Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How I Shed Over 10 Pounds From My Pack Weight

Losing weight from backpack

Like many sad, body dysmorphic Americans who consume fast food and glossy images of photoshopped supermodels in equal measure, most backpackers eventually become a bit weight obsessed if not outright tortured. I'm no different, though I should acknowledge that I’m not a super-ultralight backpacker (I also almost never eat fast food - too busy polishing my halo.) In fact, I carry almost 5 pounds of photography gear, because I love landscape and nature photography more than I love counting grams. For me, that's the point. The greatest advantage of ultralight gear and paring down is that it allows one to “indulge” the weight of their passions (photography, in my case) with less physical burden. Even with my five pounds of photo gear, my pack weight is usually less than twenty pounds before food and water. The more self-righteous ultralighters might sneer at such a rotund baseline, but twenty-ish pounds is light enough to allow for very comfortable hiking (at least for me.)  When I first started, my pack weight was over thirty pounds, not including my camera gear. I've slowly come to understand that every ounce really does count (just as every calorie in a half teaspoon of salad dressing matters to that self-torturing supermodel.) If you save only a couple of ounces on eight pieces of gear, that’s a full pound dropped. Imagine saving 2-3 ounces from every single thing you carry. With that in mind, here are the tips I used to drop well over ten pounds from my pack weight.

Replace tent poles with trekking poles.
I admit there are many great ultralight tent designs with featherweight poles. If you hike in an area where a free-standing tent is needed, this makes sense. If you camp primarily in areas with soft ground that allows for some stakes, why not use the poles you’re already carrying to support a tarp or ultralight tent designed for poles (like the Big Agnes Scout I use)? And, honestly, I think most people should use trekking poles. While they technically add weight, they make any load feel lighter by absorbing much of the stress and shock of each step. I suspect they also prevent injuries from falls and slips quite frequently. Of course, using a tarp with trekking poles (or just using trees for support) can shave even more weight. I use this simple 14 oz. Etowah Gear silnylon design that I think is a great deal at $75 (price as of this writing.)

Minimize (or eliminate) stuff sacks, and keep them ultralight when you use them.
When I first began backpacking, I used almost all of the stuff sacks that were provided with the gear I purchased. This included those for my tent, my stakes, my stove, and even my camp towel! I now only use a very few sacks to combine gear logically. I have also fully transitioned to ultralight silnylon stuff sacks and ultralight dry bags, too (check out my DIY $6 Silnylon Stuff Sack post to learn how to make this transition on the cheap.)

Embrace your stink (less clothes, no deodorant, fewer toiletries) 
I used to bring entirely too many extra clothes on trips when I began backpacking, mainly because I didn’t want to wear stinky, dirty clothes each day (I had no idea…) I quickly learned that I usually just kept my stinky clothes on anyway. I now only carry an extra pair of socks, and extra pair of underwear, and the lightest, smallest t-shirt I own, mainly because I use it for a pillow case with my squeaky inflatable pillow. (I know, I carry a pillow, and I’m writing a post about saving weight. It only weighs a couple ounces, though...) Also, leave the deodorant at home and just expect to stink a little bit. Wash yourself in a creek or stream when you can - it helps. I now only bring a tiny bit of camp soap or Dr. Bronner’s for all of my "hygiene" needs (p.s. Dr. Bronner’s can double as toothpaste.)

Use Platypus or “disposable” water bottles
If you’re using a Nalgene or other thick plastic bottles (or worse, metal), consider using soft, lightweight Platypus bottles or simply using “disposable” bottles. 32 ounce Gatorade bottles and 1 liter Smart Water bottles are frequently used. Bonus tip: Smart Water (and other disposables) can be used with the very light Sawyer Mini water filter for a very lightweight water filter system.)

Replace the canister stove.
I admit, canister stoves are extremely convenient and the actual stoves can be very lightweight. That said, the fuel canisters can get heavy and bulky, especially when compared to alcohol, solid fuel tablets, or found twigs used for wood-buring stoves. Do some research to see if this might be an area you can save a little weight. (For an overview of differing stove types, including those just mentioned, click here.) 

Use a light fleece blanket in warm temps.
I have very light fleece blanket that I use sometimes in the summer, so I can leave my sleeping bag at home. This usually saves a full pound! Note, however, that even around 60 degrees, I’ve been a little too chilly when using a hammock and no sleeping pad on a windy night. On the ground, however, I’m usually good with this blanket into the mid fifties, especially if I'm willing to wear an extra layer of clothing.

Get your dog a pack.
If you’re lucky enough to have a canine hiking companion like me, get your dog their own pack and let them carry their food, some water, and their bowl/dish (don't overload them, though!) This can save a lot of weight for you and give them a sense of responsibility. In fact, your dog will probably enjoy feeling like he or she has a job to do. I’ve heard many backpackers say that their dog was much better behaved when wearing a pack. (Here's a post with tips for backpacking with your dog.)

So, there you have it. Those are but a few tips to help you save a little weight and get your pack looking sexy, svelte, and ready for the next photo shoot. I hope you found some of these actually worth implementing. After all, most of us can’t afford to buy cuben fiber tents and 900 fill power, silnylon-shelled sleeping bags. I work hard to ensure that much of the advice I offer isn’t simply, “go spend a ton of money on expensive gear.” Sure, it’s nice to have beautifully designed gear from manufacturers who really understand backpacking. In fact, I love that. Sometimes, however, that empty water bottle scavenged and cleaned from a trash can will do just fine, too.

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