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A Superheroic Southwest Seminar

By NOLS Southwest staff on Feb 9, 2011

This year marks the sixth year that NOLS has offered lightweight backpacking courses, through the Rocky Mountain branch as well as the Southwest. Each year, we offer a four day lightweight seminar for instructors who want to hone their lightweight skills and get some training in the specialized world of light and fast backpacking.

We were led by the two lightweight superheroes Matt Deines and Ryan Williams. The rest of our crew consisted of four awesome NOLS instructors, two artistically gifted NOLS film crew, one amazing branch director, and an intern tag-a-log.

One of the goals of the seminar this year was to "look good for the camera" so be sure to look for a new NOLS.tv episode coming up, featuring lightweight techniques. Between the shiny new GoLite gear and the stunning backdrop of the Santa Teresa Wilderness, we captured a ton of great footage.

The first 24 hours of the course happened at the branch; eating popcorn, watching a specially made light and fast welcome movie, learning about the history of lightweight backpacking at NOLS, the philosophy of going light and the "BROMANCE"** of lightweight planning. We also spent a few hours weighing every piece of gear, trimming down unnecessary pieces (like spoon handles and clothing tags), and comparing base weights with fellow course mates. Only then were we finally ready to pack up the van and head out to the mountains. The heaviest of our packs weighed 23 pounds, the lightest 17-- and that's including food and one liter of water!

We knew that the next four days were going to be challenging as soon as we left the van. The temperature had plummeted and with a loud CRACK! we were introduced to the phenomenon of thundersnow. Despite cold nights, snow flurries, and windy conditions, our small packs allowed us to travel over some truly rugged and scenic country, leaving the trail behind us and making our own way over granite ridges, through thick forests of manzanita, and along twisted creek beds.

It was excellent training ground for this group of instructors, offering practical experience in staying warm, dry, fed, and in good spirits despite somewhat trying conditions, and with minimal gear. We concluded the course with a discussion of lightweight risk management and decision making, our personal take on lightweight style, and a brainstorming session about how we could bring some of the light and fast principles to more traditional NOLS courses. Instructors left the course well versed on the specifics of a lightweight system—from cooking with alcohol stoves to incorporating backpacks into the sleep system.

NOLS Southwest would like to thank the hardy instructors who made it through this seminar with so much laughter and general good humor. Thanks go out as well to our friends at GoLite for their timely box of gear goodies that were eagerly tested out in the field. If the thought of "going light" intrigues you, check out some of these upcoming NOLS course offerings.

**BROMANCE: A new NOLS acronym.

B=Big Three

R=Replace Gear with Lighter Gear

O=Organize and Weigh

M=Multiuse Items

A=Assessing Resources

N=Necessity

C=Care of Equipment

E=Evolution

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Topics: Go Light, NOLS, Southwest, Light and Fast, seminar, GoLite, Backpacking, Educators Notebook, Lightweight