What’s Comfort light?

After some years of sea kayak and canoe touring where volume counts more than weight, I returned to backpacking. There was a solo trip I wanted to do. My gear had been getting lighter and I was able to head out on a 7 day, sub-arctic through hike in NW Iceland at a loaded weight of 45 lbs. I thought that was pretty good compared to my old standards. Then a friend started a similar trip on the Sierra High Route at 35 lbs. and I realized I had more work to do.

My homework led me to the wonderful world of backpacking weight standards. I learned about base weights. Consensus defines several targets – Traditional (30 lbs or more), Lightweight (under 20 lbs.), Ultralight (under 10 lbs.) and perhaps something called Super Ultralight.   However when I looked at the fine print, it seemed that these definitions reflect gentler environments than my Pacific Northwest mountains. I also like to cook, not just heat water.

I tinkered with my gear. Bought some lighter stuff. Built some items.

Once my base weight started to get below 20 lbs., I started to make trade offs, carrying less weight, but still bringing some extra items I wanted. I call this “comfort light”. Think of it as a mellower view of the ultra light discipline. Shedding weight without losing function is all good. But shedding weight by leaving stuff behind is submitting too much to the tyranny of ultralight. However adding comfort or function at very small weight penalties gets interesting.

Now I need to confess to more than a little engineering background. I am a “gear head” in addition to apparently being a “gram weenie”. But I also tend to be cheap. A $10, 3.5 oz., neoprene insulated polypropylene mug looks pretty good compared to a $50, 4.2 oz., double wall titanium mug. I would rather sew up a tent for $120 in materials rather than spend $300 for something certainly better built, but not quite as roomy. Comfort light should also be comfortable on your wallet. The perfect piece of gear is often not the most expensive or the lightest.

I currently solo pack about a 15 lb base weight with the ability not only to cook, but dry bake. I eat well. I have a roomy tent with good bug protection. I side sleep comfortably on 3-1/2” of insulation. And I stay dry and warm in my maritime mountain climate.

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