How to Travel Light – The Principles of Lightweight Backpacking
Why Pack Light?
Most travelers will have (at one time or another) realized that they overpacked for a trip. They might have that realization half way through their trip, when they’re carrying their baggage up a steep hill, or it might not happen till the very end of the trip, when they return home and realize that they didn’t wear even half of the clothes that they packed.
The solution here is to find a way to lighten the load (so to speak), and to learn about what’s being called ‘lightweight backpacking’.
The benefits of lightweight traveling and backpacking are obvious. When you’re on the road, everything that you own you carry around on your back (in your rucksack), so you naturally want to make your bag as light as possible.
Packing Light – What NOT to Do
Sometimes you can be too over-prepared… Obviously this video is an exaggeration, but it goes some way to highlighting how many people overpack for trips.
A Distinction That Must Be Made
Lightweight backpacking, however, does not mean skimping on the essentials. It does not mean excluding the items that will keep you safe, warm and well fed. Instead, it is all about removing items that you don’t really need, and about reducing weight in other ways.
The Traditional Backpacker Vs The Lightweight Backpackers
To put it simply, a ‘traditional’ (or perhaps an inexperienced) traveler will typically carry duplicate and redundant items with them on their trip, whereas a ‘lightweight’ traveler eliminates these redundancies from their luggage as well as selecting gear that can be used for multiple purposes; thereby maximizing its usefulness.
This is the secret to lightweight backpacking, and it’s something that anyone can do. The aim is to create a smaller, lighter load whilst retaining the essential items.
While you certainly don’t have to take lightweight traveling to the extreme (E.g. cutting off labels on your clothes to save weight), there’s bound to be a few tips here that will make you trip just a little bit easier and more enjoyable.
The Principles of Lightweight Backpacking
I’ve outlined a few of the principles of lightweight backpacking earlier on, but let’s take a closer look here:
- Never Leave Out Gear at the Expense of Safety or Basic Comfort - It’s important to remember that just because we’re packing light, doesn’t mean that we have to be uncomfortable. Never leave out gear that is essential to your safety (such as bottles of clean water or sleeping bags), and don’t feel guilty about packing a jumper if you think the weather’s going to get cold. Remember – this isn’t a competition to see who can pack the least.
- When Possible, Use Multipurpose Items – Items that have multiple uses are great. An example of one such item is a bandana, which also can be used as a scarf, a wash cloth, a napkin, a lens cleaner (for your glasses), a handkerchief and so on.Such items don’t need to be amazingly good for ANY of their potential uses – they just need to get the job done (allowing you to leave the specialized items at home).
- Start by Looking at the Heaviest Items First
As I mentioned earlier – while cutting the labels off all of your clothes might make you feel smart, it won’t actually save you very much weight at all. It’s a better idea to start by looking at the heaviest items in your backpack and thinking about how you can reduce the weight of those first.
- The Order of Judgment
When making judgments about any potential gear that you might take with you, try to keep this order in the back of your mind: Firstly, is it useful? Secondly, is it dependable? Thirdly, is it lightweight? Finally, is it compact? This means that you should look at all the gear that you have and first ask if it’s useful to you or not. If it is, then you should then ask whether it’s dependable or not, and so on down the list. The reason for this is that there’s no point carrying gear that isn’t useful to you or dependable (just because it’s lightweight and/or compact).
The weights of most items will be displayed on the supplier’s website, or if you already own the item you can use a simple weighing scale. Electronic scales are best as they’re more accurate, and you should try and get your hands on a postal scale if possible (i.e. the kind that they use at the post office for weighing packages).
You should record the weight of each item in a notepad or on a computer spreadsheet. This makes it easy to work out different total weights without having to pack your bag. You might even want to go as far as writing the weight of an item on it by using a black marker pen. Don’t forget that for items such as water bottles, the weight of them when they’re filled up will be different to when they’re empty.
As we can see there’s a lot to think about when packing light, but the benefits are definitely worth it.
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