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5 Tips for How to Downsize Your Gear for Hiking

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Nearly all of us are familiar with hiking – the routes, the gear, the weather, the blisters.

Whether it’s for personal achievement, a fun day out with friends or you’ve been dragged up a mountain by your other half, having the right gear makes a huge difference when it comes to your experience on the trail.

If you’ve ever watched documentaries about hiking, or YouTube insights about the world’s ‘best hikers’, you’ll know that the one thing nearly all of them are so keen on is downsizing hiking gear.

Though to some that might mean swapping a heavy jacket for a fleece, or bringing snack-food rather than cooking utensils, some go to extreme lengths to take any extra weight off their packs.

But to most of us, going to those lengths isn’t necessary, provided you pack smart in the first place.

Why Hike Lightweight?

Whether you’re hiking for a few hours, a few days, or traveling the world for a few years, keeping your gear to a minimum has loads of benefits.

Not only does it force you to rely on a simple selection of items – often making your more efficient and organized – but it will also save your shoulders and back a lot of effort and potential pain.

By having a bag that’s the smallest and lightest it can possibly be, whilst still having everything you need for your trip, you allow yourself ultimate freedom, movement, and energy.

You’ll make the most of your experience this way.

How to Pack Light for Hiking?

Although professional hikers and well-seasoned travelers might benefit from taking extreme steps, most of you really don’t need to.

For the Average Joe, here are a few tips to help you pack lightweight:

1. Go Through Your Packing List

The best way to plan out what you want or need to bring is to evaluate your current packing list.

Find out what you usually bring away with you, and then slowly trim from it.

Pretend you’re backing for an ordinary holiday, and every time you go to put something in your pack, consider whether you could do without it this time.

Do you even wear that shirt? Do you need that many socks or pants? Can’t you buy that over there if need be?

Rather than cutting out chunks in one go, slowly trim down your item list to the bare essentials.

One of the most effective methods for this is to lay all of your items out in front of you, on your floor or your bed.

This way you’ll get a good look at all the things you take with you, and it’ll put in perspective what matters and what doesn’t.

2. Buy Only Light Gear

So, if you’ve removed all the gear you don’t need, and minimized/reduced the gear that you’re bringing with you, the next step to a lighter pack is to swap the remaining gear you have for ultralight alternatives.

Swapping a few key items – clothes, accessories, or the backpack itself – can make a huge difference to the overall weight.

Although the high-end ultralight gear won’t come with a low-price tag, there are cheaper alternatives that will strip off a lot of the weight, perhaps without the added style-factor or extra versatility.

Things such as tents, sleeping bags, bottles, shoes, boots, and coats tend to carry a lot of weight.

Swapping a few – or even all – of these items for lightweight alternatives will make a world of difference.

Not only that, but if you get ‘pack down’ versions too, you’ll save space in your pack as well as weight.

Just be sure that any lightweight stuff you get is still suitable (i.e. warm enough, waterproof, comfortable, etc.)

3. Don’t Exaggerate with the First Aid Kit

Of course, first aid kits are crucial when going pretty much anywhere. But, although this might sound odd, it’s possible to go overkill on this, especially when looking to pack light.

Things like plasters, bandages and antibacterial wipes are a must in most places, but unless you’re heading out into the wilderness, the chances are that you won’t need tweezers, a stitching kit or some kind of anesthetic.

Depending on where you’re going, the ecosystem, food and season, you might want to add a few more things than the bare minimum.

But if you’re bringing a first aid kit with you, look over each item and decide if it’s really crucial.

4. Organize Things

If you’ve whittled down your gear, gotten rid of the unnecessary add-ons, and swapped anything you can for lightweight versions, you’re still likely not quite finished with making your pack as light as possible.

One of the most important steps is to get all of your remaining items and divide them into three sections: keep, get rid, replace.

By doing this you can lay all of your items in front of you, and really ‘trim the fat’ and get rid of those few items that have managed to survive the cull so far.

After you’ve done this, pack everything in the bag itself and take it for a test drive.

Wear it as you normally would, walk around, bend over, crouch – test whether it’s comfortable both in weight and shape. If it is, you’re good to go!

5. Try to Use Multi-Purpose Items

Although some items can only be used for one specific purpose, many – whether originally designed for it or not – can be used as multi-purpose items.

Maybe your jumper can be rolled up into a pillow? Or perhaps your swimming shorts can be used for running as well? Maybe the corner of your towel can replace your flannel?

Using single items for multiple purposes isn’t only convenient, it allows you to shed off those few extra grams to turn your backpack into an ultralight machine.

Final Thoughts

Although many people seem to have nailed down ultralight packing, for most it isn’t easy, and will be a gradual process that takes time.

Shedding weight off your backpack is great, but you should never sacrifice comfort, safety or usability to do this. 

Reducing your first aid kit is one thing, but getting rid of it entirely is a bad idea.

But it all boils down to this – if you don’t definitely need it, don’t bring it.

And any of those items that seem to lie in between, don’t forget than you can always buy things when you’re out there, so if you’re really not sure, leave it at home.

David Miller

My name is David and I have been an outdoor guy for as long as I can remember. I have a strong passion for the great outdoors in general and specifically camping. I am the kind of person who spends more time outdoors than indoors. I am a staunch believer in the fact that outdoor life should be well lived because it's in the natural, serene, and untamed wild that we find out who we truly are. Let’s take the journey together.

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