The Path Less Traveled #005 – Methods to Decrease Load Weight
Andrew D 03.22.21
Methods to Decrease Load Weight While Backpacking / Camping
This post has been divided into two sections and is a continuation of the three-part series on why you should start taking greater consideration to the loads you bring out with you while hiking, backpacking, and camping with thoughts on decreasing load weight.
Part 1 – Effects of Load Weight on a Hiker
Part 2.1 – Methods to Decrease Load Weight While Backpacking / Camping
Part 2.2 – Methods to Decrease Load Weight While Backpacking / Camping
Part 3 – Improving Hiker-Load Relationship
Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” In this series, we want to take you along for our exploits out in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
On Last Week’s “The Path Less Traveled”
In our last post we reviewed, pack-weight has a significant effect on the following:
- Energy Output
- Cognitive Processes
Part 2.1 – Methods to Decrease Load Weight
In this post, we’re going to have a brief-but-not-brief review of Methods to Decrease Load Weight while backpacking or camping. When going out onto a trail or in the wilderness, taking materials with you is a wonderful double edged-sword. We all know a lot of real–life and fictional survivors (Rambo) who have done a lot with very little.
Luckily out on a trail, we’re (likely) not being attacked by bears or vindictive sheriffs. We will face the difficulties of our own fitness/hunger, nature and weather – all things that we can mostly plan for. Planning prevents taking too little or too less and is highly related to the lightest thing you will be taking out with you – Knowledge and Skills. Read up on skills that can improve your pleasure (and survival) outdoors. While this may make a better post another day, focus on:
- Recognizing geographic/terrain/elevation patterns and how to find sources of water
- Knowing where to place your tent at night to avoid as much wind and cold/bugs/moisture as possible
- First-Aid/basic triage/wilderness medicine
- Plant and animal recognition – I just use apps, not gonna lie
With a library of applicable info, one can also take less or summon your inner bushcrafter and fabricate things to make life feel a little more comfortable. Now let’s get down to what we were all expecting to talk about – Gear. But hold on! What about body weight? Pounds on body and pounds on pack are still both weight. Weight on body affects fitness just as much as pack-weight. Alas, this topic is meant for Part III. Stay tuned. Back to gear!
(Note: All products listed in these posts are provided to display “rational” prices. Many sources claim anywhere from $1,200-$6,000 to be adequately equipped to hike the Appalachian Trail. While you can definitely backpack for a week with this gear, and it will last you a good while, not EVERY product is primo ultralight “month-long-in-the-woods” gear.)
I’ve read a LOT of information from researchers, veteran camping/hiking journos, and weight weenies in other industries and professions in addition to successfully decreasing my own pack-weight over the past fourteen years or so. Just to say “pack less” would be insufficient. There’s also a large conflict in philosophies regarding gear and gradually replacing heavy gear you already own, versus going “all-in” and “buy once, cry once.” I’m not sure where I stand on this philosophy, as it is highly SES/income based. There were times in my life where $12 was a week’s groceries, where now that’s takeout at work.
First off, when going out – plan ahead. Decide what mobility level you’ll need to accomplish your ideal task. Are you hiking a half mile from where you parked then setting up a nice base camp, or are you going 14mi to some wonderful waterfall or vista and sleeping after taking photos? Depending on the situation, your MO can determine whether taking that camping chair and Bluetooth speaker will be worth it or not.
Reducing unnecessary equipment is the number one thing for lightening your load. This comes with a vital caveat – DO NOT MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE. If you *need* that camp pillow, take it. If you want to wear hiking boots instead of trail runners – do it. Not all of us are still spring chickens that can bear 4°C (40°F) weather all night in a jacket and shorts, nor can jump around all willy-nilly instead of taking judicious steps to prevent injury. (Sadly, thinking I’m the same age as the US release of the NES and noticing those are called vintage now.) In the backpacking world, there are three big “systems,” but I like to claim four when planning to pack.
- Hiking System – Backpack/Cover, Clothes, Hiking Poles
- Shelter – Tent/Ground cloth/Stakes/Rope/Etc. Hammock
- Sleep System – Sleeping Bag/Quilt, Pad, etc.
Weigh Your Gear
Each of these systems are vital in determining what you need, what you have and what they weigh. Get ready to pull out the test-tubes, bow-ties… because we’re getting nerdy and weighing EVERYTHING. I bought a digital luggage hook and use my kitchen scale to measure. Not super-accurate, but it works.
With the Hiking System, managing your weight can be done by determining how much stuff you’re packing in the first place and determining whether you want to use a smaller bag. Just like Parkinson’s Law for work-time, my law on pack-size indicates “If There Is Space To Fill, You Will Fill It, Even If Unnecessary.” If you already have a bag, see how much it weighs. I went on an eight-mile hike with a buddy from DC who knew JACK-DIDDLY-SQUAT about packing for an overnight adventure. When I came to pick him up, he was using some kind of tactical bag that looked like it came from a generic version of Mystery Ranch and weighed something like 3.6kg (8lb) by itself.
If you bag is over 2kg (4.4lb) – I’d recommend you look for something closer to 1000g (2.2lb) or as close as possible. If your backpack doesn’t come with a rain-cover and you want one – 0.6mil garbage bags work well. And for God’s sake, get one that has a hip belt (and hopefully a sternum strap); more on this in Part III. When browsing for lighter bags in the 30-40L size (that I would be willing to buy and use), I was able to find packs ranging from $45-150+. Being outdoors ain’t cheap these days, but when shrewd and only caring about weight and quality, good deals can be had. Even without buying something from Ali-whatever, or those brands on Amazon that sound like a random word generator made them – AIRXIEBAT SOLONGDIK MOONPAIKENS – You know what I’m talking about – there are still deals to be had if you’re paying attention.
Clothes. Go light, go synthetic or wool. Focus on socks/undergarments, get those with a decent wool/merino content. Even for a three-day hike, I bring two pairs of socks and underwear. I’m hoping I don’t have to tell people that cotton kills. If it is warm, get things that wick sweat. If it is cool, get things that block the wind. Having a packable puffy jacket or rain jacket really help, as does a toboggan for nighttime. There are too many variables for recommending clothing and shoes, so I decline to post links. Just don’t be wearing blue-jeans and an M-65 Field Jacket with Liner (Man, these things are getting expensive!)
Some hikes you may need hiking poles, some you may not. Decide on the speed and distance you would like to hike and choose whether these will be an asset. Poles can come in from 320g (0.77lb) – 1000g (2.2lb) for a set of two. Be smart when choosing.
Sheltering yourself can be as much of a priority as you want it to be. I know some vet buddies of mine that can drop a sleeping bag on the ground, put a jacket under their head and somehow doze off. I don’t like bugs and pretty sure my diabetes laden sweat attracts them to me more than the average person. During your hike, once again, you can determine whether the profile of your environment and planned time/distance hiking can leave you with some space for Gucci-camping, or just genuinely a place to stay warm, dry, and not eaten up by critters.
We’ve talked about tents here before and there will be more tent reviews soon. If it is raining, I like to bide some time and cook / eat / read in a comfortable fashion. Ideally, you want your tent to be under 1.5kg (3.3lb). If you’re still using that tent your parents passed down to you (and it says COLEMAN on it), or something that requires you to question whether you have space for food and spare socks after packing it…. You’ll probably want to get a new place to sleep.
As stated, check the weather and environment ahead of time; what’s the lowest the temp is going to get for your trip? Is it going to rain? What’s the terrain/ground going to be like – will you need a ground cloth or rain fly? Do you need every one of the provided ten stakes that came with your tent? All things to consider dropping grams from your pack-weight.
If you’re a psychotic baby eater that is part sloth and wants to sleep suspended off the ground – more power to you; maybe you can help me get over my disdain for hammock sleeping, but not today.
One last thing. Tents are expensive and getting more expensive every year. You can get a tent that is at or is under 1000g (2.2lb) in a lot of ways, especially with tents that use your hiking poles as part of the tent’s pole structure… Just be ready to pay. With a lot of the high-tech material tents that are coming out more and more, they are not nearly as durable as polyester or nylon, but sure make up in their packed size and weight. I believe tents are the second-best place to put new-gear money into after sleeping bags.
The brevity of this article could have gone much longer, but we will save more knowledge bombs for next week.
In Part 2.2 – Methods to Decrease Load Weight, the following topics will be discussed:
- Sleeping System – Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Bag Liner, Sleeping Pad
- Health and Hygiene – Water, Hygiene, Safety, First Aid
- Miscellaneous – Defense, Tools, Luxury Items!