I have read posts about lite gear and weights as low as 10-15 pounds. My question is this, if you are backpacking up a mountain where there is no water, how do you keep your pack lite? I just got back from a three day-two night trip and carried enough water for the entire trip, plus tent, sleeping bag, food, stove, solo cookset, etc. Don't know if I'm out of shape or if my pack was way heavier than 8 months ago, or if the trail being overgrown with a little bit of snow made it worse. Normally my pack weighs around 40 pounds going up, 20 coming down. I know I had a couple of added items that added a few pounds, but I felt like I was hauling a fridge up the mountain.
There are usually three assumptions "built in" to those 10 and 15 pound weights:
1. There's an assumption that it's a summer (3-season) load, so there is minimal clothing and a lighter sleeping bag. Depending on what part of the country you live in, warm clothing and a warm bag can add significant weight - there's about a 5-pound difference between my July and January loads.
2. There's an assumption that you'll filter water as you go, and (at least in my typical load) that you'll start out with only one liter of water. Carrying extra water drives pack weight up fast.
3. For most of the 10-15 pound claims, it's a "base weight," not a fully loaded weight. The weight includes only things that you'll take in and bring out with you; it does not include consumable items like food, water, and stove fuel.
In the summer, I usually leave the trailhead carrying my gear, two days worth of food (a pound a day, for me), a liter of water, and a small fuel canister (110-gram size.) My "base" weight is about 14 pounds in the summer; my "put it on my back and start walking" weight is usually 19 or 20 pounds.
Like you, I do a lot of backpacking in desert mountains where water can comprise a significant part of my pack weight. The gear I take with me normally weighs about 11 pounds. In addition to the gear, I take about 24 oz of food per day and from three to four liters of water per day depending on weather and how much I expect to sweat.
I try to plan trips around reliable water sources such as seeps or tinajas but also carry emergency water in case a source has dried up. But, I have started several three day trips carrying as much as ten liters (22 lb) of water. This puts my starting pack weight between 35 and 40 pounds. But, by the last mile back to the car I am only hauling a bit over 11 pounds.
With a gear load of 20-25 pounds I would have started these three day trips with about 45-50 pounds: a load like that sort of takes the spring out of my step. I think the point about going light is that while one is starting at a lower base you still have a load of "consumables" to carry. By going light you are reducing the "dead" weight.
In areas with little to no water I try and plan far ahead and cash water during a day hike. I have water cashes in several spots that have unreliable sources and in the desert where I spend a lot of time during the winter.
The wind wont howl if the wind don't break.
Loc: Washington State, King County
For a mountain with no water (no tarns, nothing), my inclination would be to base camp at the bottom and climb the mountain as a day-hike. Still need to carry your water, but not all of your gear, and water needed for just "during the day" is surely a lot less than if you were spending the night.
It really depends on the mountain and associated conditions of course!
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By BrianLe
For a mountain with no water (no tarns, nothing), my inclination would be to base camp at the bottom and climb the mountain as a day-hike.
That's what I generally do here too. On occasion I will camp on a ridge or peak where's there's no water. Usually that's because a hiking buddy wants to. I prefer to camp in the valleys and hollows where water is near, or near a spring. We have some nice springs here and some of them are astoundingly close to the top of a ridge or peak, which never ceases to amaze me.
Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
West Texan: Yes, base weight is what they talk about in those very light pack weights. Also, as others pointed out, those very light weights are for summer. Around here you need to carry at least 3 pounds of extra warm clothing to be safe and/or survive an unexpected night out if day hiking. If overnighting in winter we expect freezing conditions and you need at least a sleeping bag that is rated around 15 deg. F. (not that I am a believer in sleeping bag ratings, but you get the point, i think.) So...the conclusion is that you take what you need and only what you need. And..every situation is different and tastes (comfort levels, etc) vary from person to person. That may not help, but you now have one more opinion at least. My winter pack weighs 30 pounds with water and fuel and 2 pounds of food. Jim
Edited by Jim M (12/02/1310:47 PM) Edit Reason: spelling
When you're trying to go light, you really have to test out your gear. An example of this is I went and bought a Z-Packs 20 sleeping bag (19oz carry weight, highly rated ultralight bag) and went in shoulder season to the sierras...it rained, snowed a bit, and was a mean temp of 28 deg. I use a bivy and sleeping bag and froze because the bag didn't loft and did get a little wet. So, just because it works for someone else, doesn't mean it's going to work for you. Now I carry a Mtn Hardware Ultralamina 15 (lightweight, pretty compressible synthetic bag). I try to go as light as I can...and still haven't been able to get to the coveted 12-15 lb base weight. But I do know that the gear I'm carrying works for me. I think that's the most important thing.
Lightweight philosophy. Anything that helps make trekking a more safe and enjoyable experience should be considered. Weight is not enjoyable, ergo, reducing it is preferable. Striking a balance between safety, comfort, and weight seems to be a good goal. For me, when it comes to gear, this means considering the safety issues of a particular item, the function(s), reliability, the need vs desire for it and it's weight. I carry things that are not needed but I find enjoyable to have. I try to find the lightest functional version of these things but consider them in spite of the weight. For example; A monocular is not needed but I like having it. I carried binoculars for years. Then, to reduce weight found a 10x21 monocular that weighs about 2oz. However I eventually upgraded to an almost 3.5 oz 12x25 one because it is more functional. An acceptable weight gain, for me. If I carry an item, I want it to be something that gets its job done well for sure if not have multiple functions. One can look at it as; "What can I get rid of to reduce weight?" or "What can I take and still be at an acceptable weight?" I guess I tend towards the later. I have found my optimal base weight at 20 lbs or less and I try to stay within it while maximizing enjoyment.
8 to 12 pounds is not an unreasonable base weight for my self for any of the 3 seasons. I prioritize safety, warmth, and sleeping comfort. The way I deal with water in dry conditions are these 3 strategies.
-One I channel my inner camel and drink as much as I can at the source, this is usually around 1 L. -Two always have enough salt in my diet salt is cultural to staying hydrated and retaining water. -Three drink often, I hate coming to a water source with more than .5 l in the pack if I have a good set of maps and a good understanding of conditions, I will know where the next water source is. This is a skill like anything else and should be worked on slowly as water is life!
If I was dry camping I would add 3 L per full day(condition dependent) maybe not cook to save water use. Also start very early rest during the heat of the day, try not to over exert my self.
I seriously doubt anyone would use precious hauled water to put out a campfire. Maybe they would not admit it, but I bet they would just let the coals burn down and make sure they are cold when they leave.
You are talking winter backpacking with freezing temperatures. Does it ever snow? You could wait until after a snow and then melt snow for water. And at least when it is cold, you sweat less. It may help to slow down the pace- keep the pace purposefully slower than you are able to do, to minimize overheating. I try to breath through my nose and keep my mouth shut and adjust my pace to allow this. You get a lot less thirsty that way. It may take another hour to get to your destination.
I think most people have an overblown fear of running out of water and actually carry too much. If you are only on an overnight trip, although not fun, you could go without water on the way down. When I climbed long rock alpine routes 1 liter for a 10-12 hour climb was common. There is thirst, and then there is dangerous dehydration. The former you simply focus on climbing; the latter you enter the survival mode. I have been in a few very tight situations; not pleasant but survivable. You can survive only minutes without air; 2-3 days without water; up to 30 days + without food. I regularly plan on no food on the last day. It makes that after-hike meal even more sweet!
When my pack gets too heavy, I usually find that it is because of too much of all that little stuff, a few ounces here, a few there, and almost always stuff not needed. I limit myself to one pound of "extras". On some trips I leave the camera, on others I leave out an extra down sweater and decide that I simply will jump into the sleeping bag earlier. Sometimes I switch to no-cook if it is just an overnight trip. Sometimes I leave out the wading shoes and simply get my hiking shoes wet. I have three packs suited for different weights. If I can get the weight down, I can switch to the lighter pack, saving even more ounces. Sometimes I leave out the rain gear if the trip is only 2-3 days and the weather report is solidly no rain.