Lightweight Backpacking Step 3: Multi-Function Gear - ITS Tactical

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Lightweight Backpacking Step 3: Multi-Function Gear

By Brian Green

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.

Tip #1 – Sleeping pad as frameless pack support

Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking

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

Lightweight Backpacking Multi-Function Gear

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.

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  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • TheDude

    Good article.  I find the LMF Spork to be too short to get to the bottom of most freeze dried meal packages and have switched to a long Ti Spoon instead.  Another possible substitution is a merino buff if you cannot find a large bandana and it can do a few things the bandana cannot, better.  It isn’t much good as a sling but can be your pillow case over a stuff sack if you carry one.  One last swap I like is frameless pack with the GG AirBeam as the frame sheet which can be a camp seat and later a lower leg pad for sleeping.  I can’t hang with the uber ultralight crowd when it comes to the thin closed cell pads, it just isn’t comfortable.  Luckily modern inflatable pads are under a pound for 3/4 length.

    Thanks again for this series of articles.  I’m slowly working through my GHB and BOB and reducing the weight using these same basic principles.

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