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Reviews > Books > General > Ultralight Backpackin Tips > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

OWNER REVIEW by Richard Lyon
May 24, 2011


Male, 64 years old
6' 4" (1.91 m), 205 lb (93 kg)
Email address: montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for almost half a century, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986.  I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too.  Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect.

Pertinent to this Review: My non-UL style isn’t always by choice. Each summer I lead a service trip or two as a United States Forest Service volunteer. These are usually one week long, and involve manual labor undertaking various trail maintenance activities.  I consider separate work clothes and camp clothes a necessity. Forest Service regulations mandate several things taboo to the ultralighter, among them over-the-ankle leather boots, hard hats, and heavyweight work trousers.  On personal backpacks I really am trying to Lighten Up (the title of another book in the series of which the book under review is a part), and my aging knees and ankles appreciate any weight saving suggestions.


Subtitle (or maybe supertitle – it’s posted above the title: a practical & philosophical guide (with cartoons)
Author and Illustrator: Mike Clelland! Iconic lightweight backpackers Ryan Jordan and Glen Van      Peski each contribute a tip as “guest text.”
Publisher: FalconGuides, a division of Globe Pequot Press (image of cover page from this website)
ISBN: 978-0-7627-6384-9
Paperback only, 144 pages, MSRP $14.95 US


The title says it well – this book adopts the anecdotal, tip style of the series of “Really Cool” books its author illustrated for Allen O’Bannon.  One of these, Allen & Mike!’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book, I have separately reviewed on this site, and another , Allen & Mike!’s Really Cool Telemark Tips, helped my skiing more than a dozen lessons.   Mr. O’Bannon and others are given acknowledgments in this book, for which Mike! (he always uses the exclamation point after his name) is solely responsible.  

Some of the tips are particular to specific situations or gear, especially for make-your-own-gear enthusiasts.  For example, Tips 62 and 63 instruct on paring pack weight from a stock backpack and packing the result.  Others are more general and illustrate some of lightweight backpacking’s basic principles.  Tip 17 is entitled “Never EVER guess the weight of something”; and there are a number of Tips that emphasize multitasking.  All Tips are easy to read, non-technical, and easy to understand.  I find that approach far preferable to the ratios, formulae, and chart comparisons of similar gear that predominate a number of lighten-up guides.  I also applaud the author’s stated principle of not recommending particular gear or clothing, and his reasons for not doing so: (from Tip 14) “If I actually did document specific gear, this book might be meaningless within a few years or even a few months!”  This is a book about a style of backpacking.

It’s also a book for True Believers: those who are or wish to become lightweight [less than 20 lb/9 kg base weight], ultralight (UL) [10 lb/4.5 kg], or sub-ultralight (SUL) [5 lb/2.2 kg] backpackers.  While in no way preachy or advocatory, “traditional” backpacking (none of the above) is simply dismissed immediately after it is defined, in Tip 11. There’s no doubt where Mike!’s heart, mind, and body lie.  I found this approach to be another plus, far preferable to constant reminders of the sins of heathen traditionalists like me.

This book is also clearly pitched to those who are or strive to become very serious backpackers.  As explained in Tip 12, the author uses as his baseline trip a ten-day solo backpack involving plenty of off-trail travel – certainly hardcore by my standards.

I urge any reader to keep all this in mind while reading this book.  Thanks to my annual service trips much of my backpacking fits into the traditional category, and even on an easy overnighter I rarely reach even ultralight.  That’s not to say I find this book useless; far from it.  Many of Mike!’s Tips have already proven helpful in planning some traditional expeditions coming up this summer.  That is especially true of some of his do-it-yourself suggestions for less expensive, easy-to-acquire alternatives to store-bought gear.

As always, Mike!’s illustrations are humorous and instructive.  

Fun and easy to read, helpful in many ways, and (as is true of the other books in the Really Cool series) clearly reflective of the author’s love of the outdoors - it’s a good and useful book.  Anything not to like? I didn’t find much, but there are a few Tips with which I disagree for the same reason I disagree with unbending adherence to the ultralight principles they illustrate.  Sometimes the ultralighters will do anything, anything at all, to save weight, even a little bit, to the point, in my opinion, of compromising comfort and sometimes even safety, only to achieve marginal weight savings at markedly increased risk.  And there’s the occasional (rare, actually, and usually in the illustrations) jab at Non-Believers and inclusion of Tips that take weight saving to the point of silliness.  

I’ll leave my readers to make their own judgments on this book’s contents, which I encourage you to do Tip by Tip.  I highly recommend the book for any outdoor person who wants to lighten the load on his or her back. I picked up much knowledge from its contents.

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Reviews > Books > General > Ultralight Backpackin Tips > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

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