Going Ultralight: The Struggle is Real (Gear video included)

Yesterday, I discussed the evolution of my gear over the last 20 years of casual hiking and camping.  Check it out!

I never thought I would care so much about 10 pounds.

Let’s be clear.  I care because it is a cool goal to set for myself.  It is a mini-challenge.  A good exercise before hitting the trail. I don’t think a pound or two over ten pounds base weight is going to make a huge difference.  But for me, my first goal of this hike is to hit the trail with less than 10 pounds excluding food and water.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “base weight” is the sum total of all the items you are carrying in your pack, including your pack, minus “consumables”. Generally, “consumables” are food, water, and fuel for your stove.  So you add up the weights of your pack, tent, sleeping bag, first aid, and everything else you plan to bring along.  That’s your base weight.

And for those who haven’t heard much about the term “ultralight”, in the hiking world, that means less than 10 pounds base weight.  All or most of your gear is extremely light, and you typically don’t carry as many items as a more traditional hiker, who may be closer to 20 pounds base weight.  Some folks, like John Zahorian, have completed multiple thru hikes with less than 6 pounds base weight!  Further, in a February 18th interview with Tear Drop, John says he will soon be approaching 4 pounds base weight! That’s a whole different category.

Is ultralight even an advantage?

Presently, most people complete their thru hikes without going ultralight. You can see this in the survey results for the class of 2016 posted by Mariposa.  In fact, it appears that only a handful of those surveyed were ultralight.  Does this mean going lighter actually lessens one’s chance of success?  Without knowing how many people with ultralight loads dropped out, it is very difficult to ascertain.  The survey was only completed by successful thru hikers.

The data does not serve as a confidence booster.  That’s certain.

I think the desire to go ultralight comes with a long exposure to the hiking and camping world, along with a skill for spending the most possible money for a given item.  In seriousness though, a first time hiker, or even an experienced hiker who relies on the wonderful REI for all their gear, is not going to be in this category.  You have to have knowledge of smaller, direct to consumer vendors to get below 10 pounds in 2017.  This information doesn’t come overnight.

A lot of people who attempt and complete the Appalachian Trail are not experienced hikers.  More than you would think haven’t even slept one night in the woods.  So my theory is, ultralight backpackers are just uncommon.  Like gingers or folks who favor their left hand (I fall into both of these categories).  That’s why we don’t see the same number of ultralighters completing thru hikes as traditional backpackers.

So I am going to go out on a limb and say it is neither an advantage nor disadvantage.  It is just preference. Optimism is an important key to success, folks.

Weighing my gear all at once for the first time

Yesterday I shot a couple of videos showing my gear and me weighing it.  It turns out there is going to be a part 3, and you will see why at the end of the 2nd video.

UPDATE: Below is the final video showing the items I drop in order to get my base weight below 10 pounds.  I made it!


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Comments 5

  • Karl von Schilling : Feb 27th

    I love it, good luck!

    • Jim McNelis : Mar 1st

      Thanks, Karl!

  • Nick Matheos : Feb 28th

    Very nice. I think you might of included the fuel in your weight.

    • Jim McNelis : Feb 28th

      good catch, nick! i forgot about it until after the video. i shot a final video last night, showing what i took out to get below 10 lbs and explaining that the weight of the fuel (4oz) needed to be subtracted. working to get that up on youtube today.

  • Paul Wayne Dominy : Mar 3rd

    Food and water weigh include, as a retired Army Infantryman I find if you don’t used it chuck it, food and water included my weigh per 5 days w/out resupply I.E. except water I carry a day’s ration of water for me in the mountains is 3 Quarts . 22lbs is a real livable weigh ( I consume 1 &1/2 M..R.E. a day best food to keep Cal.) intake and energy for a 62 year old Man. Suit your self but they are tested and tried already. P.W.D. Trail Name Preacher Man ! ! ! P.S. Pack my pockets with pea nuts and Hard Mints .


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