Make Your Backpack Light in 2007 – One of the “Ten Essentials”

The list of essentials seems to expand and contract, but conventional wisdom a long time ago figured out “must haves” for survival and / or comfort. One is a pocket knife.

If you’ve read any of my posts you know I big on looking for alternatives, especially lightweight or ultralight weight versions.

I have two beautiful Swiss Army Knives and love them. BUT they weigh four ounces each and I don’t need all the extras they offer. So I purchased for 99 cents a small knife with plastic handle I found in a clear plastic bin on the counter of my local hardware store. It was put there to be an impulse buy. But it’s been a trusty little friend, weighing a half ounce. Great for cutting cheese, salami, or cord.

Another gadget I’m adding to my “essentials” this year is a pair 3″ Deluxe Folding Scissors from Simplicity Pattern Company. Available in most drugstores, they weigh less than a half ounce and fold down tiny — about the size of two quarters.
A Ten Essentials
What are the other essentials?

Map, compass, flashlight / headlamp, extra food, extra clothes, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocket knife, waterproof matches, firestarter.

Several sources say there are four more you should consider: water / filter / bottles, whistle, insect repellents or clothing, sunscreen.

Survival specialists say you’re most powerful survival weapon is common sense — it’s cheap (free) and weight-free.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Make Your Backpack Light: The Esbit Stove

Esbit solid fuel stove

I plan four tablets for each day (three for pasta and tea) and one in the morning for coffee. And, I include enough tin foil for use as a wind screen.

The Esbit stove is cheap — about $10. Another, lighter Esbit version available from weighs about an ounce and is about $16.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Make Your Backpack Light in 2007: Pills and Mirrors

I’ve been writing about all the “little” items that fill a backpack and how to make them smaller and lighter.

Perhaps you don’t take any prescriptions, but a small plastic pill holder for aspirin, antihistimine, or anti-diarrhea tablets can come in handy.

Backpacking mirror and pill caseYou want something small and light, which is why I have chosen the four slot plastic pill holder you can find in any drugstore. You certainly don’t want medications rolling around in your pack. You could choose to use a snack size plastic bag, but really that won’t save much weight and you’ll have a mess of pills.

As for a mirror, my wife gave me a tiny cosmetic mirror that closes up, which has myriad uses.

One that comes to mind is from a trip with the Diablo Hiking Club a few years ago. One of our members was fly fishing and snagged his fly and hook inside his nose. A totally freak accident. But a mirror and tweezers were key to getting it out.

Of course, a mirror can also help you remove stuff you get in your eye or even signal for help in an emergency.

Pill case and mirror: 1.5 ounces.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Ultralight Day Packs Keep Pack Weight Down

A light daypack is an essential piece of equipment for the light backpacker.
Kiva Designs Key Chain Backpack
I’ve taken many, many three-day loop trips that involve two overnights and 8-10 miles of day hiking wearing your pack. That’s great except for one thing: you’re wearing your pack the whole time. Even an ultralight pack is still a weight on your back.

More and more of my backpacks involve hiking to a campsite and then taking long day hikes to explore the area. My companions The Duke, Wild Bill and I load up our sandwiches, windbreakers and water in Duke’s ultralight daypack and head out. In the Caribou Wilderness, for example, we hiked in 4 miles to a great camp, then took 10-12 mile day trips.
Kiva Designs Key Chain Backpack Open
The Duke’s wife found his daypack years ago, but couldn’t remember where she got it. My wife finally found one for me the other day in a Bed Bath & Beyond. From my web search it appears they are mostly sold in luggage shops.

The Kiva “key chain backpack” weighs just 2 ounces and is four inches wide by 3 inches high. Unzip it and you have a 612 cc daypack. Cost: $10. It was a great find. A feather on my back.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Make Your Backpack Light in 2007 – Taking a Bath

The little things make a big difference on the trail. Bathing (getting the trail dust off) is one them — even though I don’t do too much bathing when on short (two-day) backpacks.

Diving into a lake or splashing your face in a cool stream are two of the more refreshing ways to get the dust off.
Paper Shampoo and Bandana
A bandana and Paper Soap or Paper Shampoo works great, too.

For 2 ounces, you get soap and a bandana that works as a sling, sweat band, a filter to keep out debris when filling your water bottle from a mucky lake or stream and a wash rag. To name just a few uses.

As a reminder: a basic credo of light backpacking is to take gear that has multiple uses so you can cut down on the gear you take. Less gear = less weight.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Make Your Backpack Light in 2007 – Kitchen Cleanup

I remember showing up on my first backpack in 1998 with a 45-pound pack stuffed with every conceivable backpacking gadget and implement – such things as those orange spades used to dig toilet holes.
Backpacking Light Kitchen Advice
The shear pain of all that weight, plus having so many different items in my pack sent me in search of a new approach. Of course, I discovered the “Ray (Jardine) Way” and began getting ultralight, mainly by dumping things that really weren’t essential.

Honestly, for clean up you can use a little water, some gritty earth and your finger to get the oatmeal out of your pot. But I compromised with a 1-ounce solution: a small plastic bottle with biodegradable soap and a 1-inch square of sponge (with a gritty material on the back side for scouring).

Using the gritty earth-finger method is messy and if you aren’t near a water source, uses more water for clean up.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Make Your Backpack Light in 2007 – Teeth and Gums

Just because you have escaped the city doesn’t mean you want to escape basic personal care on the trail. Actually, flossing and brushing can be refreshing when you’re covered with trail dust.

My floss, toothpaste and brush weigh in at 1 ounce. You could go lighter by eliminating the brush and using your finger. But hey, we don’t need to get too crazy — just a little — to be lightbackpackers.
Lightbackpacking Toothbrush
I buy the travel size Tom’s of Maine toothpaste (there are lots of other choices); travel size Glide floss (about the size of a dime) and a “Go Go” thumb tooth brush. You don’t have trim handles or drill holes because it is already a third of the normal size.

You can find all of these items at your local drugstore.

Time to Remember Why We Go Light(ly)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent much of the winter thinking about backpacking and going light. And, of course, writing about it. But not doing any actual backpacking.

You’ll notice I use the adverb lightly to describe “go” and have placed parenthesis marks around the “l-y.” I guess I did this because going lightly doesn’t sound right to me, although it is grammatically correct. It seems most people have dumped the l-y’s and just use the words without them. Sounds ignorant to me after learning the correct way in school, but for the sake of the blog, I’ll use light with no l-y.

Okay, this isn’t meant to be a post about grammar, but to remind everyone that all this advice and posting I’ve done for the past five months since starting is all about getting out and backpacking. But also carrying as little as possible to maximize your wilderness experience.

So, why go light? It feels better, you’ll be less aware of the weight on your back so you can enjoy your surroundings more, and less weight is better on your back, legs, hips, ankles and feet. Some might argue that carrying less weight is safer, too.

In my next few posts I’m going to share with you my pack contents for the upcoming backpacking season. We’ll go lightly together.

In the meantime think light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Zero Based Budgeting – Perfect Formula for Lightweight Backpacking

Most of you have probably heard of zero-based budgeting. It’s a simple concept: your budget starts at zero and builds. This differs from annual budgeting that merely looks at the previous year’s budget and adds or subtracts an amount.

With spring on us and snow melting fast, you’re probably anxious to hit the trail. But you want to do it as lightly as possible.

So where do you begin? You start at zero. That means buying a really light pack and building from there.

When I started backpacking 10 years ago, the average big load pack, like my 5800 cc Dana Terraplane was 7.5 pounds. By the time I added my 7.5 pound Sierra Design Meteor Tent, I was already at 15 pounds. Ouch!

The 2007 Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide lists dozens of packs in the two to three pound range. Here’s my recommendation to get off to the lightest backpacking season ever:

•Choose a pack around 2 pounds.

•Ignore marketing gobbledygook about “Adventure Packs”, “Racing Packs”, and “Fast Packs.” Any of these will be a good place to start since they are small and light.

•Smaller is better: it’s lighter and you’ll be forced to take less (I can pack for a week’s trip using my 1 pound, 9 ounce Osprey Aether 2,800 cc pack).

•If you don’t have the money to get a whole new set of equipment — and few of us do — then just start with the pack and then carefully analyze each item (whether you really need it; can it be used for multiple purposes).

If you check out my past posts in “key posts” or “backpacks” or “tips” you’ll find examples of lightweight packs and strategies for lightening up.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.