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What ultralight backpacking means to me

I grew up with the idea that this was a backpacking trip: four kids, sleeping pads, some food and water, awesome misadventures. Honestly, when I saw my first backpacker with the heavy load on their back, I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine what they could possibly be carrying. Since I began my solo trips, I’ve tried to keep my gear as simple and practical as possible, mostly for functional reasons (less stuff to break) but also because for me it’s safer and more fun.

Ultralight backpacking for me was never a new stove or a new suspension system for a pack, a creative pole configuration for a tent or NASA developed water filter. For me it has always been about minimalism, safety, and low-impact. My apartment is cluttered, loaded with half a dozen packs, three bags, over ten shelters, a few sleeping pads, and countless ways to treat and store water. But out in the woods I carry only what I need: a pack, a sleeping pad and bag, a tarp, and some food and water.

I’m completely okay with people carrying luxuries into the woods and enjoying checking out new gear; I get a kick out of it too. The materialism and stigma of lightweight backpacking only bugs me only when it prevents people from getting out. This is my inspiration for encouraging lightweight backpacking, because it simplifies it and makes the backcountry more accessible to everyone. I feel we’ve drifted away from that and overcomplicated a very simple activity.

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.” -John Muir

A famous mountaineer once said of climbing Everest that “it’s just hiking and camping.” Not sure I totally agree with that but I can appreciate the sentiment. I stand by that backpacking doesn’t need to be the complicated dilemma of cooking delicious meals, creating indestructible shelter, or sleeping with utmost comfort. If getting out into the woods is the goal, the means are simple and no amount of expense or fear should keep someone home. The extravagance can be fun, but it shouldn’t be a prerequisite to getting out. I’m not encouraging any Survivorman shenanigans but I do feel that a light pack of the essentials is safer than the heavy burdens of traditional backpacking. It allows me to travel quickly over potentially hazardous terrain, limits the risk of impact injuries, and forces me to depend on preparation and adaptation than gear. For me, ultralight isn’t about numbers on a spreadsheet; it’s the freedom to travel through the woods uninhibited by the burdens of civilized life.

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