Lighten up

As we get into the colder weather of fall and then winter our packs will start to get a bit heavier.  At least that is the norm.  Winter gear is a little heavier and you tend to carry more.  That is unless you have a rich uncle or top of the line winter gear or both.
Well, I have great gear but no rich uncle, but I know some ways that we all can lighten up our packs in the winter.
The first thing that you can do is in the planning and preparing stage of your next trip.  Food and water account for a lot of weight in your pack.  You have to eat well and increase the hot food consumption in the winter, so dumping food is not an option.  What you can do though is look to repackaging your food.  You can shave a pound in getting rid of boxes, can’s and wrappers.  Invest in zip lock bags and repackage your food.  You will shave weight and space by doing this.  While you are thinking food, think dehydration.  Pick up a dehydrator and start making your own light weight, great tasting food.  A nice way to get started is by dehydrating left overs.
One of the benefits of dehydrating is that you need to watch what you cook to dehydrate.  You will automatically reduce the fat content in your food.  Fat will not dehydrate.
So there’s a pound.
The next thing you can do is to make sure that everything in your pack does double duty.  Loose the pillow.  In the winter you should have a nice fleece layer.. Shove that fleece into the hood of your sleeping bag or use the compression bag with your fleece in it as your pillow.
Drop the mess kit.  You really only need a spork and bowl.  You may be able to shed precious ounces here.
Do not take any cotton.. synthetics, poly pro wear better in the winter, allow moisture to wick and as a result you don’t have to change as much and thus carry less.  That’s weight out of your pack.
Water.  Loose the bladder.  Your platypus or camel back will have a tendency to freeze up in the winter.  Now, you can buy an insulation tube, but then you are adding weight.  A Gator Aid bottle works way better than a Nalgene and while it will freeze too, if you drop it in a wool sock and store it upside down, you will be fine.  A 32 oz. capacity bottle weighs 1.6 oz.  A Nalgene typically runs at 6.2 ounces.  If you must use a bladder… don’t fill it all the way and use it as your pillow at night.
Shelter and sleeping.  Your tent really only keeps you out of the elements.. get a tarp and learn how to set it up against the elements.  I switched to a tarp a few years ago.  Incredible weight savings and no loss in comfort and shelter from the elements.  In the snow, the tarp works exceptionally well.
Look at your sleeping bag.  New stuff is best as it is designed to be light and warm.  If you can’t get something new, get something rated a little higher.. The lower the rating the heavier the bag.  Add a sleeping bag liner.  It will add 10 degrees to your bag and there is no real weight in the liner.  You can save the weight of the bag and maintain the comfort.  Fill that gator aid bottle with hot water before you hit the rack and throw it in the bag with you.  You will stay warm, have water in the morning, and shave weight.
Finally, leave stuff at home.
Do you really need to carry your whole wallet, your cell phone, that extra pocket knife?  How about that extra pot that came with your MSR Cook kit?  You only need one pot.. leave the other one at home.  Do you carry a poop trowel?  A stick will do the same thing.
Here is my rule of thumb.  If you have not used a piece of gear in 6 months.. it’s out of the pack for ever.  I have a box that I keep my winter specific gear.  Stuff I only use in the winter.  Each year, I look at it and reevaluate whether I used it last winter.  A critical look at gear will shave lots of weight.  Now I don’t pull out the scale and weigh all my gear, but I know when my pack gets heavier and I know how to reduce the weight when I need to.
The older I get the lighter my pack needs to get.  Which is actually the last thing you can do to shave unwanted pounds.  Get a smaller pack.  You won’t put as much in it and it will force you to look at each and every piece of gear that does go in, on, or hang from it.
Share some of your weight saving techniques.  Leave a comment.  We all learn when we share.
Have a Great Scouting Day!


  1. Several good tips here. For full winter camping (with snow), I listed one new idea (and thoughts on a few of years).

    Generally, though, your tip for leaving stuff at home (when done properly) will do the most to shave weight – and it’s free! This summer I went with a scout that brought a proper poncho and pack cover. He had them both on during a brief rainstorm and I looked at his pack thinking “what in the world is that”? I got closer and realized it was a small umbrella! I know that some like to hike with an umbrella (instead of a hat, etc.) but his intended use was as rain protection. I understand the mantra of Be Prepared and all, but that was a few pounds of overkill that he had to carry the whole trip :(.

    Other seemingly overkill items I’ve seen? Too many stoves – do a good job at sharing group gear. A hammer for pegs (that was an adult, so his back was admittedly stronger… and I did enjoy borrowing it. An entire roll of duct tape. A full-size can opener… the list goes on and on!

    – A pulk can do wonders in the winter. I remember you posted a few times last year on making one. They allow slightly for bringing more weight without feeling it on your back!
    – Fatty foods can actually be important in the winter. Getting higher fat contents than in the summer will give you needed energy during the day and help you burn more calories while sleeping, which keeps you warmer.
    – While I agree that dropping a Nalgene bottle for something lighter in the summer is a great idea, I always bring one (or more) in the winter. They’re the most reliable choice for the hot water bottle trick. Boil some water right before bed, fill the nalgene with it and wrap that in a shirt or put it in a sock. Place that at the foot of your sleeping bag and enjoy the warmth all night! Cheaper measures can warp and/or leak from the heat of the water, which is bad news.


  2. Good info Jerry, Thanks. I sewed a 6″ by 12″ rectangle of fleece to the inside of a stuff sack. When it comes time to use it as a pillow, turn the sack inside out and stuff with soft clothing and you have a nice soft” fleece pillow” to lay your head on!


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