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How to Reduce Pack Weight – 70 practical tips

by | Mar 8, 2017 | Hiking Tips | 4 comments

The two most common questions you’ll hear on any trail are ‘what are you eating tonight?’ and ‘how can I reduce pack weight?’ Maybe we’ll tackle the first question sometime, but for now here is our best stab at some practical tips on how to reduce pack weight.

To reduce pack weight there is always some kind of trade off, be it the cost of new gear, comfort or even safety.  It is all about finding a compromise which works for your individual experience while staying safe out there.

Some of the below tips have the potential to lower your pack by kilograms, others require a total shift of mentality and some are quick wins which may add up. Not all of them will be right for you

Gear

Your hiking gear will account for the greatest proportion of weight within your backpack, so you can make some big savings here.  Some tips require investment in new gear, others are a change of approach and perspective.

0.5kg+ reductions

Upgrade your gear to reduce pack weight

1) Upgrade your gear

Especially the big three: tent, sleeping bag and roll mat. We use and love our Kelty Cosmic 20 bags, which weigh in at just under 1.3kg. However, if you look at this comparison on OutDoor Gearlab you can see that there are bags with the same heat rating which weigh half as much.  They also cost three times the price. 

Change your sleeping system to reduce pack weight

2) Change your sleeping System

Move from the traditional tent to a bivy sack or hammock. With lightweight hammocks coming in at around the 0.5kg mark, you can drastically reduce pack weight. Ensure you test these methods and see if they work for you before embarking on a several night thru-hike.

The appropriate size gear will reduce pack weight

3) Appropriate size

Going on a solo hike? Then take a one man tent. If not, you’re just carrying excess material and weight. The difference between REI’s quarter dome 1 and 3 man tent is 0.6kg.

Pack for the right season to reduce pack weight

4) 3 season

This is normally enough. If it’s mid-summer and snow and high winds are not on the cards, leave the winter tent and -20 sleeping bag at home.

What size backpack you carry will help to reduce pack weight

5) Optimise packsize

It’s human nature: whatever size backpack you buy, you will end up filling it. Buy the pack which is necessary for the hiking you do.  A 65ltr pack is quite a nice size for a thru-hike.

Innovate

6) Multi-use gear

Replace several tasks with one item. If you carry a bottle opener, can opener and knife, then a Swiss Army Knife would be the obvious replacement. Zip off trousers are common and double as shorts.

7) DIY pillow

Fill and close a dry bag with nothing but air to get a very usable pillow, this will also keep your clothes dry overnight. Or use several zip-locks inside a stuff sack with your spare clothes.

8) DIY tent pegs

Most tents use around 10 stakes. You could carry half that amount to secure the key areas of the tent and then a combination of rocks, sticks and trees to make the rest of the tent taut.

9) Hiking poles

These can be doubled up to support a tarp or the vestibule of a tent instead of using the recommended poles. Ensure poles are extendable to an appropriate height.

10) Sleeping Bag

There is usually a direct relationship between weight and temperature rating. Opt for a lighter one and make up the difference with a sleeping bag liner.

11) Sleeping Pad

Cut off any amount you don’t use from any foam pads. For the truly hardcore, cut it so it just provides insulation to your core and then elevate your legs on your pack.

Quick fire tips

  1. Down provides an excellent warmth to weight ratio and will reduce pack weight when used as an alternative to the traditional heavy weight jacket or sleeping bag. 
  2. Eliminate non-essentials; keep a list of everything you carried but didn’t use on a walk. If an item consistently makes the list, unless it is an essential item, leave it behind.
  3. Layers provide more options and enough warmth for most hikes. Leave the emergency parka in the car.
  4. First aid kit; ensure it is stocked for the amount of people and duration of the trip, no more. 
  5. Sandals or flip flops make good enough camp shoes and are much lighter than running shoes. If you decide not to take any additional shoes, unlace your boots at night for more breathability.
  6. Pack less clothes; you’ll be amazed at how many days in a row you can wear a hiking top. If you are out in the wilderness then odds are you won’t see anyone so it doesn’t matter. If you aren’t in a remote location, you can wash clothes as you go.
  7. Avoid denim; around every camp you still see someone wearing jeans as night time wear, but they are heavy and soak up water if an unexpected shower happens.
  8. Shake off all excess water from your tent and if it is sunny allow your tent to dry before breaking camp.
  9. It is less weight to cover up than to protect your skin from the sun or insects with creams. Head nets will keep insects away from your face.
  10. Check the gradient of your hike, if it is quite flat you can leave the hiking poles at home.

Food, Water and Cooking

The best part about this weight is that it lightens the further into the hike you get. Before we jump in, ditching your rubbish is not a tactic to reduce pack weight. Make sure you pack out and properly dispose of all your rubbish.

0.5kg+ reductions

Use one pan meals to reduce pack weight

22) One pan meals

Ensure you are carrying the minimum cooking equipment by planning one pan meals. This ensures simple and fast meals but best of all reduces the amount of washing up. 

Ditch tins in order to reduce pack weight

23) Ditch the tinned goods

Repackage your food items for a lighter alternative; zip-lock bags are lightweight and cheap.  Sandwich boxes and collapsable tupperware can store several tins worth of food and are a greener option.

Drink like a camel to reduce pack weight

24) Drink like a camel

Every time you are at a water source, drink as much as you comfortably can. This will reduce pack weight because you will be able to carry less water.

Campfire cooking reduce pack weight

25) Campfire cooking

When allowed, campfires can be used as a substitute stove. Check with campgrounds and national parks in advance before relying on this method. Here is a list of all campsites in the UK which allow fires.

Research your route in order to reduce pack weight

26) Research the route

Does it go past a place where you can buy water or are there drinkable natural sources? Water weighs around 1kg per litre, if you plan an hour between each refill point you should never have to carry more than 1 litre.

Plan resupply points to reduce pack weight

27) Plan resupply points

This will drastically reduce pack weight. It eliminates the need to carry an entire hikes worth of food. These can be local shops, restaurants or pre-posted to pick up destinations.

Innovate

28) No Cups

By pouring your morning coffee into your nalgene or drinking straight from the pot.

29) Dried meals

Quick cook and one pan. However nutrition, price and taste varies hugely by brand, so do your research.

30) No Bowls

Eat straight from the rehydration meal pouch, pot, zip lock bags or even a mug.

31) Cache food and water

If you are hiking in and out it may be possible to store some supplies for the way back.

32) Blacken Pans

Make pans more efficient by blackening the bottom of your pot with BBQ paint and always cooking with a lid.

33) Beer can stove

This is the ultimate lightweight cooker, failing the DIY approach the MSR PocketRocket is a great piece of lightweight kit.

34) Clean with dirt

Leave the soap at home. A handful of dirt and small rocks will quickly soak up any grease, throw this out and then wash with water.

35) No cook meals

Meals like cheese and crackers can provide a lot of calories but this can get majorly demoralising over a longer thru-hike.

Quick fire tips

  1. Foil alternatives are available for tuna and other tinned goods and keep food equally fresh.
  2. Glass bottles are heavy. If you want to take an alcoholic treat then decant it into a plastic bottle.
  3. Snacks for lunch will prevent you stopping for a prolonged lunch break and reduces the amount of gas you need to carry. Just graze throughout the day and you will have a enough energy to finish your day.
  4. Carry less gas by opting for quicker cooking ingredients such as couscous over pasta or rice. Using a windshield can also improve efficiency.
  5. You can do everything with a spork and pen knife, between these two items you can dominate a kitchen, kind of.
  6. Calorie dense foods allow you to carry less, this is completely backwards from how we look at food off the trail but you want to find food with the highest calorie value per gram. Think nuts, chocolate and cheese. That sounds pretty good actually.
  7. Calories vs weight; if you are only going for a weekend of camping there is no need to carry 5,000 calories a day. You would be better off carrying less and using some of your reserves (we all have them) as a trade off for a lighter bag.
  8. SteriPens allow you to treat water on the move which should increase the amount of potential refill points and further lower your required water levels.
  9. Nalgene bottles are actually heavy comparatively to a normal plastic bottle. They can weigh up to 4 times more. Alternatives such as the platypus are a greener choice than standard plastic bottles.
  10. Eat meals in accordance to weight, heaviest first.

Technology

There are some outstanding gadgets out there, unfortunately most of them tip the scale a little bit too much to make this list. Here we will concentrate on the most common tech on the trail: phones, cameras, torches and watches.

0.5kg+ reductions

46) Head Torch

This trumps a flashlight. They are minimal weight and fulfil the need if you only plan to use it around camp and are not planning on hiking in the dark or spotting nocturnal wildlife. For further reductions take candles instead or use the flashlight app on a phone.

47) Solar chargers

These will be permanently recharging, allowing them to hold less charge cycles than standard power banks which reduces their size and weight. If you carry a few battery packs these savings quickly add up.

48) Camera substitutes

If you are not an aspiring or professional photographer, the newer models of phone and GoPro can shoot up to 12mp and weigh a fraction of a traditional camera.

49) Natural Tripods

Can be found everywhere from walls to trees; unless you are planning on doing some long exposure shots you could probably be creative enough to get by without one.

50) Podcasts and ebooks

Can replace heavy books if you plan on taking your phone along. Ensure you flick it over to flight mode before using to maximise battery life. 

51) Lithium batteries

Weigh less and last longer. Alkaline batteries can be twice as heavy.

Quick fire tips

  1. Mirrorless cameras are more compact and lighter than DLSRs.
  2. Choose your lens wisely; if you choose to take a spare lens then you will probably need to pack something to protect it and these additional items can start to add up.
  3. Check and charge batteries before each trip, there is nothing worse than carrying dead batteries for the entire duration of a hike
  4. Extend battery life to allow you to carry less. Keep your batteries warm over night by putting them in your sleeping bag to avoid the cold leaching them and use your technology sparingly.
  5. Casio F-91W watch is perfect for the trail, it comes with an alarm, stopwatch and light. What more do you need. Leave your heavy watch at home.

Final tips

Small wins

  1. Empty your pockets; day to day you will find me with a set of house keys, car keys, wallet and phone. These naturally find their way onto the trail but could be left in the car or at home.
  2. Travel size toiletries and creams; decant big bottles into travel sized containers or buy smaller versions.
  3. Remove the cardboard from the inside of the toilet roll.
  4. Ditch the toilet paper completely in favour of a smooth stone or other substitutes. This one is only for the extreme.
  5. Pre-roll gaffer tape around your hiking poles or drinks bottle and leave the remainder of the role at home.
  6. Cut excess away from all packaging, labels, maps, even pages of books that you are half finished. This includes laces, straps and unused buckles.
  7. Baking soda as toothpaste? Yeah it is a thing
  8. Leather belts are not for the trail; buy a specific and cheap lightweight belt.
  9. Use a stick to dig a hole and leave your trowel at home.

Big Wins

These final five are good ones, so hold on and congratulations for getting this far.

66) Radial Hike

Hike a day in and set up camp, then perform a series of day hikes from that location. This allows you to use a daypack for most of your hiking and then carry a lighter bag out.  It also gets you off the beaten track.

67) Plan and Prepare early

For a big thru-hike, pack your bag a week early if possible. This allows you to see exactly what you have, what you are missing and how heavy your pack is. If you are missing something, you still have time to get the best and lightest option not just a panic buy on the way to the trail head.

Sharing the load will reduce pack weight

68) Share the load

Hiking with others is safer and allows you to share the load. Carrying half of a 2 man tent is lighter than carrying a one man tent and you can split cooking equipment and food. This is Emily’s favourite tactic to reduce pack weight.

Take the load of your feet to reduce pack weight

69) Reduce boot weight

According to a 1984 US army research institute study, it takes between 4.7 and 6.4 times more energy to move with weight carried on the shoe versus the torso. This means that if you reduce the weight of your boots by 1kg it will feel similar to a 5kg reduction in your backpack.

70) More experience = less weight

The more hiking you do, the more confidence you will gain and the more comfortable you will feel when you reduce pack weight. On your first thru-hike you will want to carry everything possible just incase, but as you get more comfortable with your own abilities, your equipment and within the environment you will automatically carry less water, gas and remove unnecessary weight by trial and error.


Do you have anymore tips on how to reduce pack weight? Please leave us a comment below.


DISCLOSURE: DRIVE AND HIKE (TS & EJ HAMMOND) ARE PART OF THE AMAZON ASSOCIATES AFFILIATE PROGRAM. SOME OF THE ABOVE LINKS ARE AFFILIATE LINKS. THIS MEANS THAT IF YOU PURCHASE A PRODUCT BASED ON OUR SUGGESTION WE WILL RECEIVE A COMMISSION.  THIS IS AT NO EXTRA COST TO YOU.

About The Author

Strategy consultant by week, explorer by weekend.His first ever hike was a 9 day thru-hike at Torres del Paine and it was love at first hike. He now sleeps better in a tent than a bed. He would rather drive for 2 hours down a country lane than sit for 2 minutes in traffic. He has been known to lead driving safaris in areas without wildlife with a Justin Bieber soundtrack.

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4 Comments on "How to Reduce Pack Weight – 70 practical tips"

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Jonathan
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What a comprehensive list. I like that you’ve split it into the big wins and the smaller ones – and that’s kind of how to pack, generally, isn’t it? I mean, why bother with cutting all the tags off your clothes if you could save 5x that weight by using travel-sized toiletries, or 10x the weight taking a lighter sleeping bag (if you can afford it!). I think the tactic of taking only as much as you will need is especially useful – but like you mention at the end, it takes a few hikes to know what things you… Read more »
Lauren M
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I love these tips, so many ways to reduce a few kg. I have tweeted this post as I think it’ll help a lot of people. I’m certainly going to follow your advice in the future

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