Growing up in the Boy Scouts and even when I started guiding client trips, a 50 +/- lb pack on my back was the norm. As technologies have advanced and I have dialed in on what works for me over the years, I had found myself becoming a converted lightweight backpacker. The phrases light is right and less is more rang true. As I've lightened my pack more over time, I find there to be many benefits in doing so. I'm more mobile, I can cover more distance over a shorter period of time. Risk to injury decreases exponentially, as does my impact on the areas I travel through and enjoy.
Going lightweight these days can seem daunting. With many options out there and high prices, it can also seem impossible. Going light is easier and more cost effective than one may think though. Below I'd like to share 11 ways you can lighten your pack before hitting the trail. I've found these methods to help lower my pack weight so that I can apply focus to other areas. I hope it provides the same for you all.
1. Carry An Alcohol Stove
Alcohol stoves are not only lightweight (a cat food can one can weigh 0.3oz) but they are also easy to make and are very cost effective. Depending on the trip I am on and the goals I am aiming to accomplish for that trip, an alcohol stove is what I often choose for when going solo. One thing I love about alcohol stoves is that there are no parts that can fail on you while you're out there. If I'm on a short 3-5 day trip, I find this stove to work great. If I am out longer or out with a group, I'll bring a canister stove. An alcohol stove (like the one I use pictured above) may take a bit longer to bring my water to a boil (avg 6 mins), but with that extra time I'll setup camp or enjoy the view. Want to try making your own? Click here to see my instructional blog post and a video of mine. (Cost to make: $3.50-5.00)
2. Carry Foldable Or Disposable Water Bottles
If you find yourself to be more of a traditionalist, then you probably have water bottles in your pack instead of a hydration reservoir. Not all bottles are the same. Some bottles can weigh 6oz each when empty. With the exception of winter, I like to use disposable or resusable folding bottles (Powerade bottle, Smartwater bottle, Platypus Platy bottle). Many of these options weigh no more than an ounce and carry just as much water. This may not seem like much, but allow me to give you a quick breakdown.
Consider that you’re carrying a liter of water. Just a liter of water will weigh 2lbs 2oz on its own.
So if we went with a Nalgene bottle:
1 liter of water (2lbs 2oz) + 1 Nalgene bottle (6oz) = 2lbs 8oz
Double that for 2 liters per day per person and you’re at 5lbs
Now with a Smartwater bottle:
1 liter of water (2lbs 2oz) + 1 Smartwater bottle (1oz) = 2lbs 3oz
Double that for 2 liters per day per person and you’re at 4lbs 4oz
That’s a 12 oz (over half of a lb) difference in weight. Of course as I mentioned, these bottles have their drawbacks in the winter so I will stick with a heavier bottle then. For 3-season trips, you’ll see me with the lightweight alternative. (Cost: $1.00-1.50)
3. Swap That Ground Cloth For Tyvek
Tyvek can be found in almost every hardware store. It is very light and incredibly durable. The high density polyethylene fibers are difficult to tear, yet can be easily cut with a knife or scissors. You’ll see this stuff used with a variety of applications including house wrap during construction. Tyvek allows water vapor through, but doesn’t allow liquid to do the same. It is most often sold by the foot and is a great alternative for a shelter footprint if you are aiming to shed some weight in your pack. (Cost: About $0.70 per square foot)
4. Use A Contractors Garbage Bag
I don't use raincovers when backpacking and prefer contractors garbage bags. They are suprisingly durable, light and you can buy a box of them for a fraction of the cost of a raincover. Often I'll double up and use one for the lower half of my pack and the other for about the top half. In a worst case scenario, these bags can be used in many other ways such as a water container, an emergency shelter and a poncho. (Cost: About $10 for a box of 15)
5. Use A Headlamp As A Lantern
Keep your lanterns at home and drape your headlamp from your tent ceiling at night. One headlamp I’ve been testing out recently and really enjoying is the recently updated Black Diamond Ion. This little headlamp is powerful, has all of the bells and whistles of many others and is barely noticeable in my pack. At 1.9oz (with two AA batteries) it is also one of the lightest on the market. It gives off enough light (100 lumens) for me to complete chores around camp and maybe even get through a page or two in my book before I pass out for the night. Strobe, red light mode and powerlock are all features you can find with this headlamp. It lasts 180 hours on its lowest setting and 6 on its highest. (Cost: $24.95 for BD Ion; $15.00-$70.00 for other various headlamps)
6. Zip-Loc Bags
These are another versatile item I like to carry in my pack. I’ve used them to protect my maps, as organization for small items and even as a lightweight pillow. They may be slightly less durable than other options, but you can buy them in bulk. (Cost: About $2.00 for a box of 25)
7. Sawyer Mini-Squeeze & Purification Tablets
The Sawyer Mini Squeeze is a great option for 3-season trips of any distance in length and one I have been using frequently. It provides me with immediate access to drinking water and if I want extra comfort, I’ll drop a purification tablet in before consuming. A standard pump filter will weigh between 11oz-16oz and will have a flow rate of around 1 liter per minute. A couple of the things I like about the Sawyer is that it weighs 2oz and there is less that can fail with the filter. It can also pair well with #2 in this list as an attachment for a Smartwater bottle (also works with a Platy bottle) or you can drink your water through the filter from a Powerade bottle. (Cost: $24.95 for the Sawyer Mini-Squeeze filter; About $10 for a box of purification tablets)
8. Make Your Own First-Aid Kit
This is something that takes time to learn, but with experience it can become a great alternative. Making your own kit allows you to add/subtract items based on the variables of your trip (location, history, conditions, etc). I started off many trips carrying pre-made kits, but over time found that as I became more comfortable and experienced in areas, I was soon making my own kits for specific trips. You can also use #6 in this list to carry all of your first-aid items. (Cost: Varies by trip)
9. Smartphone GPS Apps
I have always been a map and compass guy and still use them as my primary source of navigation for many reasons. Sometimes having a GPS Unit can be a nice backup to double check bearings and more. With advances in technology, there are many great apps out there for smartphones. I was drawn to this as my alternative due to the fact that I didn’t have to carry an extra unit around and extra batteries. Phones these days also have an incredible amount of space to store data, clean large screens and multi-layering options. I find GAIA GPS (screenshot from my phone of app layout) to be a great app that does everything I need it to do. I can also print maps out to add as another navigation source if I choose to. (Cost: $20.00 in the App Store)
10. Duct Tape Straw
Necessity is the mother of invention and duct tape can come in handy for almost any situation. We don’t need to carry a whole roll though. I like to take what I estimate I might need for a specific trip. I’ll measure it out, cut and wrap it around a trimmed down Dixie straw. This allows me to carry what I need and save space and weight in my pack. (Cost: $3 for a roll of duct tape; $1 for a 50 pack of straws)
11. Wear A Lightweight Hiker or Trail Runner
This isn't something you'll have in your pack and it also may not be for everyone, but your footwear can add to the weight in your pack. Generally it is said that every pound on your feet is worth 5 on your back. So if we were to wear a 3 lb pair of boots that's 15 added to whatever your actual pack weight is. I prefer trail runners for all of my 3-season trips (winter I will go with a boot). I find that this paired with my light pack helps increase mobility, gives me a better feel of the terrain and allows my feet to breathe. The trail runner's I'll wear are also not waterproof. When paired with a good wool sock, I find this system to work best for me and my comfort. If they do get wet, I'll air dry my socks and footwear over night. If they aren't dry from my body heat transfered on the way to camp, they usually are the following morning before I head out. (Cost: Varies depending on what works best for the individual)
Again, I hope these 11 methods help you lighten your packs and increase the fun factor for all of your new adventures in 2017. Are you a lightweight backpacker and have other ways you like to lighten your pack weight? Please feel free to share them in a comment below.