Author: Tina Eckerlin
Will having a lighter load on a backpacking trip help you have more fun? Well, kind of...yeah.
Can you hike with a 60 pound pack and still have fun? Yes. Will your body be more fatigued? Also yes.
Without sounding like a gram-weenie (a person who is obsessed with their base weight and packs solely based on weight of items), making small changes to your gear and packing can help reduce the weight of your pack. In turn, this lessened weight load can help you hike further, minimize injury and just feel better.
Base weight is the total weight of your gear, without food, fuel and water. A lightweight base-weight is 10-20 pounds, and an ultralight base-weight is sub 10 pounds.
My first stop when packing my gear is lighterpack.com. Start by creating categories, such as: Clothing, Sleep System, Cook System, and Ditties. Weigh your gear, enter the weight and title into the program and it will calculate your: total weight, consumable weight, worn weight and base weight. Did I mention it is free!
This program has helped me visually see how much those extra items really cost me in weight, and help me decide what I really need versus want.
Small Changes to Lessen Your Pack Weight
1. Opt for lightweight water bottles
Naglene® bottles are awesome, and are a great choice for everyday use and cold weather adventures. However, they are heavy!
The average 1 litre Naglene® weighs 185 grams, where as a 1 litre Smartwater® bottle weighs only 38 grams.
A Nagene® bottle may last a lifetime, but I have found that a Smartwater® bottle can get up towards 500+ kilometres before it starts to degrade, crack and is ready for the recycling bin.
Bonus! Some water filters like the Sawyer Squeeze™ have the same thread pattern as many disposable water bottles like the Smartwater®.
Many hikers cut their toothbrushes in half and drill holes in them to make them even lighter! You could do this or just purchase a child's sized toothbrush or a small travel size.
We have found that bamboo tooth brushes are ultralight!
Bonus tip! Keep a small quantity of dental floss not just for tooth care, but to double as thread for any trail repairs you may need to make.
While we are talking about dental hygiene, lets mention toothpaste!
You can pick up travel sized tubes of toothpaste, but either you have way to much or you run out.
Toothpaste tablets are great! They have no water weight to them, so they are an ultralight choice. The best thing is that you can calculate exactly how many you need per trip.
We are a big fan of Hello™ tablets. They are available with or without floride.
Just chew, and brush as normal!
4. Ditch the pack cover and heavy pack liner!
If you have ever used a pack cover in a down pour you know that it only protects the front of your pack. Meanwhile, all that water drips down your back anyways.
Pack liners are great, but most are made of nylon or similar fabrics and are heavy. These too, will wet out in time.
For a lightweight option, use a heavy-duty contractor or trash-compactor bag. They are cheap and very durable.
For an ultralight option, use a Nylofume® bag. They are the lightest weight option at only 26 grams. They are durable, waterproof and have an odor barrier too!
Line your pack with the bag, and place all the items you need to keep dry in it. Compress the excess air out, twist and tuck the end for a waterproof lining!
5. Make your own first aid and repair kit
Store bought first aid kits are great, but they tend to have heavy bags and lots of items that you won't need. Repair kits tent to come with a lot of excess items and tools.
Make your own kit with items that you will actually use! Don't forget to pack your medication and repair tapes in there to.
Dyneema® Composite Fabric (DCF) ditty bags are a ultralight, ultra-strong and waterproof option for keeping all of your first air and repair items together.
Ziploc bags are light, and a cost efficient way to make your own waterproof kits.
6. Get rid of extra storage bags!
Stuff sacs have their place. However, choose how you store and organize your gear carefully!
Many new hikers keep each item in their original stuff sac bags. Think about using a couple of sacs like a compression bag for clothes and sleeping bag, and a ditty bag for loose items like hygiene and electronics.
The weight of your sleeping bag sac, air mattress sac, pot sac, mosquito netting sac, toiletries sac, electronics sac, sit pad sac, spoon sac, clothes sac, puffy sac, rain coat sac, rain pants sac, pillow sac...all add up to unneeded weight!
Your rain gear does not need to be in a sac -keep it on the outside of your pack, you will be putting it on if it rains anyways.
By ditching the excess bags you can likely drop your base weight by a few pounds!
7. Eat out of 1 pot
Packing a plate, bowl, mug and a pot will add up in weight quickly! Do you really need all those dishes?
Try using one pot to boil, cook and eat out of. If you have backpacking meals just boil your water, eat out of the bag and skip doing dishes all together.
There are various materials for pots, but we love our Titanium Pots. They are ultralight and even nest most stoves and small fuel cannisters in it to conserve space.
8. Utensils - It is not an 8 course meal!
Unless you plan on bush-crafting, you don't need a giant buck knife. We recommend a small pocket knife, or even better the Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife. This little multi-tool has a small knife, tweezers, scissors and a nail file. We find that the scissors are what we use most!
For eating utensils, all you need is something to stir and to shovel food into your mouth. We like to use a spoon or a spork. We love long-handle spoons because they reach down into our backpacking meal packets to get every bite.
You could even use a plastic disposable spoon to lighten your load.
9. Use Trekking Poles Not Tent Poles!
When purchasing a tent for backpacking try to pick up a non-free standing tent. This means that there are no tent poles. A free-standing tent has poles included.
A non-free standing tent uses trekking poles to create the frame. This saves weight because you are already carrying trekking poles. If you are not using trekking poles yet, we will dedicate another article to that, but start using them now!
Non-free standing tents tend to be lighter, but take a bit more practice to set up correctly.
10. Multi-Purpose Items
When trying to save weight, think about what can be duel purposed? Can a pair of leggings also be your sleep clothes? Can you forgo the pillow and use a stuff sac filled with clothing? Have you ever used socks as mittens?
Scrutinize your gear. Think about what can be used for multiple tasks. One of our favorite pieces of gear is a tube bandana. We use them as a hat, mask, hair band, sun protection, balaclava, headband, sweatband, neck gaiter, facecloth, pot-holder, and in dire situations for first aid.
Do you have any tricks that have helped lighten your base-weight?
Let us know in the comments below!