Lightweight Backpacking Step 3: Multi-Function Gear

by January 3, 2013 01/3/13
4 of 4 in the series Lightweight Backpacking

This is the fourth post in my series on lightweight backpacking aimed at helping you reduce your overall pack weight without sacrificing any of the comfort or necessities. In my first post I introduced you to the concept of lightweight backpacking, the benefits, how to get started, and taking less stuff.  The second post focused on weighing your gear, using gear lists, and knowing how much weight you are carrying. The third post focused on reducing the weight of your “Big Three” – your tent, backpack, and sleeping bag.

For this fourth installment I wanted to share another ample method for further reducing your pack weight by selecting pieces of gear that can be used for multiple purposes. The concept is easy, if you can carry less “stuff”, your overall pack weight will be reduced and you might even reach a point at which you will be able to switch to a smaller volume backpack.

Sleeping pad as frameless pack support - Brian Green

Tip #1 – Sleeping pad as frameless pack support

 

Trekking poles used as shelter/tent poles - Brian Green

Tip #2 – Trekking poles used as shelter/tent poles

 

Here are some examples that I’ve personally used or that I’ve picked up from others over the years.

  1. I carry a lightweight, frameless backpack made by Gossamer Gear. I use my foam sleeping pad as a back support to provide some much needed cushioning and to add rigidity to an otherwise flimsy backpack. I’m carrying my sleeping pad anyway, so why not use it for more than one purpose and dump the frame. The sleeping pad also make a great sitting pad and pillow for catching a few minutes of shut eye
  2. If you have decided to go with a tarp as your shelter you can easily your trekking poles as the upright supports at either end. In some cases you can even replace the tent poles supplied my some manufacturers with more traditional tents and shave almost a pound of your pack weight right there
  3. The classic bandana. A true multitasking piece of gear. Let’s see: Scarf, hat, face mask, headband, handkerchief, sun block for neck, tourniquet, sling, pre-water filter, coffee filter, napkin, dish rag, pot holder, towel, signaling – the list goes on
  4. You can use your cooking pot as your plate, bowl and mug. There’s really no need to bring a whole set of cook wear for eating and drinking when a simple pot or titanium mug will do the work of all three
  5. You can use some ponchos as tarp shelters. GoLite makes a very affordable and durable Poncho Tarp that provides full body rain coverage with a single person tarp that weighs a mere 7 oz! You can combine this with #2 and use your trekking poles to hold up your tarp
  6. The Spork! Need I say more? Maybe invest in a titanium one or the slightly cheaper Light My Fire (LMF) BPA free plastic ones
  7. If you like to carry one of those mylar emergency blankets why not use it as your tent footprint or even as a signaling device in an emergency
  8. Duct tape is another amazing multi-tasker. Use it for all types of ad-hoc gear repairs, bandage wrap, or moleskin substitute for blisters (works great BTW)
  9. Use one of your gear stuff sacks as a make-shift pillow by filling it with your clothes at night and tucking it inside your sleeping bag. An empty hydration bladder can be used for a pillow too
  10. Sleeping with a down jacket or vest on during milder weather may let you reduce the weight of your sleeping bag. You’ll have to experiment with this of course, but if you can stay warm and learn to properly regulate your body heat this can save a few more ounces

Many of these will sound a lot like simple common sense and they are, but learning to make do with less gear and finding creative ways to make the gear that you are carrying do more for you is a skill. Remember, it’s not about sacrificing weight for the sake of it or reducing the effectiveness of your gear – it’s about making smart gear choices that allow you to pack light and go further.

What are some of your best multi-tasking pieces of gear and how do you make them serve double-duty? Share your own tips via the comments below.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Brian is an avid lightweight backpacker and author of the popular Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 15 years, finally settling in North Carolina. His love of the outdoors started at a very early age, almost as far back as he can remember. Now he spends as much time backpacking as his work schedule and family life will allow. Be sure to check out his blog for other great backpacking tips & tricks and gear reviews.


Are you getting more than 14¢ of value per day from ITS Tactical?

Please consider joining our Crew Leader Membership and our growing community of supporters.

At ITS Tactical we’re working hard every day to provide different methods, ideas and knowledge that could one day save your life. Instead of simply asking for your support with donations, we’ve developed a membership to allow our readers to support what we do and allow us to give you back something in return.

For less than 14¢ a day you can help contribute directly to our content, and join our growing community of supporters who have directly influenced what we’ve been able to accomplish and where we’re headed.

Click here to learn about all the benefits and Join!


mumbley
mumbley

         I use a No Fly Zone Bivy at 14 oz as my sleeping bag and use a survival blanket or appropriate clothes. Snug as a bug.   

George F Matheis Jr
George F Matheis Jr

Good article. A few years back I went from tent to a Warbonnet Blackbird Double Layer and a Superfly Tarp. Have used it in all four seasons and will never look back.

ernie smith
ernie smith

you need to think more out of the box . like a match book trip flare, clothes pen switches. some day i will let you see my set.

Lee
Lee

I had a Light My Fire spork. It was crap. Broke the second time I took it out canoeing. Not even hard use to it. I would rather bring along the spork or a 3 pc. cutlery set.

Mike Petrucci
Mike Petrucci

Great article Brian. I think this is something that (like you said) sounds simple once you know it but if you don't think about it, you could be missing out on some simple weight saving ideas. I really have to look into that Gossamer Gear bag you have as it looks like an incredible way to save weight right off the bat.

Brian Green
Brian Green

Canoeing? There's the problem, you're supposed to eat with it not paddle with it!

Seriously though, I've used them quite a lot and had no issues, but no piece of gear is ideal for everyone. You may prefer a metal spoon or 3-pc set and that's cool. You have to ultimately choose the gear that's right for you.

I'm not telling you what to buy, I'm sharing some ideas on how to choose the gear you need and that can do more for you. Have you tried any of the titanium forks, sporks, 3-pc sets?

Brian Green
Brian Green

Canoeing? There's the problem, you're supposed to eat with it not paddle with it! Seriously though, I've used them quite a lot and had no issues, but no piece of gear is ideal for everyone. You may prefer a metal spoon or 3-pc set and that's cool. You have to ultimately choose the gear that's right for you. I'm not telling you what to buy, I'm sharing some ideas on how to choose the gear you need and that can do more for you. Have you tried any of the titanium forks, sporks, 3-pc sets?

Brian Green
Brian Green

Thanks Mike! It's true that none of these multi-function concepts are going to save a tremendous amount of weight off your overall pack weight, especially not if you've gone through the previous steps (if not, why not?), but every ounce adds up. I've helped a lot of backpackers reduce their pack weight over the years and other than their big three being too heavy, the second most common cause of weight was simply too much gear and over redundancy.

Planning for the worst is okay to a point, I'm not suggesting you leave your first aid kit or water purification gear behind to shave grams, but there are sensible ways that commonly carried gear can be used for more than one purpose thereby eliminating the need to carry two (or more) things. While it may not save a lot of weight, this is one of the more creative aspects of backpacking and hiking - seeing how far you can make a few good quality pieces of gear take you. I hope people embrace it and run with it.

The Gossamer Gear pack is pretty clever in the way it uses the foam sleeping pad as a back support and to add rigidity to the pack. If you use a foam sleeping pad of any kind you can accomplish something similar with other frameless backpacks by rolling the pad into a tube, inserting it down into an empty pack, opening the roll up as much as possible and stuffing the rest of your gear down inside the tube. The tube adds support to a frameless pack and padding too, it's a great way to pack.

The best part is we're all always learning! I'm looking forward to seeing how other ITS readers have come up with multiple uses for their gear to save carrying too much.

Brian Green
Brian Green

Thanks Mike! It's true that none of these multi-function concepts are going to save a tremendous amount of weight off your overall pack weight, especially not if you've gone through the previous steps (if not, why not?), but every ounce adds up. I've helped a lot of backpackers reduce their pack weight over the years and other than their big three being too heavy, the second most common cause of weight was simply too much gear and over redundancy. Planning for the worst is okay to a point, I'm not suggesting you leave your first aid kit or water purification gear behind to shave grams, but there are sensible ways that commonly carried gear can be used for more than one purpose thereby eliminating the need to carry two (or more) things. While it may not save a lot of weight, this is one of the more creative aspects of backpacking and hiking - seeing how far you can make a few good quality pieces of gear take you. I hope people embrace it and run with it. The Gossamer Gear pack is pretty clever in the way it uses the foam sleeping pad as a back support and to add rigidity to the pack. If you use a foam sleeping pad of any kind you can accomplish something similar with other frameless backpacks by rolling the pad into a tube, inserting it down into an empty pack, opening the roll up as much as possible and stuffing the rest of your gear down inside the tube. The tube adds support to a frameless pack and padding too, it's a great way to pack. The best part is we're all always learning! I'm looking forward to seeing how other ITS readers have come up with multiple uses for their gear to save carrying too much.

The Latest
Squawk Box