Lightweight Thoughts

campsetup.jpgWhen I first started hiking, it was as a scout and a kid many, many years ago. Like most of us from that era, my gear list consisted of a pup tent, department store sleeping bag, army canteen & cook set and whatever else I thought would be neat to have along. When I briefly tried to take up hiking again in my early 20s, it was pretty much an embarrassment. I went out and bought the largest capacity external frame expedition pack I could lay my hand on and proceeded to fill it with every imaginable piece of gear. It must have weighed in around 50-60lbs.

This isn’t an uncommon story. I hear it told over and over again from hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. My most recently outdoors incarnation is closer to 30-35lbs and is considered quite luxurious by the lightweight community (some might go so far as to call it extravagant, grin); things like a full length pad, spacious tent, a stove capable of trail cooking and reliable/robust water filter are all important to me.

While I’m not interested in the super ultralight scene, I do think there is still significant room for optimization in my load. So I thought it might be best to start with a new mission statement for rebuilding my backpacking “build” or “spec”. So what is important to me?

  • I prefer bug and weather proof shelter systems. I’m not the “chew mosquitoes, sleep in pine straw and dry out later” sort.
  • I like to actually cook things and have some culinary flexibility while backpacking. Simply “boil and hydrate” or no-cook dining doesn’t cut it for me.
  • I despise chemical water purification; even the most praised varieties of this method fail to meet my standards for taste and speed (I’m look at your Miox).
  • I do like backpacking luxuries, particularly gadgets; GPS for recording the trip (more so than navigation), digital camera for pictures, iPod for occasional musical interlude, pad & paper for thoughts and maybe a nature guide for reference.
  • I consider not including food & water in your back weight to be “cheating”. If you’re going to carry it, weigh it.
  • I like being “in the field”. I don’t like popping on and off trail for resupply unless we are talking about a very long distance hike (AT, PCT, etc).
  • I don’t consider a bottle of ibuprofen and a multi-pack of bandages to be a first aid kit.
  • Hygiene counts. I wash, shave and maintain a basic level of cleanliness on my outings. I don’t need a solar shower and portable jacuzzi but the “gone feral” thing does nothing for me.
  • Durability and Price is important to me in gear. I know full well that one can spend thousands of dollars on extremely fragile, bleeding-edge gear with a lifespan of one season or less, but this isn’t an option for me. I am perfectly willing to tack on a few more ounces for durability and cost savings.
  • Weekends are generally all that is available to me for backpacking trips, including travel time.
  • I’m not an adventure trail racer sort. I’m horrified of the thought of jogging through the woods. I’m there for the journey, not the destination. However, I do prefer long hikes and lots of miles.

After all those considerations, I’d like my first draft hiking load to hit 25lbs or less for a full weekend’s hike. Obviously weather, climate and other considerations can greatly affect what you should carry, but let’s assume south eastern United States, surf to summit settings in all but the worst weather (snow storm and “monsoon”).

I’ve broken down the areas of gear consideration into a few large lumps and will be addressing my thoughts and designs on each of them as time allows.

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4 Responses

  1. implementor says:

    I’ll take a shot:

    Shelter System – truthfully, I think you’ve got the best for your needs. Your current system is lightweight, robust, doesn’t require outside poles (which saves weight) and is probably as light as it can be for being as functional and durable as it is. I don’t think that you can really shave off much if any weight without making compromises you don’t want to make (and that I wouldn’t recommend making).

    Clothing – Clothing is a really personal thing, what works for me may not work for you, because only you know what keeps you comfortable. If you’re using synthetics and staying away from cotton already, then you’re pretty much there. Remember, though, that rain gear and the clothing that keeps you warm can save your life, and it’s generally colder at higher altitudes.

    Pack – I really like the Granite Gear packs, when my current one wears out, I’ll most likely be getting another one from the same company. If your current pack is wearing out, you might want to give them a look. The main thing is to try out a number of packs under a load, because one pack might be more comfortable with a higher weight load than another, which would mean that you wouldn’t have to focus as much on weight savings to be more comfortable.

    Sleep System – I use the same bag you do, and it works great for me. The only real weight savings that I can see being able to be obtained would be from going to a down bag, which has some advantages (lighter weight, can be packed down to nothing without any difficulty) and disadvantages (not hypoallergenic, near useless if wet, take a long time to dry), but with anything, you weigh the possibles and make your choice. I still use a synthetic bag mainly because if things really take a dump when I’m out there, and everything gets wet, I’m still able to stay warm.

    Cooking – I think the point is to enjoy yourself when you’re out there, and if more elaborate cooking that requires a bit more in terms of a cooking setup enhances your enjoyment, then I think it’s worth it. As long as you realize what you do use and what you don’t use, and don’t carry things you don’t use, you’re doing what you can to save weight.

    Water – I think the Katadyn Hiker is the best water filtration unit out there, and it’s pretty light weight. I wouldn’t go with less unless you want to do chemical treatment, which you’ve stated that you don’t.

    First Aid – This, I think, is an area that you might be able to improve. My first aid kit has evolved from basically a “boo-boo and band-aids” kit into a more “traumatic injury” kit. I think that if you’re going out away from civilization, your first-aid kit should include a one-hand tourniquet, a compression bandage like an Israeli bandage or H-bandage, some gauze, a hands-free light source, scissors or a knife, duct tape, some standard medications (immodium, benadryl, pain-reliever/fever reducer, and any prescription medication that you take), and your basic band-aids, antibiotic cream, and the like (I also keep Quik-Clot in mine as well). This way, you stand a much better chance of being able to deal with a more catastrophic injury in the field long enough to get medical treatment, especially those that involve a lot of blood loss. Plus, a kit like this wouldn’t take up much more room than your current first-aid kit.

    Hygiene – well, that’s all you :).

    Luxuries and Miscellanea – again, it comes down to what enhances your experience outdoors. I do recommend not bringing things (except for your first aid kit and rain gear) that you consistently don’t use when you’re out there, because you probably don’t need them.

  2. Mystech says:

    Hey, Implementor thanks for the detailed thoughts. Sorry it took me so long to get your comment up, it somehow got caught in the spam filter and I didn’t see it in there till now. If you have a login at Cafe Arcane, that should get you around that problem in the future.

    I’m going to list my current load along with the insights I’ve had since mulling the whole thing over very soon. You’ve given me some more to think about too, so I’ll be incorporating those thoughts as well.

  3. implementor says:

    Cool, I’ll do that (get a login at Cafe Arcane). I thought my browser had eaten it, and was going to repost it tomorrow :). Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  4. Mystech says:

    Took your advice, Implementor and looked at the Granite Gear line of packs for that section of the project. I really like the Virga and Wisp at a glance. What are you using?

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