How To Reduce Pack Weight On Hiking and Backpacking Trips

Last Updated on 07/03/2022

How to reduce pack weight

How To Reduce Pack Weight on Hiking and Backpacking Trips

When it comes to reducing the weight you have to carry on your back while backpacking or hiking long distances, there are a few ways to shave off more than a few grams here and there. In this guide, you will learn how to reduce pack weight for hiking and backpacking.

First, you have to ask yourself what the biggest and heaviest items in your pack are and start by reducing the weight of those first. The reason you start here is that upgrading these items will have the biggest impact on your total pack weight. So what are some of the heaviest items you are likely to be carrying around?

  • Backpack – Typically 1 – 3+ kg depending on the size
  • Tent – The most lightweight tents can cost a small fortune so expect between 1 – 3 kg
  • Sleeping Bag – These are also bulky but essential nonetheless. Average between 1 – 3 kg depending on materials
  • Sleeping Mat – While they often feel lightweight, sleeping pads can add on an easy kg or more unless you buy lightweight
  • Water – Water is heavy and carrying 3 days supply almost fills a backpack on its own
  • Food – It’s quite simple really, dry food is lighter and far easier to carry
  • Clothing – The type of materials you choose for clothing can have a big impact on your pack size and weight

If you have a hobby like photography or are partaking in an activity that requires you to have specific pieces of equipment then these may weigh more than your tent or backpack. That’s fine, but if you are serious about long-distance hiking or just reducing pack weight for travel then you should always be on the lookout for the lightest products.

It is worth pointing out that each of the tips below can have a knock-on effect on the other items you include in your backpack. For example, if you are taking a warm weather sleeping bag camping to save weight and you expect the weather to be fairly cool, you should take an extra-base layer or two to compensate. Starting with your backpack, let’s have a look at our top 10 ways to reduce pack weight on hiking trips.

10 Tips on How to Reduce Pack Weight on Hiking Trips

Get a Smaller / Lighter Backpack

How to reduce pack weight with your rucksack

If you are trying to find out how to reduce pack weight then choosing the right backpack can have the biggest roll-on effect of all the tips on this list. Backpacks come in almost every shape and size and so you should try and go for the lightest pack you can find at a size that works for you.

For day hikes there is rarely a need to go larger than 25 liters, for overnighters you should be able to pack everything down to a lean 32 – 35 liters. For backpacking trips and longers treks, you may need a few more essentials but aim to go no larger than 55 liters.

Opting for a smaller backpack will not only save you weight on the bag itself but also force you to pack the bare essentials and leave any excess weight at home. Minimalist packing is at the core of lightweight travel and with a limited amount of space every decision counts.

Choosing a bag with lots of compression straps and attachment points on the outside allows you to strap your 3 bulkiest items to the outside of your pack. Your tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat can be protected with dry bags if needs be while your clothes, food, water, and personal items can be stowed safely inside.


Consider Your Shelter Choices

How to reduce pack weight by changing shelters

There are three main ways you can reduce the weight of your shelter and they all depend on your personal preference. If you are a tent dweller then getting a super lightweight solo tent will be the best way to upgrade but also the most expensive.

You can get a lightweight hammock and tarp system that weighs less than 1 kg far cheaper than you can a tent, or a hammock with mosquito netting and tarp for just over 1 kg. The third and most effective way to reduce pack weight is to replace your tent with a simple rain fly and sleep on your camping mat on the ground – but that isn’t for everyone.

Having traveled with all three on different occasions, I can say that hammocks offer the comfiest nights sleep with the easiest setup time. A lightweight tent like the Nordisk Telemark or the Terra Nova Laser is fantastic if you can afford it. Sleeping under a tarp isn’t for everyone but it is very lightweight and with a little practice can be set up just like a tent.


Choose Down Over Synthetic

How to reduce pack weight with lighter insulation

When it comes to your sleeping bag (and warm jacket), feather-down insulation is one of the best materials to choose but there are a few things you should be aware of. Yes, down insulation has one of the best warmth to weight ratios out there and compresses down to a ridiculously small size. But it can also lose its heat retaining properties if you get it wet. That is unless it has been treated to repel moisture like Hydrophobic Down and other similar manufacturers.

Also, if you are hiking in hot climates then you don’t need a 4 season sleeping bag because you will simply overheat at night. A summer sleeping bag coupled with some base layers is going to offer better versatility and potentially save you a tonne of weight. Down jackets can often be compressed down to the size of a small melon but will keep you warm in freezing conditions. They too will save you lots of weight by replacing all your hoodies with one.


Get a Compact Inflatable Sleeping Pad

How to reduce pack weight with a sleeping pad

When it comes to sleeping pads there is a fine balance between being comfortable on a night and staying lightweight during the day. When sleeping on the ground I almost always prefer a self-inflating pad that has open cell foam insulation which is designed to keep you warm and comfortable.

Air pads and self-inflating pads are often more lightweight and portable than traditional foam mats but also cost more. I would recommend thermarest as a good brand to look into.


Use a Water Filter

How to reduce pack weight with a water filter

I can honestly say that one of my most valuable travel tools is my water filter. I use a sawyer mini almost exclusively because of its ability to screw onto any standard water bottle as well as being used as a straw. You can see our top 10 water filters here for more choices but the point is that by carrying a small water filter you don’t have to carry as much water (so long as there are water sources to refill). Instead of carrying 6 days’ worth of water for a  120-mile trek you can carry 2-4 liters and top them up at every opportunity. This saves you a tonne of weight but requires some extra planning.


Plan Your Rations

My favorite Trail Mix

Carrying only what you need applies especially to your food rations. It can be tempting to take all of your favorite snacks and meals but being smart about your rations can have a big impact on how to reduce your pack weight. Nuts are especially good for hiking because they release energy slowly over time for sustained exertion and are high in healthy fats to keep hunger away.

Equally as important as the food you pack is how much you take. You need to know ahead of time where your next restocking point is and take only what you need as well as emergency rations.


Only Pack Lightweight Clothes

How to reduce pack weight with clothes

Clothing can add up to a lot of weight very quickly if you aren’t careful. One way to combat this is to avoid heavy materials like cotton and pack lightweight and multi-purpose items. Starting with a set of base layers and working up to your down insulation and waterproof jacket, you should be comparing the weights of things before buying them and certainly before packing your bag.

Multifunctional items like pants that zip off into shorts, bandanas, and long sleeve shirts are great because they can be adapted and worn in a different way, day after day.


Choose Footwear Carefully

lighten your pack with flip flops

If you are hiking then hiking boots are pretty much essential and you should choose these very carefully. Having a second pair of shoes to wear at the end of the day once camp is established can be seen as a bit of luxury by some – but it doesn’t have to be. You can get camp socks/slippers that weigh next to nothing to wear in your tent or around a hostel.

Flip flops also weigh very little but my favorite second pair of shoes for backpacking are my Sanuk Vagabonds. They are a cross between a slipper, flip flop, sandal, and loafer. I wear them on nights out around town, to the beach or pool, and they are great for slipping in and out of at the entrance of your tent.


Take Compact Items that Have Multiple Uses

How to use multi use items to reduce pack weight

Fairly obvious when you are trying to figure out how to reduce pack weight but the size is also very important. This doesn’t just go for clothing and food – there are lots of creative ways to make use of space in your backpack. A perfect example of a multi use item would be a swiss army knife or Leatherman which have over a dozen different tools in a tiny package. As mentioned earlier, bandanas, dry bags, and other containers always come in handy and don’t take up any space.


Micro Stove and Pots

BRS Ultralight Camping Stove

If you are set on cooking meals on a camp stove then go small, like really small. You can get an ultralight gas stove that weighs roughly 25 grams and works just fine. Along with a small canister of gas, you should have enough fuel for up to a week if you use it wisely.

I highly suggest you consider not taking any stove or fuel at all and instead learn to build fires and use a small set of lightweight pots. I normally take one pot for water and one for food that comes as a compact set and has storage space to store tea, coffee, salts, and spices.



I hope you have enjoyed this post about how to reduce pack weight and if not then please let us know your top tips below.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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