At the risk of being eviscerated by the ultralight community, I’d say there are two types of people entrenched in the ounce-counting, tiny-pack-carrying, 1/8-inch-foam-pad sleeping backpacking world: those who take it very seriously, and those who are able to laugh about the objective absurdity some hikers go to in the name of shaving grams. Ultralight Jerk (ULJ) definitely falls in the latter category.
“I’m just some guy who enjoys an unhealthy amount of Coke Zero, sitting with my wife and cat watching Gilmore Girls. I have absolutely no background in writing.”
This is the man behind ULJ—he’d like to remain anonymous, thank you very much.
His hiking background? “I’ve done a major thru-hike,” he says, “because this community judges ‘worth’ based on that.” He doesn’t mince words. It’s kind of refreshing.
We all know the benefits of carrying a lighter pack: easier on your body and able to hike more miles. But there’s a point where the comfort gained while hiking turns into complete discomfort while in camp, and Ultralight Jerk has made that their prime target.
The ULJ page today is exactly how it’s always looked. The jokes and memes are targeted at a very niche group of people, but with nearly 20,000 followers on the account, the audience has grown past the point of that niche.
The core audience is still there, but the brain trust behind ULJ sees a broader range of backpacking memes and jokes these days. He laments the proliferation of similar pages, but thinks the ULJ page still stands out in its own way.
The major milestone for the ULJ page was when Andrew Skurka featured the page in his “Off Piste” column. Skurka took ULJ’s jokes poking fun at him in stride, and wound up writing a post highlighting the memes and their background.
“Skurka has always shown a lot of love for the site,” says ULJ, “even when I send him messages about wanting to put his name on bumper stickers or making stupid shirts about his beans and rice recipies.”
Though it’s cliche to say that “what we gained was friends along the way,” that’s been true for the interactions and communications through Ultralight Jerk.
“The most fun part has been making relationships with people while doing this,” he says. “The people you don’t see behind the scenes are my best friends. We met through a shared interest in this hobby and then built this stupid thing together.”
While one person was originally behind ULJ, it’s no longer a one-man show. The people behind the scenes come from different backgrounds, and aren’t scared to tell each other when material or jokes aren’t landing.
“One of us from the PNW may not understand a joke about the culture behind the AT, so it’s fun to hash those things out with a group of people,” he explains. “The most fun part is when we get people to come out of their shell. It’s great to be able to get people like Ron Bell from MLD or Swami to answer really stupid questions. It lets people see a more ‘human’ side of them that rarely gets shown.”
Though there’s no specific message behind the page—beyond drawing attention to the comical nature of serious ultralighters—the page has given the man behind ULJ a chance to give back.
“I’ve been able to work with multiple trail organizations and raise money for them through merchandise fundraisers,” says ULJ. “We’ve worked with the Oregon Desert Trail, Ozark Trail Association, Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, as well as Camp Founder Girls, which is America's first overnight camp for black girls.”
For each of those fundraising campaigns, 100% of the proceeds went to the associated organization. The lesser-known trail organizations also gained more recognition outside of their immediate areas.
When I asked about the time commitment behind the page, ULJ said he spends almost no time on it per week… just enough to clear notifications and check messages.
“I recently went three months without posting,” he says. “Sometimes I’m into it, sometimes I couldn’t care less.”
“I’m the worst person to run an account like this because I simply don’t give a shit. The infrequent posting kills the algorithm, but I don’t give a shit. I’ve never been one of those people who constantly asks for your ‘homies to smash that follow.’ I do this because sometimes it's fun for me, and when it's not, I simply step away from it.”
This is also a very refreshing take, considering the almost rabid obsession that occupies people’s minds as they count followers and likes.
Running a page like Ultralight Jerk can certainly have its downsides, like people not being able to separate him from the page.
“I’ve had a lot of relationships spoiled and bridges burned because of ULJ. People think that the things I joke about or say are the opinions or views I hold personally. This is the reason I moved away from doing jokes targeted at real people.”
He acknowledges that there are certain lines not to cross, which can be a tough to toe when you have a satirical page. “It sucks when people you considered friends hit you up and say ‘leave me out of this’ and you never hear from them again.”
Overall, it’s been an engaging, unique experience that he doesn’t feel too much pressure to be overly obsessed with. A healthy relationship, if you will.
“I’ve definitely accomplished and done more with this than I ever thought was possible,” he says. “To be honest, the fact I’ve stuck with it this long is surprising to me.”