My first backpacking trip was in 1969 with my father. I was fifteen and we hiked the South Lake to North Lake loop that goes through Evolution Basin and Valley. This is one of the classic Sierra Nevada backpacking routes and is about 60 miles long. As I recall it took us almost a week to complete this hike. Our packs were close to fifty pounds and our base weight was probably over thirty pounds. Back then I don’t think there was even a concept of base weight and there certainly were not ultralight gear options like we have now.
For those of you not familiar with these terms, base weight is the weight of your pack without consumables (water, food and fuel). Obviously, most thru hikers want their base weight to be as little as possible. Ultralight gear, however, is expensive so each hiker needs to balance the cost versus the weight savings.
Another term that hikers use when discussing their gear is “The Big Three”. The Big Three are the backpack, shelter and sleeping bag. These are generally the heaviest items in a hikers pack. A hiker therefore has the best opportunity to significantly reduce weight with changes to these three items. Back in the 1970’s my Kelty Tioga external frame backpack probably weighted close to 5 pounds. The Zpacks Arc Haul backpack that Donna and I are both using now weighs less than 2 pounds. The tent that I used back in the ’70’s weighted between 4-5 pounds and it was a small 2-person tent. The tent we are now using is a Zpacks Triplex tent (3 person) and it weighs well under 2 pounds also. The North Face sleeping bag in the 70’s weighted 3.5 pounds and the Enlightened Equipment Quilt that we are using now is about 1.5 pounds. And it’s like that with all the gear that we have now – the clothes are lighter, the down jackets are lighter (and warmer), etc. The one last piece of gear I want to comment on is what we wear on our feet. Back in the 70’s I wore heavy leather boots that came up above my ankles. Most thru-hikers now wear trail running shoes – they are not only significantly lighter than the old leather boots but they breath better and dry out faster when wet. And the weight savings really helps reduce leg fatigue. Less leg fatigue means more miles everyday!
For a detailed list of our gear please check out the links on our home page (Todd’s Gear & Donna’s Gear). By the way, the gear list links to “Lighterpack.com” which is a really cool website for analyzing what’s in your pack and totaling how much it all weighs.
Donna and I both have a base weight of approximately 15 pounds. That is good but I know I would like to get my base weight down to about 12 pounds. There are a few things I may be able to do without so I will be figuring this out on the trail. Some extreme ultralight hikers can get their base weight down to well under 10 pounds by using a tarp instead of a tent ( Donna won’t agree to a tarp – has to have an enclosed tent), not carrying a stove (which eliminates fuel weight also) and even going lighter on their backpack. I guess it all just depends on your priorities and what you are comfortable with.
Here is a photo of Donna’s gear and then Todd’s gear: