Going Lighter Guide: Sleeping

Is there much to say about sleeping? I’m certainly not going to bang on about ‘sleep systems- as that phrase has always made me laugh. But there is a certain amount of commons sense that I think is probably worth re-enforcing, simply because all of us can get carried away on a lightweight gear obsession.

Other than, perhaps, a single overnight, the most important thing about sleeping on the trail is that — well — you do manage to sleep!  There is nothing worse than walking after a really bad night’s sleep. If all you are doing is walking back to the car or the train then maybe it is not a problem. But if you are about to tackle any kind of reasonably lengthened walk it helps a great deal if you are fresh and have slept well. On any multi-day walk of any length you will have the odd bad night, maybe the wind and the rain have had your tent rocking and rolling all through the night.  There’s not much you can do about this other than make sure on the other nights you do get a good night’s sleep.

So, let me introduce you to a hard and fast rule about life on a trail. It is one of your key objectives to sleep as well as you can!

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Going Lighter Guide: Stoves & Cooking

Bob and Honey Stove

Bob Cartwright on a Pembrokeshire Beach with his Honey Stove

Stoves! Most avid backpackers have a collection of stoves and stove systems. I don’t consider myself an avid collector but I realise I have around 10 fully functional stoves at the moment, and there are probably more hiding in the depths of my part storage places! Bob Cartwright has a collection of stoves going back over years and he really ought to open a backpacking stove museum.

In this section we are not just going to look at pure weight but some of the other factors that are associated with lightweight backing: fuel sources; adaptability; multi functionality and so on.

A lot here rally does depend on what kind of hiking and backpacking you are involved in. An ideal stove for a single overnight might be very different to the system you might use for a multi day or even multi month trip!

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Going Lighter Guide: Ultralight Shelters

Lakeland Wildcamp

Using a tarp in the English Lake District 

OK, so here is the big one — a chance to go completely over the top and become a real ultralight fan boy! Of course, the lower down the weight scale we get the less things become about flightier weight and, often, more about enjoying and being at one with the outdoors.

Some of you may be generally interested in ultralight shelters while others of you may just treat this as a bit of entertainment while you scratch your heads and wonder what the hell this is all about.

But let’s dive into the ultralight world.

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Going Lighter Guide: Tents

First Wildcamp

The Hilleberg Akto, Glendesarry, Scotland.

In this post I am considering tents — ultralight shelters will be in the next post (see introduction to tents).

Over the last decade or so a number of mainstream manufactures (here in the UK) have embraced lighter weight tents. In terms of the mainstream we can probably consider the lightest weight for the solo tent as being about 1 kilogram and the lightest weight for a two person tent being about 1.5 kilogram. But this is the light end of the scale. The more mainstream contenders shouldn’t weight any more than 1.5-1.7 kilograms for a solo tent and 2 – 2.2 kilograms for a double user tent.

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Going Lighter Guide: Tents & Shelters Introduction


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Brecon Beacons (Wales), just before Christmas with Bob Cartwright

On to the next major purchase, and probably the most expensive. Tents have come on a bundle over recent years; it is no longer necessary to carry a heavy piece of kit in order to get peace of mind. As with packs major manufacturers have embraced the low weight philosophy. This is not to say that some companies haven’t done this for many years but these days most manufactures have reduced the weight of their tents and they will have at least one lightweight or ‘ultralight’ tent in their range.

But before we jump in let me define my terms.

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Going Lighter Guide: Packs III — Ultralight

This is where I get excited — ultralight packs. Partially, I get excited because — well — I am a bit of a geared (though I’m trying hard to curb the tendencies. Ultralight packs run from very minimalistic bags that can be used by runners and those hiking in very good weather (and don’t need to carry much stuff) up to bigger frames packs and those that have some kind frame system but very light systems. However, for the hiker and backpacker, probably the best thing about these packs is the design.

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Going Lighter Guide Packs II

So, back to packs. In this post I’m looking at try ‘mid-light’ range which may well be where most people land. By ‘mid-light’ I mean packs that weigh around 1.5 kilograms (around 3lbs) to just over 1 kilogram and have a capacity of around 50-60 litres. This capacity should accommodate most backpackers who are careful in their choice of supporting gear.

The choice in this range has mushroomed since I first wrote this guide ten years ago —or was it 15? Many mainstream manufacturers have now realised there is mileage in promoting lighter weight designs using lighter-weight materials. At the other end of the scale many of the ultra light producers have offerings here, I guess as a way of enticing people in and helping them gain confidence in lighter weight  materials. 

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Going Lighter Guide — Packs: Introduction

So, it is time to go where every blogger dreads — into gear. Any venture into writing about gear is fraught with danger. People are fiercely loyalty their favourite piece of kit and manufacturer; many seem happy to sit at either extremes of a spectrum of experience and opinion with little respect for the spaces in between; and in my experience some people seem to post comments — to be frank — when they are pissed.

But awards we must go and start talking about packs and we will just have to do our best to ignore the keyboard warriors and pundits, especially the drunken ones!

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Preparation: Know Your Gear Now

My Scottish Home

Camp on the Minigaig.

So, it’s time to get started. Now, this might seem blindingly obvious, but your starting point for lowering your pack or trail weight is where you are now. By that I mean the weight of your current gear and not the weight of yourself (or maybe like me you are beginning to get more focussed on your own weight right now). We will start with what you have now rather than some internet ideal gear list!

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Getting Started: Balance and Strategy

Lakeland Wildcamp

Tarp Wild Camp in the Lake District

Before we get into the minutiae of gear and technique anyone wanting to explore the lightweight work will benefit from a bit of planning and self assessment. Where you go — and in which direction you might advised to look — very much depends on your own aims and ambitions. What do I mean by this?

Well, if you are primarily focussed on day walks — or maybe the of two or three days hike using youth hostels — you will gain some benefit from lighter-weight gear but this will be marginal. If you are a day hiker then carrying a little too much weight will not be critical. But, if you head out onto a trails for three or four days then you will soon notice a difference.


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