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Everything Weighs Something

We asked, you answered: Lightweight Testimony Contest Runner Up!

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by Charles Hill | 2010-05-04 00:00:00-06

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 1
Kelty Redcloud loaded with forty-two pounds for a weekend in the Smokies.

I began backpacking as a teenager, typically going on four or five hikes a year for the past forty years. Now in my fifties, I considered myself well seasoned in the science of backpacking. I felt pretty confident that I knew it all when it came to planning, outfitting, and executing a successful backpacking adventure.

My first serious pack was a Jansport D2 external frame. It was state of the art - in 1977. I loved that pack and carried it for nearly twenty years before it finally wore out. I replaced it with my first internal frame pack, an Arc'teryx Bora 95 that fit like a glove. It was the most comfortable pack I had ever put on my back, but once I used it, I realized it was just one big sack. Having to dump everything out on the ground to find anything was total foolishness. I hated it! I was accustomed to the D2’s multi-compartmented, everything-at-your-fingertips, instant access. The Bora had to go, so I replaced it with a Kelty Redcloud, basically an internal frame version of my beloved D2 with about elevendy-seven more pockets. It was the best of both worlds!

For a two- or three-day hike, my pack’s trail weight, including a tent, has usually hovered around forty pounds. In the past, I wasn’t too concerned about the weight. I’d always been able to carry it with no problems, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become more of a burden, especially on my knees. Over the last couple years, it has become normal for me to drag into camp with aching feet and knees, barely enough energy remaining to pitch my tent, eat dinner, and crash. I’d begun to think that I might be about done with this backpacking thing. It wasn’t as much fun any more; the rewards weren’t worth the suffering.

The wake up call for me came during a rainy, foggy, January ‘09 hike with my friend Scott and a couple of his hiking buddies. Scott and I were both backpackers, but this was our first time hiking together. Our hike was on the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia, up Trey Mountain and over to Deep Gap Shelter. Scott and his buds ran shuttle, hitting the trail about an hour behind me. I was, as usual, plodding along, huffing and puffing, with all my winter gear on, chilled from my sweat, but making decent progress. Or so I thought. Suddenly all three shuttlers passed me like I was standing still. They flew up the trail where I was crawling step by step. They looked like cross-country skiers with their poles pinging and clanking against the rocky trail.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 2
Fording Hazel Creek in the Smokies on a four-day hike with my forty-five-pound Kelty pack.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 3
Getting passed on Trey Mountain by a whippersnapper shuttler carrying his twenty-pound pack while I lugged my forty-two-pound pack.

I knew something was wrong with this picture, but I wasn’t sure what.

At the shelter that evening, over the sounds of wet wood sizzling from our smoky camp fire, I began questioning them. I wanted to know more about their packs, their lightweight equipment, and how it was possible for them to hike so quickly. Scott told me about Ray Jardine’s book Trail Life - Lightweight Backpacking. In the book, he said Ray details how to choose lightweight gear, food, clothing, boots, shoes, and so on to bring the trail weight of your pack down. Less weight equals less burden, meaning more energy for more enjoyable hiking. It all sounded reasonable.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 4
Lightweight hiking guru Scott's alcohol/beer can stove.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 5
Map reading over the campfire at the Derrick Knob Shelter in the Smokies.

I’d already been hearing about this newfangled fad, “ultra-light hiking” from another hiking bud, Patrick. But I hadn’t really bought into it yet. He’d told me about BackpackingLight, about all the useful information on the website, and what he’d done to reduce his pack’s weight. I thought, “Yeah, that’s great, but I can’t afford to just start over. And besides, I’m not about to give up all the comfort accessories I’ve been accumulating all these decades.” I needed them to survive, right?

But somewhere in the back of my consciousness, the wheels had begun to turn. Could reducing my pack weight make that much difference? I wasn’t convinced. After all, I’d been doing this for forty years and I was so well seasoned. However, it seemed a pattern was developing. Maybe I didn’t know everything after all… naaah, that couldn’t be it!

When I got back home I bought Trail Life and read it cover to cover… it was like everything I knew was wrong! This book just made sense. The “Ray Way” is his philosophy of what really works on the trail. His vast knowledge and experience is without question, so if he says it works, then it probably does, at least for him. At first I thought, “Well yeah, maybe I’ll try a few of these suggestions.” But when I began weighing out each piece of my equipment and saw just how much each item really weighed, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe, for example, the heavy duty REI mug I’d been carrying since, oh-I-don’t-know, the 80s, weighed 4.6 oz - and I only used it for hot chocolate at breakfast. That’s the weight of a meal! My Kelty Redcloud pack weighed seven pounds empty!!! It was at that moment I realized I really could make these changes... and had to make these changes if I was going to keep hiking.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 6
My old MSR Hubba Hubba is too heavy (5 lbs) and awfully big.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 7
New Tarptent Rainbow (2 lbs 2 oz) at Camp #48 in the Smokies. This is just right.

To quote my friend Scott, “everything weighs something.” Those words never rang more true for me. No matter what I was looking for, if I researched long enough, I always found a lighter (and probably more expensive!) version. So over the past year with a lot of advice from Trail Life, a little common sense and many hours on the interwebs, I’ve whittled my pack’s trail weight down to around twenty-eight pounds. All this with no real sacrifice in comfort and with room for still more savings. I’ve gotten so obsessed with saving weight I bought a digital scale that measures grams… yes, it’s that bad!

Changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Replacing my 7 lb Kelty Redcloud 6650 with new Golite Quest pack, 3 lbs 3 oz (-3 lbs 13 oz)
  • Replacing my MSR Hubba Hubba, 5 lbs with new Tarptent Rainbow, 2 lbs 2 oz (-2 lbs 14oz)
  • Replacing 1 lb 4oz. 4’x 8’ Home Depot tarp with new Tyvek Rainbow foot print, 5 oz (-15 oz)
  • Replaced 4.6 oz REI mug with cheap-o plastic cup from old mess kit 1.6 oz (-3 oz)
  • Lighter rain gear (-11 oz), lighter boots (-1 lb 5 oz), lighter clothing (-1 lb 8 oz)
  • Trimmed weight from straps, tags, clips, cooking utensils, water bottles (-10 oz)
  • Tossed out camp pillow, now use sleeping bag’s stuff sack packed with clothes (-8 oz)
  • Replaced old Olympus digital camera with new Sony Cybershot (-4 oz)
  • Lighter food and snack choices (-1 to -2 lbs)
  • Smaller lighter pocket knife (-3 oz)

Swapping out my heavier pack and tent alone reduced trail weight by almost seven pounds. Then after all the other weight trimming I’ve done; now it’s like hiking with a day pack.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 8
Transformation in progress: Golite Odyssey pack, Leki poles, lighter gear in pack and on feet, packed weight twenty-eight pounds.

Another revelation was the use of trekking poles. All my friends already used them. I always just made a hiking pole out of the first decent stick I found along the trail. It worked for me all those years. Besides, I considered trekking poles were for wimps, sissies, and fools. So this past November, just before hitting the trail for a three-day hike in the Smokies, my hiking buddy Rod Campbell (see December BPL Calendar) offered me the use of a spare set of his trekking poles. I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give ‘em a try and see what the fuss is all about.” Well, all of you who use poles already know what the fuss is about, as I soon discovered. I was amazed at how much they helped me. I couldn’t believe the confidence and stability they added to my hike, plus a better overall work out. I related it to how a four-legged animal distributes its weight and energy evenly over its four limbs. Now suddenly, I was motoring up ascents, fifteen fewer pounds on my back, hiking farther and longer, arriving at camp less tired than before. I was stunned! As it turned out I was the wimp, sissy, and fool! My wife and kids bought me a set of Leki poles for Christmas. They’re so awesome (the family and the poles)!

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 9
Using new Leki poles on the ice covered Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.

I’m pleased with the changes I’ve made so far, but I’m already planning my next move - replacing my sleeping bag. I love my Mountain Hardwear 0 down bag, but it weighs 4 lbs 6 oz. My old North Face Rabbit’s Foot three-season bag isn’t much lighter either. I’m considering a Ray Way quilt, which weighs less than two pounds, but haven’t made that move yet. Another area where I could lose a pound or two is my stove. This is where I’m an old school stick in the mud. I have an Optimus Svea 123R white gas stove I’ve carried on almost every hike since 1978. It and the extra fuel bottle weigh about 2 lbs 8 oz, but it’ll cook anything, anywhere, at any altitude, in any temperature. I’ve been on winter trips where it was the only stove that would light. It’s a real life saver. I also own an MSR Pocket Rocket which weighs something like negative three ounces. I often carry it in the summer to save weight, but I prefer my trusted friend the Svea. Ray Jardine suggests using a cook fire, eliminating the weight of a stove altogether. Don’t know if I’m that committed just yet.

Testimony: Everything Weighs Something - 10
Breakfast on Gregory Bald in the Smokies with my old trusted friend Svea 123R stove and some new friends in the back, on a 12 F morning. My Svea is a two-pound lump of old school dependability. You can hear it a mile away at full song, and I just can't part with it (yet).

It’s been just over a year since I began this transformation from my 1970’s mind set about backpacking to where I am today. With the lighter gear, smarter choices about food and equipment, and the acceptance of trekking poles, I’ve given myself a fresh start. I’m enjoying the hike and seeing the world around me again instead of wishing the day would hurry up and be over. It’s still tough, but the difficulty comes from the steepness of the trail, not the burden on my back. As a result of this amazing journey of discovery in my backpacking life, I’ve gotten my groove back. Now, with a renewed spirit, more knowledge and lighter gear, I’ll be able to extend my hiking well into the new millennium. Funny thing - this old stick-in-the-mud know-it-all actually likes playing with all his wimpy newfangled toys. Who’d a thunk it?!

Hike on!


"Everything Weighs Something," by Charles Hill. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2010-05-04 00:00:00-06.


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Everything Weighs Something
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Everything Weighs Something on 05/04/2010 14:12:40 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Everything Weighs Something

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
"Everything Weighs Something" on 05/04/2010 14:57:05 MDT Print View

What a great article, Charles! I felt I was reading my backpacking life story. I'm a 58-year-old woman who bought all her backpacking gear in the 1970s, after a month-long Outward Bound trip. That was back when a 6 pound tent was considered amazingly light! I, too, have been doing what you've been doing: going through my gear, gradually replacing my old heavyweights with lighter weight gear. I laughed when I read about your buying a digital scale that weighed grams, because that's exactly what I did! I've become (gulp! gasp!) a gram-weenie! But my 58-year-old back and knees heartily approve all these changes! Thanks for sharing your story.

Ryan Corder
(demo) - MLife

Locale: Arkansan in Seattle
Re: Everything Weighs Something on 05/04/2010 15:53:01 MDT Print View

Nice article and an enjoyable read -- first one in a while that I haven't skipped through. :)

I think you'll hear a lot of comments like this, but it does echo a lot of the same experiences that we who transitioned to lightweight backpacking (as opposed to those that just start backpacking light) go through.

Congratulations and good luck find a replacement for your trusty stove!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Svea 123? on 05/04/2010 17:57:56 MDT Print View

Nice article

Similar to my own experiences, except I read Ray Jardine's previous book, "Beyond Backpacking". I suppose I'll have to read his new book.

But, you're still using your Svea 123???

I remember using mine on Mount Rainier in the snow at Camp Muir at 10,000 feet and I couldn't get it to work.

I use a 3 ounce canister stove now, much better. You also have to carry a 13 ounce canister, but it lasts me 8 days.

Mark Hurd
(markhurd) - M

Locale: South Texas
Ditto on 05/04/2010 18:41:54 MDT Print View

Ditto on what Kathy said above. Same story different face. And Poles!!!! I can't believe I didn't use poles before. Would have saved me so many knee and ankle problems over the years. But none of my friends believed me after I "converted" until they used them for a hike. Now they've all switched.

Anyway, nice article. Thanks Charles.

Happy Trails,
- Mark

Gerald Miller
(colnagospud) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Like many other posts.... on 05/04/2010 22:57:10 MDT Print View

...this also sounds like my story which started in the late 60's when I was in scouts. Now that I am retired I have also been lightening my load the Ray way and with help from BPL. Isn't it wonderful how things and times have changed,
hike on,

(cuzzettj) - MLife

Locale: NorCal - South Bay
"Everything Weighs Something" on 05/05/2010 11:02:49 MDT Print View

Very good article!

Marc Eldridge
(meld) - MLife

Locale: The here and now.
everything weights something on 05/05/2010 11:09:21 MDT Print View

and $1500 later i am almost there

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Everything Weighs Something on 05/05/2010 11:52:23 MDT Print View

Great could have been my own, with a few differences.

A number of years ago, when I was in my early 50's, the book that changed my life was "Beyond Backpacking" (I found "Trail Life" to be even better).

In my case I had pretty much given up on backpacking due to knee and ankle problems. But after reading Jardine's book I thought there was a good chance my wife and I could start again.

I bit the bullet and gave up on my trusty Svea with much regret, but it currently inhabits a prominent spot on my old stove display shelf (I fire it up once in a while for old time's sake, and take it on car-camping trips). I now use small canister stoves or Caldera Cone Tri-Ti alcohol stoves.

I sewed, scoured eBay, purchased a few full-price items, and without breaking the bank was able to come up with a sub-15 lb base weight (currently down to around 13 lbs for me, 11 for my wife). I continue sewing, and as items wear out I hope to drop to near 10 lbs.

I too found hiking poles absolutely essential. I can't imagine hiking without them, for all the same reasons you mention.

Thanks again.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
RE: Everything Weighs Something on 05/05/2010 12:34:15 MDT Print View

Yup, my story too. I love the title.

I found that lightening up is a very synergistic process. I couldn't go with a lighter pack without reducing the gear too. Light shoes wouldn't provide enough support unless I carried a lighter load. When I first found BPL I was planning my first trip in 8 years. I went from a 35 pound or so base weight to 16. The next year I dropped about 3 more. For this year I'm probably going to add an item or two for a bit more luxury.

It was very illuminating to do a 2 night snow trip up Whitney last month. I considered my pack heavy but on exit including ice axe, crampons, helmet, climbing harness it was 23 pounds without food or water. That was pretty good compared to most of the others whose packs were over 40.

PS- Don't dis the SVEA 123! It's pretty. It has a comforting sound. It's durable- mine is older than I am (45) and still going strong. Ok it's a bit heavy... but it used to be considered ultralight!

Edited by jimqpublic on 05/05/2010 12:37:43 MDT.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Great Article on 05/05/2010 12:48:07 MDT Print View

Hi, Charles,

Great article. I've got a Svea 123 too and a Sigg Tourist cook set that goes with it. Haven't taken it out on an overnighter lately, but I have an enduring affection for it.

I don't suppose you have any gear lists posted somewhere you could post a link to? I'm somewhere in the middle of converting from "tradtional" style BP'ing to a lighter style, and I'd appreciate being able to see where you've gone to with your gear if it's not overly inconvenient.



Charles Hill
(chuckster) - F

Locale: Georgia
Everything Weighs Something on 05/05/2010 16:05:32 MDT Print View

Thanks to all for the accolades!
I've dropped another 24 oz's with the purchase of an obscenely expensive NeoAir to replace my old Therm-a-rest pad. Fortunately I got a good deal on it with my REI dividend and a 20% off coupon.

HJ, I don't have a gear list posted yet but I've seen a few good ones on this site


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Everything Weighs Something on 05/05/2010 16:26:03 MDT Print View

Well, if the move to lightweight backpacking has done nothing else, at least it has moved a lot of Americans to using the much more sensible metric of grams for weighing gear ;) Nice story.

Dave Master
(dave_master_edu) - M
Everything Weighs Something on 05/05/2010 22:22:33 MDT Print View

Really nice, honest read. I'm sixty and I found it amusing that I also started with the same Jansport pack and replaced it with an Arc'Teryx Bora 95. My wife and I started switching to lighter weight backpacking gear about ten years ago. Every year we replace a few things. Yet an equally critical change was when I began backpacking LIGHTER. Not only dropping 20 lbs. of gear weight, but also dropping sixty pounds of BODY weight.
It all began when I met an eighty-one year old backpacker on a trail at 11,500'a few years ago. He passed me. I was struggling...and he wasn't. He told me that any body weight I carried above my belt may as well be in my pack. Since that chance meeting on the trail I've lost 60 pounds. I walk over an hour a day and now watch more closely what I eat. What a difference!
Last year my wife and I did a loop in Mineral King (Sequoia N.P.). Twenty years ago the same trip took us 14 days (I weighed 225 lbs.). This past summer we did the same trip in just 8 days! My pack weight was 20 lbs. lighter...and my body weight was over 50 lbs. lighter! We crossed the Great Western Divide (over 12,000') twice...I did it this time twenty years older with a lot more enjoyment! I'm literally backpacking lighter and hoping to enjoy doing so for another 20 years. Your article was an enjoyable read. I've passed it on to many friends. Trek on!

rhonda rouyer
(rrouyer) - F

Locale: deep south
Be there done that! on 05/06/2010 22:32:52 MDT Print View

Your story sounds so familiar. I too dropped weight with lighter gear. First tent was an 8 lb eureka xl2, replace by a 3 lb eureka spitfire, replace by a 1 1/2 lb. tarptent contrail.Sleeping bag went from synthetic 3lb to down 1 lb.8 oz. Could get a lb lighter if I leave my sil tarp at home but I won't do that. I like the idea of shelter from the rain that is not my tent for eating and cooking. Finally got down to weighing all the little things but it would have cost 100.00 of new lighter versions to get just one pound. Didn't make sense.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Good for you! on 05/07/2010 01:12:07 MDT Print View

As Ryan C said, this is the first article in a long time that I haven't skipped through. Not that other articles here on BPL are bad, simply don't have a lot of time.

What a great read this article was indeed. I'm really happy for you that by reducing you pack's & content's weight and by realizing it's better to weigh your gear in grams than pounds, you've found back the reason why you started to hit the trails that many decades ago: to enjoy nature, to enjoy the mountain and to enjoy being outside. I hope that your transition to a more sensible gear kit will see you on the trail for decades to come.


Ioan Jones
(ioanj) - MLife

Locale: UK
Great article on 05/07/2010 17:03:43 MDT Print View

Charles - great article, and well done on your coming out re the Svea 123!
As it happens I completely agree, there's something about that put-put-put as it gets going that warms the heart, even if it is a bit heavier than newer stoves, and even if it isn't QUITE as easy to get going sometimes.
12,500' on Gran Paradiso, very early in the year and well below freezing we had stoves that were playing up, including the latest shiniest multi-fuel one from a company that shall not be named. The 123 ran like a charm as did the Trangia carted up by another group member; guess which of us ended up cooking that night!
Modern kit is fantastic but some of the older stuff still has its place.


Patrick S
(xpatrickxad) - F

Locale: Upper East TN
Svea 123R on 05/07/2010 23:38:08 MDT Print View

I thru hiked last year and met a buddy that used a SVEA 123R and I fell in love. I've been wanting one ever since. They're just so loud, heavy and beautiful to not love.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Svea 123 on 05/08/2010 00:04:36 MDT Print View

I co-led a group trip one time. I brought a big MSR stove and my co-leader brought a Svea 123. In fact, he had the new mini-pump that fit on an angle from the fuel filler cap. We got the group to the camp, and it was cold, so we fired up both stoves to begin snow melting. At first, he primed the Svea with about a few drops of fuel and gave it one stroke on the mini-pump. It flickered and went out. Then he primed it with about a spoonful of fuel and gave it two or three strokes on the mini-pump. It flickered and went out. Then he primed it with about 4 oz. of fuel and gave it about 20 strokes on the mini-pump. (What a buffoon!) It lit and increased hotly, and we thought it was about ready to take off. Then the pressure relief valve inside the fuel filler cap melted and ejected the mini-pump, replacing it with a 2-foot angled flame. Yikes!

My co-leader was going to run down to the lake to get some water to throw on it. Instead, I kicked it over sideways into the sand, then threw a pot of snow on it. Needless to say, that stove never burned again.


Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Yipes! on 05/08/2010 02:12:30 MDT Print View

Over priming/over pressurizing a stove, any stove, is simply a bad idea. He's lucky he didn't get burned.

I over pressurized an XGK with an old gray pump (I'm used to the newer, "stepped down" MSR pumps). The fuel burst out around the "o" ring between the top of the fuel bottle and the "collar" of the pump. Fortunately, I was using the windscreen, so the fuel didn't ignite. There's something to be said for "remote" fuel set ups. ALWAYS USE A WINDSCREEN with a remote fuel white gas stove. Yes, it makes the burn more efficient, but even more importantly it makes the stove safer.


Edited by hikin_jim on 05/08/2010 02:16:31 MDT.