Hiking Light Handbook

“Anyone who has ever planted boot to trail has at some point carried too much weight,” says Karen Berger, author of Hiking Light Handbook. “Every one of us has returned home from a hike with the realization that we not only packed twice the gear we needed, but that we also carried it every step of the way.” Follow her tips below to lighten your load on the trail, whether you’re hiking five miles or five hundred.

Do you need it? Really? Why?
What will happen if you don’t have it? What is the worst that could happen? It is likely to happen? What could you do if it does? Would it ruin the trip for you? Are there any alternatives? What other gear are you carrying that might be useful?

These questions are intended to get you thinking about your needs and what it takes for you to have an enjoyable experience. If one of the highlights of hiking for you is nestling into your sleeping back with a book, then go ahead and take one along even though it's extra weight. Suggestion? Go paperback.

Don’t over-equip
You don’t need a twenty-degree bag if the lowest temperature you’ll ever sleep in is a balmy forty-five degrees. You don’t need head-to-toe coverage in a Gore-Tex rain suit to hike in the Sonoran desert in May. Yes, you need to carry the common-sense basics. But don’t pack that winter three-person tent unless you are hiking in winter with two partners.

Take advantage of new technology
New technology and new designs are lightening gear all the time. Some of these high-tech items are expensive, but if they are both durable and lightweight, they may be worth the price. Check the Internet for new designs. Some of the most cutting-edge equipment is being made by small mom-and-pop companies, which are often headed by long-distance hikers with inventive minds.

Make your own
If you are interested in experimenting with homemade gear, you’ll find patterns on the Internet. Most popular items include homemade alcohol stoves, stuff-sacks, sleeping coverlets, and clothing. Start with low-tech, low-design products such as stuff sacks, which are not subject to a lot of wear and tear, and for which malfunctions have limited consequences. Save backpacks for last—if ever.

Use items that can serve multiple purposes
Anything that can do more than one job earns its way into your pack. Trekking poles can act as tarp supports or as poles for teepee tents. Extra socks can double as mittens. A wicking shirt can be wrapped around your neck as a scarf. Bandannas can be used for everything from wiping your nose to holding a hot pot. Candles can be used to light a shelter or to help start a fire. Duct tape fixes (almost) everything.

Cut the extra features
If your gear has extra features you aren’t using, cut them off. You won’t save much weight this way, but you will have a satisfying pile of refuse to point to. Candidates for cutting include extra-long straps and cords (seal with a match so they won’t unravel), extra daisy chains and loops on your pack, anything that dangles, fabric tags, and modular pouches you don’t need for that particular trip.

Repackage and measure
Food packaging is unnecessary, adds weight, and takes up space in your pack. Also, the packaging rarely contains the exact amount that you will need on a particular trip. Repackage food in zipper-lock bags whenever possible, measuring everything and taking only what you will use. Measure and repackage even small amounts of items such as dried cheese, spices, powdered milk, and sugar. Measure and repackage nonfood consumables, too. Use little plastic containers for toothpaste or ointments to avoid carrying the entire bottle/tube.

Use resupplies and floaters on longer hikes
Break up a ten-day hike into two five-day stretches, or an eight-day hike into two four-day stretches. You can mail yourself a box of supplies in care of general delivery at a town near the trail. If you are long-distance hiking, look at the legs of your journey—the sections between each resupply point—as individual mini-hikes. Yes, you may need your ice ax for that alpine stretch that starts next week, but if you don’t need it this week, ship it ahead in a “floater” box. Using floater boxes can save long-distance hikers several pounds of pack weight.

Travel with a partner
You can make out like bandits in the weight-reduction game by sharing shelters, stoves, cooking gear, and ground cloths. You can also share an emergency kit, some hygiene supplies, and a repair kit. Some couples additionally share large sleeping bags or use sleeping bag doublers. If you do share gear with a partner, divide everything in such a way that if you get separated, the gear can still be used. For example, if one of you carries the stove and matches and the other carries the pots and fuel, neither of you will have a hot dinner if you get separated. Likewise, if one person carries the tent, including stakes and poles, the other person should carry the ground cloth, which could be used as an emergency shelter.

Looking for even more tips to help you cut weight on your next hiking/backpacking trip? Then be sure to pick up a copy of Karen Berger's book, Hiking Light Handbook.


--Adapted from Hiking Light Handbook by Karen Berger (Mountaineers Books).


Return to Story Archives Page

Your Cart

Featured Products

Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, And Family On The Edge of Alaska

The Front Yard Forager: Identifying, Collecting, And Cooking The 30 Most Common Urban Weeds

Avalanche Essentials: A Step-By-Step System For Safety And Survival