Tuesday, January 22, 2013

tips on lightening the load | the problem

for me, i think there are four major factors that might explain why my pack is so heavy: 
1) who i'm backpacking with
2) my camera
3) extraneous stuff
4) i'm not willing to fork over $$$ to buy the most ultralight gear (well, not yet)

who i backpack with
the group i've gone on my two longest trips (7-days, 5-days) with have been supportive and entertaining, but the one qualm i have is that everyone's pretty much doing their own thing. i.e. there's a couple that have their own food system, and then a couple guys who are basically doing their own thing. there isn't a communal mentality for how we backpack together. that is, we cook our own meals, bring our own supplies (even when we could be sharing), split up on the trail, etc. it's very individualistic.

for consideration: are your adventure-mates on the same page with you? is there a value for communal backpacking/shared goods? if not, would you be open to finding a different group of people to backpack with? or are there incremental steps the group can take to move towards a more communal experience? 

if so, i believe it requires a lot more planning ahead of time to be clear on who's bringing what and how all of it gets divvied up. i imagine this prep time will decrease as you get more practice and you and your backpacking crew learn a groove.

my camera
i shoot with a canon 5d and switch between taking a 24mm 1.4 or 35mm 1.4 lens. (i also only take one lens because of weight.) the body+lens+accessories (batteries, cleaning cloth, etc) easily adds about 5lbs & plenty of bulk to my overall base weight. my camera's not something i'm ready to give up since part of what i enjoy is attempting to capture the exquisite detail and expansiveness of the backcountry. 

but, i read an article recently about seeing more by packing less, in direct reference to leaving your camera at home. (gasp!) the article, however, has me wondering about why it's important for me to take my dslr backpacking. is it to project to the world that i'm an adventurer? 

for consideration: does having a camera add to your experience in the backcountry? does it enable being present to all of your surroundings or take from it?

extraneous stuff
ok, there was a time when i took arm warmers on a 7-day trip to the sierras. "it weighs nothing!" i told myself. uh, yeah...all those "nothings" ended up weighing 50lbs. when packing, pick up every single item and ask yourself if it's absolutely necessary. if you have to even think twice, leave it behind. this is also where the communal experience helps tremendously. shared weight. enough said. 

i once took a book (a rather large hardcover book) on a 28-hr solo trip in the ventana wilderness. i had several moments when i wanted to burn it and i kept asking myself, "why did you think you'd actually read this book?!" thankfully i didn't have to carry much food on that trip since it was only an overnighter. it was one of my earlier experiences, however, which made even a 30lb pack to be quite heavy.

a pattern i've noticed is that i'll convince myself to take a book because "i'm sure i'll want to read. how romantic! who wouldn't want to dive into the adventures of narnia out in the wilderness?" (this is the story i tell myself when i'm packing.) the more accurate story i need to remind myself of is, "you'll be too tired to read and by the time you're cozy in your tent, all you'll want to do is sleep. don't trick yourself into carrying the damn thing again." 

oh yeah, and there was that time i took 1lb of beef jerky and 1lb of dried mango. i went overboard. no one needs to eat that much of anything. 

for consideration: why do you feel compelled to take ___fill in the blank__? what purpose(s) does it serve? is it absolutely essential? does this additional weight contribute to your comfort or misery? 

i'm not willing to fork over $$$ (yet)
i bought a bunch of gear when i started getting into backpacking in 2010. at the time, everything seemed "light." i later realized that "light" was a relative term. now, i'm trying to figure out how to sell some of my current camping gear to get ultralight stuff. (i'm referring to tents that can hold 2-3 people that weigh just over 1lb (versus my current 2-person tent weighing in at 4.5lbs). 

it's easy to spend an obscene amount of money on super lightweight gear. take for example, my $50 cookset. essentially, i paid $50 for a cup. that's insane!!!!! but do i regret it? no. my entire cooking system fits inside. it's compact, versatile (pot, cup, & bowl), and cute!  ;) 

for consideration: if you're a woman (or man) looking into getting backpacking gear and want to be conscious about getting the "right" gear, i would suggest going for lighter (and probably more expensive) gear. don't just get everything that's more expensive. do your research. it'll make your whole backpacking experience "easier" and less uncomfortable. plus, i think it's better to pay more upfront for higher quality goods than going for the cheap stuff just because it's cheaper. i'm not sure how much it'll save you in the end.


  1. hahaha... laughed at your wanting to burn the hardcover book.

  2. 1) you're onto something with the communal mentality. this last summer, the night before we left, we realized among our travel party we could bring just one stove with some extra fuel, one water pump, and could squeeze another guy about my dad's size into our tent instead of taking two. did i regret it a few times while i tried to sleep between two very stinky and loudly snoring old guys? yep. but was i thrilled when i realized as i trekked up passes how much lighter my load was because of these choices? you bet!

    3) i've brought a swim suit on every backpacking trip i've ever been on and i think i've used it a grand total of one times. i finally decided once and for all this summer that it's no longer going to take up space in my pack. amazing how little things like that add on weight and take up space!

    4) the one consideration i'll add to your ultralight discussion is that i think there is a sweet spot between being ultralight and sacrificing comfort. the problem i've seen (and, mainly, heard about since most of my gear has been purchased on a poor grad student's budget) is that a lot of the ultralight gear tends to not last as long and often is not as warm, sturdy, etc. as a girl who's always cold, i'd take my slightly heavier sleeping bag over my dad's super light one any day because i'd freeze in his. that sweet spot is different for each person but, like you said, there's definitely wisdom in doing research (both reading and testing stuff out there!) before jumping in to hugely expensive purchases!

    5) i'm now slowly trying to outfit my bike for touring and know basically nothing about it. any good starter tips?

    1. 1) this speaks to your third point about being willing to let go of certain comforts to accomodate a lighter pack.
      2) totally! my backpacking "guru" busted my chops about taking a swimsuit. "you have your underwear," so i was told. it's true.
      3) yep. i was struck by jennifer pharr davis' experience in "becoming odyssa" when she uses a mop stick for ~2000 miles!!! OMG. it almost makes me feel like a fool for having spent over $100 on my trekking poles.
      4) hmmm. check out rivendale's website: http://www.rivbike.com/kb_results.asp get ready for bike lust - big time!

      XO alisa!


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