I spend most of my day walking, so I optimize my pack for on-trail ecstasy by keeping it light. However, I don’t go “stupid light” by sacrificing too much functionality, durability, comfort etc. for the sake of saving a few grams. Here are seven tips to lighten up:
1. Create a gear list. In a spreadsheet list the gear you may take on an upcoming trip, and weigh each item with a postal scale. Never guess the weight or trust the manufacturer’s specs. The gear list allows you to compare options, identify excessively heavy items, and track your progress over successive trips.
2. Take less stuff. Research the conditions (e.g. temps, precip, remoteness, and natural hazards) you will encounter so that you do not justify items on the baseless “what if” and “just in case” scenarios or on unfounded personal insecurities. Be realistic about your true needs and wants; if want to take a luxury item, make sure that it has a high luxury-to-weight ratio. After a trip, identify items you did not use or need and consider leaving them at home next time.
3. Take lighter gear. Consider a tarp or tarptent instead of a double-wall tent. Make an ultralight alcohol stove from a cat food can. Take one high-loft insulated jacket instead of multiple fleece layers. And learn to use a map and compass so you can ditch your GPS. These decisions have a multiplier effect: a lighter load allows you to wear trail shoes instead of boots, to carry a lighter and smaller backpack, and to carry less food and water because you will cover distances between resupply points and water sources more quickly.
4. Use versatile gear and eliminate redundancies. Pitch your shelter with your trekking poles. Wear your clothing at night and carry a lighter sleeping bag. Use a sleeping pad as a “virtual frame” in your frameless pack. Replace your raingear, shelter and pack cover with a poncho/tarp. And put soft-sided Platypus water bottles and extra clothing inside a stuff sack to make a pillow.
5. Increase the caloric density of your food. One ounce of fat contains 240 calories; one ounce of protein or carbohydrates, just 100. The most weight-efficient diet, then, would consist solely of butter or some other pure fat. Of course, that would be gross – instead, bulk up on chocolate, nuts, Fritos, peanut butter and similarly fatty foods. Aim for a caloric density of 125-150 calories/ounce.
6. Optimize your hydration. Learn how much water you need per hour under certain conditions (e.g. temperatures, elevation gain/loss, shade, etc.), and only take enough to reach your next water source.
7. Eliminate all extraneousness. Remove ice axe loops, daisy chains, extra webbing and/or hydration sleeves from your pack. Ditto for shirt tags, guidebook margins, and pot handles. And chop toothbrushes, foam sleeping pads, and lexan utensils to make them lighter and more packable. This step is intentionally listed last – the weight savings are negligible compared to the steps above.