I’m almost done with being away for the summer, so for my last “away” post, here’s a little bit of ultralight wisdom, if you can call it that.
Backpacker Magazine and other mainstream hiking media often give hints for hikers to lighten their packs, but their most popular hints are to shorten the straps of your pack and trade your Nalgenes for Gatorade bottles. But that’s not enough. Here are a few more hints that are generally not free, but relatively inexpensive.
1: Your Tent’s Guylines Are Too Heavy!
I used to use the lightest cord I could find at the local backpacking shop for the guylines of my tarp. The full weight of my tarp with guylines was 14.5 ounces. Not too shabby. Then I switched to Backpackinglight’s Aircore NANO guylines (approximately $16) and dropped down to 12 ounces. It’s not a huge weight savings, but this cordage weighs 0.01 ounces per foot. It’s like it’s not even there. And if your shelter is pretty light to begin with, this might be the last bit of weight that you can cut off of it. Note: BPL recently discontinued their gear store, so Mountain Laurel Designs’ LiteLine looks like the best alternative.
2: Hardware Store Tarps? Tyvek? No!
I see people using blue hardware store tarps for ground cloths all the time. Those are heavy and amazingly bulky. Tyvek is pretty bulky, much lighter, and more durable. But the real gold is the Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth. It’s a thin sheet of plastic, weighs less than two ounces, packs down to the size of a baseball, and will last a reasonably long time. It’s nowhere near as durable as Tyvek, but if you treat it nicely it will last a long time. I bought a two-pack in 2008, and used one of the sheets for about 4000 miles of hiking before I threw it out prematurely. For $8, I’d say that was a good purchase.
3: Do You Really Need A Climbing Carabiner?
Have you ever seen someone with a full sized carabiner, made for belaying climbers or rappelling down cliffs, clipped onto their pack just to hold a water bottle or a camera case? If all you need to do is hold something that weighs less than twenty pounds, you should stick with the lighter and cheaper mini-biners by Nite Ize or the similarly snazzy ones at Mountain Laurel Designs. And here’s a hint: the weight ratings are bull. The Nite Ize #1 is rated to five pounds, but I use it to hang my bear bags which are frequently in the fifteen to twenty pound range. No damage yet!
4: Sparker or Blowtorch?
When you’re lighting your stove, whether it’s white gas, canister, or alcohol fueled, you really don’t need any more than a spark. Most people carry a standard Bic lighter, which you can find at any gas station on the planet (or at least every one I’ve been to, which are all in the US and Canada). Anything more than this is total overkill. Just keep it dry and safe, and it won’t fail. But you can do better. There are the miniature versions of the Bic, also at most gas stations. Just a little smaller and lighter, and they pack better.
5: Small Stakes Hold Just As Well
Still using those fat plastic stakes from the hardware store? Or really any other big, fat stake that you’ve found at the local camping store? Stop. MSR’s aluminum needle stakes are as much as you need. They don’t look like they have a lot of holding power, but I’ve found that it’s more a matter of the ground you put a stake into than the size of the stake that determines if it will hold. So buy a set of ten for $20 and enjoy carrying stakes that are easy to pack, light, and strong. And if you want something even tinier and lighter, go with Vargo Titanium.