Chapter 19: Hiking Light – Buy a Scale and Weigh Every Piece of Gear You Carry

It seems so logical. Backpackers know reducing the weight of their pack will increase their hiking enjoyment. And they know a scale will give them precise weights. But how many hikers never get a scale? They seem to say, “I can eyeball it and be accurate” or “It won’t make that much difference.”

You can reduce your carrying weight without a scale, but why not take out the guesswork? How much lighter is a pair of nylon hiking pants compared to your denim jeans? The scale will tell you the nylon pants weigh about 8 ounces instead of one pound 8 ounces for the jeans…3 times as light! You can save a full pound and have more functional gear! Your do-everything knife and repair tool seems like a fairly small thing, until you weigh it. Some people carry a knife that weighs as much as 20 or 30 small items an ultralight backpacker would carry. A small, simple knife that weighs less than half an ounce is probably all you’ll need.

You may have read that some lightweight backpackers repackage their food into ziplock bags because it’s lighter. If you’re skeptical, but never tested the principle on a scale, you’ll never know how much you can save. It’s usually a high percentage of the overall weight of the meal.

When you use a scale, it’s guaranteed you’ll be surprised at some of the weights of your gear. If you’ve been relying on manufacturer’s weights, you’ll immediately find they are very unreliable.

When you buy a small, digital scale, you’ll find it’s handy around the house, too. You can get extra use from it in the kitchen. If you keep some stamps of various denominations around the house, you can do your own weighing and posting of letters and packages and avoid long lines at the post office. How many times have you added a second stamp to a letter when you weren’t sure if it was 1 ounce or 2 ounces?

You can find a quality scale that measures in 1/10 ounce increments for about $30. These scales generally weigh items up to 5 pounds. The scale itself is easy to carry around and weighs a little over a pound. A good place to buy your scale is at an office supply store.

You shouldn’t have any items of gear that weigh over 5 pounds. If you do, your friendly neighborhood post office will probably be happy to weigh them for you if you combine it with some other postal business. Share your fanaticism with them. Maybe you’ll interest someone new in ultralight backpacking.

When you have a light, portable scale you can take it with you into stores and make wise decisions before you buy. The scale can pay for itself in the gas you save. By checking the weight of an item while in the store, you can avoid buying gear, weighing it later and being disappointed, and then taking it back to the store for a refund.

Don’t be embarrassed to take the scale into a store. People who sell backpacking gear should have an idea of the weights of the items they sell. They often don’t have a very good idea of the weight of their gear so you’re helping them by giving them free training. If the weight of a piece of gear is printed incorrectly on the packaging, you can enjoy watching the salesperson try to explain the discrepancy.

Once you purchase your scale, start making notes on the weight of all your gear. Remember that your total load includes clothing and food. You’ll make some nice weight savings in these areas.

Weigh the items that are on your body, but not in your pack, too. The things in your pockets and the hat on your head are all being carried. Once you’ve purchased your scale, you can weigh things like that heavy leather belt. That should be one of the first items you change.

When you weigh clothing, it’s handy to have a few rubber bands around because clothing is generally unruly to weigh and wants to fall off the edges of the scale. Of course, you can subtract the weight of the rubber bands after you weigh an item. You can put multiple items on the scale for really close calculations. For instance, it takes about 28 of those large rubber bands, the size that the post office uses, to make an ounce.

If you have a large item to weigh and you’re having difficulty keeping it on the scale, just place it on a piece of cardboard or in a box and then subtract the weight of the cardboard or box.

Start shopping for your scale. It will help you lighten your load and have more fun every time you hike.