Equipment

Personally I think too much effort in sporting magazines and so forth on examining hiking equipment at the expense of the more important need to understand skills and techniques. Hey, I like gadgets as much as anybody. If it's shiny and new, I want it! I can figure out what it does later, and whether that justifies me lugging it around. However, to talk about techniques we need to understand the basic tools available to us.

It's a bit boring starting from clothing and working our way out, so let's start with the primary items - a pack of some sort - then work out what to put in it.

How much is too much equipment? Weight

Here is as good as place as any to raise this issue. Gear manufacturers, in their desire for dollars, want you to buy more. Fair enough, if I was making stuff I would want to flog as much of it off as I could. City folks, used to their creature comforts, want to take an entire household with them. Hippies want to ensure their hacky sack, fire poi, and tribal drums aren't forgotten, and screw the rest. Yuppies want all the latest dayglo gadgets, because the manufacturers tell them they need it, and they can afford it. Pessimists, like me, want to be prepared for every contingency that might beset me or anyone else I encounter. I won't insult the survivalists, because I don't want nasty ticking packages sent to me because I'm obviously a commie government agent trying to take away their guns.

Most armies have a magical figure that your load weight should be no more than 30% of your body weight. At the outset, I'll say I always hike completely self-sufficiently. I'm often by myself, and well I'm just pessimistic. OK, I'm just shy of 80kg so that would make my 30% about 24kg/53lb. Subtract 8kg water, say 1.5 kg food, and depending on your pack/tent/sleeping equipment choice 7.5kg. That leaves 7kg for clothes, sundry items and so on. That's more than enough to play with lightening the load. It is at this point I expect (and hope) the Ultralite folks pipe up about equipment lightening - an opinion I share, within reason. And for all you soldiers out there rolling in the aisles - yes, the 30% is nonsense in practise. Weapon, ammunition, radio batteries etc... And we all carry the same, regardless of how much we weigh.

For those new to hiking, there is an increasingly large group of hikers following (often evangelically!) an Ultralight philosophy - paring down grammes of gear, getting packweight down to, say, 9lbs/4kg. A pioneering source of this is Ray Jardine's Trail life - a good book (I have its precursor, Beyond backpacking) for those starting out. A bit evangelical-sounding for my liking, but I know where he's coming from. I do an awful lot of head shaking, shoulder shrugging and simply - Why? when a xmas tree of stuff passes by on the track, and (unusually for me) words fail me. Contrast that with the 7.5kg I mentioned above based solely on manufacturers weights. Personally, I think getting light with your core load is a totally admirable aim and necessary to enjoy hiking. Some if not most of the manufactured equipment is way heavier than it needs to be - packs and tents in particular. 9lbs! I hear you yelp. My toilet paper and Boney-M CD collection alone weigh that much!

You need to look at the fine print to getting the low weight. First, it doesn't include what you eat or drink, and what you are wearing while hiking. In my example above the 9.5kg food and water isn't counted. Second, this usually assumes you are part of a pair or team. If there are two of you, you only need one tent and stove/cooking set, so that reduces the weight each by about 1.5kg. That alone reduces the weight.
That's just juggling the figures though. By all means pare down the weight of various items. Lofty Wiseman gives a figure of 40lbs/18kg for a loaded pack. Also, in true army fashion, he emphasises getting used to it. One comment that has appeared in many Ultralight forums is that people feel they are getting too soft by habitually carrying down-feather loads, then prolapsing a rectum when they actually need to carry a week's independent supply with restricted water availability. My philosophy is very 'army' - Train hard, fight/work easy. Like Wiseman, I'm of the opinion you shouldn't even notice the pack and boot weight. That way, when you do need to load up - you are conditioned for it. This can be as simple as carrying an extra 2 liters of water on every day hike. Yes, you may only need 2, but carry 4. Why? Because you can. I prefer to train for a full winter, no resupply excursion. It makes the rest easier.