The Big Three

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Moving fast and light along the spectacular ridge line of the GR20 in Corsica. A minimal pack (and good pre-trip training) enabled Alison and I to do a 16 day trip in under 8 days. Pictured – the award winning Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight. A few may surprise you…

  1. Look at The Big Three: Backpack, Tent/shelter, and Sleep System (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and ground cloth). You stand to loose a bunch of weight from these: as much as 10 to 12 pounds.
    1. Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds
    2. Take a Tent/Shelter that weighs less than two pounds
    3. Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds
  2. Look on The Backpacking Food Page to save a ton of weight at zero cost
  3. Get a weather report (the NOAA hourly weather graph is among the most informative and accurate)—then pack for those conditions! Since 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less, this weather report should be quite accurate for the short time you are out. This will let you pack a tent, clothing, and sleeping bag appropriate for actual conditions. It will also deter you from taking inappropriate, “what-if-the-worst-happens!” gear, e.g. 6 pound tent, and a +10F sleeping bag for a balmy weather trip on the Appalachian Trail.
  4. Don’t take extra clothing. e.g. don’t take any more clothing than you can wear at one time.
  5. Take less: Be disciplined and leave a few items at home that you haven’t used in the last three trips. Put stuff like sunscreen and trail soap in smaller containers.
  6. Extra Credit: Browse The Gear Lists Page for other ideas and examples to save weight. This will give you a good examples of what type of gear is available and what is a reasonable weight for that type of gear, e.g. around 6-8 ounces for a rain jacket, or around 1.0 ounce for a pocket knife. Think hard if your gear is 2 to 3x heavier than the examples on these lists.
  7. Read my The Best Hydration — Drink When Thirsty. Use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter to drink at the source (lake, stream, etc.). Then only carry a sensible amount to get to your next known water source. I.e. it makes no sense to carry 3 liters of water, almost 7 pounds, when your next water source is only two hours away.
  8. Remember to have fun! That will at least, lighten your spirit and mood.

How Do I Start?

  • Ground yourself in reality: Get all your stuff together and weigh it. If you’re like most conventional hikers, your equipment will weigh around 30 pounds, possibly higher.
  • Get individual weights for your heavier items like tents and backpacks. For stuff in the range of a few pounds or less you’ll want to buy an inexpensive digital scale that weighs up to 10 pounds.
  • See what you can leave at home. Anything you don’t bring is free weight reduction. Think hard about this one. Do you really need it?
  • Put together a spreadsheet (or at least a list) with all your equipment weights. This is an indispensable analysis tool.
  • Try to figure out where you’ll get the most “bang for the buck.” e.g. figure out how much a new item costs and divide that by the amount of weight it will save you over your old equipment. Target the items that give you the most weight loss for the fewest dollars.
  • Don’t try to purchase all your new equipment right away. Many items regularly go on sale or are closed out, e.g. Sierra Trading Post. Watch carefully over the course of a year and you could save 30 to 70 percent on your equipment.
25 replies
  1. Khan
    Khan says:

    Hi Alan,

    Great website! Just stumbled upon it after searching “ultra light” (got your great 2.6 pound article).

    I noticed that you like the Caldera Cone, so wanted to ask a fellow alcohol stove user: I’m thinking about swapping my trusty Trangia for the Antigravity Gear Tin Man. At 0.4 oz and, I understand, durable, seems like the lightest one can go for half an hour of cooking. I like the fact that I can put my Evernew directly onto it, so saving the weight of a stand.

    What do you think?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Kahn, Tin Man is a friend of mine. The AGG stove will work fine with your evernew pot. I suggest you also get a good windscreen for it. While more expensive, the Caldera cone system, is far more stable, more fuel efficent (less than 1/2 fl oz per pint), and almost unaffected by wind. That being said, if you use the Tin Man stove in a reasonably protected area, it will be a lot lighter than your Trangia and do well for you. FWIW if you haven’t read it, here is my more in-depth article on backpacking stoves Best Backpacking Stove System – Trail Designs Caldera vs. JetBoil and a review of TD’s new stove Trail Designs Kojin Ultralight Alcohol Stove Review. Wishing you a great year of hiking. Warmest, -alan & alison

  2. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Ive mapped out my next step which will likely put be below 12 lbs, maybe even near 10 lbs!

    Swap mummy bag for a ~40 deg quilt (- 2/3 lb.), and insulated pad (-.25 lb)
    Keep an eye for a bivy/tarp or hammock/tarp setup for solo camping (already carry hammock, so savings easily 3+ lbs, less if underquilt is needed
    Ditch cook set for single titanium pot (1lb+ weight savings
    Switch from eno double hammock to hummingbird hammock and straps ~1 lb savings.

  3. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    I’m still by no means an ultra lightweight hiker, but have assembled a fairly reasonable kit over a several year span (used while car camping while bike racing). Most was gotten on big sales (REI garage or internet), or buying the “best value” lightweight gear.

    This advise is sound- pick one item every six months to a year if infrequently hiking, (more often if you are!)

    My big 4:
    Osprey Talon- 2.3 lbs ($40, rei garage sale)
    REI flash 32 bag 1.6 lbs ($120, REI garage sale)
    Klymit static-V 1.1 lbs ($50)
    BA rattlesnake SL2- 3.75 lbs ($171 online flash sale)

    I know I could save some serious weight with a lighter tent, but I live in the south. Bugs and rain are a given!

    I picked these up over several years, but being reasonably light doesn’t have to be super expensive! Tent is most recent addition, and I’m keeping an eye out for either a bivy, BA fly creek or nemo hornet!

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Nice work Matthew! Love the long term approach to find lighter gear on sale. Looks like you’ve saved a bunch of weight and not gone broke in the process. Warmest, -alan

  4. Karen Audant
    Karen Audant says:

    doing the W at the end of October. Having a hard time determining the distance between Camping Frances and Camping Torres Central. didn’t see it posted on your distance chart.. Is it correct that we don’t take the cutoff to Chileno ?Hiking from west to east so it appears to be the most challenging day. Best, karen

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Karen,
      Apologies for the late reply I have been in the backcountry. Yes, you would not use the shortcut to Chileno but continue along directly to CTC. The backside of the Park Map on my TdP Guide has distances and hiking times (although the hiking times would be faster for a fit hiker). Wishing you a great trek. Warmest, -alan

  5. crollsurf
    crollsurf says:

    Hi Alan, the last point on how to start is right-on once you have done your homework. It’s amazing the prices you can get if you are prepared to sit back and wait a while. But at the same time you may have to compromise. I really want ABC but will XYZ still be right seeing as it is 40% off.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Exactly so Robert. Combine enough low price “compromises” over 6 months, and you can have a very light back indeed at a fraction of buying at full price. Best, -a

  6. GPLind
    GPLind says:

    Thankyou for your extensive and well presented resources! You have encouraged me to make a comeback into hiking (and bikepacking which shares both philosophy and technologies!) after a layoff of 15 years first due to injury/disability and then the perception that I could no longer carry a heavy pack!

    Thanks to your excellent and generous sharing of knowledge I’m now able to return to the beautful environments Ive missed!

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Welcome back GPL!
      Thanks for the kind comments. Best wishes on “return to the beautiful environments [you’ve] missed!” -a

  7. Mary Moreno
    Mary Moreno says:

    Alan seriously dude, YOU THE MAN! You have saved me so much time as I prepare for my return to backpacking, In The Rawahs of Colorado this summer. My last pack trip was in the 1980’s on the AT in Maine. Equipment has changed a lot since then (Hah, you should see my old backpack!!) You have done all the research and put it all together so well– all I have to do is follow your recipe. So THANKS!!

  8. Doug
    Doug says:

    I have been fumbling around buying ridiculously heavy gear for the most bizarre contingencies for months.. I went on a short test camp experience and saw the absurdity of what I had wrought. I saw your site and four months of confusion were resolved in a few hours of of the information you have provided. I returned the vast majority of my purchases, and I feel like I have had an absolute epiphany (of course you fostered that). I purchased from your selections in regards to the big three: backpack, tent, sleep system. I had never even heard of some of these products and am not sure when I would have stumbled upon them. I can’t thank you enough for your research, experience, and thoroughness..

      • Steve
        Steve says:

        Yeah a big thank you from Gran Canaria Alan. I have recently discovered your site on a half term holiday here and have spent most of the last two days reading everything. Have my pack down to just over twelve pounds. Weather here in the mountains at 1400 metres or so is generally balmy. I take a bicycle and cowboy camp when there is no hint of rain in the forecast, with an ex army (800g) bivy as back up. I now have my eye on a nice MLD tarp as a Christmas present. That and a quilt and lighter pack should have me under 10 pounds soon. Thanks again for all your help.

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Gran Canaria, thanks for the kind words and my pleasure! So glad you found the site useful. A 10 pound pack would be fantastic and with a tarp and quilt! My hat is off to you. Wishing you more great biking and trekking. Warmest, -alan


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