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Lightweight Backpacking Makeover Video

How would like to reduce your backpacking gear weight by 10 pounds without spending a lot of money? Interested? The key to doing this is to remove all the stuff you really don’t need or replace it with smaller, more compact alternatives. This in turn can make it possible for you to replace a large, heavy backpack, with one that is half or a third or of the weight, translating into very substantial weight savings.

Actions often speak loader than words – so here is a backpack makeover video we shot last month at a lightweight backpacking seminar we gave for boy scouts (that applies to anyone) that demonstrates the decisions that go into this process. In it, Grant Sible and Dave Cutherell from Gossamer Gear show an adult backpacker how to reduce her load from 26 pounds, without water and food, to 16 pounds.

Some of the key takeaways in theses video are:

  • Ditch your Nalgene bottles: they’re bulky and heavy. Replace them with 32 ounce (1 liter) soda bottles or a platypus hydration reservoir that rolls flat when it’s empty.
  • You don’t need  6 pound Gregory backpack to carry 10 pounds of gear (after the reduction). A 2 pound (or less) lightweight pack is fine.
  • Don’t carry extra clothes. Ideally you should be able to wear all of the clothes in your backpack all at once (rule of thumb)
  • If you spend 10 hours a day hiking, it doesn’t make any sense to carry a camp chair that you sit on for an hour or two in camp.  You can sit on a tree stump or a rolled up sleeping pad.
  • If you wear trail runners instead of heavy boots, you don’t have to bring camp shoes. They’re redundant.
  • Replace a pack rain cover with an internal plastic bag to save about 4 more ounces.

If you’d like to see more videos from that seminar on lightweight backpack, here’s a link to the complete list.

Is there any other advice you’d give someone to reduce the weight of their gear without spending a lot of money?



  1. Eliminate duplicate items as well as redundant ones.

    I do use a pack cover because my pack is my pillow, and I don’t want a soggy pack against the hood of my sleeping bag. However, it’s a cuben pack cover weighing 1.0 oz. I do not expect it to keep my pack contents dry should I slip while fording a stream! On the other hand, I use dry bags for my insulation items instead of a pack liner–my dry bags are lighter than a trash compactor bag pack liner and I don’t have the problem of pushing small items down into the slippery plastic only to have them pop right back out at me. Eliminating the pack liner saves me a good 5 minutes packing time each morning, plus considerable wear and tear on my blood pressure! Everyone’s mileage will, of course, vary here!

    The exception to the “no extra clothes” is a spare pair of socks.

    I would not eliminate all of these items in the Pacific NW or northern Rockies; rain pants are definitely needed when it’s snowing and blowing at 11,000 feet!

    I really enjoyed watching this exercise, although of course I knew already what Grant was going to eliminate!

    • Keith "Popeye" Rayeski

      I have only watched part one and loved it! The new pack just out is top of my NEED/WANT/WISH list…..but I do have a problem with the bottles. I never risk water shortage….and I like the wide mouth bottles because the STERIPEN fits in them. I’ll sacrifice bowls and plates and such..I like the FREEZERBAG COOKING but I don’t want to risk water….really looking forward to part 2! Great stuff and thanks for sharing it!!

      • Regarding Steripen. I e-mailed the makers of Steripen last year and the representative told me that I can use the Steripen in a narrow mouth 1 liter Gatorade bottle as long as the UV light remains on.

        • Keith "Popeye" Rayeski

          Thanks Alan….I should research this myself but, since I’m here…do I understand then, that the light does not have to actually be in contact with the water to be 100% effective? I do still like my wide mouths!! Tough call to ditch those….Popeye

        • First of all, which model are we talking about? I have the Adventurer. There are 2 metal contacts on the side of the pen which must be immersed for proper use. Then the UV light is fully in the water. I gently rock it back and forth. Also, the bottle must be filled to the very top in order to cover both contacts with water and thus activate the UV light.
          Hope this helps.

        • Keith "Popeye" Rayeski

          That’s what I was getting at…..I realize it CAN be done but, the wide mouths make this a MUCH easier task and there is a comfort level that I know the job was done properly….I like the idea of the smaller bottles, but I like the peace of mind with the wide mouths…thanks for the info Alan…..

  2. That should be, “eliminate unneeded items as well as redundant ones”!!!

  3. Help stamp out and eliminate redundancies!

  4. Be Prepared has a whole different meaning. As always, it doesn’t matter what you carry or bring. It matters that you are prepared to use whatever it is to it’s fullest. Knowledge of the equipment you carry weighs nothing. Planning to dress for the worst case weather, then ONLY packing that is discipline. I agree about socks, though. They can take a day or two to dry out, you need dry sleeping socks, so 3 pair means extra. But, I *have* used all three pair. two on my feet and one on my hands. A simple bandana has soo many uses I don’t think I could ever do away with one. Get everyone involved in astronomy with a “Navigating by the Stars” presentation from a local astronomer or sailer. “Map Reading for Dummies” will be sure to bring out the worst of any scouts snide comments. But, they *will* learn. And it doesn’t weigh anything when they hike.

    Much of this gear can be made. One of the great fallicies of US society is that if you don’t spend money on something, it is not worth anything. By making their own gear, they will learn what is important, and, how to put stuff together. The scouts frown on alcohol stoves, but it is possible to purchase these for less than $10. Canisters cost much more and don’t do any better…boiled water is boiled water. Gone are the days of finding enough firewood for larger groups to build cooking fires. Take a look at the fire wood supply in most camp grounds. Pads do not need to be inflatable. A CCF pad is lighter and just as comfortable after a 20 mile hike. Gossamer Gear offers a NightLite pad for $30. Blue Wally World ones are even cheaper but less comfortable.Tents at Wally World are $49. Get a kids tent (generally around 4’x6′ and sleep slightly diagonal for greater length. Use a 20:1 solution of silicone calk and mineral spirits to seal the *entire* canopy and floor…they leak out of the box. The older aluminum cups (nearly scout proof) are still available on line. Have one group make or design packs. The design process can be a learning experience. Another group can design tarps or tarp-tents. A pretty clear winner is duct tape and a roll of 4 or 6mil plastic for usable prototypes. They don’t *have* to sew. I believe there was an article on a fully outfitted person with most gear purchased from Wall Mart for less than $200 on backpacking light.. Have the scouts beat that…they will.

    Of course, only half the scouts will be interested in gear. There is a heck of a lot more to do outside while you hike. Many phones have access to data base models. Download a couple and cataloge plants, yes, tree’s are plants. Insects and water entymology. Birds, habitat and environs. Critters, too, but don’t play with bear cubs.

  5. If you absolutely must have a stove, go with the small-but-mighty Esbit, which uses little fuel tabs. It will NEVER clog and the tiny stove collapses to fit in your pocket!

  6. Great video series! In so glad to see Philip and the good folks at Gossamer Gear passing along their knowledge to the Scouts. I have been on several trips where I have seen scout groups suffering with their massive loads and finally there is an educational series that will help them lighten up and enjoy their trips more. Well done!

  7. The words “just in case” rang through my mind watching this video. A motto i used to say every time i packed when i first started hiking. After a few more hiking trips i started using it less and less. I realized it only add weight and took up space. Now I bring only the bare essentials because “just in case” turned into i probably wont ever use this and I wont die if I didn’t have it.

    BTW last time i saw a boy scout on the trail he was playing games on his iphone all night and charging it with solar cell charger. He also brought a five pound ax for a 270mile trip.

  8. I think I heard it here, but “fear is heavy”. I’ve found Esbit to be pretty darn hard to beat – at least for individuals. With a group, sometimes a regular backpacking stove is better because you have less duplication of gear within the group and easier cooking (one batch of hot water).

    You have to check scouts, both back before you leave your meeting place and at the trail head because they will occasionally retrieve things that they shouldn’t carry (2nd or 3rd flashlight, wood tools (seen both)).

    Having the scouts make their own gear is great! Back before the guide to safe scouting frowned on it, we had a bunch make soda-can alcohol stoves which was both fun and they actually worked.

    (if you’re really into self-made Esbit is hexamethyltetramine which you can make by mixing aqueous formaldehyde and ammonia – then letting it dry out).

  9. They never mentioned stuff sacks in the video. This girl had one for everything! Compression sacks are especially heavy with all the extra buckles and straps. I only bring one to hang the food in, and occasionally a small mesh one for smaller items. You don’t need one for your sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, tent poles, rain gear, etc. The sleeping bag goes in the bottom of the pack with the tent on top of it, and it all gets compressed by the rest of your gear. Other packaging as well – like the case for her canister stove – can be left behind.

    I disagree on the socks – for a trip of four days or more I would never bring less than 3 pair. It’s very easy to wind up with two pairs of wet socks. It’s also nice to be able to change socks on the trail during a long stretch of hiking. I guess I’m just big on foot comfort!

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