Ten Tips to Lighten the Load

Compiled by L. Reinisch, Troop 137 BSA

Ultralight backpacking is the next big thing in the outdoors. Anyone who has suffered through a trek with too heavy a pack dreams of the beauty of Ultralight. While Ultralight is probably not for everyone and for every place you might camp -who could imagine camping at Boundary Waters Canoe Area without a tent with mosquito netting? Still, we can all have more enjoyable treks if we learn to shed a few pounds.

1. Experiment. Every time you go on a short trek, leave something at home. At the end of the trek, decide if you really missed it or if you can always leave it at home. It might be leaving back the sewing kit on the first trek. Later, you can decide if those extra underwear are really worth bring. Keep going until you try leaving your tent at home and bring a tarp or bivy sack.

2. Do without. Do you really need that backcountry espresso maker that looked so cool in the store?

3. Downgrade. Give your gear a serious once over. Do you absolutely need an air mattress, or can you get by with a closed cell sleeping pad? Do you need a plate and a pot? How about the cup? Use chemicals to purify water and get rid of those heavy pumps and filters.

4. Modify your gear. Just because your pack comes with all those extra compartments doesn't mean you have to use them all. Maybe you don't need those side pouches. Or that plastic doo-hickey that protects your pack from crampon damage (You especially don't need it if you don't own crampons.). Do you need to put your sleeping back into a stuff sack if your pack has a built-in waterproof compartment?

5. Splurge on ultralight substitutes for common items (slowly collect these items over the years). Titanium pots will save several ounces off of your old aluminum cookware. Lexan spoons are lighter than metal (and last longer than plastic). LED headlamps are lighter and easier to use than flashlights. A nylon footprint for your tent weighs less than plastic.

6. Share gear with your partner. I see this as the biggest place to save weight-it costs you nothing except a phone call the night before you leave to decide who will bring what. There's no need for both of you to have stoves, water filters, knives, pots, first aid kits, and a host of other items. A two-man tent weighs a lot less than 2 one-man tents (and you will feel more comfortable in the bigger tent).

7. Look at the weight of every single item before you buy it. Double-check it on a postal scale when you get it home-you'll be surprised at how many discrepancies you'll find between the advertised and actual weight. Think of your pack as weighing 400 ounces before the food. Look for ways to cut the ounces.

8. Pack your food carefully. Most hikers come back at the end of their hike with food left over. A little extra is good-you might have needed it in an emergency. But try to pack accurately, because food is one of the heaviest items in your pack.

9. Get the smallest and lightest pack that will comfortably carry your load. In fact, get a pack smaller than you need. It will force you to leave some things at home. You don't need a 7 1/2 pound expedition pack to go on a weekend hike. A smaller pack that weighs 4 1/2 pounds saves you a whopping 48 ounces-12% of your total weight before food. You will also fill a pack-not matter how big-with junk that you do not need to bring.

10. Hate metal. If you can replace a metal item with a plastic one, do it. No food in cans (no cheese whiz), no metal plates, no metal spoons, no metal flashlights.

03 Oct 2010 JS