Given that I am relatively new to the long distance hiking scene I feel that now would be a perfect time to express some of my partially informed yet surprisingly staunch opinions regarding the perceived debates surrounding the activity.
On the spectrum of how much gear hikers decide to bring along there appear to be four distinct categories: minimalist, ultralight, lightweight, and too much (super-ultralight and hyper-ultralight are also tossed around). There is not however, a standardized set of agreed upon weights to define each, but generally: 5, 10, 20, and 30 pounds get arbitrarily chosen as cutoffs.
Now it would appear obvious that hikers would prefer to carry as little weight as possible, but there comes a point that reducing a pack’s weight by another pound or even a few ounces becomes a matter of either spending significantly more money or sacrificing perceived conveniences.
Let us use a toothbrush as an example to help us more clearly illustrate the differences between these four hiker categories. A standard toothbrush would be brought along by the person who carries too much (what are you thinking? you know how much those things weigh?!), a lightweight hiker would saw the handle in half, an ultralight hiker would leave only the head and bristles, and the minimalist would say, “Toothbrush? Who the hell needs a toothbrush? I’ll use a stick, thank you”. It should also be mentioned that when discussing pack weight we are referring to “base pack weight” which is the weight of your pack excluding consumables (food, water, fuel).
People debate the usefulness of cutting pack weight as fervently as Klan members debate their belief in God’s “chosen race”; there is no use engaging these people, as far as they are concerned their belief is correct and they cannot be swayed.
Now I am not saying that I would not enjoy hiking with a lighter pack, but rather that I would prefer carrying that extra 6 oz of toilet paper to wiping my ass with a mystery leaf or piece of bark. Ultralight enthusiasts save on weight by removing fabric or parts deemed “unnecessary” from equipment, cutting out “luxuries” such as electronics and extra clothing, and replacing traditional equipment with lightweight substitutes (ex. a garbage bag as a rain cover).
For some, the costs of ultralight equipment can be prohibitive, and the lighter weight materials often require special maintenance as they are not as durable and can wear out more quickly. In the end, lighter is better, and depending on how much you enjoy roughing it, you can easily cut extraneous weight from your pack.
All that really matters is that you are comfortable, and if carrying a heavier sleeping bag and tent isn’t going to stop you from getting your miles in, and will let you sleep easy every night, then by all means, carry away. You can laugh it up when you are sleeping comfortably and your self-proclaimed hardcore friends freeze their asses off because they wanted to carry one less pound.