This is not intended as a thread to discuss the ethics of fires in the backcountry; that's an issue that involves too many variables including where you are hiking, and has been well-discussed in other threads. For purposes of this thread, let's simply accept that in most times and places, campfires would be at odds with Leave-No-Trace practices. I'm also not trying to re-ignite the "light is relative to what you're planning to do" issue; we can safely assume that as an accurate and well-proven point, too.

Instead, I'd like to get some discussion on whether fire is "cheating" at the ultralight game. This question occurred to me after reading another thread in this post, and seeing a headline at (I think it's an ad for their store, not a serious article; but I'm no longer a member there, so I don't know.)

The other thread I read here made the point that one of the trade-offs true ultralighters (and sub-ultralighters) make in order to carry the extremely light loads they carry is to make compromises in warmth: they might choose to take a 30-degree bag when 20-degree lows are predicted, and only a light down vest or sweater, only liner gloves, and lightweight, not midweight, long underwear. The logic is that they're going to do high-mile days and spend very little time in camp, so they'll tolerate not being toasty warm for a lighter load.

The headline at BPL is: "TO BUILD A FIRE: Stave off the chill ... with a warm, comforting blaze..."

That is a strategy that works, no doubt about it (assuming you have the requisite skill to be able to get a fire going when it's been raining all day, and all the available wood is soaked.) However, it seems to me that somehow a line has been crossed here. I have to wonder if part of the UL philosophy has morphed to say that LNT, once held as a near-sacred principle, can now be compromised or ignored in order to shave a few more ounces off the load.

I'm not trashing the ultralight philsophy; far from it. I have benefited greatly by following it generally, though I haven't gone the full route. (Yet.) It changed the way many of us viewed backpacking, from an "assault on the outdoors," with 60 pound packs and everything we could need, ever, to "fitting in to the outdoors," with correspondingly lighter packs. Lessening one's impact, rather than leaving one's mark, was a natural fit with the minimalist style you adopt as an ultralighter. It sparked a revolution in gear, as cottage makers forced the big companies to drastically redesign their gear or risk losing a growing market segment.

I'm just wondering if we're reaching the point of going too far in the relentless pursuit of weight reduction, and if it has now become an end unto itself, rather than a means to an end. (I hopped off the UL train at 17 pounds, and I'll add the heavier bag and jacket without a second thought; I still don't light fires.)

Edited by Glenn (06/27/11 12:13 PM)
Edit Reason: One additional thought