Sunday, March 7, 2010

If you had to start again, knowing what you know now, what would you do different?

Facially simple question: If you had to start backpacking (and purchasing or making gear) all over again, where would you start?

First, a story: I discovered REI during my first year of college and I spent hours perusing its racks. My first purchase was a 4400 cubic inch backpack that weighed 4.25 lbs (a full 4 lbs more than my lightest backpack right now). I also bought an REI Halfdome 2, which also weighed somewhere north of 5 lbs (including footprint and stakes).

My lightweight epiphany came sometime after these purchases when a friend of mine showed me his homemade silynylon backpack that was designed on the frameless packs of Ray Jardine. I was floored. Here was a backpack that weighed in at 16 oz that had the same functional capacity as my heavy, overbuilt backpack.

So where would I start? I would read Beyond Backpacking first, and do it at a time before 1999 when I went to Isle Royale with my scout troop. And I would have thrust myself into the make-your-own realm. My mother is a fantastic seamstress, and I would have asked her for her assistance. Back then, my funds were limited and the thrifty nature of making your own appealed to that nature. Making my gear early may also serve to limit the consumerism pressure to constantly exchange and replace gear for lighter alternatives. This would have put me in a good position to develop my so-called "Big Three" (shelter system, sleeping system, backpack system) to somewhere near four pounds (1 lb tarp system; 1 lb backpack; 2 lb quilt + pad system). And the rest of the system would have developed from there according to the principles of lightweight backpacking.

Instead, I carried too much weight for too long and spent too much money and time on heavy alternatives that I thought were essential or necessary. I do not regret it, but I wish my epiphany had come earlier.


Martin Rye said...

No regrets here for going backpacking with too heavy kit. Did not know another way. It was still a joy to be out and that is the aim for me. Going light complicates things a lot less and makes it even more enjoyable. In some ways I have been lighting up since my first backpacking trip. I learn each time what I don't need and could improve on. Good story and thanks for telling it.

Jolly Green Giant said...

It's hard for most to immediately embrace the UL movement. They don't know where to look for gear, they don't know what gear is even available or appreciate its function, they likely haven't heard of the technology (nano fabrics, cuben, dyneema, epic, eVENT, Pertex, Merino wool, etc.) or cottage manufacturers and their nifty gizmos (Caldera Cone, Lighttrek 4 poles, alcohol stoves, sil/cuben/dyneema packs, CCF vs pad, etc.), and they need to spend a significant amount of time UNlearning all the marketing hype that brainwashed them for a lifetime.

If you take an average backpacker with gear from REI and jump them straight to Ray Jardine, they'd likely resist a lot - and honestly they probably should as it is a big leap.

But if the same backpacker is given the opportunity to take their time, read, learn, and experiment, they'll end up where they want to be with the experience and knowledge to keep them safe.

So although it would be nice to simply jump to the end of most things, often the journey is of equal necessity.

Probably my biggest gripe is the money I've spent over the years, but generally as I sell it off in favor of something new, I get the pleasure of knowing that I learned something and often I can pass on that same knowledge to someone else who will eventually continue the tradition of passing the knowledge and the gear.

Matt Lutz said...

Yeah, the education part of is a bit of a learning curve. Unlearning marketing (and for me, my 15+ years in scouts at that time) is also important.

But that's why I put Beyond Backpacking out there. It is simple. Learn about silnylon, go to work. Google makes things a lot easier these days, too.

If I owned an outdoor store, I would try and walk the fine line between product pushing, insulting and education customers.

Alastair said...

IF I was to start again knowing nothing I would like to be told that the most important thing is not to worry about things: just BEGIN!
You don't have to travel light with expensive kit. The important thing is to get out into the wild.
Only then once I had learned some stuff I would begin to teach the young me about lightweight kit etc...