Getting Started

Gradually reduce your pack weight. Don’t let a book, lightweight backpacking website, or friend talk you into going ultra-light right away. Start gradually reducing the weight that you carry, and on each subsequent trip consider gear or clothing substitutions that could further reduce your pack weight.

Going too light can be uncomfortable, and unsafe. There are limitations to consider with lightweight backpacking. Some techniques require practice like learning to pitch your tarp properly, utilizing lightweight clothing to say warm and dry, and cooking with alcohol stoves. Practice these techniques on short trips or day hikes first. Another good option is to go with a company that offers guided backpacking trips. Frontcountry.com is a company that specializes in Outdoor Adventure. They have a great selection of gear, and a large directory of Tour Operators in their Adventure Travel Destinations section of their website.

The first step – GET A SCALE. The first step we suggest is to get a scale so that you can weigh each piece of backpacking gear or clothing. Without a scale you are guessing what these items weigh. We also suggest that you track the weight of each item on paper (or use a spreadsheet) and in a second column create a list of new items that you are selecting(or are considering selecting) to replace your previous items. With a spreadsheet and scale you will immediately appreciate your gradual reductions in pack weight.

Start with the big three; tent, pack, and sleeping bag. You can save several pounds by selecting lightweight versions of these three items. For example, instead of 7-9 lbs. for a tent a lightweight tent will weigh less than 4 lbs., or you can select a tarp and bivy which together weigh about 20 ounces. A typical backpack will weigh 5-7 lbs while a lightweight backpack will weigh less than 2 lbs. A standard sleeping bag may weigh 3-4 lbs. while a lightweight sleeping bag might weigh 19 ounces. Companies like ProLite Gear specialize in lightweight backpacking, and can help you select the right gear for you.

Tip: Purchase your backpack last.
You should select your backpacking after you have selected your shelter and your sleeping bag. The backpack you select will need to be large enough(have enough volume) to hold all of your clothing and gear. Also, it will need to be comfortable to wear when loaded with all of your clothing, gear, and food.

Not all weight is bad weight, and it is often times not wise to select the “lightest” gear. A suspension system in a backpack may add a few ounces, but it will most likely carry better than a backpack without a suspension system, and you will be more comfortable on the trail. Ultra-light sleeping pads are short, narrow, and thin. We suggest getting a sleeping pad that is comfortable for you to sleep on, even if it means packing a few extra ounces.

After the big three, take a look at your stove, cooking kit, water filter and clothing. Finally scrutinize accessories and smaller items, and replace or eliminate them. For perishable items, estimate the amount you will need and take only that much. Don’t, for example, take a full 1 lb. jar of peanut butter for a three day hike unless you intend to eat it all. Move these items from their original containers to smaller, lighter ones.

The Gear Quiz. For everything else that you are thinking of taking, submit it to this quiz;

  1. do I really need it?
  2. If so, is it the lightest version that is available?
  3. Am I already taking things that can serve for more than one function?

Trekking poles may serve as tent poles, and your poncho doubles as a pack cover and perhaps even your shelter.