By Dr. Will Rietveld
Many of us moved to Southwest Colorado for the wonderful climate, people and abundant public lands. With millions of acres of public lands surrounding us, we love to get out and explore new places while enjoying the scenery, wildflowers and wildlife.
I was a day-hiking junkie when I first retired in Durango, smitten with a passion to explore the mountains and canyons and revel in the mental and physical rewards that come with it. But, like any addiction, I had to have more.
I realized the limitations of day hiking: I burned a lot of gas and time just getting there and back, and I had to turn around just when I was getting to the “good stuff.” I learned that there’s a huge wilderness to explore beyond day-hiking range.
We are privileged to live at the doorstep of the Weminuche Wilderness (the largest in Colorado), and many other wild areas within easy reach. Backpacking is the next step to fully explore our amazing backcountry.
Many people balk at backpacking because it is more complex and costs money. Yes, carrying a backpack is work, but it doesn’t have to be hard work. Lightweight and ultralight backpacking have become popular in the past 15 years, and gear manufacturers now offer a lighter version of every backpacking essential, without compromising comfort or safety.
My base pack weight (everything except food, water and fuel) is under 6 pounds, and that includes a two-person tent, comfortable sleeping pad and 20 degree sleeping bag. The total weight of my pack for a six-day backpacking trip is less than 20 pounds. Granted, backpacking gear is expensive; getting outfitted with lightweight gear costs about the same as a good mountain bike.
Instead of lugging a pack full of heavy gear and feeling exhausted at the end of the day, you can carry a 12- to 25-pound pack and still feel energized at day’s end. The more you trim pack weight, the more backpacking feels like day hiking, and the more you will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
Everyone can benefit from the lightweight approach, from the youngster who wants to go faster and farther to the oldster who wants to keep backpacking until she’s 80. And it’s a great way to get your family to enjoy backpacking with you.
Taking it one step further, lightweight backpacking combines well with other pursuits – like photography – so you have room for the other gear you need to take. And the San Juan Mountains Association invites you to join its cadre of wilderness information specialists – volunteers who hike wilderness trails to greet backpackers, promote Leave No Trace principles and provide information.
You can lighten your backpack to any degree you want or go ultralight like I do. The key factor is that you need to do your homework to learn about lightweight backpacking gear and techniques, where to obtain lightweight gear and decide what is right for you.
Dr. Will Rietveld is a retired research program administrator, senior gear editor with Backpacking Light Magazine, and SJMA volunteer. Visit his websites Ultralight Insights (http://ultralightinsights.blogspot.com/) and Southwest Ultralight Backpacking (https://sites.google.com/site/southwestultralight backpacking/).