12 Tips to Pack Light for Long Hikes

Packing Light for Long Hikes

When planning to hike for an extended period of time you should know of the value of lightening the weight you will be carrying.  Lightening up your backpack load can be quite a daunting task, especially when you want to carry everything you need for that long hike.  A lighter backpack can help you hike better for a longer period, prevent your back and knees from injuring, and help you enjoy the overall venture even more.  For those, and more reasons, here are 12 tips that can help you lighten the load but still carry everything you need.

1. Analyze your current equipment.
Try to catalog and weight every piece of your hiking equipment.  This will help you know how efficient (weight wise) are your items and which ones might need some improvement (replacement) for future hiking trips.  Try replacing heavy equipments with lighter ones that perform as well, if not better.

2. Go with the lightest equipment possible
Normally, the lighter the item, the more expensive it might be.  Select the lightest sleeping bag, backpack, and shelter according to your budget (try to do your best with these three items).  Then replace other heavy items with lighter alternatives.

3. Take only what you need
This might be one of the most important tips.  Take only what you need, not what might be useful on the road.  Sure, there are certain “luxuries” you can carry –like books, electronics, other items for comfort and entertainment– but don’t go overboard with them, and if possible, look for lighter alternatives.  A good packing phrase: “Pack everything you think you will need, then get rid of half of it”. See a list of 15 things you don’t need to pack, but usually make their way into the backpack.

4. Sharing is good
You have a great opportunity to reduce your load by sharing it with a friend.  Create a balanced share where both (or more) are benefiting from the additional manpower.  There are some common items everyone will use but there is no need of having more than one or a few of each –like maps, pots, tent, etc.

5. Consume the heaviest food first
If you’re carrying snack and food for your long hike, you might notice that they tend to take a considerable amount of space and add significant weight.  Try eating the heaviest and most perishable items first.

6. Try the dry or dehydrated option to liquids
Liquids (or specifically, water) weight around 8.35 lb per gallon (1 kg per liter).  When you add your liquids you’ll notice they add a significant amount of weight.  Try the powder based juices, dry thin paper soaps (really light), and other dehydrated alternatives.

7. Carry a windshirt
Windshirts not only protect you from the elements but also reduce significantly the load compared to other clothing options.  Windshirts can weigh less than 3 ounces and still give you a tremendous comfort and significant warmth.  This allows you to wear lighter base layers.

8. Seek for multipurpose items
The more items that you can use for two or more functions, the fewer items you need to carry. Think of your gear as a system that works together. Many separate items can have dual use by themselves or can be paired with other items to provide a new use.  This not only helps reduce your backpack load but also helps simplify your approach to lightweight backpacking.

9. Choose clothes and sleeping bags with down fill insulation
The insulating value of down insulation in sleeping bags and insulating clothing has always been higher compared to synthetic alternatives. But be aware that in inclement weather down insulation needs “more attention”.  It tends to provides less insulating value when gets very wet.

10. Pack according to weather
Select clothing, shelter, and sleeping bag that are appropriate for the season and weather.  If you’re traveling to a cold weather, try packing clothes that can be used in layers.  Layering is more effective than carrying that bulky sweater and coat.  Layers can be mixed and matched, so you’ll look as if you have many styles throughout your hike using only a few clothing elements.

11. Learn some skills
Learning “survival” skills will help you overcome many situations with minimal equipment or supplies, thus reducing your backpack load.  This expertise is acquired through experience.  The more you do backcountry hiking, the more experience you gain and the more innovative you become.

12. Have the right mentality
If you want to go light, you really have to want to go light. Have a common sense of what you really need to carry and stick to it. Don’t carry things just because you think they can come in handy.  From experience, most of the time those “handy” items are never used; but you end up carrying them all the way.  The more experience you have, the more accurate you become on carrying the right “stuff”.

You will see this is a process that is mastered as you gain experience.  Before, during, and after every trip, take time to learn about your packing habits and get to know what items you really use.  This will help you reduce the amount of unnecessary weight, and help you be more practical on every trip.


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    • says

      I don’t mind wearing the same clothes more than once either, as long as they feel somewhat clean, of course. I took the challenge on the Inca Trail to carry just the bare minimums. And still, there were a couple items I didn’t use and ended up carrying it for the whole 26 miles. Now I now for next time. It’s always a learning process.

      Yeah, if you travel with a good SLR camera equipment that will be heavy on your pack. But hey, I think that if you manage to get good pictures with it, then it’s totally worth carrying it. :)

      • says

        I agree with you about the SLR camera. I will sacrifice carrying other things before my camera. Taking great photos of nature on the trails is enjoyable and one of the reasons I hike. However, I will reduce most of the camera accessories and specialty lenses if I need to.

        • says

          Hi Roger,
          Yes, I try to travel as light as possible, but there are things like the DSLR that is just important for me to carry in order to capture (with quality) my surroundings and travel moments. Of course, I try to keep the camera gear as light as possible with only the accessories I truly use on a daily basis.

  1. amator@template.technology says

    I always pack heavy for Long Hikes because I want to make sure I have anything I might need out there… I would be nice to have a lighter back pack for once…


  1. […] A final thought… Pack destination specific, but don’t pack anything you’re not sure you’ll use.  Go as light as possible and remember that almost everything you need can be purchased in the destination country and often at a fraction of the price at home.  Take this strategy to heart and I guarantee every trip you take will become more enjoyable.  Believe me, carrying less, especially in a back pack, is so much more freeing than having to lug around a large, heavy, and bulky pack.  For further tips on packing light, see 12 tips that will help you pack light for long hikes. […]

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