Space saving and weight shaving have been obsessed over for almost as long as people have been enjoying spending time outdoors. After all, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a day hike through your local park or an ambitious alpine climbing mission, packing light is a skill that rewards anyone and everyone preparing to step outside.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled five tips for paring back your gear. From choosing items that perform multiple functions, to streamlining your packing list to include only the absolute essentials, use these principles next time you’re getting ready to head outdoors and watch the pounds drop from your pack.
How essential is that ‘essential’ item? Do you really need that extra shirt? How often will you use that insulated coffee mug? One of the first things you should do when trying to thin out your gear before a trip is to gather all of the items you plan to pack and lay them out. Then, consider each element carefully, and place it in either an ‘essential’ or ‘luxury’ pile. You’ll quickly be able to see more clearly which bits of gear are critical to your trip, and which bits are needlessly taking up space—and pretty soon that spare pair of swim shorts will stand out like the unnecessary extra that they are.
Almost everything you carry into the outdoors can serve another purpose. It might not appear obvious at first, but once you start to get creative, you’ll be amazed at just how diverse everyday items can be. It’s one of the best ways to save weight, too. Take the bandana for example—not only can this unassuming accessory be worn on the head or neck to block sun or absorb sweat, it can also be used to: hang other items off your pack; filter coffee; wash dishes; insulate against a hot pot handle; and even act as a bandage in an emergency.
When compared with bulky, all-in-one coats, layers are a far more versatile and packable option when traveling. It may feel like you’re taking more stuff, but consider this: a down jacket can be layered up or down with a waterproof shell to provide sufficient protection from most mild to adverse weather conditions. Plus, down is the warmest insulation available—and is also the most compressible and durable. When you’re not wearing your layers, simply stuff them in any available luggage space you can find, or wrap them around fragile items like your camera to provide added protection when you’re on the move.
If you’re heading out in a group, one of the best ways to save weight is to distribute heavy items between each member. Tents are a great example of an easy-to-share load: one person carries the poles, another the tent, and another the rain fly. Groups also benefit greatly from declaring certain items for communal use—meaning you only need to bring one of each thing. Coffee pots, stoves, firelighters and first aid kits are all items that can be shared communally.
When heading outdoors, there’s one element of your packing that you should never ignore—your waste. Human or otherwise, always dispose of your trash and toilet activity responsibly, and keep the practice of ‘Leave No Trace’ at front of mind. It’s also worth considering that if you create less waste, you’ll have less to carry. For instance, instead of taking toilet paper with you and having to pack it out, use nature’s own: verbascum thapsus, or ‘cowboy’s toilet paper’, is one of the finest substitutes around. It’s soft, has large leaves, and can be found in almost every part of the country. Just remember to do your business (and bury it) at least 200 feet from any water sources, trails, or campsites.