Top Tips to Reduce Your Pack Weight for Backpacking
There’s a whole almost sub-culture in backpacking that revolves around cutting your backpack pack weight. I know when you’re first starting out, it can seem like this overwhelming thing, not to mention a bit snobby worrying about cutting down what you bring or getting all ultralight gear.
I get it, I thought the same way.
Until I had to lug over 50 pounds pack up a mountain several times and I understood what all the fuss was about.
Not that you need to go all ultralight, I certainly don’t. But there really is something to be said for cutting down your pack weight and making the trip more enjoyable.
So in this blog post, I’m going to cover my top tips for reducing your overall pack weight for backpacking.
#1: Be smart about WHAT food and how much water you bring
The first place most people cut is how much food and water they bring, but your body needs water to stay hydrated (especially in the summer) and you need food to keep up your energy. So it’s a fine dance between bringing enough and not carrying a ton up a mountain.
This is why it’s not only about how much food you bring but what you bring. Things like celery sticks and apples are heavy, take up space, and are low in calories, which means they can stay home. Save the veggies for when you’re at home. You want a balance of healthy fats, carbs, and protein. And you want to maximize calories per ounce carried. Here is my full guide to food in the backcountry.
In addition to food, think about water. Water is HEAVY! A liter is over 2 pounds. But again, water is not something you want to skimp on, and it’s better to have more than not enough. There is something to be said for carrying too much water when you don’t need it.
If there are water sources frequently along the trail, just carry a liter, maybe a liter and a half, and filter along the way. If there is either a stretch with no water or no water period, then yes, you’ll need to carry more to meet your needs.
The best thing to do is during your research stage, find out where the water sources are. You can also look at a map or call the local ranger station if you’re unsure, they’re very helpful when it comes to providing this information.
#2: Leave most of the toiletries at home
If you don’t absolutely need it for your hygiene like brushing your teeth or wiping down your face and body to feel better and prevent acne, leave it. I’ve seen people bring full-sized toothbrushes and paste on the trail. Please don’t do this, it’s so heavy. Just bring a small travel-sized one. You don’t even need to shave off the ends like ultralight Pacific Crest Trail hikers do, just keep toiletries to a minimum.
I bring literally the bare essentials. Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste, and wipes to wash off the sunscreen, bug repellent, dirt, and sweat so I don’t come home looking like a teenager with acne again. I also bring things like hand sanitizer because a lot of illnesses can be prevented with basic hygiene like keeping your hands clean when you eat. On longer backpacking trips I also bring a small piece of a shampoo bar to wash my hair with because it gets really gross and greasy fast (I just have oily hair, I’ve tried training it to go longer without washes for 2 years, didn’t work… that’s just my hair, it is what it is).
I do want to make this note about Leave No Trace… NEVER use soap in waterways (lakes, streams, rivers, etc.) Even if it says biodegradable. That pollutes the waterways and hurts the ecosystem. Always carry water 200 feet (70 adult steps) from the water source and wash up there. Whether you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hair or yourself, or going to the bathroom.
I was on a backpacking trip with one lady, who started taking a full-on bath right in the lake with soap! Please don’t be this person.
#3: Wear the same clothes
You don’t need a change of clothes for every day that you’re out there. Underwear maybe, and bring two pairs of socks. Everything else, re-wear it over and over again.
A common mistake I see people making is bringing multiple pants, shirts, etc. You’re dirty, just be dirty. Leave all changes of clothes at home. On one backpacking trip, I ripped my pants right on the seam on my butt. I needed to spend the following 3 days on a 5 day backpacking trip with a giant hole on my butt. I still didn’t regret bringing extra clothes, it’s just added weight. I did regret not having some thread and a needle to sew it up though. I’m adding that to my first aid kit.
#4: Be careful with “luxury” items
Whether you’re bringing a camera, a chair, a sketch pad, or a book. If you want to bring it, just be cautious not to overdo it, those add up in weight quickly.
If you’re on a shorter backpacking trip, you can be more liberal with some of these items. But on a longer trip, most of this should stay home. I do bring my camera and tripod on every single backpacking trip, but on a long one, I might leave a few lenses at home.
#5: Reduce your “big 4”
Your “big 4” are your backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent. This is by far the easiest way to drop pack weight. Your tent should be around 2lbs. Sleeping bag around 2-3lbs. Pad around 1lb. Your backpack might be heavier depending on what support you need, if you can, go lighter.
See the full list of everything I bring with me on this blog post.
#6: After every trip, evaluate
After every single trip, take time to evaluate your pack when you get home. If you didn’t use it, leave it at home next time. The only thing I would recommend to always bring even if you don’t use it is a first aid kit, map, and compass. These are items you don’t want to have and wish you had.
This is helpful advice, thank you. I just started backpacking and it’s been challenging figuring out how much gear I need and what I don’t need. Everything seems important to bring with you.
Type of cooking stove & gear makes a difference. I pack plastic fork and spoon. If I can make a fire for each meal, I carry a small lightweight grill, upon which to place my pot over a small cooking fire.
Everyone has their “things.” I carry a pack towel, a 5-blade razor and Cutco scissors. Together, the three are a little over a pound, but I’m ALWAYS super happy to have them. The scissors double as a nail clipper and triple as a pair of ice picks after separating; my neck gets itchy after 5 days and disposable Bics are worthless; and always carry a towel, right?
Great article for beginners, I’ll be adding this to my beginner’s guide to the outdoors on Pinterest.
That works only in areas you can have a campfire. There are many areas and times you cannot.
Thanks for sharing this amazing tips Jenny, it’s very helpful !
#6 is the most important, the more shake down hikes the better. With each one you gain confidence that you can live comfortably with less!!