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24 Ways to Cut Down on Weight and Lighten Your Pack Without Buying Ultralight Gear 💸 | Backpacking for Beginners

Updated: May 15

Backpacking is all about carrying everything you need on your back into nature and enjoying the wonderful outdoors. It allows you to get farther into the backcountry and away from crowds. It gives you a supreme feeling of self-reliance and freedom.

Watch Part 1 (tips 1-12) here or in the video above!

If you have a few backpacking trips under your belt, you may be considering ways to lighten your backpack. If you're still working up to your first trip, you could be trying to find all the ways to make it as easy as possible.

Either way, this article will give you plenty of tips for lightening your backpacking pack without needing to shell out big bucks for expensive ultralight gear.

Woman wearing a backpacking pack facing lush, forested mountains.
Hiking on Oahu with a wonderfully light pack.

Note: I've included a few affiliate links here, which means I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

Why Lighten Your Backpacking Pack?

If you aren't convinced you need to take these additional steps, consider the advantages. A lighter load will:

  • Save your back/legs/ankles/feet in the long run

  • Make backpacking more enjoyable

  • Allow you to cover more miles in one day or one one trip

  • Reserve energy on your trips for side trails and day hikes

  • Reduce your recovery time after returning home -- which means you can go on your next trip even sooner!

Tips for Reducing Backpack Weight

Now that you're fully on board, let's get onto the tips! You won't be able to get a sub-10 lb base weight with these tips, but they will save you some precious pounds. Use these methods to give yourself some time until you're ready to invest in ultralight gear (if that's your goal).

  1. Dehydrated or calorie-dense food. Food and water take up a huge amount of our pack's weight. Plan strategically to bring calorie-dense foods such as nuts, dried fruit, jerky, tortillas, nut butter, granola, protein bars, and even avocados.

  2. Go cook-free (no stove or fuel or cook over a fire). Shorter trips can even be done without a stove at all, saving you weight from the stove, fuel canister, pots, and dishes. Plan meals ahead that don't require heating or rehydrating such as sandwiches (flat breads or tortillas work best), tacos, or pasta salads. Your food weight may increase as some items are already hydrated, but your overall weight will go down.

  3. Single-walled water bottles. I used to waste so much weight bringing an insulated water bottle on my backpacking trips so I could have crispy, cold water. Now I opt for a lighter, single-walled bottle and the water is still just as refreshing.

  4. No stuff sacks. If you can deal with a little less organization, leave the stuff sacks at home. This goes for tents, sleeping bags and pads, and any clothes organizers. They may seem light, but the ounces really add up.

  5. Minimize clothing. This is a huge mistake that many beginner backpackers make. You really only need two sets of clothes for a given backpacking trip: daytime clothes and nighttime clothes. Bring all the layers you need for both and drop the rest. Stick to lightweight clothes where you can -- no cute, denim jackets for your photoshoot.

  6. Sample size toiletries. Leave the 10-step skincare routine at home. Simplify and bring just as much as you need. I like to save skincare samples to use on backpacking trips. I also keep empty tubs from eye creams that I refill with moisturizer and any other products I want to bring.

  7. Multi-purpose products. Think of ways you can use one item in multiple ways. Your cell phone can be turned into a lantern with a water bottle and can act as a notebook and camera. Your bear canister can be a small table and a stool. Get creative!

  8. No pillow. Buying an inflatable pillow is a great investment to improve your backpacking experiences without breaking the bank. This is my favorite pillow if you're on the market! If you're really looking to save or cut weight, use your clothes as a makeshift pillow. Puffy coats and sweatshirts work best for this and also work in a pinch if you forgot your pillow.

  9. Lightweight toothbrush. Ultralight backpackers are notorious for cutting off the handles of their toothbrushes to save a tiny bit of weight. I opted to get a lightweight travel toothbrush that I completely stand behind. Here's the one I use. I love that I still get to have a handle, it packs down small by folding, and the brush is fully protected when put away.

  10. Only carry necessary water. Water is crazy heavy, like 2.2 pounds per liter heavy. Do a little research before your trip to figure out where you'll have water sources along your path. Only carry the amount of water you'll need at any given time -- plus a little more for emergencies. This takes some practice, but will save you so much weight over time!

  11. Leave excess tent parts behind. When you're tent shopping, you may notice the weight is given in two parts: minimum trail weight and total packaged weight. The goal is to get as close to the minimum trail weight as possible by leaving anything you don't need at home. This can be extra stakes, ropes, or even the rainfly.

  12. No trekking poles. This depends on the trip, but leaving your trekking poles at home can help lighten your load. Or you can opt for a super lightweight tent that uses trekking poles for structure, saving you weight on the tent poles.

  13. Toothpaste. Leave the full-size toothpaste tube at home and bring DIY dried dots (simply dry dots of toothpaste on aluminum foil for a few days) or premade tablets (these are my favorite). Travel toothpaste tubes are also super light and you can even refill them by pressing the opening to that of a regular tube and transferring some toothpaste over!

  14. Bring convertible clothing. Save on clothing space by bringing things like pants that can be zipped off into shorts. You can also bring leggings that can be worn alone when warmer or under another pair of pants when cooler. This saves you from packing a pair of thicker pants. Also consider leaving the beanie at home if bringing something with a hood.

  15. Small fuel canister. Always bring the smallest fuel canister you can and refill it from a larger canister when it's empty. Unless you're going out for a long trip, the smallest size will be enough for coffee/tea and your meals.

  16. Lightweight protein. Try bringing textured vegetable protein (TVP) for a lightweight protein option. It has a super high protein to weight ration. Protein powder is also a good option and you can bring it in a Ziploc bag. Bonus tip: bring a small plastic container of olive oil to get your fats — the tiny disposable water bottles or TSA-friendly containers works great for this.

  17. Bring duct tape for urgent repairs. Instead of bringing repair kits for everything in your pack, wrap some duct tape around your water bottle or lighter so you always have it handy. It'll fix most holes or rips in a pinch and you can make a proper repair once you're back home.

  18. Use a fanny pack/bum bag to keep the essentials in front and distribute weight more. For me, that means snacks, phone, printed permits, sunscreen, and chapstick stay in my fanny pack. Removing these from my backpack alleviates some of the pressure by moving the weight.

  19. Coffee grounds in a tea bag works perfectly in a pinch and lets you bring your favorite beans from home without needing an elaborate setup. I use these disposable bags and fill them with pre-ground coffee or loose leaf tea I already have at home.

  20. Wear lighter shoes. This obviously depends on your shoe preference and the terrain, but I usually opt for lightweight trail runners over my heavier hiking boots. Each little bit helps, especially on longer trips!

  21. Use your Nalgene as a hot water bottle. Staying warm at night is one of the constant challenges I face as someone who sleeps cold. Warmer layers like sweats are the heaviest and bulkiest clothing items to bring. Kickstarting your sleeping bag's warmth with a Nalgene hot water bottle is often more than enough to ditch the extra layer of clothing.

  22. Keep your backpack waterproof by either using the included rainfly or by bringing a cheap and light trash bag. Remember waterlogged equipment will weight a lot more!

  23. Photos weigh nothing. Take pictures of anything you just need to see, such as pages from your reading book (thanks to hey.vanessa.renee for this tip!), tent or gear instructions, maps, or pages from guide books or plant and animal identification books.

  24. Sharing is caring. You can save a ton of weight during trips by sharing items with people. Bear cans and food storage, fire starting equipment, stoves, and even tents can all be shared to save weight across your group.

Woman wearing a backpack standing on the edge of a calm river with trees across with changing leaves.
Backpacking near Sedona, AZ.

There are countless ways to cut backpacking weight from your pack. At the end of the day, it's all going to depend what you're willing to leave at home and what you know you'll want to have with you, even if it means carrying some extra pounds or ounces.

These are some experiments you'll have to run over the course of a few trips. Honing in on your optimal backpacking gear list is a super fun part of the process!

Do you have any other ways you like to cut weight on the trail without splurging on ultralight gear? Let me know in the comments :)

Looking for some more tips for your first backpacking trip? Check these out next:

Best of luck lightening your backpack and may it always be easy to carry 💚

Happy adventuring,


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