If you want to become an ultralight backpacker, you need to be willing to experiment on yourself. There’s only so much you can learn by reading articles, asking questions on forums, or watching youtube videos. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to take some risks and try out a few things to see if you can learn how to stay comfortable with less.
When I started this process, I began by experimenting with different layering systems in order to understand the relationship between exertion, warmth and insulation which we refer to as thermoregulation. I did this by taking many day hikes in different weather conditions including sun, rain, snow, high humidity, etc. and carefully observing the effect that different layers, gloves, hat, and gaiters had on my comfort level. In the process, I learned that I could easily stay warm with very few layers as long as I kept moving, and that having many thin layers was better than carrying a multi-layer coat that had all the layers sewn together.
After that, I started experimenting with single wall tents to see if they helped reduce internal condensation and whether I’d like a tent that has more airflow than a more conventional double walled tent with an all-enclosing external fly.
As I got more confident, I did more and more experiments on longer and longer backpacking trips, testing whether I liked:
- alcohol stoves better than canister ones
- hammocks instead of single-walled tents
- tarps instead of single-walled tents
- shaped tarps instead of flat tarps
- long pants instead of shorts
- a bivy sack instead of a plastic ground sheet
- a higher capacity pack instead of a smaller one
- trail runners instead of boots
- quilts instead of sleeping bags
- whether I could use clothes to augment the warmth of a lighter sleeping bag
- and more…
And while my experiments and observations continue to this day, there were a few less than optimal experiences along the way. Once I nearly froze to death in a hammock, another time I got swamped in a tarp tent during heavy rainfall, my bivy bag has leaked, I’ve soaked a down bag, had to eat cold food, set gear on fire, had high winds blow down a tent, you get the drift. But those bad experiences taught me some lessons I’ll never forget, so I guess they were worth it. :-)
When you boil it all down there’s really very little difference between a 10 pound pack and an 11 pound, 12 pound or 13 pound pack except the label “Ultralight.” But I think that label misses the point. It’s not your gear weight that counts, but what you’ve learned about what you need to backpack safely and efficiently.
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