50 Signs You May Have Taken Ultralight Backpacking Too Far

A couple of years ago I published an article titled 30 Signs You May Have Taken Ultralight Backpacking too Far. It was a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek take on those that may have imbibed a little too much on the UL Kool-Aid. After an extended online hiatus, followed by some semi-serious type posts, I thought it was time to revise and expand the lighthearted ultralight listicle. What follows includes 25 of the original signs, along with 25 new ones. 

Ultralight over 5,000m (16,404 ft) on Colombia’s incredible Cocuy Circuit (2015).

1.  Not only do you cut the end off your toothbrush, you trim the bristles as well.

2.  You use a 1/8″ CCF mat (2 oz / 57 gr), despite the fact that nine times out of ten you get a shit sleep on it.

3.  Speaking of the 1/8″ CCF mats, you originally purchased one after being inspired by Gossamer Gear founder, Glen Van Peski, who has long-used the minimalist item on his southern California backpacking trips. What you may not know is that just before hitting the hay every night, Glen takes a couple of Tylenol PMs before drifting off to the soothing tones of Matthew McConaughey on the Calm app.

4.  You don’t take a first-aid kit of any description on a multi-day hike.

5. You give unsolicited gear advice to hikers with heavier packs than you. You are subsequently puzzled when they tell you to piss off.

6.  You’ve got a poster of Ray Jardine – shirtless and wearing bike shorts – on your wall at home. You also carry a passport-size version of the same photo in the mini Ziploc bag which doubles as your wallet.

7. Speaking of Ray, you’ve spent the past two months receiving physiotherapy on your lower back because you stubbornly persisted in mimicking his “one-shoulder sling” style of backpacking while hiking the Continental Divide Trail (Ed’s Note: All in good fun, Ray. Still love ya; even the corn pasta……………not so much the blood cleaner).

Ray Jardine – Author of the ultralight classic, “The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook“, and its successors, “Beyond Backpacking” and “Trail Life.”

8. You insist on always going with a frameless backpack sans hip belt, despite the fact that you regularly hike off-trail in rugged terrain, and carry more than six days food plus a couple of liters of water.

9.  You skimp on guyline and tent pegs when tarp camping in order to save an ounce or two (Tip: The key to a taut tarp pitch is an even distribution of tension. Not so easy to achieve with insufficient pegs, guyline, and guyout points).

10.  Speaking of tent pegs, you intend on carrying only titanium shepherd hooks on next year’s trip to the Scottish Highlands.

11.  When you received your Tarptent Aeon Li a couple of years ago, you were so upset that it came in 0.8 oz over spec (i.e. less than half a Snickers Bar), that you seriously thought about sending it back before trying it out in the field. Additionally, you considered it a deal-breaker when you realized that you couldn’t fit the shelter horizontally into your backpack, which is sort of like refusing to drink an excellent Belgian beer because you don’t like the shape of the bottle it comes in.

Tarptent Aeon Li and a crimson sunset on Italy’s Alta Via 2 (2019).

12.  You automatically cut the tags off new backpacking gear. Sometime later you ruefully realize that it may have been a good idea to note the washing/storage instructions beforehand.

13.  Your go-to soaking vessel for no-cook meals is a Ziploc bag. There’s ultralight and there’s homeless.

14. You’ve begun referring to yourself as a “fastpacker” – which is wanker-speak for someone who thinks they’re a bit special because their pack is lighter, and they cover a few more miles than most other hikers.

15.  When heading out for extended trips in the backcountry (including off-trail affairs), you never carry a navigational backup to the GPS app on your phone (not even a compass/ABC watch, and an overview map). Come to think of it, your navigational knowledge is such that you think “triangulation” is something they teach in a mathematics class in Bermuda, and “dead reckoning” is the name of the latest Stephen King novel.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni with the Suunto M-2 compass (replaced with Suunto M-3 Global in 2019) | Altiplano Traverse, Bolivia, 2017.

16.  You’re considering replacing your regular shoelaces with dental floss.

17.  You don’t carry any means of water purification……..ever………not even mini-dropper bottle(s) full of Aqua Mira or bleach.

18.  You carry a pinch light rather than a regular-sized headlamp during shoulder season hikes.

19. On multiple backpacking trips, you’ve found yourself doing rapid-fire sets of push-ups and sit-ups at 3 am, after going with a quilt that wasn’t warm enough for the conditions you were likely to encounter.

20.  You were so busy obsessing over your Lighterpack list, that you forgot (in ascending order of importance): A. Your wedding anniversary; B. Your kid’s birthday; C. Your PCT start date.

21. Speaking of Lighterpack, you’ve started hiking in cargo shorts and shirts with big pockets so you can count your phone (along with your buff, rain jacket, liner gloves, and anything else you can stuff in) as worn weight on your gear list. Bonus Point: After posting your Lighterpack on r/Ultralight, you engage in hours’ worth of back and forth trying to justify your choice, all the while insisting that “…….it doesn’t really matter one way or the other, but……”

22. Not too long ago you shelled out US$159 for a new Patagonia R1 Hoody, despite the fact that 90% of the time a $15-20 generic fleece will be just as functional out in the boonies. (Ed’s Note: What I can tell you, I unexpectedly came into some cash).

Springer Mountain, GA – The southern terminus of the AT and the finish of the 12 Long Walks. During my late fall/winter AT thru-hike (Oct 17 – Dec. 28, 2012), my insulation layers were a combo of my first Patagonia R1 Hoody and the Montbell UL Down Jacket (since renamed the Superior).

23. You think that a bottom pocket is an essential feature on a frameless backpack, rather than just a convenient way to crunch up your Fritos.

24. When hiking in areas that are infamous for bugs (e.g. Fiordland (NZ), Alaska, Lapland, Canadian Rockies), you don’t carry a head-net (approx. weight = 1 oz) for weight-saving purposes. This is usually a one-off mistake.

25. Speaking of one-off decisions, you recently swapped out your NeoAir sleeping mat for a sheet of bubble wrap.

26. You use a tarp that’s too small for you (e.g. 8′ x 5′ and you’re more than 6′ tall). You double down on the stupid light factor by not pairing your minimalist tarp with an UL bivy.

27.  You carry two, rather than three pairs of socks on multi-week backpacking trips in cold, wet, and muddy environments.

28.  You don’t use gaiters when hiking in desert environments in order to save 1.3 oz.

29. You begin each day by looking at your Instagram account, hoping that Ultralight Jerk has posted a new meme.  

Stay tuned for a possible comeback in the new year……….

30. You use a Thermarest UberLite. I’ve had Frog Toggs pants that have lasted longer than these mats. Indeed, just last week a particularly gassy hiking mate of mine swears he farted a hole through his UberLite after going a little too hard on the Santa Fe beans and beef jerky.

31.  Maltodextrin accounts for more than 10% of your caloric intake on long-distance hikes. If it does, you may want to consider taking out dental insurance.

32.  You’re not planning to take an ice axe and microspikes for the Sierra section of the Pacific Crest Trail (in an above-average snow year), reasoning that: “……my balance is good; a trekking pole will suffice.”

33. Speaking of the PCT, you’re considering not taking a rain jacket until you reach Washington (NOBO).

Hiking through an early June snowstorm in the High Sierra, when temps dropped down to the low to mid-teens Fahrenheit (- 9 to – 12°C) / Pacific Crest Trail, 2007.

34.  You regularly find yourself hungry and thirsty while hiking due to not carrying enough food and water.

35. You purchased a trekking pole tent and then decided to leave your trekking poles at home in favor of finding appropriately sized sticks along the trail. You inadvertently doubled down when you later realized most of your hike was above treeline.

36.  You think SUL and XUL is some higher level of backpacking nirvana when in reality, 97% of the time they’re just barometers used by gear nerds to brag about their base weight online after going on an overnight trip in cherry-picked conditions.

37. You moan and groan about condensation in your single-wall tent, which is sort of like complaining about reliability issues after purchasing a French car. Two things to remember about single-wall shelters: 1. A damp footbox isn’t the end of the world; 2. Condensation is like shit. It happens.

38. You go stoveless on backing trips where sub-freezing temps are the norm (Ed’s Note: In my (meager) defense, sometimes the line between stoicism and absurdism can be blurry).

39. You get in your feelings when Ron Bell from Mountain Laurel Designs gives you a monosyllabic email reply. In 15 years of happily using MLD Gear and semi-regularly communicating with Ron, we have never once spoken on the phone, and the longest email I’ve ever received was maybe three sentences long (which admittedly felt like an “I love you”).

Carrying my long-time favorite frameless pack, the MLD Burn, on a mid-October hike of Austria’s Stubai High Trail (2019).

40. If your base weight is between six and eight pounds (2.7 – 3.6 kg) and you’re still asking a bunch of online randos for shakedowns, chances are you’re just fishing for attention both for yourself and/or an upcoming trip you have planned.

41. You decided to save a fifth of an ounce (5.6 gr) by not taking earplugs while hiking hut-to-hut in the Alps.

42. You continue wearing linerless running shorts with a 2″ seam, despite recently receiving 12 stitches above the eye courtesy of a prudish Girl Scout leader who you accidentally flashed while filtering water. To your credit, you haven’t filtered water since the unfortunate incident.

43. You wear Altras in all types of conditions, despite the fact that their durability is questionable for anything but manicured trails or relatively mellow off-trail terrain.

Greg “Malto” Gressel’s beloved Altra Lone Peaks, held together by unshakeable hope, MacGyver-like ingenuity, and the sober realization that there were no other options.

44. Despite having a history of foot and lower leg issues, you insist on going with uber light zero-drop footwear with minimal cushioning.

45. You spend more time thinking about gear weight, than all the cool places you could go hiking.

46. To save an ounce, you leave behind your bandana. Arguably the ultimate multi-purpose piece of hiking gear, the humble bandana can be used as a towel, pre-filter, neck protection, pot cleaner, pot holder, tent drier (see #37), hanky, last-resort bog roll, face-covering during sand storms, and, for hold-ups if you’re low on trail funds and decide to rob a convenience store.

7 Eleven mode

47. You’ve recently spent countless hours researching quilt layering in anticipation of your upcoming winter hiking trip to Costa Rica. ‘Tis the season.

48. You own six different sun hoodies, despite the fact that you do all of your hiking in either the Pacific Northwest or the UK.

49. You use a fanny pack. That’s all I’ll say about that.

50. You’re on your fourth and last (?) Polartec Alpha Direct Hoody. You persisted through the first three despite the constant barbs from your significant other that you looked like a down-on-your-luck muppet. However, the final straw came when the sleeve of your Alpha garment ripped after you brushed against a house fern on your way to the local outfitter to pick up a new pair of Altras and a patch kit for your UberLite.

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60 Replies to “50 Signs You May Have Taken Ultralight Backpacking Too Far”

  1. You forgot the best one: even though you are doing a winter trip above 10,000 MSL in the Rocky Mountains, to save weight your shelter and sleeping bag consists of two 36 x 60 sheets of Tyvek!
    SAR finds you frozen but you eliminated 3 pounds from your base weight!!

  2. Haha! I remember that snowstorm in the Sierras. Hot Pants and I got pinned down at Wallace Creek cause we didn’t want to carry our rain fly with already heavy packs. Rain jackets over the tent kept us semi safe.
    R

    1. It was a beauty! I remember camping not too far from Red Meadows (Deer Creek?) and waking up the next morning surrounded by a winter wonderland.

    1. Thanks for that. Amended. When I wrote it I was thinking about Michael Buble mentioning Matthew McConaughey and the Calm app on the Graham Norton Show.

      1. Yeah, I didn’t score on all of them. But I think Cam may have left a couple out:
        XX. You’ve figured out how to get 4 wipes from half a shop towel.
        XX. You use your chopsticks for tent stakes (or your tent stakes for chop sticks).

        1. I just whittle out my chopsticks and stakes at camp with my Swiss Army Classic SD. I have to justify its .8 oz somehow. A razor blade would be much lighter.

          I’m also thinking of ditching my bifocals for a TI frame monocle.

          1. I bow before greatness…. the picture I got in my mind from the first few words was you whittling with a razor blade, of course.

            I think the i4u lenses might be lighter than the TI frame monocle. Not sure they would work as well for an emergency solar fire starter though…

            1. I could whittle with a razor blade. I have half a shop towel to stop the bleeding and plenty of ibuprofen.

              I’m sticking with the monocle. The i4u lenses might look silly, besides, the more titanium you buy, the lighter you get.

          2. The blood you lose through whittling with a monocle will result in even more weight loss. A kind of double down, or synergy…

    1. Hmmmm……No other socks?….Not one extra pair?…..I’m going to need confirmation from Mike. I could have sworn I saw half a dozen pairs of Darn Toughs in your duffel bag at the Loowit Trailhead this past summer.

    2. Spare socks also do duty as spare mitts, potholders, banana warmer on savagely cold nights, fly swat. Have I overlooked anything?

  3. Damn Cam; I was going to fund my next adventure in style by selling custom protective sleeves for Uber lite pads; then branching out into ultra- custom aftermarket single wall shelter liners.
    I even bought a used sewing machine that sort of works and a bag of fabric scraps from lite heart gear…. No thread though going 100% dental floss on all product.
    Now thanks to your big yap I’m back to off brand ramen & pine needle ‘tea’
    Thanks bro…
    Next time you fly somewhere can I have the stroopwafel?

  4. Love it! Only missing “You MYOG everything because you can save 0.1oz with just two weekends of nonstop sewing!” (That’s my story with Montmolar at least haha). 😀

  5. I have heard of a guy showing other walkers what was in his pack, and someone asked what he did for a first aid kit. Answer was nothing, if he needed it he would borrow from someone else.

    1. Oh no way, have just put together two bush walking kits and the most expensive part of them are the first aid kits. First aid kits are hopefully the item you never have to use though.

  6. I loved this—gotta start following you! I took the noob prize last summer when believing a perfect forecast in the Cascades and leaving my tent in the car. Oops! Trip converted from 4 day to overnight at crack of dawn. Note to self: that 5×8’ tarp is NOT protection against wind-driven rain. Bonus: I made really good time on the way out.

  7. Don’t get the reference to the unreliability of French cars. Better than the oversized, underpowered pieces of junk sold to gullible Americans by the unscrupulous US car industry.

    1. I own a Japanese car, because it’s lighter, of course. My wife drives a PT Cruiser. In her case, your point is well taken.

      If she asks, I was never here.

  8. #14 is the other side of the coin of “packing your fears,” the worry that you could be losing precious seconds per mile because of extra ounces. Strava is a cruel mistress.

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