I'm getting closer to a sub 5 pound base weight weight for my hiking pack. (with "lighterpack" link.)

I've managed to figure out a setup that gets my backpack base weight closer to five pounds. You probably saw my summer backpack in the big picture on the home page of the blog. At the time of the picture my base weight was about 6 1/2 pounds.

See Also: Here's a link to my current gear list  lighterpack page. 

If you haven't used a tool like this before, lighterpack is basically a simple way for you to make gear lists. You can go into as much detail as you want. I type in the gear name and weight for each piece of backpacking equipment that I have.

Once you have added in all of your equipment selections, or gear you are thinking about adding to your kit, you can drag and drop pieces of the equipment from the sidebar to arrange new kits. 

I did this yesterday, going through all of my equipment options and thinking about how I've used different pieces of equipment in different circumstances. I've gotten my poncho-tarp and bivvy kit down to 5.16 pounds using gear I already own and have experience with. Most importantly, I've used this equipment and been comfortable and safe with it. I do not go "stupid light", risking my comfort and safety.

The greatest weight savings have been made by focusing on multi-use gear and through the side effects of intending to switch to a shelter-hopping hiking strategy. Shelter-hopping, staying at shelters almost every night, has become my preferred method on the AT. I still have the ability to camp where necessary, but focus on using the shelters on trail to make my life easier. As comfortable as both my hammock and tent have been, setting them up and packing them away got old. Now I throw down a bivy sack, stuff my sleeping bag inside, inflate my air mattress, and go to sleep. 

With my waterproof-breathable E-vent bivy and tarp, I absolutely do not need to sleep in a shelter. The bivy acts as my ground sheet, protects me from wind, keeps the bugs off of me, and adds some warmth to my sleeping gear. When I was out this last fall I often cowboy camped, just throwing all my stuff down on my poncho tarp and going to sleep like you can see in this horribly blurry picture. That said, shelters are super convenient and I make use of them wherever possible.

I have been comfortable and safe in the rain using my poncho-tarp and bivy. In this picture, you can see one of my nicer lean-to configurations. I flew up to meet a friend in New Jersey when I got back on trail in September, and didn't have my trekking poles. I also decided to ditch the tent stakes. It was very easy to set up my tarp without poles and stakes. My break from using trekking poles while hiking was awful though. I've found that I really miss them on long uphill sections and slippery downhill sections in particular.

Multi-use gear is a natural next step for those who start shrugging off the pounds in their hiking gear setups. It really bothers me when I have something in my pack that isn't being used frequently or has some kind of redundancy with other pieces of equipment. Over the last two years I've enjoyed carrying less weight, having a more simple kit, and relying more heavily on my skills and experience.  Right now there are a few things that are keeping my base weight up.

My goal is to get my base weight under 5 pounds. Yes, for a lot of people it sounds crazy. Does another half pound really matter? In my experience, yes. Everything adds up. Every pound you carry takes effort to carry throughout the day. Don't forget, there are consumables to be carried like toilet paper, toothpaste, food, 1-2 liters of water, and sometimes entertainment items like a pack of cards. A food bag can easily weigh over 10 pounds for longer stretches between resupplies. I carried 20 pounds of food through the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine. 2 liters of water will be around 4.4 pounds of additional weight! (2.2 lbs/liter). 

So the point is that cutting down on that base weight does help. When you cut out a pound you aren't going to go from a very easy to carry 6 pounds to a very easy to carry 5 pounds but rather something like 19 pounds down to 18 pounds with the weight of consumables added in. Yes, there will be times when you can carry less than a liter of water because water sources are abundant. Yes, on the last two days into the next town for resupply you may have less than 2 or 3 pounds of food. For a majority of the time you are hiking, though, the weight of your consumables will be significant. It is worth cutting out weight wherever else possible.

So as I've said before, I've used all my gear. I've been out in snow, sweltering heat, rain, freezing wet conditions, yada yada. My gear has done a great job, but surprise surprise: there are some little things that bother me and I want to change.

Alright, the first thing that I just absolutely have to change is the sizing and material of my bivy. The bivy was originally an ounce or so heavier, but I cut off a whole heck of a lot of extra zipper pulls with some side-snips. Still, this bivy is weighing in at a hefty 14 ounces. Now, as a winter bivvy it has been more than excellent. I slept at Roan High Knob in March in -11 temperatures using the thing! Once it gets a little warmer, though, the bivvy can get a bit stuffy. I got trapped in my bivvy sweating my ass off this last September when we'd had a really warm night. The mosquitoes were out in force. You could see the black cloud of them moving around between the trees before it got dark. I'm willing to sacrifice a little waterproofness and wind resistance for a more breathable bivvy. I don't think I'll ever go for a full mesh top bug-bivy sack though, I'd have to switch to a much larger tarp to keep dry and warm with rain and wind.

Second, I need more space inside the bivy sack. I roll around a lot at night, and there isn't much room for me to move my legs due to the very tapered shape of my bivy. Even worse, when I have my pad inside the bivy with me to protect it from punctures I can barely sleep on my side with the bivy zipped up. I fall asleep on my side and wake up on my back. More than just the wiggle-room comfort aspect, the tightness of the bivy is more than likely compressing the down insulation of my quilt and sleeping bag. Compressed insulation is not going to perform like it should. There's really no getting around this, I've got to get myself some roomier digs! 

As it turns out, I've found some respectable options that come in at around half the weight of my current bivy. There's three different bivy sacks that I am checking out right now. There is the MYOG (make your own gear) option that comes in as an alternative. If it looks like I will save a significant amount of money making the thing myself (I'd still have to purchase materials and the proper tools), or if I just can't seem to find the features I want, then I may grit my teeth and give it a try. I do have access to a sewing machine but I have very little idea of how to use it. I made a bug net sock for my hammock once and honestly it could be a lot prettier. For now, I'm looking at my pre-made options. 

The next change is to my sleeping and jacket/torso insulation. I always wear my puffy jacket (puffy) in camp. I wear the same down jacket whether it's 50 or 10 degrees out. My puffy comes in at a very light 10.4 ounces. The amount of warmth you get out of a puffy for the weight is really just incredible. That said, in my experience I've had some decent results with wrapping my sleeping quilt around my torso in place of a puffy jacket. It hasn't been perfect, though, and I've gone back to carrying the perfect-for-the-job puffy jacket. The way I wrapped it around me meant one shoulder wasn't covered with the insulation. Part of the problem was the sewn foot-box, which reduced the coverage I got out of the quilt.

The use of the quilt to insulate my torso has stuck with me though. I keep thinking that if the quilt's temperature rating was a little higher I would have been more comfortable. I've also learned that there are quilt designs that have a slit to put your head through, letting you actually wear the quilt instead of just wrapping it around you. These designs also have clips or ties, originally intended to secure the quilts to sleeping pads to prevent drafts, that allow you to secure the quilt around you and increase its warmth as a piece of worn insulation.

If I could make a wearable quilt work for me it could save a significant amount of weight from my kit. I am really not willing to go without torso insulation. I've used a synthetic base layer top and a rain jacket to good effect before, but I know that down will offer much more warmth for the weight.

My current setup is to use a lighter 50 degree rated top quilt and bring my puffy jacket. This setup is nice in that it is more modular for sleepwear. I don't get stuck with a quilt that is too warm when the weather turns, and I can wear my puffy to bed if the weather is a little too cold for my quilt. Together these two items weigh about 20.98 ounces. Not bad. With a bivy adding a little warmth and protection from the wind I know I can be comfortable down to 40 degrees with this setup. Since I don't wear pants in the warmer months anymore, my legs are the part of my body that might feel the chill where temperatures drop into the 40s. A trick I learned when your feet get cold is to put your legs inside your backpack.

On its own, though, a 50 degree quilt is kind of pushing it for me. It's warm, but I'd say that 50 degrees is probably the lower range of where I'm comfortable in the bag rather than the middle of the comfort range like I'd thought when I'd bought it. I have been much more comfortable using my 30 degree mummy bag in the summers up north with nighttime temperatures often falling into the 40s, though when the weather turns towards the 50s I tend to roast in the 30 degree bag. So I'm thinking of getting something in between. I found a wearable quilt that is rated from 25 to 38 degrees. 

The lower temperature rating would mean that I'd be warmer around camp wearing the quilt as my torso insulation even without full sleeves. In colder temperatures my legs wouldn't get chilled like they do with the 50 degree quilt. The foot box of the quilt wouldn't be sewn in, so I could use the quilt more loosely when the weather turns warmer. Though the temperature rating is similar for the quilt I found, I think a mummy-style sleeping bag will always be much warmer. The thing is, this quilt uses synthetic insulation, and I'd be looking at 19 ounces for a properly sized version of the it. While that is a 2 ounce reduction for my base weight, I'm not sure that's really enough for the cost. 

So, I'm thinking, why not come down a little to a 40 degree rated quilt. Anything colder than the mid-40s and really I'm going to want to take my 30 degree mummy bag AND my 50 degree quilt. But then, we aren't talking about May, June, July, August, September anymore really. The next option is a lighter version of the same quilt and is rated from 35-48 degrees and it comes in at 13 ounces. That should cover the odd chilly summer night in the mid 40s quite nicely. When it is warmer at night, say closer to 60 degrees, I can just sleep in my bivy without the quilt, sleep on top of the quilt, or cover part of my body and stick my feet out. 

I know, though, that I'll be inside that bivy. The bug pressure this last summer was just awful, and if it's that warm then I know what to expect now. 

Playing around with my lighterpack, it looks like I can get my base pack weight down to 4.19 pounds trading out the bivy and replacing the puffy jacket and 50 degree quilt with the 40 degree wearable quilt. The bivy I found would be much wider than the one I use now. 

I didn't think I'd drop almost a pound with these two changes. Im pretty impressed actually. Sub 5 seems very doable.

Now I just have to go ahead and do some research to see how the wearable quilt will do under my poncho if it's cold and rainy.
If you like gear-talk check out my latest post about unexpected problems I've been having with the volume of the gear in my pack since going lighter.