Travelling Light

My campsite

Travelling Light

A short guide to hiking with less

By David Rutter

I used the Mt Victoria to Leura walk as a chance to experiment with “travelling light”.

I remembered well the ache in my shoulders from carrying heavy backpacks on previous overnight hikes, and decided to find a better way to hike. In planning my hike I wanted to ensure that in all events I would be warm and dry. I hiked in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, on a weekend of unseasonably high winds and cold temperatures. So it was essential to pack a good quality, weather-proof jacket and a warm inner layer garment.

Every item I packed was assessed to ensure it really was needed for the trip. On hiking trips in the past I’ve taken books, a frying pan, changes of clothing, multiple gas canisters, and other things which just weren’t needed. Now I’ve tried “travelling light”, I’m hooked, and it will take a lot to convince me to take my big 70 litre pack and “hike heavy” again.

Here is my packing list for the trip:

  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Head Torch
  • First-Aid Kit (including emergency blanket)
  • Rope
  • Fly
  • Bedroll
  • Camera
  • Clothes and Shoes (including Gore-Tex jacket, fleece jacket, spare socks)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Toilet Paper
  • Hat
  • Backpack Raincover
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Gas Stove Fitting + Canisters
  • Matches
  • Billy (Aussie slang for cooking pot)
  • Mug
  • Plastic Cutlery
  • Bowl
  • Utensil for handling hot billies
  • Tea Towel
  • Water Bottle
  • Tea Bags
  • Food: 2 Packets of Noodles, 2 Bread Rolls, Oats, Muesli Bars, Chocolate, Condensed Milk

The items listed just squeezed into my 25L Caribee pack. The bedroll was tied to the outside of the pack using the auxiliary pack-straps of my pack.

It is imperative that on any adventure you are able to keep yourself dry and warm (or cool in hot weather). Don’t skimp on a rain jacket – you don’t have to go all out for a top of the range Gore-Tex jacket, which nowadays cost up to $700 AUD, but don’t rely on a disposable plastic poncho to keep you dry either. If you are soaked to the skin in a cold climate, conditions like exposure and hypothermia can set in very quickly.

I knew my pack well, having used it on a Trailwalker event in 2004 (a 100km charity bushwalk organised by Oxfam). One problem I encountered with the pack was the hip padding which was too thin and poorly attached to the frame, and it tended to fold upwards, leaving the bare metal exposed. During extended training walks and the event itself, this caused blistering on my lower back. My suggestion would be to purchase a pack such as the Macpac Amp Light, Amp Race, or Torlesse. These are small, functional and versatile packs. They are very comfortable and perfect for travelling light on one or two day hikes.

I have not taken an Epirb on any of my previous outdoor adventures, but with the development of technology electronic navigation devices are becoming smaller, lighter and more reliable. And I expect in the near future an Epirb will make up part of my standard packing list.

One point I must stress is that we are travelling light, but still travelling safe – leaving ourselves unencumbered and free to enjoy our adventures in a simple way.

The Ray Way

It was only afterwards I realised that not only has the idea of travelling light been done and written about before (which didn’t really surprise me), but there are a few manufacturers truly devoted to improving the outdoor experience by lightening the load for adventurers. And it all seems to have started with Ray Jardine.

The “Ray Way” as it is known, was developed through extensive research and testing by Ray Jardine. He and his wife Jenny hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in California three times, and also the Appalachian and Continental Divide trails – all are popular long distance trails. During the course of the long distance treks they trimmed down their packing list, and the actual gear included, until they were carrying not much more than a day-packs’ worth of gear. He shares his knowledge in a book – The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook. The book has detailed notes about what items to pack, along with offering useful tips for hiking once on the trail. There are also some excellent alternatives for building gear for hikes. The Ray Way is not only based on pack weight – it also includes ideas on nutrition and fitness, and notes on how, by way of reduced pack weight and increased fitness you can wear lighter shoes instead of heavy hiking boots – which also reduces fatigue. By reducing fatigue you can hike for longer, and enjoy the experience of hiking better.

Ray Jardine and others like him who popularised the idea for modern-day hikers are hardly the first to travel light. Back in 1917, Horace Kephart wrote a book called Camping and Woodcraft which details several packing lists for what he describes as ‘ultralight hiking’. And Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, reputedly the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail three times, carried a duffle bag packed with an army blanket and raincoat; and instead of a tent she used a shower curtain.

There are several companies that specialise in ultralight outdoor gear. GoLite founder Demetri Coupounas was so inspired by Jardine‘s book that he has made it his life’s work founding a company to produce gear based on Jardine’s principles and design, and in the act of founding the company, he made Jardine a partner. Most companies producing outdoor gear have items suitable for travelling lightly – smaller packs, light bowls, plates and cutlery, sleeping bags that compress nicely, lightweight tents, bivvy bags and flys.

Early hikers in Australia were divided over what should be taken on overnight or long distance walks. Some, such as William Mogford Hamlet insisted on taking less than 10 lbs in weight. Paddy Pallin worked with the motto “if in doubt, leave it out” as he sought to limit the weight of the pack taken on hikes. Pallin’s limit for a three day hike was 25 lbs. His method was this: after packing, the backpack was weighed, and if the weight was more than 25 lbs, everything was taken out and checked to ensure is was essential. If it was not, then it was left out. The backpack was then packed again and reweighed. The process was repeated until the weight of the pack was below 25lbs.

The Three Heavies

The three items that contribute most to the overall weight of a packing list are the shelter, sleeping bag, and the backpack itself. For my hike from Mt. Victoria to Leura, I used a simple fly as the shelter and tied it into an “A” shape to allow water to run off quickly. I also tied it lower to the ground at one end to reduce its exposure to the wind in one direction. Many modern tents are manufactured from lightweight materials and offer a greater degree of comfort – but you need to watch the weight of the pegs you pack. The sleeping bag you need depends on the season.

Sleeping bags are rated according to the number of “seasons” they are suitable for, as follows:

  • One season bags are designed for summer use
  • Two season for late-autumn through to late-spring
  • Three season for autumn, summer and spring (they are usually rated for freezing point and just below)
  • Four and five season bags for colder temperatures.

In warmer climates you could possibly do without a sleeping bag altogether, or instead use a sleeping bag insert. On lilo-trips along the Colo River I have travelled during summer. I used a thermal sleeping bag liner, and slept wearing thermal leggings and a long sleeve t-shirt.

Once you’ve reduced the amount of gear you’re carrying, you can use a smaller and lighter backpack to carry it in. For some trips, a small frameless backpack could be used – without a frame a backpack becomes very light indeed. A large pack with its frame, hip belt, and shoulder straps can weigh as much as 2kgs by itself.

Other than the three heavies, the next items to reduce on weight is the cooking gear – use small alcohol or solid fuel stoves, single cookpot, plastic cutlery – and lightweight food (ie. dried instead of fresh).

Travelling light leaves you free to enjoy your hike – your body will ache less, and you can cover greater distances. If you’ve never tried it, then making the leap might take a bit of adjustment, but once you do travel light you’ll never want to hike heavy again.

About David Rutter

Dave grew up on a small acreage on the outskirts of Sydney, within a stone's throw of the bush. Having spent a large part of his childhood exploring the bush behind the family home, much of his adult life has been spent exploring the world - he has lived in Sweden, traveled much of Europe, travelled in the Pacific and South America, and more recently in Asia. The Australian bush is however, the place where he feels he truly belongs.
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