Lightweight backpacking is gaining in popularity and the availability of specialty gear makes it easier than ever to commit to a life of ultralight. But, taking the steps to lighten your pack requires more than just fancy gear. Consider these six questions before jumping on the bandwagon.
What’s Your Comfort Level?
Lightweight backpacking and comfort are not mutually exclusive, but the more creature comforts you desire, the harder it will be to lighten your load. If you’re not willing to ditch your gigantic pillow, or cook without your cast-iron pan, or leave your hardcover copy of War and Peace at home, lightweight backpacking may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you think you’re ready to swap your leather boots for some trail runners, discard some layers (think rainpants), and replace your tent with a tarp, you may be ready to go lightweight.
Can You Say “No?”
You have to be able to cut things, sometimes literally, to keep the weight off of your back. Serious lightweight hikers trim the ends of their toothbrushes and diligently cut tags out of their clothes. Are you ready to take a pair of scissors to the straps on your brand new pack? Can you think about going stoveless without starting to sweat with fear of facing cold ramen? If you’re not the kind of person who can make tough decisions, this may not be the right option for you.
Do You Like Planning?
As with any venture, committing to a new approach requires forethought. When your goal grows from completing a multi-day hike to completing a multi-day hike with a lighter pack, the amount of planning also increases, especially if your hike is long enough to necessitate re-supplies. There are a number of choices and situations to consider. One step popular among long distance hikers is de-hydrating meals, which eliminates critical weight by lowering the food’s water content. Others decide that quality of food is less important than quantity of calories and they dart through the grocery store picking up candy bars and packets of ramen. It’s not that either of these options demands excessive planning, it’s the addressing these questions of where weight can be cut that takes more time.
Are You Willing to Spend Some Money?
Lightweight hiking is not intrinsically expensive, but there are some limitations to lessening pack weight if all of your gear is traditional. Backpacks are a good example. Standard packs (~60L) weigh around 4.5 pounds, where an ultralight pack of the same volume weighs 1.5 pounds. Losing 3 pounds of pack weight by cutting gear is harder than buying a pack designed for lightweight use. Luckily, the cost doesn’t have to break the bank. Companies GoLite sell ultralight packs that cost less than traditional packs. Sleeping bags, on the other hand, are an expensive item that generally sheds weight as it gains cost, especially if you make the switch from synthetic to down. Again, these aren’t necessary purchases but they’re some of the lowest hanging fruit when cutting down on weight. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to buy new gear?
Does Backpacking Scare You?
We’ve all seen photos of hikers struggling under the load of a gigantic pack; some of us have even carried these over-sized loads. Nothing shatters the romantic image of traveling in the mountains faster than a painfully large pack. If you’ve shunned the idea of backpacking simply in fear of backpacks, perhaps lightweight would be a good option for you. Imagine sauntering down the trail with a mere 15 pounds on your back. With lightweight backpacking, this could be your reality.
What Are you Waiting For?
If you still think lightweight backpacking is the right option for you, there are innumerable resources that will help you make the transition. Check out online forums like Backpackinglight,or go to your library and search for “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips”. In addition to finding a community of like-minded hikers, you’ll get useful tips on how to build your own gear, where to buy inexpensive tarps, and how to purify water without carrying a filter.