Gear is awesome, and we’re living in an amazing time for lightweight backpacking gadgets. Go to REI and drool (and feel your wallet lighten). Though there are a billion personal reasons for getting into the wild, my humble opinion is that the penultimate reason is to hike far from the madding crowds and enjoy the wild places.

Key word: Enjoy. Unless you were brought up yoked to an oxen cart in some alpine village, there’s a negative correlation between weight and enjoyment. With a 50+ pound load on your back, you’ll be spending more time huffing and puffing up the switchbacks instead of frolicking about like a stoked goat. A lighter load equals more time checking the scenery than cursing each knee-tweaking step.

Here is a quick tip list to make your summer backpacking experience enjoyable.

Choose a Smaller Pack

This is my trusty 40-liter Black Diamond top-loader. It’s gotten me up Mt. Whitney and back, on many three-nighters in the Sierras in the summer, and one freezing two-nighter in the winter. Why choose a smaller pack?

It’s not really about the weight difference in the pack itself; it’s more about how a smaller pack forces you to contemplate what you really need for the hike. It’s psychological: the more space and pockets you have, the more likely you are to bring unnecessary gear.

I prefer a top-loader because it’s simple. The stuff I won’t need until the campsite (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent) goes in the bottom, and the stuff I’ll need during the day (stove, food) goes on top. This backpack has the option to detach the upper bag which is perfect for basecampjng because it allows me to bring an even smaller pack on day hikes. The absence of pockets also forced me to get creative with what I want to strap to the outside (water bottle, Tenkara rod).

Water is Heavy

Unless you’re not sure about where your next water source will be, there’s no need to lug lots of water on your back. Many trails stay close to rivers, streams, and lakes. I keep this Lifestraw strapped to my pack or in my fanny pack (because fanny backs are cool and always have been). When I get to a water source, I kneel and sip straight from the source.¬†You can also fill your water bottle with unfiltered water and stick your Lifestraw into the bottle.

Note: take off your pack before kneeling or your pack is likely to slide over your head and into the drink!

This being said, it’s always a good idea to keep some water in your bottle at all times for emergencies.

Duct Tape Hack

My dear friend showed me this one. Wrap some duct tape around your water bottle and you’ll never be without the best thing known to (wo)man since beer. Duct tape: it can fix all evils in the world, and your grandpa would smile if he knew you’d found a clever way to pack it into the wild.

On a recent backpacking trip, my buddy got bad blisters on his heels. He exclaimed to the heavens, “If only I had some duct tape!” I waltzed in with my handy stash of it wrapped around my Nalgene. “Dammit,” he said. “Are you, MacGyver?”

“Nope,” said I. “I learned this trick from a friend who learned it from someone else. And now you’ll surely pass it on to somebody.”

That’s how it works on the trail. The trail is the best teacher.

Summer Backpacking: Less is More

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About The Author
- Jeff McElroy is a Ventura and Mammoth Lakes-based writer. His surf/coast-inspired short story collections, CALIFORNIOS and CALIFORNIOS 2 have received awards and accolades within the boardsport and literary communities. He writes about adventure athletes and the wild places for EDGEtv Network. When he's not writing, he's surfing, backpacking, snowboarding, and trail-running with his wife and Jack Russell Terrier.

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