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Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park


Re: Weight loss costs money

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Weight loss costs money
April 17, 2012 09:27AM
I had a little too much time on my hands yesterday: it's from our blog on

Is there a mathematical solution to the challenge of ultralight backpacking? It seems that an engineer would be able to develop an equation that could be used to fine tune our equipment. It would have to address a number of variables. I am not an engineer, nor do I play one on TV, but I did have some fun working through this problem:

W = the weight of your pack when you leave the trailhead. The goal is to manipulate the other variables to achieve a very low value for W. Lighter is better

P = the price you have to pay for your equipment, in dollars. Please convert from Euros, Rubles, etc. if required.

And somehow our equation needs to reflect that as W is reduced, P usually increases.

In fact, as W approaches zero, P probably arrives close to infinity—or at least beyond the reach of normal people. In other words: Priceless. Ouch.

Instead, let’s set up the equation to reward people who do this lightly and CHEAP.

So with all that in mind:


W = Weight in number of pounds you carry. Note that this will NOT be what you WANT to carry which will always be N-1 (where N = # ounces you are carrying).

C = $800—the rough price we paid for our backpacking outfit. You will have to use your own numbers here to see how you compare.

P = the Price you must pay for the gear (in dollars, pesos, rubles, etc.) per pound

So the final equation reads like this:

P = C/W

Do you want to buy a new tent? What if the new tent weights three pounds?

P= 800/3 = $266.67.

Is that a good deal? Let’s compare that to staying with your old, four pound tent:

P= 800/4 = $200.00

Is paying $66.67 worth it? Maybe. Most of us would agree that paying $20 would be worth it, if we could save a pound on our pack weight. Many of us would pay a lot more for that!

What about a new 1.5 pound tent?

P= 800/1.5 = $533.33

That makes some lightweight gear seem like a screaming deal!

Now let’s look at my own list, bearing in mind that we are NOT ultralighters, and that my wife and I certainly believe in some creature comforts. So we carry about fourteen pounds each, not including water and food.

P = 775/14 = $57.26 cost per item per pound.

So I am presenting that as the BTS (Backpack the Sierra) constant. Let’s round it off to a nice round $60 per pound.

So how does your pack stack up? The real goal here isn’t to get the pack weight to zero—it’s to see how cost effective your kit is. Do you get by with lower cost equipment, but stuff that might weigh a little more? Or do you go for the ultimate lightweight gear, even if it costs you more?

And how do those answers fit into the equation? I would assume that other regions, which require more or less equipment, have somewhat different answers. Our own answers for winter camping would be like this:

P = 1000/18 = 55.55. That’s pretty dang close to the BTS constant!


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avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 06:39AM
My head hurts.

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 07:41AM
This reminds me of a guy talking about buying a carbon fiber might be the easier choice to lose three pounds from your body than paying to lose it off of the bike
avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 06:59PM
This reminds me of a guy talking about buying a carbon fiber might be the easier choice to lose three pounds from your body than paying to lose it off of the bike

There are reasons for a carbon fiber frame beyond simply weight savings. Even some traditional steel frames only weighed about 3.5 lbs while a carbon fiber frame of the same size might be about 3 lbs. The big advantage is the stiffness of the frame and better response. A traditional steel frame will flex more than a typical carbon fiber frame.

However, the top riders in the world didn't necessarily worry that much about total weight of the bike. The most important place to lighten weight is at the wheels to reduce rotational mass, although many setups include heavier disk wheels or special wheels for aerodynamic improvements. I remember reading some evaluation of the bikes that one of the top teams in the Tour de France was using. It was a traditional double-butten steel frame (Columbus SLX I think) and many parts that weren't that light. The whole setup was 23 lbs and their riders were winning stages on these bikes. I remember talking to a bike shop manager about the setup they had to produce the lightest possible bike, and they had one on a scale that weighed about 18 lbs.
avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 08:52AM
Another variable could be how many times you've upgraded, factoring in that increased cost. (Rather than buying the 'right' item the first time).

I'm still kicking myself for waiting so long to invest in a Bearikade. I went through all the other ones first - the Garcia, a few Bear Vaults, the lined Ursack. I ended up spending over double the Bearikade's cost over the years - should have just sucked it up and bought one first.
Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 03:25PM
Ha! Absolutely!

And I ride a road bike....but you are right, if I really wanted to go faster, I would lost weight on my body, not on my bike!


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avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 07:05PM
I stuck with the Garcia until I bought the Bearikade last year...that worked...and in any case, for trips in grizzly country the Bearikade's status seems questionable (not approved by the IAGBC, but favored by some agencies in grizzly country) so the Garcia remains in my gear collection.

I'm thinking of it more as replacing low-hanging fruit. Gear that needs to be replaced, or gear whose replacement yields significant weight savings (or augmentation, in the case of a 3-season UL tent purchase last year that augmented a low-4-season tent) gets replaced (or augmented).
avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 05:28PM
There are some flaws in the argument though. Plenty of lightweight gear can be purchased or made on the cheap.
One example is a groundcloth. Bivy Sacks can be very reasonable... and if you look at the weather...
and time o year... it's all you need. But if you want to spend cash. Just let me know. I'm good at buying new gear.
Anywho. There's loads of lighter weight stuff nowadays so it's much easier than 10 yrs ago.
As for the bear cans... I've yet to drop serious cash on Bearikade.... they wouldn't make me a super small one
when I inquired many years ago... and then Bare Boxer came along... and I love that thing.
I love when people say "base weight". Wonderful. My base weight is 10 pounds... but ... since the wife
carries a hammock and wants to use HER UL pack... I get stuck with Garcia Bear Can and 8 days worth of food.
Base Weight my butt. (like I'll get any sympathy from this crowd though)
How the Chick-on travels

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Weight loss costs money
April 19, 2012 07:03PM
Some people just go nuts.

I've got a Snow Peak Gigapower stove in steel. I remember when I got it there was a titanium version that cost $25 more and weight about a half ounce less. That just didn't make much sense to me.
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