How to lighten the load on a budget

Newanderthal

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I see people all the time toting around 40-60 pound backpacks while they trudge along, compressed beneath the weight and groan when we get to camp only 6 miles later. The next morning, their backs ache and their legs are worn out. The 6 mile trek back to the truck is torture. Their entire backpacking experience is a miserable, tiresome ordeal. I'm not talking about the old couch potatoes, but the former high school football players. The guys who run a mile every morning before work are bringing up the end of the line. It's not because I'm in better shape than them. On the contrary, my beer belly makes it to camp before any of us, but beneath a 17 pound backpack, I'm carrying the lightest load, even if their bodies weigh less than mine.

I don't bring much weight on my backpacking trips, 17 lbs or less for overnight, 22 lbs. for 3 days and only an increase of food for any trips longer than that. Some people tell me they can't afford to spend the kind of money that I did on my gear. I look at their $250 Osprey backpack and their $150 Northface jacket and tell them they already have. My gear isn't expensive and it's not the best, but it's durable and it's light and it works. My $9 LED headlamp isn't as bright as their $60 light, but it weighs less than their batteries and it allows me to see at night. I don't want them to lug around 1/3 of their body weight in junk, but they don't believe me when I tell them that for half the price of their gear, they can have the same stuff that weighs half as much.

If you're willing to listen, I'll tell you how.


Shelter: In fair weather with few bugs, you can ditch the tent and opt for a lightweight tarp instead. Bring along a few tent stakes and some string. Combined with hiking poles, your tarp is now a lean-to style shelter at half the weight of a tent. If you like this setup, you can get some of the tarp shelters that are even lighter but more expensive. Kelty makes the Noah's Tarp and GoLite has a tarp shelter available on campmor.com. REI also has tarp shelters. Personally, I use the MSR E-Wing Tarp Shelter.


Sleeping Gear: Ditch the heavy, inflatable pad and get a cheap foam pad. They're not as comfortable to sleep on, but if you don't have back problems and you can find a smooth patch of ground, these blue or green egg-carton foam pads make a lighter, cheaper substitute. Mine ran about $20 at Academy. Your local sporting goods store will carry them. Also, you can trim about 18 to 24 inches off the bottom and let your fee rest on the ground since it's your head, torso and hips that need the support.


Sleeping Bag: If the weather isn't too cold, bring a fleece sleeping bag. Wal-Mart and any sporting goods store will carry them for $10-15. They roll up small and weigh less then a lot of backpacking mummy bags.


Water: If there are streams in the area, bring a micro filter for the whole group and refill your water bottles as needed. You can make a silt filter by placing a coffee filter in a funnel and then placing a paper towel on top of that. Pour the stream water through the filters and into your bottles. Then add your iodine tablets and in twenty minutes you have drinkable water. Also, don't get the big canteens or Nalgene bottles. Get 1-liter bottles of water from the cooler at your local gas station. They're $1.25 each and come with cold water in them. I get my water on the way to a hiking trip. You can reuse your bottles and if you lose one, it's no big deal.


Pillow: Take your fleece jacket and shove it inside a stuff sack. Now you have a pillow. There are also inflatable pillows that resemble the inflatable sleeping pads made my Thermarest. There are numerous off-brands that run from $4-$10. They're quite comfortable.


Stove: Forget the Coleman single burner or the propane powered stoves. Don't even bother with the butane or fuel bar stoves. Experiment with the numerous homemade alcohol stoves. My favorite is the tealight stove. Look it up on youtube to find instructions. It takes about five minutes to build and cooks my meals in about 10. I frequently make a pot of rice and sausage while I'm setting up my shelter. By the time camp is made, my food is ready to eat. The stove runs off of a tablespoon of HEET, methyl alcohol available from any Wal-Mart, gas station or automotive store.


Pot: You're not cooking a seven course meal, so forget all those pots that came in that set. Bring one pot with a lid. Make sure it has fold up handles so it will take up less space. Coleman.com makes a great kit called the Solo Cook Kit. I found mine at Wal-Mart for $25. I take the biggest pot with me. My stove, spork, windscreen and fuel fit inside. And the best part is that the lid can be turned over and used as a frying pan.


Flashlights: Forget Maglite or whatever else you have. If it runs off of anything bigger than 2 AA batteries, it's too big. And don't bring a lantern. Get a cheap LED headlamp. 2-3 AAA batteries will run that light for a dozen backpacking trips. I've done multi-hour night hikes on half dead batteries and still never lost power. Don't get one that's big and fancy. The one at Wal-Mart that's $7 will work fine. LED headlamps, end of discussion.


Cutting tools: If you go backpacking with a machete or hatchet, you're overdoing it. You can build shelters, cut saplings to use as a crutch when you twist an ankle, and trim down annoying branches that protrude from your sitting log with a good fixed-blade knife. Mostly, I just bring a sturdy pocket knife and if I have to cut something thick, I hammer the blade into the wood with another stick, carving out notches until I cut through. Find a Buck knife with a 3 inch blade that's made from 420HC steel. It's stronger than stainless and holds an edge a lot longer. I've seen some recently for $15.


Now that you know some of the cheap things you can purchase, here's a little exercise you can do when you evaluate your gear. When you get ready to pack your gear for a weekend backpacking trip, divide everything into three piles. On the left, put gear that you absolutely need. Food, shelter, light, water, sleeping gear, etc. In the middle, place the items that you really want to bring to make the trip more fun. On the right, make a pile of the items that you could live without but would be nice to have on the trip. Now, pack everything from the first pile. Test your pack and feel how light it is. Now that your pack is half empty and lighter than it's ever been before, put the second two piles back in the closet. YOU DON'T NEED THEM!
 
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failghe

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Thanks for the tips. I will have to try the stuff you mentioned. I do car camp alot and tend to bring way too much. I will have to re-read this again before I go to walmart again.
 

Walking Man

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Very good advice! I hate to carry heavy packs. I usually bring MREs to eat so I don't even have to bring the pot to cook with. As for the sleeping, I usually will just find a nice patch of grass and spread my blanket out and sleep in my clothes. It's a little more like roughing it but I don't mind. Now if the wife is coming along, I have to carry a heavy pack. She doesn't mind the hiking but the roughing it part is where she draws the line. LOL:tinysmile_fatgrin_t
 

Newanderthal

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I lucked out. My girlfriend has her own frame pack and brings all her own stuff.

As for the MRE's, get rid of most of that packaging if you're bringing those. Those cardboard boxes, that pack of condiments, the thick, plastic bag, it can all be tossed. Bring the heating packs, the bag you heat the water in and ONE of the outer bags to insulate it while cooking. Trash everything else.

Also, you can find rice-based meals at your local grocery store. Get the kind that only requires you to heat it in the microwave. With that and a pack of tuna you can get the same calories as an MRE but with less weight and lower price. To heat it, put 1.5 cups of water in your pot, place the food bags (unopened) inside and heat to a boil. Cover with the lid and let it boil for about a minute. Turn off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes and it's ready to eat. This can also be done if you're boiling water to drink. When you're done cooking, you still have the water in the pot. Use it to make coffee (use Folders singles for this) or hot chocolate or tea. You get a hot meal and a tasty beverage for just a few bucks.
 

jason

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There used to be a driver at UPS. He would take something like a can of soup. Leave it on the dash until lunch time. From the heat and the sun it would be ready to heat for him by 1 or 2 pm. He said a few times he had to use a cloth to grab it. I would suppose if you had a sunny campsite something like that may work.
 

Bradsalex

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That is very valuable information. Bringing the wife and kids (5 and 2) I require a few more clothes which don't make the pack much heavier, since clothes are so small, but takes up more room. There is other random stuff that I think I need to bring but all in all my pack isn't usually more than 20-25 pounds. I am used to carrying more weight but in order to interact with friends and family during trips I like a light pack.
 

sardonald

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Solar Ovens?

These are great tips! They make sense for backpacking and car camping. Think I'll give it a try. Know of any portable solar ovens? Jason got me thinking with that UPS-guy story.
 

Gondor

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Great tips. I agree and do most of them myself. For example, I don't understand why people need so much gear? It completely negates the trip to the wild in the first place.
 

WileECoyote

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I HATE to carry heavy packs. I will do anything I can to get out of it. I carry only what is necessary and then some things I do without just because I don't want to carry it. I would much rather do without something than to carry all of that heavy junk around. You should have seen my wife when we went to Disney world of all places. She took a back pack with two or three cameras and a video camera. She was very sore the next day and made me carry it instead. I left half of it in the room and she never noticed.
 

northernbushape

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Great article.

I am one who carries too much weight I think. I have a "what-if" mentality so I tend to pack for the what-if scenarios which results in a heavy pack - around 25 pounds for a day trip in the back country. But, if I am just tooling around a local forest preserve or not entering a remote area, I pack much lighter. My basic EDC comes it at around 15 pounds as my core survival pack is part of it. No matter what, I have that stuff with me. Add to that some food, clothes, implements, and a few extras, and the weight increases quickly.

For an extended or multi-day excursion I may easily carry 40-45 pounds in my pack and another 5-10 on my belt.

I am working on getting some lighter gear alternatives, but like you mentioned, some of this stuff is just too much money. I cannot justify $200 for a back packing stove no matter how light weight it is! For $15 my little solid-fuel folding stove works just fine at any altitude that I would visit.

Any more weight reduction tips are appreciated. Some of my Colmans gear is 20 and 30 years old and the materials are not so weight-efficient any more :tinysmile_twink_t2:
 

IndianaHiker

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Want to drop alot of weight get rid of the MREs. Go with Mountain House or some other freeze dried foods. Lighter and for the most part better tasting.
 

hikinboot

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Wow, that was a very informative post, thank you for taking the time to research that out and post it for us. I find if I go alone I take less than if the family comes along.
 

le Metis

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I carry little more then 12 to 15 lbs when backpacking - to cut more weight get rid of the heavy boots. Unless I'm in cactus country they're not needed, instead I use my mesh river shoes with no socks,

In warm weather ( late Spring to early Fall) I carry a Haglof LIM 5 sleeping bag, packs to the size of a loaf of bread, and weights 1 lb.

For a stove, I've found the home made alcohol burners worthless, and more trouble then they are worth....I carry this one instead ...SIERRA STOVE, or a pocket rocket if I'm headed above the tree line....

For shelter if needed, a sil tarp - very light...

My backpack is a NRS Paragon Pack ... NRS Paragon Pack

The majority of time the Paragon carries a stripped down Adirondack pack basket,http://www.adirondackpackbaskets.com/

however during wet weather it's easy to swap it out for a waterproof drybag....

For treating water - the Steripen .... SteriPEN Adventurer Opti Water Purifier at REI.com
a few coffee filters added allows to clean out any sediment before use...
 
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Michael

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If you're building fires instead of using a camping stove, it's worthwhile to bring a small saw. I use a Coleman saw that weighs less than a pound, and it really eats through wood. I find it to be faster than a heavy knife and lighter than a hatchet. The thing costs ten bucks, and you can find comparable ones at a similar price.

For water, I use coffee filters and chemicals. They take up less room and weigh less than any water filter I've seen.
 

sherbearski

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I always end up bringing more than I need. After hiking for a few miles, every bit of extra weight takes it toll, especially upon returning from your trip and realizing you didn't use half of it! I will try your idea of making the three piles. I really like that idea, thanks!
 

Benny

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There are some things you just can't do without, but the more inflatable things or compact things you can bring, the better. It seems like you can find more and more things like these at your local army/navy surplus store.
 
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