Now, before we dive in: My friend is very fit, a fairly experienced outdoors-men, and a moderately experienced backpacker looking to cut weight off his pack. He's looking to do a summer hike of the JMT in around 20'ish days. He's already spent quite a bit of time and energy trying to cut his pack weight down and is coming to me for additional advice
The Gear list
His gearlist is fairly typical from what I've seen. He's making very reasonable and safe choices while trying to get the weight down, and his pack comes out to just over 20 lbs. I met at least 4 people on the AT who asked for help cutting weight and varying versions of this formula.
You may also want to take a glance at what I carried on the JMT:
And what I carried on the AT
Most of the weights here are based on the two spreadsheets.
So, how light should we be aiming? It's all personal preference. My friend wants to gut his pack weight, and has decided he's willing to sacrifice to get there. I can hem and haw all day about different tradeoffs, but instead let me lay down a few approximate numbers that I, personally, think are reasonable, and that I've seen a lot of thru-hikers achieve with reasonably safe and kits and reasonable cost.
IMHO, summertime in the continental US, doing something most folks would call backpacking, ~14lbs is a pretty doable target. As an example, here's my end of AT weights:
8 lbs is doable if you do go crazy, and have a lot of background knowledge and skills. Personally my through-hike pack is heavier 14 lbs, because I have a habit of getting myself in sticky situations (if you read this blog, you know what I'm talking about), I hate having to ask for help, I like robust gear, and I often carry a few non-essentials.
So, there should be 6 to 9 lbs we can shave off that initial pack list without things getting too dangerous.
This is often one of the easiest places to cut.
|Spare socks||Darn Tough||59||2.08116||0.13007|
|Synthetic Longsleeve||typically worn on hike||270.4||9.53808||0.59613|
|Longsleeve Base Layer Top||Smartwool 100% merino||265.3||9.35818||0.58489|
|Base Layer Bottoms||Smartwool 100% merino||204.5||7.21353||0.45085|
|Puffy Jacket||Mountain Hardwear, 100% Polyester fill||480.6||16.9527||1.05954|
|Fleece Pants||REI, 100% polyester||339.9||11.9896||0.74935|
|Fleece Gloves||Mountain Hardwear, 100% Polyester||58.6||2.06705||0.12919|
|Fleece Cap||generic (Army Surplus store)||83.3||2.93832||0.18365|
|Rain Pants||Columbia (Omni-Tech) Unknown model||311.7||10.9949||0.68718|
|Rain Jacket||Marmot (Unknown Model)||348.7||12.3||0.76875|
|Mesh Sack for Rain Gear||SeaToSummit Mesh Stuff Sack (6.5L)||10.9||0.38449||0.02403|
- Spare underwear: People always leave this off their list, so I'm super happy to see it included. I wear compression shorts (which I don't change, I'll wash them occasionally though to get out my unusually caustic sweat), or go commando personally, so I don't carry spare underwear. It's not much, but it's something to consider. -3.5
- Puffy jacket: His puffy jacket here is ~1 lb. I carry a very puffy and warm down vest that weighs about 1/2 lb. It's varied what I use, but for a long time it was a Columbia I got for ~$60.0. My current one is warmer for about the same weight, but something like that Columbia would be plenty. I actually dropped my vest entirely, and wasn't sad about it, but I'm a very warm person and carried a warmer base-layer than he has (icebreaker 260). I would never discourage someone from carrying an upper-body puffy layer if they think they might need it. -8 ounces
- Fleece pants: Fleece is very heavy for the warmth. Given a nice wool or synthetic base-layer, and a shell layer, a "puffy" layer (synthetic probably for pants), is far warmer, and far lighter. That said, I hike, ski, and dig snowcaves in the winter with just a base layer and rain-pants. I only use the "puffy" layer on my legs when sitting around, or when it's well below freezing -12 ounches
- Fleece gloves: I have found that I rarely use gloves unless it's very cold. Good pockets in a puffy jacket work well for me. Agan, it's not that cold on the JMT, and fleece is very heavy for the warmth. Swapping these for a pair of glove liners would cut both weight and bulk. If he goes to smartwool gloves at 1.5 ounches, that's -0.5 ounces... meh not worth it
- Rain pants: Normally I would say you don't need these. For the JMT I carried only a pair of warm running tights, and Jess carried just a pair of merino tights for bottoms. That said, my friend gets cold easily. Rain pants in addition to a base layer is very warm. If he's a little uncomfortable dropping the fleece pants, keeping the rain-pants might be a good plan for now. Maybe if he doesn't use them he can drop them later.
- Rain Jacket: I actually dropped mine for the hike (note that doing so goes with dropping the vest too, since I can't keep the vest dry now). His coat is a half-pound, which is pretty good. I carried a poncho which dropped a bit more weight. On the JMT you do get rained on, but it's fairly warm and dry so you dry quickly. I got wet, but I was never uncomfortable on my hike.
Total cut: 23.5 ounces = 1.47 lbs
|Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent||0||0|
|SeaToSummit Mesh Stuff Sack (4L)||9.1||0.32099||0.02006|
|Poles w/ sack (store outside pack?)||207.6||7.32287||0.45768|
|Stakes w/ pouch||127.8||4.50801||0.28175|
|E-tarp||5x7 tarp, orange one side, reflective other||337.6||11.9085||0.74428|
For a tent, this is very light. 2.16 lbs is entirely reasonable. The extra tarp and footprint are definitely not needed we drop those and we're down to 2 lbs even
Footprints are for car-camping. Modern tents are surprisingly tough. Even silnylon, which is less tough that what most tents use, holds up fine on rocks without a foot print if you pull the really sharp stuff. There are many reviews and testimants to this. 1/4 lb is a lot.
After discussing this some my friend is seriously considering going towards a tarp. Why? Because with a silnylon tarp (~$60.0) and gossamer gear groundcloth, this could be 1.4 lb. With an expensive tarp (like Jess' from zpacks) this could be under a pound. The cheap tarp option is thus -1.6 lbs.
total cut: 28 ounces = 1.6 lbs
|sleeping bag (or quilt)||REI Lumen (25* synthetic)||1230.6||43.4081||2.71301||looking at upgrade options|
|sleeping pad||ThermARest NeoAir Xtherm||484.6||17.0938||1.06836|
|bag liner||256.9||9.06188||0.56637||options: 354 or 256.9|
|water-proof sack||SeaToSummit UltraSil Compression (20L)||97.6||3.44274||0.21517|
It's heavy, but well thought out. You can definitely do better on the sleeping bag, especially if you go to down, but there are all sorts of trade-offs to be made there. I dry out down, but not everyone does. Also, cutting weight in your sleepingbag is expensive.
The Xtherm is great, and I've considered getting one myself for winter. It's way overkill for summer (I used a 1/8" pad for my trip), but if your bony it could be well worth it. I asked why the liner, and he said to extend the life of the bag. It's heavy, but I can understand that seeing how fast I wear out sleeping bags.
Two notes on the UltraSil compression sack:
- First, silnylon bags are great for the JMT where there is little rain and things dry, but keep in mind that they are not trustworthy. I dried out my brother's sleepingbag after it got wet through 2 layers of UltraSil bags, a packliner and a drysack.
- Second, compression sacks are extremely useful for people who aren't good at packing a stuff-sack, but those straps and stuff are heavy. Without a compression sack, I can pack tightly enough to burst ultrasil bags, and to over-compress the down to the point it doesn't spring back well. Every ounce counts.
|JetBoil Sol (but not Ti)||pot, stove, lid||317.6||11.2030||0.70019|
|spoon||SeaToSummit Long Handle||11.9||0.41976||0.02624|
|sponge||part of reg ScotchBrite kitchen sponge||10.9||0.38449||0.02403|
|food storage sack +trash bag||0||0|
|water filter||Katadyn Hiker Pro||414.8||14.6316||0.91448|
|Water Bottle (1L)||GSI DukJug||185.9||6.55743||0.40984|
|Water Storage||2-48oz Nalgenes||308||10.8644||0.67902|
- Jetboil: Swapping to an alcohol stove would save a bit here. There's a great backpacking light article that shows that although the energy density in alcohol is lower, that difference is made up by the weight of the canister, and the fact that you rarely can exactly use up a canister on a trip. Mine (with pot etc.) weighs 5.57 ounces. So -5.63 ounces
- Sponge: I've never in my life carried a sponge, I use my finger and a bandana. -0.4 ounces
- Food storage sack and hanging kit: This is *mostly* his JMT kit, but that particular point clearly isn't. He'd be swapping that out for a bear-can
- Water filter: The JMT has unusually clean water. I won't push people to drink water straight, just point it out as an option. For my opinions See: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/08/in-defense-of-drinking-unpurified-water.html. That said, my friend is thinking of switching to a sawyer squeeze. I have several friend's with them and they seem quite good. I believe you can even rig them as gravity fed. Lets say we go to the sawyer, that's -11.63 ounces
- Water bottle: Nalgenes and a fancy GSI thing are heavy and overkill here. Two 1L soda bottles are much lighter, and you probably don't need the hot-water ability on this trail anyway. If you really need the extra capacity (hint, on the JMT you don't), a squashed 2L bottle works great, and it's light, cheap, and at least as trustworthy as most of the bladders out there. A 1L soda bottle is 1.5 ounces. Lets call a 2L 3 ounces, so -11.4 ounces
|Soap||Dr Bronners, .25oz||78.5||2.76901||0.17306|
|550 Cord||45 ft||90.9||3.20640||0.2004|
|Camera||cards, batteries, case||0||0|
|First Aid Kit||0||0|
- Trowel: sticks and rocks work great, -3.1 ounces
- Toilet paper: sticks and rocks work great (no, that's not a typo), -1.5 ounces
- Repair kit: We talked about this a bit. Because he's carrying a self-standing tent with bending poles, he's also carrying a pole-sleeve to repair a broken pole. One of the downsides of more complex gear is that repairs are also more complex. A torn tarp is just torn, you push a rock against it to fake a tie and use it anyway. (jess' old tarp has been missing a gromet for years, it doesn't really matter). -5.5 ounces
- 550 cord. He's already got bearbag code, and tent cord, 45 feet of 550 is probably unnecessary. We could also go with something lighter like triptease, between the two we can cut most of it. -2 ounces
- Camera: I'm only so-so on camera's in the woods in general, but on the JMT, this is *really* worth the weight and the mental cost of taking photos. I have so many amazing photos from that trip. Maybe it's not what matters to you, but whatever you are out there for, don't ruin it trying to cut weight. Your pack feels lighter when you are happy then when you are sad about the 2 lbs you came out there to use but left at home. +5 ounces
- Multi-tool: A bit excessive, but reasonable. I like to carry a leatherman PS2 (or PS4 since PS2 is no longer available). It's a very small multitool with plyers and screwdrivers and the like. -2.6 ounces
total cut: 9.7 ounces = 0.6 lbs
|Matches||UCO Waterproof (15ct)||16.9||0.59613||0.03726|
|Sparker||Light My Fire Scraper||28.4||1.00178||0.06261|
|Knife||Gerber Mini Paraframe||41.7||1.47092||0.09193|
|Iodine+ 1 qt baggie||39.7||1.40038||0.08752|
|Tinder||Plastic case w/ waxed cotton balls||32.6||1.14993||0.07187|
|Whistle||Fox 40 Mini||5.5||0.19401||0.01213|
|Lighter||Bic Mini, waterproofed||11.9||0.41976||0.02624|
He and I have talked quite a bit about this section. About what sort of things Jess and I carry. An emergency git is *very* personal, it reflects not only the level of risk you are willing to take, but also your personal knowledge and skills with various tools. Carry things you know, and will use. Also, your emergency kit isn't for emergencies. It's for *avoiding* emergencies. You should be perfectly willing to pull out any piece of gear in there if it will help you with your situation, before you are in any trouble. Because of these two properties, the gear you've used in the past should weigh very heavily on what goes in your kit. My advice is based on my experiences, skills, and other gear, keep that in mind.
- Space blanket: I highly recommend the small bivies instead, they are far nicer to use, and the same weight. The exact model is listed here: http://smalladventures.net/store/Emergency_Kit.html
- Matches: I asked him, and these are the real ones that light underwater. Again, like the ones listed in the URL above.
- Knife: I carry 2 or 3 knives usually as non-emergency gear. I have a knife-blade I made from a file some time ago that I carry as emergency gear, the idea is that I can haft it if needed. Carrying a real knife that's nice and light like this makes a lot of sense though.
- iodine+: For this particular trip I'd say backup water treatment is excessive, but I can't fault the idea in general.
- band-aids: I never use them, I use duct-tape instead if I'm trying to stop from bleeding on things. Direct pressure and patience works well otherwise. On the other hand, I don't get heal blisters.
- headlamp: I'm comfortable hiking without a headlamp in most circumstances, so a spare headlamp seems excessive to me. If you really want one, maybe switch to a photon to save a little more weight and bulk.
So, first pass, relatively easy, our total cut is: 5.46 lbs
I was trying not to spend much money, or change the style much with this breakdown. There are a number of things you could do to keep going lower.
- Spending more on sleepingbag could easily cut 1lb.
- Dropping the xtherm pad in favor of gossamer gear's closed-cell foam 3/8" pad would cut 10.29 ounches or 0.64 lbs.
- Going to a 1/8" like I carried, cuts another 0.28 lbs
- Dropping the puffy jacket, and rain pants would cut ~1.1lbs
- Swapping the rain jacket for a poncho like I did would cut ~0.3 lbs
- A more expensive tarp would save 0.75lbs
- Dropping the tarp for just the poncho would save an additional 0.8lbs or so
- Dropping the water filter would cut 0.18 lbs
- Dropping the bulk of the emergency kit would cut ~0.6 lbs
- He has a nav kit I didn't include in the breakdown, none but the map is not srictly needed. That could cut 1.1 lbs
That's over 12 pounds cut.
I would be willing to hike the JMT with every one of the adjustments listed above. It takes some knowhow, but that gear would be sufficient for me.
I'm noticing as I read this gear-list over and over, that I can't quite get the weight as low as I'd expect. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that I don't want to stare at this list that long (which I would for myself). The other is that at some point it's a lot of smaller things that get hard to see quickly. To keep cutting weight you get to weighing different pieces of gear, and trying to replace each each with something lighter. Do I want those shorts, or those other shorts? This is part of why I tend to end up in the 12-14 lb range myself, at some point it gets expensive, and I just don't care that much. As an example, on the AT I wore a pair of women's running shorts for decency over my compression shorts. They were much much lighter than normal men's shorts would've been.
Remember that my friend *asked* for this breakdown. Hike your own hike, bring what you want and have fun out there. I backpack many different ways myself, a blanket around my waist, classic ultralight gear, or heavier weight with an axe and guitar. The things I'm suggesting are not intended as a judgement in any way on any of those items, or people who carry them. The point is to give advice on how to cut weight where that's someone's priority (as it is for my friend).
Anyway, I hope people find this breakdown useful. Happy hiking!