We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”, but is that really true and is it at all applicable to lightweight backpacking? > Pack light, go fast.
By far the most common requests I get via email are to help lighten someone’s load (pack), which I secretly love doing. Usually they’re new to lightweight backpacking, are in the 60+lbs pack weight range and are stuck trying to trim things down. It’s easy to apply the basics principles of weighing all of your gear, reducing your “big three”, starting to pick multi-function gear, and taking less stuff. That’s usually how we get started, but for some people it seems that deciding what should stay in their pack and what can go is an almost impossible task.
Need vs. Want?
This got me thinking about how much gear you really need to carry for a successful backpacking trip? How easy is it to make the distinction between need vs. nice to have or just want? If you really knuckled down and evaluated every piece of gear that you carry, in your pack and on your person, how many items could be categorized as “nice to have” or “just in case”?
If you want to get totally zen about this you can apply to all areas of your day to day lifestyle. For example I like to pack light and travel fast when flying (example) and I’ve written many times about my minimalist approach to the things I carry every day – oops now I’m getting side tracked.
A Year of Living Without
One of the best blogs that I subscribed to is called Zen Habits and is written by Leo Babauta. If you’re not already familiar with it or subscribed, I highly recommend you go check it out. It has nothing to door with backpacking, but the information contained there is priceless and can be used in almost every situation.
I was inspired by one of Leo’s recent posts entitled “A Year of Living Without” in which he shares the outline of his experiment of go without one thing or habit for an entire month (July is coffee!) and then reflecting on whether or not he really needs that thing or habit. One thing a month for an entire year. Hmm… I wondered if I could apply that to backpacking? I think I could and maybe I even have a few times without knowing it. I gave up my cooking gear so that I could go backpacking without a stove.
I’ve gone on several trips where I didn’t take any electronic devices with me, not even a camera. That actually backfired on me because I was testing some new gear and didn’t have photos to share afterward. I’m sure there are other categories of backpacking gear some of us could slim down on or go without.
Eight Ways To Carry Less Backpacking Gear
So, here are eight easy ways that I can think of to help you carry less gear or possibly whole items that you could go without:
- Extra bundles of paracord: You’re most likely not going to need to lash several trees together to make a survoval shelter on your three-night backpacking trip. If it’s an emergency use your shoe laces or scavange some of your tent’s guylines
- Spare changes of clothing: You don’t need to carrry a full change of clean clothing for each day of your trip. Trust me, you don’t
- Multiple ways to start a fire: I get that you want to have a backup in case your other backup doesn’t work. Pick one way of starting fire that your comfortable with and which suits the type of environment your going to be in. Tip: a mini Bic lighter will last a very long time and may be all that you ever need
- Multiple knives for “redundancy”: I don’t think I need to flog this dead horse. Pick a blade that can do what you need of it and use it for everything
- Extra batteries: If your device is rechargeable, make sure it is fully charged the day before you are due to leave. If not put new batteries in it and make those do. Cut back on the number of photos that you take, post a few less status updates of pics to Instagram
- Multiple repair kits – one for each area of gear: Duct tape will patch almost anything, so will GearAid’s Tenacious tape. Take one small repair kit and hope for the best
- Rain covers for your pack: I’m always amazed at the price of custom made pack covers. Moreover by how many people use them. Put a good quality trash bag on the insode of your pack, stuff everthing in it and you’ll never have to worry, or stop hiking for rain ever again
- Outrageously comprehensive first aid kits: We’re probaby not all going to see eye to eye on this one, but I willing to bet that a lot of you are carrying pieces of First Aid gear that you will never, ever have to use. Or worse yet, you are carrying items that have been in your kit for so long that they are out of date because you’ve never had to use them. Take enough to get you patched up and heading home, usually small cuts, blisters/burns, and stomach upsets
My Challenge To You
Sometimes getting your pack weight lighter isn’t about saving up your hard earned money to buy the titanium version of your favorite piece of gear or modifying it until it’s half the weight it originally was (I’m guilty). Sometimes going lighter is as simple as carrying less, or to be more specific, carrying only what you need and improvising for everything else.
So here’s my challenge to all of you. Take a look at your packing lists and see if there is one thing that you usually carry that you could give up on your next few hikes in order to determine if that item is something you truly need, or whether or it’s just a nice to have. If you’re feeling particularly brave, post a comment below describing what you’re going without and why. Maybe we’ll all follow along and check back in with a few of you to see how it went.