I noticed an interesting phenomenon recently. It has been popping up all over the place, both on blogs and YouTube channels I follow. At first I brushed it off, but it is as if though there was some type of secret meeting where a party policy was set for how to answer certain questions. I guess I wasn’t invited to the conference.
What am I talking about? Well, it is the phenomenon of justifying the weight of a person’s gear by saying that the person is in good physical shape, so the weight doesn’t matter. “Does my 60lb pack look heavy to you? Well, if you were in as good of a physical shape as I am, you wouldn’t even notice it on your back!”; “Yes my gear is heavy, but that’s where physical conditioning comes in.”; “If you go in the woods, you have to be in good physical shape, so pack weight is not an issue.”, and so on and so forth. All of those statements imply, or outright state that if you are a burly woodsy type of MAN, then the weight of your pack does not matter. The only people concerned with the weight of their pack are out of shape girly-men.
Once we get past their horribly offensive nature, all of those statements contain a grain of truth, but sadly they use that grain of truth to mask impractical gear choices and lack of careful planning. I strongly believe that physical conditioning is very important. Being in good shape minimizes injury, it lets you go further and do more, and many outdoor pursuits and terrains demand peak physical shape. Not all of us can achieve that, but it is a worthy goal none the less.
That being said, using brute physical force to overcome impractical gear choices does not actually make the gear choices any better. With the application of enough force you can use a completely dull axe to bash through a tree. That however, does not make a dull axe just as good as a sharp one, and neither does the choice to carry such a dull axe make the user more of a man, and it certainly does not make him more of a woodsman. It simply makes the user someone who either through hubris, lack of knowledge, or convoluted rationalization after the fact, has made an impractical gear choice.
Physical strength is great, but using it to overcome poorly selected gear does not make those gear choices any better. It simply compensates for them, sometimes effectively, sometimes not, but either way you pay a price.
Just like carrying a dull axe instead of a sharp one is a poor gear choice from a practical stand point, regardless of whether the user has the physical strength to bring down a tree, carrying an unnecessarily heavy piece of gear is an impractical choice regardless of whether one can compensate through the use of greater physical force.
It is a fine line between a man with a backpack and a pack animal. The former can quickly turn into the later through the gear choices he makes. More weight on your back means higher risk of short term and long term injury, higher energy expenditure requiring higher water and food consumption, decreased maximum duration of your trips because of the higher food consumption and the decreased amount of food that can be carried, decreased speed and ability to travel over difficult terrain, and ultimately it means having to sacrifice additional equipment. Replacing your 8 lb shelter with one that is of equal strength and size, but weighs 3 lb, will free up weight for other items. With the 5 lb you saved, you can bring a full size axe, or a rifle, or an additional three days of food, or you can simply have a lighter pack so that with your manly physical conditioning, you can now move much faster, travel over harder terrain, hunt over a larger range, and do more while in the woods. The difference is considerable, especially when you imagine taking the same approach with respect to all of your gear.
Now, I know that at this point someone will jump in with a comment about how the gear they carry is their personal choice and is based on intangible factors like aesthetics, childhood memories, etc, so who am I to tell them what to carry. Please note that I have no interest in telling anyone that they shouldn’t carry a particular piece of gear just because the choice was based on aesthetics. I think that is great. There is nothing wrong with selecting gear based on looks, nostalgia, or any other intangible factor. What I am commenting on here is the inexplicable need people have to then try to justify those aesthetic choices in terms of practicality. In particular, I am addressing one of the justification strategies, i.e. “if you are in good shape, the weight of your gear doesn’t matter”. Here I am speaking to the validity of that justification, and am asserting that it is a very poor one.