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Backpacker Magazine – August 2001

Ultralight vs. Ultranormal

How light can you go? Six friends face off to determine whether carrying less gear makes you half as macho, or twice as smart.

by: Andy Dappen

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6

The Lightniks find out on the initial 4 miles of trail bordering the White River that small loads and light shoes make for effortless travel. On this flat trail section, the Heavies (all of whom are extremely fit) have little trouble maintaining a 3-miles-per-hour pace.

At a junction where our route begins to climb, Steve and I have yet to break a sweat, but the others are happy to take a short break. They're also happy to flaunt deli sandwiches stuffed with sliced meat and cheese while Steve and I chomp on bagels smeared with cream cheese. We call the round a draw.
Lightniks 1 Heavies 1

Steve and I set an easy pace up the steep spur trail bordering Boulder Creek. The light pack has me pondering a backcountry skiing paradigm: Double the weight and quarter the skiing pleasure. I think for backpacking, you could argue: Halve the weight and double the walking pleasure.

Steve and I chat amiably, and while the Heavies stay with us, Marc, who is a stronger hiker than I am when the scales are even, confesses, "I'm having to keep quiet to stay with you."

We gain 2,500 vertical feet and enter meadows thick with blueberries. Steve and I fan out for the harvest. The others enjoy a few berries, but none of them pick any that require bending to reach. They tease us about our supposedly light rations and suggest we chow down while opportunity knocks.

That we haven't packed enough food is a misconception the Heavies will hold dear for much of the trip. True, our Sierra cups do not runneth over; the quantities are carefully planned to avoid food (that is, weight) that won't be eaten. Furthermore, our menu won't win culinary awards. We're interested in items with a low dry weight that maximizes calories, not freshness maximizing taste. Nonetheless, the food we carry (1 pound 8 ounces per person per day) strikes a nice balance for big eaters. It's large enough to satisfy the stomach, and light enough to satisfy the shoulders.

We leave the Boulder Creek Trail and follow even steeper game trails heading toward the base of Clark Mountain. The heavyweights lean into their loads, and though they make good time, there's little doubt that they're struggling. At a flat bench 4,000 vertical feet above the trip's starting point, they call it a day. A month earlier, Marc and Margareta, carrying minimal packs, climbed Clark Mountain as a daytrip, a distance of 28 miles with a vertical gain of 6,400 feet. Now, with heavy packs, they're well shy of that day's halfway mark. Marc confesses, "Our daytrip was easier."

Steve and I, meanwhile, still feel fresh. We could easily double the day's effort. The lightweights take the round.
Lightniks 2 Heavies 1

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
Feb 14, 2013

Less weight = less calories burned = less food needed.

Less weight = better = funner

If you hike for 8 hours, go light, I run circles around my friends and they are more in shape than me!

Sep 25, 2008

i never knew people packed so much crap. in my 20 years of backpacking (i'm 28) i've never carried more than a 25 pound pack on 3-4 day trips in the high sierra, grand canyon, etc. - but as a girl who gets cold, i say don't skimp on warmth, skimp on food. i've never carried a stove or all the gear associated with that. so, i'd suggest skipping that for sure.

Sep 18, 2008

two words. soccer shorts. light, dry fast, look more acceptable than boxers, and most of all, don't hold odor like boxers do.

juan lopez dungog
Jul 16, 2008

more than 15 years ago, i have insisted that trekking should be done as light as possible, today it is still a matter of how much money to spend on this ultralight

greg richmond
Apr 21, 2008

I'm 59 and just did the Grand Canyon (South Kaibab and Bright Angel) with a 42 lb. pack. It was very tough for me at 195 lbs. I will go light.


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