First, we need to cover a couple of definitions. These are my opinion and are flexible. All the weights listed below are everything you carry except food and water for single night to multi night trips for spring, summer, and fall. Of course, multi-night deep winter trips are a different story and not one I’ll probably tell because I’m not interested in camping when the high is below 30 degrees. So here are the categories:
Super Ultra Light (SUL) is less than 10 pounds.
Super Lightweight is 11-19 pounds.
Lightweight is 20-25 pounds.
Anything over 26 pounds is too heavy.
You should weigh your pack before you leave the house and it never fails to seem fairly light. A couple of miles down the trail you begin to ask yourself “What in the world was I thinking?” It happens to me and amazes me every time.
A popular question is “How much do you carry?” My standard response is “No more than needed!” So, how can someone lighten their load and how do you accomplish this? I will share what I have learned so hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes I have made.
1. Plan on a weight goal, not an item list. A general rule is that one should carry no more than 20% of their body weight. So, if you weigh 180 lbs, you should carry no more than 36 lbs. That’s still a LOT! I would suggest trying to get in the 20-25 lb range. It can be done fairly easily and cheaply. Trust me, a 20 lb pack makes hiking MUCH more enjoyable than a 30 lb pack.
There is a thing called “Base Weight.” I define your base weight as everything you carry including your pack and all attached items with the exception of food and water. For most trips, my base weight (in the same season) is nearly identical. The food and water that is required to be carried will depend on the length of the trip and may vary greatly. My goal is to get to a 12 lb summer base weight. Winter base weight is always more because winter clothes weigh more and you need more items to stay warm. Some people’s base weight in the summer is in the single digits! You have to decide your ideal compromise between weight and level of comfort and plan accordingly.
2. Make a list. The trips where I just started packing without a plan always resulted in a heavy pack. I was always putting in extra or duplicate items. Make a list and check it twice. By doing this, you will make sure you have everything you need but are not carrying anything you could leave at home. This helps a LOT!!!
3. Buy a scale. I have discovered if I estimate, I will normally guess too little. Get a digital scale that weighs in ounces up to a couple of pounds. I purchased one with a limit of 11 lbs for approx $20 at Wal-Mart. When you are planning a trip and you have to pick between two nearly identical jackets, take the lighter one by weight. You will also be surprised how much all of those “I’ll just take this tiny thing” weigh when added together. This will also tell you the easiest (and cheapest) places to cut big pounds! (I will address this later.) Microsoft Excel can be your friend when planning and adding up total weight. There is also a free website www.geargrams.com that is very useful, but takes some time to build and load your information.
4. Don’t take any unnecessary items. I know this seems so simple, but I still fall victim to IMNTS (I-May-Need-This-Syndrome). The lightest and most useful item you can carry is knowledge. If you don’t know how to use the items you carry, that item is useless. A close tie or the second lightest thing you carry is what you leave at home. All of the 8 oz items add up quickly to a heavy pack.
For example, how much of a FAK (First Aid Kit) do you REALLY need? I’m not a trauma doctor, but the first FAK I packed you would have thought I was one. Now I rarely carry more than a few Band-Aids, Moleskin, Anti-Acids, and some Tylenol. It easily fits into a small Ziploc bag. So far I have only used the Anti-Acids…. There are many more examples, but this is where a list and total weight may be very helpful in cutting big numbers in your total weight.
5. Evaluate after every trip. After each trip you should make 3 piles. The first pile consist of items you used, rain gear, and your FAK (always take rain gear and a FAK regardless of where, when, or how long). The second pile is items you didn’t use and never came out of your pack. The third pile is items you didn’t use but may have used in different circumstances.
Keep the first pile unless it can be easily replaced with something lighter (weigh everything, remember?). The second pile put away and don’t plan on packing these items next time. Each item in the third pile should be really thought about before you include them on your next trip. If you don’t use any of these items in the third pile on your next trip, they get moved to pile number 2 and not included on the following trip. Do this after every trip. You will find your pack getting smaller and lighter very quickly.
6. Replace items as possible. Reducing my pack weight is a process and I’m still not finished. I have discovered that the more time I spend hiking and camping the more comfortable I become without certain items. The more comfortable I become without them, the more I can leave the IMNTS items at home. As funds/sales/time is available, do your research and replace the heaviest items first. Your tent, sleeping bag, and backpack will probably be the first items as they are generally the heaviest. Get quality items that do the job, but forget about the name brand. For example, a generic lightweight rain jacket from Wal-Mart, Academy, Target or even Goodwill is composed of nearly identical material as one from Under Armor for a fraction of the cost and will perform almost the same with a very small weight difference and may even be lighter! Conduct lots of research, borrow, and/or try out the larger and heavier items in which you are interested first if at all possible.
Just remember that reducing your pack weight is a process and will take some time and money. Take these basic ideas of planning on a goal for your base weight, making a list, using a scale, leaving unnecessary items at home, evaluating your items after every trip, and replacing items as possible. Who knows, you may end up with a pack lighter than mine.
Good luck and I’ll see you outdoors!