What Weighs Us Down?
My Philmont pack started out at 45 pounds in 2005. My long-distance hiking pack now weighs under 25 pounds. You can see the difference in this image.
My time on trail is much more enjoyable and there is nothing I used to carry that I'd still like to have along but don't. Besides picking an interesting location, reducing our burden in the wilds is about the best way to make backpacking more fun - making the experience fun is a key element to a successful scouting program.
What is it that was so heavy and weighed down my pack so much? Well, it was mostly inexperience and obediently following a Philmont checklist.
So, here's a handful of advice to help you move your troop to lighter, more enjoyable, trek adventures.
Since Christmas is looming on the far horizon, and summer is pretty much over, now is a good time for scouts to review their gear and consider what to replace for next year.
- The Big 3 - shelter, sleeping system, and pack comprise a large part of the total weight a backpacker carries, sometimes more than 16 pounds. A person can drop the combined weight of those items to under 9 pounds without a lot of effort.
- too much clothing - On a 3-day or 3-week trek, the clothing needs are identical.
Just 2 or 3 pairs of socks and underwear, 2 shirts, 1 pair of zip-off pants and 1 pair of shorts - not a fresh one for every day. You can wash items on the trail and dry them as you hike or rest in camp. Additional items for warmth and rain, depending on the season and location, and you're set.
- too much water - We stop at a stream to get water. Everyone fills their 3 water bottles and we're off hiking again. Two hours later, we pass another stream and fill bottles, even though everyone has 1 empty, 1 partially used, and 1 untouched. That's an extra 2 or 3 pounds of water carried by each person.
Using your route map, figure out where water stops will happen. Take on just enough water, plus a bit extra, to reach the next stop.
Fill your stomach with water first, then your water bottles. If you drink your fill right at the water source while filtering, you need to carry much less in bottles on your pack.
- Nalgene water bottles - These are the silliest, most common, constantly perpetuated myth in Scout Camping. You have to have a Nalgene - they are indestructible! But, they also weigh 6 or 7 ounces each, empty! A disposable plastic water bottle weighs less than 1 ounce and holds about 60% as much water. A scout told to bring 3 Nalgenes is carrying over a pound of plastic when he could be carrying just 5 lightweight bottles and saving over 13 ounces. Also, having 5 smaller bottles means one destroyed bottle is a minor impact. And, the bottles are free rather than $10 or so for each Nalgene.
- too much food - I can cut 2 pounds off my pack by eating a big meal just before starting a trek and as soon as I finish. This can be food left in a vehicle, or a restaurant or store stop. For the days on the trail, people talk about 6000 calories a day and more - that is totally overboard. Scouts rarely hike more than 10 miles in a day, and that takes only about 1500 calories. Add to that the base need of 1500 calories a day and you've got 3000 calories per day. Nearly everyone these days already has a calorie surplus in stored fat, so even a daily deficit of 500 calories is just fine for a few days.
With a well-planned food supply providing about 125 calories per ounce, a person needs about 1.5 pounds of food per day. If you packed for 6000 calorie days, that's an extra 1.5 pounds you're packing for every day of your trek - a 4-day trip has 6 extra pounds.
Don't forget the food packaging! You can cut 10-20% of the weight by repackaging into zip-locs.
- too much fat - Most of us, especially adults but scouts too, have more fat than we need on our bodies. Taking a couple months before your trek to whittle away at that extra weight means less to carry, and fewer calories needed each day. Losing 10 pounds of body fat is 10 pounds you don't have to carry over the mountains.
- too much stuff - A deck of cards, cribbage board, MP3 player, scout handbook, and other items to fill every pocket, crevice, and gap in your pack. They all add weight and are rarely needed. Just leave it at home.
- Fear - We carry too much of all these different things because we fear. Fear being hungry, so we carry too much food. Fear being cold or dirty, so we carry too much clothing. Fear being bored, so we carry toys, games, and books. Fear is Heavy.
We overcome our fear of things going wrong by preparing physically and mentally, and by honing our skills and planning our trek. When we're confident in our tested abilities, we put our faith in ourselves rather than in our equipment.
A final note - Scouting is an outdoor classroom. We're not here to create super-skilled wilderness experts, but to help boys grow into self-sufficient citizens of strong character. The challenge of becoming an experienced backpacker is just another opportunity for a scout to work on his character, physical abilities, and teamwork. It's ok to carry 40+ pound packs, but a lighter pack opens up many more opportunities and expands the classroom.
Posted: 9:25 09-10-2014 1114
Sep 10, 2014 - SM Ron
So let's see the list of items side by side.
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