Tips from a Light-Weight
While Bruce and I fast-packed the Sunshine Coast Trail, every time we met other hikers loaded down with 50+ pound packs, we were predictably asked how we were able to manage with such tiny backpacks.
As the days rolled by, we mulled over many possible answers and came up with this sweet sound-bite:
When you backpack, you can either have comfort while you hike or you can have comfort while you camp.
We opt for comfort while moving in order to move quickly and we are willing to sacrifice some luxuries in order to achieve that. Don’t worry – we still brush our teeth and eat three meals a day! And truly I don’t think that we were at all uncomfortable due to reduced gear. At the beginning of our 178 km trip, my pack weighed 14 pounds and Bruce’s weighed 19 pounds (before adding the weight of water). This includes all our cooking, eating and sleeping gear for our five nights out as well as food and clothing. We even had a few extra meals in case our plans changed or an emergency situation arose. Of course, camping with a good friend allows you to shed even more gear weight since you only need one stove, one bottle of deet, one tent, etc. We opted to hike without a tent and use the huts each night. Although that was a fine choice, next time we would opt to bring a super lightweight tent (no fly) like our Big Agnes Seedhouse just so we could get a better sleep than the huts offered. I should add that this hike was done at the height of summer and the forecast called for full-sun and high temperatures all week long, which allowed us to be without raingear. In fact, it hasn’t rained here in many weeks, making fire danger very high and water supply very low.
Here is my gear list:
Pack – Terra Nova Laser 20 L backpack (321 g)
Clothing – I wore the same thing every day – technical shirt, running skort, running bra, wool socks, La Sportiva trail shoes, running cap. In my pack, I carried a synthetic puffy jacket, a thicker technical top, thick leggings, sleep socks, arm warmers, buff, sun glasses and trekking poles. [In the future, I would pack an extra pair of running socks so that I could wash a pair once a day]
Camping Gear – Sea to Summit Spark 1 down sleeping bag (which was way too warm for this trip!), a tiny hourglass-shaped thermarest, headlamp, extra batteries, collapsible bowl, spoon, inflatable pillow x 2, ziploc for accumulated garbage, 30 section maps cut out from the SCT guidebook.
Personal Care – mini containers of suntan lotion, deet, body glide, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap and face cream; ear plugs, toothbrush, dental floss, end of a toilet paper roll, small piece of a nail file, 6 salt pills, 4 ibuprofen, 4 Aleve. All of this fit in one zip-loc baggie.
Food – we carried a mixture of Mountain House meals and homemade, home-dehydrated food. I carried 4 dinners, 3 lunches, 3 oatmeal breakfasts, 1 pound Costco trail mix, 6 long pepperoni sticks, some pork jerky, 3 Clif bars, 3 Vel bars, 1 tube of Nuun, 2 tubes of Clif shots
Each packaged meal was re-packaged into zip-loc baggies or in Food Saver pouches and we brought only one rehydration bag which we used for every meal. For dinner and breakfast, we boiled 2 cups of water and poured it into the rehydration bag so no real cooking took place (and no dishes needed washing!)
Water – I carried 2 x 650 ml water bottles, 1 platypus bladder (1 L)
Emergency Supplies – driver’s license, $50 cash, credit card, space blanket, lighter, tea light candle, matches, 2 gels, 2 Emergen-C packets, small swiss army knife, whistle, back-up light, large band-aid, cell phone. [I need to add in a piece of Leukotape and a golf pencil with duct tape wrapped around the end]
Bruce’s gear list is similar to mine in terms of clothing, food, personal care and emergency supplies. Here are a few differences:
Pack – Raidlight Ultra Olmo 20 L backpack with pole holster (630 g)
Camping Gear – GPS, GoPro camera, pepsi-can alcohol stove with stand and wind guard; titanium cooking cup (~600 ml), 500 ml denatured alcohol in a collapsible bladder, foldable sleeping pad, SOL bivvy sack, bug net hats x 2.
Food – 150 ml scotch whisky in a plastic flask
Water – Sawyer filtration bladder (1 L), water scoop and filter, 500 ml collapsible water bottle
One hiker asked what one thing could he focus on to reduce his pack weight and size. Bruce spoke to him about his pot/stove/cooking set-up and encouraged him to rethink the amount of fuel (# of canisters) he would ultimately need, which is a great place to start. I also think that hikers need to consider all the packaging and bags they are carrying. They could probably reduce their pack weight significantly if they just removed all the stuff sacks (especially those hefty dry bags I saw!). Also, pay attention to the weight of your pack alone. It is easy to find a pack that weighs more than a kilogram empty! (ours were both around half that weight empty) Make sure that each item is either 1] multi-use (like a towel/chamois/buff) or 2] essential (like a meal). You should expect to sweat and be stinky. You can swim in your hiking clothes. You can walk around camp in your hiking shoes. There is no need to bring a second pair of shoes, a bathing suit and a second set of hiking clothes. There is a fantastic little book to set you on your way to light-weight camping and I highly recommend it to everyone as a place to start: