The Specialist: Plan Away Pounds

Shed useless pack weight, not luxuries

Steve Gillman winces at the ultralight stereotype: sawed-off toothbrushes, flimsy fabrics, and hole-punched pack straps. After 12 years of trying those tricks from Colorado's San Juan Mountains to Ecuador's volcanoes, the author (above) of Ultralight Backpacking Secrets encourages weight-conscious hikers to return to the movement's roots: Pack smart to carry less. Here's how:

Research your resources

"The more you know about your destination," Gillman says, "the less you need to carry." Are berries in season? Pack less snack food. Is water plentiful? Bring fewer bottles. Clear forecast? Leave the rainfly and shell at home. "Doing your homework can increase your comfort without compromising safety."

Focus on function

A titanium mug is lightweight, but do you even need it? "Justify the purpose of each item in your bag," says Gillman. Packing for a mountain trip, he realized he needed more insulation, but not an extra jacket. His solution: adding the jacket's warm lining to his rain shell. Eliminate redundant layers and excess gear like cups, backup headlamps, and hefty multitools.

Use natural materials

When camping in a forest, Gillman bolsters his torso-length sleeping pad with leaves and substitutes sharp sticks for tent stakes. Pitch your tent on south-facing slopes to catch the morning sun, and avoid valleys where cold air collects and ridges exposed to stiff winds.

Rethink distance

Most guidebooks estimate daily mileage for hikers hauling 40-pound loads. "But if you carry a 20-pound pack, you can increase your distance by 50 percent," says Gillman. By covering more ground each day, you can carry less food, skip a waterless campsite, or sleep in more protected spots.