Monday, March 12, 2018

Top 5 Most Extreme Ultralight Backpacking Tips

I heard a story once about a first-time backpacker whose load was so heavy he began ditching his gear in the woods not even a mile in from the trail-head. He threw out his frying pan (but kept the pot), a lawn chair, a pint of Jim Beam (he took a drink first), a 15 million candle-power spotlight, and a field guide to flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest (hardback of course). He learned the hard way what all of us experienced backpackers already know: carrying a heavy pack sucks. 

Many backpackers (including myself) have endeavored tirelessly to lighten the load, to ease the burden on our weary bones as we burn through the miles. One of the best ways to lighten up is to swap out your backpack, shelter and sleeping system (collectively known as “The Big 3”) for lighter counterparts. The problem is, good gear is expensive, and it seems the less an item weighs, the more it costs. Consider Hyperlight Mountain Gear’s Ultimade 2 pyramid tent. Made of Cuben Fiber, it only weighs 19 ounces, but costs a whopping $715.0... Yikes! 

In lieu of spending your entire savings account replacing the Big 3, there are other, shall we say, more unorthodox methods of getting that pack weight down. In my attempt to go lighter I have run across some strange stuff that people will do to shave ounces, (because as we all know; ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain!). I'm not referring to the more commonly known techniques like cutting the handle off your toothbrush or removing the backpack lid. I'm talking radical, cutting edge stuff so extreme that I don’t have the courage to try them out myself. I don't have the time or the space to list them all here, so I've decided to just present the top 5. Remember, I don't endorse these techniques, I'm just passing along the information strictly for informational (entertainment) purposes. 

Go Stoveless – I met a guy last year who thru-hiked The Arizona Trail without a stove. He ate cold dinners, and never enjoyed a morning cup of coffee. I know, it sounds terrible, but on a long-distance hike you could save some serious ounces by leaving your camp kitchen behind. On an overnighter however, you won’t have any reason to get up in the morning.

Don't Treat Water – No filter, no chemicals, no problem… right? This movement is picking up steam within the cult-of-ultralight. The theory goes that with experience you should be able to distinguish safe from unsafe water sources. While leaving your water treatment devices at home can potentially shave a few ounces (2 with the popular Sawyer Mini), is contracting the dreaded Beaver Fever really worth it?

Swap the Knife for a Razor – Apparently some gram weenies out there actually think a razor-blade is not only a perfectly good substitute for a knife (shhh, don’t tell Dave Canterbury), but “the ultimate in ultralight backpacking knives,” as one blogger put it. When I'm in the woods, I like to imagine myself as the second coming of Daniel Boone, so for me, not carrying a knife just doesn’t cut it.

Trim Your Zippers – An old backpacking buddy of mine (who shall remain nameless) told me once that to shave weight from his pack he trimmed all the pull tabs from the zippers on his gear. Now, I've heard of trimming the straps off you pack, or cutting the tags off your clothes, but cutting the pull tabs off your zippers? How much weight will that actually save? Needless to say, he had a tough time getting in and out of his tent.

Don't Bother with Toilet Paper – I found this gem in Mike Clelland's book “Ultralight Backpacking Tips”. The book is loaded with useful information for backpackers trying to go light, but when I came to tip number 116, I did a double take. “Liberate Yourself From Toilet Paper” the tip reads. Instead of TP, he recommends wiping your hind quarters with snow, leaves, pine-cones, sticks, and even rocks. I haven't tried any of these advanced ultralight techniques yet, but I will say that if you leave the toilet paper at home, lightening your load will be more important than ever.

This article is my original work. It was adapted from a piece I did on the now defunct The Mountain Blog called "Do What with a Rock".