How we pack our kit – budget vs ultra lightweight?

A backpack always seems to feel heavier with each day of hiking
A backpack always seems to feel heavier with each day of hiking

There are two schools of thought with overnight hiking – whether your kit can be fabricated on a shoe string budget, or weighing and then losing every last milligram of kit.

As a keen cyclist I know the cycling world is besotted with equipment weight loss. Manufacturers are always promoting their carbon frames and super light components. But the cheapest way of losing weight when it comes to hiking or cycling is off the walker/ cyclist. Losing a few kilos from the person will always provide the best weight saving. We won’t cover those here though.

When Ishai and I have gone hiking, we try to balance weight and budget.

Recommendations for free weight saving

There are some ways you can lose weight from your kit is to remove excess items which definitely won’t be needed. These include:

  1. Excess backpack straps. Our backpacks have straps which quite simply, I don’t know what they are for. We removed all spare straps from the outside of our bags except a bungee cord which is useful for last minute items and waterproofs which are handy to have ready.
  2. Other excess items. We bought an aluminium saucepan set which came with two saucepans. Just take one. Once we got all our equipment together, we went through everything making sure we were taking the minimum
  3. Sleeping bag. After our first overnight hike we went on a family camp and when I packed the car I noticed the different weight of our family’s sleeping bags. Somewhat nerdily I weighed them when we returned home. At 2.6kg my sleeping bag weighed a kilo more than anyone else’s, and Ishai’s weighed the least at 1.2kg. The next time we went hiking I took one of the other kids’ sleeping bags and saved half a kilo. The sleeping bag is the heaviest item that will go in your backpack except for the tent, so it’s worth trying to find a cheaper alternative.
  4. We share the same tube of toothpaste. We take one bottle of shampoo and one shower gel. We only take one torch, one pocket knife, one stove and so on.
  5. Lighter alternatives – the weight difference between a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife and a Leatherman is quite considerable. We took an alarm clock on the first overnight hike which has been replaced with a £5 alarm from Argos which weighs a tenth of the original. Some items you can take quarter full from home rather than a full version (I do this with toothpaste for example). I started off taking an external power pack to recharge our phones and realised a spare battery weighs a quarter of a power pack. Unfortunately the latest smartphones don’t allow you to change battery, but my Samsung S4 does…
  6. Small bottles. I take the small shampoo and shower gels from hotels rather than a big bottle. I bought a set of water tight bottles from GoOutdoors and use them for washing up liquid, frying oil and dried herbs.
  7. Unnecessary clothes. I rarely use waterproof trousers because cheap ones make you sweat too much (so you still get wet legs), modern fabrics dry very quickly anyway, and if it’s more than 5 degrees, my legs are already waterproof when I wear shorts. Take the minimal amount of clothes, and be sensible about a fleece and a jumper for cooler evenings – especially during the summer. The chances are you’ll be really tired after a day’s walking and you’ll just want to get inside your sleeping bag and go to sleep anyway. Stuff a fleece with other clothes and use it as a pillow rather than carrying one.
  8. Food packaging and quantity. You can make some simple savings with the weight of food. Try to go for plastic containers rather than tins. Baked beans and tuna are good examples. Dried fruit seems to weigh a disproportionate amount compared to other snacks, so we go for smaller packs. For sugar, salt and pepper I use the very small packets from service stations or coffee shops. Water is particularly heavy – one litre weighs a kilogram. We use 800ml sports water bottles, but sometimes I’ve regretted that we didn’t have more water with us. It depends on the weather. Take a water purification method (chlorine or a Steripen) so that you can regularly refill rather than carry more water with you.

Extra items worth taking for the comfort

Through trial and error we’ve realised there are some comfort items worth taking despite the weight ‘penalty’:

  1. A roll mat. Getting a poor night’s sleep from a hard or cold ground is far worse than the small weight penalty of a roll mat. Take a roll mat or thermarest to get a nice sleep and feel refreshed the next morning.
  2. Flip flops. After a full day’s walking, you’ll want to air your feet and wear something more comfortable. Flip flops or even crocs are ideal – the former pack up smaller.
  3. Metal spatula. Firstly, if you’re planning on frying something like eggs, you’ll need a spatula/ fish slice. We took a plastic one on our first hike and ate bit of blue plastic with our breakfast and lunch. I found a small metal one in a local shop that doesn’t weigh much more than the useless initial plastic one.
  4. I read a few sites which recommend ditching the stuff-sack for a sleeping bag and the outer bag for your tent. The problem was that the sleeping bags took up more space, and I was worried about accidentally ripping them as I stuffed other kit into my bag. Our stuff sacks don’t weigh a great deal so we’ve used them since.
  5. Towel. On our first weekend we took one towel to share. It wasn’t ideal, so we now take our own towel.
  6. Playing cards and a book. I find it’s nice being able to play cards on the journey to/from the weekend, and sitting down at the end of the day and reading a few pages. I take a light book which fits in an outside pocket.
  7. Tea towel. The small weight penalty of a tiny tea towel compared to a. shaking your cutlery and crockery or b. the unhygienic use of a bath towel just isn’t worth it.

If you have any other tips, please let us know!

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