Lightening the Load – Packing for the Trails

If you subscribe to an ultralight ethos that borders on insanity, there’s no need for you to read any further. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person, but this post isn’t for you.

This blog post is for the casual backcountry camper looking to shave a few pounds from their pack but aren’t sure how to do it. Chances are you a) make it into the interior 2-3 times a year and aren’t planning on any epic thru-hikes, and b) you already have a decent arsenal of camping gear but don’t want to spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars to update your gear.

How do I know this? Because I’m the same kind of camper, and if I’m only able to spend a few weekends a year backcountry camping I don’t want to spend each following week with daily visits to the chiropractor. I already learned that the hard way.

My Pack – “The Big Boy” MEC Serratus

So how do you lighten the load without resorting to buying the latest in ultralight gear or cutting your toothbrush in half to save a few ounces? It’s actually easier than you think.

Below is my 3-step, commonsense approach that will surely make even the most relaxed ultralight camper shudder.

Step 1 – Pack and Go

That’s right. Just go. Purists will dismiss this as a ridiculous suggestion, but unless you are planning your first backcountry hiking trip you already have a general idea of what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. No, you can’t take a case of beer; and as much as an entire watermelon would be delicious after a few hours on the trail, you can’t do that either. Use your judgement, learn from mistakes you’ve made before, be honest about your fitness level and/or existing limitations that might impact what you should carry, and enjoy your trip.

Step 2 – Take Stock

This is the important step. After you get home – or even better, while you are on your trip – make note of what you made minimal use of, or didn’t use at all. Those are clearly things you can do without next time. One exception to this rule is of course, First Aid equipment. If you didn’t use it clearly your trip went well, but don’t whittle down the medical basics just to save weight, especially as there are wilderness First Aid kits available or you can easily make your own.

Step 3 – (get ready for this…) Pack Lighter Next Time

As much as buying new camping equipment can be fun, nobody wants to overspend on the latest and greatest gear on a yearly basis. Based on your trip inventory (Step 2), chances are you will find several pounds worth of items you can easily leave at home. Ignore the temptation to fill your backpack and take only what you need based on how many nights you are going for, your planned distance, and reasonable luxuries you deem essential. It’s as simple as that.

The goal of this article isn’t to suggest the absolute must-haves for backcountry camping, nor is it to deride anyone for previous bad choices (as I have more than a few over my learning experience). The goal is to take enough weight off your packing list to make your next trip more enjoyable, and I guarantee even a few pounds will make a difference. 

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