Cutting Pack Weight

When shopping for gear, it’s easy to get sucked into buying cool, high-tech stuff that seems like it will be very necessary.  However, before you make any purchases, ask yourself, “Will I absolutely need this?”  If you’re not going to use something everyday, then don’t bother buying it.

Start out with your three basic pieces of gear: pack, sleeping bag, and shelter.  Build on from there.  Put some serious consideration into getting a low base weight.  “Base weight” is what your pack weighs without food or water.  Aim for a base weight of 20 pounds, and you’ll be thanking yourself later.  Some hikers follow “ultra-light” principles and carry 10 pounds or less.

I guarentee that once you’re on the trail carrying your pack up and down mountains, you’re going be thinking of what items you can send home.  If your pack weight is hurting your back, you are not going to have a pleasent hike.

Here are some tips for cutting pack weight:

  • Consider using a hammock set up, instead of a tent.  You’ll save weight if you don’t have tent poles to carry.
  • Or just bring a tarp for shelter.
  • Switch to a summer sleeping bag for the warmer months.
  • Cut off tags, extra straps, and cut your toothbrush handle off.  The ounces add up.
  • Use Powerade bottles or water resevoirs.  Nalgenes and metal water bottles are heavier than necessary.
  • Don’t be that person that brings a bear rope capable of holding your body weight.  A thin, 30 foot long rope will do.
  • Or don’t even bring a bear rope.  Most hikers stop hanging their food bags after a month or so.
  • Don’t bring a water treatment system like Steripen or a filter.  Just bring some bleach tablets.  Or even better, don’t treat at all.
  • Don’t bring books to read.  You’ll probably fall asleep as soon as you finish dinner anyway.
  • Let your SmartPhone double as your camera.
  • Try OB tampons.  There’s no applicator.
  • Don’t bring underwear.  They’re not going to stay clean anyway.
  • Keep the clothes simple: tshirt, long-sleeve shirt, rain jacket, shorts, pants, socks, sports bra.  You might need a warmer jacket for cold weather months, as well.
  • Mail home your cold weather gear, when the summer months roll in.
  • You don’t need a gun or a GPS.  Trust me.
  • Cut your guidebook into sections, and mail ahead the parts you don’t need yet.
  • Try using an alcohol stove made from a tuna can.  Or don’t bring a stove and just cook on fires.
  • Don’t bring rain pants.  They just trap in sweat and you get wet anyway.
  • Instead of bringing thick, bulky hiking pants; bring yoga pants or running pants.  They’re more comfortable and cuter.
  • Don’t bother bringing a solar charger.  The leaves on the trees block the sun and they don’t work very well.
  • Many sources urge using liner socks under thick wool socks to reduce blisters.  Well, your feet swell up when you hike so the extra pair of socks can actually cause blisters.  I like to wear a pair of thin, wool socks so my feet have plenty of room.
  • Try wearing a hiking dress.  Then you don’t have to bring shorts and a tee.  And you can easily layer yoga pants underneath on cold days.
  • Limit yourself to one luxery item: like a journal.
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15 thoughts on “Cutting Pack Weight

      • I’ve been using it for a few months and I’m sorry to say it hasn’t worked very well. It doesn’t seal properly so it leaks (even if it’s nowhere near full)… and it kind of hurts to put in. I wanted to like it so badly!

      • That’s a bummer. I guess they do say it’s not for everybody. Have you read the most recent article about dealing with your period on the trail? You could give the sea sponge a try!

    • I’m pro Diva Cup and use it in my everyday life as well. I find it’s more comfortable, and tampons are like having a stick up my ass, which is NOT the feeling I want to be having climbing a mountain.

  1. I use the diva cup and it only leaks occasionally. Most of the time it fits well (it stays through suction, i think so it just takes some adjusting…) But i plan on using it while hiking this spring/ summer.

  2. I’ve loved reading your blog getting ready for my thru hike! Since you recommend NOT bringing rain pants, can you describe what (if anything) you used instead? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Alex, I didn’t see much point in rain pants. They just make you sweaty and you get wet anyway. I would just hike in shorts on warm rainy days and yoga pants on chilly rainy days. Just be sure to keep something dry to wear while sleeping!

  3. Hey I’m just another person getting ready for my own thru hike and I’m curious about the “not treating the water” part. I’ve always used tablets and I’ve considered buying a filter, so I was wondering is it actually safe to not treat the water? Sorry if this sounds overly critical but the whole “never drink untreated water” mantra has been shoved down my throat and I’m genuinely curious.

    • I didn’t treat my water the entire way, and I was fine. Most hikers’ main concern is getting giardia. However, most of the popular water treatment methods, like filters and chemicals, aren’t completely effective is killing the virus. The UV lights are pretty good, but they also break easily and are expensive. Boiling water is the best way to kill everything in the water, but it’s not very practical.
      Basically, water treatments aren’t really as effective as most people think they are.

      • Yeah, I did bring a bottle of Potable Aqua (only costs a few dollars) just in case I found a questionable water source that I had to drink out of, but I hardly ever used it. You can pick and choose what sources you drink out of. Like don’t drink from sources near roads or cow pastures.

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