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Rename "Ultralight" to "Backpacking"
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Hey Everyone - Thank you for participating in this discussion and the associated poll in regards to this topic. Special thanks to AG3NT for posting a thoughtful critique to start.
This will be a long post, so please bear with me as there are some important issues that I can shed light upon. In the end, it is vital that we all generally agree what this community means.
For the last 13 years, I have dedicated myself to getting people outside - guiding, working in outdoor education, writing for BPL, and taking friends and family on hikes. I believe getting people outdoors is absolutely critical to people's health and happiness, and going light is an important factor to increasing that enjoyment. I also think that getting more people into the wilderness is the best way to protect nature - after all, it's hard to care about a park if you've never been there. I agreed to work for Massdrop because I could continue helping people to lighten their load and get outdoors.
So let's discuss the community title: Ultralight. When I started working at Massdrop in early 2015, I contacted Will Reitveld to tell him the good news. His response was along the lines of: "That's great. I suppose you'll be selling a lot of lightweight items." I scoffed at the idea. I wanted to be a purist and sell only UL items, not those that were merely lightweight. Well, it turns out that Will was spot-on with his prediction. His point was that the best way to grow the Ultralight Community is to introduce the conventional backpackers to our philosophy with lightweight products, starting them on the path to UL.
Think of a pyramid with the masses of car campers, hikers, and backpackers forming the base. There is a progression upwards as one goes lighter and lighter, with only a few SUL people at the pinnacle of the pyramid. People don't usually go from a 6 pound Gregory Palisades to a 12 ounce GG Murmur. There is a natural progression most of us go through, and one of my roles is to help get those people started on the path to enlightenment. That path often begins with a 3 pound backpack or tent.
Consider the Audiophile Community, where most people join for a $20 set of earbuds that are much better than what came with their iPhone. Would you consider those people Audiophiles? Not yet, but they're at least starting on that path of appreciating better sound quality, and looking for earbuds that have the best price-to-performance ratio. For many people, this is the first time they're actually paying for headphones, and they're much better off starting here than at their local big box store or any generic online store.
AG3NT makes a good point that Ultralight is a philosophy, and I 100% agree with that. However, I would avoid narrowly defining ultralight by prescribing a specific weight limit. If you're hunting and need a 4.5 pound Seek Outside pack, are you still UL? What about if you're packrafting or mountaineering? How about bushcraft - my dinky 1.3 ounce knife would not hold up to the demands of bushcraft use, but a 4 ounce Morakniv would be one of the lightest options available. As a community, we really need to think about all the possible ways to go light, and then find the lightest products for those activities. It's not just backpacking, and not just one narrow definition.
I think most people here would agree that that majority of our drops are light or ultralight. However, there are sometimes products that may be debatable, and here's a few reasons that may happen.
1) A product can appeal to multiple communities. Consider an insulated water bottle (UL and Every Day Carry), Darn Tough socks (UL and Men's Style), or portable solar panel (UL and Tech). These items are crosslisted to appear in both communities, though it is never stated from which community this product originated. So I pose this question - would you rather have only items that are truly purely UL in use, or would you not mind hearing about some other cool outdoorsy products that would likely appeal to you, like that insulated water bottle that might be too heavy for backpacking, but has a place on your office desk every day?
2) Various budgets. A member, remji, posted two weeks ago asking for advice on budget options for upgrading the Big 4, and three members recommended the $600 Zpacks Duplex. Do you know how off-putting that may be to people looking to go light? I appreciate everybody who posted, and though most people would want a Duplex, not many can afford it. I want our community to be more inclusive of different income levels, and therefore I want to offer the lightest equipment for every budget. I was really surprised when we had a $40 tarp recently that received comments about it being too heavy. Yes, you can get a tarp that is lighter, but it would cost $75-300 For those of us on a budget, a 2-person shelter for under 2 pounds and $20 per person is pretty freaking awesome.
3) Testing community interest. Sometimes we try out a totally new product to see the response, to see if it's possible to grow the community or start a completely new community.
4) Questionable decisions, but with a silver lining. Sometimes we make a bad call and drop a product that just doesn't belong (like the Klymit 0° Luxury Sleeping Bag). However, when we drop something heavy and it doesn't sell well, it actually helps me leverage our community's strengths to get better deals on the lighter, more appropriate products. So, even if you don't think much of the product in the drop, please don't think that's all there is to the story. Often there is a lot going on behind the scenes that is all leading towards more and better drops.
Now, it is possible that we rename this community, or create a second community with a more generic name and focus (Outdoors, Backpacking, or something like that). I'll talk with some key staff here at Massdrop and see what the options are, and respond back in the next week or two. Before we make any change, though, we'd need to get more community input, as the current poll represents roughly one-tenth of one percent of our community membership.
However, I will share you with you that my initial thoughts are not positive. Why? Because right now I launch drops for less than 5% of products that are available to me. If we renamed ourselves, or opened up a Outdoors Community, and we sell the other 95%, then where is our focus? What makes us special and how are we any different than REI, Backcountry.com, Huckberry or even Amazon? If you get upset by seeing a 6 pound pack listed in an UL poll, what do you think it would look like after the change?
I'd rather keep improving the community we have. Think about the new companies that have started working with us in the last several months - Zpacks, Goosefeet Gear, Rab, Goosefeet Gear, Seek Outside, Montane, Adventure Medical Kits, Ultimate Direction and Enlightened Equipment (after a long hiatus).
In summary, it might be more accurate to rename this community something along the lines of "Ultralight, Lightweight, and Some Cool Outdoorsy Products", but I prefer to stick with "Ultralight". What about you?
Thanks for taking the time to respond, Danny. I've changed my vote to "No," precisely because you're right, I wonder what the name change would to the focus of the products listed here.
Thanks again, and I look forward to what you bring to us next. Hopefully nothing else good; my wallet needs a break. :)
I think there is a lot of potential for crossover and that is good. The concerns on the MD side I suppose are Staffing, and return business. MD is still very much building a brand around the fervent loyalty of niche enthusiasts. I would never had imagined that a mechanical keyboards group could support it's own weight. I suppose it is also necessary to grow the brand smartly, which is why we are behind a login wall. I look at drops like the Zombicide Black Plague drop that was so popular that the vendor was overwhelmed, and try to imagine if the general public was involved. I love that especially in the UL category MD is helping other small companies in the US and new to the US companies, and we are getting good deals because of it. I wouldn't mind two categories and would likely shop from both, but I am not sure that MD has the manning to support it.