In this series I’ll be taking you through my thought process as I shave the pounds off of my setup before I attempt some multiday hikes later this year. I’ll be slimming my system down from a bloated giant which would drag me down with it, to a sleek ultralight bundle that I hardly notice as I skip along the cliffside like a mountain goat who’s just discovered weight watchers. Hopefully you’ll find some tips that you can use with your gear, if you have any tips of your own, remember to share them in the comments!
Until now, the majority of my camping has involved setting up a base camp somewhere a few miles out from the car and day hiking to explore the surrounding area with only a day sack on my back. Over the years this has led to quite a blasé attitude toward my gear purchases and how much I take with me, resulting in a very cluttered inventory of things I use rarely even though I carry them often.
Recently, however, I have planned a few more adventurous trips which will involve hiking and camping with everything on my back for two weeks or more, this is when lighter gear starts to seem very appealing. Being outside is great fun; hiking, cycling, canoeing, camping, these have all been enjoyed as past times since the 1800s when camping and hiking were first popularised. Things can be made much less fun, however, if you are forced to carry enormous weight while you partake in them, as was pointed out in one of my favourite books…
"Very few young men who read this book will find it possible to enjoy themselves, and carry more than twenty pounds a greater distance than ten miles a day, for a week."
- John M. Gould
That was written in 1877. Twenty pounds was more than the advised limit when hiking recreationally for an american civil war veteran. He was surely a lot tougher than you or I, probably a fair bit stronger, and even he didn’t carry a heavy pack back when everything was made from either wool or iron.
These days a pack base weight of around 20lbs will class you as a ‘lightweight’ backpacker, but if it was too heavy in 1877, it’s certainly too heavy for my flimsy millennial bones today. A pack weighing 5lbs will apparently see you classified as a ‘super-ultralight’ or ‘hyperlight’ backpacker. From what I have seen, this weight is where you enter the realms of record breaking, astonishingly fast hikers who blaze past you with no time to concentrate on the scenery or get a trail name that doesn’t involve a superlative. These hikernators usually forgo every creature comfort they can to save weight, and eat only food with the highest of calorie to weight ratios. Because I’m not keen on re-hydrated beans, and wouldn’t mind the odd cup of coffee on the trail, I’m going to aim for the middle-ground. 10lbs. Ultralight.
Because I’m going to be making my trips in the summer (albeit a British summer) I’m going to presume a night temperature of around 10 Celsius and infrequent rain, so I’ll create my ultralight system with that in mind. I’ll also aim for a system with a stove of some sort because I like warm meals at night and coffee in the morning but I am open to the idea of going stoveless, depending on my final weight.
The first step in lightening my pack is also the easiest and certainly the cheapest, I’m going to unpack everything and start from the beginning. Starting from the bottom is going to force me to tackle everything I put into my pack; I’m looking at each item in a new light now; a revealing, minimalist, white light which isn’t flattering to anything but the essential. I’m going to need to really think about how important everything is before I put it in my bag, and it’s likely my bag can lose some weight too.
When I repacked the first time, I picked up only the things which are directly linked to my survival outdoors; water, shelter and food.
Here is how my gear looks post repack:
- Karrimor aluminium bottle 1.5L - 143g
- Lifeventure collapsible bottle - 52g
- Water purification tablets (x 30) - 10g
Total - 205g
Shelter (+ Sleep System)
- Alpkit Hunka - 390g
- Vango sleeping bag - 1621g
- Roll mat - 150g
Total - 2161g
- Trangia Mini - 360g
- Meths container - 38g
- Spoon - 10g
Total - 408g
Gear - 2774g
Regatta Survivor 65 pack - 1569g
Total pack base weight - 4343g - 9lb 9.19oz!
I’ve already hit a decent starting point, and it’s only taken about 20 minutes. Unless you’re cooking on a portable Aga, at this point you should be pretty significantly below 15lbs, if not even less, like me. Here we have the essentials, as they were in my original pack, not particularly expensive or light but we’re already hovering around our goal weight. Obviously there’s still a fair bit to add if I want to have a nice time while I hike: toiletries and perhaps some camp clothes, but we’ll get to that later in the series.
There’s actually quite a lot we can do to reduce the weight even at this point, that’s what I’ll be doing in part two of this series: Refining the essential.