Fast & Light or Fast & Lit?
No matter who you talk to - from sponsored climbers hawking the latest tech to the guy spraying you down in the Index parking lot - it seems like all the rage in climbing right now is "fast and light." But true alpinists know that this is nothing new. In fact, they've been climbing "fast and lit" for decades. Luckily I'm here to help you all bridge the gap between the trendy "fast and light" tips and the less fashionable but decidedly more rad "fast and lit."
Fast & Light - Tarp Tent or Pyramid
Regular backpacking tents have a lot of unnecessary fabric, poles, and features that won't be useful for climbing objectives. A tarp tent (I like the SMD Lunar Solo, also check out Tarptent, Yama, and Zpacks) cuts out a lot of that weight and still allows a bomber pitch below treeline. For glacier or winter camping, a pyramid tent is a great combination of spacious, snow-shedding, windproof, and lightweight. I use the HMG Ultamid 2 and have heard great things about the BD Mega Light and MLD Duomid.
Fast & Lit - Don't Sleep
The best way to cut down on sleeping gear is to not bring it at all. As a now lost to the annals of history Cascade Climbers post once read, "Every peak in the North Cascades can be done car-to-car." The author later recanted, "except maybe Gunsight."
Fast & Light - Aluminum Instead of Steel Crampons
Aluminum crampons, micro-spikes, or "trail crampons" are all great replacements for steel crampons on non-technical terrain. They also work much better for flexible approach shoes or trail runners. They do wear out much faster on rock and can't be filed sharp as easily, so watch out! I like the Petzl Leopard FL, most major manufacturers have a set of lightweight aluminum crampons.
Fast & Lit - Trail Runners for Everything
Unless you're on pure glacier ice, it's unlikely that you really need crampons. A talented alpinist can ascend all but the most frozen slopes with judicious use of step kicking or adze-chiseling. You can always get down on all fours and use your elbows too!
Fast & Light - Pare Down Your Layers
One of the common adages in the school of ultralight backpacking is that you have brought the right number of layers when you can wear them all at once and not be cold. A more conservative alpinist would scoff at this, but there is value in thinking about layering systems instead of single items of clothing. Softshells can be replaced by a fleece with a windbreaker layer which are more versatile on their own and often lighter weight. Likewise, a large puffy might not be necessary if you can layer a small one in between a wind jacket and a fleece. Hardshells should be a last resort - only if rain, high wind, or extreme low temps are forecasted.
Fast & Lit - Never Stop Moving
The cold can't catch you if you don't slow down! Burning calories is a great way to stay warm and you can always work a little harder, right? With a pair of running shorts, a t-shirt, and some GU, you're unstoppable... as long as you don't have to stop and tie your shoes.
Fast & Light - Limit Your Breaks
It's tempting to take in a beautiful vista or prepare a full charcuterie spread on a long approach, but spending 30 minutes in break-time is like walking half-speed for an hour. Bars, gels, and shot blocks aren't glamorous, but they go down quick and are simple to eat on trail or on route. Practice changing jackets while hiking for extra style points!
Fast & Lit - Really Limit Your Breaks
Some people claim there are certain breaks that are "biological necessities." You, being the hardened alpinist you are, know better. Start the day off by popping a few Imodium and bask in the confidence that you won't need any blue bags. Dance the fine line between dehydration and urination because who has time to take their harness off?
Fast & Light - Lightweight Stoves
An expedition-weight stove like the MSR WhisperLite is great when you're boiling gallons of water deep in Alaska, but for the lesser ranges you can get by with much less. A small canister stove like a Pocket Rocket or LiteMax weighs 1/5 as much and packs down to almost nothing. White gas is certainly more useful at low temperatures, but the ultra-efficient Reactor may be an even better bet for your winter trip up Tahoma.
Fast & Lit - No Cook
The only thing that sounds better than the phrases "cold soaking"or "crotch pot" is the crunch of dry ramen as you smugly eye up your chump of a climbing parter who just hefted her Jetboil up 8,000ft.
Fast & Light - Multi-Use Tools
Most pieces of gear can be used for several different utilities. For winter camping, use your skis, poles, and axes for tent stakes. Use a stuff sack with clothes in it for a pillow! Using trekking poles for tent/tarp support is a great way to not bring extra aluminum tubes in your pack. A bandana or buff has myriad uses from keeping you warm, preventing the spread of disease, cleaning pots, or insulating pots.
Fast & Lit - A Nut Tool is All You Need
Ice axe? No way, use a nut tool! Spork? Heck no, grab your nut tool! Need to protect a wide crack? You're on lead, jam your nut tool in there! Hammer your nut tool into a narrow crack as an impromptu knifeblade. File your nut tool to a sharp edge and use it as a rope knife. The possibilities are endless!
Fast & Light - Pared Down Sleeping System
There are several ways to reduce weight in your sleep system. Use a quilt instead of a bag since compressed insulation doesn't work well. An inflatable pad provides great insulation in a compact and lightweight package. Wear all your clothes to bed so you can use a lighter quilt.
Fast & Lit - Minimalist "Sleep" System
A coiled rope is a great alternative for a sleeping pad! And a mylar bivy is a great substitute for a down sleeping bag, you will have absolutely no regrets using one. We all know that laying down with your eyes shut provides the same health benefits as REM sleep so feel free to skimp on comfort. Find a good ledge and enjoy a rainy night out lost amongst the rappel path of Infinite Bliss.
Which One Will it Be?
Will you embrace the creature comforts of ultralight backpacking or transcend the very idea of comfort like a hardened alpinist? Do you care more about eking out ever last bit of vertical mileage or would you rather do pedestrian activities like "camping" and "eating real food"? Neither of these lifestyles are for everyone - only you can decide if you're going Fast & Light or Fast & Lit!