Ultralight bullcrap – A rant

February 1, 2015

In preparing for this hike, I’ve purchased I don’t know how many dollars in equipment. I’ve cut out gear, re-added it, and cut it out again. I’ve reconfigured my pack like a thousand times already and as I’ve mentioned before, all this prep is driving me mad!

There’s so much concentration on getting your pack weight down. A a lot off the buzz in all the Facebook groups geared towards thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is around how much everyone’s pack weighs. Don’t get me wrong, these groups can serve as useful tools for hopeful thru-hikers like me and can contain invaluable information that can be obtained from nowhere else.

What is ‘ultralight backpacking‘? It is carrying nothing but the essentials to ensure your safety, survival and basic comfort. It consists of getting your base pack weight (the weight of a backpack plus the gear inside & outside it, excluding consumables such as food, water, and fuel) to below 10 pounds. The weight of a pack is of great debate amongst backpackers, however this is the general and accepted consensus for ultralight backpacking. There is some history and information around the philosophy around ‘ultralight backpacking’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultralight_backpacking.

Although I believe the philosophy around ultralight backpacking upholds the fundamental reasons why someone would take on such a calling (making do with less, eliminate the need for material possessions, becoming one with nature, discover a new kind of self-reliance, etc.) as well as the sheer fact that it is conducive to less wear and tear on the body, I’m starting to feel that this hype around ‘ultralight’ backpacking was propagated as part of a marketing ploy to get folks to spend money on expensive ‘ultralight’ gear. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the concept was not developed by a company, but popularized by a rock climber back in 1992 (Ray Jardine) and formerly unknowingly executed by a pioneer in AT thru-hiker ‘Grandma Gatewood‘ in 1955.

I’ve agonized over this dilemma (trying to get my pack to be as light as possible) for about a year now and have finally accepted the fact that I’m going old school. I just can’t spend anymore money on gear and refuse to lose a few things that will give me peace of mind (that may change after some time on the trail). Although I’ve purchased some ultralight components and I’ve weeded out what I’ve deemed as unnecessary items, my pack weighs what it weighs. People did it back in the day without all the fancy schmancy equipment and there’s something to be said for those who have successfully hiked the entire trail with all those pounds on their back. Say what you will but if someone’s determined to complete the trail, they will do it with 10 pounds on their back or with 40 pounds on their back. Me personally, I’ll have strong ass legs when I return so I can jump right back into weightlifting without having lost any gains in my lower body. I suppose the upper body will be a different story. To those who say that all that pack weight amounts to a higher failure rate, well that’s motivation for me to keep going.

I’m not looking forward to the ridicule I have yet to face by those who deem themselves ‘authorities’ on thru-hiking regarding the contents of my pack. I’m not looking forward to those thousand(s) mile ascents that I have yet to encounter with a fully-loaded pack. I’m not looking forward to the aches and pains that I will incur from bearing such a burden on my back. However, I am looking forward to the satisfaction that I will receive out of accomplishing a feat the way I want to accomplish it…on my own terms.

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