Why I stopped counting ounces with my gear…at least precisely.
When I started backpacking, the concept of lightweight was alien to me. The idea of weighing gear, in general, was unknown.
I simply took the gear I thought I needed, went backpacking and enjoyed the experience.
I bought a “real” pack: An EMS 5500. Loaded up the Whisperlite stove, a PUR water filter, slept in a Campmor 20F bag with Holofill, cooked in stainless steel pots and borrowed my buddy Tim’s Eureka free-standing tent with fiberglass poles (later I bought a “lightweight” one-person Walrus Swift at a little over three pounds).
Looking back, the gear was heavy, bulky and inefficient. But I was able to get out regularly and enjoy my first two seasons of backpacking. I explored the White Mountains, experienced my first sunsets seen over mountain ridges and was hooked for life on something that is more than a hobby; it is a passion.
When I hiked Vermont’s Long Trail for the first time, I purchased a high-end Feathered Friend’s down bag that I still have. The bag was not only lighter than the Campmor synthetic fill bag but much less bulky, too. Other than that sleeping bag purchase, weight and bulk were not a consideration.
Then I hiked the Appalachian Trail a year later. After over two-thousand miles of schlepping a pack up and down the mountains, I realized just how heavy my pack was for what I was doing.
The nascent Internet forums started discussing weird material such as “silnylon”, making stoves out of Pepsi cans and how people should eschew their boots for trail runners. I was intrigued. I did the Long Trail again that year. My pack was smaller and lighter; I cooked with a soda can stove and a thrift-store pot.
Over the years my gear was refined, tweaked, swapped out and changed.
My base pack weight became lower. I was comfortable with three-season backpacking using a sub-10lb kit.
Then something happened: I stopped caring.
I don’t mean I stopped caring about staying light.
Rather I ceased to care about getting the absolute lightest gear or what the exact weight was anymore.
I recently was asked what the weight of my winter gear may be. It occurred to me; I did not know the exact weight at all. How much do my skis and bindings weigh? What does a wax kit weigh? How much does my avy shovel weigh? I had no freakin’ clue. It is just stuff I need and use.
Even my most recently updated gear list (from 2012!) used (gasp!) weights listed on websites rather than weighing the gear myself.
So why this lack of interest in knowing the exact weight of my gear?
A few reasons:
- I’ve gone beyond defining myself as a thru-hiker. Though those trips shaped my outdoors experience immensely, I do not hike on-trail with a well-defined path that has ample guidebooks and resources as much. I will get in thru-hiker mode for some solo weekend trips and my yearly two-week trip, but a long *on-trail* trip is less of an occurrence. Not to say I would not jump at the chance to do something longer and defined if I had the time.
- I go on trips that have backpacking at its base but involves other skill sets and gear. Ski trips (huts or traditional backpacking), guiding, being a hauler for family trips/with a past partner or even the odd-ball overnight climbing trip has gear that I never considered weighing. Not that you can’t obsess over light weight gear in those pursuits either, BUT….
- How much do I want to pay to save weight? “Losing pounds is cheap; losing ounces is expensive.” I have and use silnylon shelters. Even if I was out for months at a time again, when you are sub-10 lbs in base pack weight already, a Snickers bar or two worth of weight is not on the radar for me.
- I am peaking at how much gear I have and want to own. I still think I have too much in my opinion, but how much equipment do I need overall? Do I need a collection of multiple sub-1lb packs?
- I never really was into having THE lightest pack. Good enough to know I have a light pack that works well for me. A bonus is that what I happen to use does not weigh much. I’ll leave the labels to others.
- And, to be frank, though I am in pretty good shape…losing the 10 lbs extra on my body is going to be more efficient than shaving a few ounces on my gear. 😉
Just to emphasize again, I am not saying I have given up on caring about what I carry. Far from it.
When I needed a larger pack for the activities above, the ULA Catalyst was purchased because of its capacity and being lightweight for what it does. When I had to finally retire a sleeping bag, I went with a quilt because it is lighter and does what I need it do for three-season backpacking.
I just don’t obsess over the absolute lightest gear I use a pack that is slightly heavier than the lightest models of packs offered. I go off-trail and scramble enough that the lightest pack would not have fit my needs. And I really don’t want two packs (one for off-trail travel, one for on-trail). In a similar vein, the weight of one type sunglasses vs another is something I have never done. Nor I ever will.
Having said all that, it is still good to know the weight of gear in some cases:
- The traditional weight categories serve as useful benchmarks.
- Twenty pounds or less is considered lightweight
- Ten pounds or less is ultralight
- Five pounds or less is considered super ultralight
But these are just benchmarks…and not the goal itself.
- For someone transitioning from traditional to lighter weight backpacking, the gear weight should be known. Weigh everything! It is very easy for a person starting out to put in gear that “doesn’t weigh much” and next thing a person knows, they have 30+ lbs of gear that “doesn’t weigh much.”
- As experience is gained, a person gets a better feel for the trade-offs in terms of weight, comfort, functionality. The weight serves as useful baseline for this purpose.
- Knowing the weight lets you know the limitations of the gear. If I am doing an off-trail bushwhack, I’ll take a heavier rain jacket. On-trail? DriDucks. I know the lighter weight DriDucks works for on-trail and not as well as off-trail.
However, I find after a certain point you just know what works and what doesn’t.
Knowing which brand of medium-sized 100 wt fleece is lighter is not quite as important. Knowing that a 200 wt fleece is heavier and bulkier than a 100wt fleece *IS* important.
The takeaway from all of is that my pack weight for three-seasons may be ultra-light…it just ain’t ultra-precise anymore. 🙂 And that line of thought applies to pretty much all my gear.
And I’m OK with that.