“He who would travel happily, must travel light.”
~ Antoine de Saint Exupery, ‘Wind Sand & Stars’ (1939)
Thinking about reducing your pack weight, but not exactly sure where to begin?
Before you start cutting the labels off your clothes, the edges off your maps and the end off your toothbrush, it’s worth noting that the most significant weight savings will most likely be found in your “Big Three” items; namely your shelter, backpack and sleeping bag.
To illustrate my point, let me give you an insight into my own evolution into an ultralight backpacker (i.e. base weight of less than 4.4 kg / 10 lbs).
Once upon a time………..
For more years than my back or knees care to remember, I lugged around a big tent, a huge backpack and a bulky sleeping bag.
Altogether the three items weighed in at over seven kilograms (15.4 lbs – see chart below).
Although undeniably heavy, all three pieces of equipment were uniformly well made, durable and never let me down in the most difficult of conditions.
Seeing the “Light”
In the early 2000’s, my backpacking world was turned on its head when during a hike on Washington’s Wonderland trail, I encountered a gentleman by the name of Jim, who hailed from Beaverton, Oregon. In addition to being an all-around good bloke, Jim was the first ultralight backpacker I had ever met
(Note: I’m an Australian that has spent much of his adult life living in Latin America. When I met Jim, “lightweight” backpacking gear was virtually unheard of outside of a relatively small community of enthusiasts in the US).
You name it, his pack, shelter, sleeping bag and everything else he was carrying was not only lighter, but considerably less weighty than the equivalents that I was carrying. How much lighter you ask? Probably 60-70%.
At first I thought that Jim was some sort of minimalist nutter straight off the commune 😉 , but after chatting for a while and thoroughly inspecting all of his gear, it became obvious that the guy knew what he was doing.
From what I could see, he was sacrificing neither performance or safety with any of his gear choices, and the fact that his pack weighed so much less, meant that he was going to have a more enjoyable wilderness experience, simply because he wasn’t burdened with such a heavy load.
Rocket science it wasn’t. I became an instant convert.
After meeting Jim, I started doing some serious research.
Before you could say “Jenny Craig’s got nothing on me”, I was the proud owner of a new sleeping bag (Marmot Helium – 0.9 kg / 2 lbs), backpack (Granite Gear Vapor Trail – 0.9 kg / 2 lbs), silnylon tarp (Campmor 8×10 – 0.37 kg / 13 oz) and a single wall shelter (Tarptent Squall – 0.9 kg / 2 lbs).
“My Big Three” weight had dropped significantly, but just as importantly I had lost nothing in terms of functionality. On the contrary, by picking up both a new tarp and tent, I was now far better equipped to take a “horses for courses” approach to my time in the backcountry (i.e. different shelter for different conditions).
The Big 3 – 1999 Vs 2015
During the rest of the 2000’s, the downsizing continued but at a much more gradual pace. More tweaks than seismic shifts. I made the move from internal frame backpacks to frameless models. I switched from sleeping bags to quilts and started using tarps and single wall shelters almost exclusively.
By 2009, the cumulative weight of my “Not so Big Three” items was between 1.2 and 1.7 kg (2.65 / 3.8 lbs), depending on the conditions.
That constituted a savings of at least 5.5 kg (12.1 lbs) from my 1990’s total.
That’s a lot of weight.
We’re talking six days food, five and a half litres of water, half a case of beer or more than a hundred Snickers bars!
See the table below for details:
No Universal Blueprint
The above comparison chart illustrates the dramatic weight savings that are possible by downsizing your “Big Three”.
However, not all hikers are interested in ultralight equipment such as tarps, quilts and frameless backpacks. Many folks want more comfort and support than these gossamer weight items are sometimes able to provide.
As I mention in the Going Light introductory page, there is no universal blueprint as to how we should all backpack.
The trick is finding lighter weight gear options that suit both your individual needs as well as the dictates of the environment into which you are venturing.