Hiking Philosophy












.....some thoughts and comments on some hiking philosophy issues:

When researching ultralight hiking techniques, it is hard not to come across Ray Jardine in respect to lightweight hiking, since he is considered 'The Guru of Lightweight', at least in North America.

So, first of all let me say that being one who has read the famous (in some persons view maybe infamous) book: "The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook", I agree with the main philosophy presented: lighter is better. This page is to voice my opinion on some of the philosophies discussed, and to 'help' others understand the sometimes misunderstood Mr. Jardine. If you are easily offended, please pass up on reading this any further, since I will apply some of Ray Jardine's rhetorical tactics — that is: using colourful examples to illustrate my point of view, and being truthful to the point of inflicting pain according to the saying: The Truth Hurts!

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 The Truth Hurts!

The reason why some were –and are– offended by "Ray's Way" is that the truth can hurt. It is hard for us to accept that we just spent 500 miles (or whatever) of hiking with equipment of which half we never used; and that we could have had it a lot more comfortable: taking that 8 lbs stove along the trail was maybe not so wise after all!
Ray presented his views with very little room for negotiation. This upset some readers. The philosophy "Lighter is Better" doesn't leave much room.
Having said that though, it is quite possible hike with 50+ kg (100+ lbs) packweight. It's just a different sort of hiking.

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 Ignorance is Bliss!

The big danger is that a certain amount of fun is taken out of hiking. Hiking is no science (to most), and over-analysing it can be off-putting to some.

If you are not aware of a lighter way of hiking, it isn't a problem to you!

Once you have understood that all that weight is just not necessary though, you will naturally regret having 'schlepped' it all those previous hikes. Understanding this, it is clear why Ray has 'annoyed' some persons. He was the messenger, who was yelling: "You are carrying too much weight!" You can be quite content with a heavy pack, until somebody points out to you that it is too heavy. Then, if you continue to hike your mind will start chewing on this. "That stove surely is heavy.....that stove really feels like 50 lbs......I wish I had a lighter stove!"

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 My Excuse!

This website (ultralight-hiking.com) is only meant for the purpose of offering some information on ultralight hiking benefits, and on giving some examples for gear choices.
And, unlike some $20.00 book — this website is free!
We are all individuals. And this is the way it should be. I dread the day when everybody has exactly the same gear. It is therefore dangerous to 'follow' another person in their way of thinking. It can border on fanatical behaviour and is what Ray has been criticised for. Ray the Guru! Not really his doing though, is it? Well, some disagree!

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 A Word on Wisdom

The word wise is commonly associated with age. We don't say: "That child is wise!" With age comes wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience. We learn as we go through life, and we all make similar mistakes in life – this is how we grow wise. We can't change this unfortunately. Otherwise we could sit together with old folks as a child, and talk and talk and talk, absorb all of the old persons wisdom, and follow their advise. We then would all be wise at 13! We would never make the dumb and stupid mistakes we have all made. WILL NOT HAPPEN! We are defined by our mistakes! I believe we learn more from mistakes than we do from being correct.
And coming back to the hiking issues: Ray Jardine has also admittedly made these heavy-packweight-hiking 'mistakes';

'Ultralight Hiking' is a progressional development!

Although not impossible, I would doubt if the first time hiker following ultralight hiking practices would be content and happy with his/her choices. You only truly appreciate something if you know what it's like without it! We need the benefit of comparing something to something else to see the advantage or disadvantage.

For this reason I recommend ultralight hiking only to hikers with some experience. If you have never hiked before, I recommend to take everything you think you need on the first few hikes. I mean everything! The revelation is worth it.

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 Some more stuff.....

An ultralight pack is more expensive than a heavy pack!
I know. I know; if you make your own gear it is less expensive, but to make your own gear you have to be very knowledgeable. You have to know exactly what will work. You have to have the experience to know what doesn't work.
You can go to garage sales and pick up a stove-top aluminium pot for $0.20; that's cheap but weighs 2 lbs! A titanium pot costs $40.00, that's expensive and weighs only 3 ounces. I could go on with examples like: a 'supermarket' sleeping bag costs $15.00, a good quality lighter one $150.00. It will take very much time to put a lightweight pack together. Anyway, I'm a bit side tracked here, back to Ray Jardine:

Another observation: the time it takes to hike a hike!
Most hikers agree, that the time for a long hike should be an individual thing. Some persons take longer to hike, they may do it deliberately to observe nature, or simply because they are not as 'fast' as another person. Ray illustrates his and his wife's time for the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (both are 2000+ mile trails in the USA) for the purpose of proving his views and the benefits of lightweight hiking.
This could be misconstrued to be mean spirited, because it may imply that anyone not achieving this same level of speed is inferior. And that would be baloney!
Here's why Ray & Jenny are proud of their hiking times: Once you complete a certain hike, and you decide to hike it again, the challenge to hike it may become less dominant — you know you can hike it because you already did it! So you find other challenges. One of the new challenges you can set for yourself is the time in which to hike the hike. This is done simply to get your brain functioning, so that you have the mental strength to hike the hike. This is a good thing, but has to be understood properly, so not to discourage anyone that just is not capable of hiking the Appalachian Trail in 3 months!!

The best think you will bring on a hike, that is the thing that is most important to the completion of the hike is your state of mind.
You may suffer an accident and be forced to give up, but apart from that, the driving force behind the continuation of putting another one step in front of another is your mental state.

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 Ray's pack weight, and why you can't achieve it!

Don't be disappointed if you can't achieve a 8 lbs pack weight! Keep in mind that the pack weight given by Ray is based on a two person team. This will allow for consolidation of many items, such as the sleeping bag, small items, the stove, fuel, a water bag, etc.
One could argue also, that if hiking alone, one might be more inclined to bring along luxury items such as a small radio, since one could not enjoy the company of one's wife or husband. Perfectly normal.

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 'Insurance Items'

Certain pack items could be considered surplus & unnecessary for ultimate ultra lightness. These are such items as: medical items, stove, warm jacket, water filtration items, maps, etc. The word ultralight can also mean: 'light to the extent of being redicilous', but medical kits and water filtration are really like an insurance: they safeguard against an event that probably won't happen, but could.

Medical items, and water filtration are not things that are absolutely needed; but are to reduce the risk for potential problems. If you want to reduce your pack weight eliminate some medical items you REALLY don't need and eliminate the water filter. But, please, if you are a sue-happy nut, take all the 'insurance-items' along, filter and boil all your water, ....and put iodine in it! I shall not be made liable if you get hurt or sick!

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 Final Words

Follow the main steps in lightening up your pack: weigh the items, and start lightening up on the heavy items first, and the lighter items last.

Any publication intended for a large audience is limited by how radical it can be, because it wants to attract the most 'buyers', and it has to protect the author from the occasional nut, who goes out and follows the ideas down to every detail, without applying some common sense. I think many authors hold back in their publications, trying to 'please' as many as possible. This leads to some really lousy 'bla-bla-bla' books, that just don't deliver anything other than some common sense. Ray's book didn't fall into this category. It would be nice if other authors would be at least radical to the point of being interesting!

Pack light, but be safe, and enjoy your hikes – whatever your style! 

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Last updated: 4 September 2003