Last month I introduced myself and spent some time discussing the philosophy of light weight backpacking. We briefly discussed the BIG THREE, backpack, shelter, and sleeping system. This month we will evaluate the number one item to reducing the weight on your back. By going to a lighter backpack, you can trim pounds off, instantly. The key to being successful, however, requires careful research and a no BS commitment to going light. Once you’ve purchased that smallish, ultralight pack, you defeat the purpose by hanging all your normal STUFF all over the outside of the pack. There are a multitude of light packs available, so, keep these two things in mind as you start your research: Durable, light weight materials and fit everything IN the bag.

MONKEY ON MY BACK:

Originally, backpacks were fairly simple affairs. Usually, nothing more than a bag with shoulder straps. The 1960’s and 70’s brought the external frame pack. My first new pack was a Coleman external frame pack. I traded in a military ruck sack that I purchased from a surplus store for the most magnificent piece of backpacking technology the world had ever seen. Right away, I found two problems with the Coleman. It was extremely top heavy and it killed my hips. I soldiered on in pain, never complaining, wishing for my old ruck sack back. The majority of the packs available today are internal frame packs. I won’t spend a lot of time describing them here. If you’re not familiar with an internal frame pack. I recommend taking a trip to REI or picking up a Backpacking 101 book. The point I want to make about internal frame packs…they are HEAVY. Most weigh between five to seven pounds. It’s funny, we dedicated backpackers spend hours cutting the handles off tooth brushes and drilling holes in pot handles, etc only to load everything into a seven pound monster. A good amount of the weight of one of these packs is the adjustable suspension system. Once you have adjusted the suspension for a comfortable fit, what’s left? Having to carry that system and its weight from then on… Here’s an idea. Let’s look for simple packs, without all the adjustable suspension systems, and ultra padding designed to carry heavy loads in comfort. I have yet to ever describe a 50 plus pound pack as comfortable. Most of the experiences with that much weight on my back were described as !%$&@*#, to say the least.

SIZE MATTERS:

My weekend pack is an older version of the Golite Jam. It weights 22 oz. The large Golite Jam has about 3000 cubic inches of capacity. A good weekend pack should hold, on average, around 3500 cubic inches. If you are used to a 5000 cubic inch pack for a weekend trip, purchasing a 3500 cubic inch pack will lead to a little frustration, trying to fit all your gear into the smaller pack. Be prepared to open your mind to reducing the size and weight of everything you carry. I have found that the items that I normally carry for an over night trip are basically the same items that I carry for multi-day trips. I am constantly evaluating my gear and looking for lighter versions of the items that make-up my normal load. The only variation is food, water, and fuel. We’ll discuss other equipment in the future. Most light weight packs in the 3000 – 3500 cubic inch range have extension collars. An extension collar is the extra material at the top of the main bag. Usually, there is a draw cord to close the bag. The extension collar can carry your extra food at the beginning of an extended trip. You’ll find that this extra volume and weight will disappear fast as you consume the food. The top can be folded back to normal size as the food is eaten. My recommendation for an all around pack is 3500 cubic inch capacity at 2 pounds or less.

DAISY CHAINS – BALL AND CHAINS:

Daisy chains, compression straps, compartment zippers, bladder pouches, D-rings…anchors, bowling balls, anvils, piano’s…. Get the picture? I am a disciple of the Ray Jardine method of light weight backpacking. I have read his book titled ” Beyond Backpacking”, at least three times. I refer to the book regularly. A copy of the book can be found here, http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Backpacking-Jardines-Lightweight-Hiking/dp/0963235931, if you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend doing it. You’ll be glad you did. Ray has a no nonsense approach to lightening a backpack. Simplification is the key. The fewer straps, buckles, frame components, and compartments attached to the pack, the less it will weigh. My experience has proven that if the total pack weight is 25 pounds or less, a padded hip belt is unnecessary. My packs have waist belts, however, they do not carry any of the load. I usually adjust the belt very loose. If I am scrambling, I like the belt for side to side stability only. On your next trip, try unbuckling your hip belt. If you find that carrying the load by the shoulder straps alone causes discomfort, you are probably hauling too much weight. Unless you are a mountaineer and use you pack to carry your climbing equipment, you probably will never really need daisy chains for attaching multiple items to the pack. Look for a pack without all the extras. External pockets can be very useful for items such as, water bottles, tent/tarp, camera, snacks, wet items, etc. External pockets should be made of mesh fabric. The mesh is light weight and will dry quickly. Compression straps add weight to a pack, however, they can be useful on a light weight pack when it comes to attaching a hiking pole or fishing rod to the side of the pack. If you have achieved a 20 pound pack weight, you will find that the pack is usually reasonably full and does not require compression straps.

I CAN’T BREATHE:

Sternum straps must have been developed during the Spanish Inquisition. If you properly size your pack, the chest compressor is absolutely unnecessary. Cut the damn thing loose and breathe in the fresh air. Ladies, please, do yourself a favor and get rid of it…Enough said…

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU CUT, IT’S WHAT YOU DON’T CUT:

Lightening your load is a process. Once you get that new pack home and are able to get your gear pared down to fit, take it out for a trial run. You will find that there are some straps that are too long, not needed, and other features that you will never use. Hey, it’s your pack, you paid for it. Cut all that extra crap off. Fine tune that pack until it is the carbon fiber performance attachment on the Ferrari that is you. You’ll be practically floating down the trail, laughing at the vertical gain, and enjoying your experience much, much more. Caution: Don’t run with the scissors and be very sure before cutting that strap off.

YEAH, BUT CAN YOUR PACK STOP A BULLET:

Mine can, sort of… Just because a pack is ultralight, doesn’t mean it has to be delicate. There are many light weight fabrics that have been used in pack construction. Some are really good, others not so good. Silicone coated rip-stop nylon is a fantastic material for light weight rain gear, tents, and tarps, but is lousy for backpacks. It’s just not durable enough. Even if you’re extra careful, you will inevitably rub a hole into the bottom or snag a strap or just pull too hard and tear something loose. Although, some of the better quality light weight pack manufacturers use light rip-stop nylon, the smart money is on Dyneema. It is the fabric of choice for standard-setting ultralight packs. Dyneema has a strength-to-weight ratio that is 15 times better than high tensile steel. I’ve included some links to sites that sell light weight packs. Golite and ULA Equipment use Dyneema in their ultralight packs. I have friends that hiked the Pacific Crest Trail using ULA packs. Their packs still look like new, after all those miles. The Granite Gear packs use light weight nylon for the bag material and have proven to be excellent packs. I just prefer packs made of Dyneema. I’m not trying to plug any particular product, I just haven’t found anything that does a better job than Dyneema, yet…

FINISHING TOUCHES:

Pack covers come in all sizes and colors. Some are extra light and some are very durable, however, they all have one thing in common. They don’t prevent rain from soaking your back. Eventually, you and your pack will get wet. Save the weight and hassle and just slip a large trash bag into your pack. The bags extra uses are only limited by your imagination. When loading your pack, plan ahead. Start with the trash bag liner, next roll your sleeping pad loosely, place it into the pack, then allow it to unroll and fill the pack’s interior. The pad will cushion the pack against your back and add some stiffness to the pack. Even with the trash bag liner, I still use water proof stuff sacks for my sleeping bag and clothes. I prefer to load the sleeping bag and clothes into the bottom first. Next, I load my shelter, then finish with the rest of the gear and food. I close the trash bag, then load my water and other adult beverages in the top of the pack last. Rain gear, camera, maps, and other assorted small items go into the mesh side pouches.

Besides the obvious benefits to going light, I really enjoy it when other hikers assume that I’m on a day hike.

Next month we’ll get into light weight shelters. Please let me know if you have questions or comments.

Happy trails, Pat

 

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