The hiking gear may have changed over the years, but the debate about lightweight hiking and safety still rages among hikers. Although the idea of lightweight hiking may have drawn some criticism from traditional hikers, it is not new. For years, hikers and backpackers have been trying to come up with various lightweight strategies. What is new, however, is that the more practical techniques of lightweight hiking have quietly slipped into mainstream hiking practice. This trend is particularly noticeable in long-distance treks, where mileage and the equipment used for hiking are perennial topics of discussion.
Lightweight hikers are classified into three: the traditionalists, the experimenters and the risk takers.
Traditional Lightweight Hikers
If you prefer to have more comfortable hiking backpacks such as a Coleman Exponent Kwansan X40 Internal Pack, but you do not want to alter your hiking styles, then you are considered a traditionalist lightweight hiker. Traditionalists are those who used to carry heavy loads when they went backpack hiking, but have chosen to lighten their loads simply by losing some excess weight and choosing lighter hiking equipment. They are those who trade a seven-pound tent for a 3.6-pound Coleman Exponent KrantTM X1 Tent, for example, or those who exchange their heavy leather boots for lightweight alternatives.
Traditional lightweight hikers are not actually changing their essential camping and hiking gear list. They are using the same hiking gear but they substitute heavy gear with lighter versions. They are the types who may shed some load but do not want to compromise safety or comfort when they go hiking.
Lightweight Hiking Experimenters
Like the traditionalists, lightweight hiking experimenters are also intent on getting maximum mileage on the trail, but these hikers feel that they need to change hiking styles to do that. As an open-minded experimenter, your concern is not so much for in-camp comforts because you prefer to spend most of your waking hours hiking. You do not see the need for a big tent, for example, because you do not wish to spend more time in camp than necessary.
Lightweight hikers are more likely to experiment with long-held notions about things to bring when hiking, and are willing to compromise a bit on their comforts just to test an idea. They are willing to explore new kinds of gear such as a tarp rather than a tent, or an unframed rucksack rather than a full-featured traditional hiking pack.
Risk-Taking Lightweight Hikers
If ultralight hiking is your ultimate priority, then you must be ruthless about deciding what to stuff into your hiking pack. The primary concern is similar to cost-benefit analysis: you want to evaluate the weight-function relationship for each item. Ultralight backpackers are intensely single-minded about items that give maximum hiking comfort; for them, the lighter the pack, the greater the comfort.
This is where innovators reign, and where you are likely to find hikers willing to take risks such as hiking with no shelters, no stoves, no rain gear and other hiking equipment. This is a major break from traditional thinking, and usually only those with plenty of experience are willing to take such decisions. It also requires detailed knowledge about the target hiking area, and carefully prepared back-up plans that anticipate all the possible scenarios along the way.
No matter what lightweight hiking style you may prefer, the goal of each lightweight hiker is to carry lighter loads, and have a more enjoyable time on the trail.