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The Trailhead - General Backpacking Discussion The Trailhead General Discussion forum is for backpackers to discuss non-gear related wilderness backpacking issues (e.g. technique, LNT, hiking partner wanted, trip planning...) that are not covered in other PB forums.


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  #1  
Old 05-03-2006, 01:50 AM
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Reality Reality is online now
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Comfortweight™ Philosophy

Many years ago, I began putting together my own philosophy of how I wanted to approach my backpacking gear and hiking experiences.

I started out as what would be called, today, a super ultralight (SUL) backpacker (or minimalist) - long before there was any books or information circulating about it. My SUL backpacking status was not due to my having whittled my gear down from a heavier weight to under 5 pounds. It was mostly due to the fact that I didn't own much gear. I was that way (SUL) by default.

I'd go into the wilderness without a shelter and sleep under the stars with my bedroll (wool blanket) that I carried in a thin nylon backpack (not designated as an ultralight piece of gear - it was just cheap).

As time went on, I began to see more and more backpacking gear surfacing on the market. I found it intriguing and enticing. I bought some according to my needs and some based upon what I (et al) thought that I might need (and later decided that I didn't).

Around the time that the lightweight backpacking movement started to emerge, I was growing a little uncomfortable with the amount of weight that I was carrying. My discomfort wasn't based upon a lack of strength or stamina, rather it had more to do with my personal feelings about hauling unnecessary and/or overbuilt items around. I began to look at things more efficiently.

Gradually I began upgrading old gear to newer equipment. Soon my overall pack weight dropped considerably. My motivation was personal. My primary concern was that the gear would be durable, comfortable, and efficient. Lighter gear was a bonus.

Though I've certainly been interested, perhaps excited at times, about some of the ultralight gear alternatives available today, I haven't completely left my current comfort zone (which isn't SUL).

Some of the ultralight gear that I've tested does not meet my criteria for what's needed to afford myself a comfortable and enjoyable backpacking trip.

Though I've dabbled with exceptionally light gear and own my share of it, I still find myself beholden to my inner feelings regarding how I prefer my backpacking experiences to be. Thus, I've learned to rest in what I've long ago termed my Comfortweight philosophy.

I define the term Comfortweight as the weight an individual backpacker is comfortable carrying and using - having arrived at a compromise (point of settlement) between comfort and weight.

The philosophy that surrounds this is not as regimented as other classifications (e.g. ultralight). For example, Comfortweight does not have any absolute weight assigned to it. It both encompasses and transcends popular backpacking weight classifications (SUL,UL,LW). Because what is comfortable for one, may not be for another. What is a burden for one, may be a walk in the park (wilderness) for another. And one individual may be comfortable with a 40 pound pack, while another requires a 10 pound pack to be content.

Comfortweight is ultimately defined by the individual. A backpacker may carry 50 pounds or 5 pounds and still be considered a Comfortweight backpacker - provided the backpacker is comfortable with what he or she is carrying.

For me, a torso-sized piece of foam is not always going to provide me with sufficient comfort to sleep on. Although I've slept many of nights in the wilderness without any sleeping pad at all, I now prefer the use of an inflatable pad. It's in keeping with my Comfortweight. If I were simply concerned with weight, I'd go without any pad. How's that for ultralight?

I've dramatically altered the weight that I've carried over the years, to meet my needs at a given time. Today my comfortweight is well below what it was several years ago, but it may still shift according to my future needs. It's not fixed.

I'm not concerned with how much weight others are carrying, as long as they're content with it. My Comfortweightmay not be their Comfortweight and vice versa.

There's room for all of us, and all of our views regarding backpacking gear (its comfort factor and weight specs). If someone is excited about his or her 5 pound pack, so be it. If another is carrying more specialized gear (e.g. climbing, photographic...) and has a 50 or 60 pound pack; it's on his or her back. We're all free to make the choice for ourselves.

I encourage you to define your own personal Comfortweight. Consider what's available - consider the advice - consider your own comfort and enjoyment.

HYOH.

Reality
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  #2  
Old 05-03-2006, 02:42 AM
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hoosierdaddy hoosierdaddy is offline
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Nowadays I find myself wondering, “Why not take a windshirt, hardshell & that silponcho (yup & the tent too)', because nowadays I can take all that for practically the same weight I've always been used to, but with *much* more versatility.

So I've found myself going from ultra light to 'reasonably light', whereas I used to have to make judgment calls concerning the safety & adequacy of my kit for the conditions that I was encountering, I now head off with a much decreased psychological load than I did before, since, along with the experience I’ve gained over the years, I’ve got the gear to handle almost anything that comes my way out there. I don't hesitate these days to commit to a good slog or bushwhack, whereas before my margin for error was much more slim.

Perhaps it has something to do with the notion that ultra light, truly ultra light was cool until I realized that it meant (for the most part) sticking to the trails (with the gear that was available then) & when I wanted to get off the trail I needed more durable gear, & now I can have that gear (& more) for similar weights to before.

I've been thinking about ultra light backpacking and how it affects backcountry experiences. I like that it brings back that "back to the basics" feeling which must have been predominant in the pre-waterproof/breathable, GPS, internal frame days. Of course I say that based on my style...W/B, GPS, and internal frames all have a place in ultra light backpacking.

If you leave all of the high-tech gadgetry and heavy duty gear behind, and instead take lightweight gear such as poncho tarps and alcohol stoves, you will find yourself working with nature and learning ways to make nature work for you, rather than standing up to and defying nature. Sure, pitching a 4 season tent on a super-exposed ridge in stormy weather is an exciting experience, but if all you know how to do is rely on your gear and stand up to nature, eventually you will be in a situation where nature simply has more to throw at you than you can defend against, and if you can't start making nature work for you at those times you will be in real danger.

Taking lightweight gear promotes learning and skills rather than a reliance on gear and instruction manuals. If you take fool-proof gear with you like a 0 degree synthetic bag on all your hikes, you can't really make any mistakes from which you can learn.

I think it would be good to challenge yourself in some way on every hike. Bring your tent or tarp along, but instead of pitching it right away try to make a shelter out of sticks, brush, logs, a big rock, snow, whatever, and sleep in that for the night. If there's plenty of downed wood, try building a nice warm fire and leaving your sleeping bag stuffed for the night (Okay, roll it out in your bivy sack for the night to protect it's loft). Always bring a fire starter, but maybe read up and practice techniques like the bow drill and hand drill and try starting your fires that way when the situation is right. One measure of ultra light might be instead of how much your pack weighs, how much you actually rely on that gear for your safety rather than simply your comfort.

I think it is important to enjoy the experience regardless of how ultra light you go. Knowledge is more important than gear and the knowledge lets you save weight. But the knees rule and lightening the pack really spares my knees.

I like to think that the reason for going ultra light is to increase your chances of a positive, rewarding experience. It can be hard to keep sight of that ultimate goal. If you are going so light that you feel uncomfortable, either physically or mentally, than you are completely defeating the purpose of going light. If those extra 2 or 3 pounds of gear are capable of increasing your enjoyment levels, despite having to carry them, by all means bring them along. The only time I think it would be justified to go so light you feel uncomfortable is when you are on a strict schedule such as a thru-hike, or if you are having knee and back problems which require you to go as light as possible.

Getting outside and experiencing nature is more important than being comfortable, but if you are just plain miserable than you will not be able to appreciate nature quite as much. There is plenty to be enjoyed during a good heavy rain, but it is hard for me to enjoy it all when I am sweating like crazy in a "waterproof/breathable" jacket and have tunnel vision because of the hood. Therefore I carry the extra half pound *gasp* of an umbrella.

Comfort is not the goal, but it can help you achieve your goal.
  #3  
Old 05-03-2006, 07:16 AM
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Ohio_Trekker Ohio_Trekker is offline
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To be blatant here, is what it's all about. I admire those who are ultra-light, super-ultra-light, uber-ultra-light, whatever they want to call it. I think I owe them a debt of gratitude since they are the ones driving the market to make it easier for someone like me who is looking for sensible not driving for the super-uber-ultra.

In the end the system that works best for me, is to choose the lightest (functional for me) gear when it comes to the necessities from what is available. Sleep system including tent, and pack, along with culling items that aren't doing more than one thing or items that have made a trip or two but never been used.

I like HD's term "Reasonably Light" and concur with his reasoning that I have gotten the weight of my basics so low, that even if I bring along extra gear, my weight is still lower than it used to be.

To some extent I agree with HD in that a dependence on the gear as opposed to depending on your skills adds something to the equation, but I think that goes back to HYOH, and what expectations you have of your experience. Does carrying a tent mean I don't have the skills that would let me survive, find or build a shelter? Maybe, maybe not, but if my expecation is simply to go out and see what there is to see, and simply enjoy being on the trail, does it really matter., Am I less of a hiker because I don't use a tarp or a bivy and mosquito netting, or smear my face with mud to keep the mosquitos at bay?

I think people who's expecation include getting X number of miles in less than X number of days, or making it to X destination. As well as those who aren't happy unless they can get their pack down to X weight, have a completely different expectation. I fully respect that their thought process may include covering more miles with less weight, or enjoying their hike because of less weight. But it doesn't mean I am getting any less enjoyment of my experience and expecations.

So maybe a long blathering way to say. I'm fully with you on this one, and from now on will refer to myself as a "Comfort Weight Backpacker". An excellent descption to be sure.
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Old 05-03-2006, 08:22 AM
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gussomer gussomer is offline
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Several comments...

My UL and SUL goals originally derived not from the need to hike ungodly miles in less time, but from the need to have the energy and ability to hang with my athletic friend who always leaves me lagging (and sagging once I get to camp) on ascents. He still has the 40+ lb. pack and waffle-stompin boots for simple overnights...with each pound loss, I am more able to maintain pace with him. Of course, I still hike at a slower pace and am fine with that, I just dont want to feel whipped once I get to basecamp...and I'm always disheartened when our goals for basecamp are not met and rather than staying at a lake or on a ridgeline, we are fighting for realestate on the side of a hill.

However, another part of my comfort weight has to do with lightening my load so that I can shoulder more of the overall weight between me and my wife...if I can make her time more enjoyable, its all I could ever ask. Thus, ultimately, she is the one that is SUL ...being limited mostly to her sleep system, clothing, and water.

As I go through this journey, I become more enamored with the idea of salvaging items to make my ultralite set-up. What can I do with this cool packaging (that normally I'd throw away)...and what can I buy at a thrift store for a few dollars that will give me even more pride in ownership? A benefit of this is that I become more knowledgable about helping others who are not outfitted for backpacking. Sure, everyone can dump lots of money into their gear, but then they feel awful when the gear doesn't meet expectations, breaks, gets stolen, or becomes out-dated the next season. I'm learning. Having said that, I still want a Double Rainbow.

In summary and retrospect, my comfort weight is all about comforting the needs of everyone...myself, my buddy, my wife, the novice BP guests...Interesting psychoanalysis.

Last edited by gussomer : 05-03-2006 at 08:44 AM.
  #5  
Old 05-03-2006, 08:32 AM
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Dylan Dylan is offline
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'Comfortweight' does it for me; it is an excellent term which reflects an individual approach to backpacking that suits that particular person. Do you want to drive a sports car or a 4x4 offroader? It is a personal choice - there is no right or wrong answer.

The drive towards ultralight gear being an option is only slowly being adopted in the UK, where we have a) pretty cruddy and unreliable weather for most of the year and b) a mountaineering heritage that is reflected in our outdoors gear, most of which is pretty bombproof and heavily engineered. What I like is that I am having increased choice to use lighter weight equipment bought from stores, and the web is a mine of useful and thought-provoking information about make-it-yourself options for slicing away the pounds.

My personal approach is that the journey should be as important as the destination; if you want to sit and brew a coffee and look back along the trail, reflecting on what you have already achieved today that's good. If you want to eat on the march and push on through the miles, that's good too - whatever suits you.

Whilst 'nothing looks as good as light feels' is a good maxim, see if you believe it after a cold wet night with no sleep but a very light pack. Comfort is subjective; weight is objective (it can be measured). There is however, no magic formula that divides weight by comfort, multiplies by cost and then factors in your age, sex, religion or inside leg measurement to deliver a 'backpacking rating' - thank goodness! Carry what you want, take the pain or the gain and enjoy being outside - for an hour or a week, it doesn't matter. Just get off your backside and get out in the sun, rain, snow, wind or whatever, but always be relatively safe and have fun.
  #6  
Old 05-03-2006, 09:28 AM
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Ben2World Ben2World is offline
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Let's start by recognizing that my system rocks!

Folks who carry more are simply too attached to the material world and need to get a life. And those who carry less are gram weenies who need to get a life as well.

All kidding aside, I like the term "comfort weight". We all have a different point where we start to feel comfortable with our pack weight. If we carry much heavier than that, we start to think more about reaching camp just so we can unload, rather than appreciating the scenery along the way. But going much lighter than that doesn't really add any more benefits, as our pack weight is already plenty light and comfy for us. I call that point our "sweet spot".

Different strokes for different folks. To me, paring down to SUL level (5 lbs base weight or less) adds absolutely nothing to my trip enjoyment -- and I strongly suspect folks who practice SUL do so for psychic benefits and bragging rights. HOWEVER, there's much more to enjoyment than appreciating the hike itself -- and psychic benefits can warm the soul just as much as anything else!

The thing I remind myself to "lighten up and leave home" is my own judgment that other hikers are carrying too much or too little or are too hard core with LNT or too loud and inconsiderate...

Last edited by Ben2World : 05-03-2006 at 09:36 AM.
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Old 05-03-2006, 10:11 AM
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WildlifeNate WildlifeNate is offline
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I really like this concept of "Comfort Weight". I came to the same conclusions about it (though I cannot claim to have coined a term for it) more or less independently of Reality over the past few years. I appreciate the drive to lighten the load, and I appreciate the results of lightening my pack. There are, however, certain comforts that I am not prepared (mentally) to do without. Maybe one day I will, but not now. Therefore, I choose to carry a tent (it's a tarptent, but still a tent), an inflatable mattress (BA Insulated Air Core), and more personal hygiene items than most.

I also absolutely will not compromise my safety in the drive to lighten my pack, either. I'm fairly concerned about the welfare of folks who leave for a week or more in the woods without much more than a couple of bandaids in their first aid kit or people who don't adequately treat their water for microbes KNOWN to exist in the area. Granted, it's their choice to do so, but it would be much better if they didn't have to rely on better-prepared folks should the proverbial $h!t hit the fan. I, for one, will not make that sacrifice, either.

Those choices don't really put me in any of the standard packweight classifications. Some gear I carry would be considered ultralight, but some gear I carry would be considered heavy. I'm happy with it, though, and that's what's important.
  #8  
Old 05-03-2006, 11:04 AM
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Reality Reality is online now
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Ultralightenment Gearorexia

I appreciate all the excellent feedback in this thread. Soon, I'll comment on some of the great points that others have made.

But, for now I just want to reiterate/clarify something...

My thread/comments are not intended, in any way, to make light (pun intended) of the ultralight approach to backpacking. In fact, what I've stated upholds it.

Comfortweight includes super ultralight, ultralight, normal, heavy, expedition, traditional and whatever other weight classes that exist. It's all about what the individual chooses for her or himself...

I certainly hope this doesn't digress into a defense over a certain weight class or into a sematics issue. It's not the nature of the thread, actually quite the opposite.

I, personally, own a considerable amount of ultralight gear... And I can become even more ultralight by leaving that gear at home. However, I pick and choose which items I am more comfortable with, even if they weigh more than other (less comfortable to me) options.

As I've said in the past, "Light is not always right." It's really an individual thing. I know some thru-hikers who are in a hurry and they don't have time to know how comfortable or uncomfortable they are. However, I know others who carry less gear (perhaps inadequate) and have a miserable time.

Do you know what ultralight used to be called? Ill-prepared! Now, that's not true for all - and quite the opposite for many (since it's an individualistic thing). But there are some I know who have the latest in ultralight equipment but are cold, wet, eaten by bugs, hungry, and without certain (even light) survival equipment.

[Since I'm in the mood for sharing my coined terms and phrases, here's one for you to ponder: Gearorexia. Or, if you prefer, how about Ultralightenment...ok I'll stop. ]

Carry what you need and makes you most happy. Embrace which ultralight concepts and gear options are in accordance with your expectations and desires and don't fret over the rest (unless, of course, you want to ).

Reality
  #9  
Old 05-03-2006, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hoosierdaddy
Comfort is not the goal, but it can help you achieve your goal.

Hi hoosierdaddy...thanks for sharing what you're comfortable with.

Even though comfort as the goal is not my direct point, just as ultralight as a goal is not the point, there's something to be stated about it... And it should be pointed out that your statement seems to indicate that there is but one ('the') goal. ["Every endeavor is multi-faceted with an array of goals." - Reality (Me) ]

Comfort may not be your goal. [Forgive me, but I believe it may be, because whatever you come up with, is indeed what you're comfortable* with (or have agreed within yourself to accept as temporary/relative comfort).] For example, if we were talking about about this in person and I listened to your feelings on the matter, and I then asked "Are you comfortable with those choices," you'd most likely say "Yes" (unless you were just trying to be difficult).

Comfort is the goal for many (or all, with much explanation that I don't care to go into). I'm really not trying to make a semantics matter out of this. As soon as someone share's his/her weight class beliefs, it is instantly opposed to someone else's choice. Not with Comfortweight - it's a HYOH and do what suits you type of thing.

Most of life is lived to escape discomfort (pain) or to receive comfort (pleasure).*

Some people don't want to have the experiences that you or I want.

Whatever anyone shares, fits into the Comfortweight idea, because it's individualistic. What you've shared fits you (your Comfortweight), but perhaps not others. And that's perfectly normal and understandable. It doesn't speak anything against what you've decided for yourself.

To each his/her own. I know people who laugh at others who are setting up their tarps, because they (non-tarpers) make their own shelter out of what's available in the wilderness.

We can debate their level of intelligence or choices, but it's futile. It's their choice.

What you've shared completely (with maybe one exception) fits into the Comfortweight philosophy, because Comfortweight includes SUL/UL/LW... The one exception is that the Comfortweight philosophy (forgive me for being near sickening with the term), does not have to denote feelings or ideas of superiority over another's personal choices, methods, or approach to backpacking and their outdoor experiences. Some don't care about the experience that you or I want or appreciate!

Noone should feel a need to defend their weight class choices in this thread, because this thread embraces/encompasses them all. It's interesting to see how something that is so open to everyone can stir some things up in others. Perhaps it reveals a little more than expected...

Keep in mind, Comfortweight is reasonable weight. But what's reasonable for one may not be for another.

[*By the way, for purpose of definition, comfort does not only refer to being cozy or how you feel with a pack on, it also refers to the mental state that one is in - what one feels comfortable with.]

Reality
  #10  
Old 05-03-2006, 12:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohio_Trekker
I like HD's term "Reasonably Light" and concur with his reasoning that I have gotten the weight of my basics so low, that even if I bring along extra gear, my weight is still lower than it used to be.

What's reasonable for one may not be for another. It's whatever one is comfortable with. Comfort contains the concept of reason-able. So, likewise, what's comfortable for one, may not be for another.

My way is not your way. We all need to do what we're comfortable with - regardless if it's reasonable to others.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohio_Trekker
but I think that goes back to HYOH, and what expectations you have of your experience.

Excellent point. I concur.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohio_Trekker
Am I less of a hiker because I don't use a tarp or a bivy and mosquito netting, or smear my face with mud to keep the mosquitos at bay?

No.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohio_Trekker
I think people who's expecation include getting X number of miles in less than X number of days, or making it to X destination. As well as those who aren't happy unless they can get their pack down to X weight, have a completely different expectation. I fully respect that their thought process may include covering more miles with less weight, or enjoying their hike because of less weight. But it doesn't mean I am getting any less enjoyment of my experience and expecations.

Yep, different stokes (or strides ) for different folks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohio_Trekker
So maybe a long blathering way to say. I'm fully with you on this one, and from now on will refer to myself as a "Comfort Weight Backpacker". An excellent descption to be sure.

Thanks, but feel free to call it whatever makes you comfortable. LOL Gotta love it.

Reality
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