Chapter 3: How I Started Hiking Lighter and How Only The Lightest Camping Equipment & Hikelight Started

I suppose my conversion to lightweight backpacking started one sunny Saturday in 1960. My Boy Scout troop went on a day hike near my hometown of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

It wasn’t a very hot day, and my backpack wasn’t very heavy. But those old canvas backpacks didn’t fit very well and they were hot against your back. I noticed that George, one of the other scouts, carried only a small brown sack with his lunch. After lunch, he smashed his soda can flat, folded the paper sack, and put them both in his back pocket. So during the warm afternoon, he didn’t carry a thing! George was as free as the breeze while I carried my uncomfortable and unnecessary pack. I questioned every little silly item I’d carried in my pack just to “be prepared.” The only thing I really needed was the lunch.

So, from that point on as a scout I carried what I needed and nothing more. It didn’t take a great deal of planning, and every outing was more fun.

About 12 years later, I was a very untrained scoutmaster. I could have avoided going on a 50-mile hike with the scouts, but I wanted to go, and I wanted them to have the experience. We lived near the Three Sisters Wilderness area, a gorgeous place for a 50-mile hike. As raw and untrained as I was as a leader, I knew one thing for sure – I didn’t want to be a baby sitter for some boys who were ill equipped and struggling to carry their packs.

By having training sessions and meetings with parents, we were well prepared for our adventure. The trip was a total success and it increased my love for backpacking.

From that time on, I tried to spend a few days each year in the high Cascades. During good years, I was able to get away for a few days and add to my miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Gear wasn’t as fancy then, but you could still pack light. My wife helped me sew some extra pockets on a fanny pack and we made a foam sleeping bag. One of those old adventures was a weekend hike in the Mt. Hood Wilderness where I carried 13 pounds. Some things worked better than others, but it was fun trying to lighten up.

My kids went with me as soon as they were potty trained. I loved the simplicity of grabbing a pack instead of loading a car with tons of items for some “car camping.”

My summer interest in backpacking lead to my winter hobby of figuring ways to lighten my backpack. I enjoyed looking through all the backpacking equipment catalogs, but was frustrated at how much “heavy stuff” I had to wade through to find a gem of lightweight backpacking gear. I started thinking of putting together a catalog of all ultralight hiking gear.

I figured I could offer everything except food and footwear. By looking through the catalog, backpackers could get an idea of how to reduce the weight of every piece of gear in their packs. Hikers could treat my catalog like a buffet and choose what they liked.

A few of the items in the catalog/website today are much the same as they were in 1993. The silk shirts, nylon shorts, belt, one of the Gerber knives, mess kit, towel, lexan utensils, plastic cup, water purification tablets, Timberline filter, Campsuds, small containers, emergency blankets, whistle, small zip-seal bags, windproof/waterproof matches, and first aid kit have stood the test of time with little or no change. Other lightweight backpacking gear has had small changes and totally new items have been added to the choices.

One thing has remained the same since 1993. We’re still small, by choice. If I’m out hiking or just out of the office, you may not get instant service. I need to hike, too. But most times you’ll get fast service. And you can still talk to the owner. I understand lightweight hiking and what you’re trying to accomplish.

It’s fun to hike light, and it’s rewarding to help other hikers reduce the weight of their backpacks and have more fun.