Gear: Packing Lighter (and smarter)

When I first started hiking on a regular basis, I always loaded my pack with what I thought I needed. If there was room left over, I would toss in some extras for good measure. Being the consummate worrier, it was not long before I was dubbed the ‘mother hen‘ amongst my hiking buddies and consistently carried the heaviest pack in our group.

I used to joke that carrying the heaviest pack just meant I was getting the best workout, but in reality I was just putting my body through more wear and tear. This fact really hit home on my 2011 Mt. Whitney day hike. When I weighed my daypack at the trailhead, it was 28 lbs! Everyone else in my group was carrying less than 20 lbs, while one hiker carried less than 10. While I was able to summit & complete the hike, it seemingly took forever for my body to fully recover. My knees ached for weeks and it took two full months for me to regain feeling in my toes and the bottoms of my feet (‘Christmas Toe‘). I have no doubt this was largely due to the unnecessary weight I carried and the ensuing pounding my feet & knees took over the 21 miles we hiked that day.  I realized that if I wanted to continue hiking long term, I would need to make some changes.

The Plan

While I carried the ‘just-in-case’ items for myself, I found I never used them. At times I used them to help others on the trail, but it was never in an emergency situation; the extra gear provided some comfort for whomever used it, but they would have made it home just fine without it. At the same time, carrying the extra gear was causing me discomfort and negatively affected my performance and mood while on the trail. I needed to find a way to reduce the pack weight, while still being adequately prepared.

Only the Necessities
I started keeping track of the gear that I actually used on my hikes, the things that I wish I had carried, and the things that others forgot for themselves. By tracking and learning what I actually needed on the trail, I’ve been able to cut down my pack weight significantly. I spend more time planning my hikes, researching things such as weather & water sources, and making sure others in my group carry what they need.  I am carrying a lighter pack now, but am better prepared. By doing my research and sharing it with other hikers in my party, we share the load and are all self-sufficient.  On my most recent Mt. Whitney Dayhike (2014), my pack weighed 18 lbs, including 2 liters of water and food. Still heavy by Ultra Light standards, but a huge improvement over my 2011 hike.

New Gear, Less Weight
While I was very excited about day trips, I had ‘avoided’ overnight backpacking trips for a couple of years. I knew that my pack would weigh more than the  ‘2011 Pack’ and the thought of carrying a heavy pack over multiple days seemed like volunteering for torture. After reducing my pack down to the necessities for day hikes,  I realized that it was necessary to get get ‘new to me’ gear if I wanted to reduce my load for overnighters. This will always be a work in progress, but so far these are some of the things I’ve done to reduce my pack weight on overnight trips:

Old Gear Replaced with: Weight Savings
ALPS Mountaineering Vertex 4 Backpacking Tent1 (36 oz/person) SMD Lunar Duo (28.5 oz/person) 7.5 oz (21% decrease)
Gregory Baltoro 65 (94 ounces) SMD Fusion 65 (39 oz) 55 oz (59% decrease)
Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Filter (11 oz) Sawyer Mini Filtration System (2 oz) 9 oz (82% decrease)
Therm-a-Rest Camp Rest – Staytek (60 oz) Klymit Inertia X Wave Pad (10.5 oz)  49.5 oz (82% decrease)
Kelty Coromell 0 Degree Down Sleeping Bag2 (65 oz)  Backcountry Bed 600 (40 oz)  25 oz (38% decrease)
Nikon D80 DSLR Camera (39 oz) Sony NEX Mirrorless Camera3 (20 oz)  19 oz (49% decrease)
Overall Weight for old gear: 305 oz Overall weight for new gear: 140 oz 165 oz or 10.3 lbs (54% decrease)
1The ALPS tent is a 4 person tent, while the SMD tent is a 2 person. For the purposes of this comparison, I split the weight up by the capacity. I could have purchased a lighter tent or shelter, but based on my decision process in this blog entry, I chose the Lunar Duo Outfitter.
2I am a ‘hot’ sleeper and the temperatures on my overnight hikes have yet to dip below 20 degrees. I found that I would have to strip down and sleep with the Kelty bag unzipped because I was overheating. Using a lighter summer bag with my GoLite Demaree 800 Fill Down Jacket or other clothing as an insulation layer has been working well. I carry a SOL Thermal Bivvy (5.4 oz) or an SOL Emergency Bivvy (4.0 oz) depending on how cold the forecast is.
3While carrying a ‘large’ camera is unnecessary, it is something that I choose to do. I have tried carrying smaller point & shoot cameras, but I have not been happy with the lower image quality.

What’s Next?
Researching gear, keeping an eye on sales and selling old gear have all been key in lowering my pack weight.  Here are some items I am looking at:

  • Backpack – After doing more research, I am very interested in the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Ultralight Pack. It would save an additional 10 ounces over my SMD Fusion 65.
  • Trekking Poles – I currently use a set of cheap trekking poles that weigh nearly 21 oz. I want to purchase a set of the Gossamer Gear LT4S, which weight 9.2 oz.
  • Tarp Shelter or Cuben Fiber Tent – I am researching tarp shelters. As far as UL tents, the SMD Skyscape – X looks incredible @ 16.5 ounces.
  • Down Quilt – As my budget allows I am hoping to purchase a down quilt to replace my sleeping bag.  The 20 degree Enlightened Equipment Revelation is the one that has piqued my interest and will drop my weight down to under 20 oz.
With the gear listed above, I would be able to drop an additional 3+ lbs.

Results

The lighter load has enabled me to enjoy my hikes more, recover faster afterwards, take on bigger challenges and expand into backpacking. Now that my overnight pack weight is less than what I carried on my first Whitney day hike, I get excited for overnight trips and am planning several multi-night hikes for 2015.

4 Responses

    • TheHikingGeek

      Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out!

    • TheHikingGeek

      Thanks for the info Philip. If they break easily, they won’t last long with me.