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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 contest moves from the trail to camp. Steve and I pitch our Stephenson's Warmlite 2R, a two-person tent weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces (3 pounds 4 ounces with ground cloth and stakes) that's withstood rain, snow, and hurricane-force winds on mountaineering expeditions. This tent testifies that a marriage of materials and design can deliver gear that's not only half the weight of normal equipment, but also, in some cases, twice the strength. We have no intention of bringing to life Marc's worries that we'll be "blown off the mountain."

We fire up our 3-ounce Mountain Safety Research PocketRocket stove and 5 minutes later, we have water boiling. The stove is turned off, instant stew mixes (we carry a variety of one-pot meals using instant potatoes, Minute Rice, corn pasta, or instant hummus) go in the pot, and moments later, we're dining. We heat one more pot of water for instant soup and a hot drink, to be sipped along with a chocolate-bar dessert, then crawl into our sleeping bags and keep the heavyweights company as they cook. They prepare noninstant soup, a nice pasta dish made with precooked chicken and dried vegetables, and pudding. By the time everything is ready, however, snow is flying and they're too cold to enjoy the tastier food they've prepared.

An inch of snow falls before strong winds blast away the clouds. Late at night, the thermometer in our tent registers 22°F, and in our 2-pound down bags (1 pound 8 ounces lighter than those of our cohorts), we wake up chilled. We slip on coats and hats, nestle back into our bags, and sleep comfortably for the remainder of the night. Meanwhile, the Heavies all sleep snugly, without a trace of hardship. Another tied round.
Lightniks 3 Heavies 2

Steve and I leave camp 5 minutes after the others, yet we reach a pass 1,000 vertical feet higher 5 minutes ahead of the pack. Traveling cross-country over the pass, we encounter rock-hard frozen ground coating extremely steep slopes. Using hands, feet, and ice axes, we move deliberately downward: a slip here would be lethal. Noting their ungainly packs, I ask whether the Heavies want a belay, but they feel their stiff boots are edging well. My light pack gives me greater balance, but my shoes require more careful placement, meaning the heavyweights and I descend at the same pace. Steve, however, lacks my confidence and moves very slowly. Halfway down, I stop to belay him, and by the time we regroup, the others have been waiting for half an hour. The heavyweights win the round.
Lightniks 3 Heavies 3

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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