I heard a story once about a first-time backpacker whose load was so heavy he began ditching his gear on the side of the trail not even a mile in from the trail head. He threw out his frying pan (but kept the pot), tossed a lawn chair, a pint of Jim Beam (he took a drink first), a 15-million candlepower spotlight, and a field guide to flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest (hardback of course). He learned the very hard way what all of us backpackers already know: carrying a heavy pack can be miserable.
Many backpackers (including myself) have endeavored tirelessly to lighten the load, to ease the burden on our weary bones as we burn through the miles. One of the best ways to lighten up is to swap out your backpack, shelter, and sleeping system (collectively known as “The Big 3”) for lighter counterparts. The problem is, good gear is expensive, and it seems the less an item weighs, the more it costs. Consider Nemo’s 2-person Tenshi Tent. It retails for $699.95 (though you can buy it on sale for $524.96 right now). Regardless. Yikes!
In lieu of spending your entire savings account replacing the Big 3, there are other, more unorthodox methods of getting that pack weight down. Here are some of the stranger techniques people use to shave those ounces. I’m not referring to the more commonly known techniques like cutting the handle off your toothbrush or leaving the backpack lid at home. I’m talking radical, cutting-edge stuff, so extreme that I haven’t even worked up the courage to try them out myself. I don’t have the time or the space to list them all here, so I’ve decided to just present the top 5. Remember, I don’t endorse these techniques; I’m just passing along the information strictly for entertainment purposes.
- Go Stoveless – I met a guy last year who thru-hiked the Arizona Trail without a stove. He ate cold dinners and never had coffee in the morning. Sounds terrible! But on a long distance hike you could save some serious ounces by leaving your camp kitchen at home. However, you might not have any reason to get up in the morning.
- Don’t Treat Water – No filter, no chemicals, no problem, right? This movement seems to be picking up steam within the cult-of-ultralight. The theory goes that with experience you should be able to distinguish safe from unsafe water sources. While leaving your water treatment devices at home can potentially shave a few ounces (11 with the popular Katadyn Hiker Pro filter), is contracting the dreaded Beaver Fever really worth it?
- Leave Your Knife At Home – Apparently some gram weenies out there actually think a razor-blade is not only a perfectly good substitute for a knife, but “the ultimate in ultralight backpacking knives” (as one blogger put it). When I’m in the woods, I imagine myself as the second coming of Daniel Boone, so not carrying a knife just doesn’t cut it.
- Trim Your Zippers – An old backpacking buddy mentioned that he shaved weight from his pack by trimming all the pull tabs from the zippers on his gear. Really? How much weight will that actually save? Needless to say, he had a tough time getting in and out of his tent.
- Don’t Bother With Toilet Paper – I found this gem in Mike Clelland’s book “Ultralight Backpacking Tips”. The book is loaded with useful information for backpackers trying to go light, but when I came to tip number 116, I did a double take. “Liberate Yourself From Toilet Paper” and wipe your hind quarters with snow, leaves, pine-cones, sticks, and even rocks. I haven’t tried any of these advanced ultralight techniques as of yet, but I will say that if you leave the toilet paper at home, lightening your load will be more important than ever.