Wednesday, 17 September 2008


How many times have we read in the outdoor magazines or in the ever increasing numbers of outdoor blogs that we should be going 'lightweight'?

Lightweight is the new mantra (actually, to be fair, Chris Townsend over in TGO Towers has been an exponent ever since he took office in the gear guru's chair) but it has been especially so in the blogs.

Indeed, there are blogs out there specifically written about going lightweight! All very laudable, because it makes huge sense that carrying less on your back will make your backpacking trip so much more fun. To take this one step further, it has become almost de rigeur to wear lightweight shoes as it would save you carrying twenty elephants on your back over the period of a day. That may be an exaggeration, but you get my point.

We now have very active discussions on blogs trying to defend the going into the mountains equipped only with a flimsy spinnaker tarp to protect you and your kit: All to shave a few grams from your pack-weight.

Tonight Lord Elpus has pointed out that all this mad rush to the lightweight philosophy is nothing new. He has 're-printed' a strip from 'The Eagle' from May 1952 showing how you should go backpacking, with gear selection and a suggested pack weight of no more than 20 lbs.

Now, this focus on lightweight kit in the media (and you have to include bloggers in that term these days) is all very laudable. However I am becoming more and more concerned that in the rush to look at stuff that is carried on our backs and on our feet we are missing the elephant in the room!

There is a lot of talk of elephants in this post! And quite right too.

Our society over the last ten years has been getting bigger. Bigger at an alarming rate. A HUGE proportion of our children are now officially 'over weight'. Such is the problem that only a month ago we were told we were no longer allowed to call these children 'obese' as it is feared that this would stigmatise them and affect their life chances.

Well, Excuse Me! I think that they and their parents have made that choice for themselves! These children will grow into adults and will develop hyper-tension, diabetes and all sorts of other problems that society will be expected to fund on what remains of our beleaguered National Health Service. (For 'society' there, you could read 'you and me.')

In my travels through Great Britain last year, I was struck whenever walking through the towns, how our society has changed physically. Our children, not to put too fine a point on it, are becoming enormous. And the worrying thing is that I have noticed recently that it is not just our children. The children are just more 'noticeable.'

The parents are also now becoming more of a weighty problem too.

We walkers cannot feel smug about this - I have friends who are regular walkers who are certainly at the wrong end of the dial on the scales. Some of these chaps are keen lightweight backpackers, who have been shaving the last few grams from their packs, shortening their laces so as not to carry too much weight on their feet... Okay, I might have exaggerated there!

But you get my point: Surely it is crass stupidity to go shaving the last few ounces off your pack if your profile resembles Billy Bunter.

It's about time that the magazines and the bloggers sit back and reflect on the the condition of backpackers themselves.

We have done kit to death! Now, let's concentrate on cheating death for a little longer, and lose weight in a more sensible fashion.


  1. Alan, true words indeed. I agree I could do with losing a pound or two. Well several in fact. Confession time I have been comfort eating a little lately as well.
    But I look forward to the Sloman Diet plan that will be serialised in this blog. Hopefully I and others will be able to stick to it and lose weight.
    If that fails I thought I might try and hire that personal trainer Phil and you had for last years TGOC.

  2. Agreed Alan, (without reservation or grammatical correction)

    I have seen folk unable or unwilling to summit a hill while not only carrying a very big rucksack, also carrying a heafty belly and having had no preparation or thought prior to the task (i.e. unfit). In other words, owning 'the kit' will some how levitate them up the hill. OK, we all learn lessons, but.... Following the event they have now become evangilists of the chuch of the super ultra lightweight. I have received lectures on how and when to use a tarp and what gear I should carry; it has even been suggested that of course I dont know what I am talking about 'because you are on Dartmoor, not a real mountain range'. Anyway, these folk now profer their advice based on very little exerience to anyone that will give them more than 30 seconds of oxygen, and they actually sound like they know their onions! They regurgitate information based on somebody elses experiences; i.e experience by association disgusied as first hand knowledge.

    So lets be carefull about the sources of advice and how that advice or practice develops and spreads among us as a backpacking community (I think that really is Martin's point)

    I too look forward to 'The Sloman Plan' to shift pounds fast..... I cannot eat fats and sugars regularly because my metabolism does not deal with it well - I become fat. So may I suggest a agood plan may consists of:

    1. Eat healthily

    2. Take Exercise

    All the best


    The Barsteward....


  3. Haven't most of us learnt the hard way? Didn't we start with cheap (therefore heavy) gear and gradually improve it? Didn't we carry that case of beer up the hill and arrive too exhausted to drink it? Etc, etc.
    Does it really matter how heavy your sac is as long as you can carry it comfortably, and you have the skills to remain safe?

  4. Hi Alan,

    being one of the lightweight gear bloggers I couldn't resist writing my own answer:


  5. Fatness is caused by overeating. This is one of the reasons that I drink. I'm just a little bit undertall, thats all....

    But, I think its great that the kids are slopping about in front of the TV drinking coke and scoffing Macdirtyburgers. If they're so unfit as to get out of their armchairs, they can't get into bother innit? Think of the saving on police, courts and prisons and... ultimately old age pensions.

    Incidentally, I hate being lectured to by members of a "movement". If there's anything puts me off , its evangelism. grrrrr.....

  6. I seen enough lecturing and evangelism over the last few days that I've pretty much had my fill of it to be honest. I'm not going to give up my view that a tarp is a viable form of shelter and I'm not going to buy a Laser because that's what I 'should do.'

    Nor am I going to join a crusade against fat people or their kids.

    I'm going to continue writing kit reviews and other stuff that suits my mood.

  7. I seen enough lecturing and evangelism over the last few days that I've pretty much had my fill of it to be honest. I'm not going to give up my view that a tarp is a viable form of shelter and I'm not going to buy a Laser because that's what I 'should do.'

    Nor am I going to join a crusade against fat people or their kids.

    I'm going to continue writing kit reviews and other stuff that suits my mood.

  8. I think the message from Trail, dare I say it with common sense about food, and training for the hills is a good one. Love the TGO except the water pistols, DIY gear and advice with out the negatives by folks who have been around since last week.

    Anyway I'm rambling here. I was a chubby bunny as a kid. Ain't good. I am applying for the Challenge and on top of any training I will do for it, I train normally as a matter of health and lifestyle.

    Fitness for the hills is good, but fitness is good for you full stop.

    You know I can travel light in the hills but still have the joy of a comfortable nights sleep. I would say I am pro going light with common sense. Trail shoes and the like I use. Get fit to enjoy the hills and a light pack will be a bonus.

  9. Well I think that touched a nerve...

    Just back in from a funeral in Barnsley to read all the comments. So, to reply to them in order:

    wd: (Hi Darren) The Sloman Diet Plan: A very difficult concept when it's Lynnie doing the cooking - I always want seconds! So it will have to be Lord Elpus's personal training that gets me back in shape.

    shamus: Ta for leaving my grammar (and logic?) out of it. I agree totally - quite a few evangelists of the ultralight 'movement' have very little hill experience, yet they have dominated the blogosphere with their 'experience by association'. The thing is, new people coming into the world of backpacking don't know that they are in fact listening to very inexperienced people who are setting themselves up as experts. This could end up with a very miserable experience for themselves.

    Phreerunner: (Hi Martin) I think I can safely say that I have never carried a pack of beer to the top of a hill and not been able to drink it!

    Lighthiker:(Hi Roman) Loved your posting! So I shall comment on it there later this evening.

    mike the pie: Enjoyed, as always! (When are you doing the next bit on Doodlecat?)

    baz (& baz): So cross he wrote it twice! I think you will find that Martin Rye's posting and my posting are in fact reactions to the lecturing by the tarp evengelists over the last year or so. Very little is written about common sense and so much crap is written, based on inexperience. We just thought it was about time that this situation was redressed so that if there were any potential backpackers out there reading all this stuff they would at least know there was a more realistic alternative. My own slant on it is less about tarps vs tents, but more on not being a big fat slob who eventually will burden our already screwed health service with needless expensive medical care. At the beginning of my post I did agree that going lightweight was a good thing but I then went on to say that it was more important (and I should have said far less expensive too) to lose all the fat you carry around needlessly on your person and get fit.
    (I would never advise you to buy a Laser, either, 'cos I don't think they are very good!)
    As to 'not joining a crusade against fat people and their kids' then I think you really are ducking a massively important issue. But if you want to hide your head in the sand over at your blog, that's fine by me!
    And I will only post this once...

    martin rye: Top posting fella - I agree with you completely.

    Phew! I think that covers it? Any more for any more?

  10. Oeer a touchy subject that needed airing by someone (just glad its you rather than me who's going to get the flack)

    A decent 'waist padding' is all well and good to store some hill energy and improve thermal qualaties in the cold (ahem), but as is regularly observed its the weight on the feet that really counts. Lessen that and the weight/muscle/fitness ratio improves tremendously which leads to easier and longer trips.
    One a similar note I was surprised that the TGO video showed some rather large TGOers for an event I'd previously regarded as pulling in the creme de la creme of backpacking. Not too sure quite what that says about us all in general!

  11. "...some rather large TGOers..."

    Rules are frequently tested by the odd exception, and some of these larger people are actually highly experienced munroists who are capable of leaving most of us gasping in their wake.

    For gawds sake don't let them get any fitter/lighter.

  12. mike the pie: Enjoyed, as always! (When are you doing the next bit on Doodlecat?)

    Phil is doctoring my Pennine Way account just now, to make it fit for publishing. This will take some considerable effort on his part mainly due to my inblitilly to type na dmy unusual use of sin tax and spelin.
    I expect it'll appear in due course.

  13. Doctoring it right now Mike - it will be up on the site next week!

  14. To me it's separate: Light gear good - being overweight bad. Little relationship between the two.

    But I seem to have said this before... when Lighthiker made a very good point re. enabling heavy people to get out more if they have light stuff.

    I spend some time in Scandinavia every year and it always strikes me how much slimmer the whole population is.

    What really worries me is that it's becoming more and more common to see UK children who are far heavier than parents.

    Which goes towards illustrating the point I really want to make - it's not about how much we eat - it's about what we eat!

    The parents I refer to are in their thirties or maybe forties. They grew up well after the war. They had enough food as they grew up and they have enough now. They can (over?)eat just as much as they want but their kids have never the less far exceeded them in laying down fat. The diet has changed, not the availability of food or people's greed. The kids have just spent their whole lives eating a far worse diet than their parents.

    There are loads of factors of course. But I think the main problem is the level of sugar (in all forms) consumed.

    Oddly there are studies that show that it's not uncommon for obese people to consume less calories than non-obese people. But looking at the break-down of what they consume is where the differences occur.

    I know you cannot count a single anecdote for very much evidence, but one of the very, very largest people I know actually eats very little (I've spent a couple of days at a time at her house and her husband confirms it's not just when others are around her). But, she eats sugar in all forms constantly (bread, pasta, breakfast cereals etc). She'll eat something different to all the rest of us at meals, mainly since she's been scared-off fats by lots of fad-diet craziness.

    I'm not saying bread, pasta and cereals are the problem on their own. Just that if that's practically all you eat along with other "treats" of sugary sweets then you will lay down fat far, far faster than if you eat the bread and pasta but swap the sugary things for fatty (horror!) but nutritious foods (e.g. meat, eggs etc).

    As I say (at length apparently - sorry!), not how much food - but what kind of food. Discuss ;)

    As for the going-light, it's just a fun puzzle that I've also said enough about already!

  15. One of the best ads for junk food that I have seen recently is the Kentucky Fried Chicken one that shows that eating at a table with a knife and fork is "too complicated"!

    Fortunately help is at hand with a bargain bucket of muck that the lucky purchaser can grab and eat with his hands.

  16. *fastens on piglet-plating and ducks in through cat flap*

    I've not read the tarping stuff (having been absent for most of the last 2 years) but I'll go off and seek it out. Ooh, friction! *g*

    I agree on the overweight front, though. When I was a much smaller piglet a bar of choccy--i.e. one bar, the size of a Mars bar, for instance--was a major treat enjoyed maybe once a week. These days, though, huge great bars of chocolate, and bags of sweeties, and packets of crisps, are everywhere, and so ridiculously cheap! I fight a constant battle with my conscience when I stand in the queue at the petrol station, with huge racks of vast bars of Caramel and Fruit 'n Nut & stuff available on (permanent) offer for something less than a squid.

    Also (*gets into stride*), when I was a tiny piglet I got about 20 pence a week as pocket money. As far as I know it was fairly average. A bar of choccy cost 10 pence, so buying one consumed a large part of my weekly income. I get the impression that children these days have more money to spend, and so it's not surprising that they're tempted by this delicious crud.

    Istr reading that McDonalds bowed to pressure a year or so ago and stopped offering the cheap and enormous Supersize options that they'd made available. Istm that they've done a lot of damage, though.

    Lots of peeps don't seem to eat 'real' food any more (by which I mean food cooked from scratch--from veggies and meat/fish). Because I love food, and enjoy cooking, I've never been tempted into the ready-made trough in the supermarket, but it seems that lots of people are, for a variety of reasons. I suspect it's largely pretty unhealthy.

    *trots away to rifle through the cupboards for a naughty treat*

  17. I totaly agree with you Dave. I 'follow' your blog; always interesting and a good read.

    Hi Shirl - You don't need 'piglet plating here. This is Common Sense Land (with a touch of my own opinionated views chucked in when feeling a bit cross with thr world!) Feel free to 'get into your stride' at any time.

    Lord Elpus - That sounds just the tucker for the Challenge. Do they deliver?

  18. Thanks Alan - sorry about the huge, huge comment :(

    Very glad you like the blog - wish I had a few less "other things to do" lately so that I could update it!

    But since a lot of those "other things" were being in the mountains in foreign climes and some of those "things" are sorting through thousands (literally) of photos from the mountains... I can't really complain ;)


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