When looking into new equipment for your gear inventory, it’s hard to miss the ever popular backpacking craze of today, which is going as light as possible. Whether that is leaving the unnecessary stuff at home or upgrading your essentials to lighter and higher tech gear, people are gravitating toward its message: “I want to have a good time out in the wild, but I don’t want to break my back to do it.”
The rationale behind hiking light is the idea that having less on your back will allow you to travel further, faster, and without developing injury. This doesn’t mean that you have to go harder or longer every day, but it’s worth mentioning that the same individual that struggles with heavy pack on a 15 mile day could feel a lot less fatigue on that same 15 miles with a lighter load. Less weight means less impact on the joints, ligaments, and accessory muscles and more comfort for you at the end of the day. This allows a hiker to continue to move from scenic camp to scenic camp every day without compounding injuries and strains on top of one another, making this nomadic style of hiking very popular in the Thru-Hiker community. For the sake of longevity in my backpacking career, I endorse most aspects of the lighter, faster, further mentality, though I do reserve much respect and appreciation that it is NOT for everyone. But if you are interested in certain lightweight ideas, and don’t know where to start, feel free to read on. Maybe I can point you in the right direction on how to get your gear lighter, rather than the ideology behind why you should.
The first step in change toward going light always starts with education on what gear is even out there. Find out what areas or your setup you want to replace, upgrade, or leave at home. Then ask yourself these questions: What are these new, high tech items even made from? What models and makes are dependable? And what ultimately fits your needs and hiking style?
Whether you’re cruising YouTube channels of outdoor enthusiasts, shopping at an outlet store, or meeting new people out on the trail, its hard to go far without hearing about a particular piece of gears worth in weight. This is always something to pay attention to when shopping around for upgrades. Gear reviews from multiple sources can prove invaluable when looking into getting something new. If not for a general knowledge about the contents of any given product, then for the ability to distinguish between brands, makes, and models that best suit your needs. For me, I go light. I find out what item I would like to replace, then I research a products specifications (materials, weight, dimensions), check out product reviews, pricing, and compare it with the competition. Familiarize yourself with what is out there so you can avoid making an impulse buy that eventually results in buyer’s remorse. For example, when looking into the vast and ever expanding world of backpacking stoves, it pays to break down contesting products into categories that define measurable attributes.
What kind of fuel does it burn? How fast can it get 0.5 L of water to a boil? How heavy is it? How durable is it? How much does it cost? Is it multifunctional? Then weigh the pros and cons and find out which stove is right for you. There is a lot of really neat, tricked out, and high tech gear out there with a lot of shiny lights, bells, and whistles, so it is good to know what kind of hiker you are trying to become and stay true to that goal. The way to adequately decide on the gear that would be the lightest, most durable, and the most dependable for you is to research, research, research. My go-to source of information that encompasses all things that are related to gear mechanics, durability, and specifications would be from Andrew Skurka’s book “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide.” This book will give you an honest opinion on all the gear that is out there, break it down to its base materials, and give testimonial and comparison to each difference in product style and use.
Before you go trudging out into the world and buying some awesome pieces of gear, it is very important to look at what you have in your pack already. Look at each item in your pack and ask “why does this not work for me?” or “how could I make this better?” A lot of ways to save space in the pack is to either leave the ‘just in case’ items at home, or to invest in some multifuncional gear. The oldest and best example of this kind of trade off would be the Swiss Army Knife vs. a knife, a screwdriver, and a pair of scissors. It still weighs a few ounces that some minimalists won’t spend, but a Swiss Army Knife is compact, multifunctional, and adds safety to your trek. There are multifunctional options for larger pieces of gear as well, but not as commonly accepted by everyone as the Swiss Army example. So check out your gear and make a list of what you need and what would be the most convenient versions of those items to purchase.
Next is knowing which items would make the biggest difference in weight and space savings if replaced. These items are commonly known as the ‘Big 3.’ The Big 3 consists of your Sleeping Bag, Shelter, and Backpack, and are an important topic of conversation for gear-tech enthusiasts. Everyone wants to save as much weight as possible, but they all want to be comfortable. This could mean that instead of a down mummy sleeping bag, you have a down quilt, or instead of a double-wall, freestanding, 2 person tent, you bring a tarp and a bivy for shelter.
Rarely do you see a person’s Big 3 be completely ultralight because of a very difficult equation to consider: protection from the elements, adaptability to emergencies, cost, and comfort. Often, there will be at least one form of “compensation” or a “preference item” in most lightweight hikers Big 3. Will you want a frameless 55 L backpack? Can you comfortably fit your gear into a pack that light and that small? This is where your researching ability comes in. Jot down some questions or ideas that you my have about gear upgrades, and head into REI. Or cruise some highly acclaimed hikers/backpackers that often do gear reviews and see if they answer your questions about that particular product (see links in next paragraph).
So start your search for lightweight outdoor equipment either in a reputable shop like REI or Backcountry Gear, or go online. Make sure to focus primarily on the Big 3 first. This is where you you can save the most by changing out the least amount of items. Keep a lookout for volume saving or multifunctional products. Knowing where you stand in what comforts you can let go, and what you can’t hike without is completely up to you, so have fun with it. Then you can move to the smaller things like sleeping pad, cook set, stove/fuel, and clothing. A good resource for comparison of all sorts of products can be found on Outdoor Gear Lab. For YouTube personalities, some of my go-to pro hikers and reviewers are Joe Brewer, Will Wood, and Dave Collins. Its always a good idea to buy from a company that has a good return policy as well, just because, sometimes, reading about it doesn’t always do the product justice. Test it out, and if it doesn’t meet your qualifications, take it back. As most people already know, REI is notorious for its amazing return policy.
Lightening up the pack can be a difficult task, and it took me years to save up enough money to buy each piece of gear that I still use today. Of course I am always looking to upgrade my equipment, due to desire or wear and tear, but the goal is always the same, to be able to go long distances each day, staying comfortable, and staying safe. I encourage you to do the same. Just make sure you’re having fun and enjoying the scenes around you as well!