As the backpacking seasons draws, the air is thick with gear discussions and questions; sometimes dancing dangerously close to Mortal Kombat territory. Hikers are very vocal about gear selections. We open up our packs (which is essentially our lives on trail) to let experienced hikers shakedown our gear. While ultimately, you have the choice to accept and follow their recommendations, you can bet your last pretty penny you won’t hear the end of it if you decide to go against their suggestions and take along that ‘lightweight’ inflatable pillow instead of just using your puffy or clothes stuff sack as a make-shift pillow.
Obviously, everyone’s goal is to have the lowest base-weight possible, I believe there is a false sense of comfort in going Ultra-Lightweight. New backpackers read countless blogs, discussion boards, and Facebook groups and see many the people talking about their Ultra-Lightweight shelter. “It’s 15.9oz dude! Your tent is almost double! Let me know how you feel at camp after hiking with that thing on your back all day.”. Is the most recent comment I saw on a very popular PCT discussion site.
This comment made me think; “Ultra-Lightweight gear is giving these new backpackers a false sense of comfort.”.
Get that 15.9oz tent; the one that is single walled, no bug net, and the tubs and walls don’t connect; Bad-Ass Status achieved (?). You use a blanket instead of a full mummybag. Cool. You decide to use that fancy Ultra-Lightweight backpack with no back support, no extra cushioning in the hip and shoulder harnesses? Awesome. Stoveless… good for you! With each ounce you cut, you are also cutting comforts and personal safety (financials will also play a huge role in what type of gear you gather). Sure, your day might be easier with the weight savings, but once you are at camp, trying to get a good nights sleep, you will most definitely feel the effects of those weight savings.
There’s a phrase that gets tossed around regularly; Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH), but rarely actually gets put into gear discussions. Some people want to log miles; they want to get their hike done as quickly as possible. Some want to take their time and enjoy the day, the hidden lake, and might go as far as taking a zero day on trail at an especially scenic camp spot. I find myself in the middle of that spectrum.
I challenge all new backpackers to put a lot of thought into what kind of backpacker they hope to be, and what kind of gear they should get to reach those goals. Don’t go for what everyone else is getting. I’ll say it again; keep your pack weight as low as possible (do your research to find out what base-weight you should be aiming for), but don’t go Ultra-Lightweight just because everyone tells you that’s what needs to be done.