In this list of tips to lower your pack weight, we aren’t going to cut toothbrushes, forgo comfort, and count on luck to filter water. Instead, we want this article to help you think differently about how to cut weight, making it an ongoing conversation while on trail.
Don't carry your fears in your pack
While on the AT my dad and I were worried about running out of water, so we carried two-three liters at all times, no matter how many water sources we passed. We would always make it to lunch or camp with a pound or two of unused water until one day, at the top of a mountain in Massachusetts, a fellow hiker gave the advice, “You carry your fears in your pack.” That night we dumped out and recycled our extra bottles and left the Bascom Lodge a few pounds lighter.
This lesson can be applied to any part of your backpacking kit, whether that’s a fear of being too cold, can’t sleep, first aid, bad drinking water, whatever you are afraid of, you compensate for. It is great to have a healthy respect for what can happen on the trail, but in my case, carrying an extra puffy that I never wore, not even once, just for the comforting thought, “I can always be a little warmer” is not worth the weight.
If it’s not used for two weeks send it home
This one is simple, if it’s not an emergency item, and you haven’t used it in more than two weeks, send it home. No use carrying an item to Canada that has no use. Often we think, “Oh I’m sure I’ll use _________ later and be glad I have it!” That’s kinda like how I have a banjo sitting next to my desk and I keep telling myself I’ll learn to play it … it’s been a year. Send it home!
You can also apply shipping advice to this tip, if you think about the item more than two times after sending it home in the next two weeks then get it shipped back to you. But come on, how often did you really take that GoPro out of your pack the first time?
The bigger the pack the more you will stuff in it
Even if we don’t want to admit it, we all care about looking good, at least a little, and a deflated pack doesn’t inspire adventure. If that isn’t why you shove some extra items in your pack then maybe it’s just because there is space so you might as well, right?
By downsizing the pack, you have to be intentional on what earns some real estate inside.
There are two ways of buying a new backpack:
- You buy all of your gear first and then buy a pack that can fit it all.
- Buy your ideal backpack and then buy gear that fits inside.
If you want to hold yourself accountable to the UL lifestyle, then buying-style 2 will help keep the luxury items to a minimum. Reaching out to others that own the pack you are interested in and asking to see their gear list will also give some great insight on what can fit in a smaller pack.
Stack your kit with multi-purpose Items
Having items in your pack with more than one job can save room and weight. Some examples are using a buff as a beanie, a sewing needle for repairs and blisters, dental floss as sewing thread, camp socks as mittens. The more resourceful and creative you are here, the more weight savings. This point may not cut down pounds, but as they say, every ounce counts.
Gear up for the season and trip
By researching the trail, time of year, and weather, you can drop layers out of your pack. Some trails like the PCT go from desert to high mountains, and then back to desert. By changing up your layers for each climate, you will save space and weight.
Every hiker is different and after some time on trail, you will begin to be able to gauge what you need to stay warm. Then you can calculate what jackets, baselyers, etc. to bring on the next trail section by looking at the forecast. Don’t forget to use your rain jacket as a windbreaker on those particularly cold days!
Pack higher protein/ calorie-dense food
I am not a nutritionist, but on trail I feel more satisfied longer after consuming outdoor-specific nutrition than a Little Debbie. So for those long resupplies I recommend packing food that satisfies over quantity.
On the flip side, however, bring food you want to eat. A full food bag full of healthy bars you can’t stomach weighs more for longer than one filled with tasty snacks you look forward to eating.
Carry enough water for the stretch
With how fast filters are these days, you don’t need to carry 6 pounds of water when there are streams every 2 miles. Just like with cold weather, after some time on trail, you will learn how far a liter of water can take you. For example, a liter of water usually takes me 5-8 miles to drink, depending on how hot it is. Then, using a reliable app like Guthook, you can plan out how many liters you will need to get to the next water source. Water is surprisingly heavy: 1 liter of water weighs just over 2 pounds.
Ditch the stuff sacks
If everything in your pack is separated into stuff sacks, that’s several ounces of buckles and fabric that can be ditched for weight savings, and can also make your pack more comfortable.
While on the PCT with my buddy Cola, he painted this picture: imagine a stack of coke cans laying down. They are round right? Now put them in a box and look at them from the side. There is a little diamond of air spaced between each round side of the cans. This is the same way stuff sacks take up more room than free-floating objects in your pack. Free-floating items act more like a liquid filling the spaces in your pack instead of bulging and pressing against the walls.
If you use stuff sacks for waterproofness, try a trash compactor bag or Nylofume pack liner instead, and/or limit stuff sacks by reserving them for essentials: sleeping bag, clothes and electronics.
Remember that everyone’s body and experience levels are different, so don’t use pack size as a way to compare and judge others. The goal is to get outside, no matter how we do it.
We hope that this article helped open your mind to some ways to lower your pack weight and you find these tips useful on your next trip! If you have any ideas or lessons you have learned throughout your backpacking adventures, leave a comment and share. We’re always looking for ways to lighten up!