Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

UL Weight Watchers

What defines lightweight, ultralight and superultralight? These questions pop up time and again on forums and on blogs, so I thought it might be interesting to delve a bit deeper into this subject. Its going to be highly subjective, full of crazy weight calculations and definitions, so if you could care less about how heavy the stuff is which you carry through the outdoors you better don't read on. For all others, I am looking forward to a lively discussion!

There's a lot of different interpretations of what is UL, SUL and lightweight, and what I found a good definition is

Lightweight = 12-20 pounds
Ultralight = 6-11 pounds
Superultralight = 5 pounds or less

as posted by the Jolly Green Giant. I live in the metric system, which, with its logical steps of tens, hundreds and thousands is a lot more appealing to me than ounces, pounds and whatnot. In that system the above would translate to the following:

Lightweight = 5,44 - 9,07 kg
Ultralight = 2,72 - 4,99 kg
Superultralight = 2,27 kg or less

For the sake of simplicity, and my love for even numbers, I'd round them up/ down to

Lightweight = 5,0 - 10,0 kg
Ultralight = 3,0 - 5,0 kg
Superultralight = anything under 3 kg

That's completely my own suggestion, and you will see many varied discussions and definitions on this topic. But I have more to say than rounding some number up and down, so bear with me. On the last trip, which was in the sign of UL, of course at some point the discussion turned to weights, and how the whole definition is a bit dodgy and open to interpretation. What we discussed about is that I with my Size S in clothing have it a lot easier to reach a UL weight of someone who's 195 cm tall and wears XXL. My small size is a benefit in every piece of gear, because I can sleep under a smaller tarp, use a smaller backpack and quilt, a shorter pad, I don't need to eat as much and the list continues. So I think someone should start to make a clear definition on those weights, and also on deviations of it.

Before I dive into deviations, lets shortly discuss the different ways of defining the weight. You got the base weight, which includes everything in the backpack minus consumables like food, water, fuel and toiletries. This leaves out the stuff you wear on your body - the clothes you wear, your hat, sunglasses, watch, camera, GPS, shoes, trekking poles, etc. To include them and the consumables, one could use the Skin Out Weight. Everything is in there when using the skin out weight; food, water, the clothes you wear and everything else. I believe the new definition of base weight should be the sum of base weight (everything you carry in the backpack minus consumables) and the stuff you wear on your body. Why? Because everything else is a sham in my opinion. You carry what you wear, and thus it should be included from the start and not as a separate point in gear lists. The other weight I would calculate and list is consumables, the food, water, and toiletries. Those two weights will be what I personally will be using from now on, with mentioning of what is worn in the backpack and on the body but with including both as one point when calculating the base weight.

Back to weight and deviations then. My suggestion would be that size Medium (M) is set as the middle standard, to which the above weights (the UL/ SUL/ Lightweight definitions) apply. You could even go a step further and define it so that someone of a certain size (height) is linked to that, but maybe its better to keep it simple. So if a Size M wants to go UL, he should aim for a three to five kilogram weight. And here the deviation to the current system could come in:

- Size S => subtract 5% from M for weight limit
- Size M => Standard
- Size L => add 5% from M for weight limit
- Size XL => add 10% from M for weight limit
- Size XXL => add 15% from M for weight limit

This might sound all hugely complicated, but in truth I think it would simplify, make the weight more personal and most importantly it would make the discussion more fair. Lets assume someone of Size S would like to go UL, then the maximum (new definition) base weight should be 5 kg * 0,95 (because he needs to subtract 5% from the M weight limit) so his max weight would be 4,75 kg. If on the other hand some who's a Size XL wants to go UL he should aim for a (5 kg * 1,1) 5,5 kg max base weight. This allows for the extra weight his larger clothes, shoes, tent, pad, etc. are likely to incur in comparison to someone who's a size S or M. I chose 5% as the value, not because I have done a scientific research on the differences in weights (not yet, at least ;) but because I feel that 250 g are likely a good number to accommodate the differences in the same piece of clothing if taken a number bigger or smaller.

Well, these were my thoughts on the weight debate. To conclude, this was a nice play with numbers, and hopefully helps to clarify maybe the whole weight discussion a bit. I think using the new definition of base weight would be an improvement to the current system, as you include also what you wear and carry on your body, and so close some loopholes. The deviation system on the other hand would make the weights comparable among people of different sizes, and would not put the larger folks at a disadvantage when it comes to staying under a certain weight limit. Finally, these are just ideas and guidelines, and not the be all and end all of the weight debate. If you're aim is to go UL and you're happy with 5,6 kg even if that would be 600 g over the limit of what is considered UL, as long as you feel good and happy with it, don't bother further about it. Its only numbers, after all, and if you decided to lighten up that's the right step you've taken!

Now I'm done and am looking forward to your questions, comments, and observations =)