I don’t usually feature quest posts in my blog as the focus is on “my personal views on all walks of outdoor life”. But occasionally you come up with something so great that you want to share it. This is one of those cases. This a “ghost post” by a man who I greatly respect. A man with insight, passion and close connection to nature but who does not blog. There are many non-bloging outdoor enthusiasts out there (and more often than not they are literally out there) and it’s great to give them a venue to share their views with the world. This time the views are especially about UL backpacking and going light in a different way. Enjoy!
- Jaakko Heikka
(The photos in the post are added by Jaakko Heikka. All text by Huck.)
Ultralight and whatever
A few weeks ago I visited the ‘‘Neandertal museum’’ near Düsseldorf in Germany. The museum tried to explain the life of our ancestors and also a bit how things developed from there. Most amazing was that:
1. After 16 years of learning (i.e. when reaching fertility age) people knew what they needed to know to ‘‘run’’ a family.
2. People worked about 4-5 hours per day. (This includes preserving food for the winter!)
3. People also got old, though life expectancy was relatively low due to bad work-safety.
In the late Stone Age lived the famous ‘‘Ötzi’’, who’s lifestyle made him spend a lot of time in the Alps. His gear list was relatively short (check it out: http://www.iceman.it/en/clothing-equipment) and covered all his needs, including getting food and killing enemies. The gear was certainly suitable for his needs.
Most UL hikers start off with the realization of carrying too much. They reduce, re-equip and rethink ‘‘their’’ system.
But how does the evolution go?
Living in Finland, I get to see a lot of (Swedish!) Trangias. When people go hiking with their Savotta framed packs, they always have to take the good old trusted Trangia. Eventually somebody starts to rethink and builds a lighter version of it and in the end it’s a Jetboil or catstove or whatever.
So is evolution. But what was before the Trangia?
Ask Ötzi & co; Fire! As simple as that.
So my approach to ultralight hiking starts the other way round.
Well; do not go naked, but do go ‘‘stupid light’’.
In the Finnish survival guild’s ‘‘outdoor safety’’ course I was allowed to take:
- Clothing: long trousers, T-shirt, woolen jumper, forest jacket, rain jacket, shoes, 2x socks, long underwear, sun hat, head net, woolen hat, work gloves
- Gear & food: a plastic bag (sturdy, 40L), 3m paracord, 1m webbing strap, 1x rescue blanket, 1x film canister of salt, 7x glucose pastille, flint& striker, Trangia (!) mess tin, 5m fishing line, 2 hooks, 3 weights, 1m wire, 1 compass & 1 map for three people, 1 mora knife for three people, pen& paper, toothbrush (no toothpaste!), 0,5L ziplock bag, 1st aid bandage, 1,5L water bottle, whistle
- No: phone, watch, flashlight, spare cloth, sleeping bag, tarp, tent, mattress, backpack, stove, tenkara fishing rod, spoon, fuel, food…
In seven days we hiked over 85km and only ate some fish (not every day), some berries (which are energy-input-output-stupid) and 2 mushrooms.
In one night the temperatures went below freezing. The rescue blanket we always used as a roof. We build a shelter for three people (spooning) out of two blankets.
I never wore my long underwear, because I wouldn’t take it anyway when hiking in early September in Finland.
After 2 days in the hike I had a frame for my bag, made of natural string and branches. For tea I had a piece of chaga mushroom and for a bog crossing we build some kind of snowshoes.
Ok. This was a survival trip focused on moving. The comfort level was very low but it got me thinking. I do not know how heavy our gear was. But for seven days it was surely light. We were lacking food and comfort when sleeping. But we got to sleep. We slept mostly during the night but also during the day.
After this trip, I looked at upgrading the main things that made this trip ‘‘hard’’.
- a slightly more comfy backpack, >40L, which had to be light, sturdy and simple
(I chose the Fährmann ‘‘balance’’ and often use the Golite Breeze).
- toothpaste, soap
- better 1st aid kit
- AA-based headlamp
- some cheap cordage
- summer sleeping bag or quilt when hiking alone in summer. Otherwise spooning.
- tarp (rayway cut or 3x3m ‘‘Erätoveri’)’
- short isolation mattress
- when hiking alone: own knife, compass, map
- some food when longer than a few days (chaga tea is great)
- maybe a cup
- maybe poncho instead of rain jacket or rain trousers/chaps in addition to the rain jacket
- maybe a spoon
- A book?
The above list would allow almost anyone to go very simple and light while being pretty comfy, specially when hiking in a small group.
Thinking backwards, this is still far away from the hiking skills of our ancestors. With my over 30 years of age, I am still lacking over 14 years of education to ‘‘run’’ a family in the environment that I was born in (near Düsseldorf, Germany). Replacing gear with knowledge is a big key and taking your time can be another. If you know where to find good natural shelters, you do not need to carry one. If you know about natural foods and medicines, you can carry less food. If you know how to make all the gear that you need from natural materials (this might require the skills of a group), you can once again carry a lot less.
The approach from starting ‘‘stupid light’’ and then slowly going heavier until you reach an acceptable level of comfort is very appealing to me, since I know that I went with less once before and I was okay.
Before finishing this little text, I would just like to explain my motivation of going light. It is not any more the possible distances.
I am motivated by the possibility to go silent. Tiptoeing through thick bush with a light backpack is already exhausting enough. I also like my gear to be in natural colors (camo), a bit more robust and cheap. In practice that means that I do a lot of my own gear and use some surplus-army stuff (which is often surprisingly light).
PS. Human brain: about 1,5kg (80% water)