The Futility of Going Ultralight for Ultralight’s Sake


I love whiteouts.

When I ski in a whiteout, especially in a wild place, I often think, “now what”?

In a whiteout, everything else has been stripped away. There’s nothing to look at, no particular place to go (it all looks the same anyways), and your world has been reduced to the size of a house.

Now what?

Ultralight, simplicity, minimalism – these are not the goals.

So you get your pack weight down to five pounds, your possessions down to a count of 99, and your debt down to zero.

So what.

Now what?

Shouldn’t “going ultralight” be a prerequisite for some sort of greater end? I’ve read all the minimalist books, and followed all of the minimalist bloggers, and most of them seem pretty confused about the role that minimalism should play in their lives, and in the betterment of the world.

I used to say that going ultralight maximized the opportunities that were available to you.

That’s a pretty narcissistic viewpoint – to think that going ultralight simply gives me the ability to have the energy to go fishing when I get to camp, or climb a peak, or hike another mile beyond the shelter so I don’t have to share it with a bunch of hippies.

Who really cares about having the ability to “choose” from so many cool options?

This too, leads to a futile end.

When I originally started writing this post, I was going to title it “The Top 10 Benefits For Going Ultralight”. Then, I had it honed down to “My Top 10 Things That Ultralight Allowed Me To Do”, but the whole “my” and “me” part of it gave me a bit of a stomachache. In fact, I couldn’t even come up with a list of 10. It was a struggle to tap into my memory.

Then I started thinking about what going ultralight has allowed me to do for others, and I readily recalled memories.

I remember not worrying about sharing my favorite food, smoked salmon, with an adult leader on our Troop’s last 50-Miler because he was desperately in need of protein during a long day above 10,000 feet. He still thanks me, and it warms my heart.

I remember going so light on a guided trek last year that I was happy to strap my client’s pack on top of mine when he was battling elevation and steep hills, so that he could stop staring at the dirt and start enjoying the beauty of the mountains.

I remember carrying all the food and shared gear for my wife on a packrafting trek in the Tetons because her back was hurting.

I remember shouldering the burden of weight when I took my son on his first backpacking treks so he could see the wilderness for what it was, before he had to suffer the encumbrance of a backpack with real weight in it.

I remember hauling thirty pounds of trash out of a campsite in the Gallatin Range – trash that I carried for four days, until I met a ranger, who thanked me, and took the trash from me.

I remember more too, like this.

I remember them mostly because they weren’t about what I did, or what I accomplished, or my success. They were about how me going ultralight made the world around me just a little bit better, because I became available to serve more.

Now, forget about backpacking for a moment and consider your own journey to simplicity and minimalism.

I have a desperate desire to continue simplifying my life and living as (at least my definition of) a minimalist.

Not so I can achieve some arbitrary state of being.

Not so I can have the freedom to choose to do whatever I want to do (go hiking, sit on a beach, ski powder, make gear, read books) – been there, done that – it gets old quick.

Not so I can build vast reserves in my bank account that must be an outcome of getting rid of all your stuff and debt (I’ve been promised this does happen!) – haven’t been there, haven’t done that, really looking forward to it though…!

No, none of these things.

I don’t desire that red carpets of opportunity be thrown my way.

I only want that I can be used to better your life, and the life of others, and that one day, my legacy will be one of service —

— because I had the time to serve you, instead of the felt need to worry about my own complicated little world.