Mom Goes Camping

How to Reduce Weight from Your Backpack and Become (Almost) Ultralight

how to reduce weight from your backpack

The first time I went backpacking with my daughter, my pack weighed over 20kg.  That’s nearly 40lbs for those of you on the imperial system.

Considering that you are only supposed to carry 15-20% of your body weight, I was waaayyyy over limit.

Ultralight backpackers will tell you to reduce weight from your pack by doing things like cutting the end off of your toothbrush and taking the labels off of your gear.  Yes, this will all add up to a few ounces – and every ounce counts.  But I personally am not that hardcore.

My pack is still huge when I backpack, but I’ve managed to get it down to 10-12kg (depending on the length of the trip). Here’s how I did it.

My backpack all packed and ready for a 7-day trip

My backpack all packed and ready for a 7-day trip


Tip 1: Plan Your Trip Close to Water

A liter of water weights 1kg (2.2 lbs).  Normally we need about 2 liters (8 cups) of water per day.  When hiking, you could need as much as 1 liter for every hour of hiking!

So, assuming that you’ll be drinking anywhere from 2-6 liters of water per day, that adds up to 2-6kg (4.4-13.2lbs)!

I am physically incapable of carrying this much water plus all of my gear.  So, I make sure to always plan my backpacking trips near a source of water.

Of course, you can’t just drink water straight out of a stream or lake (unless you want diarrhea while backpacking, fun!).

The absolutely best piece of backpacking gear I’ve ever bought was the Sawyer Mini water filter.  The thing is tiny, weighs just 2 ounces, and is capable of filtering 100,000 gallons of water.  Basically, it will last you forever.

using sawyer mini

Refilling the water bottles using the Sawyer Mini water filter


Tip 2:  Dehydrate Your Food

Did you know that you can dehydrate hummus?  And what about pasta sauce, refried beans, and pretty much everything that contains a lot of moisture.

By using my dehydrator to make backpacking meals, I’ve been able to save a lot of money (those MREs from camping stores are expensive!!) and avoid bringing heavy items like canned food, fruits, and packets of pate.

Want to see more? Read:

Dehydrating hummus and tomatoes for a backpacking trip. The scallions are already done and in the baggie at the bottom left.

Dehydrating hummus and tomatoes for a backpacking trip. The scallions are already done and in the baggie at the bottom left.


Tip 3:  Go Minimal with Clothing

The first time you go outdoor backpacking, picking clothes is stressful.  What if you get cold? What if you get wet?  After a few trips, I finally figured out how to bring the minimal amount of clothes while still being ready for all weather conditions.

It is all about the art of layering.

Here’s what I bring:

  • A few pairs of underwear
  • 3-5 pairs of socks
  • 1 Shorts
  • 1 Long johns
  • 1 Jeans
  • 2-3 tank tops
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 warm sweater/hoodie
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Hat with a brim

This isn’t a lot of clothes.  But, with the art of layering, I can make a bunch of different outfits.  Like wearing just a tank top and shorts when it is really warm.  Or wearing my long johns under jeans and my t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweater, and jacket all together when it gets cold.

I bring the same amount of clothes for a short trip as a long backpacking trip.  It just means I’ll have to wash clothes at some point (at least the undies).  And, yes, I STINK at the end of a long trip.  But who cares? It is the stink of nature. 😉


Tip 4: Soap Is Optional

One my first backpacking trip with my girl, I brought a small bar of soap, a small bottle of shampoo, and dish soap.  Now, I don’t bother with the dish soap at all.  And definitely not the shampoo.  All I need is one tiny bottle of biodegradable soap for all purposes.


Tip 5: All Devices Should Use the Same Batteries

It is smart to bring backup batteries for any crucial devices you use while backpacking.  In my case, that means batteries for my headlamp.  I made a point of buying headlamps that all use AAA batteries so I only have to bring one set of backups.  Also, if the backup batteries die, I can always take the batteries out of one headlamp and put them in the other.


Tip 6: Get the Lightest Tent You Can Afford

Ultra-lightweight tents are very pricy.  But, if you are serious about backpacking and want to enjoy the journey without backaches, then it is worth it to get a lightweight tent.  Read this 15 Minute Guide to Buying a Tent for more info on getting the right tent.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 2-person tent (shown without rain fly) only weighs 3lbs 2oz, making it one of the best lightweight backpacking tents. It costs $344 and you can buy it here.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 2-person tent (shown without rain fly) only weighs 3lbs 2oz, making it one of the best lightweight backpacking tents. You can buy it here.


Tip 7: Bring Multi-Purpose Tools

For a recent camping trip, I bought one of those small trowels.  I figured it would make it easier to dig a latrine for going to the bathroom in the woods.

It turns out that the trowel was useless except for weighing down my pack.  It’s a lot easier to dig a latrine using a good outdoor knife (the knife cuts through tree roots better than a small trowel).

Avoid bringing things like a trowel which only serve one purpose.  Here’s some examples of how I multi-purpose my gear:

  • My backpack rain cover holds my food for hanging a bear bag
  • I’ve used the tent bag as a day pack (now I use my daughter’s backpack)
  • I eat from the cooking pots so I don’t have to bring bowls
  • I use a carabiner to hang my headlamp from the top of the tent so I don’t have to bring a lantern


Tip 8: Measure Portions

On that first backpacking trip, I was worried about how much food to bring.  Not wanting to end up starving in the woods, I over-estimated how much food we’d really eat.  Needless to say, that added up to a lot of extra weight!

Before you go on your trip, do test runs of your backpacking meals.  For example, I measure exactly how much oatmeal my daughter and I eat for breakfast.  This way I don’t accidentally bring too much or too little food.

*If you are worried about not bringing enough food, just bring one extra meal.  Don’t assume you’ll be eating larger portions of food and get stuck carrying it all.

Food carefully measured and in baggies for backpacking


Tip 9: You Don’t Need Deodorant

Or shampoo.  Or makeup. Or any of those other luxury hygiene items.  Yes, you do get a bit stinky.  But usually the wonderful smoky smell of the campfire will mask it. 😉  And, if not, don’t stress about it.  You’re backpacking buddy probably won’t mind because he/she will stink just as much as you do!

*Tip: Baby wipes are great for cleaning yourself in the outdoors, such as wiping your pits to reduce stink.


Tip 10: Nature Is Full of Toys

It makes me really sad when I see other camping families, but who have brought tons of toys along for their kids.  I get that they are afraid their kids will get bored – but those toys just stifle creativity. Don’t worry. Your kids will find enough “toys” in nature as they make cabins out of sticks, draw with campfire charcoal, and explore everything that nature has to offer. 🙂

How much does your pack weigh when you go backpacking?

Title image credit: “Backpackers” (CC BY 2.0) by DenaliNPS

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About the author /

Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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