Lightweight Gear Rise To Fame
Text By Alex Sepulveda  © All rights reserved.

With so many people obsessed with weight loss these days, it's only fitting that manufacturers of outdoor equipment follow suit. But instead of cutting carbs, gear makers are ditching heavy fabrics and extraneous features for lightweight materials and efficient designs that offer exactly—and only—what outdoor enthusiasts need. Unlike the Atkins Diet, lightweight gear is here to stay.
 
The key advantage of going lightweight, and that which is driving the ultralight movement's popularity today, is that you can cover much more ground with a light load on the shoulders—three times the distance in a single day in some cases. "Our customers are going lightweight because they don't have a week to go backpacking—they have a three-day weekend and want to do more," claims Chris Lennert, VP of Sales at GoLite, a company that produces ultralight gear exclusively.
 
Product Director for The North Face Outerwear Damien Huang concurs, "People are doing things a little bit faster on account of time commitments." Philip Tulin Photography © Philip Tulin
 
In other words, people are going lightweight so they can get more done while attempting to escape their busy lives. Ironic but true.
 
"We've just seen a gradual shift, and it's across the board…In every segment of our line, people are buying lighter," notes Huang explaining The North Face's recent launch of their popular Flight Series line of fast and light gear. Now that the masses have caught on to the true benefits of using lightweight gear, manufacturers are responding with an arsenal of products.
 
The notion of ultralight backcountry travel was first popularized by Ray Jardine, often credited as the father of the movement, with his seminal book on the subject in 1992. He has debunked common misconceptions about how and what to pack explaining, for example, that using a tarp and net-mesh for shelter instead of a heavy tent can actually keep one warmer "because the tent traps moisture, even [one] with large vents, and that moisture saps body heat."

Other key ways of reducing weight include ditching "luxury items" like a camp chair, extra cookware, and excess food. Some backpackers carry toothpaste and sunscreen in film canisters instead of their original packaging, sleep on a ¾-length pad instead of a full-length model, and pare down provisions generally such as forgoing an extra change of clothes.
 
In addition to a lightened load, there are some not so obvious benefits to traveling lightweight. When backpacking, for example, they are multifold, and build off of each other to yield some rather unexpected advantages. The most obvious is enhanced comfort with less stress on the shoulders, back, and joints. A reduced pack weight means you don't need heavy, clunky boots, eliminating even more weight, and allowing for lighter, more agile footwear. In turn, the improved mobility of lighter footwear can enhance safety while negotiating tricky terrain. Voila! Behold the positive ripple effect of going lightweight.
 
There's another reason even seasoned athletes are trending toward lighter gear. "We [have] started seeing a cultural shift in the things people [are] doing. It'd probably take a sociology degree to explain," chuckles The North Face's Damien Huang. "It's no longer enough to climb a mountain but how fast you do it, and in what manner…rather than just hacking to the summit." As first ascents become ever more elusive, backcountry enthusiasts are finding new ways to challenge themselves.
 
Before research and development of ultralight gear was underway in earnest consumers worried about the quality of lightweight gear because they thought it sacrificed strength and durability for a reduction in weight. Not so. Huang points out that, "only in the last couple of years has it evolved to the point that you can provide the same kind of performance as heavier garments…I think that's been the single most important development in the category." For many it has proven that less is more—more comfort, more safety, and more distance traveled.


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