Hiking Light – Sweat the Small Stuff and Reduce the Weight of Everything in Your Backpack

All your life people have said “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s usually good advice. But in lightweight backpacking it’s a great idea to “sweat the small stuff.”

You can trim the most weight from the larger items you carry such as your tent, sleeping bag, and the backpack itself. Then you move on to the sleeping pad, rainwear, and cooking gear. But don’t stop there. All the remaining little items add up, too. If you ruthlessly trim them, you can carry significantly less weight. You’ll enjoy the freedom, and you can maintain comfort. In some ways you’ll have more comfort, not just from weight savings, but because of the smaller size and simplicity of the gear.

Remember that every lightweight technique is an option. Pick and choose what works for you. Every backpacker is different. Do it your way.

Have you ever been ready to leave for a backpacking trip and grabbed something at the last minute? Maybe you packed a flashlight or extra shirt that weighed 6 ounces. That seems pretty light. It surely wasn’t going to ruin your hike. Not by itself anyway. But in lightweight backpacking the thing to remember is that every single item adds up.

In my backpack I carry a sandwich size ziplock bag that weighs less than 6 ounces – and it holds 27 items. That’s 27 pieces of gear that weigh the same as many hiker’s flashlight. Read through the list and see how you can trim weight and enjoy a lighter, simpler backpack.

Compass – 0.1 oz – It’s the tiny insert portion of a keychain compass

Whistle – 0.1 oz – Tiny cylinder-shaped aluminum style

Mirror – 0.2 oz – For signaling & grooming. acrylic, trimmed small

Comb – 0.1 oz – Cut in half of course!

Book Matches – 0.3 oz – 2 full regular books

Safety Matches – 0.3 oz – Some wind & waterproof in a 2×3″ ziplock bag

Soap, Biodegradable – 0.3 oz – For body & dishes, small amount in 1/4 oz. container

Sunscreen – 0.3 oz – Liquid style, small amount in 1/4 oz. container

Pen – 0.1 oz. – Thick style refill will work

Paper – 0.2 oz – A few “sheets” in 3×5″ ziplock–fire starter too!

5 Rubber Bands – 0.2 oz – Extras for repair, wraps air mattress, etc…

Toothbrush – 0.1 oz – Trim handle, then drill holes for fun!

Tooth Powder – 0.1 oz – Lighter than toothpaste…

Floss – 0.1 oz – In a 3×5″ ziplock, great for repairs too

SPF Lip Balm – 0.2 oz – Look for a thinner, lighter brand than usual

Benadryl Cream – 0.4 oz – Added to first aid kit, relieves bug bites a little

20 Ibuprofen – 0.2 oz – Backpacker pain reliever of choice in 2×3″ ziplock

12 Aspirin – 0.1 oz – Extras for altitude headaches in 2×3″ ziplock

8 Loperamide – 0.1 oz – For diarrhea, trimmed and put in 2×3″ ziplock

6, 1″ Brass Safety Pins – 0.1 oz – For equipment repairs and treating blisters

30 Potable Aqua Tabs – 0.3 oz – In amber 1-dram bottle, 1.1 oz if in original bottle

Light Nylon Cord – 0.2 oz – For repair or general use, 25 ft. in 3×5″ ziplock

Gerber Micro Knife – 0.4 oz – Very light, high quality

2 Princeton Pulsar IIs – 0.4 oz – Enough light for camp use, includes a backup

Extra Set of Batteries – 0.2 oz – Extra set for both. Insures many hours of light

Favorite scriptures – 0.1 oz – 40 years in wilderness, must pack light!

There it is. That’s 27 items of gear that weigh less than 6 ounces! You can do it and enjoy the freedom, too.

You can reduce the weight of other small pieces of gear, too. For garbage the large re-sealable 10 ½” x 12″ bags found in supermarkets work great and they weigh only 4/10s of an ounce. If you need sunglasses, start looking for the lightest, frameless quality pair you can find and then make them the ones you always leave in your backpack. For your map, take only what you need, but don’t trim the legends or emergency “escape routes.”

Some car keys can be hollowed out. I drilled almost half the weight out of mine. I attached some bright mylar (from balloons) so the key can be spotted easily if dropped. Take some cash, at least one credit card, and your driver’s license, but leave your wallet and most of its contents home. It’s dead weight.

Don’t skimp too much on toilet paper, but do place it in a ziplock bag. And be sure to use white, non-scented. A super light emergency blanket can give you protection for only 1.8 ounces. Your first aid kit can be quite complete and very light. You can start with a “mini kit” and throw away the plastic pouch it comes in. Place the contents in a ziplock bag and with the weight savings from tossing the original container you can actually add more emergency items or things you use most. Those can include items such as butterfly bandages, a roll of light surgical tape, extra packages of triple antibiotic ointment, or extra moleskin. You can pack a lot of first aid in two ounces.

Most people want some kind of pillow, but experiment with light ones. Your clothing in a stuff bag might work. Part of your pack might work. I use a small piece of foam that weighs 7/10s of an ounce and add clothing underneath for more loft.

Some hikers won’t leave home without a camera. There are lots of lightweight options for cameras. There are backpackers who consider deodorant a must. Arrid makes a cream that can be placed in a small, plastic container. If you need reading glasses, look at the very narrow kind. They’re probably half the weight of your regular pair. For your medications, use small ziplock bags if your meds don’t need to be in super, airtight containers.

When you “sweat the small stuff,” you not only save weight, you simplify your hiking techniques and save bulk in your backpack. Cutting the weight of the little things is one more way to help you float down the trail.

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