Lighten Up
Credit: Kevin Callan

It seems the older I get, the wiser I become about packing light for a backpacking trip. On my last trip, I stripped down my gear considerably and still was able to have a good time out there.

The first rule I have is to set out my “must-have” items and figure a way to reduce the weight of them. Second, I look at how to use items of camp gear for multiple functions. And third, I re-think my luxury items and make a firm decision whether they’re worth the weight.

Here are a few more tips (and some gear choices) that have really helped lighten my load:

Stuff Sacks

Compression sacks are a must if you want to reduce bulk in your pack. Bulk is sometimes more noteworthy then weight. One of the best systems is the air-purge — sacks that are waterproof, and excess air is squeezed out while compressing. They’re great for storing sleeping bag, clothes or a tent. Outdoor Research has some of the best, in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with purchasing a few different sizes of their Airpurge Dry Compression Sacks.

Makeshift Pillow

There is no real need to pack a pillow when you can simply use your clothes bag as a substitute.

Pack Towel

This is one of those items that isn’t absolutely necessary — but it’s sure nice to have along. On my last trip, I tried the Discovery Trekking Towel. It’s the lightest I’ve seen so far and dries up at an amazing pace, drying three-times quicker than cotton. It also has some weird ability to fight bacteria growth, which helps reduce odour after a few days of use.

Lithium Batteries

By using Lithium batteries instead of Alkaline you’re cutting the weight by 50 per cent. They also last three times longer.

Water Tablets

Eliminate your water filter all together and replace it with water tablets. It cuts your weight down considerably. I’ve been packing MSR Aquatabs. They’re good for viruses, bacteria and Giardia cysts. You have to wait 30 minutes before the water is safe to drink but the weight savings is incredible.

Cooking Utensils

Switch to a Lexan spork and titanium pots. They can be expensive but the weight reduction is worth the cost.

Blacken Cooking Pots

It may look unsightly to some (and retro to others) but a charred cooking pot retains more heat than a bright, shiny new one. By doing so, it also reduces the amount of fuel needed.


You really do only need one extra set of clothes stored in your pack: one shirt, pants, extra socks for each second or third day and extra underwear for each fourth day (make your fifth day a laundry day). Merino wool is amazing. It’s lightweight, reduces body odour and is really cozy to wear. My preference is Woolpower.

Down Sleeping Bag

Look for a two-pound down sleeping bag (or comparable synthetic bag). Therm-a-Rest or Nemo’s new lightweight models can really help reduce your weight and bulk. When it comes to sleeping pads, I’m not sure you can beat the Therm-a-Rest Neo-Air Lite for size and weight in your pack. It’s also warm and cozy.


I’ve used a Eureka’s Spitfire Solo tent for three years now and I’m really happy with it. The weight is just over two pounds. It comes with tapered seams, aluminum poles and a full coverage fly. The setup is a simple two-pole process and the interior mesh panels provide good ventilation. The bonus is the vestibule, a rarity in solo tents, as well as the cost. I’ve seen them online for as low as $110

Cooking Stove

There’s way too many to choose from. MSR’s Simmer Lite is a good option. So is a Trangia alcohol stove. Lately, however, I’ve been packing my Jet Boil Java Kit. It’s a lightweight, hassle-free stove; especially if you’re keeping things simple and cooking those boil-in-a-bag meals. For solo trips I just eat out of the pot, and for tandem I pack along those Squishy Cups.

A Little Bit of Everything

Be religious about measuring out proper portions of things like sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, prescription medicine and anything else you wouldn’t necessarily need a full container of for the amount of time spent out there.