What are the problems with carrying a heavy pack? Why do some people carry heavier packs than they need? Are there any risks with associated with ultra-light backpacking? Is there a happy median? Why is debate on these topics often controversial?
Most bushwalkers would agree that a light pack is an ideal to which all should subscribe. Some go to extremes to achieve this, and others will never achieve it. In many bushwalking circles ultra-lightweight backpacking is a hot topic which brings raw emotions to the surface.
Carrying a heavy pack means more stress on your body, slower progress and therefore longer days on the track. The longer you take, the more food you need, the less likely you are to get that window of opportunity between weather fronts, the more likely you will need to cope with a variety of weathers and therefore the more clothing you will need to carry. The problem becomes cyclical: the heavier your pack, the slower you walk , the longer you take, the heavier your pack needs to be!
There are three groups of people who carry heavy packs; those who don’t know better, those who don’t like to take risks and take gear for all eventualities and those who have no choice due to the length of their trip or special needs eg photography. The first group will only learn from hard experience, from others and from reading bushwalking forums/blogs. The second group knows better, but due to their personality they don’t want to take the perceived risks of going “unprepared”. The third group have little choice.
Ultra-lightweight backpacking has its risks too! There is a small group who are prepared compromise safety to save weight. Sometimes the jacket is not durable enough for the environment, the tent is 3 season instead of 4, the amount of food taken doesn’t cater for possible delays, the shoes/boots won’t stand up to the rigors of the track, safety equipment is left at home, the first aid kit contains little more than a band-aid. I’ve seen it all! Obviously there is another group of experienced lightweight bushwalkers who weigh up all the risks before they set off and are not compromising safety. They select high tech equipment which is lighter but still as durable.
With experience most people reach a happy median; some items are lightweight, some are left behind because the person is prepared to a suffer a little to save weight, others are added because the perceived risk is high. My concern is for those who have just started bushwalking and decide that saving weight is more important than safety.
Any discussion of whether ultra-lightweight/heavy weight bushwalking is risky is often confused by individual walkers perception of what is risky, whether they have a right to take risks and whether their lightweight equipment is more likely to be subject to failure than heavier equipment.
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