. Trainers also just fall apart much faster than what a decent boot will. PCT hikers from what i have read average 4-5 pairs of trainers on their thru-hike. From what i have read on his website Skurka is primarily aimed at speed hiking to cover as many miles as he safely can in a day. If someone is watching their weight boots may not be a viable option for this reason and if they dislike the feel/weight of boots. My fitness is also no where near what it used to be but i still can average a 25 mile day comfortably with my waffle-stompers too ;). A small brush of kiwi polish and i have waterproof footwear that is also very warm and a lot more protective to my feet which is the most important part the body when in the wild out of reach of help. At the end of the day people are gonna wear what they want, I was just giving my view from my experience and the pros and cons that come with it. My offer still stands to carrying someone if they do hurt themselves though, Providing a bear is not mauling you, I do not have experience in that matter and hope not to 😉
I’m of both minds here (coming upon this conversation many weeks later), boots and trail shoes are both good. I tend toward boots in colder seasons and shoes in warmer but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Folks get very entrenched one way or another which is ridiculous to me.
I will say that for trail use and brief off-trail excursions on longer hikes, shoes are fine but if I’m off-trail most of the time a boot is a must in my book. I worked an FS timber crew for a few seasons and traversing deep scree faces (or especially descending them) isn’t something that can be done in a shoe without injury or pain, whilst that “waffle-stomper” cares not a whit.
I wear a ton of “barefoot” shoes most of the time, from runners to sandals to casual. But I also appreciate and wear, not infrequently, true boots for times that they’re called for. It’s possible. There isn’t just right one way.
Im not sure you’ve thought about this buuut the most common foot injury in hiking is not a rolled ankle but complications of having wet feet. I’m a veteran also, and I 100% get your desire to protect your ankles. But unless you’re running over the terrain and can’t be watching each and every step carefully you’re far more likely to have wet foot (jungle rot) issues than broken ankles. And unfortunately those super durable sh*t kickers you’re so accustomed to take FOREVER to dry. I see you’re argument but both logistically and probability-wise boots have more problems than trail runners. My suggestion is to prioritize the likelihood of problems that hikers face relative to the conditions. You won’t be hiking in the moon dust that you see in the Middle East. Also I’m don’t understand why people when it rains or snows don’t switch out their trail runners for some light weight camp sandals and a waterproof sock when it’s so wet. Can anyone explain this to me? Wetness is the number one problem on a thru hike right? Then mosquitos, then rolled ankles and falls? Right?
Check out altra trail runners and zeroshoes sandals in case you have a change of heart. It won’t hurt to have a pair ready to go.
I totally understand Tony’s point. I hike in trail runners in summer/spring and in boots autumn/winter.
I’m grew up in Italy, hiking in alpine environment (cold, dry), now I live and hike in New Zealand (temperate, wet/muddy).
Not army here, but entertainment rigger, rope access tech, rock climber and ex trail runner.
Just recently I’ve hiked for a couple of hours straight up a very narrow, muddy, bushy track completely falling apart as a flash storm occurred. Never been so happy to be wearing boots.
Oh and I really didn’t like all that “you and your bulky/heavy/stompy boots” kinda thing some pulled out, there’s plenty of amazing gtx ultra light boots on the market, very aggressive but warm and tough.
Tony – maybe you’ll believe research from the US Army.
They found that low-cut boots didn’t provide effective ankle protection. Experiment for yourself and you’ll see – if they are loose enough for comfortable walking they provide minimal support. The whole “walking boots protect the ankles” thing is an old-wives-tale – there’s no research to back it up. I know – I’ve looked.
The Army research found that high, para-style boots didn’t reduce the frequency of injury, though they did reduce the severity somewhat. But very few people would fancy hiking 2400 miles in para boots – good luck if you want to try.
Against that minimal protection you have to factor in the higher stack height, which creates dangerous leverage if you do turn an ankle, the much greater weight, which causes fatigue that increases the risk of injury, the rigid soles with no ground feel, which reduce balance, the major hassles they cause while crossing streams (there are days on the PCT with dozens of stream crossings), the greater risk of blistering (I have broad high-volume feet and have never found a comfortable pair in 50 years of trying), the fact that they take days to dry and are very heavy when wet… There are reasons why 99% of experienced thru-hikers prefer trail shoes. We’re not daft, you know.
You mention the Lakes, which is where I live. You say you were wearing trainers when you were hurt, but there’s a big difference between that and a well designed soft-ground trail-shoe. I follow the SAR stats, and the 7 teams here are carrying out around 1 ankle casualty per day. Talking with the teams, the vast majority are wearing boots. They are certainly no magical solution to the risk of ankle injury.
I started in the days when we all walked in steel-shanked monsters, but now I use lightweight but robust zero-drop trail shoes and would never go back. I can use them safely and comfortably in hard frost conditions with wind-chill in the -20C area – lower if I use a vapour barrier. In icy conditions I use fell-shoes with enough rigidity to allow edging on 20-30% slopes. If I was in a situation where losing a trail crampon would be dangerous I’d be carrying an axe and would simply cut steps. But my trail crampons have been just as reliable as any walking boot crampon – it’s a non-issue.
I have a bad ankle and am super-aware of the risk of injury. I have far fewer issues now than I ever had in boots. It’s literally years since I turned an ankle, and I’m out most days on very gnarly terrain. When I wore boots I injured my ankle multiple times per year.
Hiked the Appalachian trail up and back down with 50 lbs of gear in properly supportive boots and an alice pack and made better respective time and traveled in more comfort than i did my similar there and back colorado trail hike with ultralight gear. I traveled in greater comfort, ate my fill and had far less bathroom troubles and sugar crashes, and overall enjoyed it immensely. Dominant paradigm conformity doesnt ensure a pleasurable hike. I think the fundamental flaw of ultralight philosophy is that it focuses on weight instead of a ratio of strength to weight. i had guys stopping to explain to me that id never make it through the ap trail that way my whole way up, and my whole way down.
If you’ve had to hike 2600 miles while in the millitary, you’ve failed your country or your country has failed you. Use a vehicle. While you might have experience walking a few miles with a lot of equipment, it’s unlikely you have experience walking as many miles as the PCT.
Instead of trying to understand the people, how about try understand the mechanism? A boot has more material to rub and generate heat. There’s more weight to lift. You’re less agile. They’re more expensive. They allow less room for certain muscles to move (this can be a negative as well as a positive). Some people injure themselves more with them because they think they’re impenetrable.
I would bet successful through hikers have more experience than you at through hiking the PCT. Your experience shooting your own team or patching up your team after they’ve shot themselves (or whatever it is the US military like to do these days) isn’t the same as through hiking.
Hiking poles are ankle support if you think about it but I assume a militant would have troubles wielding a gun and two hiking poles, so I doubt they’re standard supply. I’ll never understand why people who’ve served in the military always bring it up… You could be swimming the channel and they’d say how they trained in cold water for a few hours so their experience is relevant!
“With that mentioned maybe i am being too overly cautious”
I don’t think that’s the problem. Your biggest problem is misleading others. There’s several reasons 99.99999999999% of successful PCT through hikers don’t wear boots.
“waterproof footwear that is also very warm”
Are you planning to drink your sweat after you’re dehydrated from asking your intelligent questions?
“Another thing do not go stoveless”
Does it taste better boiled?
“i will be asking some questions that will make them look stupid.”
I’d just tell you to fuck off and go eat a blister. You’ll have plenty.
I hike for some peace and quiet, not to be interrogated.
I have to comment on the Shoe/Boot warfare.
Obviously there is a terrain/weather/activity for boots.
And, obviously there is a terrain/weather/activity for shoes.
Everyone has their own style, and distance, of hiking.
So it is quite meaningless to try to lecture each other about footwear on social media.
Yes, I am an active duty Army Officer, but I would never get the idea to tell civilian hikers that they must wear boots.
The primary purpose of military boots is not comfort, or even ankle support.
They are mainly for protection against rocks, shrapnel, and other cutting debris.
They are purposely thick and heavy in order to last in severe combat conditions without access to repair service for long periods of time.
A hiking situation rarely comes close to these conditions, and there is no practical reason why a civilian long-range hiker should wear army boots, unless he wants to.
Yes, by habit I always wear my boots when hiking. But that is my choice, and I would never force it onto anyone else.
Regarding the boot/shoe warfare:
I am an Army Officer but I would never lecture civilian hikers on what footwear to use.
There is a weather/temperature/activity for boots.
And there is a weather/temperature/activity for shoes.
Army boots are not primarily designed for hiking comfort, or even for ankle support.
They are made purposely heavy and thick in order to protect from cutting debris and to last in a combat environment for a long time without repair service.
Yes, by habit I always wear my boots when hiking. But I would never get the idea to force this concept onto a civilian long-range hiker.
I think most serious hikers are well capable of judging their own footwear needs.
To lecture others on social media is a meaningless activity.
Hey don’t be a soup sandwich. Even if he’s the most condescending pompous ass, it doesn’t help to try to belittle him. And wtf have you sacrificed for anyone that makes you think you have any idea of the perspective this guy has. Not all military personnel are talking heads with one track minds. In fact most military personnel aren’t. He has experiences that are different from yours and if you can’t respect the fact that while he had to be concerned about safety, managing his body temperature in 115 to -10 degree temperature changes in a 24 hr period while carrying 80 lbs of gear or slowly cooking his innerts in a tin can all the while wondering if the next mortar, bullet, APR, IED, insurgent or poorly trained 3rd party national will cost him his life, then AT LEAST have the decency to say nothing about it to him because he sacrificed his freedom to give you the freedom to say anything. Nothing you said was at all helpful. You just sound like a degenerate millennial squalking because of your ill informed opinions and “feelings”. Stop trying to imagine what /how he thinks and grow a sack put on a uniform walk a few hundred miles in his shoes then maybe what you have to say on the military and the people who serve in it MIGHT have value. Douchenozzle
Is it helpful to “belittle” the belittling?
What the heck your response to the military gentleman was incredibly rude and offensive. He was just giving his opinion and you attacked him and his career personally.
Ex Military, US Army retired Hell with those boots. They SUCK. Pure crap.
Tony even the military have moved away from old heavy leather boots to much lighter low fitting AKU boots. Tech moves on as does equipment. I was in 2 minds about boots V trainers until I tried altra,’s this year. All I can say is I will never go back. Oh by the way I am and have been for 20 odd years a serving soldier.
Our ancestors for thousands of years walked with heavy loads in minimal foot coverings.
Trail shoes require trained feet (stronger) and trail sense (the eyes that feet have to step without me looking).
However, I would not wear low cut trail shoes with a military load on my back.
Another excellent and well written article Andrew!
I agree. It’s a great article!
Great post…I’ve been there and done that. However it is definitely easier and less painful learning from others…your points are great and right-on!
Perfect timing! This very topic and some of your recent comments about “stupid light” were the focus of many miles of conversation along the AT this past weekend. I think the pursuit of UL or SUL backpacking is so alluring that we lose sight of what it’s all about, enjoying the hiking. I guess I’ve settled on a comfort weight that is light and effective for my needs, but I had to go to extremes to realize that – hopefully this post will help others avoid that.
My two examples of stupid light fall into your category of getting a good nights sleep/rest. I’ve sacrificed a lightweight inflatable mattress for closed cell UL option and have regretted it every morning I’ve woken up with back ache. I also chose to use my head net for a “pillow” stuffed with my unworn layers instead of a more sensible and comfortable option – stupid light. I’ve since learned that my comfort when sleeping is probably one of the most important factors for me on longer hikes, so now I carry a little extra weight but sleep much better for it 🙂
Great catch on the grosgrain ribbon fix – another one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” type of modifications. I appreciate your honesty in sharing this with us, it’s great to see that even someone as accomplished as you can make stupid mistakes. There’s hope for me yet…
Wow, a headnet used as a pillowcase…haven’t tried that one before. Seems like a great way to destroy your headnet.
I’d mostly agree with your statement that sleeping comfort might be the most important type of comfort. I think the other is hiking comfort — if you want to hike all day regardless of the weather, an extra layer or two can really extend your comfort zone in inclement weather and avoid a mid-day or early camp.
I use my headnet as a pillowcase too, works great :). http://goinglighter.blogspot.no/2011/09/headnet-as-multi-use-item.html?m=1
If your headnet is made of the same material as mine is, there’s no way that I’d want to use it as a stuff sack or pillow, especially when I always have a sil-nylon stuff sack available (the one I use for my sleeping bag).
Ha! You can definitely blame your good buddy Mike Clelland and his Ultralight Backpacking Tips for suggesting the use of a head net as a stuff sack 🙂 I’ve never personally had an issue with it getting damaged that way and using it for a pillow was the obvious (stupid) progression. Luckily I have seen the error of my ways. +1 on the minimal extra layer for weather protection.
Andrew, I am curious to know what you typically use for your sleeping pad and pillow, if you’re willing to share?
Sleeping pad: depends on conditions. When I’ll no choice but to camp on a hard-packed surface and/or if the trip is casual, it’s hard to justify anything but a NeoAir. If I’ll be able to find soft campsites and if I’m weight-conscious, the Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest SoLite gets the nod. For winter use, the RidgeRest Solar is my pick — it’s the only *reliable* pad that’s warm enough for winter use.
Pillow: usually a sil-nylon stuff (used during the day for my sleeping bag/quilt) filled with Platypus bottles, unused clothing, and/or my tarp (if I’m cowboy camping). I also “landscape” the ground to build up a natural pillow, or look for ground with a natural incline where my head will be.
Mine is made of nanoseeum and seems durable enough for my trips (1-2 weeks long at the most). It’s probably not a good option for longer expeditions though.
Great post. Sharing past mistakes is probably the most interesting kind of advice you could have shared.
Andrew, the RidgeRest Solar, according to Amazon add, has an R-value of 2.8 which seems a bit lean for Winter. What else are you doing for warmth with this foam pad, a synthetic sleeping?
It did the job for me, although I understand your skepticism. I wonder if its R-value is under-rated, because it’s a static 2.8, whereas I bet that air movement inside of an XLite-style pad temporarily reduces the R-value.
There would be some air pockets I suppose if you used it atop a ground cloth or on a tent floor. I tried a Z-Rest (R=2.2) in Winter, and although I did not get cold, it did melt a pattern into the frozen ground and when I pealed away the tent, there was a frozen convoluted foam pattern which is a sign of heat loss. If you ever have an increased R-value solution that allows a lighter sleeping bag/quilt, I would be interested to hear about it in a future post. This assumes the net weight of the combination is less. Your Blog is awesome. Thank you.
Great article Andrew. Can’t say I’ve done enough backpacking to venture into the SUL category. Just wanted to say thanks for the humility and thoughtful article.
I think my bigger risk is being SUL on long dayhikes. I have a bad ankle, so I really do take the bare minimum. The point is self reliance, and that was broken in 2003 when I became subject to a SAR. I lacked raingear for a dayhike at 9000 in May in CO. It was a short morning jaunt assessing trail burnt in the Hayman Fire. The trail disappeared and so did we. Totally lost, no compass, no topo. Not so much SUL, as S!
Too numerous to list, which is why I now focus on my needs more than pack and skin out weight. Here are a couple of salient examples, though.
Not carrying a fleece and a thermal jacket in summer to prevent getting chilled from rain jacket wet out. I carry both now.
Trying to sleep on a GG nightlight pad on wooden platforms under a tarp, just so I could say I had a sub-10 pound load. Carry a neoair xlite and a sit light pad now.
Taking Northern Lite snowshoes instead of MSR Lightning ascents because they’re lighter weight, when what I needed was a televator and more robust crampon traction for mountain climbing in winter.
and many more.
I know this isn’t really what you are talking about and most people don’t carry them (but individual needs vary, right?). Stupid light for me has sometimes been to not take any kind of book. They can be worth the weight, for me (generally on longer trips when the weight factor is more critical anyway!). For some that weight would be better used for an ipod or some such, which I also usually carry but never listen to when actually walking (nano). But sometimes (when pinned down by the weather, for example) I REALLY miss having something decent to read. For a long trip I generally plan in advance what book I’m going to take and save it just for that trip.
This is a great point, and I was hoping that someone would say something like it. For me, my trips are almost entirely motivated by a love of hiking — and therefore it’s critical that I minimize weight and maximize efficiency. But other backpackers have different motivations, and it sounds like you at at least some strain of “ultimate camper” in you (defined as a backpacker whose primary objective is camping and extra-curricular activities, e.g. hunting, birding, and reading). For you, then, a “stupid light” decision could interfere with your enjoyment of that activity. It would be the same if a hardcore angler only took one fly to “go light,” then lost it with his first catch. For me, leaving behind a camera would be “stupid light” too since I really enjoy documenting my trips. (I think we all have a little bit of “ultimate camper” in us — frankly I don’t think a pure “ultimate hiker” would actually be fun to hike with.)
Why do we hike? The answer to that question is fundamental to the answer to the stupid-light question. As Carol Crooker, one of Ryan Jordan’s BPL colleagues, summarises in her article “Can A Sane Person Truly Enjoy SuperUltralight Backpacking?”:
“Let me be the first to say that I am happy that Ryan and Alan have the requirement of “without dying,” when they throw physical comfort out the window. What I’m driven to understand is, in what conditions, if any, can SuperUltralight backpacking – pack base weight under 5 pounds – be enjoyed by the sane among us?”
I don’t fancy that sort of hiking experience, although I am sure I could deal with it if absolutely necessary, and I think you balance your kit against your desired experience as much as anything else. I agree with David’s point about a book for example and, as a photographer as well, I take a DSLR into the hills now which weighs around 2kg for body, lens, pouch, cloth and filters. Also, I get paid to take photographs so I need to take that much into the hills – again it comes down to why you are there, doesn’t it?
I also like your point on fleeces. I think we have moved away from simplicity in our kit selection, seduced by wily marketing. Sometimes, simple is better and fleeces are still popular today because they do a great job.
Great article and thought provoking.
Reading: I noticed the dates on some posts are 3-years old. Technology has been marching right along. I plan on using my Kindle Voyage at 199 grams (7 oz). It not only has enormous book capacity and battery capacity, I can also upload reference material including guide books.
I am a reader and wrestled with the book question. I have friends who carry hardcover books! And after I am done ridiculing them, I often want to beg to borrow them when the are not being read. It just recently occurred to me to download an audiobook onto my ipod nano, and while not a perfect solution, it is quite nice to listen to a book in the evening. I’m just amazed it took me so long to think of it.
Norman Clyde, the greatest mountaineer of the Sierra, liked to carry hardbound Classics. He preferred that they be in the original Greek or Latin, though. That way, he said, “they last longer”.
Of course, he was known as “the pack who walked like a man”
A Nook can hold a plethora of any books you want and weighs next to nothing. It’s also super thin so doesn’t take up any room. Add in a small, lightweight solar charger (can be used for both the Nook and your cellphone) and you can read till your little heart’s content….
My prime objectives are hiking, summits and packrafting. I don’t choose my routes on the basis of what seem like good places to camp, don’t generally stop early and try and get off as early as possible in the morning. But I sometimes really miss a book. It does seem to be a luxury I don’t afford myself in other gear areas. I am more likely to leave my ipod at home. But never my rain pants! 🙂
Brilliant article! Thanks for sharing!
I spent years packing light (due to our survival and bushcraftbackground and military experience) but like you said… It’s also about responsibility, comfort and conditions!
We’ll organise a ultralight Challenge in March, 2013 and people are only allowed to carry 5 items… Really interesting and around this time I’ll contact you with more details, discussions and gearlists! I posted your article on our FB. Grtz, Johan
Great article. Cutting the weight is only effective if you still have the gear you need. So many people forget this. Thanks for some great examples.
Oh, stupid light! Been there done that.
A few examples —
– Carbon fiber trekking poles that are really ultralight but not able to take the load when I slipped on a creek crossing. Snap!
– I am a significant pronator, just born that way. Trendy ultralight shoes with a natural fit were a bad idea for me. I hiked a week on a high route that way but with sore feet.
– I tried one of those ultralight single LED squeeze lights. Wow it was dim on a dark night. Worse, when the switch was flipped in my pack the battery faded. It became ultra dim too.
– Carrying too few calories saved ounces but didn’t make for a fun hike. At least I learned that lesson on a short trip.
– Just like Andrew described, carrying inadequate rain gear brings your hike to a stop while you fight hypothermia.
– In an effort to try out a quilt, I cut down an old sleeping bag. I knew it had lost loft. But it didn’t’ quite reach around me either. It made for a couple of cold nights.
On balance most of my stupid light gear resulted in lessons learned and type 2 fun. I have had plenty of stupid heavy gear experiences too — water filters, 8 pound backpacks, heavy stove/fuel systems, and unnecessary clothing.
Some of my best fun in backpacking has been working with Boy Scouts. No matter how closely we adults try to coach wise choices there is always a young guy that leaves his sleeping bag at home or has his patrol carry an entire case of Dr. Pepper. There is the one guy that brought a pair of insulated coveralls in place of a sleeping bag. On a relatively warm night he didn’t seem to suffer. But it was an odd piece of gear in the backcountry.
A recent trip comes to mind- a 2 day winter wkend trip to the Porkies. A good route planned, thorough packlist, my typical winter gear, and a last-minute choice to save about 8 oz taking my Therma rest Z rest instead of my 1″ self-inflating pad (the latter which I had used in winter almost exclusively). thinking, “people use foam pads in the winter, right?” Despite a hefty -15 down bag in temps barely in the 20’s, I could not sleep and was cold all night. I put every bit of clothing, gear etc between me and the pad, boiled water in a platy, telling myself I had the skills to figure this out. At about 6 am I called it a failure and rose to pack. Decision time to push deeper into the woods, or abort the trip-perhaps I could scrape away snow cover to find a good pile of leaf litter somewhere? Ultimately morale was lost and I headed out defeated. Reassured myself I was still a savvy backpacker, and that I could return to the Porkies next time a smarter man. Next time a total packweight of 22# ain’t gonna be all that bad for a wkend in the winter!
I am finding that I would like to use an inflatable mat more often but being 6’5″, 230#s and a side sleeper it is hard to find an affordable one with the Thermarest starting at $180 for the lighter ones. I have an old pair of Leki Makalu Tour poles and that are from about 10 years ago. I went into a store and what I paid for these higher end ones is now the price for the low end ones. Are there any good suggestions for items that have a good mix of durability and lightness while still being affordable?
Fixed-length alpine ski poles will be substantially less than “trekking” poles, especially if you buy the ski poles in the Spring. And they’ll be much lighter and stiffer than the low-end trekking poles. Two problems: the grips are usually rubber or plastic (rather than cork or foam) and they don’t have carbide tips.
That said, I’m okay with spending good money on trekking poles. They are in my hands all day and their performance is really important to my hiking experience. I see a lot of people who go “stupid cheap” on poles and find that they’re too heavy and too rough on the hands.
I can’t count how many times I’ve purchased gear because it was cheaper than the item I really wanted and/or than “the good stuff”. In EVERY case, I was unhappy with some (or every) aspect of the cheap gear and either sold it at a loss or gave it away and bought the good stuff anyway.
Net result: I spent MORE money, and enjoyed my hiking less, while “stuck” with the cheap gear.
Now, I find a way to afford quality equipment and figure, if I can’t afford it then maybe I shouldn’t be doing that 🙂
PS: “Stupid Cheap”. I love (and finally live) that term as much as “Stupid Light”.
“Stupid cheap” is a good principal to live by, beyond your backpacking purchases too. In the long term it’s better to buy quality — it’s more cost-effective and you’ll be happier — hence, for example, my saving up to recently buy Wusthof Classic Ikon knives and Cuisinart cookware — I won’t have to buy new knives or new pots until I’m almost dead!
LOL. I can attest to that. I still use the Wusthof knives and Farberwear Advantage cookwear received as wedding gifts almost 29 years ago.
I hear you, John. The Car Talk guys used to say, “It’s the stingy [person] who pays the most.”
I don’t think it’s always true (cf. Fancy Feast Stove) but it’s something to carefully consider when making a purchase decision.
Almost forgot to tell you about two major incidents where I was going stupid light.
Well, on the first occasion I wasn’t light at all. I carried around 25kg while hiking in Norway up on my way to the North Cape. (those were the days).
To save at least a minimum of weight I decided to leave my rainpants at home… (During earlier trips in Norway I mosty encountered good weather). BAD idea. 5 weeks of hiking. 4 1/2 weeks of pouring rain. Temperatures around 5-10 Celsius…. Guess this falls into your fun2 categorie. No fun to do but fun to talk about later…. 😉
The second incident just happened this spring while doing a rather short hike in Ireland. A really gooood advice: Bring some chocolate, a small cake or a tiny candle with you when you know your wife (my hiking buddy) is going to have birthday along the trip. If you forget it. Well, it’s much worser than having no rainpants…
Stupid light/stupid heavy…it seems the the contents of my pack are in a constant state of evolution based on weather, season, terrain, duration of adventure and so on. I think the biggest mistake I’ve ever made is packing my pack with a generic packing list and not taking into account all the other variables out there.
Great point. I laugh at those generic gear lists — by trying to be relevant to every trip they end up being relevant to none. Too bad that a lot of outdoor institutions use such lists to prepare their students/clients/Scouts. Their thinking apparently goes, “If we tell them to take all of this stuff with them, they’ll be prepared for any trip we schedule in any location at any time of year.” Unfortunately, having a mobile home on your back is simply not compatible with joyful hiking.
Loved the article…and very timely! Leaving in a few days for a 4 day backpacking trip in the High Uintas in northern Utah, and your article helped me to stop second-guessing my decision to bring the needed supplies for my daily morning cup of hot tea. Those few ounces will go a long ways towards my ultimate enjoyment of the back country.
Very effective piece of writing. Besides being informative, it demostrates that you are not a machine afterall 🙂 I like the part about documenting your trips with a camera. That seems to be my primary reason to hike. I have one question. Is there such a thing as stupid heavy? For example, I have tried to sell the idea to fellow hikers of bringing beer along on a two day one night trip into the backcountry. Is that stupid heavy or just stupid?
The logistical structure for the “stupid light” concept could easily be rearranged to explain other stupidity:
On a 3 night trip in SNP with 2 friends, two of us decided to surprise the 3rd with 3 cans of Guinness hidden away in our packs. The look on his face when we busted those out on night one was priceless.
So…packing beer = stupid awesome!
Awesome perspective! I started researching UL gear when I injured my foot, six months before our two-week Scout backpack, and I managed to drop maybe seven pounds. But given where I hike, and my somewhat cranky back, I chose to keep the internal frame pack, the NeoAir, and the heavier-than-DriDucks raingear.
I’m tired of feeling like “less than a real backpacker” because I use tools to keep me healthy and happy on the trail.
Oh, and I took a book on my last trip…on the smartphone that I couldn’t safely stash in the car.
For me it was a lot of the little consumables like toothpaste and extra alcohol for the stove in addition to having some items in their original form like having a full handle on my spoon and toothbrush.
For me it was more of an environmental concern also where I was trying to use a Light My Fire to start an alcohol stove instead of a Bic. Very hard to do without the Bic.
I think a lot of us fall into stupid light territory with #2 on your list – “taking gear and supplies that were too light.”. I know that I’ve reduced and reduced some items until you get to a point where it becomes stupid light and non-functional.
It’s ok to fail and go stupid light as long as you learn from it. Ideally you test out a new idea on a very short trip and also only test out one or two potentially too-light options per trip. There is no way to know until you try something.
Realized my old-school external frame Jansport wasn’t going travel well even as checked baggage on our trip of a lifetime to Montana a few weeks back. I had an excuse to buy that ULA pack I’ve had my eye on for nearly 5 years. A 2 hour drive to Bluff Mountain Outfitters in Hotsprings and we (my wife, Dana, and I) were ready for our fittings. Hours later I realized this pack was just not going to work for me. The amazing and oh so patient staff at BMO convinced me to try several different packs with different hip-belt and shoulder strap configurations. Finally, after an entire afternoon, we both ended up in heavier packs than we wanted but they carry like a dream. In my case I think it’s due to my 6′ 3 1/2″ frame. I still recommend ULA to pack shoppers but more than anything I recommend a fitting. Light isn’t always better and a good fit is most definitely the way to go. Great article, Andrew! Thanks!
I too made the mistake of taking a foam sleeping pad because it was light. I spent a very uncomfortable night in Hurdbrook Lean-to trying fall asleep on this pad.
Nice article. Thanks for being real;)
I’m surprised to hear you use a ridge rest. In my experience the GG pads are a lot warmer for the bulk/weight, though the ridge rest is certainly squishier. I haven’t tried the solar though.
I have used the GG pads and like them. But they are not reliable because they are occasionally out of stock, whereas I can always get RidgeRest pads.
Being smart about the weight of gear and efficiency of gear off course doesn’t disqualify the concept ‘light is right’. It’s all about finding the ‘light’ that is ‘right’ for you.
The only time a mistake becomes “stupid” is when it is repeated more than once, otherwise it is experience, which becomes wisdom. I have tried many suggestions from Andrew and BPL and others over the years, because they were experts and I follow what they do and say and because they have more experience, only to discover that the way I was doing it was, infact, best for me. This has included trying lots of different products; sleeping pads, stoves, headlamps, water filtration technics, etc. Some of course have been very good ideas; going to softsided water bottle instead of Nalgene bottle, Going with not only a lighter pack but smaller pack, etc. But in the end my advise is stick to your convictions. It does however give one pause to realize the influence those we admire and follow have over our decison making power.
On a trip last week, I brought some very thin and light but tangle prone bear-bagging line. In trying to toss it over the bear hang, I was in a rush. It got tangled, and neither I nor my wife standing on my shoulders could get it down. Thankfully, we could cut enough off to still hang our food that night (just barely).
Andrew, what do you carry for bear-bagging line? Is this stupid-light or just user error?
Unless you are really good at it (read the tutorial on BPL by Kevin Sawchuk — he is one of the best at it) hanging your food is not so much stupid light as just stupid. Either the bear will get the food because it’s a crappy hang-job, or the person hanging the food wasted their time hanging food for a bear that will never come.
I’ll check that article out. However, bear hangs are required in GNP.
The Park Service is probably aware that food hanging is an ineffective method at protecting food. If there were a serious bear problem, they’d require bear canisters, like Yosemite and other “Jellystone”-type areas do.
Andrew, are you saying that you don’t hang your food unless required? I really struggle with what is the proper way to handle food. There are so many different opinions out there. How would you store your food in some place like the Uintas where there are only black bears and they don’t seem to a problem vs maybe the Winds/Tetons where there are some grizzlies? Other places like GNP or YNP are pretty straight forward because there are regulations in place you have to follow. Maybe there are no good answers.
I don’t use just one technique. There are no perfect solutions to protect your food, including the use of canisters — there are plenty of documented reports of bears destroying those too. Read this article: https://andrewskurka.com/how-to/food-protection-techniques-in-bear-country/
I prefer trees and rocks, if available, to stakes for pitching my tarp. When I need stakes, I prefer y-stakes: they hold better and they usually blunt rather than bending when they hit a rock going in. Skewers are lighter, but they definitely need firm ground as you pointed out. And ground can lose its firmness quickly under a good rain.
I once had a couple of skewer stakes come up causing my tarp to lose its pitch under a rain. I was sound asleep at the time. The tarp sagged enough for water to collect and partially freeze. The weight eventually pulled another skewer up and, through a wonderfully lucky chance supported by a couple of poor choices, I woke up to a torrent of water, ice, twigs and dirt rushing into my bag. 😀
About getting a good nights sleep…I’ve tried several types of pads. Looking for something lightweight (I am an ounce counter) but at the same time comfortable. I use a small NeoAir for my hips to my head. For my legs and feet I use 1/2 of a full Z-rest. Together they weigh 16ozs. With this setup I then can use the Z-rest at meal times and for taking a break at a nice overlook. I keep the Z-rest on the outside of my pack so that I can have ready to use within seconds. I have just added a Exped Air Pillow. I haven’t got to use it yet, but I have heard positive comments about it from backpacking friends. At 3ozs I felt it might be superior to clothing in a stuff sack. Getting a good nights sleep, and not waking up with a sore back or neck, is priceless.
I found my perfect pillow as being an 2″x8″x10″ piece of cheap memory foam in a sil-nylon stuff sack, weighing about 2 oz., costing almost nothing, and on our recent trip ended up being cut in two and doubling as padding for a back pack hip belt that was just too thin and had no padding of its own. The too thin hip-belt was in the stupid-light category but the little extra weight of the foam worked out to save a lot of discomfort over 4 days.
Stupid light. I once sowed mosquito netting to the bottom of a pyramid tarp. Most of the time I don’t need netting, but I was stuck carrying it all the time. It took forever to deploy. Grass, bushes, flowers, keep it from lying on the ground. It takes forever to seal the bottom edge with gear and gathered rocks. The worst part is that mosquito netting sticks to everything–it’s not meant to go in the weeds. Lots of holes to repair. Much better for my use to have a proper (heavier) inner net with floor and carry it only when I need it–not even 10 percent of the time.
That’s funny. I’ve often wished that floorless tents came with an option for 6″ of netting at the base and seriously considered adding it myself but perhaps Black Diamond just knows more than I do about what works.
Great article. It’s all too easy to get carried away with the urge to go UL or SUL regardless of the cost, but in the end it’s worth keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of going lighter is to make your trip more enjoyable. With this in mind, I like to think of “stupid light” as the point at which a person’s experience begins to be compromised rather than enhanced. If you think about it in this way, the stupid light threshold will vary from person to person and even from trip to trip. For example, if I camp next to a lake to fish but carry a tarp w/ no bug protection, I would be making a stupid light decision because I wouldn’t enjoy my experience as much. However, the same tarp might be the ideal choice on a quick trip with only dry camps.
Another thing worth considering is that the sight of someone going stupid light can be a turn-off to hikers who have not yet experienced the joys of lightweight hiking. They see a person with insufficient gear suffering through discomfort in the backcountry and it only strengthens their conviction that gear must be heavy to be worth carrying. Instead of realizing that a lighter pack can make hiking more fun, they think, “This lightweight thing looks miserable and I’m not a masochist”.
Much has been said about the pitfalls of optimizing solely for weight. I think Andrew’s point is about optimizing for more variables (e.g. cost, comfort, conditions), and making smarter decisions based on them.
That led me to think that the whole movement toward “ultralight” may have started off on the wrong foot. It may be stupid to label/brand oneself as “an ultralight backpacker”; it is an over-simplified shorthand that masks so much of the thoughtfulness that has gone into “packing more in your brain and less on your back”, to borrow Andrew’s words.
So, perhaps the hiking community can consider re-branding this movement to something like “Smart and light hiking”. It might just inspire better decisions.
> “it is an over-simplified shorthand that masks so much of the thoughtfulness”
Yes, it absolutely is. Hence why I explicitly state in the introduction of my book that it’s not “another lightweight backpacking book.”
> “perhaps the hiking community can consider re-branding this movement”
I’d like to see this happen. Unfortunately it has been branded for a decade as “lightweight backpacking” so it will be hard to overcome. An REI-like company could re-brand it through pure marketing muscle; it would be more difficult to happen as a grassroots thing.
Aahh stupid light… Leaving inflatable pad at home, and trying to find comfort on hard wood shelters… Spending too much time looking for campsite, because I brought a smalle NATO poncho tarp, above treeline… Made a stupid light ( I my case ) alcohol stove, that didn’t heat my water and burnt way too much fuel…
Lessons learned,I guess… Now i’m more aware that too light makes for a uncomfortable time, so I think I’m rebranding me as a ” comfort light” backpacker…
Oh and thanks for sharing Your experiences, even the “type 2” ones. (love that expression, will use more often in conversations)
Hiking the Wonderland Trail in August, 2001 I thought I had it dialed: 2 light base layer tops, a light fleece (R1) vest, Dryclime Windshirt, Puffball pullover, shell jacket on top; softshell pants and shell pants for bottoms; low gaiters and hiking boots. Actually not bad layering system, but stupid-light in two aspects. First, low gaiters were great for keeping debris out of my boots, but my shell pants had elasticated bottoms, so a gap regularly developed between low gaiters and bottom of pant legs. Wet feet – no fun. Second, the layering worked well for hiking, but during the several rainy, damp days I would get chilled at rest stops and night camp. Could have used long underwear bottoms and a fleece pullover instead of the vest.
[…] left camp shoes at home. (On an unrelated note, check out Andrew Skurka’s blog post entitled “Stupid Light”.) I didn’t want to ruin my dry pair of camp socks, so I put my feet gingerly back into my wet […]
[…] game of ultralight has gotten so extreme, adventurer Andrew Skurka has begun to use the term “stupid light” when referring to going too minimal all for the sake of weight. It’s a very good […]
i took a softshell and didnt take a raincoat so i didnt have to take two jackets
it was a north face Kishtwar jacket on the routeburn in new zealand, had a membrane, but still not waterproof or seam sealed. although the marketing hype said it was pretty waterproof.
300mm of rain in 30 hours …… cool temps….. i was lucky it wasnt colder, i was wet through.
usually i’m more stupid heavy, taking gear thats way to heavy for whats needed,
like full grain leather gore tex boots on a summer trip that involved constant river crossing… the boots held the water in and soaked up more, weighed a tonne, expedition weight pack for a half week trip, winter sleeping bag and clothes on a summer trip. i was struggling to lift my feet at all at the end of four days…
[…] the world of ‘fast and light’ thru-hiking. A recent entry on his blog, entitled ‘stupid-light‘, makes for a pertinent read. With the explosion in ultra light backpacking and bikepacking […]
[…] started with Skurka’s post over the summer, which I read shortly after publication and thought well researched if rather […]
[…] latest debate started probably from Andrew Skurka’s “Stupid Light” post . Some interpreted the post as the obituary of ultralight backpacking as the guru himself said that […]
I missed this whole discussion last summer, but spot on post Andrew! I also made some mistakes here; sent my headnet home in early august as I thought the bug season was ending at it 2 more weeks before I passed another post office – had a warm and calm spell during these two weeks in which the mosquitos were just horrendous. Sent my sunglasses home when summer was fading, but very early fresh snowfall forced me to make a detour through the valley to prevent beginning snow-blindness. And a final bad one: I made prints of maps from my computer for some sections in order not to have to carry regular maps. It seriously limitted my possibilities to change my route on the terrain according to the conditions, and made me loose time on one occasion when I was stuck in low clouds and had insufficient map coverage to take an alternative route through the valley. That is a lot of discomfort for only a few oz.
Besides, as long my pack weighs less then say 15kg (33lb), the exact weight seems to have no or only very little influence on my hiking comfort, speed and stamina – so those few grams only really start to matter when I’m in carrying food for over a week. But my daily mileage on nordic terrain is 15-20 rather than 30 😉
[…] All of this started with a blog post by Andrew Skurka this summer titled, Stupid Light. […]
Here’s what I think:
I suspect some OCD temptations with the ultralite crowd.
I’m old now (65yo) but when I was younger and actively backpacking, I found that on a trip of over 3 days, I immediately got so strong and in shape in all the parts of my body used for hiking, that weight of gear became completely irrelevant. It is only an ordeal when you go for a short overnighter when out of shape at the beginning of the season.
There definitely is some OCD. There also is a pissing match, and pack weight is an easily quantifiable yardstick.
I would disagree that pack weight becomes irrelevant on longer trips. And so too would the laws of physics — more energy/work is required to move a heavier object than a lighter one against a given force, e.g. gravity. The weight difference is particularly noticeable when I have a low base weight and heavy food loads, as my pack might be 3x or even 4x heavier when I leave town than when I arrived.
It does all come down to woodscraft (the skill set that allows you to be safe and comfortable with less gear). So you can’t label someone “stupid light” just because their pack is lighter than yours.
I tried some bushcraft before.
Lots of the skills are useful, but they consume a lot of time.
Try setting up a leanto out of spruce in twilight. You’re not going to get it done within 20 minutes. Oftentimes flashlight are insufficient and campfires don’t give off enough light.
So, I never really understood the obsession with being the next Davey Crockett in the eastern States. That way of life doesn’t really jive with the concept of the modern woodsmen in western North America, especially up in the taiga. The Russian commercial hunter fantasy fits better….
This is a fantastic article, thank you! The trash bag over raingear does look rather miserable, but at least you’re smiling.
I’ve always been very intrigued by SUL, but always chicken out when a trip comes around.
But I guess I’ve done it too, taken less than I need.. I was doing the barefoot thing for a while. Scree slopes with no shoes is just unpleasant. I started always bringing my Tevas on my day hikes after that, but still didn’t quite learn my lesson. It took about 3 times encountering unexpected snow on the trail and freezing my pinky toes nearly off before I started taking a backup pair of thick synthetic socks as well! (And sometimes waterproof socks..)
I still hike in sandals unless it’s the dead of winter, I always have, (I’ve never had ankle or blister problems, even with a heavy pack) and sometimes I still go barefoot too, (not with a heavy pack… that’s one thing I never did) but you can’t know what you’ll encounter, so now I’m never without a sole and a sock of some kind.
creds: PCT: Mexico > yosemite 2003
Stupid light 101:
cutting handle off toothbrush and using tooth powder
using super feet with nylon webbing as an “in camp sandal”
those are pretty common but how about this:
Foregoing a tent, sleeping bag, ground pad and backpack !…Try hiking in a down puffy Mt. Everest exploration full suit, with a fishing vest over that, ……(yes i actually saw this system on PCT 03)
Ok lets think back a minute when men were men, and hiked the whole damn trail in the 70’s with external frame packs, 4 lb sleeping bags and heavy stoves.. base pack weight…20-30 back then? of course no need to do that now, but c’mon people, most of you need to stop debating your gear selections, do some homework, commit to what you bought and GET OUT THERE frickin GRAM WEENIES
Actually, if you compare the rucksacks of the woodsmen in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of their packs are lighter than today “ultimate campers”. It was the era where people weren’t bond to horses or canoes like in the 18th century and earlier.
Mind you, they still had to deal with heavy blankets and heavier sleeping-bags (8lbs) in the winter; but their base-pack is not that much more than “ultralight” or “lightweight”.
It’s only after the Second World War, when people started purchasing military surplus and had the money to do extensive recreational hiking and camping, the pack-weight increased significantly.
Although, to be fair, today’s lightweight hikers can go further and faster than the old-timers because of better technology– with moisture-wicking fabric, cheaper wool and so on instead of always seeking shelter when it rains or setting up fire to dry out cotton.
My thinking on this has changed since I got hold of an Aarn Mountain Magic 50 pack. It weighs 1500 gms but the carry is so good that I find I’m much less paranoid about the weight of a few extra luxuries and a buffer of fuel and food.
I find that the superior balance and stability of this carrying system significantly reduces fatigue, and I’ve never experienced the shoulder and back pain I have with conventional packs when I’m having to carry 7 days of food.
Custom pack maker McHale says “People that go out regularly year after year know that pack performance trumps pack weight”, and I think there’s wisdom in this.
After experiencing the advantages of the Aarn I now regard minimalist packs as stupid-light once loads exceed 15 lbs or so.
Ditto with poles. I’ve fallen in love with the Pacers, and find that the superior eronomics easily compensate for the extra weight.
Finally, I like to camp high with my TrailStar, and have found that carrying a full complement of Ground Hogs is well worth an extra few ounces compared with ti crooks. For Alpine camping there is often a very limited choice of pitches, and the versatility and security of the Ground Hogs has come in more than handy on many occasions.
To me there is no such thing as a “finished” backpacking trip – every one is an experiment where you are trying to dial in and adapt your gear.
I think you need to give foam pads a week to decide that they’re not for you. Likewise, if you have used one for a week and still don’t like it, then taking it on your next trip is definitely “stupid light”. Personally, I love my z-lite, but am going to try out the gg nightlight on my next outing.
[…] among hikers (though not very many bikepackers) by pondering the intrinsic value of lightness. He coined the term “stupid light” for those who take the things too far. The debate continues, albeit cordially now. Here is a recent […]
Andrew and I have been polar opposites since we had the chance one year to meet and talk at length on the porch of the Kennedy Meadows General Store on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Since I founded the wilderness skills school, Mountain Education, 32 years ago, we have always encouraged hikers to pack as light as is practical, functional, and durable to maintain personal safety and maximize personal enjoyment and comfort. We have always said, “Don’t be so Ultra-light that you discover you’ve become ultra-stupid (just when you suddenly need something you left behind)!”
Great advice, Andrew! I hope everyone hears what you’re saying!
[…] the game of shedding weight wherever possible. Recently I read a great article by Andrew Skurka “Stupid light”. Andrew’s article gives some great examples of omitted gear that ultimately proved […]
Friends suggested leaving my camp pad at home since I could sleep in my dog sled on 750 mile trip with my dog team. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. There were multiple times I had the opportunity to stay indoors at a stop and ended up sleeping on a very hard floor or worse sleeping on the floor of someone’s heated tent. Which is worse? Sleeping in my dog sled bag or on snow in a heated tent without a pad when it’s -30F.? I really can’t tell you because I really didn’t sleep!
Real simple. Not using trekking poles – because when I was younger using them was a sign of lame ‘oldness’. Now that I’m towards the other end of the spectrum, I don’t like doing any significant backpacking without them.
I think this article is miss leading people, and give a lot of people that pack heavy gear an excuses to feel good about packing all that gear, or having a heavy pack.
Note: not that I care, do as you want. But, I believe some of you are misguiding Mr. Skurka’s words.
For example, someone commented on his foam mat not being comfortable thus he said that it was a “stupid light” decision because he slept better with an inflatable… It’s not “stupid light”, he failed to know camp site selection.
“Stupid Light” would be: You are travelling through the Smoky Mnts; know you need to sleep in the shelters; and choose the foam vs inflatable because it’s lighter thus getting a bad nights rest. thus you now have met Andrew Skurka’s guidelines as “stupid light”
Or even better… You decide to bring a tarp instead of a fully enclosed tent through the Highlands of Iceland because a tarp is lighter, but you KNOW there are dust storms. That would be “stupid light”.
[…] love Andrew Skurka’s comments on why lighter isn’t alway’s better. But the world of ultralight backpacking (or at […]
I recently purchased the Evernew Appalachian set which takes various forms of fuel and is only 161 grams total.
I am new to backpacking and am wondering if there is a lighter set-up that works as good or better, or if this falls under “stupid light” and isn’t as functional as I think it will be when on the trail.
For those unfamiliar with this system, check it out at Campsaver.
I think you will be happy with that setup. You could save a little bit of weight with another system, but only about an ounce. And this lighter system would not be as fuel-efficient or as well integrated as the Appalachian set.
For what it’s worth, I have that Evernew Ti DX stove and consider it one of my worse buys, bloody thing uses literally 4x the fuel of my home made alky stove.
Upfront I’ll admit i’m very new to serious backpacking and it’s been an enjoyable challenge trying to figure out the right line for me as far as weight is concerned. something that i haven’t been able to figure out yet(that might just take trial and error) is the backpack. I have a neck/shoulder/upper back issue that really messed me up just walking about ten miles in a city carrying a weekends worth of clothes, water and a laptop crammed into a laptop bag with no hip belt. as far as hiking, i’m fairly certain that my full pack weight won’t go over 30-35lbs initially and i’ve purchased an osprey aether 60 mainly because i have a medium torso and small hip size and it offers a replaceable hip belt. but i’m a bit thrown off by the close to 5lbs of the pack. is that a “stupid light” frame of mind? or is there another option that’s much lighter that will keep the weight from pulling on my shoulder? i’ve looked at the aarns but they are out of my price range.
I would recommend that you return that Osprey and replace it with a backpack from ULA Equipment. I have used extensively the Circuit/Catalyst and the Epic, and more lightly the Ohm, and I can attest to their load-carrying performance and their durability. And they are about half the weight as that Osprey pack. It sounds like you will want to stick with the Circuit or Catalyst — the Epic is overkill unless you have packrafting trips in your future, and the Ohm’s suspension system is probably less robust than you want.
Thanks much for the recommendation. i had been thinking about going external frame, possibly a luxury lite or zpacks arc blast but it’s good to hear an endorsement for the ula suspension.
A friend carried only Clif bars, on a backpacking trip. He got fed up and returned home much early.
Excellent article, thanks. I wondered about the dichotomy between closed cell foam sleeping pad and plush air mattress. There’s an in-between solution that’s a lot lighter than the air mattress and significantly more comfortable than the foam pad – light-weight self-inflating air mattress (OK, mine is branded Thermarest). Did you consider using one of those?
Inflatable mattresses are no heavier than self-inflating pads, are often lighter, and obviously they provide much more substantial comfort. For instance, a Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite (size regular, 70×20) weighs 12 oz, versus the more conventional self-inflating Therm-a-rest ProLite (same sleeping area). Frankly, I think inflatable pads have relegated self-inflating pads to dinosaur status.
I understand where you are coming from but to expand on the idea of broadening horrizons: In my fringe season hammock system, I have used my convoluted foam as an additional layer of hammock under warmth, a pee in the night walk way towards the edge of the tarp, and an emergency go to ground option. Have also made use of the foam as a midday powernap pad. Stored on the pack bottom, it is quick access and offers a more protective and stable platform for the pack.
Great article! I’ve been looking into reducing weight for my gear for the past few years now. As a testimony for fleece vs down I spent an entire day walking in light, but constant, rain guiding 8th graders on a trip of Williamsburg, VA. one year. after the entire day I was still mostly dry with a few wet spots on my shoulders. I was very surprised by this. The jacket was the old (mid early 90’s) Patagonia fleece. I’m not sure how the new ones stack up.
People often mistake volume for weight. That 5-7oz micro fleece pullover you missed is fairly bulky, but you wouldn’t have noticed it, because it would have been on your body, not in the pack. Then again, if you take the frame of an old external pack, lose the pack, wrap everything in your tarp like a parcel with compression straps and put that on the frame, you’ll save the 4lbs of sack cloth and your pack will be inherently waterproof. It’s bulky, but you’ll never notice the weight. Or distribute some of the items you need at the ready into a collapsible daypack that you wear in front and you’ll be better balanced. Better to be an unconventional backpacker than an ultralight one.
I must say I hugged the border of stupid light on my last trip. Freaking poncho tarps man-like you said, doesn’t do much good at either of its purposes. 3.5lb base weight was pretty awesome though.
[…] trail well enough that I wouldn’t need a map; in hindsight, this was clearly entering into stupid light […]
[…] point the parring down process reaches a point of diminishing returns and can enter the realm of “stupid light” as described by well known adventurer Andrew […]
[…] function well, and hopefully serves multiple functions. Reading reviews will help you avoid going stupid light and ending up with a 3 ounce pack that has thread-like shoulder straps. No matter how light, your […]
[…] his blog, adventure athlete Andrew Skurka shares his experience with going ultralight. It’s an eye-opening article and well worth reading, but the following quote does a pretty […]
Wow. You are making this way more complicated than it actually is. All of this is common sense, can’t believe it took your 15,000 miles to figure this out.
My stupid light submission is braided mason’s line for guylines. It is strong, incredibly light, and cheap – and can come in fluorescent colors that, IMO, beat reflective line for visibility (at least when the moon is out a bit). But you can forget about using a tautline hitch (midshipman’s hitch), for it will not grip itself at all. This stuff also snags and frays easily. Run it around a tree (say for a tarp ridgeline) and it’ll go fuzzy quickly.
It is not impossible to use as guyline, but getting around its limitations is a hassle, taking up time and patience. For instance, paired with thicker cord, it is thin enough to dig in well with a sheet bend or prusik loop. But for most applications, there are better solutions, namely, using less-slippery cord (and either knots or hardware).
Lol. Great article. Yeah it’s about pushing limits and well sometimes you go too far.
Now I’m going to offer a new definition of “stupid light.” While I echo your view of paying for quality, as a CPA I think there are cost effective, or ineffective, ways of going stupid light. While researching sleeping bags (and I’m a very cold sleeper) I just couldn’t get myself to shell out the $580 for for the western mountaineering bag I really wanted, and settled for the north face bag which was similarly temp rated on sale for $280. While this “costs” me a pound (3lbs vs 2), overall I am only backpack a few times a year and it seemed to be a reasonable compromise. Now when I was looking at a titanium cooking pot for $60 vs my old stainless steel pot, I felt it was not worth the cash. When we look back at the sleeping bag I was considering weight savings at a cost of $18.75 an ounce which I almost purchased. However the titanium pot would save me about 7 oz. At what originally seemed like a stupid expensive purchase was now looking like a steal at a mere $8.57 an ounce and a much lower capital outlay. As I applied this analysis to other pieces of equipment I noticed many things which previously seemed overpriced were now “good deal.” Hence had I bought the more expensive sleeping bad, one might argue from a financial perspective this would be “stupid light.” I think this also might tie in to the OCD portion of lightweight backpacking…
I use a 5 to six pound rig for overnights. The weight may change depending on whether I want a hot meal and the possibility of rain. This is a bivy setup.
If I’m with my girlfriend and it is a few days, we go for more luxury and our base etc. is distributed between us at 9 or ten lbs each plus water. Gourmet dehydrated food, shared accommodations, blow up pads, tomahawk, we’re comfortable and secure.
We don’t do thru hiking and most people don’t. What we do do is enjoy nature, we hike nude mostly to enhance the trip. When we come to a climb, or stream cross we are better naturally balanced a safety issue. We are able to wear lighter shoes with our lighter loads and move more naturally with full body movement. Those sticks may work well if you have a load and distance to contend with, but My age (64), barefoot research and experience and past injuries tell me that they are not healthy in the long run. We just go light instead.
I’m not lugging 45 lbs. through the Andes, days on end, like I used to. My UL and SUL gear is practical to my needs and those of most regular people. Why would the advice of a youthful thru hiker who lives on the trail be relevant? You do have good advice, but not the be all end all. Ya’ll don’t have the right to be so smug, unless you are talking specifically about thru hiking in crappy conditions, which is something most of us don’t care to do. We check the weather, the season, the conditions and pack accordingly. World NAked Hiking DAy June 20th, 2016.
Hi Andrew, I read you article on a perfect day. I am currently preparing for my 15,000 km hike across Canada ([email protected]) on the Trans-Canada-Trail. I will be flying out to St. John’s by the end of May to start my journey. I am spending an incredible amount of time looking for light-weight but durable and high quality equipment – preferably on sale. (don’t we all? lol ) Slowly slowly, I am getting my equipment together. Last major items to still be considered are electronics (how to record my trip without bringing too much) and cooking equipment (I already got my bushbox XL, a little heavy but heaven). Now that I put all my gear finally in an excel sheet I started to be a bit worried that I may end up carrying too much. The list will help to eventually take some items out…I guess I will end up between ideally 10 but maybe up to 13 kg (all in, meaning also trekking poles and what I am wearing). Certain light-weight equipment I do trust, with some I would rather go durable than light-weight for longer gear life. I guess as a woman I think a bit more conservative this way even though I am open for all kinds of new inventions to keep the kilo off my back. You article gave me the confidence that I needed today, for not going too light-weight especially being on the road for soo long. So, thank you for the article. And always, happy hiking! 🙂
Even if you get your base weight down to 10 kg, I think there is probably some room for you to lighten up without risking “stupid light.”
If you stick to off-the-shelf equipment that is reasonably priced, a lower bound for reasonable pack weight is probably closer to 5 kg. If you’re at 10, I would keep looking — that’s a lot of weight to carry 15,000 kilometers.
Great article. I learn more about my gear each time I go out. My stupid-light lesson was during a short backpack in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas during this past Thanksgiving week. I try to go light up there because there is no water available except for what I can carry. I keep my base weight around 12 lbs but end up carrying 4-6 liters of water for a three or four day trip. I knew it would be cold and rainy, so I took a new 20 degree topquilt, dreamhammock, and underquilt. I made a quick dinner after setting up my site in cold drizzle and got cozy in the hammock. A 40-50 mph wind kicked up and made it near impossible to use my tarp, but fortunately my hammock had a zipped in cover. My failure was to only bring a 50 degree half length underquilt. Temps dropped from 60 degrees down to 32 that night and the wind never quit. My topquilt was great, but it did nothing for the warmth being sucked away from underneath me. Luckily I had a couple of handwarmers. The following night was better as far as wind, but temps dropped even lower, down to 22 degrees. My butt froze as did all of my water. Both nights were long and uncomfortable. Most people had bailed on their plans because of the winds and I didn’t run into any other backpackers on the trail until I hiked down. I’ve learned its just as important for my underquilt to match the elements as it is the topquilt. I also learned my expensive cuben fiber tarp was near useless in super high winds, even when secured down in storm mode. I’m still not sure how to deal with that. At least two lines snapped and several others wouldn’t hold even though I attached shockcord I carried for emergencies.
“stupid light” is a long-understood concept among bicycle racers. A part must be functional, and to do that it must have X amount of aluminum weight, regardless of the shape/working/treatment that adds decoration, tapers tubes, and costs more, it needs to be X strong with a 20% margin or else it will break and send you to the hard ground. “Smart Heavy” is dense and multi-useful but bomb-proof (or US Marine infantry-resistant), requiring you to merely be stronger and more determined to complete a task (hike/ride).
If a person can get to 25% of body weight for a hike, there’s not much left to optimize. Add water and ammo to 33% of body weight and be prepared!
loose your belly fat, is the cheapest ultralight option, people scarify comfort by leaving few pounds at home, and they forget the 5 pound fat
On a recent early spring trip I left my puffy behind and froze my rear off at camp when temps dropped into 30s. The real kicker was I later realized I much prefer the puffy for a pillow over the 3oz (gasp) blow-up pillow I had brought. For +5oz I would have been warm and have a nicer pillow! I learned my lesson cold is not fun and I’d rather carry half pound of insulation and not need than the opposite.
Once in order to cut weight, I took my toothbrush and cut it in half. That was fine if you don’t mind a little bit of your finger in your mouth. However Later I drilled holes throughout what was left of the handle all to save a gram. Totally not worth it because I did not sand down the holes and it kept cutting my mouth, maybe a little too far.
Here in Sweden the Mountain Rescue Service have to perform way too many “unnecessary” rescue operations just because of all the ultralight hikers that will not understand (or respect) the elements.
A simple shelter for foul weather, an effective insulation layer (even in summertime), a foolproof fire making resource plus water for at least 2 hrs hiking is a must in order to be safe in the mountain wilderness. In the Scandinavian mountains streaming water is never more than 2 hrs away, but in dry environments even more packed water is obviously needed. It is also important to remember that the insulation layer is only a passive retainer of existing heat. It is your own body that produces the heat, and to do so it needs energy. So the weight of foods (such as energy bars) should be thought of as cost for life saving heat. And last but not least, ones own personal weight and fitness. If I loose only a few hundred grams of bodyweight I can pack that nice soft inflatable sleeping-mat instead 🙂
I think the UL community is a great place to go to get ideas, and I’ve learned a lot from people with the UL ethos. But some people take it too far, as you’ve said. I think my biggest gripe is being lectured by people who think that, if their gear works where they are, it will work everywhere, and that anyone who doesn’t share those gear choices is doing it wrong.
Certain kinds of terrain are less demanding for certain kinds of gear, and nobody wants to admit that their UL choices are enabled by their location. I hear a lot from UL hikers from areas with relatively ideal soil (the right combination of pliable and firm and compacted), about how I don’t need this or that for the soil in my area, which is often the very worst combination of rocky and sandy. Like your choice of tent stakes, whether or not you carry a trowel, and even your choice of footwear is all dependent on where you are.
I don’t lecture people about how they should ditch all their winter gear and freeze to death because it’s effectively three-season camping all year where I am. I recognize that they need it, even if I don’t, because I’m lucky in that one respect. Lots of UL evangelists can’t seem to make that logical leap.
Likewise, “universal” advice on sleep systems, told from the perspective of twenty-something guys, is annoying as a woman who’s a particularly cold sleeper. No, that’s not a lack of conditioning. That’s just how my body is.
Two thoughts: Author should check his “effects” and “affects.” Also, perhaps consider that a 250-pound gorilla will have a significantly easier time with a middling-heavy load than 98-pound weaklings such as myself.
Nothin’ gets the old boards going like “sleeping with my food” and “base weight debates”.
Many PCT hikers send their puffy home after the Sierras…to save 7 oz.
(never ever never ever send your puffy home)
I’ve noticed Heather “Anish” Anderson has about a 13 pound base weight.
I love watching 20-somethings going on the Great Divide Trail with a 1/8 inch (torso only) sleeping pad, a 20 degree quilt, a cuben tarp, a cryo sheet for vapor barrier, a cool looking (thrift store only of course) short sleeve shirt, and short length running shorts. It must be just an exercise in survival, or an exercise in how much misery can one person take and still live to tell the tale.
I’m amazed I don’t read of more hikers being hospitalized for hypothermia.
If the temps were 60-80 degrees only, then party on.
But the mountains are rarely that forgiving.
Here’s a picture of a SUPER experience thru-hiker
I had to say….thank you. After all my life in the heavy weight (and heavy duty) stuff, I’ve decided to go a little lighter. Thanks to your advice I’will try not to go “stupid light” (but it’s fu**ing difficult when you’re in the store)
My stupid light: week canoe trip in Maine, September, forecast called for only one “cold” night of 39 F. Decided to skate by with a small 45 degree down quilt instead of big synthetic mamba-jamba, and maybe I’d just sleep in all of my clothes for the cold night. Unexpected cold snap on day 1, 39 was the warmest night, and 3 nights were in high 20s. Pure sleepless, cold misery. Learned my lesson about packing optimistically.
Great post. Thanks for the tips! Hiked the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood without camp shoes – instantly regretted it after nearly 16 stream crossings in turbulent glacier water. Carrying my pack through knee deep ice water with rocks rolling over my feet changed my mind about sandals! Just bought a pair of Teva Inifinity’s and am happily incorporating the 7 oz into my gear list.
Just came back to re-read this classic and thought I’d mention the ultimate example of stupid light I saw on YouTube the other day.
A certain well-known ultra-light zealot was hiking a high trail in Canada.
On one episode, he crossed a steep ice-slope above a massive cliff – with no foot traction and no ice axe.
Then he had a number of sleepless nights because he nearly froze – and began to look like a zombie.
Then he ran out of food two days short of his resupply.
Sounds like Type III fun to me…
Ugh, It’s been 17 years since I backpacked the Bush of Alaska (I had to deal with some sever back issues and am just getting back into it). Gear has changed a lot and I’m trying to make my pack litter to save my back. That being said, I’m struggling with a lighter sleep system. I’ve ordered the Neolite pad, which is almost ridiculously thick when inflated, but saves morning stiffness (side sleeper with wide hips). I’m taking the weight penalty of the wide size so I don’t feel like I’m rolling off it all night.
But trying to find a synthetic mummy bag (I sleep cold when I’m tired) has been trying. I’ve ordered a 2 lbs DriDown bag to try, but I’m concerned about the down because we’ll be on the Chilkoot next summer. Southeast isn’t exactly known for dry conditions. This year, the pass is still buried in snow. I feel like the a quilt isn’t going to cut it.
Any new recommendations for sleeping bags? My 20 year old North Face 0 degree bag is amazing up here, but it weighs almost 4 lbs by itself!
Take a look at “Carinthia” sleeping bag systems.
We use them in the Swedish Army because they have good
warmth-to-weight ratio, and there is no down-filling that
becomes useless when wet.
I’ve walked and camped for half a century in Scotland – not exactly famous for dry and settled weather…
Almost every Scot who can afford one uses a down bag. Assuming you have basic camping skills and take normal care, why would you ever get your bag wet? It’s never happened to me in hundreds of nights.
Down does lose a little loft in persistent high humidity, but not enough to be a significant issue. Given the far superior warmth-for-weight-and-bulk compared to synthetic, you can easily afford to carry a little extra warmth as a margin of safety and still be well ahead.
DriDown is probably a useless innovation in actual field conditions – many of the top bag makers have stopped supplying treated down based on testing and user feedback. Natural down has built-in resistance to damp, while down treatments reduce loft and may reduce longevity, without seeming to offer much practical benefit. Unless you are planning to literally dunk your bag in a lake, natural down is the way to go.
Finally, the superior performance of synthetics in damp conditions has very likely been exaggerated, as recent testing on BackpackingLight has indicated.
In my experience there’s still nothing that comes close to a good down bag for almost any conditions. I’d be interested to see if Andrew agrees, with his much broader background.
Thank you for that info. Since Scotland is very similar environment, I appreciate the feedback. The last natural down bag I tried out was ridiculously moisture trapping, so possibly it’s the liner that’s more of an issue. My concern is the soaking mists that set in here. Nothing stays completely dry in that condition. We would then be headed from thick mist to snow cover in the pass.
My experience with natural down is limited to winter use when wet conditions are less of an issue.