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My Life Outdoors

10 Tips To Reduce Pack Weight

I have never considered myself an ultralight backpacker. I have been known, however, to do whatever I can to try and reduce pack weight. Sometimes that means upgrading or modifying my gear, or just simply using better packing strategies. No matter how you classify yourself I think we all would like a lighter pack. The following is a list of tips and techniques to help you reduce your overall pack weight.

1. Modify your gear: You don’t have to be a commercial seamstress or skilled engineer to modify your gear. Start simple by cutting off zipper pulls, shortening pull straps, remove tent guylines, or if your real adventures drill holes in your stove or eating utensils. This may seem petty, but every ounce (or fraction of an ounce) counts toward reducing over all pack weight.

Lighten your gear by cutting off unneeded zipper pulls.

2. Eliminate unneeded Gear: This one seems like a no brainer, but a lot of people don’t realize they are carrying gear they don’t need. After each trip sort your gear into two piles: used and unused. Take a look at your unused pile and see if there is some gear you can do without next time. After you do this several times you will have saved yourself some precious pounds off your pack weight.

3. Weigh all of your gear: I own a small postal scale that I use to weigh all my gear. I then create a spreadsheet of everything I plan to take and add up the total weight. If the over all weight is more than I want to carry I go through the spread sheet to see what I can eliminate.

Invest in a small scale and weigh all your gear so you know what your carrying. 

4. Multi-purpose gear: When buying new gear look for items that will serve more than one purpose. A lot of folks will pack tarps that pitch with their trekking poles, or a sleeping pad they can use as a camp chair. Get creative in ways you can make your gear pull double duty.

5. Limit Your Clothing: I can’t tell you how many times I have taken an extra shirt or pair of pants thinking I “might” want them. Just to end up in the same clothes all week long. You’re in the wild, do you really care if your clothes are clean? Socks are the exception for me. I like a fresh pair for each day to help eliminate blisters. Other than that I only take one wicking shirt, one pair of convertible pants, a set of base layers, a warm mid-layer, rain gear, warm hat, and gloves. In most conditions the mid-layer and rain shell will keep me warm enough, and the shell helps keep out the wind. If it gets colder than that, I crawl into my sleeping bag.

6. Replace or Upgrade Gear: Over the years I have slowly began to replace my gear with lighter (and more expensive) equivalents. Going slowly has been the key to keeping my wallet happy. Some people have different sets of gear for different seasons. Summer specific gear is the lightest but wont do you much good once the temps start getting cooler. Buying separate gear for different seasons can be expensive. I have a great set of 3 season gear that is a good compromise between weight and price. Here is how my major gear weighs in:

  • Pack: 3 lbs 2 oz, 
  • Twenty Degree Down Bag: 2 lbs 3 oz, 
  • Two Person Tent: 4 lbs 10 oz. 
  • Sleeping Pad: 12 oz, 
  • Cook-set: 1 lb 7 oz, 
  • Stove with Fuel: 14.2 oz, 
  • Water filter: 12 oz. 
  • Total (not counting food or clothing) 13 lbs 12 oz. 

If you would like more detail about the gear I use please contact me.

7. Share the Weight with a Friend: I usually hike with at least one other person. Some items (like tents, and cook-ware) get used by both of us but can only be carried by one of us. To even it out I will usually ask my friends to carry something of mine. For instance if I carry the 2 person tent (4 lbs 10 oz). I will ask my friend to carry something of mine that is about 2 lbs to make things fair.

8. Research Your Hike: Look online or in guidebooks, or ask park rangers about your destination. If there will be plenty of water along the trail pack a Filter or Water Treatment Tablets and carry less water. Will the temps be warmer? Take less clothing or a light blanket instead of your bag. If there is a little chance of rain or bugs consider ditching the tent and sleep under the stars.

9. Ditch the Water Filter: If you plan to purify your water on the trail you might consider light weight Water Treatment Tablets or good old fashioned boiling. I have even know people to use a small dropper of bleach. Four drops per liter will kill all the little nasties without harming the system. Wait 20 minutes before drinking. I prefer a filter for peace of mind, but you might want to save the extra ounces.

10. Sneak Gear into your friends Pack: At each stop discretely sneak pieces of your gear or extra food into your friends pack. Okay…this one is a bit ridiculous, but I wanted one extra tip to round it out to an even ten.

These tips may not place you into the Super Ultra Light Category but they certainly help your back and stamina. Some of these tips combined with the right (or wrong) conditions can be a bit risky, always use common sense and take this advice at your own risk. If you do decide to try some, I would like to hear how they worked for you. Or if you have some tips of your own please share them in the comment section.

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  • Daniel Beach

    April 19, 2012

    great advice here! I wish someone would have told me all this before the first time I went backpacking, I took a lot of gear and clothing I didn't need or use. Doesn't seem like much until you have to carry it on you back mile by mile.

  • Dave

    April 21, 2012

    Yep, no doubt about the extra clothing, that is one of the easiest ways to reduce pack weight.
    Whether you backpacking in the woods were as you say nobody really cares if your shirt is dirty or smells, or whether your heading out backpacking in some foreign country were nobody's gonna notice you've worn the same shirt a few days in a row.

  • Steven Smith

    April 23, 2012

    I'm still taking gear I don't need or use. I cant seem to get out of the habit of thinking, what is one extra pound going to hurt. Thats where the sorting after each trip really comes in handy.

  • Steven Smith

    April 23, 2012

    I think I have only changed cloths once on a backpacking trip after a heavy rain that soaked through my pants. Other than that, I have never changed clothes.

  • Jeff Clark, Meanderthals

    April 23, 2012

    Nice job Steven. This is now a permalink in the Hiking Tips section on my site. Thanks for putting it together. A friend of mine has been struggling with what to pack for a week-long adventure in Kings Canyon. I will recommend he take a look at your suggestions.

  • Steven Smith

    April 23, 2012

    Thanks Jeff, I really appreciate the link.

  • HikingDiva

    April 23, 2012

    Leaving for a solo bp'ing trip in am. I just cut 2# after reading this

  • Dan Cole

    May 18, 2012

    I have to admit, I remember antics from my days as a Boy Scout, adding a rock at each rest stop to my buddies pack just to help slow him down! These are some great tips though! Thanks for sharing!

  • Charles Miske

    June 18, 2012

    Saving weight in the pack? The tinkerer in me loves 1, but 5 is probably the easiest.

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