The Comfort Continuum
Last month, I ran a series of articles written by section hiker readers about their gear choices and how they’ve evolved over time. I’ve received very positive feedback from many of you about those posts. On a more personal note, I was gratified to see how many of you took this opportunity to weigh your gear and create a gear list for the first time as well as the feedback everyone gave an each others’ posts. Building a tolerant and supportive community around section hiker is important to me and it was exciting for me to sit back while I was prepping for Scotland and have you collectively drive the blog for a while.
Looking back, I think the series of posts were very effective in demonstrating the benefits carrying lightweight backpacking gear, the importance of having a gear list that still provides you with creature comforts, and how people’s experience with comfort evolves over time. These themes were repeated in dozens of conversation I had with backpackers in Scotland on the TGO Challenge.
The fact is, I still like my creature comforts when I’m out backpacking. I like to bring a comfortable air mattress, some extra camera gear, a good paperback, a plush animal friend, a digital voice recorder, and good food to eat. I can get away with bringing these little extras, and still keep my base gear weight under 14 lbs, because I’m careful about the weight, bulk and multi-purpose utility of the other gear I carry.
But my concept of comfort has definitely evolved over the past few years, as I’ve experimented with new gear and learned new skills. For example:
- I’ve switched from hiking boots to trail runners
- I’ve switched from pump based water purification to ultralight chlorine dioxide tablets
- I’ve switched from tarp-tents to tarps
So building on those themes: comfort vs. weight trade-offs, the benefits of lightweight backpacking, and the evolution of your definition of comfort, here are few excerpts from your submissions (linked to their original posts) that resonated with me and that I wanted to call out. If you haven’t had a chance to read the entire series, it’s worth going back and having a browse.
Comfort vs. Weight Trade-offs
- I have reduced weight in my pack, sleeping bag, and tent. But, I haven’t forgone the comforts of my 2.5” sleeping pad or my JetBoil cooking stove.
- My goal is to take the base line experience I’m looking for, then go as light as possible while meeting that comfort level.
- I am not ultra-light by any means and don’t plan to be. I enjoy some comforts and gadgets on the trail.
- I enjoy creature comforts such as an inflatable pillow, or an in-tent lantern, so I have been very critical when it comes to analyzing gear weight, so that I can still carry along luxuries while still maintaining an ultralite pack.
- Going lightweight also allows you to bring a few luxuries on the trail that might, with heavier packs, add insult to injury…
- I’ve still got a lot of opportunity to reduce my load, but at this point I’m comfortable with the thought that going lightweight doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice anything… it’s more comfortable, more enjoyable, and just plain easier.
- I am forever looking to lighten my load, however there are a few things I won’t go without. Specifically cooking gear!!! I LOVE TO COOK
Benefits of Lightweight Backpacking
- The biggest benefit to me about going lightweight is that it allows me to see more of nature than I normally could.
- To me there are two (2) main benefits: less work (more enjoyment) and less separation from the environment.
- Having fewer items in my pack, leaving behind all the extra gadgets and things people believe they “need,” gets me closer to why I want to be out hiking to begin with
- Once my pack became light enough to remove without busting a vein I was more likely to stop and drop it rather then blowing past overlooks and turtles sunning themselves in the middle of the trail.
The Evolution of What’s Comfortable
- Weigh everything. Use a spreadsheet to keep account of your loads. Starting out, you will make dozens of changes, compromises, and eliminations.
- I learned on my Long Trail and Patagonia hikes that the more stuff I had, the more cluttered I felt.
- My conversion is an ongoing process of acquiring lightweight gear, resisting the temptation to take everything I own on trips, and coming to terms with the fact that I can live without most of it.
Smarts Mountain, April 2008, New Hampshire AT
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