It’s not unusual for a Scout backpacker to make several major purchases just before their first major backpacking trip. When confronted with the costs, and without the time to shop around, many neophyte backpackers (or parents) look for the cheapest equipment possible, rationalizing that they can upgrade in the future if necessary. However, with backpacking, lower cost usually means lesser quality and more weight. As a result, many Boy Scouts and Adult backpackers spend their second year trying to lower their pack weight so they can better enjoy the experience.
Since the heaviest items are the most expensive, many Scout backpackers try to lighten their loads by counting ounces on smaller cheaper things in their pack or they try leaving extra clothing, food, and equipment at home. This is a nice idea but you can’t make a big weight difference with small sacrifices. The only way to significantly lower your pack weight is to replace your backpack, tent/shelter, or sleeping system – often called the “Big Three of Backpacking.”
Your backpack is the foundation of your trail experience. They vary greatly in terms of design, support, fabric, color, and especially weight — yet many people spend almost no time in selecting the right pack for the wilderness experience they want to have. While 6-8 pound backpacks were the norm a few years ago, there are many great packs today that weigh far less. For example, Osprey specializes in light packs and offers several models that weigh under four pounds and the basic REI Flash series comes in even lower. There are even Ultralight packs that measure their weight in ounces not pounds. So weigh your backpack and see if this is the first place you can save a few pounds.
Most boys prefer tents and most units provide them. Typical Scouting tents are big, heavy, and not so good for backpacking, but good backpacking tents are small, frail, expensive, and not so good for teenage boys. Many Troops use tarps or even old fashioned “tube tents” to save weight and simplify the trip. They are great in good weather, especially if the mosquitoes have all died off for the season. A few have adopted “cowboy camping” and just sleep under the stars every night. If you can afford it, get a tent that weighs under three pounds. Big companies like REI, Big Agnes, and Marmot all offer lightweight tents as do specially vendors like Six Moon Designs.
Most hikers carry a sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Goose down bags are the smallest and lightest but many in the Scouting world avoid down bags for fear that they will get wet and lose all their insulating value. Some synthetic bags come close to down bags but they don’t stuff as small and are usually heavier. Any sleeping bag that weighs more than two pounds is probably too heavy for a serious backpacker. It is possible to carry a very lightweight sleeping bag if you also carry thermal layers in which to sleep and have a pad with a reasonable R rating. The yellow Thermarest Neo weighs in at about ten ounces and is very popular!
Adding up the “Big Three” gives you a very good idea about where to start cutting weight. With “Traditional” it’s not unusual for the “Big Three Weight” to be 18 pounds or more (this is wicked heavy). Ultra Light hikers aim for something less than five pounds for the same equipment. Most Scout backpackers want to be somewhere in the middle.
Decide how much you want to carry and set a goal of getting there as quickly as possible. (Buy used equipment if necessary.)
The “Big Three” accounts for a lot of your pack weight, but not all of it. If you want to minimize your load, here are some additional rules for lowering what you carry:
1. Weigh everything
2. Take less stuff
3. Choose equipment carefully – Emphasize multi-use items
4. Know the difference between wants and needs
5. Continually try new and lighter things – experiment on practice hikes
6. Load lightening is a gradual process of trial & error so set goals every year
For more information about Scout backpacking, visit the 50miler.com Outing Resource Center on Facebook.