A Short History Of Ultralight

While hiking light may seem like a new trail trend, nearly 20 years ago, many outdoor manufacturers were beating the ultralight drum.
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While hiking light may seem like a new trail trend, nearly 20 years ago, many outdoor manufacturers were beating the ultralight drum.

While hiking light may seem like a new trail trend, nearly 20 years ago, many outdoor manufacturers were beating the ultralight drum. BACKPACKER was even there to cover it. We featured Fred Williams, founder of Moonstone, and his 95-mile, 4 1/2-day trek through Oregon?s Three Sisters Wilderness carrying a 15-pound pack. We also profiled weight-watchers like Don Douglass and Alpenlite?s packs, Jack Stephenson and Stephenson Warmlite tents, and Dick Kelty and his namesake company?s packs and bags. And we showed you how to shave your pack weight in half.

Before these prophets, Yvon Chouinard encouraged climbers to travel light with truisms like, ?If you carry bivy gear, you?ll bivy.? Long before Chouinard, John Muir wandered the California?s Sierras for weeks carrying little more than a blanket and bread. Before Muir, a Scotsman named MacGregor is known to have taken 1,000-mile-long canoe journeys packing next to nothing. And before MacGregor, the thread leads back to the dawn of man, when nomadic people lived in the outdoors with far less than what modern backpackers carry on a weekend escape.

With progress constantly creating new conveniences, opposing philosophies of wilderness travel wax and wane. For a time, the beauties of unencumbered travel capture the imagination, then dim before the glitter of new advances promising greater comfort. These advances, however, often take us two steps backward for every step forward. That?s why we need new disciples like Ray Jardine (the long distance hiker, equipment innovator, and author many credit with resurrecting the concept of ultralight travel) and companies like GoLite to remind us that when it comes to what we strap to our backs, less is the ultimate comfort.