1998-10-15

Converting to Ultralight


The hip injury taught me a convincing lesson about endurance before ever hearing the term, “ultralight hiking.” In the autumn I found a book by Ray Jardine, “The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook.” Reissued and expanded as “Beyond Backpacking,” this book laid out a complete, coherent system of long-distance hiking.

One tabulates the weight of every item worn or carried and makes most of one’s own gear. The object is to eliminate the impact of any extraneous weight when taking millions of footsteps, yet maintain the functionality of one’s gear. I loved the advice to field-test gear and weed out the impractical on short training runs. Soon I was making plastic tarps for Scouting overnights.

Page 27 of “Beyond Backpacking” features a graph that I revisited countless times. The graph shows that limiting total packweight to 20 pounds or less makes an average daily distance of 24 miles feasible on a long-distance hike. By making the big assumption that the terrain allows a pace of 2.5 miles per hour, that 24-mile distance could be traversed in about 10 hours of steady hiking.


This observation became my reference point in future training forays. Conventional thinking during the late 1990s allowed for 15 miles per day to be a respectable daily average. The success rate of completing the Appalachian Trail in one thru-hike was 10-15% at that time.

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