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Simplicity Lost

There was a time, before the advent of cuben fabric, when going ultralight or lightweight backpacking meant taking less stuff on trips and on developing your backcountry skills to make up for the smaller safety margin. The simplicity of the activity was its greatest appeal for me, providing a welcome relief from a high stress, high interrupt, high tech career.

Silnylon Forever
Silnylon Forever

But I feel like those days are being replaced by a manufacturing arms race to create the lightest gear. Instead of maintaining simplicity, we now have the ability to fill out our gear lists with all kinds of electronic gadgets and luxury items that would have been unthinkable additions, before cuben.

At first the change was subtle, but as I started slashing my gear weight with cuben-based alternatives, I started carrying more stuff on trips, not less. First it was a cell phone; then a personal locator beacon; a GPS next, and so on. The miracle of cuben fabric let me add more and more luxury items to my pack, because overall, my gear weight was still decreasing.

Technologically, the advances we’ve seen in fabrics are exciting. But I fear that we are losing sight of the simplicity that embracing an ultralight or lightweight backpacking philosophy brings. I’m not suggesting that we turn back the tide of technological or product innovation, but I pray we don’t forget the spiritual reasons for going light. It’s not just about weight.

What you you think?


  1. @ Damien, that is the route I took (by necessity). I use a SVEA 123R in all 4 seasons and my winter sleep system is nesting my son's 3 season bag inside my 3 season bag along with my camp layers.

    The trade-off of this type of simplicity is extra bulk and extra weight. I have saved some serious $$ but I need s now cover to winter overnight becuase the bulkiness of my gear requires a pulk.


  2. A tiny mp3 player with headphones can be a lifesaver when you are in a shelter full of snorers. I don't like to walk with headphones, woods or city. I like to hear what's going on around me. I carry a cellphone. New ones can be tracked and located in emergencies. In fact, with the camera/video capabilities, they make a good adjunct to the photo equipment. Just remember not to kill the battery off…

  3. Phil, The person who coined the phrase "hike your own hike" managed to cover a multitude of issues. My basic philosphy has always been to add more smiles per mile. I did that quite well back in the 60s with gear people would consider barbaric by today's standards. But, as the years rolled by and equipment choices increased along with afforadability I noticed a definite equipment creep. I have a dog eared 1968 edition of Colin Fletcher's The Complete Walker. Remembering, that all the gear in there while servicable is obsolete today, but not the philosphy in support of the walk. Few people would want to carry 30 pounds of base gear when 10 pounds will do just as nicely and that's what Colin taught me. A lesser know fact about him is he was a Captain of Royal Marine Commandos in WW2.

    I try not to get sucked into the arms race of equipment manufacturers or their devotes. That's a trap for sure.

  4. Certainly is. I liked Damien's post above about collecting less stuff. I'm certainly leaning in that direction. Consumption is a trap.

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