Hill skills: how to go lightweight camping

Posted by Alex Messenger on 22/08/2013
Photo: James Maddison

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.

Rucksack

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.

Sleeping

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.

Clothes

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 dannyjohnbrown@yahoo.co.uk

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.


JOIN THE BMC: Save 50% on your first year's membership

The BMC works for indoor climbers like you. Benefits include:

  • Retail discounts
  • 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: @BMC_Comps

Find all upcoming competitions here.


« Back

Post a comment Print this article

This article has been read 60206 times

TAGS

Click on the tags to explore more

LINKS

Hillwalking Essentials DVD
BMC Safety on Mountains

RELATED ARTICLES

Army of outdoor enthusiasts harvest a panda’s worth of rubbish from the Peak District
0
Army of outdoor enthusiasts harvest a panda’s worth of rubbish from the Peak District

Parts of the Peak District attract more than their fair share of rubbish – but after well over 100 volunteers blitzed a litter hotspot in the Peak District, one particular corner is looking a lot better.
Read more »

Get bussed from the Midlands to the mountains this weekend
0
Get bussed from the Midlands to the mountains this weekend

Dodge the driving and join the good people of the West Bromwich Mountaineering Club on a coach trip to the Lake District this Sunday.
Read more »

The next phase of This Girl Can has arrived
0
The next phase of This Girl Can has arrived

The new This Girl Can Ad launched today and here at the BMC we're particularly excited about it.
Read more »

Post a Comment
Posting as Anonymous Community Standards
3000 characters remaining
Submit
Your comment has been posted below, click here to view it
Comments are currently on | Turn off comments
7
1) Anonymous User
02/09/2013
What are peoples thoughts about using militry style vest systems in green or black to spread the load around the body in pouches for essentials, then you can have a smaller lighter ruckcack ?
2) Anonymous User
05/09/2013
to anonymous, how much would the vest weigh? irrelevant of spreading the weight around you're still carrying it and adding to the weight with an army style vest. also in my opinion military gear tends to be very strong but very heavy!! and what difference would the colour make?? green or black would surely weigh the same ;)
3) Anonymous User
16/06/2014
Sleeping bag info is a little off, none of the Helium range gets down to 600g. The lightest is the Helium 250 which comes in at 710g, which is still not shabby though. They do do the helium Travel which is a remarkable 400g but in order to be comfortable at average night temps you would need to combine it with a liner or clothing. Well worth checking out are the bags on offer at Feathered Friend. You may have to wait a bit for delivery as only available online from their Seattle base but well worth the wait. The Merlin UL20 weighs just 647g or 677g for a long version for 6plus footers. Significant that its warmer brother, the Hummingbird UL20 holds an editors choice award at OutdoorGearLab.


4) Anonymous User
30/07/2014
How much does cutting your tooth brush in half really save? 10g maybe and you then have a brush that's too short to use, stupid.
5) Anonymous User
17/12/2015
Article begins well, then turns ridiculous. Have fun with your tooth decay.
6) Anonymous User
12/08/2016
Saving 10 g on a toothbrush is part of the mindset required to do lightweight backpacking. it gets you into the way of trimming everything back
7) Anonymous User
23/01/2017
Some very useful tips, but skipping out on personal hygiene to save a few grams in weight? That's possibly the worst advice I've ever heard, seconded only to not taking spare socks... truly idiotic. Look after your body and your body will look after you, there is no benefit to poor hygiene and dirty blistered feet.

RELATED ARTICLES

Army of outdoor enthusiasts harvest a panda’s worth of rubbish from the Peak District
0

Parts of the Peak District attract more than their fair share of rubbish – but after well over 100 volunteers blitzed a litter hotspot in the Peak District, one particular corner is looking a lot better.
Read more »

Get bussed from the Midlands to the mountains this weekend
0

Dodge the driving and join the good people of the West Bromwich Mountaineering Club on a coach trip to the Lake District this Sunday.
Read more »

The next phase of This Girl Can has arrived
0

The new This Girl Can Ad launched today and here at the BMC we're particularly excited about it.
Read more »

BMC MEMBERSHIP
Join 82,000 BMC members and support British climbing, walking and mountaineering. Membership only £15.72.
Read more »
BMC SHOP
Great range of guidebooks, DVDs, books, calendars and maps.
All with discounts for members.
Read more »
TRAVEL INSURANCE
Get covered with BMC Insurance. Our five policies take you from the beach to Everest.
Read more »