10 Ways to Cut Backpack Weight
Thuc, our Marketing and Events Coordinator, is an avid lightweight and minimalistic backpacker, not for the title but because it just makes life so much simpler and isn’t that why we head out into the mountains?
In 2016, I spent a week backpacking in Yosemite National Park. When we ended our hike in Yosemite Valley, we decided to weigh our backpacks at the park office. Mine came in at around 20 kilograms. The rule of thumb is that your backpack should not weigh more than 20-25% of your bodyweight, which for me was 11 kilograms. There are three reasons why a heavier pack doesn’t usually bother me- firstly, I am stronger and fitter than the average person and I especially dedicate a lot of my time in the gym to leg strength; secondly, even though I am smaller and lighter, I still need the same equipment that a bigger and heavier person needs; thirdly, I was just still quite inexperienced. We packed way more food than we needed and I definitely brought along items that I did not touch once such as extra clothing and a book.
These days, my pack weighs in at about 12-14 kilograms.
Here are some ways that I keep my backpack weight down:
It all starts with the all-important three; your tent, backpack and sleeping bag. Of course, ultralight gear is not the most affordable so you may need to shop around and find where you sit on the spectrum of weight and cost. My 2-person REI tent weighs 1.8kg and my 1-person Macpac tent weighs 1.3kg…but you can get 2-person tents lighter than 1kg.
My North Face pack weighs around 1.8kg and again, you can find 60 litre backpacks that weigh less than 1kg.
Get rid of extra sacks and bags. I stuff my tent fly and inner into my pack wherever they can fit, making sure they aren’t at risk of getting snagged on anything and ripping. I use a waterproof compression sack for my sleeping bag. I waterproof everything inside my pack so I don’t need to carry a pack cover.
I’m very cutthroat with clothing. If I’m only away for one night, I don’t bother bringing a change of hiking clothes. I will only bring fresh underwear and socks. For multi-day hikes, I am still very stringent.
For example, when I was hiking the Kepler Track over 3 nights, I packed one pair of long tights, two tank tops with inbuilt bras, one long sleeve, one set of thermals to sleep in, a lightweight fleece, a down jacket (which I could’ve gone without) and a raincoat.
I didn’t even pack camp shoes; I just walked around barefoot!
Between a book and journal, for me, a journal always wins. Once you finish a book, the fun has ended. But with a fresh journal, you’ll be entertained so long as you have thoughts and ideas :)
If possible though, I do like to bring both and when I do, I choose a book that I’ll lightly finish most of over the trip and I’ll bring a new notebook. I don’t want to bear the weight of pages not read nor written on.
I use my pot as my bowl and one long-handled titanium spork. There are other benefits to this super lightweight camp kitchen setup and they include less cleaning up and less items to keep track of (I always misplaced my fork or knife when I had a 3-piece cutlery set).
I do carry a knife in my First Aid kit so if I need to cut something such as an avocado or apple, that’s what I’ll use.
By the way, I was using polypro plastic sporks but I broke 2 in one trip by stepping on them so it’s titanium only for me now!
I take very few toiletries. I take my toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, Lucas’ Paw Paw Ointment, sunscreen, nail clippers, tweezers, hand sanitiser, and a small microfibre towel.
I used to also bring deodorant, sometimes dry shampoo, wet wipes and moisturiser but I’ve found that a small towel and water does the trick to stay (acceptably) clean and Paw Paw Ointment and sunscreen take care of most skin annoyances.
7. Plan your meals and remove packaging. Food and water typically make up the most of my pack weight. To minimise weight, I carefully plan my meals to ensure I’m not taking more than necessary and I’m getting maximum nutrition and energy for weight.
For example, I opt for tuna sachets instead of tuna cans and broccoli for my greens intake as it’s light and keeps well.
I will remove biscuits, lollies and trail mix etc from their original packaging and pack them in ziplock bags as these ziplocks bags will then become trash carriers; this way, I don’t need to carry as many extra plastic bags and the ziplock system avoids leakage and contains odours.
8. Know your water situation well. Do your research beforehand to avoid carrying more water than necessary. When hiking in the US in mid-summer, we had 2 x 1 litre bottles each plus a 2 litre bladder. When hiking in New Zealand in spring, I carried just a 1 litre bottle. I always have water purification tablets in my camp kitchen kit as well as my First Aid kit.
9. Streamline your photography kit. Photography gear is not light nor space-efficient so I have learnt to make what I take really work for me. I take my Canon 5D Mark III, my 24-105mm f/4 lens, spare batteries and my Sirui carbon fibre travel tripod that weighs in at 1.3kg. It’s always very tempting to take another lens just in case but if I’m not on a work trip, then I won’t bother. The tripod is where you can really save weight but you don’t want to go so light that you get stuck with a flimsy tripod that blows over atop a windy summit; my Sirui one is honestly perfect.
10. Share the weight around. If you’re hiking with friends, collaborate and ensure you aren’t duplicating any items that can be shared such as sunscreen, toothpaste and First Aid.
One of the drawing cards of backpacking for me is the way life can be stripped back to important basics. My life in Sydney is so complex and cluttered and it is so refreshing to head out into the wilderness with everything that I truly need on my back. I love having so many decisions made for me by the simple fact that I have super limited options. It also gives me perspective on how little I need to not only survive but thrive which is an especially calming realisation as I live in one of the world’s most vicious, non-stop rat races. So give your pack a trim and enjoy the weight being lifted off your shoulders; literally and figuratively!
If you’ve got some extra tips on cutting down backpack weight, leave a comment below.