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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

Some heavyweights might prefer getting to camp early and enjoying the benefits of the extra weight they've carried by sipping coffee, reading a book, and overlooking the scenery from their comfortable camp chairs. In the case of our heavyweights, though, it's envy that registers. "I wanted to join you," says Marc, " but I was spent." The Lightniks take the round.
Lightniks 6 Heavies 4

From our timberline camp, we follow a forested ridge that drops into the White River valley. We hope to encounter a climber's trail cutting through the green wreath of Cascadian brush, but fail to find one. For hours, we wriggle through slide alder, crawl over deadfall, and duck under evergreen branches. The small packs Steve and I carry make all the contortions easy. Out of masochistic curiosity, I swap packs with Tom, who now has trimmed his load down to a svelte 63 pounds. Ninety minutes later, I have hips that will be sore for days, burnt quads, and a sweat-drenched back. I can't wait to reclaim my load.

Eventually, we intersect the trail bordering the White River. Steve and I want to know how quickly we can comfortably cover the 11 miles separating us from the cars. Two hours and 15 minutes later, after combining slow jogging and fast walking, we have our answer. More than an hour faster than the closest heavy, the lightweights take the round.
Lightniks 7 Heavies 4

And The Winners Are...
The real test of this showdown would be whether the members of one side defected to the other side, and in the end most of the Heavies were swayed. Marc wasn't sure he could halve his pack weight, but felt certain he could shed 15 to 20 pounds. Margareta was impressed with our footwear and commented, "I think light shoes were the biggest item in making travel easier. I'll probably switch." Chris had studied our techniques and technology more closely than anyone else, and at trip's end announced, "I'm not going out there with a heavy pack again."

Meanwhile, even though our route was far more rugged than the average backpacking trip, Steve and I found nothing lacking in our lightweight systems. A week later, carrying the same kit (minus 5 pounds of climbing gear), he completed Mt. Rainier's 93-mile-long Wonderland Trail in 3 days.

See Light Loads, in sidebar at right, for the complete list of what the Lightniks carried. See Related Articles, at right, for reviews of the lightweight gear featured in this story, as well as other reviews and feature articles.

Put Your Pack On A Diet

Use This... (bring) Insteed of this... (don't bring) Saving (lbs., oz.)
Downsizefilm canisters to carry toothpaste, sunscreenoriginal packaging0,4
a 3/4-length sleeping pada full-length model0,6
a smaller pack (3,000 cu. in.)a 5,000 cu. in. pack2,0
duct tape, sticks for splints, a bandanna, a limited supply of painkillers, innovationadhesive tape, moleskin, bandages, splints, elastic bandages, and a pharmacopoeia of drugs0,8
Double Upboxer shorts w/fly sewn shutshorts and swimsuit0,8
stuff sacks for knickknackscamp shoes (slip sacks over socks)0,9
wear your coat to bed and carry a lighter sleeping bagsleeping bag rated below the lowest temperature you expect to encounter1,8
Leave It Outcamp chair1,2
extra cook pot0,7
long underwear bottoms0,6
trash: discard all extra food packaging at home1,0
extra food: return home empty2,0
Substituteultralight tent (4,0 w/stakes) or silicone-impregnated nylon tarp (1,8 w/stakes and groundsheet)average two-person tent (6,8 w/stakes)2,0 (min.)
small, streamlined rucksack (3,12)internal frame pack w/metal stay (5,4)1,8
canister stove (0,3)white gas stove (1,0)0,13 (w/o fuel)
water bladder (0,1)Lexan water bottle (0,5)0,4
iodine tablets or chlorine dioxide drops (0,2)water filter (0,10)0,8
extra pile hat (0,2)extra fleece shirt (0,10)0,8
approach shoes (2,0)leather boots (4,8)2,8
ultralight raingear (0,15 for top and bottom)mountain stormgear (3,0 for suit)2,1
titanium 2-liter pot (0,61/2)stainless steel 2-liter pot (0,91/2)0,3
professional-quality point-and-shoot camera (0,7)SLR camera and lens (1,12)1,5
MINIMUM SAVINGS: 22 pounds 4 ounces

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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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