Lightweight camping always seems like a great idea – especially when slogging uphill strapped to a 90-litre monster. But packing light is a dark art – some mountaineers can squeeze all their gear for a multi-day mission into a day sack, whilst others almost need Sherpas for a single overnight camp. What can you do to lose a few pounds?
What is lightweight?
We’ll dispense with ultra-lightweight tips as this is not an article on bivvying and we’ll assume a modicum of comfort is required. Start with your thinking – to go lightweight needs a paradigm shift in your approach. You need to forget what you’ve done previously and start again. Set a weight limit (mine is 15kgs) and stick to it. In order to be lightweight you should purchase the lightest bits of kit that meet your requirements – this takes a bit of trolling around shops but can be worth it. As a rule, climbing equipment is lighter than walking equipment and does the same job.
Buy a climbing sack, not a walking sack. You don’t want unnecessary pockets or heavy back systems, just something generally tough with lots of straps to attach things to. For example, the Lowe Alpine Peak Attack weighs just 1,400g. Often people use rucksack liners to avoid kit getting wet but just check the weather – if it’s going to rain then wrap your dry stuff in your tent when packing.
We Brits have a fondness for the Terra Nova Quasar (4,300g) but there are lighter tents. For comfort, check the ground area against the weight and take your pick. The Terra Nova Voyager 2.2 is a spacious two-man tent weighing just 2,400g. Sleeping well is essential so don’t shirk on warmth but remember you’re camping, not bivvying, so are unlikely to get your sleeping bag wet; buy one with a down ﬁlling and no zips. The Helium series from Mountain Equipment is very good indeed, at just 600g. Use the lightest sleeping bag you can get away with and take a down jacket for the evenings and to sleep in if need be – such as the Mountain Equipment Xero (430g). Using a three-quarter-length self-inﬂating Thermarest with honeycomb foam contributes just 300g to your total. Use your rucksack, clothes or ropes to insulate your legs from the ground.
Food and drink
Ok, so we’re on 5,130g so far. For cooking I use a 100g Pocket Rocket but a quick trawl of the internet reveals that stoves can be as light as 50g! A gas canister is 250g. Use a titanium pot and one spoon: weight 150g. Food is essential but careful planning will tell you exactly what you need. Use dehydrated foods that cook quickly. Rice is a good energy source but will use a lot of gas to cook. Noodles have more energy gram-for- gram than pasta (346Kcals per 100g versus 175Kcals). A packet of Supanoodles weighs 150g. They’re good for breakfast too, so let’s call it four packets per night: 600g.
Hopefully you’ve planned your route so you should have a good idea whether you’ll ﬁnd water. Puriﬁcation tablets weigh less than water, and in Britain you’re not likely to be far from water or help so don’t panic. Use collapsible water bottles or buy some water from the supermarket. Avoid metal water bottles – these are very heavy indeed and use up space even when empty.
What you wear contributes to your fatigue but, personally, I hate being cold. To save weight I tend to carry my thermals and wear my heavier shell layers when walking. My spare clothes weigh about 1,000g. Obviously you’ll also need a few essentials, which could include a torch (30g), compass (20g), map (10g), phone (100g – incredible, I know) and First Aid (200g-ish but be sensible – don’t be tempted to use your ﬂeeces as bandages should the worst come to worst, they do not absorb liquid, that’s the point).
Shave those extra ounces
Every ounce counts. A few little tips to shave off those extra ounces could include:
Cut your map to size
Use thinner gloves and put your hands in your pockets more often
Avoid the ‘Russian Doll’ effect. I’ve seen so many ‘organised’ people hefting out stuff-sack after stuff-sack. Six stuff-sacks weigh 200g. You’re camping – what else are you going to do in the evening? Liven things up by trying to ﬁnd your missing items! This also applies to your sleeping bag and tent – just shove them in
Don’t wash – I’m serious. Who cares? Soap, spare socks and toothpaste all add up
Don’t be tempted to put in an emergency bivvy bag – you have a tent
Don’t look back
So, by my reckoning all camping equipment required for one night should weigh a maximum of 7540g – call it 8000g with luxuries such as chocolate, tea or coffee and maybe a mug. If you’re going walking you’ll have a spring in your step and if you’re heading off climbing you’ve got 7kg spare for your climbing gear.
The most important thing is a shift in your thinking. Yes, you do have to think it’s important enough to weigh all your possessions but the reward is worth it. Your experience in the hills will be signiﬁcantly enhanced without hefting around huge amounts of excess weight. Since becoming lightweight, I've never looked back.
Danny John Brown has been an instructor since 1990, now he is splits his time between physiotherapy and delivering coaching and training courses. Contact him at email@example.com
Expert Q & A
This issue's expert is Steve Holmes – a qualiﬁed Mountain Leader and Aspirant Mountaineering Instructor based in Scotland. Steve works as a freelance instructor delivering a wide variety of courses and group charity events. He can regularly be found leading expeditions overseas. Find out more at www.verticalfever.co.uk
Q. What's your top lightweight tip?
A. Don't forget your body weight. You may save 3kg buying expensive state-of-the-art gear but you could still be carrying an excess load after too many mince pies! It costs nothing to lose a few inches around the waist.
Q. Ever had a lightweight disaster?
A. Yep, I was camping at 4,500m on Mount Kenya and got a puncture in my Thermarest. I’d sacrificed my puncture kit to save weight and the gaffer tape I’d wrapped around my water bottle for such an eventually turned out to be too old to be sticky. Needless to say the following five nights were pretty cold.
Q. Do I really need to chop my toothbrush down?
A. Yes why not, it all counts. Let’s face it, if you’re paying an extra £40 for a specific lightweight piece of equipment to save 100g then every bit of weight counts. For me that includes cutting toothbrushes down, squeezing out toothpaste and even cutting out labels and unnecessary oversized tabs on clothing. Every gram counts.
Q. Is it worth splashing out on ultra-lightweight gear?
A. If you intend on using your gear regularly then yes, you’ll certainly feel the benefits. But if you’re just planning a couple of lightweight trips each year then there are cheaper options. Chopping unnecessary straps off rucksacks, discarding heavy stuff sacks and emptying your food out of bulky packaging are just a few ideas.
Read more hill skills articles.
Don't want to miss out on the climbing competition action? Whether you're a competitor, spectator or volunteer, sign up to the climbing calendar mailing list to get reminders for comp registrations, and start times here.
JOIN THE BMC: Save 50% on your first year's membership
The BMC works for indoor climbers like you. Benefits include:
Access to BMC Travel Insurance
Register for Mountain Training award schemes
£10m worldwide Combined Liability insurance
£10,000 Personal Accident insurance
Discounted entry to many competitions
Find out more about BMC membership benefits
WATCH: Molly Thompson-Smith: Portrait of a Champion on BMC TV
Follow the BMC's competition climbing Twitter feed: @GB_Climbing
Follow the BMC's competition climbing Instagram feed: @GB_Climbing
Find all upcoming competitions here.