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478 Trail Sense - Pack Weight 2011-09-19

When you are young and strong, backpacking means cramming whatever you can find into a pack and heading out for the weekend. The emphasis seems to be more on packing with little concern for the poor back that has to carry the load. Aching miles away you finally set down the backpack, having just had the worst outdoor experience of your life. You did not have fun. Of course at camp you had a great time and soon forgot the memories of getting there.

Ah, but there are also a growing number of you who travel lightweight. You carry a small pack and don't even fill it up. You are able to enjoy the trail as you breeze into camp; but then you have small portions of food to eat and minimal shelter and clothing. You leave camp hungry, cold, and grumpy.

To find the middle ground between the two styles, we have to use a little sense, Trail Sense. We can't just throw things in our pack and hope that we have enough, without having too much. We have to plan and prepare.

A plan of attack for a compromise ...

Most average frame sized men can carry 25 to thirty pounds. They might be able to carry even more if they are fit; but why push it? If you have a smaller frame size, then carry less. A small framed woman might try for ten to fifteen pounds as a target weight.

Weigh your pack before leaving the trailhead. You want to know the actual weight of the pack - the actual weight that will be carrying. Be careful not to add anything else to the pack once it has been weighed.

Log the weight, in a journal (written or electronic) and important trail information. Also, make comments on other important information for example - were you hot or cold, hungry or with food left over, thirsty or with too much water.

Store the information so you can use it to help pack for the next trip.

Adjust the gear to match the anticipated conditions of the next trip and pack accordingly.

A few packing notes ...

Buy a set of scales that weigh ounces and pounds. We found a great set at Amazon that was relatively inexpensive. You can use bathroom scales for the final weight; but bathroom scales will not be able to weigh individual items.

Don't trust the weights from the manufacturers. Their weights often differ from ours - higher or lower.

Use the scale and record the weight of each item.

Don't forget the weight of the pack.

We have often times put last minute items into the pack that we thought me might need ... we didn't need them.

Pack the core essentials - shelter, sleeping, clothing, kitchen, first aid kit, emergency kit, food, water - and weigh the pack.

If the pack already weighs too much, it is time to make some decisions. What compromises can you make to keep the pack weight under the desired weight.

Is there gear that more than one person in the group is carrying? Can you share?

Unfortunately, light equipment can cost a lot of money, especially if you have already bought the latest, greatest, and heaviest gear on the market. Try carrying a large day pack instead of a backpack. This simple measure can save up to five pounds! Another significant saver is to pack a tarp instead of a tent, another five pound weight saver. Two pounds can be saved by carrying one quart of water instead of two. Note: throughout the Trail Sense series we will be discussing weight savings, so more on this later.

You will still have a few pounds of other things to pack, other than core essentials. Remember to allow about three pounds for these extras.

Finally, log each item in your pack and the overall weight. If it is under your desired weight, don't add another thing to the pack.

Sling your pack on your shoulder and smile. It is light!

It might take a few trips to discover what gear you need and what gear you carry; but do not need. Don't sacrifice safety for a lighter pack. Find that compromise that is light to carry; but still having everything you need.

Happy light trails

Trail Sense


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