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Lighter Backpacking - Getting Started


Note: This is chapter two from my book "Ultralight Backpacking Secrets," which is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.

Are you ready for light backpacking? If you typically backpack with forty pounds or more on your back, try the following experiment. Put ten or fifteen pounds into your pack and walk around a little. Does it feel better than carrying a heavy backpack? If so, perhaps you are ready to become an ultralight backpacker.

Sometimes people think that cutting their pack weight is just about lightening the gear. That's a good start. In fact, here are three steps to get started:

Step One: Buy a light pack.

Step Two: Buy a light shelter.

Step Three: Buy a light sleeping bag.

Cutting the weight of the "big three" backpacking necessities is the surest way to reduce that weight. My first 13-ounce backpack replaced an 88-ounce one. I had a 72-ounce tent before buying a 18-ounce tarp shelter. I thought my 52-ounce sleeping bag was light until I got my warmer 17-ounce down bag.

Total weight savings? The big three used to add up to over 13 pounds. Now they total 3 pounds. You can spend all day shaving the handles of toothbrushes and cutting pencils in half, and you'll never get a reduction in pack weight of ten pounds. Start with the "big three." There will be more on these three in other chapters.

A lighter pack, bag, and shelter, is just a beginning, though. The most important thing you can do to lighten the load is to follow rule number one: Consider each item carefully. Ask and answer the following questions:

Do you really need to bring it?

What would happen if you didn't bring it?

Is the value it adds to the trip worth the weight?

Can it be used for more than one function (ex: tarp and rain poncho)?

What lighter alternative can you bring?

Better to be ruthless the first time you make your packing list. Then, once you've really cut down your weight, you can always add back one or two luxuries. In this way, you'll identify what really is important to you on a backpacking trip - and leave the excess toys home.

How to Become an Ultralight Backpacker

Step 1: Read and learn.

Step 2: Consider what you truly need and make a new packing list.

Step 3: Buy lighter backpacking gear and clothing.

Step 4: Condition your body.

Step 5: Practice using your light backpacking gear and knowledge.

Step 6: Find better ways as you learn what works for you.

Lighter Backpacking Using Money

Money is the easiest way to reduce weight. There is some incredible stuff out there. Don't have much money? There are many options. For example, a decent rain jackets cost a sixth of the great ones, and weighs almost the same. Fortunately, money is not the only route to a lighter pack weight.

Lighter Backpacking Using Knowledge

With the right knowledge, you can stay dry with a tarp instead of a tent. You can safely carry only a pint of water by filling the bottle at every stream - if you know the area. You can eat a belly full of berries instead of carrying fruit into the wilderness. Knowledge lets you backpack with less weight and more safely.

Key Points

1. You'll save the most weight on the "big three" (backpack, shelter, sleeping bag).

2. Carefully considering each item packed is the surest way to cut weight.

3. Money well-spent is the easiest way to reduce pack weight.

4. Knowledge can also be used to reduce pack weight.

Backpacking and Wilderness Survival Quick Tips

Keep fires small and you'll spend less time collecting firewood. Just get closer for warmth. If you are also using the fire for possible signaling in an emergency, you can still keep it small, but keep a pile of brushy branches nearby to add if a plane goes by.

Digestion is more difficult at high altitude. This seems to be especially true for fats and proteins. If you are headed above 12,000 feet, you may want to save your crackers and other simple carbohydrates for snacking on top of that mountain.

In hot weather, soak your hat in every stream or water source you pass. A wet hat is like having a little air conditioner on your head. A wet bandana around your neck helps too.


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