Lightweight and Fancy Free
By Kevin Callan
It seems the older the camper becomes the lighter they want their pack. Problem is, with age also comes the desire to be comfortable. And unfortunately these two pleasures generally don't go hand in hand. That's not to say that you should give up on the dream of packing non-essentials and still float like a feather down the trail. You just have to plan properly.
Brutal analysis of each piece of gear that goes into your pack is your first step. Equipment you take along should be placed under three main categories: essential, just-in-case, and unnecessary but desirable comfort items.
There's no messing around with essential items, except you should look into items that are multifunctional. For example, Duct Tape is vital for any repair kit but can also be duplicated as mole skin or fire starter (it has a very effective burning rate when doused with bug repellent). And generally the manufacture of critical pieces of gear will make high-end lighter options, but for more money of course.
To make everything fit into your pack is truly an art form and bulk is your worst enemy. The items that usually take up the most volume are tent, sleeping bag and clothes. All three should be stored in compression sacks. These storage bags are indispensable when it comes to reducing bulk. Also, when purchasing a tent aim for the smallest and lightest you can afford and spend more quality time huddled under a rain tarp during foul weather. I'd suggest you also store the fly and tent body in separate compression sacks. Not only does this reduce the size overall, it also allows you to keep the continuously wet fly clear away from everything else in the pack. For sleeping bags go for the down filled rather than synthetic when comparison shopping for sleeping bags. The down bag is unmatched when it comes to warmth, weight and its ability to be compressed to the size of a miniature football. Just make sure it's also packed in a watertight stuff sack. The amount and type of cloths are a little more complex. Your choices of garments are totally dependant on the time of season. You can't help but bring an extra fleece, long-johns and wool toque during spring and Fall outings. In this case, remember to choose clothing with the highest possible performance-to-weight ratio. In warm summer conditions, however, you only need to pack one extra set of cloths. That's all you'll really need. Just hope for a hot, sunny day half way through your trip so you can do laundry.
The weight of cookware can also add up, especially for a large group size. The problem is that most of what you bring is essential. Items such as a camp stove, fuel, and cooking pots are indispensable. There are ways to limit the weight, however. First, spend the extra money and purchase the lightest stove possible and make good use of a windscreen to reduce your fuel consumption. Secondly, a cheap aluminum pot set bought at a discount store is far better than one of those new-aged titanium sets. Make sure to leave your fork at home. Each person only needs a plastic spoon and a handy Swiss army knife for eating. Scrub pads can also be left at home. They end up becoming a breeding ground for bacteria anyway. A handful of pine needles and sand work just as good and is far more sanitary.
Food can really add up. But if you keep to homemade dehydrated food for at least 80% of your meals you can really reduce the weight of your food pack. This doesn't necessarily take away the taste either. I've made better dinners out there than in the comfort of my own kitchen. And, as strange as it may sound, don't pack your food when you're hungry. And keep portions, like rice or noodles, to a science.
The final, and probably best advice, is to place every item in your pack that you would normally bring along on a trip. Then weigh the pack on a good quality scale. Now, take everything back out, and begin considering which items could be left at home or replaced by a newer and lighter version. Take special note of all those little extras you decide to pack along. They can cause a real problem. You don't think they mean much, but when added together all those gadgets and gizmos can really put on the pounds. Start off by multitasking. Each item should have two or more jobs. Also, limit the amount of things like sun screen, toothpaste and bug repellent. You'll never go through it all on one trip. So stash smaller amounts in smaller containers or shop for those convenient trial packs. Store-bought first-aid kits also have a tendency to have lots of useless items. By making your own you not only reduce the weight but yields a much better kit. A repair kit can be made of Duct Tape and one of those handy multi-tools. A pocket-size disposable camera can easily replace a 35 mm single lens reflex camera if you're just tasking photos to share with friends and family. A small orienteering compass is just as good as a Global Positioning System if you're traveling in a well-used area. A monocular can easily replace binoculars. A paperback novel is far better than a cumbersome field guide. Light Emitting Diode (LED) head lights are far superior to packing along cheap flashlights that need extra bulbs and are powered by a supply of AA batteries. Lightweights
The most notable light-weight packer was author "Nessmuk" who claimed in his book Woodcraft (1920) that his load never exceeded 26 pounds (including canoe), and added the sage advice:
"Go light; the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort and enjoyment."
Kevin Callan is the author of eight books including "A Paddlers Guide to Quetico and Beyond." and "The Happy Camper: An Essential Guide to Life Outdoors." Look for his NEW book "Wilderness Pleasures" available now. He's currently working on a one hour documentary to celebrate Quetico's 100th anniversary in 2009 (See pilot footage here).
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