Lightweight Backpacking: The Way, and the Truth, and the Life


There are quite a few things in life that irritate me. The top of my list includes:

  • religious people who knock on my door telling me I will burn in Hell if I don’t accept their religion
  • Prius owners who accost me in gas stations and condemn me for damaging the planet with my SUV
  • petition gatherers who want to deny property rights
  • New York Mayor Bloomberg who thinks I am too stupid to take care of myself because I like to drink Venti Frappacinios
  • politicians who want to pass all sorts of laws and ordinances because they think the populace doesn’t know what is best for them
  • and lightweight backpackers who evangelize to other backpackers they meet on the trail that their pack is too heavy.


Now this is a difficult question. Probably best answered as hikers work to reduce redundant gear (multiple items), replace existing gear with much lighter options, leave items home they never use, and try to use as many multiple-use items as possible in the process of reducing the number of gear items. In general, it seems a popular definition is carrying a backpack and gear weighing less than 20 pounds, excluding consumables such as food and water (this is called base weight by the obsessed).

There are sub-sets of the lightweight backpacker; Ultralight (under 10 lbs) and Super Ultralight (under 5 lbs). Both categories include the weight of all gear carried, except consumables.


Many of these lightweight backpackers, and their even lighter minions, feel the need to talk to as many people as they can who carry heavier packs and convert those unfortunate souls to the lightweight way. By doing so, they feel these unfortunate “heavy weights” will see the truth in happy hiking and improve their overall life on the trail.

There is even one guy who calls his religion the “Ray Way.” In all fairness, he does present some good methodologies, but he did not invent lightweight backpacking. Many folks were going light decades before him, when he was struggling under the evil path of heavy gear.

I think these evangelical backpackers should mind their own business. If someone is unhappy with their pack weight, they can figure out how to make it lighter. If someone has a pack that is “heavy” and they are happy with their equipment, they might not care to listen to the lightweight congregation and the leader behind the pulpit of their truth.


Is this a heavy pack?
Is this a heavy pack?

Earlier this year I did a backpacking trip with some of my older equipment, which included my ancient Kelty Serac pack (above), which others assume is heavy. A so called lightweight backpacker struck up a conversation with me as I neared the finish of my hike. His pack was hanging from his shoulders and looked quite uncomfortable because it did not have a proper frame to support the weight. After relaying the virtues of his light equipment and his conversion via the almighty lightweight church, he was quite shocked to find out that his gear weighed almost the same as mine, which was under 18 pounds. Only I could easily carry the needed weight of food and plenty of water in the desert with my old external framed pack. Of course he argued that I must have not really weighed my gear. I bid him goodbye and went on to finish my trip.

smaller Pack Loaded

Above: Last year I did a trip with this set up, with a gear weight of just over 18 pounds. Fortunately I saw no one on the trip to criticize my choice of equipment. I was comfortable hiking, was able to navigate steep canyons and pour-over’s, and carry enough water to stay safe.


On most trips I am not using the old gear shown above, but items that are much lighter. On almost every trip I do, my base weight is around 10 pounds or less, and often around 5 pounds. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get to go hiking often and enjoy myself. I take the gear I need for each trip; the variables being time of year, location, terrain, and weather.

smaller IMG_0012

Above: Pack loaded for a 3 day 60 mile trip a few years ago. Base weight just under 4 pounds.


smaller IMG_0131

Above: Pack for a 3 day 50 mile trip. Base weight under 4 pounds.

smaller IMG_0965Above: Pack for a multi-day trip. Base weight just over 10 pounds.

smaller Fortification Hill Summit

Above: Pack for a 4 day trip. Base weight just Over 10 pounds.

smaller (2) Tamarack Valley 03-19-2011My heaviest packs are in winter. I can’t remember the weight of this one.


I have presented several different configurations and weights of packs. So which was my favorite set up? All of them. Each kit did exactly what I needed them to do. And which trip was my favorite? All of them. Weight had nothing to do with the enjoyment level.

My website title includes “ultralight backpacking.” I guess that is the appropriate title for my mindset. It works for my adventures, but it is not the only way. Do what works for you.

Over the years I have lightened my base weight from just under 20 lbs, to 10 lbs or less on most trips. The reason is that as I get older, I am not as quick or agile as in my youth. This has allowed be to continue to hike the same distances (or even longer) and the same steep trails in the manner I once did. But if the new light gear was not available, I would be completely satisfied to hike a little slower.

At times I run into people carrying what looks to be (and probably is) rather heavy gear. I don’t ask how heavy their pack is. If I stop to talk, I just ask if their hike is a good one. Most say, “Yes.” And if they say their pack is too heavy and they are not happy, I just tell them it will get better.

Sometimes I run into old farts like me with really old gear, and most seem to be competent in their back country skills. If I stop to talk (seems most are like me and just say, “Hi,” and keep walking), the talk is not about gear but about the area we are hiking.

Backpacking is not about gear, it is about the wilderness experience.


Go hiking often and enjoy yourself. If you are happy with your gear, then do nothing other than continue to enjoy your hiking. It is your hike, you know.

If you are a “Heavyweight” Backpacker

  • If you are happy with what you have, do nothing. If a lightweight backpacker stops to preach to you, tell them to “pound sand.”
  • If you think your gear is too heavy, then do some research. Backpacking Light is a good place to start; but beware of the zealots.

If you are a “Lightweight” Backpacker

  • Mind your own business, and do not take it upon yourself to convert others to your religion.
  • If someone asks your opinion, then give it. Be cautious that your own method or favorite gear is not the solution for the multitudes.

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