Chapter 4: Hiking light -- After You Lighten up the Big 3, Tackle the Next Three -- Sleeping Pad, Rainwear, and Cooking Gear

When you decide to reduce the weight of everything in your pack, ultralight hikers will tell you to concentrate on the “big three,” your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag because that’s where you can trim the most weight. Exchanging that seven-pound backpack for one that’s under two pounds is a great start. And a sleeping bag and tent that are both under two pounds is fantastic. The weight of your big three is now under five pounds!

You make that switch to a smaller pack with faith and determination, but there’s an uneasy feeling that everything won’t fit in the new, slimmer pack. How do you get it all in? How do you get the overall weight as low as possible?

If you can ruthlessly cut the weight of everything in your backpack in half, basic math tells you your pack can go from 40 pounds to 20. You might say you can’t cut everything in half, but some items can be cut by more than half. So, your overall goal of cutting your weight in half is reasonable. It may seem tedious, but remember, do a good job of this just once, and the rewards will last forever. Your pack will be waiting there in your closet, light as a feather, waiting for your next hike.

Consider the items you carry, one at a time. After your pack, bag, and tent some of the biggest items to consider are what you might call “the next 3,” your sleeping pad, rainwear, and cooking gear. Sleeping pads can be a challenging piece of gear to choose. You need to sleep well or the whole hiking experience will be negative. A good, closed-cell foam pad insulates well and is one of the lightest solutions. A full-size version can be in the 10 ounce range. The downside is the volume, but it can be carried on the outside of your pack. If you need more comfort and not too much insulation, there’s nothing like an air mattress. Even the self-inflating pads have less than half the thickness of air mattresses. The weight for a full length air mattress can be as light as 19 ounces and you get 2 ½” of loft. If you’d like thickness and insulation, there are air mattresses with insulation in the tubes. You still get 2 1/2” of padding, synthetic insulation, the self inflating feature, a compact package that’s about a 5” diameter cylinder by 10”, and it weighs only 22 ounces.

Like most backpacking gear, your rainwear is a “tradeoff” item. You can have some of the features, but not all of them in one package. The good news is there are many choices. In warm weather where hypothermia isn’t a problem, some people like to have a rain jacket and hike in shorts letting their legs get wet. Another choice is a poncho or cape. Some of these even serve as a shelter. Poncho/tarps and capes can be in the 7 to 11 ounce range.

Your rain pants can weigh less than four ounces when you use chaps that cover your legs but are open to release the moisture your body creates at the midsection. Rainwear that’s not as strong as nylon and doesn’t compact as well can weigh less than 10 ounces for a jacket and pants. Breathable nylon-based rain jackets and pants can be less than 20 ounces. Your summer rainwear doesn’t need insulation like a coat. If you need some insulation under the rain gear to keep warm, use light layers that can multitask in other conditions. Your new, lighter raingear will pack smaller, too.

Let’s talk about kitchen items. Most backpackers can significantly cut the weight and bulk of their cooking gear. By carrying a kettle instead of a full mess kit with frying pan and plate you slash over half the weight. The ¾ quart kettle by itself weighs less than five ounces. If you want to go even lighter, you can get a titanium kettle. And if you’re carrying that age old favorite, the sierra cup – why? It weighs over four ounces! Throw it as far as you can and take only the plastic cup that comes with most mess kits. It’s less than an ounce. While you’re throwing, toss that metal spoon, fork, and knife combo. In fact, why not ditch the fork and carry only a lexan spoon. Take a file and cut it down a little and it will not only be a little lighter, it will fit inside your kettle. You probably don’t need the fork and for cutting you can use your pocket knife.

There are many choices in lightweight backpacking stoves. Some of the lightest stoves are titanium butane/propane burning models that are as light as 2 ½ ounces. The fuel canisters are only seven ounces. Another lightweight stove choice is the homemade alcohol stoves made from soda cans. These weigh less than two ounces. The denatured alcohol that they use is readily available and can be carried in very light containers. If you like to include a towel as part of your kitchen, you can take a small piece of the rayon “campers” towels that are highly absorbent and dry quickly. A small piece of scouring pad can be included. Everything will fit inside your kettle that also holds your new, lighter stove, matches, and trimmed-down lexan spoon.

For carrying water, the lightest way is plastic soda or water bottles. If you can use potable aqua tablets to treat your water, you can save the weight of your filter. Check out all the options for water purification, and choose the one that fits your needs and the area in which you’ll be hiking. Be open to trying lighter choices.

Enjoy your lighter sleeping pad, rainwear, and kitchen gear. And notice how well they fit in a smaller, lighter backpack.