Ultra-Average in an Ultralight World

Being ultralight isn’t for everyone.

There are many reasons for wanting super-light gear. It’s less weight you have to carry, takes less toll on your body, and some people just like to brag about light gear. The downside to lighter gear is, unfortunately, a heavier price tag. Most of the time you get what you pay for, but I do believe there is a middle ground for average hikers like myself who want lighter gear, but don’t have the means to pay for it.

Comfort Is Key

I have hiked with an Osprey Atmos for years now, Sydney hikes with a Deuter 65L,  and we don’t plan on switching anytime soon. Sure, the packs weigh just over four pounds, but they can carry a ton of weight without our shoulders or back ever feeling it (and I love to eat so there’s always a little extra weight.) I bought my pack at an REI scratch and dent sale, so I didn’t break the bank either.

The tent Sydney and I are using is a three-person tent weighing in at four pounds, six ounces. Of course, we would like something lighter, but it has a ton of space, and we got it at over 50 percent off, so it’s hard to beat.

Having lighter gear is great, but we aren’t willing to totally sacrifice our comfort, our our bank account for that matter, which I’m sure a lot of y’all understand. But this stuff does cost money, and you have to be willing to spend to lower your base weight.

Cut Weight Where You Can

Luckily for Sydney and me, we hike together, and this allows us to split the weight of a lot of items. I carry the tent and stakes, she carries the footprint. She carries the stove and cook set, I carry water filtration. If you like hiking with a partner, we suggest splitting weight. It will make your life so much easier. Even with splitting weight, we still have an “ultra-average” base weight, and had to spend money to reduce some of that. Some ways we did that were:

  1. Purging our packs of everything that we don’t use on a daily basis.
  2. Switching from sleeping bags to quilts.
  3. Splurging on sleeping pads.

If you don’t use it every day, you don’t need it. It really is that simple. Switching from our old mummy bags to quilts not only dropped our weight by over a pound apiece, but also allowed us to sleep more comfortably. We found our sleeping pads on sale, and we both went from a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, to the REI Flash sleeping pad. That added a couple ounces apiece, but the comfort definitely makes up for it.

Hike Your Own Hike

This phrase gets overused a ton, but it’s true. Hike with the gear that you love, and ignore the people who constantly tell you your pack is way to heavy. My base weight sits at just above 20 pounds and Sydney’s is right at 17 pounds, and to some that is absurd. But we found it works for us, and we’re hoping it will continue to work for us on our thru-hike. There’s nothing wrong with not being ultralight. Be proud of yourself for getting out there.

 

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Just Paul : Nov 29th

    I totally agree with you that not everyone can afford the ultralight gear that’s out there today. As an employee of REI I constantly tell people to try and keep your pack weight down as much as possible and can afford. Take practice hikes find out what you use and don’t use and remove what you don’t use from your pack. Then you can start thinking about more lightweight gear as your budget allows. This however becomes a problem because manufacturers are producing the newest and lightest every year it seems. Not everyone can do the ultralight hiking. It does require a lot of sacrifices in comfort. When I thruhike the AT I noticed a lot of the ultra-lighters were getting up at 4:00 in the morning to start hiking just to get warm. That is just one example. On the positive side they can hike faster and can cover a lot more miles. It definitely isn’t for everyone. I’m more of a comfort lightweight hiker. I carry what works for me and like you I do like to eat and carry as much food as I want. I am interested to hear about how the quilt works out for you.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zach : Nov 30th

      We totally agree! There are pros and cons to both. We’re hoping the quilts serve us well. We’ve heard good things.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Mehrdad : Nov 30th

    I find your posts and shared values/goals as a couple most inspiring. Thank you and all the best wishes.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zach : Nov 30th

      Thank you so much Mehrdad!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Nick : Nov 30th

    I wish I could get my pack down that light! It seems Everytime I try, I weigh in at right about 34lbs with a 100oz Camelback. I’m using an Amazon basic knock off bag though, lol. I reduced my weight this last home from 42 to 34 pounds though. I would love to have that ultralight gear though. I am used to carrying alot of weight being in the army though. So I guess it all buffs out. I hope y’alls hike goes well.

    Attitudes change with elevation!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zach : Nov 30th

      It’s all about what makes you comfortable and what you’re willing to hike with! (Knock off stuff is sometimes the best). Thank you for the well wishes and thanks for your service!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Russell (Wagonhammer) : Nov 30th

    Great read. My son and I will be pushing off from Springer Jan 22 2019 and are also middle of the road folks. Pack all in with 4 days of food and 1 liter of water…34 pounds. Happy with that with the potential winter conditions going below zero. Maybe we will see ya on the trail!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Zach : Nov 30th

      Thanks Wagonhammer! That’s awesome you get to hike with your son. I hope he realizes what a treasured experience that will be. I doubt we will catch up to you guys, but that would be awesome to run into you! Good luck hiking in the winter. GA gets cold that time of year. Y’all are gonna crush it!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Brian : Nov 30th

    It’s not just a haves and have nots scenario, I have the means to have the lightest of the light, but when I shop, I look at quality, durability, performance, cost, and weight. I use the Osprey Atmos 65 and Exos 58 packs (as well as a Telon 22 for when I am working on a PFKT), not because they are the lightest, because they are not, but weight to durability to cost to performance ratio is awesome on those packs. I could buy one of the super ultralight packs, that you need to replace every 1000 miles…but, seriously, that’s just a waste of money! I could be a tent lighter than my already light and somewhat expensive Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, but I like being dry and not needing to have my trekking poles with…and being able to easily set-up anywhere. So, there are a lot of ultra-average that choose to be ultra-average because it makes more sense.

    Reply

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