A Backpacker?s Guide to Making Every Ounce Count: Tips and Tricks for Every Hike (2015)
When planning for a trip, you may find that organization will fall into place while you get your gear ready. You may want to keep your consumables separate when planning a trip. I plan and organize all of my gear and all of my consumables minus my food when getting ready for a trip. I look at the weather forecast for clothes and cover. I look at the area for certain gear and so on, but I usually put all my food together near the end of my process. This will help you in a few ways:
✵ You will see your base weight in a pile.
✵ You will see your consumables separately.
✵ You will be able to plan more accurately.
✵ You will be able to weigh each item.
✵ You will weigh them separately and as a group.
Planning starts way before the actual trip, and if you can separate the groups as you plan, you may just be ahead of the game. Keeping your consumables separate will help you keep a close eye on your fuel, meals, personal items, and snacks. I can’t tell you how many trips I have been on where I ran out of my meals and had way too many snacks left over at the end of the trip.
Organization is a crucial part of the Gram Weenie philosophy. How can you know what you have if you don’t know where it is? If you don’t know where all your gear is and can’t get to it when you want to pack for a trip, you may miss out on something. At the very least you may struggle, trying to find that one item, or forget it all together. We were on one trip, and one of my fellow backpackers, who will remain nameless, forgot one of his tree straps for his hammock. DOH! Lucky for him, I had an extra. But those days are gone. I no longer carry anything I don’t need. We may have been able to get by with some paracord, but the straps are what you really need with a hammock. I recommend you have two food bags. A larger one that holds all your food: dinners and snacks. Keep a smaller bag that holds your snacks for the day you are hiking.
Keep the small bag inside of the larger bag near the top of the backpack. Or store the smaller bag with a daily supply of snacks that goes into one of the side pouches of the pack. It is easy to get to and saves time while you are resting. In the morning, I grab the snacks for the day and place them into the smaller bag. I then place the bag into a side pocket of my pack. As we hike, I can get to the snacks quickly, and at the end of the day, I put the smaller bag into the larger bag until the next morning.
I learned this valuable lesson on the Approach Trail. On one trip, we stopped for a rest, and I took way too long getting some snacks from my pack, which meant less time on my butt resting. It was then that I learned to pack a few snacks into the side pockets of my pack, so the next time we stopped, I grabbed a candy bar and was eating within a few seconds instead of minutes.
For me, the key to a “successful” trip is in what you are willing to learn on that trip. Pay attention to what you are doing when looking for gear. How long did it take to get the item you are looking for? How organized was your pack on the trail?
Designate an area in your house where you can organize your camping gear. If you have a closet, that’s great, but even if you have your gear in a chest of drawers, get organized. In a plastic tub, use several tubs with smaller boxes inside. Build some shelves and use tubs, dividers, or whatever you need to do to get organized.
You need to decide how to, what to, and where to organize your gear, but organize in such a way so you know where your hammocks, bug nets, underquilt, and the rest of your gear is located so you can grab each item quickly when planning for a trip.
Regardless of the way you decide to organize, and it may take a few trials to get it the way you want it, keep it that way. Pick a space and set it up. Designate the space as your Gear Closet. Tell the rest of your family that this is your area and to stay out. Well, do this only if you want to be ostracized in your own home. Just keep this area as organized as you can.
However, don’t let your organizational skills stop in the closet. Let technology assist you. Use Excel to help you out. All you need to do is get a digital scale so you can weigh each item. Each item should weigh less than twenty pounds, so if your scale is limited to around twenty pounds you should be okay.
To weigh your pack, and the other larger items, get a box, place it on the scale, and zero the scale out. This way, you can set the larger items, like your pack and sleeping bag, into the box and get an accurate weight of each item.
What you do is, weigh the items in ounces, and using the spreadsheet, enter in the weight, and the spreadsheet will convert the item into pounds automatically.
Let the Excel file help you keep your gear organized into a few categories: consumables, sleeping gear, shelter gear, the pack, clothes to be carried, and food. If you are good with Excel, set it up so you enter in the weight of each item, and the sheet does the rest.
Count the Ounces
Every ounce counts. Another aspect of understanding what a Gram Weenie is may already be apparent to you. I have mentioned counting ounces several times already but have not gotten into the “why” of counting.
You will periodically find something new or something lighter than what you have or something new that will make your trip easier. Every ounce does count, but you need to know the ounces so you can count them.
The three biggest items you will have are your pack, your sleep system, and your shelter. We discussed these earlier, but the following philosophy stands for those three as well.
Weigh everything. Your toothbrush, the rain fly stakes, the TP, as well as the extra batteries you take for your headlamp. Basically you will learn the weight of every item in your pack—or you will be able to look it up if you write it all down. As you weigh each item, look at it and see if you can cut some weight from the items in some way.
More often than not, I hear many folks use the phrase “It doesn’t weigh anything” when talking about an item in their pack that they really don’t need. This is ridiculous. I just laugh to myself, because everything weighs something.
Even a drop of water weighs something. It may not be measurable on the scales you use, but I will be willing to bet that NASA can tell us how much a drop of water weighs. One site I found states that a drop of water weighs “about .003 ounces.” But of course, this all is dependent on the size of the dropper used to make the drop of water.
My research shows me a couple of things. Depending on the size of the dropper used, the weight will differ. Look it up to find out for yourself. The weight of some items may be negligible, but the weight is still there. Basic science tells us that everything that is solid has mass, takes up space, and weighs something.
As you weigh the items in your pack, look at each one. Can you use it as a dual-purpose item or cut the weight down somehow, even by only a few ounces?
Remember this from earlier? One pound of weight equals sixteen ounces. If you can cut just four ounces from four different items in your pack, you just cut sixteen ounces from your pack. Boo-ya, you are now one pound lighter. Who’s the Gram Weenie now? That’s right, you.
You are on your way.
Part of the organization of your gear is knowing where your gear is located in your closet, but you also need to know how much each item weighs.
The last area for being organized while you are on the trail is your pack. The more organized your pack is, the more efficiently you will function on the trail.
Knowing where everything is located within your pack is crucial for meeting any challenge that presents itself. What if you are walking along and enjoying the fantastic weather, and the dark clouds roll in and the rain starts to fall?
Quick, where is your rain fly located?
What if you are walking along and get hungry?
Quick, where is your snack bag?
Get the idea? At any point during your trip, you need to know where all your gear is so you can put your hands on it when you need it.
Being organized will let you operate easier on the trail, which will also allow you to enjoy the trip much more.
At the end of a day of hiking, I know where everything is in my pack as I unpack for the night. I have already mentioned my routine when we reach the camping area. I grab my Crocs, rain fly, food, hammock, and so on. This is my routine because I know where all the items are. I have managed to find what works for me, and I keep certain gear in the same spot, either within the pack or strapped to the outside of the pack, on every trip. This is how keeping a good organizational system will pay off. You are organized at home, while planning for a trip, and you are organized on the trail, making your trip more enjoyable.