Do you want a lighter backpack? Of course, you do. When moving uphill and over tricky terrain, extra weight is your enemy. One of the only things less enjoyable than hauling excess bulk is hopelessly sifting through your over-stuffed pack trying to find what you're looking for. The solution to this is simple: pack less and pack smarter. In this article, I’ll share 7 tips to help you do both. These are geared toward hikers, but they can be applied to travel and backpacking in general.
Tip 1: Get a smaller backpack or hiking pack
Unless you're on a multi-day traverse, carrying technical climbing gear, or hauling excess camera equipment (like I often do) a 65L hiking pack, such as the Jupiter 65L + 10L hiking ruck sack should be more than sufficient. As a rule of thumb, you will always fill the backpack you have. So, to pack less - simply get a smaller bag. Immediately, the limited space will force you to critically re-evaluate every item you carry. Bonus tip: try to avoid tying excess items to the outside…they accumulate weight quickly.
Tip 2: Write a packing list
Before you start to pack, write a list of the items you need for the trip at hand. I use the Notes app on my iPhone and tick items off as I go. By identifying the essentials before packing you'll have a clear game plan for what needs to go into your bag. This should be as tailored as possible. A coastal hike in the Eastern Cape differs vastly from a mid-winter Drakensberg traverse. Plan, and pack accordingly. For example, I use the Amplify Down Light sleeping bag (0.5kg) for summer trips, and the Ice Nino (1.3kg) for colder weather.
Tip 3: Share the load
When hiking in groups, it makes sense to share the load where possible. Things like pots, gas bottles, spices, tents and so on, can to varying degrees all be shared thereby lightening everyone's load. Just be sure to discuss this ahead of time, and ensure there's enough to go around. Don't be the person that 'forgets' his stuff, and only to timidly pipe up at camp, "Umm, hey bro, can I borrow your cooking pot?". Those guys seldom get invited back.
Tip 4: Ask yourself if it’s essential?
Hold up the item in question and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I leave this at home?” Nervousness and inexperience have a way of manifesting themselves as excess things in our packs. Things we worry profusely about not having, but seldom use. Will you survive without that extra T-Shirt? More than likely. Do you really need that third camera lens? Probably not. On the other hand, is that rain jacket essential? Well, yes, that's vitally important, especially since the Vapourstretch rain jacket has a 3-layer membrane making it fully water- and windproof. As is chocolate, you can never have enough snacks of the sweet persuasion. Pack the essentials and ditch the rest.
Tip 4: Weigh and compare items
From your backpack to your boots, through to your camera gear and clothing, without sacrificing function or durability, invest in the lightest gear you can. On the trail, lightweight is the right weight. Strange then, that so few people know what the items in their backpacks actually weigh. Buy a scale and weigh your current setup to figure out where the bulk is coming from, and then investigate alternatives. Bulky jackets, chunky sleeping bags, and indulgent food items are common culprits.
Tip 5: Find ways to make things multi-purpose
There will always be specialist gear that serves a single purpose: boots, climbing shoes, a camera, etc. But where possible, identify items that can do more than one thing. The more roles an item fills, the better. A down jacket, like my trusty Transit, placed inside a stuff-sack makes a great pillow. A cooking pot doubles as a bowl. Socks can protect lenses and small cameras, and a spork is a wonderful amalgamation indeed.
Tip 6: Take just enough and no more
Consumable items often come in quantities greater than you’ll use. So remove items for their store bought packaging, and take just the right amount. You don't need a full box of plasters for a 2-day hike; 4-5 plasters will suffice. Decant sunblock into a smaller tube (old film canisters are my go-to). Measure out oats, instant coffee, nuts, biltong, etc into a ziplock bags, with amounts rationed for the trip. I even know people who’ve cut their toothbrush in half to save space - a tad excessive if you ask me. These small wins seem insignificant, but in the mountains, every gram counts.
Remember, practice makes perfect
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and all-round outdoorsman, sums it up beautifully: "The more you know, the less you need”. Packing your gear is a skill, and the more you do it, the better you'll get. In years to come, you'll look back on previous trips - and the nightmarish loads you lugged around - and smile about how far you've come. I once hiked with an umbrella (no jokes). Try new things, experiment, ask your fellow hikers how they've packed their bags, and evaluate what you used and didn’t use after each hike.
Matt Bouch is a South African landscape photographer, travelling full-time since January 2020. It was a passion for the mountains that motivated him to sell his shares in a production company he co-founded, move away from corporate creativity, and pursue a lifestyle that allows for more time outside. Photos and article submitted courtesy of Matt Bouch.