“SUL” stands for Super UltraLight weight backpacking.
“SUL” is defined as a “BPW” (Base Pack Weight) less than 5 lbs.
“BPW” is defined as everything in a backpack that is not consumed.
“SUL” means everything in your pack that isn’t eaten or used weighs less than 5 lbs.
Up to this point I have been everything from a “Heavy Hauler” down to an UltraLight weight backpacker. However, over the last few months I have been shaving my gear list down closer to the 5 pound (or “SUL”) mark. This is due to the countless hours of “internet research” on a lot of gear, detailed combing over my current gear lists and of course using my different gear set-ups while on the trail. However, I also owe much thanks to John Abela for an enormous amount of discussion and insight, to my buddy Gizmo Joe for actually hiking with me and sharing the same backpacking thoughts and style (and actually being somewhat of an “accountability” partner) as well as to the many folks over on all the different backpacking forums and YouTube channels that I frequent. Thanks to this combined effort, I am now about to embark on my first, true “SUL” backpacking trip…
When it comes to an “SUL” base pack weight, I can remember looking at other people’s gear list and thinking “How in the world?!” But then with enough “dedication” I can finally say that I am one of those people. And at this point, my take on the whole “SUL” mindset is that it is not as bad as I thought it would be…at least not yet… (although, based on my use/knowledge with the gear in my list, I do not feel like this will change.)
Much of my progress to arrive at an “SUL” base pack weight was in simply leaving items out/behind. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t cut out my entire FAK (First-Aid Kit) in order to get my pack weight lower, but I did decide to only carry as many band-aids as I may need rather than the whole box! And I maintained this mind-set when it came to all of the items that go inside my pack. I repackaged some items such as my Dr. B’s, bleach and Germ-X. I counted out the number of each pill that I would take and only packed that many. And I found that I didn’t need to carry the instructions on how to use my repair kit for my air pad… I just read the instructions and familiarized myself with how to use it… Let’s not forget, the mind is the most important piece of gear that you will bring along on any hike…
Another method I used to get my pack weight in the “SUL” range is by using multiuse items. This means using items that serve more than one purpose. The biggest example of this is my GoLite Poncho Tarp, although this is not the only example. Even something as simple as a 1 gallon Ziploc bag has many uses (water”proof” stuff sack, back-up pillow, laundry bag and sink… to name a few different uses), yet all of these uses weigh in as one, very light weight item!
And of course, I also replaced some of my heavier gear with lighter weight gear that served the same purpose (if not more than one purpose). I will admit, there is not much getting around this one. Some items, such as a backpack will need to be lightweight (at least to a point). Many of the conventional, mainstream backpacks can weigh as much as my entire base pack weight (or more). So, finding the right items will involve seeking out these specialty items that fill the lightweight niche. (Or if you are crafty enough, you can make your own.) However, this method usually does involve spending some more money, whereas the first 2 methods did not, so much… Although, my disposable spoon was free from work, and my “cup” was less than $2 for 3 at a local retail store, so even though it may cost some extra money, that doesn’t mean that it has to be expensive…
However, I feel like a huge component of an “SUL” gear list is the fact that when putting everything together, it should be thought of as a system, rather than just a piece of gear, which is pretty much a conglomeration of all the “methods” I mentioned above. Just as a puzzle, everything inside the backpack (and even including the backpack) should have its own place, but also it should all fit together to form the “final picture.” I feel like by making my entire system work together, I have managed a truly great kit…
Anyway, moving on…
I feel like I should add, that as a gear obsessed backpacker, this should come as no surprise that I have (finally) gotten my weight down to this point. However, I will admit that it is more than just my gear obsession that has given me a reason and want to go so lightweight…
A buddy of mine (Gizmo Joe) and I are about to embark on an epic journey (for us at least). We are planning to hike the 74+ miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park…in less than 3 days! Our first day will be 23 miles…a big start to a hike for sure…but it only gets bigger from here… Our second day will be a whopping 28.4 miles, and this does not count the extra distance that we have to hike off the AT to get to our shelter for the night (nor any other side trails we may have to take for any other reasons). Then the third day eases off just a bit, back down to another 23 mile day…
So, considering these big mileage days (for us anyway) we were looking to get our pack weight down as light as we possibly could, of course while still maintaining all the items we need to be safe while on the trail, as well as comfortable once we make it to camp! It only makes sense to us that, the lighter we can get our packs, the easier it will be to make it up and over all of those mountains in such a short period of time…
Our plans are simple (they can be because our packs are also simple). We plan to be up and hiking by 5 am each morning. This will allow us some time to be a few miles down the trail before the sun even comes up, however, it will also allow us some time to get some “night” hiking done (which I am looking forward to). However, it also just so happens that this time of the year has the longest days… With the sun coming up early and setting late, this will allow us plenty of daylight hours, which should allow us plenty of time to make it from point “A” to point “B” (or at least relatively close).
Of course too, this time of the year will be the hottest time of the year, which means we can get away with even less gear than we would normally need should the weather be a bit colder. So, this presents the perfect opportunity to go with an “SUL” weight backpack…
So, when working on my gear list, I have split up my “gear” into 4 different categories:
1. Worn Items:
These are all of the items that I of course wear. This consists of my shoes, socks, underwear, pants, shirt and visor. As well, I also count in my watch, survival bracelet and even my knee straps that I wear with hopes of keeping my ITBS in check…
2. Carried Items:
This consists of all the items that I carry, whether it be in my hands or in my pants pockets. This consists of my trekking poles, wallet, towel, map, phone and a few of my “10 Essential” items (knife, light, fire steel, whistle and compass).
This is of course everything that I plan to consume while on the trip. This category is actually broken down into 4 smaller categories:
- Food: This represents all of the food that I will carry with me on a given trip. For this trip I am planning a “cold” breakfast, 6 snacks which I plan to consume about every 2 hours throughout the day and a warm dinner, complete with a cup of hot cocoa and a desert. (I will be making a more detailed video/write-up on this in a few days.)
- Water: This represents the approximate amount of water that I plan to carry at a time. For this trip, I have decided to go with two 20 oz Gatorade bottles; one on each shoulder strap. I typically carry a single 32 oz Gatorade bottle, but due to this “SUL” weight, a single 32 oz bottle on one shoulder strap is very noticeable, so I have decided to balance it out with two 20 oz bottles on each side. Other than this, I will be carrying a 2L Sawyer soft bladder which I do not plan to carry filled, but do have the option to do so if need be.
- Fuel: This represents the amount of fuel for my chosen stove system. For this trip I have decided to go with Esbit, or a solid fuel. I feel like this fuel is easy and safe to use, as well as lightweight and hot. I am carrying 4 Esbit tablets on this trip, of which I am allocating 1 tab per dinner. With the cooking system I am carrying on this trip, I can bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil with a single Esbit tablet. (And possibly more.) This will allow me at least 1 cup of water for my cocoa, and 1 – 1.5 cups of water to rehydrate my meals.
- Miscellaneous Consumables: This represents any other item in my pack that gets consumed, but that is not included in one of the other sub-categories (food, water & fuel). This is a new one on me, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to add it in, and this also seems to be a bit different on everyone’s gear list, so it was harder to pin this one down. Anyway, I decided to tackle it on this list, and have included my TP, Dipenhydramine tablets, Pepto-Bismol tablets, Ibuprofen tablets, and Protonix tablets in this category.
4. (Base) Packed Weight:
This of course represents everything in my pack that does not fall into one of the above mentioned categories. This represents the basic gear that will go into my pack for any overnight hike, whether I am out for a single overnight hike, or a 10 day (or more) hike. These items are the same no matter how many days I am out, considering these days are all within the same hiking season.
The BPW is also the weight that those of us that are in the lightweight crowd like to throw around. This is the weight that defines us and places us into a particular “weight-class.”
My base pack weight for this trip is currently at the 3.99 pound mark! As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, a “SUL” backpacking weight falls under 5 pounds, which this weight clearly is… :)
So, rounding it out, here are the figured weights for each category for this planned hiking trip:
- Worn Items: 3.44 lbs (55.10 oz)
- Carried Items: 1.12 lbs (17.95 oz)
- ~Fuel: 0.13 lbs (2 oz)
- ~Water: 2.5 lbs (40 oz)
- ~Food: 4.96 lbs (79.3 oz)
- ~Misc. Consumables: 0.27 lbs (4.35 oz)
- Base Packed Weight: 3.99 lbs (63.77 oz)
For some combined figures:
- BPW: 3.99 lbs (63.77 oz)
- Total Consumables Weight: 7.58 lbs (121.3 oz)
- Total Pack Weight: 11.57 lbs (185.07 oz)
- Skin-Out Weight: 16.13 lbs (258.12 oz)
So, at this point I am at a sub 4 pound base weight, if even only by a hair (but then again, at these weights, even the hairs count). However, I am still a full pound under the 5 pound “SUL” cut-off mark, so I am pretty happy, heck, I am stoked with the set-up that I have put together. I will admit that this set-up will not work for every situation, but for this one in particular, I believe it will work out very well. But then again, only use will tell…and I plan to find out very soon…
And I have got to say that another nice perk of having such a light base weight that I am looking forward to, is that the total pack weight will be very close to the weight that will be in the pack on the last day of the hike. (Remember, the consumables will have been consumed.) This means that on the last day of my hike, my total pack weight will start out around 7 – 8 pounds (counting food and water for that day) and will finish up around 4 – 6 pounds (depending on water). I gotta say, I am looking forward to this… :)
As usual, I have decided to do some video to show my particular gear in this “SUL” gear list. I will admit though that it took me more time than I had planned, so I had to make it into a 2 part video series…
As well, if you are interested in checking out my full gear list for this hike, spread out all nice and neat on a Google Doc spreadsheet, you can do so by clicking on the link below. Also within this same gear list, I have a second sheet labeled “Food Planner” which details all of my food that I plan to pack for this hike. Simply click on the tab in the bottom left hand corner of the spreadsheet to open the Food Planner sheet.
So, I am looking forward to marking 2 new milestones on this hike. One, my “SUL” pack weight and two, completing 3 of the biggest hiking days I have hiked so far. I can even go as far as saying a third milestone will be “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Regardless, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is going to be an “Epic Hike” for me…
Thanks for reading, and watching the videos.