This article’s focus is on helping you further reduce your pack weight by selecting backpacking gear that can be used for multiple functions. If you can bring less gear, it will weigh less, and you can further cut down on pack weight by carrying a lower volume backpack. Let’s start by listing some of the common ways that ultralight and lightweight backpackers use to reduce their pack weight in this manner.
Multi-Function Gear Tricks
- If you use trekking poles, they can double as tent poles replacing the ones supplied by the tent manufacturer. This can chop a pound from your pack weight.
- If you have a frameless backpack, you can use a foam sleeping pad like a Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest as a stiffener to make it more rigid. Simply roll it up and put your gear in the middle. Lightweight backpackers often use frameless packs because they can shave another pound from your gear list.
- Use a poncho as a tarp shelter. The Exped Poncho Bivy UL can be used to replace a tarp, backpack cover, rain jacket, and rain pants saving you a pound or more in gear weight.
- Use a bandana as a hat, a scarf, a potholder, and a towel for washing up. Buff bandanas are perfect for this.
- Use a tent stake as a cat hole scooper.
- Use rocks and sticks that you find in the woods as tent guy-line anchors or stakes.
- Use a sleeping quilt as a jacket. Sierra Designs sells a Mobile Mummy Sleeping bag that can be used as a jacket.
- Use your cook pot as a plate and a mug. There is no need to bring anything else for eating or drinking. This will save you about 8 oz.
- Wear rain gear in your sleeping bag so that it acts as a vapor barrier. This will let you bring a lighter-weight sleeping bag and save more weight.
- Slide your sleeping bag into your empty backpack while you are lying in it at night. It will act as a vapor barrier to keep you warmer so you can bring a lighter sleeping bag. You can also use it this way as a bad weather half-bivy if you’re sleeping under a tarp and rain is blowing onto you.
- If you carry a mylar emergency blanket, you can use it as a tent footprint or as a signal mirror.
- Stuff all of your clothes into your sleeping bag at night so that your body has to heat less air volume. You’ll be warmer and you can bring a lighter-weight sleeping bag.
- Use an empty hydration bladder as a pillow.
- Stuff a stuff sack with clothes and use it as a pillow.
- Use a backpack cover as a water sack to carry water to camp.
- During spring or autumn, sleeping in a down vest or jacket may let you reduce the weight of your sleeping bag.
- Use a stove repair tool like a spoon. MSR’s Alpine Tool Spoon is designed for just this purpose.
Backpacking Safety Considerations
There are definitely some great ideas here, but some of them require weight to safety trade-offs that may be more aggressive than you are ready to make. This is especially true when you are cutting the weight of your sleep system by using vapor barrier techniques or alternative insulation to reduce the weight and temperature rating of a sleeping bag. Under these circumstances, I cannot emphasize the importance of experimentation and caution. You need to try a lot of different gear combinations in a variety of weather conditions to understand your personal safety boundaries and which weight/comfort trade-offs will work for you.
Written 2008. Revised 2016.