Pack Weight and Down Sizing

This week I was talking to Campfire Chic about pack weights and size, specifically about how some people carry quite a bit of gear for their over nighter and multi-day trips.

Everyone has a different way of backpacking – some of us are minimalist and some of us are luxury campers.  Most of my friends are heavy haulers, refusing to give up their 80 liter packs and 50-60 lb carry weight.  We get a lot of comments and questions about how we are able to pack several days worth of food and supplies in our small packs, and still have all our necessary gear.  The answer is simple, pack lighter and pack less.

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Carrying everything inside the pack (left) versus carrying it all outside (right). My pack (left) was approximately 25 pounds on this trip.

When we first started backpacking, we had a standard haul.  Our packs weighed in anywhere from 30 to 40 pounds.  Over packing our food, bringing large pots and pans, extra fishing gear, clothes, and heavy tents resulted in large and heavy packs.  While some hikers cannot live without the extras, we decided going lighter meant you can go farther and faster.

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My pack (left) compared to another one of our friends. Notice the size difference. Pack on the left is about 19 lbs. Pack to the right? Who knows.

There are a couple approaches to lessening weight (and probably more): 1. Pack less, 2. Throw money at it, 3. Make your own gear (MYOG).

First off we decided what we could not live without.  1) We were not willing to give up a tent – double or single wall (we don’t like shelters).  2) We have grown accustomed to sleeping in our Big Agnes Lost Ranger and Insulated Sleeping pad and needed to keep them in our gear list.  3) Lastly, Samantha being a water engineer, decided we needed a full fledged purifier like the First Need XL or XLE.  There is no sense in giving up everything that is important to you on a trail.  Using the tent, sleeping bag, and purifier as our base, we worked around the items to lighten our packs.

Packing Less

Our old packs had 60 – 80 liter capacity.  While the packs were still considered lightweight,  we realized they foster over packing.  It takes a lot of self control to not fill up your pack and with the extra space, you realize you can bring everything you want or may need.  Often times, I end up seeing people stuffing items that are important outside their pack (such as an inflatable sleeping pad).  We learned very quickly that foregoing less important items allowed you to fit your more valuable gear in your bag.

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You do not need the latest and the greatest to be light. Pack weight for my pack on the left was approximately 21 lbs, carrying very old gear.

We started to get rid of our redundancies: extra clothing (especially the cottons), lighters, heavy multi-tools, extra rope, full size maps, sweet water solution, beanies, extra shoes and sandals.  We dropped fluid weights by putting our sun block and bug repellent in small travel bottles and carry less water. We ditch the bear canister where it is not required and replace it with a stuff sack and rope.   We started carrying freeze dried foods, ramen noodles, powder soups and dehydrating our food (check out our Affordable 3-Day Backpacking Food Preparation entry for great MYOG lightweight food options).  For those adventurous enough to go minimalist, ditching the tent in favor a tarp or bivy is an excellent option to shed weight.

The small things helped us reduce our pack weight by a good six to seven+ pounds.

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Switching to smaller bottles, cuts weight and cuts down on excess liquids. 3 oz travel bottles purchased at our local pharmacy.

Throwing Money At It

Lets face it, none of us can afford to buy new gear every season, however, we learned that having the latest tech meant keeping the weight down.  To keep costs down, we buy a lot of our gear used.  What I have learned is that most backpackers that throw tons of cash at their gear tend to want to upgrade to the latest and the greatest the next season. Thus they off load their old gear on forums, Craigslist, Ebay, Amazon, Geartrade, and etc.  While you don’t get the awesome warranty like you would from REI or Backcountry.com, you can always resell the equipment rather quickly.

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Lightweight gear that replaced a lot of our older gear. Titaniums, smaller form factors, and lighter fabrics helped with weight reduction.

We knew the heaviest items were our big three: backpack, tent, sleeping bag.  We decided to switch to smaller packs for most of our trips.  We purchased a used Osprey Exos 46’s that we found for $60 bucks and purchased a second on sale.  It took patience, but we were able to get the right deal.

We sold our older Kelty Grand Mesa 2 tent to a friend at cost (used of course).  In it’s place, we purchased a Tarptent Squall 2 and Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, both 2 lb 2 person tents (again used and for about half the cost new).

We also have several cook systems and while it may not be practical for most people, it is an option we like to keep on hand.  Our MSR International Liquid fuel is preferred for larger groups, but we bring either a simple Esbit, alcohol, or butane/propane stove on most of our trips.

With the small investment on our “big three,” we were able to dramatically reduce weight of our packs bringing us close to “ultralight.”  Our new pack weight range anywhere from 15 lb to 23 lb depending on the trip.

Making Your Own Gear (MYOG)

We have a whole segment that we are working on populating with  MYOG.  We learned early on that making your own gear really helps reduce costs.  Anything from ground cloths and foot prints, alcohol stoves, to your own shelter will reduce costs and weight.  Most major manufacturers are too afraid to build gear with ultralight, more fragile materials.  Making your own will give you the opportunity to use ultralight fabrics like Tyvek, Silnylon, and Cuben fiber without spending an arm and a leg.

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Tyvek (1433R pictured here) is strong and lightweight and can be used as a great ground cloth/foot print. I buy Tyvek 1433R in bulk on Amazon. You can also get Tyvek Home Wrap from your local hardware store, which is much cheaper.

While everyone has their own way, we obviously favor lightweight backpacking.  Going lighter has allowed us to travel farther in one day – allowing us to see more on our trips.  It has made backpacking more enjoyable because we no longer have discomfort when carrying our loads.  We understand going lighter is not for everyone.  We still have our larger packs – why?  Sometimes you just want the capacity for those extra long trips or want to camp in luxury – and there is nothing wrong with that.

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