Monday, August 14

Lighten That Load

To quote the Beatles:
"Boy, you're going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time...."

One of the main ways to increase your pleasure of travelling outdoors is obvious - lighten that pack.

You may not always be aware of the excess weight, unless during the day you find your shoulder straps becoming uncomfortable, possibly even cutting into your shoulders.

But compare the distance you can cover packless, or with a day sack. How often do you stop for that breather?

So losing the unnecessary weight is the quickest way to increase your distance, or at least travel where you intend more comfortably.

Some US websites seem to take the shaving off of those remaining ounces to the extreme. I travel with a backpack, and aim to keep it light. For me there are certain drawbacks to the ultralight approach, least of all that most of the fun seems to have gone out with all those lovely luxuries left at home. A pack of 15lb sounds glorious, but unless the weather is good, and the way clear I feel there are certain limitations using this for a long-term stay out over rough high ground in the UK

So where to start?

Take a leaf out of the ultralighter's approach (I 'm never too proud to learn here) it's really just a state of mind.

The essentials - are they really that essential? One pair of spare clothes is enough for me, some carry less, but I can't see the point of more - who's going to be looking at your garb out on the hills? Something dry to change into is is my preference. If you want to forget the spare set, get ready for early nights if you camp wet - the sleeping bag is your only dry and warm fallback.

The luxuries, can you bear, quite literally, the carry weight they will require? If so - go ahead.

So how much does your pack really weigh?

Well I bet 75% of people reading this don't really know the answer to that one. Until recently I was the same but a few trips ago I got to wondering.... so I bought a cheap set of 15-40 lb range scales from a local fishing shop to weigh individual pieces of kit; But how about using the bathroom scales to weigh yourself with pack on/off to work out the difference. A bit fiddly but possible.
More than 40lb for a 3 day trip? Time to shed some weight.
More than 30lb? Still room for improvement.

The common advice given is after each trip take apart your pack, look at each item, and if it wasn't used turf it out before you go next time. Some things, for example first-aid kit, are the exception, but it's amazing how often something's carried but not utilised. Especially the more obvious things like heavy digital cameras & binoculars. If you think that they are necessary - next time check to see if you really use them. And make your choice.

Now think of the biggest weight elements in your kit. Most people opt for tent and sleeping bag. But one of the heaviest usually turns out to be the pack itself. Mine's a 8 year old 4.5 lb, 50/65 litre pack - no big namer, but has been out on a quite a few trips. Strong. Robust. But heavy compared to alternatives these days. Over the winter I plan to look for a lighter option - and probably save a couple of pounds weight. Or 4 days food to put it another way.

Tents. Well the Terra Nova Laser Competition has set a strong standard to beat weighing in at less than 1kg (2.2 lb) You may not want to be that competitive, but there's plenty of cheap options around the 3lb mark, and likely more suited to your mode of travel. I used to use a small 2 man tent, as I liked the free space around me. But looking at the overall weight, and comparing the space in the dedicated one man backpack tents, I realised my folly. After a year with a cheap alterntive (the Argos ProAction 2005 model - a classic. Beware the current offering - not the same at all) I'm now getting familiar with a Hilleberg Atko. Design is around 10 years old, I think, but its a well proven piece of kit, albeit a tad expensive.

Personally I thought the TN sacrificed robustness for weight saving, but take a look for yourself and form your own opinion. You can find something less exotic for less than £100 these days. Shop around at the end of the season when the summer outdoor items are often reduced, but try to read the on-line and magazine reviews so you understand what you are trying to buy & the use/conditions you want it for.

Sleeping bag. Well weight has never been a problem for me in this department. It's warmth and comfort I want. Rather a good night's sleep, and refreshed for the following day than lying awake most of the night cursing the weight saved. But the volume of the traditional mummy bag finally forced me to grab a titchy down sleeping bag at short notice. What a revelation. It fits in a side pocket - yes they are that small! Price less than £35, so again not going to break the bank.

Cooking gear. Take only what you need here. Those pan sets are great on a fixed camp site, when you've driven up to the pitch, but carrying that unnecessary load? I now use a
MSR Titanium mug which doubles as stove and mug, and when not in use I pop in the gas and mini burner unit. Space saved.

An alternative is
mytinmug - same sort of approach but slightly cheaper

Total cooking gear cost was less than £30 and once again it fits snugly in a side pocket with room to spare. It saves reserving the bottom of the pack for cooking gear as I've done in the distant past.

Well there are a few ideas to get you going.

Last bit of advice for today.

Get information. Read reviews. Work out your intended use. What do you feel comfortable paying? Finally - try to get your hands on the kit to see if it's what you can live with, or better still try to spot some one actually using the gear and ask their advice.

'So matey how much does you pack weigh?' might be your thoughts at this point.

These days I start out with around a 30lb pack, but having spent a one nighter on Dartmoor earlier this year, taking the bare essentials and weighing in at 23 lbs I know that I still want to shave the pounds off having saved around 5lb this year. And the gear I've bought easily has a life of around 10+ years.

The ounces? Well they're for when I've got the basics sorted. Or win the lottery.

Well that was easy wasn't it!

Next post - world peace in 15 minutes.

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Some good advise there, John :)

It's always the big 3 or 4 (if you include a sleeping pad) that is the heaviest.

My Karrimorr Cougar was 3 kg, now I use either a 460g G4 or 790g sixmoon comet pack.

My tent(s) are around the 2 kg (either a TN Solar 1 or Hilly Nallo 2).

I looked at the TN lasers but like you I thought the robustness was sacificed for weight saving.

I`ve two sleeping bags (one winter, one summer) the winter one is an old Rab and has kept my toasty warm down to -5 C but weighs in at 1.7kg. Like you say "I rather be warm" than save weight in that department.

In the Summer months I`m normally around the 20/23 lb and in winter at 27/30 lb.
20lb George - I've got some serious going to get there, but I'll keep trying and report on here how i get on
Ment to say that is without food & water.

When I`m on the South Downs or the South coast it`s easy to buy grub on the hoof.:)
Well I'll give you a couple of pounds for food, but like you my weights are pre water.

Still you've set me a challenge - I'll check those packs out as I'm getting more interested now the sales are starting up
great blog! can i ask, how does the argos tent compare space wise with the laser? i used a laser (regular not comp) for a mountain marathon recently and is was pretty good considering there was two of us in there (plus kit), but as it was borrowed, I'm thinking of getting one of the argos tents if the amount of space is similar
the old style Argos tent was definitely a 1 man affair!
I've not used a laser but seen enough pitched to say it has the bigger interior.

The Laser has it on weight, but the Argos on price - cheap enough to give it a go maybe....or take it back once you've given it a "clean" go at home? Ahem
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