Whether they know it or not, most backpackers want to save weight. They might not realize this until they’re a few days into their trip—or even a few miles—but when you carry less on your back, you can go farther with more comfort. There’s certainly a way to bottom this out. When you cut extreme amounts of gear, you sacrifice comfort on the trail and at camp.
But oftentimes, it is not about buying new gear, but rather simplifying the old systems. This can fall under a few categories, including finding multi-use items, unnecessary items, and smart gear swaps that lighten the load and can smooth out the intended use.
These are my best tips for gear swaps, weight saving, and ditching what you don’t need. Remember that all of these suggestions can be modified, attempted, or ignored based on your own personal hiking style and comfort. There’s no perfect gear strategy, and chances are it will take a lot of trial and error to get it right.
Water Bottle vs Hydration Bladder
When it comes to volume, a hydration bladder is the simplest and most obvious option. But bladders, with their heavier plastic, hoses, and complex seal systems can add weight and effort to your hydration system. Opt for two one-liter disposable water bottles, and refill them at sources. Water bottles can be easier to fill as well, since you won’t have to unpack your bag. As a bonus, you’ll always be able to see how much you have left and not be startled by sucking on a dry hose.
Bandana vs Camp Towel
This is a great example of a multi-use item. While I don’t recommend using one bandana for everything, you’ll never regret tying a bandana to your pack. I’ve used this to wipe dirt from my gear, sweat from my face, and to clean out my cook pot when I decide to cook meals in the backcountry. A bandana can be put under a hat to limit sun exposure and aid in the backpacker baths taken at creeks. For 1$, this may be the most useful item for the price.
Tyvek vs Ground Sheet
Many tent manufacturers sell pricey ground sheets made from high-tech materials. A ground sheet can be helpful on rugged trails where you’ll be pitching your tent on abrasive ground, but a cut sheet of Tyvek can actually do as good a job as an expensive ground sheet — if it’s good enough to protect a house, it’s good enough to keep the bottom of your tent from ripping. Home improvement stores have giant rolls of the stuff. Just cut it to size, and throw it through a wash cycle in your washing machine (no detergent!) to help soften it up. The white Tyvek also makes a great canvas when attempting to secure a hitch to a resupply.
Ziplock vs Stuff Sack
Stuff sacks are imperative to a backpacking setup, although most of us don’t need as many as we carry. Save money and a few ounces by seeing what smaller goods you can stash in Ziplock bags instead of pricier, fancier stuff sacks. I take one large stuff sack for my small, loose items, then stash everything else in a collection of Ziplocks. Avoid the ones with the zipper tracker, and go for the simpler variety… less to break and catch on other items in the pack.
Stoveless vs Cooking
There’s nothing like a hot meal at the campsite after a long day of backpacking. But for those looking to streamline the process, going stove-free has its benefits. Ditching the stove, pot, and fuel saves weight and time in camp. It also means collecting less water at the end of the day, and fewer items to attempt to keep clean. It can also help you get out of your ramen rut — try packing foods you hadn’t considered for backpacking. If the weather is cool, a block of cream cheese, tortillas, and a pack of bacon bits make a satisfying wrap. If cooking is a necessity, try packing food and items that simply require boiling water. Even cooking noodles in a pot gets it dirty. Instead, sealing off a container of Minute Rice and boiling water will cook itself. Then it is easy to add sauce, seasoning, and substance.
Specialty Tent Stake vs Trowel
Digging a six-inch cathole is a lot easier with a trowel. Ask anyone who’s fought with a stick and rock in tough ground. That said, if your tent takes stakes are durable enough, you don’t need to pack a trowel as well. Replace one of your tent stakes with a beefier version that doubles as a trowel, and get a two-for-one.
Clothes Bag vs Camp Pillow
There are a lot of camp pillow fans, which is absolutely fair. Inflatable pillows weigh just a few ounces and can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep. But for those who don’t mind a few lumps, spare clothing works just fine as a pillow. You can even find a stuff sack with a softer lining, perfect for turning inside out at night.