Sunday, March 2

Backpack - Cut the weight

At this time of year with the approach of warmer weather and the profusion of gear adverts/outdoor shows that a young man's fancy turns towards the acquisition of that shiny new gear. And for us backpackers thoughts in particular as to how to cut that all important pack weight.

Each year I look over the items I carry alongside the purpose and comfort for which they are intended. I'd love to go ultralight, but recognise I like my comfort too much. Plus there's a need to include the reality of travel logistics alongside any walking trip. As a result my approach has become one of compromise.

But like many of us there's always something on my "Must have list". But the real test is the "Do I need it". Well there is the cost to consider after all.

So here's some thoughts on how to approach cutting that weight based on past experiment and future requirements.

1. Weigh the total pack before you go and on your return

Back at home look at each item, and if it wasn't used decide if it really is necessary for a future trip. Then leave it out next time.

2. Cut corners.

A couple of years I've ditched the fleece jacket, replacing it with a Montain Featherlite windshirt worn over my fleece jumper, which is part of my usual clothing anyway. What can you drop out or use to double up on what it does for your need?

3.What's the biggest weight elements in your kit?

Think of those big weight items. Tent; Sleeping bag; Cooking gear; But what about the rucksack itself? My no-name 60 litre pack weighs just under 2kg; Many times I've lined up a replacement, but when I compare the cost to the potential weight saving and carry capacity I stick with what I have. Well for the present at least.

4. What's the biggest volume elements in your kit?

Much of your pack will be air. That is gaps in and in between various bits of kit. There's a number of tricks to reducing this such as packing gear within other gear (cooker inside cooking pot) or using drysacks to force some of that unwanted air out. Some are specifically designed with this in mind. Reduce the volume and you reduce the pack size, in turn cutting back on overall weight.

5. Is the effort worth it?

Shaving 50% off a 2kg weight is good, especially if its a one-off cost with long term pay pack, as in a tent. Shaving grams off here and there, at any substantial cost, is probably counter productive.

6. You?
There's various formula advising the maximum load an individual should carry based on body height and build. Similar details explore the loading impact on feet based on body weight. The simple answer is if you want to carry heavier loads build up the body muscles with regular training (or grow a few inches taller)

But how about cutting down your body weight, and reducing the energy required just to move yourself along? Why shave 2kg off you pack weight whilst still carrying that extra 5kg body weight around with you? The winter months are drawing to a close, so now is the time to sort out that 'energy store' you may have built up during the hibernation months. It'll only slow you down, and require expenditure of excess energy better spent on travelling further and faster.

7. Comfort versus Cost

Most of us use gear that needs to meet a variety of use both out on the hills and back at home. Whilst it's great if you can specialise, bear this in mind next time you look for that replacement, and consider the frequency of use. 20 days of backpacking a year compared to 100+ days walking locally helps balance any kit specialisation when it comes to laying out £100-£200 for the next waterproof.

8. Experiment and Learn
These days there is plenty of solid advice readily available based on others experience (and misfortune) Such sources as Outdoor Magic and the walking magazines offer a variety of opinions. Search these out, but beware the promotion of all those shiny new ideas. Advertising is meant to sell product, not necessarily be a recommendation of suitability for your particular requirement. Consider old product lines. They may not be quite the latest cutting edge model now, but a couple of years ago they were top of their range. How much has really changed in what they are intended to do for you. And the difference in cost can be quite substantial giving cheap access to quality kit.

There's some further thoughts in one of my past articles Lighten That Load.

That's it for now, I'm off to look for a new backpacking waterproof. One that keeps me dry, weighs less than my present one, and packs smaller. But also something that will keep my bum dry all year round without having to carry waterproof trousers as well.


You can get the best waterproof bags from OverBoard. They do a brilliant range of waterproof gear including a backpack.
cheers for the tip
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