How light can you go?

traceI have said it over and over, the older I get the lighter my pack has to get.  The pack I carried out of base camp at Philmont was 55 lbs.  That is the heaviest pack I have carried in a very long time.  Why was it so heavy?  Well, Philmont has not embraced a lighter style of camping yet and I am sure that one day it will start getting lighter gear, but for now, Philmont is under the impression that “it’s always been that way, and it works”.  Well… I am here to tell you that you can go lighter and still have a great Philmont experience.  Now before anyone gets the idea that I am bashing on Philmont here.. that is not the case.  Knowing what I know now about how Philmont “camps”.  There are many things that I could have done to shave unwanted pounds.  Take for example the food.  We just grabbed the food and unlike our at home routine, did not repackage and reduce the containers.  That would have taken lots of volume as well as weight out of our packs.  We put lots of uneaten and unwanted food in the swap bins at every staff camp.  Getting that stuff out earlier would have helped.
But lets talk about shaving weight in our packs.  We are on a constant journey to reduce weight in the pack.  Getting my base weight down is an effort that I am constantly thinking about and testing and trying new or other ways of packing my gear.
I will never be an “Ultralight” guy.  I just don’t agree with the basic philosophy of going totally ultralight.
Some argue that Ultralight is defined by base weights that are 20 lbs or less.  Some say that you need to get lower than that to be considered “Ultralight”.  There are those backpackers that are considered “Minimalist” toting pack weights of less than 12 lbs.  As much as I would love to carry a pack that was that light, reality kicks in and I am not willing to sacrifice comfort or safety.  And there I think is the difference.
Comfort and safety.  I read a story once about a guy that ventured off into the wilderness with only a knife.  While he did survive and accomplish what he was trying to prove.  I find it hard to believe that he was comfortable and in one way or another at some point could have jeopardized his safety.
We make choices in materials like down or synthetic when it comes to sleeping bags.  Weight can be shaved by pushing the limits of the rating.  Taking a 50 degree bag out when it is in the 30’s and just wearing extra clothing is a technique, but lets remember why we camp in the first place.  It’s not to survive.. it’s to have fun.  I don’t know about you, but freezing my butt off is not fun.  So I will carry a little heavier bag and look elsewhere to shave weight.
I make up weight saving in using an alcohol stove.  The stove and fuel weigh significantly less than canister stoves and liquid fuel stoves.  I don’t really sacrifice performance and certainly not my safety.
I do not take a lot of extra clothing.  But I don’t get wet and dirty either.  I wear my rain gear when it is wet and also when I have to do some scrambling.  A pair of gaiters keep my pants dry and clean as well as my socks.  I use poly materials that wick sweat and keep me warm.  Switchback style pants are a great way to reduce the amount of clothing taken.
Toiletries are another way to get weight down.  You won’t need a whole roll of TP.. so don’t take it.  Moist wipes are a great way to clean up the undercarriage and reduce the need for bulky and heavy soaps and wash cloths.  Camp suds work on dishes, clothing, and your hair and body.  Just a drop or two goes a long way.  Again, reduce and save on weight without sacrifice.
My goal is to get to 18 lbs base weight.  I am hovering in the 25 lb range now.  I don’t want to be “Ultralight”, but I do want to be able to backpack longer and farther and master the gear and packing of it.  I will not sacrifice comfort or safety.  I won’t use my socks as shoulder straps and wander into the woods with only a knife.
According to most experts in the field of backpacking, up to the 30 lbs weight range is emerging as the new sweet spot for mainstream recreational backpackers—light enough to feel reasonably comfortable on the shoulders, yet stocked with a luxury item or 2 (camp sandals, for instance, or maybe some freeze-dried ice cream).  I am all for a comfort item or two and won’t skimp on food.
I am going to document my quest here on the blog to get the weight down and share some tips that I find work well for me.  Remember that you should always hike your own hike and what works for me, may not work for you.
So to start with..
TIP #1.  Your pack.  The bigger the pack, the more you will put in it.  Get a smaller pack, something you think you will be comfortable with, one that will allow you to get what you think you need in it, and a little extra and then start whittling down the load.|
I went from a 5500 cubic inch pack to a 3800 cubic inch pack.  Going down to about 60 liters forced me to start looking at the gear I was taking and what I really needed.  What I have found is that given the gear that I currently have 3800 cubic inches is about as small a pack as I can go to.  I use this pack for all 4 seasons and even used it to carry the 55 lb load at Philmont.  The pack is recommended to go up to a 40 lb load.  I suppose I was just careful enough to max it out.  I will tell you that I have no desire to carry 55 lbs again so I am happy with the pack that I am using.  For what it’s worth the pack I am using is the Granite Gear Nimbus Trace.  It’s not the lightest pack out there, but is rugged enough for the type of hiking I do.
So get a pack that is comfortable and meets your needs and start your load from there.
What do you carry?  Let is know.
Look for more tips here on the blog.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

 

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Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Philmont, Skills, Winter Camping | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “How light can you go?

  1. Enjoy your blog….

    As a 52 year old Scoutmaster and backpacker, I agree. I will not sacrifice comfort for minimalist backpacking. After carrying a large pack at Philmont and 45-50 pounds, I came home and consciously bought a smaller pack so I had to trim down my gear. I got a 3500 cubic inch Atmos Osprey. This has been my pack ever since and I love it.

    2 years ago I bought myself a “summer” weight sleeping bag, joking referred to as a “sheet” by my other scoutmasters. It protects to 50 degrees, but with a silk liner I can use it for most of the year. For comfort reasons, I do not backpack in the winter. Being in NC, I can use this bag most of the year. This has been the biggest weight and size reduction in my gear. Going on flop and drops with the troop, I can even carry a full size pillow in my back – talk about comfort!

    I really enjoy tracking your progress on the trails and you blog. I’m also really jealous of some of the trips.

    Hike On!

  2. Very good tip on the pack. That’s a solid place to go smaller/lighter.

    Before my tips, I wanted to make a note on a few of the observations you listed above. While some people can (and do) go “stupid light” by leaving behind safety or comfort, it seems misplaced to say that a particular base weight is too light – just as it would be for a super-ultralight hiker to overly judge someone else with a 25 lb. base weight. To each his own.

    “As much as I would love to carry a pack that was that light, reality kicks in and I am not willing to sacrifice comfort or safety.” While comfort and safety varies from person to person, going down in pack weight often does not sacrifice either comfort or safety.

    Three years ago I was at a 25 lb. base. Last summer I got to 19. Right now I’m just under 15 and if I spend some extra money before next year to replace a few pieces of gear, I could get to 12 or 13. And that’s with a hammock setup with plenty of comfort and safety for sleeping in just my underlayer down to about 20 degrees, with a solid first aid/repair kit, with a stove, etc. I find it liberating to only take what I need and leave the rest at home on some trips, while on others I may up my base a bit to bring along fishing gear, a small chair, etc.

    My [current] slimmest pack setup, without some of the extras like fishing gear, can be found here:

    http://www.coloradoscouter.com/content/PackList_LightBlackbirdHammock.pdf

    Some tips on going lighter-weight:
    – Get a scale and start a spreadsheet. Weigh and list EVERY single thing. That allows you to more easily scrutinize to leave unnecessary things behind or to get creative with how to lighten up.
    – Leave things behind. The easiest way to shed weight is to not bring it in the first place.
    – Reconsider your shelter. How much do you really need? Can you go with a tarp and bivy instead of a heavy tent? How about a light hammock setup? This is a very personal preference, but can often shave weight quickly when one is thinking outside the box/tent.

  3. Jeff

    Check out some of the articles on bacpackinglight.com for going light at Philmont or setting scouts up. these articles are free. there are also two discussion boards related to scouting including Philmont tips

  4. Gray

    Has the BSA changed their rules on alcohol stoves? I thought they were against BSA rules. I’d love to bring mine out on some trips but I’m stuck with my Jetboil because of what I thought I knew about the Scout rules.

    • Nope, the BSA does not prohibit the use of alcohol stoves as long as they are not “homemade” like a pop can stove. And you can burn denatured alcohol as it is designated as a “Fuel”… says so right on the can and the BSA does not have it on the prohibited list. They do not recommend them.. but they are ok to use.
      I take mine on every Scouting outing.
      Not a fan of the Jet Boil.

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