A picture of me along the Guadalupe High Route. An off-trail route like this wouldn’t even be possible without the skills, knowledge, and friends I made on r/Ultralight.
Reddit is a FASCINATING place. If you want to talk about something as niche as your love for drinking water, or want to ask a very deep question to a group of total strangers, you can certainly find a subbreddit for it, a community with which to share your common interest.
My relationship with the website has been quite interesting, to say the least. I joined Reddit so that I could solicit backpacking advice. Then I went from being a total backpacking noob to moderating the largest ultralight backpacking forum on the internet. How did I get here?
In many ways, my journey with r/Ultralight started the same way many people start their journey down the ultralight backpacking path. With a simple pack shakedown. This is where you bear your soul … I mean, gear closet for the entire r/Ultralight community to peer at and critically analyze, down to the gram, often in the hopes that the community can help you cut your baseweight and total pack weight down for your upcoming trip.
Get yourself a scale and weigh EVERYTHING. Nothing is off the table, and should be looked at critically. Pictured here is the WEBO Shoulder Pouch. Though it adds 27 grams to my pack, it protects my phone from the elements, and keeps safety items like my lip balm and whistle close at hand. In my eyes, well worth the extra grams.
For the uninitiated ...
r/Ultralight is a community forum, a place to get others' opinions on gear, trails, brands, etc. It's the meeting space for conversation around ultralight backpacking.
A backpacker’s baseweight is the weight of all their belongings that they can carry in a backpack during a trip, minus the weight of any consumables like food, water, sunscreen, and beer.
Total pack weight is the weight of all the things in your pack, including consumables. To round things out, worn weight is the total weight of your clothes, shoes, underwear, and trekking poles; basically anything that touches your body. Lastly, total skin out weight is the total sum of your total pack weight and worn weight.
Having a baseweight of ten pounds and under is considered being ultralight, a baseweight between ten and 20 pounds is considered lightweight, and a baseweight over 20 pounds is considered to be a traditional setup.
Any ultralighter worthy of their Smartwarter bottle will know their numbers, having long ago bought a scale to weigh everything, down to the gram. For example, here’s my general three season packlist.
It was common to carry nearly 100 pounds as an infantry Marine, and I was dead set on not doing that ever again.
My shakedown post on r/Ultralight, which centered around a backpacking trip that circumnavigated Capitol Peak in Colorado, received an amazing amount of feedback. I was able to talk to locals, hikers who had previously visited the area, and ultralight backpackers with decades of experience. It was a whole team of like-minded people, ready to help with trip planning and gear choices, just a few clicks away. And …these weren’t just your average backpackers out on the trail either. These were INNOVATORS.
“Use toothpaste tablets instead of a whole tube.”
“While you're at it, cut that toothbrush in half.”
“Have you thought about a tarp and bivy setup?”
No. No. And definitely no. But I tried all three anyway, and have to say, after lugging around 100 pounds of food, water, gear, and ammunition during my Marine days, walking around snow-capped mountains at 12,000 ft with a pack the size of a chihuahua felt like I had helium balloons strapped to my back.
"This is the way," I muttered to myself, crossing the last river of my trip.
I was hooked. That one trip changed my life in so many ways. My love for the outdoors was revived. I was emboldened. I continued to research and drop my baseweight. I tried new fabrics, strategies, and even new comfort levels. Most of all, I gained a new sense of stewardship for the outdoors from those other anonymous users on the sub.
A typical three season set up for me nowadays, although I much prefer cowboy camping. Pictured are the Zpacks Altaplex Tarp, the Katabatic Pinon Bivy, the Gryphon Aries, and a custom Dandee Pack.
I'll be honest here. It was a deep dive. I didn't just drink the Kool-Aid. I am the Kool-aid Man incarnate. Oh yeah. Not only did I go with a tarp and bivy setup, cut my toothbrush in half, and use toothpaste tablets. I bought a quilt. I ditched the inflatable pad. I went frameless. I was walking around with a sub 5 pound, 3-season baseweight thinking I was hot$#!%.
Within two years, I was blazing down the first 800 miles of the PCT, setting Fastest Known Times, and giving advice on other people's shakedown posts.
Reddit was also a huge creative outlet for me. My first samples of writing early gear reviews and trip reports started on r/Ultralight. I was also making friends and building connections with people from across the world. I shared campfires, beers, and tacos with other ultralighters I had met on that sub.
Hanging out with a group of other backpackers from r/Ultralight on a backpacking trip in Texas.
Like all great things, people catch on and spread the word. The sub continued to grow and grow, along with interest in recreating outdoors. When I joined r/Ultralight in early 2018, there were just over 64,000 registered subscribers. After Covid-19, that number nearly tripled to 185,000 subscribers in May of 2020, around the time I joined the moderation team.
The above plot shows the increase of subscribers to r/Ultralight from December 2010 to July 2022.
I know it’s going to sound like I have to say it because of the position I have as a moderator, but please remember as I say it that I don’t get paid to moderate the sub: I love r/Ultralight and the moderation team behind it. Of course, there have been turbulent and contentious times. Things were especially contentious around the time I joined, considering the pandemic and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd had just occured.
At times, there has even been infighting within the community on the future direction of the sub. Yet every time, the community has found an equilibrium and a way forward. We still challenge ourselves with how to be lighter while out on trail. We still strive to find new routes to conquer. We still innovate new technologies and designs, even as r/Ultralight turns 12 years old this December 5th.
As Craderson Carriers put it, an active contributor to r/Ultralight and whom we hear more from in Part 2 of our series on Reddit, ultralight backpackers are the hikers in the community pushing the boundaries on what is possible.
Enjoyed this article? Head over to Part 2: How Reddit Launches Your Favorite Cottage UL Backpacking Brands, where I cover the effect two different but equally important subreddits have had on ultralight backpacking: r/ULgeartrade and r/MYOG.
Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work over on his website.