Does it seem a little crazy to weigh everything you take backpacking? It is. But we started doing it because we were confused as to why our packs were so heavy at first. And so we started weighing.
Holy Mackerel! That pair of cotton shorts P was planning on taking weigh a lot more than his long hiking pants! That larger flashlight weighs 7 ounces—and the little headlamps weigh an ounce. P’s sweatshirt weighed more than twice as much as his fleece. And once we started weighing things, we couldn’t really stop. We have managed to get our weight down to 20 pounds for M, and about 32 pounds for P on a six-day trip. And that weight will drop a few pounds from P’s pack for shorter trips.
But that is not to say that we have done all that we could do to reduce our weight. Most experts agree that the first place to start is with your "big three" items: Backpack, sleeping bag, and tent. And we're doing OK on those.
Our backpacks are now Go-Lite 50s that weight about 2.5 pounds. Not extremely light, but in the ballpark--especially since P sometimes carries more than 35 pounds with his. They have about 150 miles on them and are still going strong. Sure, M had to sew up a seam at one point...but they still carry the load.
And our sleeping bags are now some very nice REI Sub-Kilo down bags that are rated to about 15 degress and weigh just over two pounds. Before that, we used some synthetic bags that weighed about one pound more, which isn't bad either. But these are really nice, really warm, and really light.
And the tent that P made keeps our tent weight down well below 2 pounds. It works fine, although in spring and fall we are likely to take a heavier tent in case we get snow, heavy rain, etc.
That gives us a shared "big three" weight of below six and half pounds in the summer: pretty darn light. Add in another couple of pounds for our bear canister, and we are still in good shape. But when we started we were carrying far more than that. We began with some old external frame packs...although they were not any heavier than our current packs. But our sleeping bags were five pounds each, and our tent was seven pounds for the two of us. Add in the bear can and we were not at seven pounds, but 13-14 pounds. And you know what? We had some great trips with that equipment.
Where could YOU really drop some pounds? Here are seven things that would make a big difference:
1. Carry fewer clothes. This is the one area where we see people really add on the pounds. Leave the extra shirt, pants, shorts, t-shirt, sweatshirt, etc behind. P takes one undershirt (to sleep in, but can be worn as an underlayer in cold weather) one shirt, one fleece, and a rainshell. Yes, sometimes he puts it all on, particularly on a frosty morning. But then he starts hiking and strips it all off. Weigh those clothes before you put them in your pack, and you will re-think your hiking wardrobe! (We are guilty of taking along a pair of Crocs each, which we use for camp shoes and waders when we cross streams. They add 12 ounces per person...and if we were really weight fanatics we would leave them at home.)
2. Buy lighter sleeping bags. You could probably drop at least a pound, maybe more, by going with an ultra-light 800g down bag. The really good ones cost $350 each. But for about $200 we found some REI Sub-Kilo bags on a close-out sale. And we love them. But if we didn't have them, we'd still be happy to go backpacking. In fact, because of the humidity in Peru, we did take our old synthetic bags to Machu Picchu.
3. Buy lighter packs. Without the bear canister and with the lighter bags, we would each be carrying less than 30 pounds—and that would allow us to purchase some extreme ultra-light packs. That would drop another 20 ounces, or so, from our packs. Cost? $250 each, or more, new. When he can't sleep at night, P amuses himself by designing something he could make for less money.
4. Carry no water or filter. By carefully rationing our water, and using tablets to purify what we drink, we could drop another pound or two from each of our packs, and so could you. Or a steripen...But the filters work, and we are happy with them. Still, 8 ounces is half a pound.
5. If you are not hiking in the national parks, you can leave the bear canister at home, and save an immediate 30 ounces. That's a big deal...but we have become accustomed to the security that it provides. It's worth it to use not to have to hang our food and toiletries way up in a tree every night--and the hardest part of the whole exercise is finding a good tree!
6. Carry lighter foods. With instant oatmeal for breakfast, and a freeze-dried dinner, we don't carry a lot of heavy food. In fact, when we buy those dinners, we look at two key numbers: weight, and calories. Forget the flavors! It's easy to add in a few packages of dried fruit, a few energy bars, a salami...and all of a sudden, you've added a couple of pounds to your pack.
7. Leave our toys behind. P likes to fish, M likes to read. We could each lose a pound or two by avoiding those vices. So could you.
The end result? If we left the bear can at home and bought lighter packs, we would be carrying about 17 and 25 pounds, respectively. But with the new sleeping bags, we just went on a five day trip with packs that weighed 19 and 29 pounds. Not bad! If we want to go lighter, well have to spend about $500 for new packs, and leave some of our comfort and joy at home. We wouldn’t be fishing or reading. And the High Sierra water would taste like chlorine or iodine.
On the other hand, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu required hiring not only a local guide, but also porters to carry the food and tents. We still carried our sleeping bag and clothes...but the whole thing got to feel just a bit luxurious compared to most of our trips.
Then again, as the trail climbed high into the Andes...we were still gasping for breath!
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