Intro to Ultralight Series – Part 3
There are many different ways to define ultralight. I’m going to discuss what these are, and then I’m going to re-define ultralight to make it even better.
The most common definition of ultralight is: backpacking with a pack weight of 10 pounds or less. This is a decent definition, but things get more complicated if you look a bit closer.
Real quick, let’s look at some backpacking terminology which will help you understand how hikers calculate pack weight.
- Base Weight – The typical standard for measuring pack weight, it includes everything carried in your pack, including your pack itself, and does not include consumables. It doesn’t usually include worn items.
- Consumables – Includes food, water and fuel (cooking). Can also include things like TP, toothpaste, medicine, etc.
- Worn Items – Any clothing or gear worn on the body, not including your pack itself.
- Carried Items – Any items carried in your pack, including your pack.
- Full Skin Out (FSO) Weight – Every piece of gear/clothing worn or carried.
Now, this all looks pretty simple, but should you include worn clothing in your pack weight? How about trekking poles? Should consumables include things like toothpaste and toilet paper?
It’s tough to compare your pack weight to others when you can’t even define pack weight.
Defining pack weight
Base weight is the standard metric used for traditional backpacking, but it is vague and doesn’t mention clothing or trekking poles. FSO weight is usually considered the standard when talking about ultralight backpacking. But even FSO has some issues:
- You always wear clothes (probably) in your day to day life, so while including them in your pack weight keeps things consistent among ultralighters, it’s not really portraying the added work of backpacking vs. regular hiking. Also, it’s difficult to compare with your traditional backpacker who isn’t familiar with this metric.
- Consumables like food and water are not normally included in FSO weight and I agree with this, but saying so everytime you talk about pack-weight shouldn’t be necessary. The amount of food or water you carry is a situational and personal, so it’s always changing.
- However…other consumables like TP and fuel should be counted. You normally load up on the same amount of these before going out for a trip, plus some hikers carry solid fuel tablets, and it makes sense to count those in your pack weight.
- Trekking poles actually add efficiency to backpacking, creating less work, so it doesn’t make sense to include them in pack weight. After all, having a lighter pack is all about using less energy. Some hikers include them in FSO weight and others don’t, causing more inconsistency.
Pack weight, redefined
So, I propose a new metric that acts as the standard for each of these issues. It’s called the Standard for Ultralight Backpacking metric (SUB metric for short).
What it does NOT include:
- Food or water
- 1 set worn, non-insulative clothing, so:
- 1 pair socks
- 1 pair underwear
- 1 pair shorts (pants if no shorts are carried, but I’ll go into why hiking pants aren’t necessary later)
- Short sleeve shirt or tank top
- Trekking poles (you should still strive for the lightest poles possible)
What it includes:
- Pack and all the gear inside it
- Insulated and extra clothing
- 3 days worth of non-food/water consumables, i.e. 3 days worth of TP or *3 days worth of fuel if carried
- Water bottles or carriers (empty weight)
- Food bag
- Hats, bandanas, headwear
- Any other gear carried or worn on the body
*In the case of fuel, if a canister is carried, include the whole canister in the weight, as 3 days of fuel cannot be separated or carried.
For the rest of this blog I’ll use SUB weight as our own personal standard, which will help you determine how light your pack has become!
It may seem like cheating, not including clothing or trekking poles in SUB weight, but I promise, by the time we’re finished here, your new gear setup won’t even be close to 10 pounds even including these items. We’re not shooting to break 10 pounds, we’re aiming to destroy it.