Written by guest blogger and OS GetOutside Champion Andy Browning
An unnecessarily heavy bag can spoil an otherwise awesome outdoor experience. Overpacking is easy to do, and I have fallen into this trap many times before; with outdoor shops on every high street encouraging you to buy into the idea that you simply must buy the latest high-tech gear in order to even attempt to survive in the outdoors, we have started to believe the hype, which has resulted in massive rucksacks up and down the country full of stuff we believe to be the answer to a successful foray into the outdoors.
The truth however is very different, and with a bit of common sense, and a realistic expectation of where you’re going and what you’re trying to achieve, you can pack much lighter than you think.
There are a couple of schools of thought regarding packing light. There are those people who will obsess over every gram of equipment they pack, snapping toothbrushes in half, cutting surplus buckles off their pack, and ensuring that they’ve chosen the best calorie per gram food option for their breakfast in order to keep the weight of their bag to an absolute minimum; granted this approach is effective, but unless you are a pretty serious ultra-fell runner, or fancy walking unsupported to the South Pole where weight is clearly a massive issue, then there is another way to approach the problem...
So, what should I pack?
Pack what you need – It’s that easy! Take a look at the pile of stuff you were thinking of taking with you, and ask yourself do I really need this, or do I simply want it? This doesn’t mean that you have to forgo comfort and leave everything at home (unless you REALLY want to go light weight!) Getting outdoors should be a fun experience, so if taking a bag of freshly ground coffee for the morning does it for you, then definitely pack it; if you know that you get cold at night, then pack that extra layer so you get a good night’s sleep, but start to think realistically about where you’re doing and what you’re actually going to need.
Things to consider:
You rarely see people out walking with a half filled bag. We tend to expand our packing list until we fill whichever bag we have chosen to take with us, so if you chose a gigantic bag for your trip, likelihood is that you will fill it with stuff for the sake of it. Start with a smaller bag and use it as encouragement to trim down your gear list. How small can you go?
Not to be taken lightly, we all know that the weather in the UK can change rapidly, especially in the mountains, so it pays to be prepared for all eventualities. However, common sense needs to be applied; absolutely take a good waterproof jacket with you, and an extra warm layer at the bottom of your pack is a sensible back up. However, if you’re wandering along the South coast in July, you can probably leave your ice axes and waterproof gloves at home.
What clothes you decide to wear will vary wildly from person to person, depending on where, when, and how long you’re going for, so I’m not going to dictate what you should wear, however one thing I will say is, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to wear a new set of clothes every day – if you’re walking, then extra socks for sure, but that smelly old t-shirt from the day before will be absolutely fine, you can even sleep in it too if you don’t want to pack the extra weight of pyjamas!
Are you planning on spending the evening outside? If so then you will need to consider how to stay warm/dry throughout the night. Tents are usually the go-to choice, but there are other options: have you considered a hammock? How about a tarp and a bivi bag? If you’re not sure you’ll be warm enough, give it a go in your back garden beforehand and see how you get on, or take some extra clothes – a bivi bag and a few bits of extra warm clothing is still likely to be smaller and lighter than a tent, plus a bivi bag opens up a whole new world of wild camping options.
Seemingly everyone’s favourite topic whilst out hiking, what are you going to be doing for food? Are you going to be stopping at lovely country pubs, or are you heading off for a multi-day trek without the option to resupply? Food choice can be a massive weight saver, consider dehydrated food, and food with minimal packaging. Zip lock bags are your friend, decant your food before you go, and not only will you save weight, but it will reduce your rubbish as well – double win!
Depending on the food you’ve chosen you might not even need to consider cooking, but if like me you like a hot coffee in the morning, you might need the means to, at the very least, warm up some water. You don’t need to bring a whole kitchen with you, one pot will be fine, and maybe the luxury of a mug if you don’t fancy bits of supernoodle in your coffee – a good knife is useful, but do you need a fork AND a spoon? There’s a reason why we live in a world where sporks exist.
We all want to be safe in the outdoors, particularly if you are on a solo adventure, and it is important to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, so this isn’t really the place to save weight. Having the ability to navigate and communicate is crucial for any type of trip, so a map, compass, and mobile phone are non-negotiable. Emergency shelters are a brilliant idea, as is some emergency food and a head torch. A basic first aid kit is also a great thing to pack, but that doesn’t mean you have to bring a whole hospital’s worth of equipment with you – you’re not going to be performing surgery out on the hill (we hope!)
If you’re walking as a group, you can share the load and make your bags much lighter as a result. You don’t need four emergency shelters or first aid kits. Can you share the food or fuel around between you? Remember sharing is caring!
Getting a set of kit together you’re happy with takes time, as does trimming that kit down to the bare essentials. The best advice I can offer is after any trip/walk/expedition, before you start throwing all your stuff in the washing machine, take a moment to empty your bag and go through each item – if you didn’t use it (emergency kit not included) did you really need to take it with you? Remember for next time, and trim your gear accordingly.
Rather than just write about it, I thought I would practice what I preach, and so challenged myself to pack as little as possible for a trip to the Jurassic Coast. Walking along the undulating South Coast Path over three days from Weymouth to Swanage, it felt good to be liberated from my usually larger pack, my average walking speed increased, and the punishing up and down hills were much gentler on my knees. Not taking a tent made the biggest difference in shrinking the size of my bag, and although I had to get creative with sleeping arrangements one evening to avoid a particularly rampant storm, I managed to stay warm and dry throughout. I was probably still a little too generous with my want items (I certainly didn’t need to take two reading books with me!) but it was a start, and I have committed to trying to pack even lighter for my upcoming trips, although stop me when I start snapping my toothbrush in half.
#OSWildNightOut is coming up, an awesome opportunity for you to get outside for a day of adventure and a night out in the wild. Why not set yourself a challenge, and see how light you can go for the day? How light can you go?