Lightening up your backpacking load

If your anything like me, when you go to the woods you really want to try to cover every base and make sure that you have everything you need and at the same time, want to carry as little weight as possible. My mind is always racing with the what-ifs and if I let myself, my pack just keeps getting heavier and heavier with all sorts of gear that never gets touched. After a little backpacking experience and a whole lot of Army experience packing for field exercises and deployments, what I have discovered is most of the time you actually NEED a lot less than you think. That leads us to the title of this post, most all of us could use a good honest pack shakedown getting rid of excess weight that just plain is not needed. Now of course everyone is different and my load out might be completely different from yours and what I think is absolutely essential may not be for anyone else. But looking at other's gear lists is a great way to get ideas about how to lighten your load and what others pack and use in the back country.

 A great place to start is with your pack itself. It is truly surprising how much some empty packs weigh. The pack on the left is an Army issue Molle II pack with straps but no accessory pouches and completely empty. As you can see just the pack weighs 8.8 pounds. Now I understand that this is a combat pack that is designed to carry very heavy loads and withstand the rigors of combat so this is an extreme example. However I have heard people recommend this pack for backpacking.
The pack on the right is the pack that I am currently carrying, it is an Osprey Exos 58 liter pack. In the picture the pack is loaded with everything I normally take backpacking besides water, fuel and food and is just a few pounds heavier than the empty Army pack. As I said this is an extreme example but if you are carrying an older pack that has seen better days then just a pack upgrade may cut pounds off what your carrying.

The next thing and one that was hard for me to turn loose of, was a ton of extra clothing. No one wants to go into the woods and be wet, cold and miserable. At home most people have drawers and closets of extra clothing and can change shirts, socks and underwear on a whim. When your home is on your back you just don't have that luxury, as a result, it is very important to carry the right items. You should maybe put more thought into your clothing than any other section of your backpacking gear. First and foremost synthetics or wool is king and cotton is miserable! Whether it is the middle of the summer or freezing cold, what you are looking for is something that is moisture wicking and quick drying. Clothing that does not absorb water and cause excessive chaffing is vital. There are tons of options even from your local Walmart, one of my favorite lightweight shirts is a Dickies brand breathable, lightweight shirt that costs about $11. How much spare clothing do you need on an average backpacking trip? Really a spare pair of socks is about it most of the time. My normal spare clothing besides what I am wearing, 1 pair of socks, 1 pair of underwear, 1 t-shirt and one lightweight pair of running shorts and a lightweight windbreaker. Now of course according to weather it changes and I will add a complete set of fleece long johns for cold weather but basically that is it.

One early spring trip a few years ago an unexpected cold front dropped the night time temps down into the 30s. On the morning after that front came through, I got up to stand next to the fire and told the guys that if the temperature dropped another 2 degrees I was leaving. I literally had on every piece of clothing I had. Which brings me to another point, sometimes you just have to embrace the suck,  but with careful selection of the few things you do carry you may be surprised at just how comfortable you can be.
I have talked a lot in other posts about my cooking gear, bedding and shelter put plan on doing a complete gear list in the near future as well as a post on my favorite backpacking foods. But to wind things up, I guess the most important thing that you can do when it comes to what gear to carry is to realistically look at what you are carrying and how often you use that item or can you substitute it for something lighter. If the answer is that you hardly ever use it, then I would get rid of it. As far as replacing it with lighter gear, that can get really expensive but with some careful research and shopping you may be surprised the bargains that can be found for lightweight gear. As always, if I left anything out or you have any questions hit me up in the comments. See you on the creek, Chris


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