The heaviest items in your backpack are water, food, and fuel. They’re called consumables because you use them up as your trip progresses, as opposed to “base weight” which measures the weight of non-consumable items like a backpack, tent, unworn clothing, a sleeping bag or quilt, and other items that you’ll carry your entire hike.
Given the effort that people spend reducing the weight of their base weight by buying ultralight backpacking gear, it’s a wonder that more attention isn’t paid to reducing consumable weight, given that it’s often heavier than all for your other gear combined. If you’re taking a hike where every once counts, shouldn’t every once count?
- Hand cleanser
- Bug dope
- Toilet paper
- Wet wipes
- Butt paste
- Foot salve
- Spare batteries
Here are some tips for reducing the weight of the consumable items in your backpack:
Water weighs two pounds per liter. Camel up at water sources (drink extra) to reduce the amount of water you need to carry between them.
Calculate the distance to the next water source – a map helps. Carry only as much water as you need or a little in reserve, except in cases (like the desert) where it’s prudent to carry more.
If you carry your water in a hydration system with a reservoir, switch to water bottles so you can see how much water you have left and regulate your intake better. There’s often no reason to carry the full 3.5L (7 lbs) of water in a reservoir when you can carry just 1 liter or 2.
Don’t carry more food than you can eat. You’d be surprised how many people do this. You’re not going to starve to death on a backpacking trip.
Carry fatty, high-calorie foods like potato chips (smashed up to save space), olive oil, coconut milk, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and pecans. etc to reduce your food weight, while still eating nutritious foods.
Combine multiple servings into one package instead of carrying many individual servings. This can cut down on packaging weight and the amount of garbage you have to carry out.
Prepare your own dehydrated meals instead of carrying heavier prepared foods.
Carry a collapsible wood stove to cook with wood you find on the ground, instead of carrying a Jetboil and a fuel canister, or an alcohol stove and a fuel bottle full of alcohol.
Go stoveless when conditions permit, and rehydrate food in a jar as you walk.
Repackage all creams and gels into small plastic bottles or tubs so you’re not carrying the entire amount in the original packaging. This includes sunscreen, bug dope, water purification drops, butt paste, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, etc.
Pre-cut strips of leukotape blister prevention tape and attach them to release paper Don’t bring the entire roll.
Reduce or eliminate the amount of toilet paper you carry. Use natural materials (leaves, sticks, rocks) instead.
Wash yourself with soap and water, not wet wipes or other moist towels. This will eliminate packaging that you need to also carry out as well as the water weight they contain before use.
Replace all of your electronic devices with ones that can be recharged with a USB battery pack. Get rid of all of the spare batteries in different sizes that you carry.
Full Skin Out Weight
Full skin out weight or FSO as it’s sometimes called, includes your gear’s base weight, the weight of your worn clothing (not usually counted in base weight) and the weight of your consumables, combined. While discussing base weight is a good starting point for comparison between hikers, the only weight that really matters is the full skin-out weight of what you have to carry when you go hiking or backpacking. So, don’t forget to give some thought to how to keep the weight of your consumables down to make your FSO more manageable.
Updated Dec 2022