Tips for Lightening a Heavy Backpack

Tips for Lightening a Heavy BackpackPack-lightening will challenge your organizational and improvisational skills, but will pay monster dividends to your body parts on a hike. Expensive ultra-light equipment can be minimized by measuring, weighing, repackaging and reconsidering your gear.

How to Make Your Hiking Backpack Lighter

According to REI, a loaded backpack should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight. Before you head out on a backcountry adventure, consider what you can do to lighten your load. There are a number of ultralight backpacking gear options and techniques to consider. 

Upgrade to a Lighter Backpack

Replace worn out gear with newer, lightweight equipment. Your load will diminish in increments over time. Use the lightest backpack that is rated for the weight you need to carry. The need for heavy frames and fabric disappears with reduced loads, and companies like Golite and Mountain Smith make very light backpacks. A pack weight of 5 to 6 pounds should be enough for any burden.

Opt for a Lightweight Shelter Solution

Tips for Lightening a Heavy Backpack

Try a lightweight tent or tarp. In summer, mosquitoes and the odd rain shower are the principal hazards, and they can be kept outside your living space without a heavy tent. It is very easy to build a shelter with a tarp. Tarp tents need only your hiking poles to erect. 

Pack Multi-Function Items

Pack for multi-use. Eat out of the same pot from which you cook. Ponchos make excellent rain wear, awnings and fire covers. The back-pad from a backpack augments short, light sleeping pads and trekking poles will support your tarp tent.

Eliminate Unnecessary Items and Weight

Weigh every item you need with a digital scale, record the weights and repackage items which seem unnecessarily heavy. Test-pack everything you "need," weigh the load, and then start eliminating things you can do without. For example, take only the food you need and choose light backpacking food items that can be eaten as-is or require only one pot for cooking. Transfer foods to light containers like zip-lock bags.

Minimize Cooking Equipment

Tips for Lightening a Heavy Backpack

Buy or make your own ultra-light alcohol stove (soda or cat food cans may be used) and a carry the fuel in a plastic bottle. It does not have the heating power or control features of a canister type stove or the heavier liquid fuel stove, but it will make small amounts of hot water for soups or drinks quickly enough.

Avoid Over-Packing Apparel

Carry only one change of lightweight synthetic clothing whose weight provides optimal performance, and, if conditions permit, use trail running shoes which will double as apres-hike footwear.

Share the Load With Your Group

Do not duplicate unnecessarily when hiking with a group, and split up the shared items, including stoves, cookware, tarps and tents, flashlights, sunscreen, maps, cameras and insect repellent.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Some gear is worth a bit of weight. For example, evaluate the trade-off between cost and weight for sleeping bags. Down bags are lighter than synthetics but are useless when wet. Quilts are another lightweight option. Be sure to take into consideration the specific location where you plan to hike or go backcountry camping. What you need for an adventure in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge, for example, will be very different from the gear you need when exploring Florida's Everglades National ParkIf you learn your destination's terrain, climate and hazards and then test your systems before you go, your packing will be more efficient. 

Prepare for a Successful Backcountry Adventure

Hiking with a backpack that is too heavy can be both uncomfortable and unhealthy, but these solutions can keep you from having to hike with an unnecessarily heavy backpack. Follow these tips to reduce your load and properly prepare for your journey. You may even end up with space for some frivolous items are worth the weight when you go backpacking. 

Article Written By Barry Truman

Barry Truman has published many outdoor activity articles in the past five years with International Real Travel Adventures, the Everett Herald and Seattle Post Intelligencer newspapers, Backpacking Light Magazine and He has a forestry degree from the University of Washington.

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