Notes on Going Light

Why Go Light




Sleeping Bag/Pad

Bag Cover




Rain Gear


More Info


  • Why go light: Because it is more fun! You will enjoy the walk more without the heavy load. You will find that you focus on the hike rather than getting to the destination as quickly as possible so you can take off that heavy pack . For long distance hikes, you will cover more miles per day, not because you hike faster, but because you don't need to quit as early in the day.
  • Disclaimer: I am talking about three season hiking here. In the winter the rules change and you will need to carry more, but you can still keep it light.
  • Exponential Benefits: The more you reduce weight, the more you are able to reduce weight. For example, as you cut weight in your pack you eventually reach the point where you don't need a pack with a heavy frame and all those extra pockets. Instead of a 7 lb. pack, you now have a pack weighing less than a pound. Instead of a heavy pair of hiking boots to help your feet support all that weight, you can hike in running shoes or at least lightweight boots.
  • Goals: For me the goal at first was to get my pack weight below 15 lbs. Presently I have it down to under 10 lbs except in winter. By pack weight I mean the weight of your pack and its contents excluding consumables; ie. food, water, fuel, and what you are wearing. Food should weigh about 1.5 - 2 lbs. per day so for a 5 day hike figure 8-10 lbs. of food. Water weighs 2 lbs. per liter and you will probably carry 1-2 liters. So if your pack weight is 15 lbs. and you are carrying 11-12 lbs. of food and water, the total weight on your back is 26-27 lbs. That's enough! A pack weight over 30 lbs. begins to take the fun out of the hike. With an 8 - 10 lb pack weight, my total weight for a five day hike with consumables will be between 21 - 23 lbs. With this very comfortable load I am free to truely enjoy the outdoor experience I am having.
  • General Rules (How to begin): I began making progress on my weight goal when I did two things; first I dug out a scale that I formally used to weigh dried herbs, and second I prepared a spreadsheet with the weight of each item and a total that changed as I replaced the heavy stuff with lighter versions. Without a scale you are pretty much playing a guessing game. You could take it all to the Post Office and weigh it there, but it is ever so much more convenient to have one readily available. With a spreadsheet and scale you will immediatly appreciate your gradual reductions in pack weight.

  • Start with the big three; tent, pack, and sleeping bag.With the lightest possible versions of these three items you may save several pounds. For example, instead of 5-7 lbs. for a tent I may use a tarp and bivy which together weigh about 10 ounces, most packs weigh 5-7 lbs while mine weighs 21 ounces, and sleeping bags may weigh 3-4 lbs while mine weighs about 18 ounces. After these three, take a look at your stove, cooking kit, water filter and clothing. Finally peck away at the little items replacing or eliminating as needed. For perishable items, estimate the amount you will need and take only that much. Don't, for example, take a full 1 lb. jar of peanut butter for a three day hike unless you intend to eat it all. Move these items from their original containers to smaller, lighter ones.
  • The Gear Quiz: For everything else that you are thinking of taking, submit it to this quiz;
    1. do I really need it?
    2. If so, is it the lightest version that is available?
    3. Am I already taking things that can serve for more than one function. Socks, for example, can be used as mittens,your hikers trowel can serve as a sturdy tent state, trekking poles may serve as tent poles, and your poncho doubles as a pack cover and perhaps even your shelter.


Shelter: My present shelter is a simple ultra light tarp. Actually I have tarps in four sizes; 6' X 8', 7' X 9', a 5' X 8' tarp/poncho combination, and a Golite Cave 1 (7' X 8.25'). I started with a 8' X 10 and that was probably good because it was large enough to ease my concerns about getting wet etc. as I broke away from the confines of a tent. Now I use the smaller tarps exclusively.

The most commonly used A-frame configuration of a tarp does require some simple techniques to set it up quickly and effectively. I have created a page where these techniques are described and illustrated. It is called Tarp Camping 101.

Bug Protection Of course, protection from bugs is a primary concern with an open tarp. I have tried several different optons, all of which work quite well. So it is a matter of personal choice depending on conditions expected during the trip. Here are some optons:

The Nest is definitely the most comfortable. It has all the advantages of both a tent and a tarp. I particularly like the fact that, while inside in hot weather I can wear as little clothing as I wish. Unfortunately, the Nest is also the heaviest option. I tend to choose it for short trips when the rest of my load is light. If I'm hiking in the middle of bug season, or on longer trips, I go with the bug shirt and/or bivy for light weight and bug protection all day and night.

There are two other options, the first is to wear an inexpensive bug head net as your sole protection. Outdoor Research makes a delux model that incorporates a metal ring to keep the net off your face or you could wear a hat with one of the cheaper alternatives. I haven't tried this because I like to regulate my comfort level by sometimes having my arms out of the sleeping bag, but it seems to work for some people. The second option is to simply drape a no-see-um net over you. One hiker has described his system which consists of finding a stick, preferably forked and about 18" long. He shoves this into the ground near where he will place his head, then drapes a 6' X 7' piece of net over this, tucking it in along the sides of his sleeping bag and placing a couple of rocks at the corners near the stick.

Pack: My pack is the 21 oz. Golite Jam2. Golite started with a pack designed by Ray Jardine that weighed about 14 ounces (the Golite Breeze). As you can see, the pack has gotten heavier as it has evolved to the present Jam2. The changes, I believe, are worth the added weight. I do a lot of bush wacking and this pack, with all the old mesh pockets replaced with solid fabric, is strong enough to take this conditions. If you are willing to give up some features, it's possible to trim up to 4-5 ounces from the pack. I have added a shoulder strap camera case and the small Granite Gear Air Pocket for carrying my map, a snack, etc.

When packing, I wrap my ground sheet around my air mattress, roll it, then insert it into the empty pack, and push it outward to frame the inside of the pack. This serves as water proofing and padding for the items that will go inside. Next I place my sleeping bag on the bottom, working upward with food (except the lunch and snacks for that day), tarp, bivy, pot with cook stove inside it, clothing, and small items bag. If the day looks at all like rain, the raingear goes on top or in the outer back pocket.

There are other lightweight packs out there to choose from. Golite now has a full line of lightweight packs. Mountainsmith has a couple in their line. Other small manufactures to check out are GVP for the G4 pack Link, and LW Gear and their 1 lb pack Link.

The original Golite Breeze


Sleeping Bag: The solution, I believe, to weight reduction for sleeping bags, is to remove the bottom so that the bag becomes a quilt. In cold weather, down is still the warmest way to go. For three season camping I think either down or synthetic will work well.

Sleeping Pad: Closed cell foam pads are the lightest choice. For me, the key to comfort when using foam is to dig a hip hole. Lie down on the pad to locate the position of your hips. Dig a hole a couple inches deep beneath that place. Be sure to fill it in before breaking camp. A less bulky and more comfortable choice, however, is an air mattress. I'm currently using a shoulder to hip length, trapezoidal shaped air mattress that weighs less than 10 oz. The choice is a trade off; do you want comfort and saved space is weight savings more important. Gossamer Gear sells some of the lightest pads currently available.

Ground Cloth/Sleeping Bag Cover: For years I used Tyvek as the layer between my foam pad and the ground. This is the material that builders use to wrap houses. It is lightweight, breathable, and durable. Cut the size you need, then run it through a cycle in your cloths washer. Hang it to dry and it will be much softer and more pliable.

I have replaced my Tyvek ground cloth with the ultra-light polycro ground cloth from Gossamer Gear. Placed beneath my ultra-light bivy sack from Bozeman Mountain Works (, it adds some protection for the sack. In cold weather I use Integral Designs Pertex Endurance Bag Cover/Bivy photo. For cold weather I prefer its simpler draw cords and hood. These allow me to pull it tight for a snug fit around my neck so only my head is exposed. I then take care of my head with a balaclava and the hood from the jacket that I have worn to bed. I use the lightest weight balaclava (Polartec 100) because I can pull it all the way over my face at night and still breathe easily through the fabric.

Kitchen: If you read outdoor magazines and outdoor cookbooks, many of them encourage you to cook and eat like a gourmet on the trail. This is not the line of thinking to follow if your plan is to go light. My kitchen set consists of a 1 L titanium pot, a 1 L Platypus bladder with the top 2/3 trimmed to convert it to a bowl, and a Lexon spoon. With it I prepare simple but nourishing meals. I purchased an Excalibur food dehydrator and now dry an array of fruits, fruit leathers, vegetables, and even entire meals. For more information go to Kitchen Tips

Water Filtration/Purification: I've pretty much gone with chemical purification. Aqua-mira and KlearWater are chlorine dioxide mixtures. Here is a description of the process with Aqua Mira:

The option that is the most hassle free is Aqua Mira. Two solutions are combined, one containing chlorine dioxide and the other a phosphoric acid activator. Mix 7 drops of each in the included bottle cap, wait five minutes, pour the mixture into a liter of water, wait 15 minutes and you are ready to drink. Oxygen bubbles up through the water killing the anaerobic organisms. There is no aftertaste and a harmless salt is left behind. If you encounter water with a lot of silt content, filter this through a bandana or coffee filter, or let it sit and settle for awhile. Most Great Lakes water is pretty clear so I have not had to do this. The two containers and enclosed liquids weigh about 3 oz. I usually pour the estimated amount that I will need into smaller, lighter containers.

KearWater does not require mixing, but does ot remain stable for as long. Keep it in the refrigerator between hikes and replace it each season.


Clothing. This is a critical concern. Proper clothing is essential because exposure is probably the most serious threat to a hiker's safety. Most people, however, do take too much and often choose fabrics poorly. As a general rule, except for socks, don't take multiple changes of the same type of clothing (several pairs of shorts or shirts, for example). Take clothing that is part of a layering system to keep you wrm and dry over a wide temperature range.

Rain Gear

Light: With LED (Light emitting Diode) technology there are now some really good choices for camp lights.


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