Ah, autumn. That time of year when an outdoor person's fancy turns to conquering this season's prime hikes in territories both uncharted and familiar. But as we page through those dog-eared guides and plan out our physical conquests, there arises an all-too-familiar question: is it finally time to lighten up? Your pack, we mean.
With more gear becoming commercially available, light and ultralight backpacking are continuing to rise in popularity, with more hikers eschewing comfort in favor of shaving ounces. If you're accustomed to the sore hips associated with a 40-pound pack, going light definitely sounds appealing--however, a transition period is advised. Before you start sawing the handle off your toothbrush, run through these weight-watching tips to determine if light is right for you:
Water, water, everywhere: And you can make most of those drops drinkable. You already know that staying hydrated is crucial, but you can't carry all the water you need in your pack. At some point, you have to resort to what Mother Nature's offered up--but despite how clear it may be, don't succumb to sipping straight from the source. The only way to guarantee that your water's safe to drink is to purify it. Purification need not be bulky: there are many personal options that fit in your palm and weigh just a few ounces because they use ultraviolet light for sterilization. When microorganisms are the only concern, you can just fill your bottle, let there be light, and drink up.
Eat like an astronaut: Forget elaborate campfire meals simmered in a cast-iron Dutch oven. Unless you're an expert fisherman or hunter, your best bets for trailside nourishment are dehydrated or freeze-dried packet meals. These calorie-dense feasts are designed to provide you with maximum energy and only require some boiling water and a spork to transform from dry nuggets into a hot, nourishing meal. Gourmet? Not really. Essential? Absolutely.
Gimme shelter: Tents are bulky. There, we said it. We sacrifice a lot of space to have four walls and a roof in the wilderness, even if they are made of nylon. But that doesn't mean you have to huddle under a tarp to keep your pack's weight limit in check. There are plenty of ultralight tent options, complete with matching footprints--look for that magic UL abbreviation. Want to go really UL? A trekking pole in the hand is worth two in the tent: Look for tent styles that minimize the number of included poles in favor of letting you use yours for support. Multitasking at its most efficient!
Fun-size package: Saving space as well as weight? You can't beat the satisfaction of a stuff sack, smashing down everything from sleeping bags to clothes to tent components into satisfyingly solid blocks. Well, except the Tetris game that follows as you arrange them in your pack. Increase your smashability by upgrading to compression sacks: their webbing straps give you the pulling power to reduce a tower into a brick, Hulk Smash-style.