This is the second installment of a multi-part series. Begin by reading Part One.
From Carrying a Load to Carrying a Life
Ultralight backpacking places emphasis on carrying the lightest and simplest equipment safely possible. Enthusiasts discard nonessential pack weight as a path to physical and emotional liberation.
Ardent backpackers are scrupulous souls who shave ounces from their backpacks. They leave superfluous equipment at home. They disdain wasted effort due to poor pre-trip planning or ignorance of lighter alternatives.
This mission is pragmatic. By carrying lighter weight and less equipment, ultralight backpackers can cover longer distances with less wear and tear on the body. They often achieve sublime self-satisfaction that comes with competency and confidence: “I have the equipment and provisions I need no matter what comes my way. I am prepared, secure, and self-sufficient.”
Carrying less weight liberates the hiker, shifting focus from aches and pains of too much pack weight to the surrounding miracles and majesties of nature. Less internal focus means greater external connection with the ever-changing natural world. The ultralight hiker can experience more of each unrepeatable moment because he’s immersed in hiking rather than hauling. He sees elusive wild animal signs, gemstones scattered along a trail, and human archaeological artifacts that less observant hikers miss.
Ultralight Aging TM is also about discarding weight: the psychic pack loads that come with longer lives. Accumulating burdens of unresolved conflicts with others. Persistence of dreadful memories invading the present and future. Fears, inhibitions, regrets, and hesitations that accumulate through the years. These accruing emotional burdens can shackle the older traveler, diminishing the possibilities of a brighter today and tomorrow.
Inventions and technologies emanating from an ultralight framework also suggest analog strategies to manage physical disabilities and handicaps limiting mobility and activities of daily living. Approaches suggested by Ultralight Aging may not restore genuine youthful vigor, but many fitness practices, self-care methods, and technological innovations can improve strength, stamina, and vitality.
Ultralight Aging (ULA) is also a spiritual quest. This approach to biological and psychological aging fosters opportunities for authentic communion with each person’s higher power as he or she strengthens faith in spiritual life after corporeal existence. It is a journey toward greater clarity about Mother Earth, her awesome beauty and fragility — the possibilities for continuation beyond this mortal coil.
It is an expedition toward greater connectivity in the human social realm, toward communion with fellow travelers. Passion for learning about our inner selves and the nature of human existence propels ULA, a sacred quest to embracing divinity.
As with shedding pounds and ounces from a backpack, discarding psychological and emotional burdens accumulated through a lifetime takes commitment and discipline. Personal transformation summons a persnickety mindset, beginning with a credo: less is usually more.
ULA inspires pursuit of wisdom: to understand the differences between what is absolutely necessary for health, safety, and well-being and what is merely feckless and nonessential. This approach to aging inspires personal responsibility for outcomes, as well as continuing investment in the strategies and tactics that foster wellness, including fitness training, nutrition, stress reduction, and pursuit of adventure activities that motivate optimum engagement with the wider world.
Wilderness Trekking with a Generation
Backpacking as a popular sport dovetails the maturation of the Baby Boomer generation. When the countercultural movements of the mid-to-late 1960s solidified, so did shared yearning for exotic travel, freedom from mainstream urban culture, and mesmerizing plunges into the natural world. At this life-stage many Boomers truly discovered the beauty and majesty of nature, a personal and awe-inspiring communion.
Technology, ironically, had a significant allure in this liberating quest of discovery. Equipment recommended for safe travel into the hinterland became lighter and more compact. The goose down sleeping bag replaced a heavy wool bag. Nylon domes replaced World War II-vintage canvas pup tents. Every camping accessory, from cooking pots to rain ponchos, became lighter and smarter.
Two enormous influences on backpacking culture coalesced as the leading-edge wave of Baby Boomers reached college age and the third decade of life, their twenties.
Enter a Thought Leader
Colin Fletcher, a native of Wales who served in the Royal Marine Commandos during World War II, trekked the length of the 1963 boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park. He was the first person to do so in a single continuous backpacking trip, without interruptions or respites from daily hiking and camping. The Man Who Walked through Time, his bestselling 1968 memoir about this 400-mile hiking experience, chronicled alluring and quixotic details of a trailblazing trek while planting “cultural seeds” in the minds of a young generation yearning for adventure and novelty.
Annette McGivney, editor of Backpacker Magazine, confirmed that through his writing and lectures Colin Fletcher “inspired a generation of young Americans to take up backpacking as means of filling a spiritual void,” and to escape from the confusion and conflict of Vietnam-era America.
Also in the same year, Fletcher published a definitive how-to book about the mental attitudes, hiking and camping practices, and equipment needed for lightweight backcountry exploration. The Complete Walker irresistibly depicted all his backpacking equipment neatly arranged for the book’s cover photo. His bestseller became known as “the hiker’s bible,” catapulting Fletcher to “spiritual godfather” of the wilderness backpacking movement. The book sold more than 500,000 copies and remains in print today.
 “Colin Fletcher, March 1922-June 2007,” Backpacker Magazine, June 14, 2007
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