December 11, 2013

My Toothbrush Has a Hole in It. ~ Brenna Fischer

The padding from the inside of my climbing helmet is missing.

Every time I put it on it scratches me and every time I take it off some of my hair goes with it.

All I can find to camp with is a pack that hurts my back because the waist strap and back support have been removed and a jacket that’s impossible to zip up without assistance due to the removal of its zip tie.

No, I have not been robbed by some strange, but specific type of burglar, who only takes pieces of each item due to the intense guilt he feels from being in this line of work.

I am not Willy Wonka and I am not against purchasing quality gear to backpack and climb with.

Instead, I am the victim of a vast experiment being conducted by my fiancé in order to test the latest and greatest techniques in all things lightweight.

This obsessive need to remove the extraneous, or some (like me) may say necessary, parts of backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and jackets has been inspired by the need to carry as little weight as possible while hiking, climbing and camping in the backcountry in order to increase performance and endurance. In exchange, backpackers give up comfort, warmth and convenience.

This is lightweight backpacking.

I was working in Bend, Oregon the first time I heard about the lightweight phenomenon. A friend of mine was about to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The trail is 2,663 miles long and runs from Canada to Mexico. It generally takes somewhere between 4-6 months of continuous hiking to complete.

I was excited and inspired by the idea of being able to hike through three countries worth of beautiful and ever changing terrain while carrying everything I would need to survive for several months on my back.

I began to ask questions.

I had concerns about having enough food, staying warm and what kind of gear I’d need. That’s when my friend told me about the “Ray Way.”

Ray Jardine, is famous in the climbing world for being the first to free climb the west face of El Capitan in Yosemite with his partner Bill Price. He also invented a traditional piece of climbing protection called “Friends” and was a pioneer in turning the concept of lightweight backpacking into a lifestyle.

In his 1996 book, Pacific Crest Trail Hikers Handbook, Jardine advocates such lightweight strategies as using a tarp instead of a tent, a blanket in place of a sleeping bag and a cozy pile of pine needles in lieu of a sleeping pad.

The “Ray Way” had been born and so were three new kinds of backpackers; lightweight (25 lbs.), ultra light (12 lbs.) and super-ultra light (5 lbs.), the only classification being how much their pack weighs.

Backpackers and climbers all over the country were coming up with new and inventive ways to “save weight”. Some of the techniques, such as, mailing boxes of resupplies to yourself at intervals, making sure to eat your heaviest food first and only traveling with the part of the guidebook or map you would be using, are smart and useful tips.

Some of the more extreme tips, like, wearing rain chaps (go ahead, picture it), cutting your shoelaces down to the absolute minimum, sleeping on a bed made from a combination of silicone-coated ripstop nylon and balloons (appropriately named Balloonbed) and drilling holes into the handles of toothbrushes, spoons and hair brushes, are usually considered only by those attempting to join the ranks of the ultra and super-ultra light communities.

To their credit, the Ray Way does produce backpackers that can hike both faster and longer than their heavier-hiking counterparts. Just this year the PCT was completed in just over 59 days. That’s roughly 45 miles a day! It was a “supported” hike, meaning a support team assisted in anything from carrying gear to preparing meals and setting up camp.

A pack may not have been carried by the hiker but this only further advocates that the less weight you have to carry with you the faster and longer you’ll be able to go, ultimately allowing you to spend more time doing what you set out to do.

At this point in my backpacking career, I consider myself in the lightweight category and though, moving into the more extreme levels of lightweight backpacking is tempting because of its possible performance and endurance rewards, I still feel the move to ultra or super-ultra light borders more on self-sabotage than functional.

I have not fully converted yet, but I can feel the nervous anticipation emanating from my gear closet as I decide whether or not to hide them from my knife-happy fiancé or cut up their non-essential parts myself.

Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.

Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons


Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Brenna Fischer