The path to enlightenment

photo by Mark Thomas

In recent years, there has been a change in backpacking.

Heavier, bulky gear is being eschewed in favor of lighter, sleeker gear. The bomber gear that can withstand anything Mother Nature throws at it is being looked at as overkill for mountains that don’t have “Everest” in their name. And clunky and expensive stoves are being ditched for stoves made out of soda cans (or, Boulder being a college town, ones made from PBR cans).

This change has been given many names: lightweight backpacking, ultralight backpacking, dirt bagging, minimalism, fast packing and more.

But whatever name this trend goes by, it means taking lighter gear and not being burdened with heavy loads. Backpacking is not looked at as a slow and plodding way to enjoy the outdoors, but rather a way to get deeper into the backcountry with packs not much heavier than a day hiker’s.

Backpacking is not seen as a trudge, but a joy. Getting lighter does not have to be synonymous with expensive gear, though. A few simple changes can lighten your load without lightening the wallet.

Why take a Nalgene bottle? At 6 ounces each, they are heavy. Take a sports drink bottle instead.

Only 1 ounce empty, and it comes with a drink.

Remember those blue foam pads you used on your first camping trips? Well they still work. At $10 or so from discount and army surplus stores, they are lighter and more durable than the inflatable foam pads.

If mainly hiking on trails, check out DriDucks brand rain gear. A suit with a jacket and pants costs $20. Waterproof and breathable. Not really meant for off-trail hiking or rougher outdoor pursuits, but just fine for climbing to Pawnee Pass.

Boulder is home to many gear companies, including Sierra Designs, Kelty and GoLite. These companies also have massive warehouse sales on occasion. Scope them out and score some great deals on high-end and lighter gear.

Boiling two cups of water for your Glop du Jour? Don’t take a heavy, noisy and finicky-to-use white gas stove. Raid the recycling bin at work and make a stove out of soda cans. Google search “soda can stove” for directions on how to make one popular variation of this stove.

MYOG. Speaking of a soda can stove, Making Your Own Gear is something you can do with the old sewing machine Mom gave you that sits in the basement. MYOG means your gear is less expensive, lighter and just the way you want it. You can also modify existing gear to your own needs this way. Check out these links for some ideas:; htm; html.

Have a knife big enough to make Rambo proud? Ditch it for a Swiss Army Classic. Fits on a key chain, weighs one ounce and will cut string, slice open a package of Glop du Jour and will cut pepperoni.

Think you need $250 leather boots that give you blisters, take forever to dry and make your feet ache? Lighter gear means lighter footwear can be used. Take some trail runners. They are lighter, quicker to dry, and you probably already own a pair.

Want to know more? There are many resources to help on the path to enlightenment. Check out for discussion on lightweight gear, techniques and philosophy about lightweight backpacking.

Don Ladigin’s Lighten Up!: A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking is an excellent book for traditionalist backpackers who wish to lighten their load without remortgaging their homes.