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Slashing your pack weight can turn a trudge down the trail into a smooth, easy, pain-free trip. But it’s important to know how to do it right—and that’s where we come in. Twice a month, Chris Meehan breaks down what to do (and what not to do) to drop weight from your gear. Normally, you’d need to be an Outside+ member to read his advice, but we’re offering everyone the chance to see this installment so you can see what you’re missing. Sign up for Outside+ today!
Cutting your pack weight when you can makes sense: it reduces stress on your joints and generally makes trail miles feel like less of a grind. But sometimes it’s easier in practice than in the field, and some ultralighters end up making themselves miserable with their gear choices. We asked a few ultralight hikers about their worst gear fails, and the results were, well, memorable.
Everclear is bad to drink and worse to burn.
“I thought Everclear would be multi-use. Stove, fire starter, drinking, cuts, et cetera, says Daniel Geuss. “Turns out in practice, it only ever gets used for drinking.” Indeed, Everclear can be used for most of those things, but at around $25 or more for a liter it’s pretty expensive as a replacement for good old Crown Alcohol Stove Fuel, which sells for about $8—and then there’s the hangovers.
Tyvek isn’t perfect.
“I made a Tyvek bivy sack to make my sleeping bag warmer. The noise from every movement kept me away all night,” says Colin Parkinson. Indeed, Tyvek is lightweight, cheap and durable, but it’s more of a paper than a cloth. It makes for a good waterproof groundsheet or even a UL tarp, but yeah, it crinkles, a lot. If you’re looking for a UL bivy, maybe consider a UL tent, like Six Moon Designs’ 1 lb., 9 oz., Owyhee. If you’re trying to add warmth to a sleeping bag, consider a sleeping bag liner, which can add up to 20 degrees of warmth to your bag for just a few ounces.
Tarps don’t always keep out the rain.
“Don’t skimp on a tent setup that keeps out mosquitos and rain,” warns Lia Leilani Webb. She recounts a miserable trip when she decided to lighten her load on a 7-day John Muir Trail (JMT) and Mt. Whitney trip. “I was personally portering clients’ gear, and decided to leave some of my gear, including my Tarptent, at camp 2 to lighten my load.” She spent several wet, miserable days trying to make a makeshift tent with a client’s extra tarp.
Tarps never keep out the mosquitoes.
“We could have prevented multiple type-two fun moments on our JMT thru-hike if we’d gone with a slightly heavier ultralight tent (with luxuries like zippers and built-in mosquito netting, and a floor) instead of our RAB flat tarp and personal mosquito net setup,” Amanda Winther admits. “While we brought two mosquito nets and slept under them most nights, setting them up was kind of a pain. I also had anxiety watching those little buggers swarm next to the much more transparent mosquito netting.”
Squeezing into an undersized shelter isn’t worth the weight savings.
“I spent a week in a two-person tarp shelter with two guys I’d just met—we thought it was a good idea to ditch their tent to save six pounds. Can’t say it was very comfortable, but they’re two of my best friends now,” says Terry Owens. “It was so tight inside that tarp that our shoulders were all pressed together while we slept, and any movement knocked frost off the inside of the tarp on everyone’s bags.”
Some tools shouldn’t pull double doody.
“I forgot my titanium spork on a trip once,” says Nicholas LeMon. Instead, he improvised with his trowel, which hopefully had only ever touched dirt. “It was lighter than the spork anyway,” he says.
Don’t leave your essential gear at home.
“I started the AT without a sleeping bag. I figured, well, the south is warm,” says Liz “Snorkel” Thomas. “That’s so common on the PCT or the CDT; People will think: ‘Oh, I don’t need rain gear in the desert.’ But the dumbest mistake you can make is not bringing stuff that you actually really need.”