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Sub 4 Pound Base Weight for Backpacking

When I started backpacking I was on the smallish side (4’4”, 65 lbs), so I had to watch my overall pack base weight. With some parental help and custom (because manufacturers were not making youth equipment), smaller-sized gear, I had a base pack weight of around 13 pounds. As I grew and added amenities (pad, stove, etc.) my base pack weight ballooned to around 21 pounds. But then I started to make a game of reducing weight. Of course, excess body fat has been my biggest (and a fairly recent) single cut (about 15 pounds), and it was the hardest to implement. Otherwise, I first cut weight by leaving non-essential items behind. Then I look for multipurpose opportunities (e.g. pad for sleeping and pack frame, tarp for shelter and rain gear, poles for trekking and shelter). Finally, I populate my Christmas and birthday wish lists with lighter versions of my basic gear items so family and friends contribute to incremental improvements every year.

gossamer gear customer

Most of my trips are for 3-7 days in the Appalachians with temperatures from the low 20s to the low 80s, and rain always a possibility (probability?). I go prepared to be comfortable in worse weather than forecast, and I always take some emergency (first aid and survival) gear. The most common adjustment is to the insulating layers I pack. Spring through fall I may leave the gloves at home, and in the dead of summer I don’t pack an insulating layer.

gossamer gear customer1Here is a snapshot of my gear list, after 50 years at the game:

CategoryGear SelectionWeight (oz)Details
PackingCustom silnylon Gossamer Gear Pack4.3see photo above
SleepingGossamer Gear Nightlight, perforated3.6Perforated to be lighter and softer
Zpacks 20 degree with dry bag19.8I don't carry a pack liner as I have my sleeping bag in a dry bag.
ShelterDIY Cuben Fiber Tarp3.8Dual use as a poncho as it has a zipper and snaps
Groundsheet, Stakes, Cord3.6
Packed Clothingdown sweater/hood/stuff sack10.8
Tyvek shell3.8More information here
Possum Down gloves1.4
One Pair of Extra Socks2.4Stored in a Ziplock
CookingPot, Lid, Stove, Stand, Windscreen, Lighter, Spoon3.0see photo below
Food Bag-spinnaker w/mouse deflector1.0
Hydration4x0.5L bottles1.3Read about the strategy here
Small EssentialsDitty Bag4.8Hygiene/first aid/survival in ziplock
Weight SummariesOuncesPounds
Base weight (not including items worn and consumables)63.23.95

I try at least one new technique or piece of gear on every trip, and more if required to maintain a complete system. Not all turn out to be good ideas. But some are twofers: lighter and more comfortable. And if you see me on the trail, you might notice that I will have already evolved from this gear list to something even better!

gossamer gear pad gossamer gear customer2

 

This post was by long time Gossamer Gear customer John Potter and Editor.

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35 Responses to Sub 4 Pound Base Weight for Backpacking

  1. Kim "Pops" Seago, Columbia, TN February 3, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    Good article. Wondering where top photo was taken as it seem familar. I’m nearly 75 and hope I backpack til I die.

    • Call Me Ishmael February 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park.

    • guidebrian February 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      I would guess that the picture was taken in Grand Canyon National Park. That bridge sure looks like the Silver Bridge that leads to Phantom Ranch.

    • Peter. "Pedro" Scott April 21, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

      I am in my 70th year Kim and i feel the same, but i find some of these base weights impossible to achieve doing 4/5 days in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands at temperatures below zero, hope we both have many many years to go.

      • Call Me Ishmael April 24, 2015 at 8:14 am #

        Pedro, I’m 7 years behind you, but still making changes that reduce my pack weight. When I expect temperatures much below freezing I do switch to a heavier sleeping bag and add some clothing accessories to protect exposed skin. That may add a pound or so. Still, the first rule is to consider the trip and pack accordingly. The tracking your base pack weight is just a way to see where you are on the journey, not a race to finish lighter than anyone else..

  2. CampingJay February 6, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    two questions:

    -What are you using for water filtration/purification?

    -How do you take the poncho off and set it up as a shelter while its raining?

  3. Heather February 6, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    How did you make the perforations in the Nightlight? I was thinking of doing something similar, but had not decided whether they should be in the peaks or in the valleys – can’t stand sweaty sleep pads!

    • Andy Fox February 6, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

      Heather, perforate in the valleys because that’s where the sweat will collect. You might try putting a layer of waterproof breathable fabric over the sleeping pad, or use your open rain jacket with the inside up. I put a pad under and outside a Gore-Tex bivvy once, and I stayed dry. In the morning, there were small puddles of sweat on my pad. I never noticed any perspiration, but I do if sleeping directly on the pad.

      • Heather Darnell February 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

        Yes, in the valleys makes sense! Now – what do I use? I’m not very toolsey or craftsy

        • Andy Fox February 6, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

          I think the best way is probably a soldering iron with a pointed tip around 1/8 of an inch in diameter. It will ruin the tip for soldering though. I haven’t actually done this though, so some experimentation might be needed. 🙂

  4. Bert Nemcik February 6, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    How might your base pack weight change if you were traveling in the Rocky Mountains in October on the Colorado Trail? I cut and cut but prudence dictates certain safety items go into the pack to protect self against Mother Nature’s wrathful ways above treeline. Your thoughts? My base pack weight is 11.3 pounds. Shadow AT02

  5. ranger bill February 6, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    ESBIT stove? I don’t see any mention of fuel type.
    Nice minimalism.

  6. John B February 6, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Inspiring post. Wondering what you use for bug protection while sleeping?

  7. Call Me Ishmael February 7, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    CampingJay: -I’m using bleach (Chorox) for water purification, 1 drop per cup or 4 drops/liter, 30 minutes. It is cheaper and lighter than Aqua Mira; I’ve been using it for over 40 years without getting sick.
    -I drop my pack, put on my rain jacket and get my stakes and cord out while under the poncho. Then I stake out some of the corners from underneath. I only have to go out in the rain for a guy line and 1-2 final stakes.

    Heather: I used a 1/4″ hollow steel punch from my local hardware store. The pad shown in the photo above is punched on the peaks, to make it softer. The weight listed in the table is with 3/8″ holes added to the valleys.

    Bert Nemcik: For the Rockies in October I would be wearing more clothes and some of them would sometimes wind up carried in my pack. Above treeline I also need a pole (1.9 ounces) for my tarp, since I don’t use trekking poles. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change the base weight. A month later, or early in spring, I might take a heavier (custom, 6″ loft, 26.3 ounces in a dry bag) sleeping bag. You do need to take the basic safety items – always. I have found that as my woodcraft improves I feel comfortable and stay safe with less. Also, I always have a bailout option planned.

    ranger bill: I’m using a custom solid fuel stove/stand/windscreen setup. I like Bluet solid fuel tablets better than Esbits. They look the same except for the color (light brown instead of white), but they seem to light more easily and smell better both lit and unlit .

  8. John Shannon February 7, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    Nice list. Stove must use alcohol or solid fuel. Water bottles only mentioned yet pictured is drinking tube usually connected to bladder. Water treatment being considered consumable..probably drops or tablets. Filters are not consumable and may entirely ruin your day if puts over 4 lbs ; )

  9. Call Me Ishmael February 7, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    John B: I use permethrin on my clothes and look for camp sites in less buggy (dry and breezy) places. I find that the bugs usually settle down once it gets good and dark. I can add a little DEET on exposed skin, when that doesn’t work. I have to take some bug netting if my campsite choices are restricted and the bugs are really bad (e.g. New England, during black fly season).

    • seanion January 28, 2016 at 12:00 am #

      I can not abide DEET, and there is a fully effective alternative called picaridin. It’s natural, works the same way as DEET but doesnt dissolve plastics etc, and even smells nice. All the major bug repellant companies sell a picaridin product.

      • Call me Ishmael January 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

        That is a great alternative. Some people report slight differences in performance (compared to DEET) depending on which insects you are trying to repel.

  10. Call Me Ishmael February 7, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    John Shannon: No need to guess:
    -The stove is a custom solid fuel system, continually evolving (from the Heinie pot in the picture, to a Fosters pot for the lower weight shown, to…the next best thing).
    -The picture of the pack is from a trip where I used a Platypus 1.8L Short Hoser. In the top picture I was using the Platypus plus 2 x 0.5L plastic bottles. The bottles worked so well that now I’m just using the 0.5L bottles. I pack as many as indicated by the distance between reliable water sources (usually 2-4 bottles).
    -I don’t list the bleach mentioned in my post above because it is in my pocket. Not having to take off my pack to dig it out speeds the refill-and-treat process.
    -When the weather is warm enough that a filter won’t freeze (without carrying it inside my clothes) I can leave the gloves at home and still be under 4 pounds with a filter 🙂 But the real reason I don’t carry a filter is that they take more fiddling. With bleach, I just add two drops and leave the bottle alone for 30 minutes.

  11. Call Me Ishmael February 7, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    In this older water bottles article featuring my G5, instead of the pack on my current gear list, because I was carrying some of my wife’s gear on that trip.

  12. Rick Sutton February 8, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    Great article. I also try at least a few new ideas each trip to create a better gear list. It helps keep me learning and growing which I find very enjoyable. I use the GG Nightlight pad, however, I never thought of the perforated idea as a way to make it softer and lighter.

    Are you using a tool like an awl to make the 3/8″ holes or is a punch something different?

    A perforated pad might be one of my 2015 gear changes especially if it will make the pad softer AND lighter, although, I am missing how making holes will make the pad lighter when no material is being removed like would be the case if a drill was used and material was actually removed.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Call Me Ishmael February 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

      Rick Sutton: The hollow hole punch I use takes out a plug of material. You can find one by searching for “hollow steel hole punch” online or asking for one at your local (e.g. Ace) hardware store. I used a 1/4″ punch on the peaks, for softening, and a 3/8″ punch in the valleys, to remove even more material. Use a modest-sized hammer to hit the punch, and a smooth block of scrap wood as an anvil behind the pad. You will end up with hundreds of little foam cylinders scattered everywhere, but they are easy to vacuum up.

      • Rick Sutton February 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

        Thanks for the clarity. I ordered a General Tools and Instruments 1/4″ punch online today and plan to use it in the valleys and the peaks. There were sets of punches from other manufactures for about the same cost as this individual punch, yet, they had poor reviews and appeared to be of very poor quality. While I know the 1/4″ punch won’t remove quite as much material in the valleys as the 3/8″ would, I’m hoping this method will be similar with less of a investment. I look forward to lightening up and softening my GG pad and thank you for writing your article.

        • Call Me Ishmael February 11, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

          Rick,
          You may get best results by resharpening the punch part way through the process. Just lap it on a regular sharpening stone, turning the punch as you work.

          • Rick Sutton February 14, 2015 at 11:52 pm #

            Thanks for the added suggestion. About how long do you use your SitLight pad before you swap it out for a new one? I have heard the foam can collapses over time, yet, I don’t really know the specifics on this or if this is even an accurate assessment. Do you think the hole punching does anything to alter the longevity of the pad.

          • Call Me Ishmael February 16, 2015 at 11:08 am #

            I’ve gotten a few years and hundreds of miles out of my first one. I have bought the second one (which is markedly thicker than my old, broken down pad) but I haven’t taken it out yet. Punching the holes may speed up the collapse of the pad. Still, Nightlights don’t cost very much. For me, replacing one a little more often is a small price to pay for the added comfort and reduced weight.

  13. Jeff Hersey February 9, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

    It is important to understand that while “Call Me Ishmael” has achieved an amazing base weight, it has taken him 50 years of experience to use it correctly. The vast majority of hikers will find a sub 4 lbs. base to be dangerous. I completed the PCT this year and speak from that experience. I wouldn’t suggest to any inexperienced hiker do go with this light of gear and I personally wouldn’t thru hike with it. Go light; but be safe. Tailor your gear to your experience and the type of hike. HYOH……….. “Raggs”

  14. Call Me Ishmael February 10, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Raggs, that is a great assessment. Thanks for expanding on my woodscraft comment to Bert Nemcik, above.

  15. seanion January 28, 2016 at 12:04 am #

    Base weight is a lot more meaningful with a base temperature included. Mine is 11 at 20 degrees, and 8.5 at 50 degrees.

    • Call me Ishmael January 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

      I have validated (with a comfortable night’s sleep) a slightly (6 ounces) lighter (and more recent) version of this system at 20 degrees F, during a November trip on the Appalachian Trail.

  16. Kenny Vairin January 29, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    Nice article.
    Sadly, I like many backpackers, think the ounce counting is a tad overated when compared to the 30 lbs (or more) extra blubber I am carrying on my trips. Talk about a work in progress? ??
    Anywho, enjoyed the article and the constant refinning of my pack weight is half the fun.

  17. Stuart Wright, N.D. January 29, 2016 at 9:40 am #

    Maybe I missed it….And what GG backpack is that in the photo? What did you do to customize it down to 4.3 oz? Also, what is the size and fabric weight of your DIY cuben fiber tarp….And can you post the plans for it? Thanks, Doc

    • Call me Ishmael January 29, 2016 at 10:30 am #

      I have several GG backpacks, though the one in the photo is a custom design made from one continuous piece of silnylon. The tarp is a 4.5′ x 8.5′ piece (54″ wide by 3 yards, less a few inches I trimmed off to make reinforcing patches) of 0.51-ounce cuben/DCF, with some snaps along the short ends and a zipper sewn along one long edge, for closing the tarp up to make a rain cape. I prefer a full 5’x8′ tarp, but I couldn’t get there using DCF, without a seam.

      • Stuart Wright, N.D. January 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

        Thanks for your very quick reply.
        So I assume that the GG backpack that you were using for the photo is a “one off” and is not for sale by GG…
        Thanks again.
        Doc

        • Call me Ishmael February 1, 2016 at 11:34 am #

          You are correct. If you are interested in owning such a backpack, maybe you can talk to Grant Sible about producing them. He has the pattern.

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