Lightweight Backpacking Series
This is the last article in a four part series that provides backpackers with a set of easy to follow recommendations to reduce the weight of their backpacks.
- The first article in the series, Lighten Up your Backpack: Weighing your Gear stressed the importance of purchasing a digital scale and taking the time to weigh all of your existing backpacking gear.
- The second article, Lighten Up your Backpack: The Big Three, explained how to get the combined weight of your shelter, sleeping bag, and backpack under 9 lbs. These tend to be the heaviest items that you carry.
- The third article, Lighten Up you Backpack with Multi-function Gear illustrated how you can cut weight by using gear that can serve multiple purposes, thereby eliminating more gear, and lightening your back.
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.
Tracking 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 pairs of socks
- Extra underwear
- Liquid soap
- More than 1 oz of bug dope
- A camping towel
- An extra stuff sack you don't really need.
- A fleece sweater you brought just in case…
- A guidebook
- A 3 to 5 oz space blanket
- A tube of sun tan lotion
- Extra food
- Extra pills and vitamins
- Factory packaging on dehydrated meals
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 a entire trail guidebook when you can just photocopy the pages you need to refer to and bring them.
- Ditch the space blanket. You'll never use it and there are plenty of other things in your existing gear that you can use to wrap yourself up in an emergency like your tent, footprint, backpack liner, rain gear, etc.
- 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.
- Ditch the camping towel. Wipe your self dry with your shirt and then wear it to dry it out.
- 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, 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 gubbage 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.
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