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Backpacking and Travel

Posted: April 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: | 8 Comments »

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Ok, I’m no guru on backpacking, but I’ve read quite a bit and I’m friends with a lot of hippies.  This is my attempt to consolidate the basics into one stream of consciousness.

Ultralight backpacking

Reducing the weight, and amount of your gear, will significant improve the quality of your trip.  Less pack weight means lighter shoes instead of heavy boots, fewer calories burned, requiring less food, making movement easier, reducing injury, etc. etc.  The best way to reduce weight is by reducing the weight of your heaviest gear: pack, sleeping gear, and tent/tarp.  These can be reduced down to less than 3 lbs and account for most of your weight (excluding consumables).


Less stuff equals less pack.  A smaller backpack will be lighter as will a one made from lighter materials.  If you can reduce the volume of your sleeping gear and shelter this reduces the size of your pack.

Many prefer a top-loading pack.  If you use a foam pad like a thermolite you can place it inside a top load pack and it will give you pack structure and padding.  Ultralight gurus use this with a very light pack that has no frame.  The pad acts as the frame allowing you to use the equivalent of fabric tube with straps for a pack.   Mount your gear vertically rather than horizontally on the outside so it doesn’t get hung up on stuff as you walk.

When loading a pack, generally soft stuff goes on bottom (sleeping bag) then heavy stuff towards the lower middle, light and frequently accessed items go on top or the outside pockets.  Keep everything compressed close to your body You want the center of gravity of the pack to be as close to your center of gravity as possible.

When buying a pack try it on with actual weight (bowling ball?).  They’re all comfortable when empty.  The lower straps should hit the hips not the back or the buttox.  I highly recommend going to a specialty store full of people wearing sandals rather than a large retailer.  You’ll get better advice and meet people who actually use this stuff.

Sleeping Gear

A lightweight sleeping bag comes in at less than 3 lbs.  Down is generally more compressable and lighter weight but loses it’s insulating capability if wet.  If you think you’ll be wet or supercold, synthetic is probably the way to go.  The rating on the bag generally corresponds to the minimum temp it’s good for.  If you are a cold sleeper add 10-15 degrees for error.  You can also add an additional blanket liner.  The more your bag compresses the smaller and therefore lighter your pack can be.

Foam pads (thermolite) are generally a little lighter than inflatable pads but less comfortable.  I highly recomend the Big Agnes inflatable pad.  They’re 3″ thick rather than 1/2 inch and they still compress down to the size of a water bottle.  Note that inflatable pads are very cold if not insulated.


Tarps can be very light and very cheap, but can be more difficult to set up as a noob.  Ultralight guru’s generally use a silnylon tarp with a bivy sac (bag that goes around your sleeping bag, waterproof on bottom breathable on top), walking poles, and a ground sheet.  Tyvek, which is a ultralight vapor barrier used in construction, is a very popular ground sheet.  Combine this with a bug net and you are set.  A similar option would be a tarp, net, and ultralight hammock for warm weather.

Up one step would be a tarp tent which is set up like a tarp but has a floor and netting.  Poles or trees are used to keep it up.

Tents are probably the easiest way to go for a noob.  I think I paid around $250 for a two pound two person tent.  Depending on the amount of hiking your doing, a cheap wally world swiss army tent will be fine.  Smaller tents retain heat better and go up easier.  Generally a tent is good for one less person than rated for with gear.  So a two person tent is good for one, three person is good for two.  In addition to weight consider how well the tent compresses.  Look for high quality poles that are flush when assembled.  Also tents with hooks that connect to the poles rather than sliding poles through a long loop of material are far easier to assemble.  Put the tent up in the store before buying.  Sit inside.


You can bring anything that won’t spoil, but consider caloric density.  Generally foods high in calories and low in weight are better for backpacking.  You can go with standard freeze dried backpacking food, jerky, peanut butter, canned food (heavy), pasta, nuts, trailmix, etc.  Make sure to look at total calories, protien, fat, carbs.  You’ll want more calories than normal if you are walking and hiking all day.  My friends bring steaks and hot dogs for day 1.


You’ll need something to cook in, and a way to cook it.  Various camping stoves are available.  Make sure you have adequate fuel and test it before you go.  Titanium stuff from snow peak and others if the lightest way to go for pots and pans.  You can use the plastic bags that your food comes in for a bowl with a towel for insulation.

Regular water bottles are the cheapest and lightest way to go for storage.  You can also get plastic containers that roll up when empty.

Don’t forget utensils.  My snow peak titanium spork rocks.


Dress in layers.  You should be wearing exophicio synthetic boxers.  That’s a requirement for flashpacking.  From there, consider a insulating layer under a soft shell rather than a heavy outer layer in most conditions.  Merino wool shirt/long underwear is the way to go.  It smells less, stays dryer, and feels good in hot or cold.  From there synthetic hiking pants, shorts, or convertible pants.  Add a synthetic hiking shirt (Columbia titanium or similar) and lightweight rain/wind jacket.  Go-light and Marmot make super-light rain shells that work for all but a down pour.  get stuff that is “packable”; a pocket with a 2 sided zipper that you can stuff itself inside.


The absolute best resource for backpacking info is These guys are far more anal about weight than you and I will ever be.  They test everything from carbon monoxide in camp stoves to traveling across hundreds of Alaskan miles without resupply on less gear than I take on a trip to the gym.

The next best resource is a book called Lighten up. This is a very entertaining read and gives you a nice starting point without overloading you with info.

And for a super comprehensive encyclopedia of light gear

Another beginner link

You’ll notice all these folks work together and write for the same sites.  I keep finding that in every industry there are only a handfull of experts that all know each other.


Up next – hardcore travel advice from the depths of ATL, LAX, and BFE.

8 Comments on “Backpacking and Travel”

  1. 1 Name (required) said at 6:11 pm on October 11th, 2009:

    I have never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags, “Every year I pack heavier.” The measure of a good traveler is how light he travels. You can’t travel heavy, happy, and cheap. Pick two.

  2. 2 G.Mitchell said at 3:45 am on January 27th, 2014:

    nice post

    valuable information about Backpackers

    Thank you

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