Streamline Your Consumables to Carry a Lighter Pack & Enhance Your Adventure.
Text by Philip Werner
Ultralight backpackers spend a great deal of time and effort reducing the weight of their gear, or base weight. But reducing the weight of your consumables, (food, water and fuel) is just as important and can lead to significant weight savings with little extra expense.
For example, when I started hiking the Vermont’s Long Trail eight years ago, I filled a three liter hydration reservoir with water every morning, carrying six liters of water, even though water was plentiful along the trail. It took me about 100 miles, but I figured out that I never needed to carry more than a liter at a time, shaving four pounds off my pack weight just like that, without spending a cent.
It takes a little bit more planning, but this is a good example of how to skills and experience can help you reduce the weight of your consumables.
Here are a few more strategies that I use to reduce the weight of my food, water and fuel:
- Remove all excess packaging.
- Replace low-calorie foods with calorically dense foods like nuts, olive oil or ghee.
- Bring less food per day. There’s no need to pack 5000-6000 calories per day like a thru hiker if you mainly take overnight or weekend backpacking trips. Try bringing 3000 calories per day instead. This should still be sufficient to keep you satisfied and alert, and you’re unlikely to starve to death, even if you burn more energy than you consume. The goal is to come home with an empty food bag every time.
- Water weighs two pounds per liter. Carry only the amount you need between resupply points.
- Plan your resupply points in advance with a map or trail data book. Locate streams, rivers, springs and man-made water sources. Calculate your distance and speed to determine how much you need to carry.
- Camel up at resupply points. The perceived weight of water you drink is less than water you need to carry. Funny how that works, but it’s true. The less you carry, the faster you can hike.
- Carry your water in clear plastic bottles, not a hydration reservoir, so you can see how much you have and how much you have left.
- Use fuel you can find, like wood to cook, instead of carrying fuel.
- Or go stoveless, and pack food that doesn’t need to be cooked.
Reducing the weight of your consumables takes a lot more skill and preparation than reducing the weight of your gear. Acquire the nutritional, navigational, fire-making, survival and decision-making experience you need to stay safe and comfortable for different kinds of hikes, seasons and locales. This is the part of ultralight backpacking that you can only learn by doing, so get out there and do it!
Philip Werner owns and operates SectionHiker.com, where he reviews gear, writes a lot about hiking and teaches people how to carry a lighter pack, among many other things. From his bio: “While I love backpacking, I am also a compulsive day hiker, peak bagger, and bushwhacker. I’m up for any kind of hiking and think it’s a great way to get outside, give yourself a break from your worldly troubles, and get some natural exercise.”
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