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The Olympia Hiking and Outdoor Recreation Group Message Board › Thoughts on Packing light for 2013

Thoughts on Packing light for 2013

A former member
Post #: 1
The art of overnight backpacking is learning to carry what is essential and no more. After all, walking is the THING and you want to be comfortable and pain free throughout the day. You want to arrive at camp, after a full day of walking, feeling like you've earned your rest but not dog-tired and in pain so that setting your hooch and preparing dinner becomes an unwelcome chore. It took me many years to learn this.

I did my first overnight backpack in 1970 and Colin Fletcher published his backpacking bible (The Complete Walker) in 1968. Fletch doled out much advice in this manuscript including how much your pack should weigh. He suggested you could carry up to one-third of your bodyweight and I'm sure he carried at least that. Well, if you can carry 33.3% why not 40% or 45%? I carried obscenely heavy packs for years and in 1991 it caught up with me when I ruptured a disc in my lower back while carrying a 75 pound load on the seventh day of a ten-day trip. After convalescing for three years I realized I had to rethink my strategy if I had any chance of backpacking in the future. It may be possible to carry 40% of your bodyweight but why do it?

These days I've cut my pack weight to just 15-20% of my bodyweight and discovered it is so much better. It turns out you don't have to become an extreme, ultra-light Jardinite to benefit from packing lighter. A couple of definitions. I consider "pack weight" to be the full weight of my load including the maximum amount of food, water, and fuel. When I refer to pack weight without food and water I call that my "base weight".

Ultralight hiker Ray Jardine keeps his base weight near eight pounds while mine is more like eighteen pounds. Nevertheless, my base weight is low compared to the average hiker and includes my ice axe.

For most hikers the two heaviest items on your back are the backpack itself and your shelter. If you want to lighten your load you need to tackle these items first. There is little value in cutting the handle of your toothbrush while still carrying that 5000 cubic inch (75 liter), industrial-strength, seven pound backpack. Some of the Dana Designs and Gregory packs come to mind when I say "overbuilt". Don't get me wrong, You need a reliable well-made pack with a good suspension system but you don't need one built to survive a fall from 30,000 feet! These days companies like Granite Gear are making excellent quality 3500 cubic inch (60 liter) packs that weigh under three pounds. If you can't manage with a 50-60 liter pack for any length trip you are probably taking to much stuff.

The other heavy item for most of us is the tent. It's hard to get much lighter than a TarpTent by Henry Shires. But I stopped carrying a tent altogether. I now use tarps exclusively. Tarps have no frame to carry and are the lightest shelters of all. The new silicone impregnated nylon tarps are the bomb! They weigh almost nothing and I especially like the ones made by Integral Designs ( a Canadian Co.) No doubt tarps require more skill and technique to set properly in inclement weather but these skills can be learned.

Just some thoughts to consider as you develop your skills in overnight backpacking. Think of it like a Zen exercise. In this case you really do carry your burdens with you.
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