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Comfortable Backpacking

Camping with a Tarp

I like my creature comforts when I’m out backpacking. I like to bring a comfortable air mattress, some extra camera gear, a good paperback, a plush animal friend and good food to eat. I can get away with bringing these little extras, and still keep my base gear weight under 12 pounds, because I’m careful about the weight, bulk, and the multi-purpose utility of the other gear I carry.

But my concept of comfort has definitely evolved over the past few years, as I’ve experimented with new gear and learned new skills.

For example:

  1. I’ve switched from hiking boots to trail runners.
  2. I’ve switched from pump based water purification to chlorine dioxide drops.
  3. I’ve switched from tarp-tents to tarps.

So building on those themes: comfort vs. weight trade-offs, the benefits of lightweight backpacking, and the evolution of your definition of comfort, here are few excerpts from comments I received from readers that resonated with me.

Comfort vs. Weight Trade-offs

  • I have reduced weight in my pack, sleeping bag, and tent.  But, I haven’t forgone the comforts of my 2.5” sleeping pad or my JetBoil cooking stove.
  • My goal is to take the base line experience I’m looking for, then go as light as possible while meeting that comfort level.
  •  I am not ultra-light by any means and don’t plan to be. I enjoy some comforts and gadgets on the trail.
  • I enjoy creature comforts such as an inflatable pillow, or an in-tent lantern, so I have been very critical when it comes to analyzing gear weight, so that I can still carry along luxuries while still maintaining an ultralite pack.
  • Going lightweight also allows you to bring a few luxuries on the trail that might, with heavier packs, add insult to injury…
  • I’ve still got a lot of opportunity to reduce my load, but at this point I’m comfortable with the thought that going lightweight doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice anything… it’s more comfortable, more enjoyable, and just plain easier.
  • I am forever looking to lighten my load, however there are a few things I won’t go without. Specifically cooking gear!!! I LOVE TO COOK
  • There is one item in my pack that I will never weigh. I simply refuse to. It’s a harmonica.

Benefits of Lightweight Backpacking

  • The biggest benefit to me about going lightweight is that it allows me to see more of nature than I normally could.
  • As I get older I appreciate carrying less weight.
  • The biggest benefit of carrying less gear for me is the reduced risk of injury.
  • To me there are two (2) main benefits: less work (more enjoyment) and less separation from the environment.
  • Having fewer items in my pack, leaving behind all the extra gadgets and things people believe they “need,” gets me closer to why I want to be out hiking to begin with
  • Once my pack became light enough to remove without busting a vein I was more likely to stop and drop it rather then blowing past overlooks and turtles sunning themselves in the middle of the trail.
  • When you do without , you realize how little you need, and this carries over to real life too.

The Evolution of What’s Comfortable

  •  Weigh everything. Use a spreadsheet to keep account of your loads. Starting out, you will make dozens of changes, compromises, and eliminations.
  • I learned on my Long Trail and Patagonia hikes that the more stuff I had, the more cluttered I felt.
  • I’ve learned that I don’t need nearly as much clothing which just adds weight and bulk.
  • My conversion is an ongoing process of acquiring lightweight gear, resisting the temptation to take everything I own on trips, and coming to terms with the fact that I can live without most of it.


  1. Have you tried a gravity filter?

  2. yes. Pain in the butt. I will still use a pump filter, but only when the weather is cooler and chemicals take too long to react.

  3. I just got a Steripen Journey, the neck fits right into a soda bottle. It seems perfect for long day hikes and several night trips. The water is ready in a minute! I am thinking of still using Aqua Mira for longer trips (doing the Colorado Trail late this summer)so I don't have to deal with batteries. I still carry Aqua Mira as a backup.

  4. A plush animal friend? That's cute.

  5. Glad to see someone was reading. :-)

    Surprisingly, I've found many backpackers who carry one with them. Be sure to check out my post tomorrow..the last see the one I carried across Scotland. One of these days, I will reveal why I started doing this.

  6. I’m with you on the trail running shoes. They’re easier and more comfortable to get around camp with as well.

  7. Agree – there's no point in carrying crocs anymore because trail runners are already soft and cool.

  8. Great summary of why to go lightweight. I find it an evolving process as well. Still overpack a bit (usually an extra pair of socks or something like that). One of my favorite stunts when teaching scouts and scout leaders (who tend to seriously overpack) is to pass them my loaded pack with a one handed throw, and then let them see that I'm just as comfortable as they are, if not more so!

  9. I'm already visualizing your plush animal friend distracting an angry grizzly while you climb a tree.

    Hope you don't get too attached.

  10. We are very attached. I'd give my life for that guy. Luckily there are no grizzlies around here.

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