Backpacking is a fantastic sport, and a wonderful lifestyle that many youth are introduced to through Scouting. I’ve learned over the years that the quality of their first experience will determine whether a scout (or their parent) comes back for a second trip. While many youth and adults have the physical strength and endurance to carry a traditional pack weight “of no more than 25% of your body weight”, even one scout struggling with a heavy load can ruin everyone’s good time (“are we there yet Mr. Scoutmaster?”…he asks half mile in). Offset the need for good physical conditioning by learning the gear and skills of lightweight backpacking.
The video series “Backpacking Lighter to Develop Character and Leadership in Scouting” addresses the specific needs and concerns of scouts and scouters, explaining how you can reduce your pack weight to less than 20 pounds for extended trips.
In this video, Philip Werner of SectionHiker.com describes the “big three” gear items that contribute the greatest percentage of pack weight; shelter, sleep system, and backpack. The goal is to get each of these items below 3 pounds each, depending on conditions and time of year. Some key strategies:
- Weigh each item you’d carry to understand the impact on total weight
- Eliminate all non-essential items – be prepared, but not “over prepared”
- Use multi-function gear – hiking poles as tent poles
- Reduce gear size to fit in a smaller pack
One of my pet peeves is buying gear at Walmart that’s not only heavy, but of a quality that won’t last more than one serious season. If your scout is still enthusiastic after his first trip using borrowed gear, go get an REI membership and make a reasonable investment in well-designed, lightweight equipment. If he’s REALLY serious, research brands like Gossamer Gear, Osprey, Hyperlight Mountain Gear, GoLite, or any of the major brands; Black Diamond, MSR, Big Agnes, North Face, etc. Ultralight backpacking is now a big enough movement that gear options abound. Here’s a great checklist from a BackpackingLight.com contest winner, with a “Gear Closet” sheet listing equipment options and weights.
It’s important to understand that, as Philip indicated in his first slides, lightweight backpacking has a philosophical element to it. Some scouters just can’t get past the need to take extra clothes, equipment items, or food “just in case”. I’d ask them to consider the benefit of training scouts in the advanced skills required to manage any risks in ultralighting, and the improved experience to be had with a 15-20 pound load. It probably won’t take too many trips trudging along under a load with lightweights skipping along next to you, before you decide to give it a try!
– Mr. Kantola