Backpack weight hasn’t always been a concern of mine. My first hiking experience I borrowed an external frame pack from my friend Mike, threw whatever gear I had in it and hit the trail. As I progressed in my hiking adventures, purchasing new equipment along the way I admit I didn’t research anything. I’d decide I needed something new, go to the store and buy what was cheap and would serve my purpose. I was carrying a couple of knives, a Leatherman, Altoid cans full of random firing starters, extra clothes and tons of food. The list goes on, I was throwing stuff in the pack. My mentality towards my loadout stayed this way for years until my first trip into the mountains. I hiked the Snow Creek trail in Yosemite National park. A stunning ascent out of the Yosemite Valley with an altitude gain of over 1700 feet while hiking 1.7 miles. Basically straight up. When I got to the top exhausted all I felt like I’d carried a backpack filled with granite. Completing this trip, I immediately began to reassess the items in my pack. To me this was critical because from Yosemite, we were headed to Grand Canyon National Park. It was August and the group I was with planned on hiking the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado river, ascending back up the Angel Bright trail to spend the night at Indian Garden. Neat fact: Kaibab means “mountain laying down” or “upside down mountain” in Navajo. So, we arrived at the Kaibab trailhead early one August morning and began our descent into the canyon. It was a really hot day and when we arrived at the Indian Garden campground I was exhausted. I’d spent most of the day adjusting my backpack. I couldn’t get comfortable. I felt like my pack was heavier than when I hiked Snow Creek. I was determined to never end a hike feeling this way again.
Unlike when I began hiking the internet was now easily accessible and information was abundant. I was inundated with information. Everyone was talking about ultralight hiking, and cutting their toothbrushes in half, and ditching all creature comforts. I agree this approach has merit, though I believe it’s a little excessive. What I did do was start saving my money. First, I bought a new backpack. I purchased an Osprey internal frame pack weighing around 3lbs. Compare this to my old North Face pack which weighed nearly 8lbs. Next, I purchased a new tent and sleeping bag, again reducing my weight. The combined weight of my first load out of the B3 (big 3: backpack, tent, and sleeping bag) was nearly 18lbs. my new setup, 8lbs and currently my B3 weigh in at a whopping 5 lbs.
The benefits of reducing the weight of your pack are obvious. You spend enough time on the trail and you’ll reach a point when the only way to reduce your pack weight is to lose weight. A jest but it’s true. Carrying a heavy pack puts tremendous stress on your hips, knees and back. This burden takes away from the experience. Another key piece of information is, “Purchase a pack that fits you.” This is not a bookbag. Go to a store and get sized properly. A backpack with hip straps and chest straps is designed to carry a load a certain way on your body. Do the right thing: do not negate this design feature as I did when I purchased my first backpack. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. Afterwards charge through, save money, use the gear you have and set a goal to purchase the next two pieces of equipment to complete your B3. These two items can be as expensive as the backpack. My B3 cost around $1000 combined. Take your time, research, talk to friends, borrow gear and, never buy the Zero degree bag off Amazon.
Referring to my dissent from mantras of ultralight hiking, I’ll say I understand why a person will forego creature comforts such as a blow-up mattress, camp chairs, pillows, camp shoes, or other items such as binoculars and a titanium Snow Peak French presses– two things I feel enhance my adventure. I love a good cup of coffee. Here’s some Jason Doucet tips to lighten your pack and enhance your hiking experience.
- Get all the gear you’re going to consistently use on most if not all trips, seasonal changes aside. Once you’ve reduced weight, introduce items with redundancy. Examples of items I carry are my titanium pot which also functions as my drinking cup, my 18-ounce shelter tarp supported by my trekking poles, eliminating a heavy tent and tent poles.
- In addition, learned skills such as packing your backpack, which will make it ride better on your body making it feel lighter, setting up a tarp shelter or using water purifying tabs or a water filter.
- Water purification skills are important. Water weighs around 8lbs a gallon. Now imagine you’re carrying 2 gallons with you on your trip into Glacier National Park in August, 60 miles over 4 days. That’s a lot of weight–but wait. If you do the research and have acquired the skills, you’ll know that you don’t need to carry much water at all because you’ll be walking along rivers, lakes and waterfalls the whole trip.
- Lastly, I want to address hiking shoes. Many people start out buying a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots. Water resistant is more like it. I suggest you get use to wet feet. It’s ain’t so bad. They’ll dry, and any way shoes have a big hole in the top wear your foot goes. Back to the hiking boots, consider this, the United States Army wrote a research paper equating every pound on your feet to 7 pounds of force being exerted on your hips, knees and back. For example, I wear steel toed boots often. I weighed them, 2.3 pounds each. The math, 2.3 x 2= 4.6 total weight of both shoes, multiply this by 7 = 32.2 pounds. This means when I wear these boots the impact on my hips, back, and knees is the same as walking around with a 32-pound pack. Add a pack to the equation and think about the forces your joints are exposed to on a 20 mile hike. I personally hike in a pair of trail running shoes, combined weight less than 2 pounds. Before doing this consider how much ankle support you need. I would suggest checking out the Salomon shoe company.
- A backpack is an extension of the wearer. Apply skills you’ve learned to determine what you absolutely need and then pack what you desire. Learn your likes and dislikes. You’ll find you don’t need enough food for 7 days on a 3-day trip.
Be safe out there and let us know if you have any questions. We’d love to help any way we can, cheers. For more information about packing your backpack and choosing the right gear for you please visit our learning center at AcadianX U.
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Here is a link to our suggested gear packing lists to assist you in organizing your gear needs:
AcadianX Gear Packing Checklists – AcadianX Outdoor Adventures