Hiking equipment: a guide to choosing lightweight hiking gear
A hikers guide to choosing lightweight hiking gear for the trail.
Choosing hiking gear can be a challenge. You want it to be sturdy enough to last and to provide comfort on the trail, but at the same time you don't want to carry a lot of extra weight if you don't have to. Thankfully over the past few years there have been many advances in light weight hiking gear. This gear, with its new materials and construction is durable but easy on the back and knees.
There are three things in the backpack that create the most weight. These are the tent, backpack, and sleeping bag. One of the most obvious choices for a light weight shelter is a tarp. They are easy to assemble and allow breathability that is not found in standard tents. Tarps are sturdier than in years past and can survive gusty winds as well rain and snow. Many good quality tarps weigh in at less than one pound, but tarps are not for everyone. If heavy weather or insects are a concern, it is probably best to go with a tent. Winter tents, even new lighter weight ones, are going to weigh more and be much more expensive, but if you are looking for a standard three season tent, there are many good, affordable light weight options. With so many good options from quality tent manufacturers the most important thing to take into consideration is how much room you will need in the tent and vestibule. When you go to the store bring your pack and anyone who regularly shares your tent. Get in and lie down to make sure that it is long enough and wide enough. Make sure that the vestibules are big enough for packs and shoes and anything else that will be kept there. Other good things to check for are pockets and a place to keep flashlights, like a cargo net attached to the inside roof of the tent.
The second area where a hiker can save a lot of weight is on the sleeping bag. There are lots of lightweight sleeping bags on the market. However, many of these light bags have a hefty price. One manufacturer makes a bag rated at 20F that is less than 2 pounds, but priced at about $300. However, in warmer weather quilts can be just as effective, just as light, and you probably have some in your closet now. Using quilts for warmer weather trips is a popular option among many lightweight hikers. Make sure to use quilts and not blankets, quilts have more loft and insulate you from the ground and therefore keep you warmer than plain old blankets will. The main advantage to using a quilt, however, is that it is cheaper. A synthetic fill quilt weighs about the same as a synthetic fill sleeping bag. Down generally weighs less then synthetic material, is more durable, packs smaller, retains its loft better, and weighs less. A synthetic bag rated 20F will generally weigh more than a down bag with the same rating.
The last major area where backpackers can save a lot of weight is the backpack itself. Internal frame backpacks tend to weigh less than external frame packs. There are also new packs made with lighter weight materials that can save several pounds of weight. However, it is always a good idea to buy a pack that is appropriate for your travels. People on longer trips should probably sacrifice the extra weight for an external frame pack while people on shorter trips will do just fine with an internal frame pack. The backpack should be appropriate to the weight you are carrying. A backpack not strong enough to handle the load will break and cut short a backpacking trip. It is probably a good idea to figure out how much weight you will be carrying and then to find a bag that is suitable for your needs.
There are many more areas where a hiker can save weight such as stoves and clothing. Canister stoves tend to be lighter than liquid fuel stoves. Some people even make stoves at home using old soda cans and cat food tins. Another light weight option is to use dry fuel tabs. The latter two options are only for those going ultra-light. Neither of these methods are quick to boil water and the fuel tabs smell bad and leave a residue on the pan. People also have a tendency to bring more dishes then they really need. Basically all you need are a pot, a cup, and some utensils. Buy food like dehydrated soup pasta, or oatmeal that can be eaten directly from the pot to save weight in the pack.
Clothing should be synthetic as cotton and wool don't breathe well and tend to stay wet. Synthetic fabrics should always be worn, but be aware, synthetic material absorbs smells and it is almost impossible to wash the smells out once they are in. Many lightweight hikers also wear sneakers or tennis shoes instead of traditional hiking boots. While they are smaller and lighter and dry out faster, sneakers don't provide ankle support and are therefore not recommended for people who have weak ankles or knees or are going on extended trips.
Going lightweight can drastically increase your enjoyment of the outdoors on hiking or backpacking trips. One can go faster and be more free to take side trips and not be as worn out at the end of the day. However people going the light weight route must be careful to think about what they are willing and not willing to give up to lose some weight of their loads.