Light, Lighter, Lighest - Page 2
Backpacking’s Svelte Sister
Consider backpacking, the activity in which you pile one or more night’s worth of camping gear, food and clothing into a pack and carry it with you into the wilds. While there are as many backpacking philosophies as there are folks who heave packs into the mountains, backpacks are often quite heavy. A 50-pound load for a three to four-day trip is average, while the same trip done in fastpacking style might only require a 15-pound pack and will likely take half the time.
“A heavy pack for anything except a multi-week expedition, I don’t get it. It’s unpleasant; it limits your movement; and you’ll never use all that you bring,” says 37-year-old, Anchorage, Alaska, resident Jill Missal. The founder of Geargals.com, a women’s-gear website, Missal spends her free time fastpacking the Alaskan wilds. Derrick Spafford, 45, of Yarker, Ontario, is another fastpacking fan. “At the end of the day, I’d rather see more than carry more,” says Spafford. “Fastpacking allows me to enjoy nature in a deeper, purer way.”
These two fastpacking proponents get to the heart of the sport’s theoretical intent: to trade things for wilderness distance. In actuality, most “fastpacks” are roughly half the volume and weight of a backpack. Bryce Thatcher, 48, of Saint George, Utah, founder of Elite Creators, a company that produces various kinds of carrying devices, including UltrAspire hydration packs, knows fastpacking. He and his friend Jim Knight invented the sport in Wyoming’s Wind River Range during the late 1980s because, “We couldn’t take a week off of work,” says Thatcher, laughing. “We got this idea that if we could go light, we’d be able to go farther without expending additional energy.”
I descended from a backpacking lineage, having spent my late teens and early 20s carrying packs that weighed almost half as much as I. A workhorse by nature, I didn’t mind the difficulty. What I didn’t care for, however, was that I worked hard and still saw little wilderness.
By sheer instinct, my friends and I did the same thing as Thatcher and Knight, only 15 years later. We lightened our loads with the intent of seeing more. About the same time, I discovered trail running as another means to wild-place ends and left behind my road-running history. Fastpacking married all this together into a sweet recreation package.
Go Light or Go Home
While some couples bicker over bank statements and political preferences (OK, we do that, too), Bryon and I are bantering about whose fastpack will be the sleekest. At the moment, we’re selecting gear from the contents of our car’s trunk, which has vomited itself onto a picnic table at the Canyonlands National Park visitor center.
We’re packing for three days in the Utah desert. This November morning is yielding ideal fastpacking weather: chilly air and bright sunshine. Typically, water is a limiting factor in an extended desert outing, but the park ranger who writes our backcountry permit solves the issue, “I know of one running spring. Treat that water and you’re good to go.”
In the process of resolving one problem, she invents another when she says, “Bad weather—lots of rain—is on the way.” The ranger recommends two courses of action, to shorten our trip by a day to avoid the bad weather or to camp on the near side of a drainage about four miles from the trailhead. “That gully turns into an impassible stream for several days during big storms. Don’t get stranded on the other side.” We decide on her latter recommendation, to return each night to the safe side of the drainage.