The Battle of the Backpack

HEAVY BACKPACKS. Definitely not going ultralight, but definitely having a good time skiing in Rondane National Park in Norway.
HEAVY BACKPACKS. Definitely not going ultralight, but definitely having a good time skiing in Rondane National Park in Norway.

You know how some people want to make a competition out of anything? Without you knowing it, it has now entered the hiking scene. Who would have thought that a pleasant little thing like going outdoors could have anything to do with competing? But the competition is there, even if you weren’t aware of yourself entering it.

They call themselves ultralight backpackers. They will tell you that if you’re not carrying a featherweight backpack that hurts your back and sleep in a sleeping bag that is just shy of keeping you warm at night, and if you, god help me, are camping in a tent and not under a flimsy tarp, then you are lacking skills, my friend, you are lacking skills.

And if you have slimmed your backpack to a nice, comfortable weight, they will start to pick at you, yes you, ’cause why are you using those trekking poles, when there are lighter alternatives out there. And that silly, heavy backpack of yours, why haven’t you at least cut off the superfluous straps and got rid of that daft lid on the top? And when you have found a pair of lightweight hiking boots, they poke you in the rib with their featherweight hiking poles and say “hey, stupid, why aren’t you walking around in running shoes like us smart ultralight backpackers, are you afraid your feet can’t take being wet 24/7?”.

You thought you had a clever cooking system, but they’ll tell you that you must be a total nitwit for leaving the house with anything more than a micro cooking set for one person. When you try to explain to them that you only have one cooking system and that’ll have to do because you now and then like to bring your family along, it will be to no avail. ‘Cause you obviously have no skill.

Are you bringing a DSLR to take pictures? Are you totally out of your mind? Any smart backpacker wouldn’t use anything heavier than a Micro Four Thirds system, they’ll say, ignoring you when you try to explain that you do it for the sake of image quality. – Image quality? You must be lacking skills!

If you confront them with their elitism, they will say “no, there is no elitism”, while some may frenetically try to cover up their footprints. But it’s there, on the net, if you look for it. It’s not pretty. It’s infantile.

I will tell you this, my friend. Let them have their silly competition. Let them think they are better than the rest. Let them think they have supreme skills. At the end of the day, why do we go outdoors? To compete? Or to enjoy ourselves?

Am I exaggerating? Yes, big time. Am I generalising? You bet. Is this written tongue in cheek? Absolutely.

Just don’t tell the ultralight backpackers.

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15 thoughts on “The Battle of the Backpack”

  1. I’m a super-ultra-extra-light camper, but I don’t mention it on the trail. Why should I? I only care what I carry. I don’t care what you carry. Feel free to toss that espresso maker into your pack if it makes you happy. It’s just not my thing. And I promise not to mooch coffee from you tomorrow morning.

    Are there jerks who wear their ultra-lightness like a badge of honor (what, you haven’t sawed off your toothbrush)? Sure. Are there jerks who wear their 8-lb pack like a badge of honor (see what I can carry, baby-man)? Sure. Just don’t be either of those jerks.

    From my perspective, it’s sort of like being a vegetarian, or a non-drinker. When people know you’re a vegetarian or don’t drink, many immediately get defensive and start trying to justify their choices — as if simply by being different you have criticized them somehow (even though you haven’t said a word).

    Actually, that’s kind of how this article sounds, come to think of it.

    My advice to all: Just chill, do your thing, and get out in the woods. What gear you use to do so is the least interesting part of the equation.

  2. Thanks for commenting! Just to be clear: I love to pack light myself, I just don’t feel a need to label myself as a lightweight or ultra lightweight backpacker (just like I’m not an ultralight kayaker when padling my ICF racing kayak or ultralight skier when cross country skiing with racing equipment). I also consider myself reasonably skilled, though that has basically nothing to do with whether I pack light or not on a particular trip.

    In other words, I totally agree with you. This piece is a gross exaggeration and has nothing to do with the average ultralight backpacker. I’m just trying to make a point out of the sad elitism that is flourishing amongst a few so called UL backpackers.

  3. Most people I’ve met who are trying to lighten their loads are doing it for their own benefit and really couldn’t care less what other people carry. If anything, like anyone new to a hobby, they’re excited to share their passion. Perhaps that comes across as “pushy.” If you spend any time on some of the typical UL websites (incidentally, I linked to this post from Gossamer Gear, a US-based UL supplier), a common theme is HYOH, which means Hike Your Own Hike. Use what works for you and take whatever knowledge other people share not as advice or admonition, but simply as information to consider in making your own choices.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Rick. I absolutely agree with what you are writing. As I have written both in the post itself and in the comment section, the post is written tongue in cheek and not meant to offend UL backpackers, nor anybody else. In many forums hikers share both good and bad experiences regarding ultralight backpacking to the benefit of all hikers, myself included.

      I will also like to stress the fact that I love to pack light myself, though I have no idea whether that means that I’m a lightweight backpacker or UL backpacker or whatever. So again, the post is not meant to offend, but rather use exaggeration to highlight that the focus should be on what we do with our gear, not on the gear itself.

      There are, however, a few posts on different sites around the net that preach UL with a rather arrogant approach to other hikers (lacking skills, heavy packing etc.), which I do find sad. Again, I don’t mind people pushing the limit as to how light one can pack, as I have fun with that myself, one just has to remember that the weight of the pack is just one of many factors we have to consider when going hiking. Some might prioritize slightly different without that having anything to do with their skill level. I believe part of this strange elitism by some can be attributed to the system of dividing backpackers into categories based on the weight of their backpacks, whatever that has to do with hiking.

      Cheers,
      Mikkel

  4. In every activity, there are people who will tell other people “they are doing it wrong”. I’m sure someone told Jimi Hendrix that he was playing the guitar the wrong way. Very silly.

    I’ve read and used ultralight techniques for a long time, but I’m quick to point out that it is not for everyone. It bothers me when someone says “you can’t be ultralight if you…”. Maybe so, but then the term “ultralight’ is useless to me. I carry a few heavy items, but I know how much they weigh (because I’ve weighed them). Prior to reading about ultralight, I never owned a scale. The end result is a pack that weighs considerably less than my old pack. So much less that I actually enjoy the backpacking part of backpacking. In other words, I don’t mind the part of the trip that involves carrying everything on my backpack. Prior to the weight loss, I hated this. It was simply a means to an end. I would endure this part of the trip so that I could set up base camp, and do the really fun stuff (day hiking from a backwoods location). Now I take really long trips into the wilderness and the entire experience is fun.

    I don’t preach, but my friends know I’m into this ultralight stuff. Even if I don’t carry a tarp, or a quilt or a closed cell foam pad (preferring a tent, sleeping bag and inflatable mattress) I am aware of the various pros and cons. I read various websites, books and blogs (including this one). Because my friends want to know, I ended up buying a fishing scale (to go along with my postal scale) so I can weigh my total pack weight. When the subject comes up, I can honestly tell them that I carry less than fifteen pounds (including food) for a three day trip. Now they are interested.

  5. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything. If you want to build a boat do your homework first. Using high tech materials usually require that you do it right for them to work. Use safety equipment and wear a lifejacket when paddling. Old plans often suggest materials that are now considered unsafe such as lead paint, be careful. ALSO when building an ultralight boat there is a temptation to remove material to make the boat even lighter. Keep in mind that this might weaken the construction and make the boat dangerous.

  6. Well have to agree with everything you say Chris, although I do hold my hands up to lumix 4/3 camera. Only because I found I wasn’t using my Eos 5D because it was always in my pack, being too heavy to sling around my neck and I never could be bothered to take my pack off and photo the bird that had just flown away. So I chopped it in and now take lots of photos of absolute rubbish!!!

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