Lightweight 101 – Basics

On the heels of reading “Trail Life” by Ray Jardine, I decided to start a series of posts on the topic.  As we go, I will highlight aspects of my personal gear, how I chose to buy it and generally how well it has performed.  So to get things started, let’s talk a little about the essence of Lightweight Backpacking.

As any disciple of “The Ray Way” knows, it’s not about lightweight for it’s own sake, although every philosophy has it’s most ardent supporters (and shall we say extremists?).  The purpose is to lighten the load as much as possible to heighten the hiking experience, by extending the hiking day, adding mileage, reducing pain and injury and generally feeling better.

What Gets Left Behind

By far, the easiest and least expensive way to get started is to carefully scrutinize every piece of your gear and decide if you really need it or not.  In a typical 30 lb. pack, one can probably reduce up to 10 lb. by simply leaving stuff at home.  Here is a list of stuff I decided to live without:

  • Folding saw
  • Backpacking ax
  • Cooking kit (spatula, can opener, fork, knife, spice containers, extra lighter, etc.)
  • Backpacking coffee press (Yes, I am a coffee snob)
  • Stove windscreen
  • Poncho
  • Guide books (I photocopy specific pages and leave the book home)
  • Down booties
  • Teva sandals (man, those things are heavy!)
  • Candle lantern
  • Toothpaste (Water is fine for a weekend)
  • Filter pump (in lieu of lighter alternative)
  • Multitool
  • Repair Kit (wire, tape, string, extra tent pegs, stove repair kit)
I really liked my candle lantern...

I really liked my candle lantern…

There, after you list all of your unnecessary stuff, it really adds up.  This list represents about 9 lb.

The Scales Of Justice

Etekcity Scale

Etekcity Scale

The next step on the journey of lightweight is to purchase a scale and weigh everything else.  I found a good digital scale on Amazon: the Etekcity 9310  It’s only about $12 and it has a large surface.  Start a list of your go-to gear and weigh each item.  Just knowing the weight gives you useful information.  Those desiring to lose body weight count calories.  Just having awareness of this information has an impact on the choices you make when deciding to order desert after that great pasta meal.  Being aware of the weight of all your gear puts you in a lightweight mindset.  From then on, you make more informed decisions about what to carry on a day hike or weekend backpacking trip.  Is the fleece lighter than the insulated jacket?  Extra pants that are never worn are more likely to be left in the dresser drawer saving a half a pound.  That can of beer or soda… is it worth an extra pound?

Developing an awareness of the weight of gear also has a positive impact on your buying decisions when replacing worn out gear.  For instance, the weight of packs varies dramatically among vendors and models.  Bigger and more featured packs can weigh up to 6 lb. whereas there are excellent choices that weigh half that.  Ultra light models are less than 2 lb.

Beginning at the End

A great habit to lighten your load is to review all the gear you carried at the end of your hike.  Look for any unworn clothing or any unused cooking gear.  The book you carried and didn’t read.  Did you carry more food than you ate?  Did you end up with a half bottle of fuel? What about the candle lantern?

Of course some equipment like rain gear is carried in hope that you don’t need it. But it should still be scrutinized as to whether it was absolutely necessary.  I used to carry a poncho and a Gore Tex Rain suit.  OK, the poncho doubled as a ground cloth but I never used it in the rain and there are lighter materials for ground cloths.

I go back and forth on camp shoes.  They are nice to have around camp but since I have started wearing lighter weight runners to hike, I often get home to realize the sandals I carried never hit my feet.  The same is true for hiking poles.  I used to carry a pair all the time but I began to realize that they were most helpful in fording creeks and the rest of the time, I was just carrying them.  I would get tired of that and lash them to the pack.  Now I find a good stick to get me across the creek and I toss it on the other side.

The Double Stand-in

Look for opportunities to get more than one use out of a piece of equipment so you can leave another behind.  Typical examples might include:

  • Using a rolled fleece jacket in place of a camp pillow
  • Using hiking poles for tarp poles
  • Wearing your rain pants to around camp rather than an extra pair of long pants.
  • Using a pair of whittled twigs as chopsticks instead of a fork (Only because I forgot my spoon but the chopsticks worked out fine.)
  • Eating out of food pouches and pots rather than carrying a bowl or plate.

So the first and most impactful step toward lightening your load costs no more than a cheap scale.  The next post will discuss tradeoffs and additional skills that are involved with lightweight hiking.

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