Earlier this month I was invited to give a talk on lightweight backpacking to Boy Scout Troops 654 and 655 of Nashua, New Hampshire. This seemed like a great opportunity, since Scouting is where many people are introduced to backpacking, and giving the Troops a few ideas for lightening their loads could have a big impact. When I asked the group who had carried an overnight pack that weighed more than a third of their body weight before, every hand in the room went up.
Since this was an indoor presentation, I talked mostly about reasons for lightening packs, the importance of knowing what you’re carrying, and some ideas for gear replacements. Especially for groups of beginning hikers, the ideas of focusing on skills and multi-use gear are very important because of cost considerations. It’s much cheaper to leave unnecessary gear at home than to replace it with lighter and fancier equipment. In order to leave things at home, though, you need to have the skills to function without it.
Some lightweight hiking gear is especially well-suited to outfitting large groups, though. Driducks rain gear, Gossamer Gear ground sheets, and silnylon tarps are very inexpensive alternatives to most commercial rain gear and tents, and much lighter! Tarps also are great teaching tools, since there are many ways to set them up, and the learning process also gives you a good knowledge of knots and hitches.
Food is another important subject, since efficient food planning is a good way to lighten your load while hiking. Calorie-dense foods like nuts and dried fruits are a perennial favorite, but it’s easy to overdo them, so variety is key. I’d brought a bag of Larabars to hand out as an example of dense, good food for hiking– they seemed to be a big hit. I’d forgotten about the appetites of teenage boys!
I could go on for hours about ways to lighten a pack, but time was short (and I would have bored the boys to death after the third or fourth hour). No problem there, though. The best way to get ready for backpacking is to take some practice hikes, practice your backpacking skills (like setting up bear bags and tents), and making some trip plans. These two Scout Troops are planning a hike of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway this summer. I think between their enthusiastic leaders and high-energy Scouts, they’re going to have some great experiences on the trail!