Strategies for Lightweight Backpacking Without Sacrificing Comfort

December 05, 2014 4 min read

A major key to comfort when backpacking, but one that can elicit a groan from even the most experienced travellers, is packing light. It’s a skill that can be difficult to acquire, and it’s tempting to abandon all thought of it when you’re not entirely sure how cold you’ll be at night, or which pair of new hiking trousers will actually dry quickest after an unexpected downpour. However, if you put in the extra thought and preparation time necessary to shave extra grams (or even kilograms) off the weight of your pack, your body will thank you for it. Not only that, but the positive effects of reducing back pain, shoulder strain and fatigue will make the whole experience more memorable for all the right reasons. Here’s the Tentsile crew’s list of top tips for keeping your backpack light and your journey comfortable.

  1. Be ruthless. There are a lot of things you might think you need, but if you’re honest with yourself, it could turn out they’re actually just things you want. When it comes to clothing, for example, ‘wear one, wash one’ is a good mantra to live by for things like socks, underwear and lightweight t-shirts. For heavier garments like jumpers and trousers, you can easily make do with one of each on short trips.
  2. Make things multi-purpose. By being creative about the way you use things, you can drastically reduce the amount of stuff you have to pack. Why take gloves when your spare pair of socks will cover your hands just as comfortably? Do you really need bowls to eat out of when soup, porridge or cereal can just as easily be served in a mug? If you’re really serious about saving weight, you can just bring cooking pots and cutlery and eat straight out of your saucepans, and of course there’s the ever-useful spork if carrying a spoon and a fork is too much.
  3. Minimise individual items. For perfectly serviceable cover at night, you can use an ultralight shelter such as the Lightwave Starlight 1 Cuben Fibre Tarp or even repurpose your existing tent by using trekking poles instead of the original tent poles. Even better, you can simply bring a hammock and get some arboreal nights under your belt for good measure. Sleeping bags can add a lot of weight, so try a lightweight option like the Laser 300 Elite Lightweight Sleeping Bag or be really strict and pack only a space blanket. It’s unlikely you’ll want to sacrifice the comfort of a sleeping mat, so go for the lightest one possible - these closed cell foam mats weigh in at 175g and are still great for a sound night’s sleep.
  4. Don’t sacrifice safety or comfort. Having a lighter pack but carrying constant worry about what will happen if you have an accident with your first aid kit sitting on a shelf at home is not worth it. Likewise, the benefits of an ache-free back won’t seem so great if you’re shivering all night because you brought only a blanket when you know that you feel the cold and a sleeping bag would have been better. What works for one person won’t necessarily work in quite the same way for another, but if you’re travelling in a group you can get around this. If you feel the cold and need to bring a sleeping bag or a heavier jumper, negotiate with someone else who only needs a blanket and ask them to carry the heavier items of cooking equipment. Team work is always a good thing!
  5. Make the pack itself as light as possible. If you’re putting this much effort into reducing the weight of the contents of your backpack, it just makes sense that the pack itself should shed some pounds as well. The Lightwave Wildtrek 60 weighs less than 1.5kg, and of course the smaller the volume of the pack you choose, the less it will weigh. If you go for a frameless pack like the Terra Nova Voyager 55, you’ll be carrying less than half a kilo in pack weight, and it even has removable parts if you want to shed even more grams.

Finally, here are some other recommended purchases for lightweight backpacking in style. For cooking, try the Mimer stove and pan set, which fit inside each other for minimum bulk and, with two saucepans and a frying pan, provide everything you need for meals on the go (apart from the spork, of course). If you’re expecting rain, the Integral Designs Sil Poncho doubles as a tarp with 12 guy points, so it can keep you dry on the move and function as a shelter when you set up camp as well. Another item that many backpackers won’t travel without is a multi tool such as the brilliantly named Leatherman Skeletool, which weighs only 142g and, with both a straight and a serrated knife, would reduce your list of cooking equipment even further.

So, now you know what we’ve whittled our packing list down to, we’d love to hear your ideas. Are there any must-have items you’d sneak into our bags, or have you devised an ingenious system for overnight comfort that’s even lighter than a tarp/space blanket combo? Let us know in the comments below.


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