I don't know anyone who prefers a heavy pack. That said, I've never considered myself an ultralight backpacker.
Though it wasn’t until I started carrying heavy camera gear -- adding up to 12 pounds of equipment -- that I realized I needed to change my packing habits if I wanted to go farther, faster, and be more comfortable backpacking in the Wilderness. Here are some tips I use to help me lighten my pack:
1. Buy a scale
Seriously. Buy a scale that measures in grams or ounces, and record the weight of each packed item on a spreadsheet. You’ll be surprised at what your gear weighs, and when you’re considering packing that extra item you think you need, knowing what it weighs may make you reconsider.
2. Go with a group
This is typically how I backpack. We go with friends or family members, and share tents, cooking gear and create a menu together so that everyone can split the weight.
3. Plan your meals
Food weight always adds up fast for me, especially if I'm going with a group and sharing meals. The biggest mistake I tend to make is not planning how much, or what we'll be eating. I've come home with untouched food that I thought would get eaten, but kist ends up being weight in my bag. Spend extra time planning your meals and food choices thoughtfully.
4. Pull double duty
Think of items that can serve multiple purposes. Do you really need to bring a towel for lake swimming? I prefer to leave it at home and use one a spare t shirt to dry off instead. Can you use a tent stake instead of packing a shit shovel? You get the idea...
5. Live "naturally"
If you can deal with a little "natural cologne", you can pack minimal clothing and be quite comfortable for summer backpacking trips in the mountains. Below is a list of all that I bring for a multi-night trip. My clothing also doubles as protective layers for things like lenses that require a little extra protection.
- 1 pair of hiking pants
- 1 tech hiking shirt
- 1 MS thermal henley
- 1 fleece shirt (1 additional layer for colder, high altitude treks)
- 1 pair long underwear
- 2 pairs underwear
- 2 pairs MS merino camp socks and liners
- MS performance hoodie as a mid-layer
- MS lightweight packable wind jacket
- 1 MS beanie, and 1 MS trucker hat
- 1 lightweight pair of glove liners
6. Leave the cases at home
All your gear probably comes in some form of a case or protective sheath. Those things serve no purpose and just add up in weight. They're great for storing your gear when not in use, but don’t do any good out on the trail. Wrap things that need to be protected in your clothing or put them in secure pockets on your pack.
7. Question everything
Lastly, question everything you bring. Does it serve a purpose and bring value? If you really need it, can get creative and make it lighter? Do you really need to bring that 6-pack of beer? (Ok... fine line here, but consider whiskey for its lighter buzz-to-weight ratio.)
If you want to go more in depth, check out the book, Ultralight Backpackin' Tips, for more great info. There are some great tips that will help lighten your pack so you can have a more enjoyable experience out in the backcountry, and take some killer photos.
8. Get new stuff
Usually a last resort, but when your sleeping bag is more duct tape than nylon, or when you're trying to haul a cast iron pan 15 miles into the wilderness, it might be time to upgrade. Equipment has come a long way in the last decade, and innovative brands are now making gear stronger, and lighter. Keep in mind that lighter gear in the outdoor industry is typically more expensive, so expect to shell out more money if this is your go-to packing strategy.
Pro Tip: Lightweight gear won't serve its purpose if you're not careful about watching your overall pack weight. Don't use the saved weight as an excuse to pack unnecessary items.