Chapter 9: Hiking light – Pack Lighter by Reducing the Weight of Your Backpacking Clothing
Have you ever packed what you thought was a light backpack, then added your clothing only to discover you had a heavy, totally-stuffed, backpack?
By reducing the weight of your clothing you can lighten your load and reduce the volume in your backpack.
Since you lift your shoes with every step, wearing running shoes can save more energy than any other lightweight clothing choice. Lifting boots with every step results in lifting literally tons of weight on a long hike. You wear running shoes for every day use because they’re more comfortable. Those same shoes are more comfortable on a hike, too. They dry out quickly if they get wet. They make you more agile. And most importantly, you feel less fatigue at the end of the day.
Your rainwear is usually your heaviest clothing item, so it’s often a place you can trim some weight. If your rain gear weighs over 20 ounces, it’s time to lighten up. There are many choices for rainwear. In warm weather some hikers like to use a rain jacket and hike in shorts letting their legs get wet. Another choice is a poncho or cape. Some of these even serve as a shelter. Poncho/tarps and capes can be in the 7 to 11 ounce range.
Your rain pants can weigh less than four ounces when you use chaps that cover your legs but are open to release the moisture your body creates at the midsection. Rainwear that’s not as strong as nylon and doesn’t compact as well can weigh less than 10 ounces for a jacket and pants. Breathable nylon-based rain jackets and pants can be less than 20 ounces. Your summer rainwear doesn’t need insulation like a coat. If you need some insulation under the rain gear to keep warm, use light layers that can multitask in other conditions. Your new, lighter raingear will pack smaller, too.
Part of reducing your clothing for lightweight backpacking is just planning for what you really need and leaving the rest at home. Some fanatics take only what’s on their back, and their spare clothing is their rain gear. After all, getting grubby and sweaty is part of the experience. If that’s too extreme for you, at least it gives you a starting point from which you can plan backwards. Do you really need a second pair of pants when you have rain pants and a pair of shorts?
A short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirt gives you layering options and a backup. Silk or synthetic are lighter than cotton and more functional because they dry more quickly. Silk shirts can be as light as 2 ½ ounces for a T-shirt or 3 ounces for a long-sleeve shirt. They work well on cold or hot days, and dry quickly. Some synthetic shirts are only slightly heavier than silk. A digital scale can be helpful when purchasing backpacking clothing because it’s difficult to estimate clothing weights.
Supplex nylon shirts and pants are strong, light, and dry quickly. A pair of nylon pants can be around 8 ounces, about 1/3 of what your cargo pants weigh. You might not think twice about what belt you take, but a lightweight nylon belt weighs about 1/3 of what you’d be carrying with a normal canvas or leather belt. If you toss your full length shorts into your backpack, you’re adding about one pound. You could cut that weight drastically by taking a 3 ounce pair of nylon running shorts.
If your hikes extend into cool seasons, or you’re hiking at high altitudes, you can layer down vests, jackets and pants under your rain gear. Jackets and pants can be as light as about eight ounces each. Vests weigh less than six ounces. Synthetic jackets can be as light as about nine ounces and pants can be around ten ounces. You don’t need to add heavy, bulky parkas.
You can save weight on socks, but know your limitations. If you tend to blister, choose extra padding over super lightweight socks. After all, lightweight backpacking is all about the extra comfort of a lighter backpack. Blisters from thin socks could ruin your comfort level. There are a number of comfortable choices that are about 2 ½ ounces per pair. Look for socks that cushion well and dry quickly.
You probably wouldn’t think twice about throwing your baseball cap into your pack. But with a little planning you can find a lighter one that repels rain better or is cooler when it’s hot.
It’s nice to have gloves when it gets cool and you don’t need to add much weight to be comfortable. A pair of polypropylene gloves weighs only about an ounce.
When the mosquitoes are biting, a mosquito head net is a great piece of “clothing” to have at only 6/10s of an ounce.
You can even save clothing weight by using silk or light synthetic underwear.
Take a close look at every piece of clothing you pack, just like you consider other pieces of gear. Your clothing is a great place to lighten up.