Backpacking with a Harmonica
How long have you been backpacking and what's the longest trip you've taken?
I started backpacking seriously in September 2008 but I have done some bike tours before that. My longest trip was a full traverse of the Picos de Europa in northern Spain in late June and early July 2009. I will improve on that this summer by hiking 900 kilometers along a seam of the earth: coast to coast through the Pyrenees, where they sewed the Iberian peninsula onto Europe.
When did you realize that you needed to reduce the amount of weight that you carried in your backpack?
I knew before I started but I only started acting on this knowledge after I was sure I was gonna stick with this. That doesn’t mean I started out really heavy though. For instance I used a 2.5 kilo pyramid tent from the seventies on my first trip, which was split between me and my companion.
What is the total weight of your big three: backpack, sleeping bag/pad, and shelter?
- Osprey Talon 44, 1100 grams
- Rab Quantum 400, 900 g
- Thermarrest Prolite full length, 460 g
- Terra Nova Superlite Voyager, 1660 g after switching out pegs
Do you own a scale for weighing your gear?
No but I sometimes weigh small stuff on fruit scales in the supermarket.
Where are you in the process of going lightweight?
I’m fine with where I am and any further improvements will be incremental. I prefer hiking with a partner and then my base weight is around 5.5 kilos.
How much has cost constrained the rate in which you reduce your gear weight?
Cost has not been a big problem for me. I’ve had much more problems with finding stuff, as there really is no market for lightweight stuff in my native Belgium. I’ve had to import pretty much everything from the UK and US.
What was the largest amount of pack weight you dropped by replacing or eliminating a piece of gear?
If I were a solo hiker that would have been switching from the 70’s Fjällraven pyramid tent to the Terra Nova. But, since the weight of the tent is shared, I actually had a bigger reduction from switching my pack from an old model Osprey Aether 65 at ~1800 g to a Talon 44.
My most cost effective weight reduction was when I bought a plastic glasses’ case at a Chinese bazaar for a euro. At 30 g (weighed in a supermarket) it was 70 lighter than my previous model.
What's your view on the trade-offs between the following types of backpacking gear?
Down vs. Synthetic sleeping bags?
If it’s raining so hard that your sleeping bag gets wet inside your pack, then you’re either not protecting it right or you shouldn’t be thinking of sleeping but instead try to get to civilisation as fast as you can.
Backpacks with an external frame, internal frame, or no frame?
I use internal frame packs because I think one of the points of going light is to be able to stay in the mountains longer. If I get uncomfortable as soon as I put 3 days of food and some water in my pack, which is what I think will happen with a frameless pack, then there has been no point in paying for all the lightweight stuff.
Double walled shelters, single walled shelters, and tarps and bivies?
I use a double walled tent but would consider a tarp if I was going to a very dry place for an extended period.
Full size sleeping pads vs. torso sized?
Full size for me. And I still put stuff under my feet because I think they’re not high enough.
Boots vs trail runners?
I said I knew beforehand that light was right. Well I didn’t follow that reasoning for footwear, which was my first purchase… I have Lowa Burma boots at 1850 g for a pair of European size 43s, they’re fine for up to a week but then my feet get tired. Out of spite, I will use them till they die. I’m not going to ruin my Pyrenees trip on them however, so I’ve bought some Montrail Streaks.
What would you say are the biggest benefits of carrying less gear?
Being able to stay in the mountains longer, comfortably, is definitely the biggest advantage.
What advice would you give to someone else who wanted to start reducing the weight of their backpacking gear?
Determine what your ambitions are and how you walk, then choose your gear accordingly. Also give things a try before spending money: for example if you want to buy a tarp, try camping under a sheet of painter’s plastic first.
Is there anything else you want to get off your chest?
There is one item in my pack that I will never weigh. I simply refuse to. It’s a harmonica.
And something political: Get Metric USA!
Backpacking Gear List
|Equipment class||Weight in grams||What is this?|
|Pack||1100||Osprey Talon 44|
|Sleeping bag||900||Rab Quantum 400|
|Raincoat||396||Rab Super Dru|
|Rainpants||205||Montane Atomic DT|
|Fleece||235||Haglöfs Single Top|
|Insulation||230||PHD Ultra Pullover|
|Gloves||50||generic fleece gloves|
|Warm hat||50||generic fleece beanie|
|Bandana||40||generic cotton bandana|
|Headlamp||85||Black Diamond Spot|
|Cutlery||35||Light my Fire spork and Opinel pocket knife|
|Spare glasses + case||45||I am very nearsighted|
|Baby toothbrush||2||Baby toothbrush|
|Keep-stuff-dry stuff||80||trash bag, assorted ziplocks|
|Writing stuff||40||Pencil and paper|
|Tent||1480||Terra Nova Superlite Voyager|
|Pegs||180||12 golite Ys|
|Cookset||204||Evernew 1,4 litre|
|Windshield||40||thin plastic sheet|
|Trowel||23||MSR blizzard peg|
|Water storage||80||plastic soda bottles|
|Water purification||85||Aqua Mira Drops|
|Camera||?||to be determined|
|First aid kit||150||MYOG|
|Clothes + gear worn|
|Underwear||70||Haglöfs actives boxers|
|Zip-off pants||345||Montane Terra converts|
|Baselayer top||230||Smartwool ltwt zip longsleeve|
|Hat||50||Widebrimmed cotton hat|
|Socks||75||Smartwool ltwt zip longsleeve|
|Trail shoes||680||Montrail Streaks|
|Gear on back – solo||6599|
|Gear on back – with 2||5335.5|
|Everything – solo||8557|
|Everything in lbs||18.90|
Note: Len submitted this post in order to enter the Sectionhiker.com Gollte Ultralite Down Quilt Raffle. See link for full details.