10 Ways to Lighten Your Hunting Backpack
We understand you won't agree with all of the suggestions. That being said, they are designed to make you think and justify why are you doing what you are doing! Whatever you do, take gear that you believe in and will keep you safe. If you are making radical changes to your gear, try out the changes on short trips to prove out the concept and gear before going all in on a 7 day high country hunt. Their is no replacement for experience and common sense!
Alright, let's get to it...
Potential weight savings - Lots!
Weighing everything that goes into your backpack on a small kitchen scale is the number one tip we can give you. As they say, information is power. You might be shocked to learn the actual weight of your gear! If you want to lower your pack weight, you must adopt a critical mindset - and it all starts with a scale. Buy one (they only cost $10-20) and put it to use - on everything.
Ditch Your Jetboil
Potential weight savings - 5 to 10oz
This is going to be a hard one for most Jetboil users to stomach. Jetboil stoves have a huge following, and for good reason. They are fuel efficient, boil water quickly, and are self contained. They are not however, considered a very lightweight stove, especially in UL backpacking circles. When The Trek surveyed 365 Appalachian Trail thru hikers, they found that the most common stove brand used (165 hikers) was MSR. Jetboil was second with 57 hikers.
One of the most common Jetboil stoves out there, the Flash, weighs a substantial 12.3oz. Granted, that includes a stove and integrated pot. The Flash can boil 1L of water in around 4 minutes and costs around $115. Contrast that with the MSR Pocket Rocket 2, which weighs just 2.6oz, boils 1L of water in 3.5 minutes, and costs $50. Even when you add in a titanium cup (TOAKS LIGHT Titanium 650ml Pot, $37, 2.8oz), the weight of the MSR stove is still 7oz lighter than the Jetboil (almost a half pound!). If you want an even cheaper and lighter stove, look at the BRS 3000T ($17, less than 1oz).
Jetboil users may argue that their stoves are more fuel efficient, which translates into less fuel being needed for a trip (less fuel weight). While that argument is true, the fuel saved on a one week trip still doesn't tip the scales in favor of Jetboil.
Here is one more argument in favor of the MSR/Titanium pot combo. If your stove breaks down or you run out of fuel, you can still use a titanium cup over a fire to heat water. A Jetboil pot however, is not suitable for use over a fire. Putting it onto an open flame would ruin the heat exchanger (located under the pot) or cover it with soot which would hamper future use with the stove. If things hit the fan or you end up in a survival situation, the MSR/Titanium pot combo is more versatile than a Jetboil.
We might not have changed your mind, but at least we got you thinking about the weight of your cook system. If you are sticking with Jetboil, check out their lightest stove, the Stash ($135, 7.1oz) Let's move on, shall we?
Stop Being Redundant
Potential weight savings - 10 to 40oz
When we go on summer backpacking trips, the only item we bring multiples of are socks. When backpacking in the fall or when hunting, we add a few things to the redundant list: two headlamps (or one headlamp and extra batteries), two knives and two or three pairs of glove liners. These items are critical to safety, especially when temperatures drop. If a headlamp or knife is lost, it could be the difference between making it home and spending a cold night on a slope waiting for the Search and Rescue to arrive. When backpacking in the summer, a headlamp is less critical as most travel is during those long summer days. Not so in hunting season, when you can wrack up the miles during a long approach or midnight packout.
Bottom line, you don't need a dozen redundant clothes layers or 52 ways to purify water. Buy high quality gear and clothing (like durable merino layers that don't stink after a week of hard use), and use them!
Lighten Up The Optics
Potential weight savings - 10 to 20oz
This topic has been the subject of endless debate, but it is still worth mentioning. Bottom line - don't carry more optics than you need. They are heavy and take up a lot of valuable space in your backpack. Do you really need that 80+mm spotting scope that weighs over 3 pounds? Smaller scopes like Kowa's Kowa TSN 553 provide exceptional performance and barely weigh over 1.5lbs ($1800). Another good lightweight spotting scope to consider is the Maven CS.1 15-45X65 ($800, 40.4oz). If you want super light and super inexpensive, then take a look at the Kowa TSN 501, $350, 14oz. The TSN 501 makes a great backup scope, a good kid's spotter, or an UL scope just in case you need more magnification than your 10x binos.
The final option to save weight is to leave your spotting scope at home. Blasphemy you say! Well, then take a pair of 15x binos and glass off your tripod. If you don't need to count rings on a sheep or field judge a mule deer to the nearest inch, 15x binos can get the job done in most situations. You can also save weight with your tripod setup. Our choice? The super durable and lightweight Sirui T-024SK Tripod with VA-5 Video Head ($300, 2 lbs 15.7 oz). We find this tripod to be steady, light, easy to use, and it won't break the bank.
Eat Better Food
Potential weight savings - 4 to 6oz per day
If your backpacking food doesn't contain at least 125 calories per oz, then leave it at home! Boost your calories per ounce by taking food that is high in fat (think nut butter pouches, trail mix, and peanut M&Ms). One gram of fat has over 2x the calories of a gram of carbohydrate or protein (9cals/g vs 4cals/g).
Shoot for 1.5-2.0 pounds of food a day. If your food averages 130 calories per oz, that equates to 3,000-4,000 calories/day. Consider adding things like single serve olive oil to your freeze dried meals to sneak in 90 extra calories.
For breakfast, ditch the instant oatmeal or pop tarts for something more substantial like our Alpen Fuel breakfasts. They average 700 calories (4x more than instant oatmeal), and have a balance of fats, carbs, and protein to give you several hours of sustained energy. The extra calories from Alpen Fuel meals will replace all the extra energy bars you are carrying (plus they taste better too).
Leave The Water Filter At Home
Potential weight savings - 6 to 10oz
Save the gravity filter for the wall tent, and save your hiking filter for large group trips. A large gravity filter system can weigh 12oz, nearly a pound! There are plenty of lighter options out there that are safe and effective.
Aqua Mira, $15, 1oz. Aqua Mira is about a light as it gets. Aqua Mira is a safe Chlorine Dioxide water treatment. Use mini bottles to take enough of parts A and B for your trip, and a mini eyedropper bottle to store enough mixed solution for 1-2 days. Basically you add the mixed solution to your water, and after 30 minutes you are good to go. Yes, it is slower than a filter, but at least you don't have to break out a filter every time you want a refill. It will affect the taste of the water a little, but it's not too bad.
We also like Steripens, as they are super light and don't affect the taste of water. For larger groups, a filter like the Katadyn Hiker is nice. Another small filter to look at is the Sawyer Squeeze (full size one). Don't get the Sawyer Mini as the filter rate is painfully slow. Note the Sawyer filters can be a pain in colder weather. You can't let them freeze or they become ineffective. Keep them in your clothing and in your sleeping bag during cold weather.
Use a Trekking Pole Shelter
Potential weight savings - 6 to 12oz
If you aren't using a trekking pole shelter, you are missing an opportunity to save a little weight. Trekking pole shelters are a great way to put your poles to use when you are not hiking. We don't have time to take a deep dive here into shelter options, so we will just tell you to head over to Durston Gear and take a look at their tents. They are a family owned business with two employees (just like us!), and make some killer shelters. Dan Durston is about as detail oriented and thoughtful as they come, and his shelters reflect that. We own both his X-Mid 1P (31oz) and 2P (38oz) shelters and can't say enough about them. They also have a pro version, which is even lighter. The only bad thing about Durson Gear? Their stuff is in such high demand, it can be difficult to get your hands on their shelters. Take a look at the I Need an X Mid Facebook Group to find used X-Mids.
Go Fly Only
Potential weight savings - 5 to 20oz
While we are on the topic of shelters, let's lighten it up even more! Bugs are generally not an issue during fall and early spring hunts. If your shelter can be pitched in fly only mode, take advantage! Our hunting shelter consists of a fly (Durston X-Mid 1P, 17oz) plus a Tyvek drop cloth to put our gear and sleeping pad on. Full trail weight including drop cloth and tent stakes is right around 28oz. Not too shabby when many 3 season tents come in at over 3 pounds (48oz)! Will you be as comfortable using just a fly? Maybe not. But aren't you reading this article to lighten your pack?
Say No To Nalgene Bottles
Potential weight savings - 2 to 8oz
What, no 32oz Nalgene bottle you say? That sticker festooned safety blanket you take everywhere? Yes, we are suggesting you leave it in the truck. The better option? Flexible water bottles. They weigh less, pack down when empty, and hold more water than a Nalgene. It might make sense to take a Nalgene in some cases - like if you are pounding lots of supplements (a wide mouth bottle makes sense here), or if you are putting boiling water into a Nalgene to use like a hot rock in your sleeping bag at night. Other than a few select scenarios, it may be more efficient to take a few flexible bottles. We take 2-4 Platypus flexible bottles in a variety of sizes (500ml to 2L) bottles (500ml - 2L in size), depending on the length of the trip and how close we are to a water source.
There is an advantage of taking several smaller flexible bottles versus one larger 4L or 6 L flexible bottle. Once you fill up a 6L bottle, you are stuck with lugging it around. If you had two 1L bottles and two 2L bottles instead, you could take the right amount of water out hunting for the day, and leave the remaining water at camp. Water is insanely heavy, don't take more than you need!
Stop The Ditty Bag Fetish
Potential weight savings - 2 to 8oz
Most hunters have a few things in common. They love their Nalgene bottles, Jetboil stoves, and their ditty bags! Most people have several bags: one for a kill kit, electronics, etc. We aren't saying they don't have their place, but maybe you could benefit from combining a few bags and leaving some of them at home? Stuff sacks and ditty bags don't weight a ton, but they can add up when you are carrying a boat load of them.