Ultralight Backpacking Turns Twenty

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Gossamer Gear | Feb 27, 2012

By Will Rietveld, Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador

ray jardine

2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of the ultralight backpacking movement. Yep, 20 years old. Back in 1992 Ray Jardine first published his groundbreaking ideas in the "Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook", followed later by his more familiar title "Beyond Backpacking" in 2000. And since then, shall we say, the rest is history. A lot has happened since then, and is still happening.

I received a phone call alerting me of this landmark from Ron Moak, owner of Six Moon Designs, a small manufacturer of ultralight backpacking gear. Ron is writing a history of the ultralight movement entitled "Ultralight: State of the Revolution", which chronicles from the "Ray-Way" beginning to the present state of the art.

ron moak

Ron ("da Griz") Moak is well-qualified to be the UL historian since he's been involved in the UL movement from its beginning, and founded one of the first companies to produce UL gear. Ron and his wife hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 1977, and Ron remembers it like it happened last year. Ron's a hard-core thru-hiker, and even named his company from his long trail experience – it takes about six moons to hike the AT, thus the name Six Moon Designs, established in 2002.

I had the opportunity to read one part of his seven part article before it was published; its insightful and well-written. Here's an excerpt: "Reading The PCT Hiker's Handbook, it's clear that Ray Jardine derived significant inspiration for his gear from Grandma Gatewood. Long a legend in the world of long distance backpacking, this Midwestern farmer's wife, mother of eleven children, and grandmother first hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1955 at the age of 67. With her red Keds TM shoes, shower curtain tarp and a gunny sack over her shoulder, she eventually completed three complete hikes of the Appalachian Trail. By the time of her death in 1973, she had hiked many other long trails including the Oregon Trail, Long Trail, etc.

In his book, Ray writes 'What set Grandma apart was her disdain of contemporary equipment.' In this case it's pretty clear that Ray is projecting his own distaste of traditional gear on Grandma. The reality is that when Grandma Gatewood first stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail, those manufactures that we call traditional today, didn't even exist."

Thanks Ron for all the effort you put into this.

Author Bio

Will Rietveld and his spouse Janet Reichl are life-long backpacking enthusiasts with over 90 years of combined backpacking experience. Since retiring and moving to Durango Colorado, they have been deeply involved in the ultralight backpacking movement and have been ultralight backpackers for 20 years. Early on they made their own lightweight gear. For the past 18 years they have presented annual lightweight backpacking and lightweight cooking workshops in their local area, and maintain a website called Southwest Ultralight Backpacking and a gear review site named Ultralight Insights. Their playground is the Four Corners Area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico