Looking to shed some weight while backpacking? Start with your sleeping arrangements
By Dan Sanchez
For most experienced backpackers there’s a happy balance between shedding weight and overall comfort. While there’s a whole sub-culture of ultralight backpackers who rejoice for every ounce they can reduce on their travels, most of us simply want to stuff everything we need into a smaller, lighter pack but still have some of the conveniences we enjoy in the backcountry.
After speaking to many experienced backpackers, the best way to find out what works for you is to methodically substitute items one by one. To begin with, one of the best places to start is with your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. If you have an older tent that weighs more than 5 lbs. it’s seriously outdated and should be moved into the car camping category. Modern 3-season backpacking tents that sleep two weigh as little as 1 to 2 lbs. and in the summer you can shed the rain fly if it has one, saving even more weight.
Leave Less Of A Footprint
Lighter tents and even some bivys have a footprint that is used to protect the bottom. In most cases, this isn’t really needed if you’re careful about where you pitch your tent or bivy. Experience backpackers who often trek in rocky areas use an inexpensive sheet of Tyvek, a very light polyethylene fiber used for home building, to protect from abrasions. For the most part, you’d have to use your tent or bivy many times per year to wear out the bottom. The best thing is to always clear the area you’re going to bed down at night and make sure you are away from any water run-off if there is a chance for precipitation.
Welcome To My Pad
While some backpackers can sleep on hard ground, others don’t like waking up to sore bones and muscles and need a sleeping pad. To save weight, there are many options, but realize that some pads are much better than others. In our experience and that of well experience backpackers, some of the best pads to use are oversized and have multiple channels that offer support where it’s needed.
The oversized option gives you room to move around without falling off the pad, while air channels are less likely to move the air from one spot to another. Because sleep comfort is an important part of having a good backpacking experience, try renting various pads before selecting the one you like most and stick with it. Most of the ultralight pads weight as little as 10 to 20 ounces and roll up to the size of a soda can.
Other lightweight options include half-pads that support the area from your head to below your hips, leaving your legs and feet without support. Some backpackers like this idea because it saves even more weight, but again, it depends on your comfort level.
Keep Your Head Down
Sleeping with a backpacking pillow sounds great and are good if you absolutely can’t sleep flat on your back. After realizing that these pillows, although very small and collapsible, can still take up a lot of space in your pack. Most of us ended up using them for lumbar support in our vehicles. Although substituting a backpacking pillow is more of a space saver than a weight saver, most avid backpackers use their jackets, sweaters and even the pack for a pillow with very comfortable results.
There are hundreds of other ways to lighten your load but starting with your sleeping gear is one of the best ways to save the most amount of weight without losing a good night’s sleep.