In the next following few posts I will be walking through how to lighten one’s backpack using the spreadsheet created for Northern British Columbia-Yukon 2014 trip. The last time I calculated the weight was in 2012 when I was getting ready for a trip to Finland. The initial list was inspired by Sam Haraldson’s list for the Pacific Northwest Trail. However, the list has not been revisited. Although, it feels like the pack has gotten heavier since the first Finland trip.
After doing a series of day-hikes, I realized the versatility of using a 11L backpack instead of a 65L and how almost everything except for shelter and sleeping system fitted into the pack. The calculation is long over-due. The weight reduction will stem from the combination of woodcraft, bushcraft, ultra-lightweight backpacking and knowledge about backcountry hunting.
Today, the average outdoorsman is expected to be self-sufficient, and the paradigm shift pioneered by George Washington Sears, Horace Kephart, and E.H. Kreps at the turn of the 20th century to be equipped with man-portable tools and skills to allow a person to to travel through the wilderness by himself. It is due to these early authors, people were able to survive in the woods without fire. Much of the equipment would undergo technological innovations thanks to periods of expeditions and military investment.
However, it would not be until after the Second World War, people when people had more time for leisure and began thinking about lightweight backpacking. Many attribute Emma Gatewood who made national fame and did a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1955 with only sneakers, raincoat, a duffel bag, army blanket, plastic shower curtain, an umbrella and many simple gears. She would later to go on to do many other trails up until her death in 1973. The term was not coined until later by Ray Jardine in his 1992’s book PCT Hiker’s Handbook (now republished Beyond Backpacking) which kickstarted the movement which later became mainstream. Much of the innovations which allow someone to be self-sufficient out of his own backpack only occurred in the last decade.
However, the modern fantasy of living off the land can easily be dissuade by watching documentaries about the harsh life of the Russian taiga. Even today, the ones who still live off the land often adopt labour-saving technology such as motorized boats, snowmobiles, amphibious vehicles and chainsaws. Additionally, Ross Gilmore summarized 18th and 19th century woodsmanship and defined the modern woodsman. While it is good to acknowledge the value of bushcraft and other skills such as hunting and trapping, it is also important to acknowledge these preparations were done with the help of a community, through laborious work which takes months to complete or with pack-trains and canoes. Those who did not have such a system in place eventually perished or got lucky.
Paradoxically, Andrew Skurka in 2012 criticized the trend of competitive downsizing to the bare minimum by calling the “super ultra-lightweight” class (SUL) and “extreme ultra-lightweight class (XUL) “stupid light” when an individual who traded weight for efficiency, sacrifice comfort and puts himself at great risk by leaving crucial survival items at home. So, one must always match the gear to where one is hiking and the weather conditions expected.
Now that being said, the requirements for hiking changes circumstantially. For instance, the kind of gear one may carry in the Pacific Northwest is similar to Alaska’s coastal region, but still differ in some aspects. Similarly, what may be required in a constant changing climate is not required in a stable climate and vice versa. For those who live in a climate which changes on the whim, there is the saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”. The same applies everywhere.
When I first got into light-weight backpacking, it wasn’t for hiking but rather was inspired by Ralph Diaz’s Complete Folding Kayaker and taking advices from Folding Kayaks and West Coast Paddler forums. Most of the gears were copied from Alm’s experiences which can be found at: https://sites.google.com/site/alexm221100/. Initially, purchasing a Feathercraft was in the work, but priorities changed and never came to fruition. While the kayaking community often borrowed ideas from the ultra-lightweight backpacking community, the base pack are often heavier since the risk factors are much higher and being caught after dark, capsizing or hypothermia are very real possibilities.
My first experience of lightening the load began the year before I left for Finland. While I was able to find a comfortable weight for the West Coast, those same weight became unnecessary in Finland where the climate was steady with hardly any winds. The gears only began to come into play only after we arrived in Finnmark, Norway. There was very little point in packing half of the stuff in my backpack. However, it was there I learned about the value of using a framed backpack for heavier load, and smaller frameless for lighter loads. A large frameless backpack is counterproductive without a packboard.
One shouldn’t let others dictate the pack-list. For instance, while hiking near Christina Lake, British Columbia, the heat became unbearable and the pack was too heavy. Most of the gear was contributed by someone else, and felt guilty about not taking them along. Ironically, most of the equipment donated could had been purchased for less weight at Mountain Equipment Co-op and other venues for equal or less value. Only one knows his own true comfort level.
In contrast, mostly due to the adverse reaction of being over-loaded in a hot climate a few months prior, I also under-dressed while staying in the forest in -20 overnight. The experience would not be so unpleasant if I had packed tighter gaiters, better boots and tighter woolen socks instead of two layers of thin woolen socks. Perhaps bear-paw snowshoes would had been more efficient than longer ones; or maybe it is more efficient to import skishoes from Siberia than to support one’s own backcountry-skiing industry Also, I know first-hand what is like to have an unexpected wildlife encounter in middle of the woods with a territorial bull moose.
So, there should be a relative balance between checking one’s own assumptions and the comfort of a lighter load. When one gains more experience, he gets a feel for what limit he can push and what he cannot. So the pack will lighten up in some areas, and become heavier in others.
While the skinned-out weight for autumn hunting differ from hiking, spring and summer provides excellent opportunity to test out new gears and loads. While the hiking, hunting and bushcraft communities tend to snub each others, there are lots to learn from each others. Backpacking North has an excellent guide to how to lighten one’s load and offered a series of posts entitled “Ultralight Makeover”:
- Downsize Your Pack
- Ditch the Dome
- Change Your Bedding
- Start Cooking Light
- Pay Attention to the Menu
- Carry Less Water
- Dress Down
- Stay Fresh With Less
- Pack Knowledge
- Go Smart Tech
- Give Your Feet A Break
- Putting It All Together
- Resources & Bibliography
Similarly, there are many forums available such as Folding Kayaks, Alaska Outdoors Forum, Long Range Hunting, Rokslide, Bushcraft Finland and Winter Trekking which are invaluable. There are also commercialized paid-subscriptions such as BackpackingLight. Also, there are many organizations which exist such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers which try to merge the two lifestyles and are worth joining.
For the purpose of the next few posts, the loads are divided into: clothes; cooking and hydration; first aid and toiletries; electronics; miscellaneous; packing, sleeping and shelter; and consumables. Micromanaging makes it far more convenient to evaluate each gear and their purpose and give one the time to rationalize the justifications, removing them or upgrading. The big threes which weighs the most and easiest to reduce are: the pack, the sleeping bag and the tent. After which there can be either significant weight-saving made, or very negligible.
|Northern British Columbia-Yukon 2014|
|Gear||Metric (kg)||Imperial (lbs)|
|Cooking and Hydration||2.18||4.81|
|First Aid and Toiletries||0.48||1.05|
|Sleeping and Shelter||5.62||12.38|
|Worn or Carried||3.00||6.62|
My goal is to fit the entire system into a 30L backpack for the corner seasons. In the summer in northern Rockies climate, it would be nice to have all of the gears under 7 kg (appx. 15 lbs). For hunting and winter-trekking, 11kg (appx. 25 lbs) would be considered ultralight. Although an ultralight can be had for 4.5 kg (10 lbs) or less, it would be nice to have some wiggle room for extra insulation, rugged boots and more durable products.