The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 17: Lighten Your Backpack!

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Do you want to hike farther and see more with the same effort? Listen next, as we help you lighten your backpack, on the WildeBeat.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number seventeen.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Have you ever seen hikers on the trail who look like they're out for a day hike, only to find out that they're going on a more ambitious backpacking trip than you are?

They've probably joined the lightweight or ultralight backpacking movement. With their lighter load, they can just plain go farther and see more, more easily.

Ryan Jordan publishes a magazine and a web site called Backpacking Light.

RYAN JORDAN: We're still in the early adopter phase of this movement for sure, but if you look to the extent to which manufacturers are including lightweight gear in their lines you might think that it's fairly widespread, but we still see a lot of people backpacking with traditional heavy loads.

STEVE: And do you think that's because the news hasn't gotten out, or do you think that's because it's considered an extreme sport?

RYAN JORDAN: Five years ago I would have said a little of both. Today I think it's people are aware of it but there's still some caution. So the gear's available now, which is a great first step. The second step is helping them realize that they can go a lot light and still not sacrafice much comfort or safety. [0:49.2]

STEVE: One new book looks like it might push along this revolution.

I'm talking with Don Ladigin, the author of Lighten Up, a complete handbook for light and ultralight backpacking. The book is published by Falcon Guide. It's a tiny little book in fact on the back it says, "Note: this book weighs eight ounces." Don, welcome to The WildeBeat.

DON LADIGIN: Thank you, Steve. I'd like to point out that my ultralight friends delight in actually weighing things. And they have pointed out to me that the book is actually six point seven ounces.

STEVE: That's great! And what got you started producing this book?

DON LADIGIN: I've backpacked since I was a child, and it didn't take me very long to learn that it was easier and more fun to go out to the woods with a lightweight backpack than with a heavy backpack. It has become easier as technology moves forward to go light weight, and now people are finding that it's not expensive, and it's not difficult to get their pack weight down below twenty pounds without food and water. That is lightweight backpacking. To get down to ultralight, which is under ten pounds, is a little bit more difficult, but not at all impossible, and the class that I teach at the University of Oregon, the students will very often go out with just their book bags filled with the equipment that they need, and they don't have a hard time getting under then ten pounds, even on a student budget.

STEVE: Now if we were to take something like a NOLS course, they would be outfitting us with at least thirty-five pounds of gear, and they would be telling us that we need every last bit of that for our safety. So some would argue that you're advocating something very irresponsible.

DON LADIGIN: I think that a lightweight backpack is not irresponsible at all. It's carrying everything that you need to be safe, comfortable, warm, well-fed; you're just carrying all of that stuff in a very small, lightweight backpack. And now NOLS, they're a wonderful group. In fact you probably know the illustrator, Mike Clelland is a hiking and climbing instructor for NOLS, and they, however, are not traditionally lightweight folks. However, I understand that they are looking at that.

STEVE: You mentioned your illustrator, Mike Clelland, and I know that he's done some other excellent books for the same publisher. The first one that comes to mind, of course, is Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book…

DON LADIGIN: I would like to put a big plug in for Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book. Because it was really the inspiration for the Lighten Up book. In fact, if I hadn't been able to get Mike Clelland to do the illustrations, I might not have gone forward with the book at all. I was really astonished by how good his illustrations were, because they not only took the text that I wrote and illustrated it, but it actually expanded on it.

STEVE: I'm particularly amused by the picture on page fifty six; says, "backcountry bath time."

DON LADIGIN: You know, this is typical of the amount of detail that Mike is able to cram into his illustrations. He has two hundred feet minimum to the water source. He says, "use biodegradable soap but use it sparingly." It's just a very clever illustration that you could spend lots of words and lots of pages, and not get that much information into a small space.

STEVE: The water source is a little pond in an oasis under palm trees…

DON LADIGIN: Exactly! With the pyramids in the back.

STEVE: Let's talk a little bit more about a few key things that people can do to significantly lighten their load that clearly is not a compromise in safety.

DON LADIGIN: If you think about it logically, where are you going to save the weight — if you get a lighter toothbrush, or if you get a lighter tent? Now if you look at things that way, it suggests that the greatest opportunity for loosing weight in your pack is with the heaviest objects: The backpack itself, the sleeping system, and the shelter system. And notice that lighweighters tend to think in terms of a system, because of course, there are alternatives to a sleeping bag or a tent. Many lightweight campers will use a tarp, instead of a tent, or they will use a quilt, instead of a sleeping bag.

STEVE: So you have in your book, principals of lightweight backpacking, and let's talk about these a little bit.

DON LADIGIN: There are only six of them, and the first one is really important, is take enough gear to be safe, comfortable, and confident. The second principal is, you need to know how much things weigh. Because otherwise people will either fool themselves, or they'll think that something's light and it won't be. So you actually have to weigh the items to have a clearer idea of how much things weigh. The third principal is, use multi-purpose items. That is, using something like a tarp, which can be used as a shelter, it can be used as a ground cloth, it can be used as a privacy screen. Number four, you look at the heaviest items first. And we've already talked about that. Number five, smaller is usually lighter. So when you select gear, if you use smaller items, and those items need to meet your needs, of course, but if you think of a great big tent, versus a little bitty tent, well how much material is there in a great big tent, versus a small tent? Finally, number six, choose lightweight hiking gear that is useful and sturdy, and dependable. I urge people, when they look at gear, to judge it. Is it useful? Will it hold up? Is it light weight? Is it compact? Because of course, if you can have things that are compact, you can fir them into a small pack.

STEVE: And then finally, you talk about how traveling lighter is actually more in line with leave no trace principals.

DON LADIGIN: It is! You know, light on your back is light on the land. A person who has a light burden is able to choose routes which are environmentally beneficial.

STEVE: Well Don, I'd like to thank you for coming on the show.

DON LADIGIN: It's been a pleasure to speak with you Steve. [6:56.7]

STEVE: Ryan Jordan recommends Don Ladigin's book, Lighten-Up, as the best way to get started.

RYAN JORDAN: It's a great introduction, it gives you a great overview of the gear that's available and some of the core techniques and philosophies. And it's certainly the most up-to-date text on what kinds of gear systems are available to the beginning lightweight backpacker, and the kinds of things they need to consider. [0:16.2]

You can find links to more information about lightweight backpacking, and an extended interview with Don Ladigin, on our web site.

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Next time - Backpack Gear Test reviews lightweight stoves.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to ensure future editions of The WildeBeat. Send your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number seventeen. Thank you for listening.

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