As I plan the details for my upcoming trip on the Canadian Great Divide, I have spent a good amount of time researching ways to better my skills and gear to benefit me on long hiking days. My upcoming trip will not be my typical backpacking trip. The goal is to cover as much ground as possible to complete a whole “section” so to speak in the time available to us, taking in the highlights of as many stellar summits, passes and views as possible.
What does this mean for me? Long days. On an average trip relaxing backpacking trip, I would typically aim to cover 10 miles max/day give or take. I can plan to double this on the GDT. The long and short of it is that carrying 40-50 pounds on my back for this trip just isn’t realistic. I actually want my knees to come out in one piece after this adventure and ensure that I’m enjoying my time on the trail rather than cursing the load on my back. Common sense would suggest the less weight you have to carry, the easier it becomes to cover miles.
I’ve done some extensive research and deep thinking to find ways that I can lighten the load in my pack. I will be very clear: I am NO ultralight, super light, mega light backpacker. There are 1000 ways I could shave another 10 pounds from my pack, I am certain. This is simply a review of my common sense ideas on changes I’ve made in planning for my upcoming hike. After my hike, I plan on reviewing what I found worked, and where I can improve.
Here are my sure-fire, no brainer ideas to help you lighten your load. Would I do all of these for a shorter more relaxing trip? Hell no! I love my trail wine and gourmet trail meals. For me, these ideas only apply when it really counts:
1. Lighten up your meals (but not in calories):
A typical trip for me is pretty cushy. If you have gone backpacking with me, I’m sure you can attest to the types of meals I whip up on my hikes. I enjoy preparing fresh, delicious meals with a pinch of wine and chocolate to complement. It has been a bit of a transition for me to adapt my way of thinking in this department. For my upcoming trip, I will be in the backcountry with variable temps for over 10 days, thus limiting my food options. Fear not! I have adapted a solution. I met some pretty cool ladies at my local REI who convinced me to try out using a dehydrator at home to make delicious meals for the trail.
By doing so, I have shaved off considerable pounds in food weight alone. The easiest part is that I can usually dehydrate the left overs from the regular meals I cook during the week. My meal plan for this hike consists of a mix of my favorite store-bought, freeze-dried meals and my own homemade dehydrated meals with some add-ins like bread and cheese to jazz them up. I’ve got a nice assortment of oatmeal with dehydrated fruits, chocolate cake (yes cake!), watermelon fruit treats, homemade pastas and delicious and flavorful Indian and Thai curry. I’ve planned my meals to pack a high caloric and protein punch with minimal weight. I’ve also planned to do all my meal prep and eating using the Freezer Bag Method so I have to only boil water. This means less fuel weight and less clean up (no need for dishes either). I think I have found a pretty happy comprise to fulfill my light weight “gourmet” requirements. Unfortunately I have not found a way to dehydrate wine :(.
2. Picky Packing
Part of lightening up is with proper planning. For weeks, I have been brainstorming and reviewing, scrutinizing every item and eliminating what I don’t truly need. This also involves weighing each item so I am more mentally aware of the weight to requirement ratio. Why bring a pillow when I can make one from an inflated Ziploc and my sweater. Why bring deodorant when it is inevitable that I will smell after 10 days in the backcountry anyway. Use your thinker on this one. Here are some ideas to help:
- Be realistic! What do you really need? Hairbrush.. clean shorts.. scented lotion? Now.. think of your back after hiking 20 miles with the weight of all your extra junk that you will be too tired to use at the end of the day. That’s right.. leave it home 🙂
- Know how much it weighs. Ounces add up.
- Pick items with multiple functions: bandana – hair tie, hat, towel, filter, sling, tp? too far? Okay, you get the point.
- Downsize: Only take what you need. Even a small travel sized toothpaste is more than enough for a week or two. Take a half empty one. Boom, saved an ounce. Keep this up, and you will be down a pound before you know it.
- Pitch the Packaging: I un-package almost everything I take, especially food. Remember that everything you bring you have to pack out also.
- Keep notes: Test your plans out before you go: Know how many boils you get from a can of fuel in windy conditions. Know how much food you usually need on a long hiking day. Know what you use and didn’t touch from your pack on a typical trip. This will help you plan more effectively.
- Share the load: If you are travelling with other friends, work together to share the weight of items you all can use: bug spray, sunscreen, stove, water filter etc.
3. Know the conditions you will be facing
Being in tune with weather conditions and what you may be facing will help you pack accordingly. Monitor weather in the area you will be hiking a week or two before your trip. Think about if that area has a lot of freak storms, animal activity, or bugs galore. All this will play a factor in the items you may really, actually need on your hike.
4. Water Management:
Also be familiar with the trail, water sources and temperature. This will dictate how much water you will need to carry with you. Water will likely be the heaviest thing in your pack. When hiking, I try to make sure I’m adequately hydrated before I even step foot on the trail. This doesn’t mean drinking a bottle of water before I go, this means I try to top up days before I leave to ensure I’ve been properly hydrating leading up to the hike. I will only carry enough water (because I have properly planned) to get me to the next watering hole. At the water source I will drink a half to a whole bottle of water to stay hydrated, and carry away only what I need. By using a UV pen as my treatment option, I don’t have to worry about waiting on or carrying water that is being treated with chemical. I can drink water instantly.
5. The BIG 3
If you are into researching lightweight backpacking, most people discuss the BIG 3 as the critical way to drop the most weight. These being: your shelter, sleeping system and pack. This is certainly where I have made the biggest impact in reducing my weight, but it usually comes with a hefty price tag. Be prepared to shell out a bit of extra dough if you want to get the good gear, and gear that will last. The lighter the gear, the heftier the price tag in my experience.
- Sleeping bag: Down is significantly lighter than synthetic. The lower the temp rating, the more the price tag increases. This is where you don’t want to cheap out. Again, plan for the conditions you will be facing.
- Shelter: I haven’t made the jump to a tarp shelter, or cowboy camping or hammock sleeping. I’m still a tent girl. But there are plenty of options for lightweight tents out there. The tent I will be using comes in at about 2 lbs.
- Your pack: My first real big pack (65 L) weighs in at about 5 lb empty. I love my pack: its comfortable and allows me to easily haul 50 lb without too much hassle. Adapting my packing strategies and making a conscious effort to drop weight has allowed me to downsize my pack size and consider the purchase of a smaller, more lightweight pack.
Knowing that I will still be hauling 25+ lbs on my trip, I have picked an appropriate pack to haul the load comfortably. Again, do your research. My new pack the Osprey Tempest 40, weighing in at a mere 2 lbs.
On that note, I realize that there is a wide degree of comfort levels for some people, and what I can tolerate (ie. wearing the same clothes for a week, not using deodorant, eating oatmeal for 10 days in a row) may not appeal to everyone. Know your limits and work within them.. within reason of course. So much of learning what you are comfortable with and how you can change comes from experience and trial and error.
Stay tuned for my post hike de-brief. Will I come back wishing I just carried the damn wine?