An Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking

Backpacking
An Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking

If you’ve ever been backpacking, you’ve probably heard people boast that their pack weighs 50 or 60 lbs. I used to be impressed by that, but no longer. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into lightweight backpacking, reducing my pack weight to a comfortable 20 pounds for a multi-day trip, including all of my food.

The difference between carrying a heavily laden backpack and a lighter weight one is huge. You can hike faster, go farther, see more, and reduce your chances of injury by carrying less weight. You’re also far more likely to go on backpacking trips, instead of dreading them, because they become far more enjoyable.

So what’s the secret of becoming a lightweight backpacker?

First off, you should buy a digital postage scale and weigh everything you take backpacking today. If your sleeping bag, backpack or tent weigh more than 3 lbs each, you’ll probably want to replace them with lighter weight alternatives. Down sleeping bags are much lighter weight than synthetic ones, if you shop around you can find a backpack that weighs under 3 lbs, and it’s easy to find tents, hammocks, or tarps that also weigh less than 3 lbs.

Next, take note of the gear and clothing you take on your next backpacking trip and what you actually use. If you are bring gear along, just in case you need it, chances are good that you can leave it behind on your next trip out. A good example of this is spare clothing. If you can’t wear all of the clothes you bring at once, then you should leave them at home. Use common sense here, and dress in layers, but you’d be surprised at how many hikers bring extra clothes on trips that they never use.

The last trick for reducing the weight of your pack is to use your gear for multiple purposes. For example, I use my hiking poles instead of tent poles when I pitch a tent or tarp. I also have a backpack that uses my foam sleeping pad as a framesheet, instead of an internal frame. These are two good examples of ways to use things that you already carry to reduce the weight of your pack.

If you’d like to learn more about lightweight backpacking, I’ll be giving a talk about it and a gear demonstration at the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston on Tuesday, May 24th. For more information: http://www.hbbostonamc.org/index.php/Boston-Chapter-Slideshow-Series/Intro-to-Lightweight-Ultralight-Backpacking-Potluck-Talk-Gear-Demo.html

Philip Werner


Philip Werner is a well-known lightweight backpacker and author of the highly acclaimed backpacking and hiking blog SectionHiker.com. When he’s not section hiking the Appalachian Trail, he spends most of his time roaming the White Mountains and writing about backpacking, hiking, camping, and mountaineering.

2 Comments

  1. April 1, 2011, 12:04 pm

    Lee – No, down sleeping bags are substantially lighter than synthetic at the same temperature ratings and far more compressible, which means that you can usually use a smaller lighter backpack as well. If you are carrying 50 lbs now, you will be amazed at what a difference carrying a lighter pack can make.It’s a totally different experience.

  2. April 1, 2011, 11:51 am

    I’d always heard that down was HEAVIER than synthetic…??? This is a very pertinent post, as I’m hoping to get into light weight packing this year. I usually average the lower 50s in my pack weight, my knees are telling me its time to change that…and I’m only 23!

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