This article’s focus is on helping you further reduce your pack weight by eliminating non-essential items including extra clothing or extra supplies that might be a convenience, but that you really don’t need to bring with you. This phase will require some more real world experimentation because you’ll probably need to make some weight-safety-confidence trade offs to get that last extra 1-4 lbs out of your backpack.
Unused Backpacking Gear
The next time you go on a two or three day backpacking trip, keep track of every item that you brought along and whether you used it. If you haven’t done this before, chances are good that there are several items of clothing or accessories that you brought with you, and felt you needed, but you didn’t actually use. Some common examples are:
- More than one extra pair of socks
- Extra underwear, pants or a shirt
- More than 1 oz of bug dope
- A guidebook
- An entire tube of sun tan lotion
- Extra food
Eliminating Unused Backpacking Gear
If you’ve done the experiment, there are probably a few things that you can immediately eliminate from your backpack that you never touched. For example,
- You don’t need to bring an entire trail guidebook when you can just photocopy the pages you need to refer to and bring them.
- You don’t need 3 pairs of socks when 2 pairs will do. You can dry a pair at night on your tummy in your sleeping bag.
- You don’t need two pairs of underwear. If the ones you are wearing are dirty, turn them inside out. If they’re wet, they’ll dry on your body while hiking.
- If you come home from a 2 day trip with 2-3 lbs of extra food, cut down on what you bring next time. I usually bring along about 1000 extra calories on a 3 day trip, but I know what foods to bring to get that extra weight to 5 oz.
Repackage trail meals and lotions
One way you can save a lot of weight is to repackage food or ointments. Commercial dehydrated backpacking meals use way more packaging than you need and if you transfer their contents to a ziploc freezer bag, you can shave a lot of weight off your pack.
In addition, you should only carry the amount of sun tan lotion, bug dope, soap, zinc oxide or purell that you need for the duration of your trip and no more. On a 3 day overnight, that rarely exceeds 1 oz.
The best way to do this is to visit you local REI store, purchase small dispensing bottles, and repackage just what you need and no more. For example, instead of bringing a big bottle of Purell (hand cleaser), I bring a 1 oz. bottle, shown below, which will last about 3 days of conservative use. When I get home, I just refill this bottle from a 12 oz. bottle of Purell and I’m ready for my next trip.
Shaving the last ounces off your pack weight might sound foolish to some, but it really adds up. Moreover, it’s not the weight of your pack that matters. When you chuck all of the unnecessary extraneous junk out of your pack, your conscious awareness will increase because you can’t just run on autopilot anymore.
Simplification requires an increase in your problem solving skills and creativity; I talk to a lot of lightweight backpackers and the one desire that most of them share is a simplification of their life, even if only for a few days on the trail.
Going lightweight provides that for us.
Written 2009. Update 2016.
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