It has been noteworthy, and not just I think because I’ve been paying attention, how often comfort has been mentioned recently as a selling point for “ultralight” backpacking. For example, from the recent revival of Sierra Designs as a (hopefully) relevant brand; “…the Flashlight is the ultimate backpacking tent for those who believe that comfort and lightweight should not be mutually exclusive.”

I would like to offer my official condemnation of this trend.


I do so for two reasons.

First, as I mentioned last year, backpacking should not be a mere variation on Disneyland.  It’s been over 15 years since the nihilism of fun for fun’s sake was definitively explained to us, so cut it out.

Second, and a sub-point of this idea, which those hostile to the broadness of the original might yet find palatable, is that backpacking ought to be about adapting ourselves to the land, rather than spending money on ways to at once avoid technique and keep ones pack light.  Do not try to mimic the home environment in the woods.  Try to expand your definition of comfort to something far beyond that fuzzy place where you can sleep with your feet out of the blankets.  You can get away with just enough sleeping bag.  You can use a tarp in a snowstorm, or during bug season.  You can sleep, well, in the wilderness without a book, ipod, earplugs, whisky, or lunesta.  You can go a bit hungry with no mental or physical ill effects.  Unless you are foolish, there is a massive gap between what most of us think as dangerously cold, and what actually is.  That 1:100,000″ map will do just fine.  Comfort in the backcountry is a self-overcoming, and thus never finished.

One does not need to swallow that elephant whole.  Trying to avoid all the miserable experiments the above particulars entail would be short circuiting that thing called learning, and is thus spiritually ill advised.  But so to is floating along in a blissful cocoon where leaks, dirt, and unexpected spikes in temperature are viewed as aberrations.