Monday, 27 July 2015

Size isn’t everything

I’ve been asked how I manage to use a day pack for my weekend – and usually longer – backpacking trips.

A few years back my rucksack was a huge 65l plus bag – a Lowe Alpine one. It must have weighed a couple of kilo’s maybe more if I’m honest but I never put it on the scales. It did the job and I was able to get all my stuff in it including a rope, harness, rack and rock boots. With a crag sack strapped on the side I was all set up for a weekend of time outdoors.

At that time my camping stuff was ‘lightweight’ the tent was a two person Robert Saunders one with a huge porch and my stove was a trusty Trangia, and I carried the meths in a thirty year old one litre Sigg fuel bottle.

The first change came when I gave up the climbing part of the weekends away. That reduced the weight and bulk considerably, and meant that those 65l were no longer required.  Although I still found that I could fill the space, and frequently did. And this lead me to see that, with the help of Derrick Booth’s The Backpackers Handbook, if I got a smaller bag I wouldn’t have the space to fit loads of stuff in. I started to focus on what I packed and what I used with the three pile trick. After each outing I’d rank the items I used more than once, just once, and never. And found that the items in the never category were always stuff that I put in ‘just in case’ and I had the room for.  I also started looking at/and replacing items of kit. The first thing that went was the two person tent, I invested in a smaller, lighter weight one person shelter. Then the Trangia was replaced by a simple pot and cartridge gas stove, again lighter and less bulky. The synthetic sleeping bag was replaced by a warmer, lighter, less bulky down one.

The rucksack went from 65l to 55l, and again from 55l to 40l as I reduced the number of items, along with acquiring lighter and less bulky kit.  Some of the items I carry have more than one use, the tent peg trowel is a prime example, it hasn’t happened yet but I’ve not needed to dig a cat hole when my shelter is pitched. Shelters that pitch with trekking poles is another example.
The weight of the kit has dramatically reduced – initially I’d be shouldering over 15kg of stuff now my average is circa 5kg (excluding the climbing kit, obviously). And the weight reduction wasn’t just with the kit on my back, my heavy leather walking boots went to lighter fabric ones, and finally to trainers weighing just 330g a shoe.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to compile the kit that I’m planning to use, this keeps me disciplined as to what goes in the bag and ensures that nothing is forgotten. I also use it to tailor the kit to the trip – time of year, terrain, environment, etc. Experience counts for a lot too – knowing what you need against what you might come across is learnt from getting out there and doing it.

It also comes down to personal preference, and this is the deal breaker – there are those that won’t feel comfortable about leaving home without something or other, usually lots of somethings or others. If you feel the kit you pack needs a backup then pack something that works and won’t let you down. (If you can’t leave the house without a secondary stove packed because you’re paranoid about the primary one failing then you need help of another kind.)

Despite all this reduction in weight and bulk comfort doesn’t suffer, my kit it will keep me warm and dry, and I’ll get a comfortable night’s sleep. I could leave the stove out on summer trips but I like a hot drink in the morning – that’s my personal preference. It’s possible for me to reduce the load further but I’m happy with what I pack and carry. For now.


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Suzy Dittmar said...

I tend to think I'm not great at travelling light - but I can see how it might work now. Great idea about the spreadsheet!

Alex said...

Thanks for the useful info! I'll try to pack lighter in my upcoming trips :)