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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

After bagging Clark Mountain, we encounter her imposing southwestern slopes. Descending a gully lined with scree, boulders, and bands of rock is the best of several unappetizing options. Steve initially moves the slowest, but it's technique rather than technology hampering him. "Thank God I don't have a monster pack," he tells me. "I couldn't do this safely with that much weight."

He gains confidence and is soon keeping pace with the Heavies. With my light load and sensitive shoes, I can outpace most of the group and move with greater balance and safety. Amazingly, Marc, with his massive load, also moves confidently down this tricky slope. He agrees with my comment that were he carrying my kit, he'd literally fly across this technical terrain. The ultralights take the round.
Lightniks 4 Heavies 3


We camp on heather benches overlooking the ripsaw skyline of the Cascades. The Heavies, complaining of their tired backs and weary quads, rest while they slice fresh peppers and bread for a feast. Steve, still full of energy, takes 40 minutes to climb a peaklet above camp and gaze over its glaciers. He and I repeat our cooking ritual and slam down quickly made, calorie-packed food. Afterward, we sit on sun-warmed granite slabs while the Heavies enjoy their fete. As they fry garlic and sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, then soak up the oil with plump slices of fresh bread, there is a measure of food envy among the Lightniks. "This is when the heavy pack pays off," says Chris, saluting us with his aromatic bread. The heavyweights take another round.
Lightniks 4 Heavies 4

A long morning of sidehilling on grassy slopes delivers us to steep scree slopes leading to a col, through which we will access the Butterfly Glacier. Steve and I reach the col spilling little perspiration. The bottoms of my feet are sensitive from all the sidehilling, but my woes (from shoes I began wearing just days ago) are minor compared to Margareta's. The stiff leather and soles of her not-so-new boots, leveraged by the weight on her back, have carved nickel-size blisters into her heels.

While Margareta doctors her feet at the col, we discuss differences in first-aid philosophies. Steve and I carry a kit that's a third of the size of the Heavies'. Ours holds a selection of bandages, moleskin, a suture kit, and some powerful painkillers, but not the gauze, tapes, splints, wraps, and cleansers of a "normal" kit. We argue that other supplies we carry (bandannas, duct tape, Ensolite pads, dish soap) can double as first-aid supplies. Steve and I also argue that our light loads are good first aid in and of themselves: Rather than treating injuries, these loads actually prevent injuries by keeping us better balanced and putting less stress on our joints.

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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