Ask Me: 5 Steps to Lightening Up Your Backpacking Gear
Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up for my FREE email newsletter now.Hi Rebecca, Whenever I get that question from a friend or a reader and offer them advice, they are all, to a person, glad they got new, lighter gear. If your gear is as old as you say, you could reduce your base pack weight significantly, probably by 10 pounds or more each, as well as cut the volume of what you’re carrying, which allows you to use a smaller, lighter pack. (Base pack weight refers to gear and clothing, not including food and water.) The transition will make backpacking feel like an entirely different experience. When you’re backpacking with young kids and have to haul much of their gear and food, this makes a huge difference. I lay out my approach to backpacking as light as possible in my blog post “Ultralight Backpacking’s Simple Equation: Less Weight = More Fun.” To anyone updating old gear to new, I always say start with the biggest items because they give you the most potential to reduce weight and bulk. Do it in this order: No. 1 Tent No. 2 Sleeping bags No. 3 Backpacks No. 4 Boots No. 5 Lighter items like air mattress, cooking system, and clothing. If you hadn’t already switched to a lighter, more compact tent, see my “Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents” and all of my tent reviews. For most backpackers, their tent is the heaviest and bulkiest single piece of gear they carry—so it’s where you can make the biggest dent in gear weight. See my story “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent For You.” But next you should invest in sleeping bags, because older models are so much bulkier and heavier than the best new bags. If you do most of your backpacking in the Rockies, with dry summers, you should get lightweight down bags; I use a down bag almost all the time. (I’m always testing out new gear, but I prefer to review lightweight down bags.) See my sleeping bag reviews for ideas. I use a bag rated around 30 degrees in summer in the mountains, when low temps drop to the 30s or 40s, but I don’t get cold easily. My wife, who does get cold easily, prefers a 15-degree bag in summer. For spring or fall trips, I’ll use a 15- or 20-degree bag.
You have to reduce tent and bag weight and especially bulk first, in order to fit everything into a lighter, smaller pack. Once you’ve tackled those two large items, you can switch to a smaller, lighter backpack of between 50 and 65 liters if you’re only packing for yourself. (When my kids were young and my wife and I carried most of our family’s gear and food, I typically used a 75-liter pack on family backpacking trips.) Modern packs are lighter, more comfortable, and more efficiently designed than older models. Check out my “Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The Best Ultralight Thru-Hiking Backpacks,” and all of my backpack reviews. Once you’re carrying much less weight, you can shift to lighter boots, because you no longer really need the heavy-duty boots you may be wearing when carrying 40 to 50 pounds or more (except in really wet, snowy, or rugged, off-trail conditions). See my reviews of backpacking boots and lightweight boots and hiking shoes.
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Email me at email@example.com and let’s talk. I can also help plan your next trip.After that, start working on smaller items, like your air mattress, stove and cook set, rain shell, insulation. While these items will not make as large a dent in your gear weight as a tent, bag, or pack, the collective reduction can add up to a pound or more and significant bulk. Older, inflatable air mattresses are much heavier and especially bulkier than contemporary models—many of which take up very little space inside a pack. Check out my air mattress reviews. See my reviews of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For Hiking and Backpacking,” “The Best Base Layers For Hiking, Running, and Training,” “21 Essential Backpacking Accessories,” and “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” and my blog post “Ask Me: How Can You Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is?”
Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides. Click here now to learn more.See all of my reviews of ultralight backpacking gear, categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert tips on buying gear at my Gear Reviews page, and these articles at The Big Outside: “5 Tips For Finding the Right Backpack” “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” “Pro Tips For Buying the Right Boots” “Pro Tips: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag” Hope that’s helpful. Thanks for sending such a good question. Best, Michael
The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures. Subscribe now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide!Hi Michael, Thank you so much for your great input on the process of lightening up our 20-year-old backpacking gear. It’s especially helpful to know the logic behind the order in which to make the upgrades, as well as your personal experience with the family factors. Your post “Ultralight Backpacking’s Simple Equation: Less Weight = More Fun” was super helpful with specific suggestions for different scenarios. We’ll look at the gear reviews you mentioned. Many thanks, Michael. As always, you and your site are our go-to sources for everything backpacking! Best, Rebecca
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