Lightweight Wilderness Backpacking

Lightweight Wilderness Backpacking

We would like to start by saying that lightweight backpacking is not for everyone. There are certainly multiple degrees of lightweight backpacking starting with people that simply weight conscience and ending with the folks who cut their Q-tips in half to save a fraction of an ounce. We fit somewhere in between these two.  Why Lightweight Backpacking?

Checklist: BackpackSleeping BagSleeping PadSmall PillowBackpack TentHeadlampLightweight CoatHat / headcoverWater filterWater BottleCooking StoveFuelCooking Pan/cupCameraBatteriesFishing SuppliesFirst-AidSurvival ToolsMultitool

For some, it is just a matter of lightening the load enough to enable one to travel longer distances or traverse steeper ground but for others it is the antidote to pacify the desire of the obsessive compulsive.  They may weigh their equipment many times reducing fragments and shaving a little here and there until they are satisfied with the result or until they have eliminated the item entirely.  Whatever your personal reasons may be for lightweight backpacking, it is somewhat of an art in that you must know your limits and you have to consider many factors when you are shaving pounds or eliminating gear that is meant to keep you alive.

Weight Versus Comfort

Unless you are some superhuman species that is immune to the natural elements that affect the rest of us, you must possess or have access to the same basic human needs - Food, Water, and Shelter.  These items are customizable but non-negotiable for safe backpacking. Once you have the basic needs covered the rest of your gear is up to your priorities and preferences. Since luxury items translate into pounds, most lightweight and ultra-lightweight backpackers will have very few if any.  Reducing weight requires you to leave behind many items and to take exact amounts.  This can be a dangerous prospect if your trek takes longer than expected. It is smart to error on the side of caution, especially when dealing with food and medicines.
Your backpack is a great place to start when needing to reduce weight.  You could easily just buy a super lightweight backpack as there are many available on the market today as long as you don't mind spending the money.  When buying a backpack, It's always a good idea to spend the time to shop and compare.  Read the specs to get the exact size that you need.  Empty space is extra weight. Unfortunately, this may require you to have more than one backpack.  For instance, a weekend trip will require fewer provisions than a week-long trip.  If you use the same backpack for both, you will have unneeded space on the weekend trip.  To reduce weight, remove all nonessential straps and/or cut the excess length from them but be sure to leave enough length for adjustment and growth.

When preparing for a trip, it can be helpful to lay out all of your equipment and then choose each item carefully. Try to avoid last-minute packing as you will tend to include many items without thought. Some items can have multiple uses thus eliminating the need for duplicate items. A garbage bag can double as a pack cover or a rain poncho can double as a shelter. Try to inspect your equipment for flaws and tears and replace old batteries and fuel canisters with new ones. Use a Multitool in place of a knife so that you have access to other tools.

Choose a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the climate and weather.

If you are unsure of the overnight temperatures, choose the warmer option to be safe.  Down-filled bags have the highest efficiency to weight ratio but will be the most expensive.  Generally speaking, the lower the temp rating the higher the cost.  Some sleep systems like the one that we use come in layers allowing you to remove and leave behind the layers that you don't need.  The military sleep system that we use comes in four parts:  The Gortex Bivy (eliminates the need for a shelter in most weather conditions and provides protection to the sleeping bag from dirt and moisture), the Patrol Bag (for temperatures down to +30 degrees), The Cold weather bag (for temperatures down to -10 degrees).  All three layers combined with proper sleeping wear can keep you alive at temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
This Military Sleep System can be as light as 2 lbs for just the patrol bag and up to 9 lbs with the entire system including the compression sack and bivy. This sleep system can definitely lug you down when it is configured with the full 9 pounds.  It is a great solution for fall and winter weather but beware that the weight really adds up quickly and from experience, I can tell you that you may find yourself wishing that you had been a little more worried about the weight and less worried about the cold on a long hard trip.

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I have to say that my all-time favorite sleeping bag is made by Outdoor Vitals. Their equipment is high quality at a low price as compared to any of the others. You can get a zero-degree sleeping bag that is super lightweight for under $300. This is almost impossible to beat. If you are in the market for a sleeping bag or other backpacking equipment at affordable prices, Outdoor Vitals is the place to start. They have an amazing website with product specs, instructional videos, reviews, care guides, and articles that will help you to purchase exactly what you need. You can even buy directly from their site. They have a great support staff that knows their products very well. In a nutshell, we highly recommend Outdoor Vitals!!

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Save weight and money with your food items.

When packing the food for your trip, dehydrated meals are going to be the lightest but will also be the most expensive as well.  A smart backpacker will always pick the meals with the highest calorie count and plan every meal.  Some of the meals fall short in the taste department but will provide the calories that you will need to get you through to the end of your trip while others may be very tasty but full of empty calories.  You can save yourself money and weight by creating and packaging some of your own meals.  This is easy if you have a dehydrator and purchase Milar Sealable food storage bags.  With a little time and effort, you can dehydrate full meals to eat at your convenience.  Just add hot water, wait for a half-hour and eat.  Read our article on Dehydrating food for backpacking.
I have found that it is always helpful to keep an accurate equipment list that I review at the beginning and the end of every backpacking trip.  I document the items that were unused, most used, and least used.  I then use this data to help reduce my pack weight on future trips by taking only the items that were needed and removing the ones that were not.   This makes it easier to plan for similar trips and cuts down on the time needed to pack for them. A simple excel spreadsheet does nicely!

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