Ultralight backpacking is simply about weight, right? Well, yes and no.
Of course, the core idea behind ultralight is bringing only what is absolutely necessary to survive in the wild, thereby allowing the hiker to better enjoy the hike (instead of laboring under unnecessary pounds). Do I really need a fork and a spoon, or should I buy the titanium spork? Do I need the full handle on the spork, or should I cut it by half? And who needs underwear in the backcountry? And so it goes.
EDGEtv is planning a series of ultralight articles as we approach summer; top 5 gear lists, field reports, etc. But our purpose today is to take a deeper look into the philosophies behind the ultralight approach and how the approach can teach us things about ourselves.
You can lead a horse to water…
Ultralight is a state of mind. Like the Tao, it is only a way, a path, and everyone’s journey is different. Imagine you’re taking your buddy on his first backpacking trip. On one hand, you want him to bring enough gear to feel comfortable in camp. On the other hand, if his pack weighs 70 pounds, there’s a good chance he’ll hate the experience and never want to backpack again. So you find a middle ground, perhaps suggesting he swap out the six-pack of beer for flask of whisky or maybe leave the Levi’s at home and go with lightweight, moisture-wicking hiking pants. But let him bring the cool pillow thingie and the tiny camp chair he just scored at REI.
The trail is the best teacher…
Thing is, your buddy is going to figure stuff out real quick. His sore muscles are going to teach him a thing or two. He might look across the fire and see you sitting atop your bear canister and think to himself, “Do I really need this chair?” When he sees you using your puffy jacket as a pillow, well, he might already be thinking about selling his pillow thingie on Craigslist.
Or maybe not. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who thinks, “I didn’t hike my ass all the way up here to sit on hard plastic and sleep on a smelly jacket.” And that’s ok. Ultralight is totally subjective; to each his own.
It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times…
Arguably, we are living in the best time for ultralight equipment advances (see Patagonia’s Micro Puff jacket). But the other side of this coin is the fact that we are bombarded with a billion gear options everywhere we turn. The temptation to buy every last gadget at REI is real.
So you go back to your innermost self and ask: Why did I get into backpacking? There are no right or wrong answers to this question, but most people will discover their reason is to walk into the wild places as far as they can. To leave behind the city lights, the noise, and the rampant consumption of things, food, alcohol, Netflix…
And so what began as a way to shave weight starts to become an all-encompassing philosophy, an ethos, a way of honing your instincts to discern what is absolutely necessary to lead the examined life. And it doesn’t end when you leave the trail and go back to civilization. Ultralight backpacking teaches you to look around and see how much waste and clutter we’ve managed to create as a species.
So you start bringing your camp cup to the coffeeshop each morning instead of using their disposable cups. You have a garage sale to get rid of all the junk you’ve somehow accumulated.
In any case, ultralight backpacking can teach us a lot about ourselves, and we hope you enjoy our upcoming blog series about all things ultralight! Join the conversation at EDGEtv’s Facebook page!