Dec 26, 2010

Upward Trail: Packing Light for Mountaineers

Blogger's note: This article was "borrowed" from a site, as credited at the end of this post. I have this posted in my Multiply account a few years back, and reposted it here in This piece helped me a lot in my mountaineering trips, and this formed part of my informal BMC (Basic Mountaineering Course). I find reading this again, a bit refreshing. It's like the old days back when I was still a newbie, and was really wowed by the things I've learned from this. Till this day, I might not practice this all religiously but I definitely know this by heart. Thanks to the author of this article.

Fast & Light Backpacking Revolution:

There’s a gear revolution going on right now. Our load is getting lighter than ever before. What’s more, backcountry innovators have developed new techniques that let you go light without going to extremes. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, you’ll find useful tips for lightening your load by a little or a lot. So join the revolution. It’s making backpacking feel like day hiking.

Here’s the real trick for traveling light: Scrutinize every piece of gear. Why take a three-pound, multi-zippered, multi-pocketed, expedition jacket when an eight-ounce windbreaker is sufficient? Why take a heavy full-length air mattress when, with the right campsite selection, an eight-ounce foam pad is enough? Why carry a ten-pound tent "tested on Everest" when, if the point is to be outside, a four-pound tent is terrific? Why take a bulky sweater when a featherweight down vest is adequate? Why carry extra food when you’ll never eat it? Why carry extra water when you can move from stream to stream to purify what you need? And now that you’re carrying half the weight, why use a seven-pound backpack when a three-pound pack is fine?

Some Tried and Tested Fast & Light Principles:

A.     Eliminate "nice to have" and "not needed" items

B.     Choose the smallest, lightest gear suited to the purpose

C.     Bring a gear that serves multiple uses to avoid redundancies

D.     Modify your gear to make it lighter

E.     Take only the amount needed

F.     Try teamwork or share gear

G.     The more you reduce weight; the more you are able to reduce more weight

H.     Refine

Suggested Techniques:

A.     Eliminate "nice to have" and "not needed" items
        1.     Don’t bring a book, CD/walkman/mp3 players, pillow, junk food, deck of cards, camp chair.
        2.     Back-up light (no matter what kind) is no longer necessary for overnights or short trips.
        3.     Leave your sharpening stone.
        4.     Leave your fork.
        5.     Leave unnecessary cookset components at home.
        6.     Hammock is sometimes useless if there are no trees, meaning, you cannot set it up, so you better     think twice before bringing it.
        7.     Leave the stove repair kit at home.
        8.     Groundsheets are sometimes not needed, especially in popular and well-established campsites
        9.     Eliminate all food/snacks/ingredients packaging and repack it in Ziplocs or other containers.
       10.    If you are very familiar with the place then you can leave your compass and map/s behind.
       11.    Leave extra batteries.

   Choose the smallest, lightest gear suited to the purpose.
        1·     Use a LED headlamp instead of a bigger headlamp because it is lightweight and economical (the batteries last longer!!!)
        2·     Use an unbreakable, heat resistant plastic spork instead of metal.
        3·     Use Titanium cookset.
        4·     Replace a multi-fuel stove with an improvised "Pepsi Can stove" (use Denatured alcohol) because it is lightweight, simple and very cheap.
        5·     Use an improvised windscreen.
        6·     MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) are also lighter, better, simple and easy to cook.
        7.     Cooking oil in sachet is cheaper, lighter and easier to use…
        8.     Instead of using a lunch box, use assorted Ziplocs.
        9·     Instead of bringing a real map, bring only photocopies each trip, but with a plastic case of course!
       10·    Replace your Alkaline batteries with Lithium.
       11.    Bring a small knife instead of a multi-tool (Gerber, Leatherman, etc.)
       12.    In lower altitude, use a thin emergency blanket/plastic bag instead of the heavy and thick sleeping bag, but be sure to wear the right sleeping attire.  You can also use a Space All-Weather Blanket.
       13·    Use a ¾ length sleeping pad instead of the full-length model.
       14·    Instead of having a bulky do-it-all (waterproof/windproof/breathable/expensive) jacket, implement the "Laws of Layering" which is better, versatile & more logical!
       15·    Use a small water absorbent cloth(chamois) as a towel instead of bringing a standard-size towel.
       16·    Sometimes, you can use disposable underwear instead of the traditional one.
       17·    Acquire clothing made of synthetic material like polyester/nylon because both are lighter than cotton, has wicking capabilities and dries quickly.
       18.    Use a low-cut or the so-called "mini-gaiters"(see Outdoor Research, TNF, Mountain Hardwear, etc.) instead of the old and traditional longer models…
       19·    Don’t bring sandals or slippers;  use slip-ons (the one available in airplanes) around the campsite.
       20·    Prefer water-purification tablets over the heavy,expensive and complicated water filters.
       21·    To those with the heavy and bulky SLR (Single Lens Reflex) or the old reliable point and shoot type camera, replace it with the new lightweight digital camera or a camera phone.
       22·    Instead of bringing a real wallet in each trip, bring only an "outdoor wallet," inside it are 1 or 2 identification cards, money, contact numbers and very important pictures, nothing more, nothing less…
       23·    Use one trekking pole instead of the more common two trekking pole set-up.
       24·    Higher-grade Aluminum/Titanium tent poles/pegs are lighter. Carbon-fiber tent poles/pegs are even lighter.
       25·    I am planning to replace my dome tent with a pyramid/tepee type shelter because it is very very lightweight!!! See Golite, Mountain Hardwear, Bibler, Montbell models.
       26·    Use a free-standing dome tent with “fly-only-option.” See TNF, MSR, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Big Agnes and Sierra Design models.
       27·    Instead of a collapsible water container, you can use large Ziplocs as water container. Just make sure that you place the Ziplocs inside a pouch...
       28·    Collapsible water containers/bladders are better and lighter than water bottles.
       29.    Wine box can also serve as a lightweight water container.
       30·    Sachets are lighter than the original containers(shampoo, soap, toothpaste, insect repellent, sunscreen lotion.)
      31.    Instead of soap and a lot of water, you can use hand sanitizer.
      32.    A poncho could be your no.1 raingear.
      33.    Use a finger toothbrush.
      34.    You can also use a tarp as your shelter.  Remember that it is very lightweight, cheap and versatile.
      35.    During short trips, you can use a bivy tent.
      36.    Instead of using metal/plastic fuel bottles, you can use tetra packs.
      37.    You can use mini-Ziplocs as matches container.

C.     Bring a gear that serves multiple uses to avoid redundancies.
        1.     Use your knife in lieu of a fork.
        2·     A frying pan can also be used as a plate and a chopping board.
        3·     A spork can work/function as a spoon and fork at the same time...
        4.     Your pot can also serve as a mug.
        5·     You can make an improvised hammock that will also function as a tarp, sleeping bag, pack cover, ground sheet and a signaling device.
        6.     A ground sheet, tarp, tent, poncho, sleeping bag can be used as a stretcher.
        7·     If your watch has a digital compass, then don't bother to bring another compass.
        8·     If you usually have a cell phone, then leave your watch/alarm clock behind.
        9·     If you have a GPS with an altimeter, thermometer and digital compass, then there’s no need to bring another compass, thermometer and altimeter anymore.
       10·    A sleeping pad can also be used as a camp chair during daytime and of course, for sleeping during nighttime!  It can also be used as a backpack liner.
       11·    Sleeping pad and aluminum stays can work as splints.
       12·    Your pack can also serve as a sleeping pad.
       13·    A pair of gloves could also become a pot gripper.
       14·    A bandana could also be used as a handkerchief, bandage, washcloth, towel, etc. In fact, it has many uses.
       15·    You can also save weight by using arm warmers and a t-shirt instead of bringing a sweater.
       16·    You can place your extra clothing in a pouch and use it as a pillow at night.
       17·    If you have convertible long pants, then there's no need for you to bring another long pants and short pants, provided that you have a very reliable rain gear so that you will not get wet no matter what...
       18·    If you own a softshell, then you can leave your bulky and heavy insulating layer.
       19·    Socks can also be used as handwarmers.
       20.    Wear either a long or a short pants with several pockets so that you can put smaller items inside…
       21.    A long pants or a jacket can be used as a daypack and a belt bag respectively for summit assaults and other purposes.
       22.    Bring equipment/clothing with bright colors so that you can easily be seen in poor-visibility or emergency situations. 
       23·    If you are wearing shoes, then leave your sandals at home.
       24·    A trekking pole could also be used as a tent pole for a pyramid/tepee shelter. It can also be used as a splint.
       25·    Hydration reservoirs can also serve as pillows at night if the bite valve has a locking mechanism.
       26·    If you have a water bottle then a mug is no longer important.
       27·    A small mirror could also be used for grooming and signaling.
       28·    Sometimes, you don’t need a pack cover if you have a poncho.
       29·    A pencil can be used for writing and fire-building as well...
       30·    Parachute cord could also be used as clothesline, securing splints, food bag line, etc.
       31.    Remember that Duct tape is very useful in the outdoors.
       32.    A garbage bag could also function as a raincoat, pack cover, trash bag,food bag, backpack liner and a floatation device…
       33.    See to it that your electronic devices uses the same batteries so you don’t need to bring different kinds/sizes.
       34.    Use an extra pair of socks as gloves.

D.     Modify your gear to make it lighter.
         1·     Apply heat-resistant/flameproof paint in your cookset to increase the heating absorbency & lower cooking time.
         2.     Drill several holes in the handle of your pots or frying pan.
         3·     Cut map margins off your maps.
         4·     Shorten your straps.
         5·     Shorten your pegs.
         6.     Drill several holes in your spork or other equipment made of metal.
         7·     Shorten your hydration hose.
         8·     Shorten your toothbrush & drill several holes on it to make it even lighter.
         9·     Lose some of your body weight.
        10.    Shorten the length of your draw cords.

E.     Take only the amount needed.
        1·     Don’t carry lots of food and snacks all the time! Bring food which can be cooked quickly and easy to prepare.
        2·     If you can get food/water along the way then there’s no reason why you bring a lot of it starting from the beginning of your journey until the end.
        3·     Minimize bringing so many pouches.
        4·     Bring or choose the right-size stuff sacks.
        5·     Avoid bringing a lot of extra clothing.
        6·     Minimize the amount of toilet paper, duct tape, soap, insect repellent, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, etc.
        7·     Minimize the first-aid supplies and medicine that you carry each time and  make your own instead of buying it directly!

F.    Try teamwork or share gear.
       1·     One thing I noticed about Filipino mountaineers is our tendency to bring all gear that can make us self-sufficient. Why not try teamwork? Haven’t you noticed that if there are 20 mountaineers in one group, it seems that there are also almost 20 stoves, 20 cooksets, 20 tents, 20 lighters, 20 first-aid kits, etc. Well, I hope you get the picture…

G.   The more you reduce weight; the more you are able to reduce more weight.
       1·     Instead of boots, buy a low-cut trail-running shoes! Remember: you can only wear low-cut shoes if your load is light enough...
       2·     Using ultralight gear means that you can use a lightweight backpack instead of a bigger and heavier pack (40 liters and below is fine.)
       3.     Leave your backpack’s Aluminum stays.

H.   Refine      1·     By following steps 1-7, you could go much lighter in your next outdoor pursuit. But there is a way to go lighter still - by refining and re-refining what you carry based on your experiences and trials-and-errors. The key is to get outside frequently so that you can understand what does and does not work in various conditions. And always bear in mind the purpose of doing all this - to enhance your outdoor experiences and/or to improve your performances - because you need to ultimately discover what works best for you.


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