Keeping your books in alphabetical order. Ordering your DVDs (by film name, director, or date?). Folding and ironing your underwear. Weighing all your outdoor kit and sticking it all in an Excel spreadsheet. Woah mate, that’s too far, I’m not some sort of deviant. No mate, there’s a time and a place for the scales, and this is why. This isn’t really a post about lightweight kit, just the need to weigh it…
I first weighed my outdoor kit when I was doing Duke Of Edinburgh’s expeditions (pretty cool). For those non-Brits reading, ‘D of E’ is a rite of passage for many UK teenagers, designed to bolster their love of naked flames, pot noodles, and bad bodily hygiene. D of E for me was my first time backpacking and I couldn’t believe how heavy my filled rucksack was. I did a two day expedition with 13 kilos on my back, and come Gold (four days of walking with all food and supplies) I was carrying about 17 kilos. That seems absolutely mental now. The thing is, I had made some spreadsheets of the weights of my kit (it seemed like a better thing to do than revise for exams) but had not really taken any notice of what the data said.
Weighing your kit is half the story – the other half is realising what it means and what you should do with that information.
Why weighing your kit is important
Weighing your kit if you are mountaineering, running, or hiking long distances is vital in making sure you aren’t battering yourself with too much weight. Every kilo you carry makes a big difference over a long journey and particularly during ascents. If you have no idea how much your kit weighs then how can you work out if you are getting good performance for your grams? If you have some idea of how much your kit weighs, still be cautious: manufacturers’ weights are often massively out, especially if you don’t buy the size 12 or Medium models. Also, you would not believe the difference in weights between some seemingly-identical baselayers, fleeces, or other garments, and unless you weigh them you’d be none-the-wiser. Rucksacks are an interesting one – they can weigh far more than you considered possible and weighing them might just explain why you are always carrying so much mass. Grab a set of kitchen and a pen-and-paper or PC and get recording.
Taking it too far
Some people get obsessive with the weight of their kit and it’s tragic to see a 100 kg bloke with 30 % body fat cutting straps and tags off his clothing: look a bit closer to home. If you are overweight then yes reducing the weight of your pack will help you go faster, but the relative gains are smaller, and reducing your weight will make a much greater difference to your performance:
if you lose a kilo of body fat then that will count for FAR more than losing a kilo from your rucksack.
The other thing is to remember is why you are going lightweight – to make your journey more enjoyable. If you are looking at your list of weights and, before a trip, taking all the lightweight stuff that makes you feel rubbish then forget it and pack the stuff you want to wear or use.
Finally, for most routes, weight just isn’t important. If I’m on an easy hike or route then I don’t care if I’m carrying my lightest kit or not – I’ll use whatever comes out of the cupboard and will be quite happy. It’s only on the harder routes that the time put into getting out the lightweight kit is really worthwhile. Think of carrying the heavy stuff as training.
Here’s some examples of kit weights and what you might need to consider. I’m going to concentrate on clothing as that’s what I own the most of and so can do most comparisons between!
A thin baselayer with no complex seams or fancy zips tends to weigh about 120-150 g. The New Balance one pictured above (the dirty white thing) weighs 135 g. The Mountain Equipment Cooperative hooded baselayer (green) weighs 185 g and for that extra weight you get long sleeves, a long zip, and a hood. That is a lot of extra functionality for not a lot of weight – but only if you need it. Not much point carrying it if you don’t need the hood and sleeves. The Smartwool merino baselayer (red), however, weighs 290 g. That is a significant increase in weight and so carrying that as a spare layer would be a mistake, but given its extra warmth and stinkproofness I take it on every 3+ days backpacking trip I go on – performance over weight.
Microfleeces tend to weigh about 220 g and the Mountain Hardwear microfleece pictured (black, top left) is lighter than this (195 g) because it’s cut tight. It even has a pocket, which must eat up 25 g. The other fleece, the hooded Eider one, weighs a lot more at 410 g. It has a big hood, three pockets, and a full-length zip so unless I am going to wear it a lot it’s unnecessary weight – those zips and features do nothing in the rucksack. I wear the Eider fleece on every Scottish winter route and on most days in the Alps but in UK summer I rarely carry it. The insulated jackets are interesting too – the Inov-8 Primaloft jacket is 260 g and warmer than either of the fleeces but it isn’t as comfortable. I’d carry it if running or if really obsessing over weight but if I expect to wear it a lot I’d rather have a fleece with me. The big insulated jacket, the Mountain Equipment one, weighs 500 g. That is a lot of weight for a spare layer – can you justify half a kilo on a jacket for lunch stops? If it’s cold I’ll carry this while backpacking, but in midsummer the Inov-8 would go in or I’d not bother at all.
I’m not going to talk about tents and the big things here but think about the little accessories too: really watch out for things like cases and toiletries. The stove case pictured below is 1/3 of the weight of the stove! Is it necessary? It weighs more than two lighters and I know which I’d rather have with me.
Weighing your kit has no many negative connotations and it’s definitely not for everyone. (Bearded individuals sat hunched over a set of scales in their garage with a stack of kit on one side, a pad of paper on another. Their hand quivers as the scales reveal the verdict. With a triumphant shriek they punch the air, glad to have lightened their load by a further 7 grams…) It need not be like this, though, as if you treat the results with a bit of common sense and think about your end objective you might find it very useful. You don’t have to be doing the Haute Route for it to benefit you, and you may find out just why your bag sometimes just feels really heavy: that 300 g panset with its 200 g of accessories might just get trimmed down. Be realistic though – if you are carrying ten kilos then chopping your toothbrush handle off is going to do nothing, and you’re better off cutting your hair and having a dump before you set off.