10 Tips to Reduce the Weight on Your Back
As I start getting my gear squared away for the CDT, I was re-reading some of my favourite books and watching Youtube videos to inspire me to keep my pack weight down. I thought I’d write out 10 of my favourite tips for reducing the weight of your pack. In no way am I a hardcore ultra lighter, but my pack’s pretty light, I enjoy cutting weight in certain areas to enable me to carry a luxury or two. Enjoy the post, learn something, but don’t take all this too seriously. It’s all just “stuff” after all.
For those of you like me that learn better visually, Check out the video.
1) Look at what UL Thru Hikers Carry
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. People have been carrying lightweight packs for a long time. Look at what these people carry and compare it to your needs and wants. Youtube is your friend. If you were to dive through the backpacks of experienced thru-hikers, you’re going to see products from the smaller companies in the cottage backpacking community. I’ve had great experiences with Hyperlite Mountain Gear and ULA Backpacks, Enlightened Equipment Quilts, Bedrock Sandals, and Tents from Six Moon Designs and Tarptent. There are so many good companies out there now, do your research and figure out what suits your needs.
2) Take Less Stuff
The simplest way to reduce weight in your backpack is to have less stuff inside it. Ask yourself: do I really need this? If it’s a “yes” put it in one pile, a “no” in another and “maybe” in another. You can get rid of the “No” pile straight and probably most of the “Maybes.” Spend some time looking at all the “yes” items and ask yourself the same question as before. The chances of needing a large knife on a thru-hike are minimal, you’ll dump it in the first few days. I advocate carrying a basic first-aid kit, but store-bought ones are heavy and you won’t need half of the stuff in there. Make your own and cut the weight. As time passes on a long-distance hike, you’ll have your gear dialed in.
3) Invest in the Lightest Gear You Can Afford
Now you’ve whittled your packs’ contents down to only the essentials. Next it’s time to try to reduce the weight of those items. If you spend a good amount of time backpacking or are planning a long hike, then invest in your gear. I’ve always believed you get what you pay for. Lightweight gear can be expensive but you will reap the rewards during long days of hiking. Remember brands. Before leaving for the Appalachian Trail, I managed to cut at least 15 pounds from my old backpacking gear by going with a tent, quilt, and backpack from the cottage manufacturers.
4) Carry the Right Amount of Water
People worry about water. Understandably. When you’re hiking in area where there are abundant water sources (such as the Appalachian Trail) why would you carry any more water than you need? At a water source, I drink as much water as possible and then just fill up with however much water I would need until the next water source. Be smart here though… running out of water sucks and isn’t safe. Use your map wisely to calculate where and when you’ll be getting your water.
5) Research Free or Cheap DIY Gear
Not all UL gear needs to be expensive. Do a quick search on Google or Youtube to find DIY ways to reduce weight. You can reduce the weight of pretty much any cook system by ditching the lid that came with your pot and making one from tin foil. One trash compactor bag will last for months and months of hiking, will help waterproof the contents of your backpack, and costs about 10% of the cost of a single pack cover. While you’re at it, grab a pair of scissors and a lighter and cut off the extra “stuff” from your gear. Do you need the washing instructions for your clothes? NO! Cut the labels out. Cut off the compression straps on your pack if you know you won’t use them. It all adds up.
6) Bring Lighter-Weight Food Options
Food is usually the second heaviest (after water) and is often overlooked for weight-cutting potential. It’s important to have the right kind of food for a trip; your meals should be appetizing and calorically dense. With this in mind, there’s a large range of food in the calorie-to-weight ratio scale. Fresh fruit is a treat on the trail, but is heavy in water weight and relatively low in calories. Calorically dense foods such as peanut butter, coconut oil, and chocolate are always good options. For more backpacking food ideas, checkout this post I wrote for The Trek.
7) Share Gear with a Hiking Partner
There are a few different approaches to sharing gear out on the trail. If you are a couple hiking a long-distance trail, you can and should share as much gear as possible. Tent, cookset, filters, etc. Some friends also shared some items of gear on the AT and each would take turns fetching water or making dinner. It’s important to carry enough with you that if you get separated from your hiking partners you have all your basic supplies, but a lot of gear can be shared, reducing both pack’s weights.
8) Read these two books: Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland and The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide from Andrew Skurka
I discovered both of these books a couple of years before thru-hiking the AT in 2015. Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips is full of out-of-the ordinary UL pointers, many of which I used or experimented with for the Appalachian Trail. Andrew Skurka’s achievements as a long-distance hiker has given him a really broad range of knowledge about hiking in varied environments and climates and also when hiking trails that don’t have the accessibility of Resupply like the AT. The second and completely updated version of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide was just released and reviewed here.
9) Look for Items That Can Serve Multiple Uses
I love finding these. I get all excited. If you can take one item that can handle a couple of tasks (even if it doesn’t do both of them great) then do it. Learn to be a little uncomfortable. Some of my favourite multi-use items: Trekking poles being used as a way to dig a hole when you need the bathroom, your cellphone can be your book, GPS, and camera and a Wool Buff has more uses than I can count.
10) Make a Game out of Having the Lightest Pack Possible
Challenge yourself to cut a pound from your base weight. One you’ve done that, do it again. Practice going out into the woods for one night with that setup. If your REALLY missed a piece of gear you can always add it back in for the next trip. I’ve tried going out backpacking for a few nights without a stove and only eating ready foods or foods I can rehydrate cold. I hated it and added my stove back into my pack as soon as I got home. The point is though I tried it, I tried to go out with less stuff. I’ve done this several times and realized I don’t miss the item. Stuff sacks to compartmentalize my gear? Gone. Pot Grabber? Use my Wool Buff instead. Wet wipes to freshen up at the end of the day? Gone. Embrace the Funk. Experiment and Evolve.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in relation to lightweight backpacking is that you can choose to be comfortable whilst hiking or comfortable in camp and you should always choose to be comfortable whilst hiking. Save the glamping for glamping. Reduce the weight of your pack and go crush some miles.
All the best
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