Imagine this: A large group of men, dressed in battle fatigues, marching 20 miles across rugged, rolling terrain. Each of them is lugging around 70 pounds on their backs, their packs loaded till the seams are nearly bursting with gear issued from their government.
Sounds like fun, huh?
No. No, it doesn’t. But if you’re planning on an extended trek into the backcountry, aren’t you, in some way, guaranteed a similar fate?
My analogy isn’t the best, because when I’m using military imagery, you’re talking about soldiers either training for combat or soldiers who are in combat. Backpacking doesn’t have nearly that much at stake. But the analogy does work in one way. Soldiers aren’t given much choice in what’s in their packs. You are. And that’s what I want to discuss.
My early forays into backpacking included a lot of rookie mistakes that ended up with me hauling a really heavy pack. I got in and out OK, but I would have spent a lot less energy and saved my body a lot more grief had I just packed a little smarter.
My last post on this subject talked about making sure you are a “self-contained unit,” meaning you’ve got everything you need in your pack to survive in the wild. But there’s a lot of products out there that probably have an alternative that will do the same job with a lot less weight on your back.
Food is a great example. On my first trip, I packed standard trail mix, but I also had self-heating MREs and a couple cans of tuna. The MREs have water in them, as did the cans of tuna. The packaging also added weight that I didn’t need. Good alternatives: Dehydrated meals (just add hot water) and tuna packets. That right there might shave a couple of pounds.
Another example: camp stoves. You can take one of those Coleman box set stoves with two burners and a fuel tank. And those are great. But they’re a lot heavier than the 3.5-ounce stove I carry. There’s another couple of pounds gone.
And how can I forget my knife? I used to have this huge hunting knife strapped to my belt. No more. A simple pocket knife shaved another pound.
And there’s more. Packing a tent? Go with one that has aluminum poles rather than fiberglass. Pack one that is smaller, rather than roomier. Shop around for sleeping bags made for backpacking (some weigh less than 2 pounds). Take a headlamp rather than a flashlight.
Some backpackers will even go so far as to cut their toothbrushes in half just to cut weight. A little extreme for me, but those ultra-light, ultra-fast hikers know that the more weight means more energy burned unnecessarily. And I can think of plenty of instances (getting lost, getting injured, facing bad weather, etc.) where you might need every ounce of energy you have.
There are exceptions. Steel is heavier than aluminum or titanium, but steel pots and pans cook better. Winter trips often require sturdier tents, more fuel, heavier clothes and thicker sleeping bags. In this case, safety trumps weight cutting. But the overall point is this: Pack what you need. Look for lighter alternatives when practical. And really analyze what you plan to take with you. Chances are, you don’t need to lug around an Army pack to spend quality time in the outdoors. The less sore and tired you are, the more likely you’re going to enjoy your outdoor experience.
— Bob Doucette