Adventure Articles

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Ultralight Backpacking is 'Messing About' and 'Dangerous'

"Ultralight backpacking is dangerous and people should not be 'messing about' with ultralight backpacking gear here in the UK, especially in winter. "

Interesting allegation, lets break this down.

The storm is coming. Could I die tonight in this ultralight sub 500g shelter? 

If someone wanted to cover 100 miles in one day on a bicycle or cycle Lands End to John o' Groats in winter - would that person be encouraged to buy a full on suspension mountain bike, 'just in case' or would that person be advised to consider a light weight road bike or hybrid? Most people would intuitively choose the lightweight option and choose an appropriate tyre to handle the frost and snow expected on the road.

If an individual wanted to walk 15 to 20 mile day averages, should that person choose to carry a backpack and gear with an all up weight of  20 Kg or more, ( the weight of 4 to 5 full buckets of water ) or would that individual make better progress and comfort keeping things under 10 Kg? Most would make better and more comfortable progress carrying less. 

If a backpacker wanted to cover mileage in adverse winter weather, would that walker choose to skirt around the highest mountains and use passes and national trails between ranges, or would it make sense to go over the top of them? Most people would stick to the low and mid level routes and take in only the occasional summit in the right conditions. 

If you were planning a 'day hike' to the summit of Ben Nevis in winter conditions would you consider carrying a 4 Kg ( weight to a bucket of water ), full on, double skinned, geodesic tent up there as part of a minimum of safety gear? Or even perhaps a 1.7 Kg semi-geodesic or tunnel tent as a back up. Or would you consider carrying  a 500 gram bivvy or survival bag as an adequate fall back option? Most hill walkers would consider the bivvy bag to be more than an adequate 'back up' even for such conditions. In fact I suspect many carry little more than an orange plastic bag. 

So why should ultralight camping in relatively sheltered lowland or even mid level winter conditions along our national trails with ultra light gear such as a bivvy bag or single skin tipi backed up with plenty of light weight down clothing and decent waterproofs considered to be unsafe? or Dangerous? 

What is dangerous is becoming fatigued and mentally drained in adverse conditions through the exertion and sweating from carrying too much weight, and then faffing around burning calories for an hour trying to find a space of ground big enough to pitch a tent with a sewn in groundsheet and then spending another half hour fighting 40 mph winds to get it pitched. I know I have been there the past!! Versus pitching a floor-less single skin tipi or pyramid style shelter which can be pitched over anything in less than 5 minutes - including tussocky grass or rocks, so full advantage can be made of natural wind breaks or other useful features of the landscape. 

The extra demands on the body to carry heavy gear risks injury. Sewn in tent footprints mean that often it is difficult to find an ideal place to set up camp in safety in truly wild places so compromises are taken, so increasing danger. 

Once the benefits of  ultralight gear become understood, most people make an instant decision to go lighter, and see those carrying over engineered and unnecessary gear as the ones that are potentially 'messing about'.

Well I am pleased to say that even in the torrential wind and rain that came down following the storm front in the picture above I did survive, also my clothing and sleeping bag stayed dry enough and I did live to tell the tale. Anyone ready to chuck in a few miles before breakfast? 

Thank  you as always for reading

Way of the backpacker


  1. Really thanks for sharing this useful post !! This post is very informative and i have got very good information about ultralight backpacking .