How To Pack Light for an Overnight Hike: Save over 2kgs / 4.5lbs


, by Charlie Boscoe

Enjoying the view in front of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy. Photo Smit, Shutterstock

Making the leap from day hiking to overnight trips is a significant step in your outdoor career, but it can be made much easier with the right approach, and a bit of good advice. The key to moving into multi-day trips is to obsess over weight, and to understand that a lighter pack leads to a better life! Using the word "obsess" might seem slightly extreme, but the stronger your fixation on weight, the more fun you'll have and the greater your ambitions can be. 

Enjoying the view across Colorado’s alpine tundra. Photo Patrick Poendl, Shutterstock

There are some items you just can't do without (namely a pack, shelter, sleeping system, and stove), but let me demonstrate just how much weight you can save without leaving a single item at home or sacrificing any comfort.

The disclaimer here is twofold—firstly, I own all the gear listed, so I'm not criticizing the "heavy" options and am only judging them today in terms of weight. And secondly, super lightweight gear is expensive. Figuring out your ideal cost-to-weight ratio is key, and it takes a bit of experience to figure out the best place to save some weight and spend some money! Over time—if you're anything like me—you'll slowly acquire both light and super light gear and then tailor exactly what you take on each trip based on external factors such as trip difficulty, availability of potential escape routes, and level of comfort/warmth required.)

So without further ado, I'm going to compare the weight of different gear to show just what a huge difference lightweight kit makes, starting with a tent. Tents are one of those items which have been through a revolution in the last few decades, and my Marmot Tungsten 2-person tent would, 20 years ago, have been considered incredibly light at 1470g/3.2lbs. Nowadays, however, it has to compete with my ZPacks Duplex, which comes in at a scarcely believable 525g/1.15lbs (the Duplex does require 2 trekking poles to set it up, but you're probably carrying them anyway). So we've only done the tent, but we're already 950g/2lbs lighter!

Lightweight camp (not including the dog!) above Okanagan Lake, BC, Canada. Photo: Brian Arquila.

Moving on to sleeping systems, both the Western Mountaineering SummerLite sleeping bag and the ZPacks 30F Solo Quilt (quilts are great for summer backpacking, by the way) are rated to 30 fahrenheit/-1 celsius, but the quilt is 335g/12oz compared to 535g/19oz for the sleeping bag. Award yourself another 200g/7oz of weight saving.

Moving on to sleeping pads, I like to take an old-school foam pad and then a super light inflatable to put on top of it. The foam is great for sitting on around camp, it protects your inflatable, and it adds considerably to the insulation between you and the ground. If you go for my approach and take a Thermarest RidgeRest foam pad plus a Thermarest NeoAir XLite inflatable, your total weight is 770g/27oz, compared to 820g/29oz if you just take a Thermarest Trail Pro pad. That's only a small weight saving of 50g/2oz, but having the foam means you've got something comfy to rest on in the evening, and you're never going to end up sleeping on the ground if you damage your inflatable. Whilst on the subject of inflatables, carrying a tiny repair kit consisting of a tube of glue and some patches is highly recommended. That lesson is usually hard won, so avoid learning it by carrying your repair kit from day 1 of your overnight hiking career!

The final non-negotiable bit of gear is a stove, and for summer use, a gas burner is the way to go. Gas canister stoves aren't as effective in winter because they don't work well in the cold, but for summer, they're perfect. The key is to only take the amount of gas you're expecting to need and not to buy the biggest one in the shop. It takes a bit of judgment to know how much gas you'll require, and it depends on what you're cooking, but if I'm only boiling water for drinks and to add to dehydrated food, I count on 50g/1.7oz of gas per person per night. Do your own math after a few experiments, but regardless of the outcome, taking MSR's smallest gas canister will save you 350g/12oz versus taking their heaviest one.

Lightweight cooking in the wilderness. Photo Sean Thomforde, Shutterstock

All this gear has to go into a pack, and modern hyperlight packs are extraordinary. My Black Diamond Speed 40L pack is still my favorite pack, but at 1250g/2.7lbs, it's 650g/1.4lbs heavier than options from Zpacks and HyperLite gear. Put another 650g/1.4lbs weight saving in the bank!

Now seems like an appropriate time to do some tallying up to see where our obsession with weight (and a ton of money!) has got us. We saved 950g/2lbs on the tent, 200g/7oz on the sleeping bag, plus a further 50g/1.7oz on the pad, and then 350g/12oz by taking a small gas canister and a final 650g/1.4lbs on using a super light pack. All of which, ladies and gentlemen, adds up to a mind-blowing 2200g/4.85lbs - the equivalent of 4.5lbs of water AND 4 Snickers bars. So, in other words, you take all the gear you would have taken anyway, but your water and trail snacks are essentially "free"!

You can make further weight savings elsewhere in your pack by simply using the lightest version of all the kit you need. For example, a Petzl Bindi headlamp weighs 50g/1.7oz less than a Petzl Tikka Core headlamp, so unless you're expecting to be moving at night (and therefore need a powerful beam), taking the Bindi is an easy win. Whilst on the subject of electronics, using rechargeable headlamps means you don't need to carry any spare batteries, and you can charge your lamp from the power bank you'll likely be carrying anyway to charge your phone.

Power banks are another area where taking the bare minimum is key; there's no need to carry a heavy 20,000 mAh brick for a single night trip when you can just take a 2,000 mAh mini power bank. If you're anything like me, you'll use your phone constantly throughout the day, whether that's taking photos or logging your route and navigating with FATMAP. As a result, it's going to need to be charged, and a power bank is essential, but getting the smallest one possible is key if you're trying to save weight. One top tip here is to only charge your phone to 80%—getting it from 80 to 100% requires a disproportionate amount of power and is less efficient than the early part of the charging process. Get your phone up to 80% charged and then disconnect it to save your power bank's juice.

Camping in the land of the midnight sun, Lofoten, Norway. Photo czechexplorerphotography, Shutterstock

There are also easy wins to be had elsewhere in your pack, such as leaving your mugs and bowl at home and instead carrying some hard plastic Ziploc round food containers and using them to eat and drink out of. They're light, cheap, tough, and ideal for carrying food, so doubling them up as bowls and mugs is a great idea.

Speaking of food, dehydrated food is obviously the way to go, and making your own meals is a great way to save a bit of cash and add some calories without adding extra weight. Buying dehydrated meals gets expensive quickly, but dehydrating your own food allows you to choose your portion size, pick your own packaging, and make a meal you know you'll enjoy—all while saving you a few bucks. Second-hand dehydrators are easy to find online, and with pre-made dehydrated meals costing close to 20 bucks, you'll soon repay your investment if you make your own food!

So there we have it—make your own dehydrated meals, save some cash, and then spend it on the lightest gear money can buy! Happy hiking.

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