March 1, 2014 / Comments (0)

Becoming A Lightweight Backpacker

Many hikers who begin backpacking want to cut down their packweight, but don’t know where to start. The benefits are obvious: you can hike faster and further everyday with less fatigue or risk of injury caused by a heavy load. But where do you start?

I recommend you begin by simply thinking about your trip. If you plan on hiking for most of your day, it is very different from spending much of your day in camp for activities such as birdwatching, photography, etc. If you don’t have very far to carry your pack, you can justify packing more luxury items. If you plan on spending much of your day hiking, a lighter load will be immensely beneficial.


For those who plan on hiking the majority of the day, let’s work on lightening up.

Weigh Everything

Purchase a kitchen scale to accurately measure every ounce of what you plan on bringing. Do not rely solely on the manufacturer’s listed weight because it often doesn’t include items like tent stakes and stuff sacks. Knowledge is power! Now that you know what everything weighs, you can start eliminating some of that weight.

Decide What You Can Leave Behind

The best way to eliminate weight is to simply not bring as much stuff. If you’re hiking solo you really don’t need a large kitchen set. You can bring a pot cozy and eat right out of the pot you cooked in so you can eliminate bringing that extra bowl or cup.You can also leave out a pillow and use a stuff sack with clothes inside as a replacement. Leaving out items is one of the biggest changes you can make to your overall pack weight.

Spend Time Planning Out Your Trip

You don’t need to bring a whole extra set of clothes or two extra days worth of food just in case. Research the elements you may encounter, estimate your daily miles, and where you plan to resupply and camp. If you’re not going to encounter snow, would you pack snow gear? Learn as much as you can about the area you plan on hiking in and take gear that you know is going to be used.

Don’t get caught up in “what if” scenarios: Think realistically about your trip.What will be the average temperature at night? Don’t bring a heavier 15 degree sleeping bag if you can expect overnight temps between 35-45 degrees. 

Learn Some Skills

It may take a little work (and lots of practice) but knowing how to set up (and where to set up a tarp/lightweight tent makes all the difference. A double walled, freestanding tent doesn’t require a lot of skill to set up, but by switching out your heavy duty, “stormproof” tent for a lighter option could save you a few pounds! Also by knowing how to select a campsite will be beneficial. Instead of setting up right next to a lake, you can avoid mosquitoes and harsh winds by being in a more wooded area. You can still sleep comfortably if you have the skills required to take a lighter shelter.

Take Less

You can repackage items such as toothpaste, sunscreen, and bugspray into small containers or eye dropper bottles. Avoid pre-assembled kits such as store bought first aid boxes. Cut some weight by only carrying items you need and know how to use! Don’t carry a suture kit if you don’t know how to use it.

Multiple Use Gear

Once you’ve eliminated all of the items of gear that you no longer need to carry and have gone through a process of reducing the amounts of items that you take, think about the gear that can serve multiple purposes. You can take that ultralight homemade first aid kit mentioned above if you have items already in your pack that will complement it. For example, trekking poles and clothing can be paired to help create a splint. Those same trekking poles also doubles as my tarp support pole letting me leave the original and heavier poles at home. In a frameless pack such as the Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack, I can use my sleeping pad, in a special pocket on the back of the pack, to stabilize the structure of the pack and to provide padding for my back. I like to carry a lightweight bandanna as it can function in multiple ways such as a washcloth, towel, bandage, hat, water pre-filter, and handkerchief.

Wild Oasis
Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis supported by a trekking pole

Invest In Quality Gear

Do your research and weigh your options (pun intended) before jumping into a gear purchase. If you are looking to upgrade your gear or starting from scratch, think about your big three: shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag. These are going to be the three items that can make a huge difference in your total weight. If your shelter weighs four pounds, cutting your toothpaste handle is not going to be noticeable in weight savings.

Alps Shasta vs Gossamer Gear Mariposa:
Both are 2400 cubic inches but the Shasta weighs in at 5 lb. 2 oz vs the Mariposa at 1 lb 11 oz

Last modified: November 28, 2014

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