When you hit the trail for a backpacking trip, it’s tough to feel like the world is your oyster if you can barely stand up straight because your pack is so heavy. I mean, did you see the movie Wild? A pack that’s too heavy sucks all the fun out of a trip into the backcountry. And while ultra-light backpackers will tell you the first thing you should do is buy a scale, there are a few easy tried-and-true ways to shave a bit of weight without losing too much comfort. Here are 10 ways to lighten up now.
1. Repackage food and personal care items.
Who uses an entire tube of sunscreen or toothpaste on a three-day trip? Squirting a little into a smaller container will save weight and space, so you might even be able to get away with a smaller, lighter pack. The same goes for food. Even tiny things like pouring your trail mix into a resealable bag so you can burp its air out will save much-needed space.
2. Maximize a minimal amount of insulation.
A down sleeping bag is the most efficient warmth for its weight and compressibility. But you don’t always need to carry the absolute warmest bag. If you’re heading out in warmer months, and planning to take a puffy jacket, you may be able to skimp a bit and go with a lighter sleeping bag, wearing your insulated jacket to sleep in for warmth instead.
Remember to include your mattress when thinking of lightening your sleep system. For instance, going from a 12 oz. NeoAir X-Lite mattress with an r-value of 3.2, to a NeoAir XTherm model will nearly double your mattress’ warmth and add only 3 oz., allowing most people to go with an even lighter sleeping bag.
3. Opt for a tent that pitches with trekking or ski poles.
If you’re already hiking with trekking poles, or ski touring, this is a no-brainer. Tent pole sets can weigh upwards of a pound, so if you just make use of the poles you already have in your hands, you can eliminate tent poles altogether. If you’re super minimalist, go for a simple tarp setup. But now, even all-season shelters can be compatible with trekking or ski poles.
4. Limit your wardrobe.
Most backpacking pros know it’s not worth worrying much about body odor. Odor happens—plain and simple. So, unless you’re going on a trip so long you foresee washing one set of clothes—and you can’t just wear your rain gear or outer layers while you do it—or you’ll need a dry set of clothes to swap into to stay warm, you can probably skip carrying an entire extra change of clothes.
5. List your unused items each time you go backpacking.
And then think hard about packing them the next time. Some things—like an emergency lighter and a few inches of duct tape—should always live in your pack, with the hopes that you won’t have to use them. But, if you’ve packed a pair of gaiters for your last three trips and never bothered to put them on? It might be time to leave them at home.
6. Never pack books.
Not even guidebooks. Instead, snap photos of the relevant pages with your phone and refer to them when necessary—you can always zoom in on the screen. And if you like to read in your sleeping bag at night, use the Kindle app instead of toting a paperback. You can carry a whole library on your tiny device that you’d probably be carrying with you anyway. If you’re worried about battery life, make sure to turn your phone on “airplane mode” or just keep your phone off unless you absolutely need it—and then, also keep it on airplane mode—and pack a small battery pack or recharger. It will still take up less weight and space than a guidebook or novel.
7. Plan ahead and ration your water carrying.
If you’re headed somewhere with abundant streams, or if there’s a reliable spring along the way, plan out how much water you’ll need to get there, and then use a purifier instead of just carrying all the water you’ll need for the entire trip. A little research might set you at ease knowing you can go from stream to stream, carrying relatively little water in between. If it’s a short trip, making sure you’re super hydrated to start will also make a difference.
8. Swap out heavy water bottles for pop bottles or Platypus bottles.
If you’re opting for bottles instead of a bladder system, it’s worth noting that the typical 32-ounce hard plastic reusable water bottle weighs 6.2 ounces. So to pack three liters of water, that adds more than a pound of water bottle weight to the already-heavy weight of the water. Both an empty 32-ounce pop bottle and 34-ounce Platypus Softbottle weigh only 1.2 ounces, so swapping out can shave several valuable ounces.
9. If you’re doing an out-and-back route, drop a cache.
Obviously, if your destination is where you plan to prepare all your food, this might not work very well. But for a multi-day trip where you’ll be retracing your steps, stashing food or water along the way will lighten your load a little for most of the trip. Just make sure to account for bears and varmints that will also be interested in any food to be had.
10. Eat out of your pot.
Dishes and cups are sure nice in camp, but if they only serve as something to move the food onto before it goes into your mouth, consider eating right out of pot when you’re backpacking and just leave the dishware for car camping. Plus you’ll have just one dish to clean.
Originally Published June 3rd, 2015.