How Minimal Is Too Minimal?

by Andy Amick on August 24, 2012

in Cycling, Prepared, Running

I was planning on a Happy Friday post for today, but I read this post from Jill Homer and it got me thinking about a lot of things related to minimal gear and being prepared when we head outdoors.

The post goes through her thoughts regarding the death of ultrarunner Michael Popov in Death Valley.  Michael went for a 6 mile run in the desert with 4 bottles of water.  When he was found the bottles were dry and he died of heat related exposure.  The post is worth the read as well as the Outside magazine article about Michael’s death.  Jill sums up her thoughts by writing:

Still, I recognize that I can gather all the experience and knowledge possible, and still make a disastrous mistake in a relatively routine situation. It’s even more likely to happen if experience gives my mind precedent to believe that a particular situation is okay. But of course, situations can change stunningly fast. And when conditions shift outside one’s experience, even small miscalculations can turn deadly.

People make mistakes and the natural environment can throw some serious curve balls at us.  In hindsight, I think we can agree that Michael went out with too little water to handle any curve balls in weather terrain.

How low can you go?

In the world of ultra anything (ultrarunning, ultralight, ultradistance) an area of focus is on reducing what one carries and the weight of the items that are carried.  There are cyclists doing the Tour Divide with only a few pounds of gear, and hikers doing the entire Appalachian Trail with less than 5 pounds of gear.  The people doing this have usually spent years perfecting their gear choices and honing their skills.

But the game of ultralight has gotten so extreme, adventurer Andrew Skurka has begun to use the term “stupid light” when referring to going too minimal all for the sake of weight.  It’s a very good point to consider.  If you’re blinded by the allure of super lightweight gear, you can end up with very poor gear choices which result in a trip that is uncomfortable, dangerous, or even worse.

There is nothing wrong with reducing the weight of gear you carry, and most of us are constantly evaluating ways to make this happen.

But always ask yourself – would you be comfortable with your loved ones carrying the same items on the trip?  Obviously the other person’s experience and comfort level comes into play, but the question is a good sanity check to make sure you’re making sound choices.  If you’re going into a rainy area, don’t try to test out a super lightweight rain jacket.  Instead, try an ultralight sleeping pad or backpack.  By all means, try out some new ultralight item on a trip, but make sure weight is not the only reason for doing so.

Expect the unexpected

Stories like Michael’s are sad and I wish they never happened.  But it’s because of  these types of stories that I started Pale Spruce.  I don’t care whether you buy a safety kit, learn a few tips about being prepared, or simply stumble upon the site through a search.  I do care about you getting home to your loved ones after an outdoor activity and being able to do it again the next day.

The beauty of the natural environment is what drives many of us to be outdoors.  Along with that beauty comes unpredictable weather, tricky terrain, and a sheer power of nature that we don’t always grasp.  Can we alleviate all of these risks associated with outdoor activities?  Of course not, but we can prepare ourselves to handle as many as possible.

Again, ask yourself if you would want your friends or loved ones to go out and do the same activity with the same gear you are carrying.  If the answer is no, then don’t do it.  Simple as that.  Add the necessary items to your pack (food, water, first aid, shelter, etc) and then go.

And when you do go, sometimes giving up in the middle of an adventure is the right choice.  Maybe you made poor gear choices, encountered bad weather, or found the terrain too difficult.  Turn around, admit it was too much of a risk, and be home for another adventure another day.

What do you carry?

I know the idea of “what if” scenarios and being prepared are not exciting topics to think about.  But if you don’t, a mistake or miscalculation can become a much more serious problem.  So please stop and think about what you carry on your rides, hikes, runs, and camping trips.  Then ask yourself these questions:

Is it adequate for the area in which you are travelling?

Is it adequate for the conditions you may encounter?

Are you carrying appropriate first aid items?

Are you prepared for cold and darkness if you get lost or conditions force you to be out longer?

Is everyone in your group experienced enough for the terrain you will encounter?

After asking the questions, make the appropriate changes to your gear selection so that you get home safely and are ready for another adventure!

Do you have other questions that you ask or other ways to make sure you’re prepared?  Please share them in the comments so we can all be better prepared to have fun outdoors.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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