How does overpacking happen? We backpackers are often tempted by those shiny catalogs trying to get us to buy the latest and greatest equipment. These purchases all add up in weight and cause our packs to swell to the point where we have to resort to hanging miscellaneous accessories (that we may never even use) on the outside of our pack. Sometimes we may pack in a hurry and carelessly toss items into our pack without much thought or pre-trip planning. Often the stuff we bring is unneeded overkill and if we allow ourselves to lighten up by eliminating nonessentials we will find that we have more fun.
Axe or sawMetal is heavy. If building a campfire you should only be using dead and down wood (wood that is already on the ground) that is ideally wrist size or smaller. Wood this size is easy to break by hand. Most public lands and forests have regulations that make it illegal to cut or damage live vegetation which means you won't be cutting limbs off standing trees. The axe or saw is at the top of my optional gear list.
Unnecessary packaging and oversized sundriesGet into the habit of repackaging your backpacking food and eliminating extra packaging such as cardboard boxes, etc. Avoid carrying glass containers and metal cans. Repackaging food into ziploc style freezer bags will help you shave off some ounces and reduce the amount of trash you need to pack out. Use travel size bottles or tubes for toothpaste, sunblock, waterless hand sanitizers, etc. instead of needlessly carrying larger sizes.
Heavy duty carabinersIf you aren't doing any climbing then you are probably carrying a heavier metal carabiner than you need. A better option is to use micro carabiners. They are handy and lightweight and can be used on your pack, in camp, or with a bear bag, etc.
Blue jeansI still see people on the trail wearing blue jeans!! Jeans are heavy, take forever to dry if wet, and are made of cotton which is a terrible insulator when wet. Cotton kills! Under the right weather conditions cotton puts you at greater risk for hypothermia. There are plenty of other options for hiking pants available.
Overloaded 1st aid kitI get it... it pays to be prepared. But on a short weekend trip it is unlikely that you will need a full surgical kit or SAM Splints. Carefully slim down your first aid kit to match what makes sense for your trip length and group size.
BinocularsUnless you are birdwatching binoculars may be more than you need. Binoculars are heavy. Will you actually use them? Can you get away with a monocular instead?
Backpacking towelAm I the only one that dries off with a bandana? A towel is a heavy luxury that I for one refuse to carry.
SoapDon't get grossed out but soap is not as essential as you think.... but you can still clean yourself and your dishes without any. I use alcohol based waterless hand sanitizers or just plain isopropyl alcohol to kill germs and a bandana can scrub away any dirt. For cleaning my cook pot I use sand or leaf litter to clean away food particles and if needed hot water cleans just about anything. Dirty dishwater gets poured into a cathole. Even though they are better than regular soaps biodegradable soap can still pollute water sources.
Snakebite kitsA 2004 study of "mock venom" extraction found that a snakebite kit removed bloody fluid from simulated snakebite wounds but removed practically no mock venom. The tests recorded only a 2% reduction in the total body venom load. Two other studies came to the same conclusion, as well as the finding that a snakebite kit suction device could actually make things worse. Do yourself a favor and skip this useless item.
Excessive electronicsTechnology keeps creeping into the backcountry. Modern hikers are carrying cameras, GPS units, personal locator beacons, portable solar power chargers, mp3 players, cell phones, etc. When I started backpacking I was perfectly happy and functional on the trail without these. Challenge yourself to unplug from modern society and re-connect with nature by limiting the electronics you carry. Your pack will be lighter for it.
The equipment we choose to pack for a trip is often a very personal choice and no single backpacking gear checklist will meet the needs of every hiker. Your choices on what to outfit yourself with will be determined by what activities you will participate in on a hike. A photographer, a bird watcher, or a fisherman may all have different subsets of gadgets and accessories. If your goal is a lighter pack then you must reduce unessential items, carry multi-function gear that can replace other items, and adapt your backpacking habits to be a more flexible and minimalist style. Hopefully these few tips serve well to help you lighten your load.
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