I confess. I am a staunch abuser of The Scales. I am a gram-counting fruitcake. I cannot help it. I was turned to the almost religious fidelity by a forum which will remain nameless. In the UK, this approach is treated with a modicum of scepticism by some and the debate rages as to how light is too light. Trail has published articles on it - I recall a fabulous article by someone I admire greatly, Simon Ingram, with a snap of him putting an enormous Ajungilak inflatable mattress into a Vaude Hogan. He rightly makes the point that is incontrovertible: we all travel at a level of comfort appropriate to ourselves so long, I would add, as we can deal with any eventuality on a hill. We must be comfortable and we must be safe. I would venture to suggest that you pack as if Mountain Rescue does not exist. indeed, I often wonder what view Mountain Rescue take of the ultralight debate given the less we take into the hills, potentially, the more dangerous a position we are in should it go wrong.
The catalyst for my post is a recent post in PTC’s blog regarding shoes vs boots and I thought it was the right time for me to comment myself on the Ultra-SuperUltra-NanoUltra debate. In short, let me say this - his point is a good one. Some folk simply have an unreasonable conservatism which makes them opposed to change for no discernible reason. The advent of new fabrics, for example, has meant that a lighter pack requires a less complicated frame (or no frame) and back system than would have been the case years ago, yet many still heralded the arrival of the Osprey Exos as a messianic event. Perhaps at the advertised 856g, it might have been such an event given Osprey’s ability to produce packs that contour a back rather like a Forumla 1 car cornering, but to then add another 150g to that simply placed it in the ranks of the ordinary. I have not used it, but what was wrong, then, with the Talon? I address rucksacks in a separate post but it bears some general comments here - as materials and other kit diminishes in weight, a less rigid pack is required for a snug and comfortable fit. A sub-8kg overall pack weight does not, in my view, require a framed pack which immediate reduces the weight of the pack itself.
Further, lighter materials mean that shelters get lighter every season - the Laser Competition is not in any way, in terms of weight, spectacular anymore and a sub-800g dual-skin tent is going to appear soon. Add to that the movement towards tarp camping in the summer - I know the author of blogpackinglight and Martin Rye (Summit and Valley) are both keen on the Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid - and there you have an even lighter shelter weight. Personally, I am sceptical about tarp camping but, in the summer, would very much want to try it. I do not use trekking poles, so I would need a tarp with some sort of aluminum pole as well. Gossamer Gear do something I would like to try. The Scarp 1 is very interesting. A genuine 4 season tent, as billed, that sits rather like an Akto but with more space at the upward sides and with the option of an additional stronger, weather-appropriate poleset, it weighs only 1275g - a significant disparity with the Akto.
Sleeping bags are getting lighter and warmer and packing smaller too. I would much rather have a 0C 3-season bag and supplement it with down clothing to suit the temperatures concerned. For example, I have a Western Mountaineering Summerlite at 525g (manufacturer’s listed weight), a Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover and Divide and Conker meriono leggings. All three together weigh 930g, which is the weight of a lightweight, lower-rated bag but which does not give you as much flexibility. I am considering, for example, using the Nano Puff instead of a fleece and not taking another mid-layer and taking a second base layer instead.
Other kit is getting lighter too and it is here than the derision at those who subscribe to the ‘chopping your toothbrush in half’ principles is ill-advised. Saving the 2g you’d save from chopping off the end of your toothbrush is pointless per se, but it’s about attitude. Taking the covers off your maps, as Trail recently advised for the same reason, is an overall approach rather than effect because of the cumulative effect of that attitiude. Integral Designs eVent shortie gaiters, coupled with Sea to Summit ultralight drybags, alongside an MSR Titan kettle for boiling water and drinking tea from, using re-hydrated meals and having clothing fitting more than one purpose all, cumulatively, end up reducing your pack weight considerably whereas, alone, they achieve very little. A reduction in pack weight may mean very little to some but to most, it means an easier, more comfortable day in the hills.
I do not, at this stage, subscribe to the Superultralight theories espoused by Ryan Jordan and some of the people running BPL in the US (i.e. a sub-2.25kg base pack weight). I can see the logic in the principles but, as Ryan himself admits, pushing himself and being out of his comfort zone is what challenges him: "Our goal is simply survival, using the lightest pack to achieve the greatest physical performance (maximum miles per day traveled and longest distance without re-supply and without dying). Physical comfort and psychological well being are not factors we consider. We are so habitually prone to suffering when we backpack, that we think it's the norm - hardly worth mentioning." To some, that sort of challenge is simply not enjoyable. To others (and I might actually be one of them) it has the potential to be. That said, his introduction to Backpacking Light is seminal and worth a read although you may need to join to get the full article but as Carol Crooker, one of his colleagues summarises in her article “Can A Sane Person Truly Enjoy SuperUltralight Backpacking?”: “Let me be the first to say that I am happy that Ryan and Alan have the requirement of "without dying," when they throw physical comfort out the window. What I'm driven to understand is, in what conditions, if any, can SuperUltralight backpacking - pack base weight under 5 pounds - be enjoyed by the sane among us?” Her article on that point and the ensuing debate in the forum is worth a look but, in short, a lot of it has to do with weather and conditions - you can get away with more in the summer on a trail where the weather is less likely to do something unexpected than in the hills approaching Autumn or in Spring.
I think PTC’s point is that people need to try new things to advance and experience. It’s the nature of the human race to advance yet so many of us are opposed to change, probably because it’s also human nature to be afraid of the unknown - it’s a basic survival instinct. I am not a fan of using trail running shoes in the hills as I simply don’t think I have the skills yet to use them - but I am not far off and would use them in the summer in some situations. You cannot rule anything out - you need to be open to new possibilities - which is why I am often a little confused by people who brag about having used a particular piece of kit for 30 years. It may work for you, but perhaps something else will work better? Isn’t it worth a shot at least? And how often have you checked your rucksack and asked whether kit you've taken is really necessary?