The days of packing 60+ pounds in your 6000 cubic inch pack for a 5 day getaway are gone (or at least they should be). The days of lightening up your pack are here. So what is “going light”? There are varying opinions of lightweight backpacking. To some, a 35 lb pack is going light because they previously had a pack that weighed 70 lbs! To others, 35 lbs would be like hauling gold bars in your pack. For some, going light means sacrificing comfort and spending a month’s paycheck on ultra light gear. We don’t want to define what is or is not ultra light backpacking. Our 10 tips are basic ideas to help anyone lose extra weight in their pack regardless if you have a 60 lb pack or a 20 lb pack. These helpful tips and hints can be used for long 14 day trips or short day trips.
Here are 10 tips to help you start your journey to the light pack.
1.Start with the 3 heaviest items you’ll carry. Tent, sleeping bag and pack. If your tent, sleeping bag or pack are more than 5 years old, there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to shave 2-5 pounds off each one without sacrificing comfort or function. If you need to upgrade all 3, plan on saving up to 15 lbs.
Healthy target weights for your 3 heaviest items while backpacking from May to September.
a.1 person tent: sub 3 lbs.
b.2 person tent: sub 5 lbs.
c.30 degree down sleeping bag: 1.5 to 2.5 lbs.
d.3000 to 4000 cubic inch pack: 2 to 4 lbs.
2. When you come back from your trip, look at what you did and didn’t use. If you didn’t use the item, consider taking it out. After a few trips, you’ll realize what you keep taking and don’t use. The next time you go out, leave the item out of your pack. It may take awhile before you’re comfortable leaving certain items at home.
3. I learned some very bad packing tips from my Scout Master. Scout Masters are the worst packers. Iron Griddles, 32 oz. can of syrup, firewood, you name it and the Scoutmaster will pack it. They misunderstand the scout motto “Be Prepared”. If I wanted to always be prepared, I would be packing a defibrillator. Being prepared for every possible situation while backpacking is impossible. We’ll leave this up to you to decide what your “prepared” comfort level is. If you need to take a defibrillator because it makes you feel prepared, then I suggest just car camping and you can take whatever you want.
4. Planning your trip ahead of time helps you determine which items you need to bring or leave at home. Is there food, water, shelter or fuel where you’re headed? If so, consider leaving items you know you can buy or get along the way. Case in point. We went on an overnighter back in May up Logan Canyon in Utah’s Cache Wilderness. We left at 6:00 pm on Thursday and we were back at work by 9:00am the next day. My pack base weight, that is the weight of my pack without food and water, was about 13 lbs. My overall weight after food and water was 20 lbs. Six pounds of this weight was about 3 liters of water. Water is 2.2lbs per liter. The hike wasn’t too bad, only about 2 hrs. When we reached our camp, there was a stream about 100 yards away. I looked at my Nalgene bladder and it had about 2.5liters of water left out of 3. Why did I just haul 5 extra pounds of water up the trail when there was a water source 1 minute away and we followed a stream the whole way? If I would have looked at the map, or asked the area expert hiking with us if there was water on the way or at the camp, my pack would have been almost 30% lighter. Bringing along an Aquamira (1oz), MSR SweetWater Filter (11 oz) or some other type of filter/purifier would have made my hike that much more enjoyable.
5. Dry camp vs. wet camp. A dry camp is when no water is available. A wet camp is when a water source is available. If your camp is dry, you might actually save weight by not using dehydrated food. If you’re just going to add water you carried from the bottom to your dehydrated food, you might as well bring whole foods. Plus, the food will taste better and it won’t give you gas.
6. Backpack with your brain. Before I started backpacking with my brain, a friend of mine invited me on a 4 day trip into Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon. I have no idea how much my pack weighed, but I do remember it being pretty heavy. I also remember eating a can of peaches and warming up a can of prepared chicken noodle soup. Food and water can turn a 20lb pack into a 40lb pack. Water weighs 2.2 lbs per liter and food can weight just as much. Dehydrated food is a great way to save weight if you have a water source to boil water. Some meals don’t even require boiled water which means you can leave the stove and fuel at home. The meals taste great too. Mountainhouse, Backpacker’s Pantry, Richmoor, Natural High, and Alpine Aire have done a great job perfecting the science that goes behind dehydrated food. The only time I get to eat Thai Satay with beef is when I’m at 8000 feet.
7. Multi-use gear. Have you ever considered using your bandana as a pot lifter or first aid sling? How about that down jacket as a pillow? Your trekking poles as tent poles? Underwear as a prefilter? You get the idea. Many items in your gear arsenal can be multipurpose in function.
8. Share the load. How many tents does it take to sleep 3 people? Three if you’re camping with 2 other men. One if your camping with 2 other women (make that one sleeping bag also). If you’re backpacking in groups, which is much more fun, you can share almost everything! Items to share: water filters, stoves, tents, matches, toothpaste, camp soap, fuel, sunscreen, first aid kits. If one person is taking an item that everyone can use, leave yours at home.
9. Entertainment. Leave your ipod, ibook, and iEspresso at home. You are hiking at 10,000 ft to get away from all that. Buy the compact binoculars if you must bring them. Bring a small digital camera and leave the Cannon Digital Rebel at home.
10. Buy a pack with less volume, then you’re forced to leave items out.