A Backpacker?s Guide to Making Every Ounce Count: Tips and Tricks for Every Hike (2015)

CHAPTER TWO

UNDERSTANDING WHO A GRAM WEENIE IS

Prior to my first real backpacking experience, I spent a few years camping with one of my fellow backpackers, and we would use our packs even though we were car camping. Car camping is when you drive to a spot, unload all your gear, and camp right there. Some may call it dump camping. Regardless of what you call it, we parked, unloaded, and spent a couple of nights.

We used our packs because it was easy for us to have everything in there that we could haul into camp. At the time, we planned to go backpacking eventually but needed to practice our setup, gear, food, and other techniques. We treated this as testing from home but in the field.

Keep in mind that our car camping excursions involved primitive camping techniques. We would drive into the Chattahoochee National Forest and park the truck. We would still have to carry everything about twenty yards or so, and it was just easier for us to use backpacks.

We usually didn’t carry coolers full of food or drink. On occasion, we would carry some steaks and instant mashed potatoes, but mostly we brought dehydrated food and backpacking snacks. We camped near a water source, and we had our filter of choice to make the water drinkable.

Where we camped (and still camp if we need a quick fix) is secluded, near a creek, and just right for about five or six hammocks. Sometimes, my crew and I still car camp there, but it is when we just need a break and need to get out of the house for a quick weekend. I don’t like car camping as much as I used to because I have been on enough long-distance trips that I am spoiled. I want to enjoy the walk along the trail. I don’t want to spend five minutes walking from the truck to the campsite; I enjoy walking at least six to eight miles to get to the next spot. We are not what you might call distance hikers. We’re not out to break any distance records, so we take our time and stop when we feel like it. On the weeklong trips, we do have a schedule to keep, so we make it to the next spot or shelter on time, but we plan these trips so each stopping point is less than ten miles apart. This way, we can enjoy the trip and not wear ourselves out getting to the next spot. We also like to have some daylight left so we can gather wood for fire and set up our hammocks.

For me that is where the fun is. I enjoy the scenery, the sounds, the weather, and everything about the outdoors. For me to car camp now, well, it is not as satisfying as a ten-mile-a-day trip in Virginia, or even a quick three-nighter on the approach trail to Black Gap Shelter and then on to Springer Mountain Shelter.

But back to the story at hand. . . . Both of our packs were over forty pounds when we started preparing to go backpacking. Looking back, I couldn’t believe we took some of the things that we took. I mean come on! Forty pounds!? Really?

I knew we could do better, so we started evaluating our packs and looking for a lighter way to sleep. We thought about a small one-man tent, a Bivy tent, or anything that was lighter than the three-person, four-season tent I had. We both started looking online and stumbled upon a website. It was like the clouds parted and the angels rejoiced. . . .

(Imitate your own angelic song here. . . .)

The site, www.hammockforums.net, is dedicated to backpacking while sleeping in hammocks, and features a ton of DIY tips and tricks for modifying gear and making your own hammocks. My friends and I soon got hooked on hammock camping. I mean hooked big time.

I purchased a “Hennessy Expedition Asym” hammock as soon as I could and thought I was doing better. The hammock slept great once I found my “sweet spot.” The setup was a few pounds lighter than my tent, so I felt like I hit the jackpot. Later on I learned how to make my own hammock and sold the Asym to another backpacking buddy. He is a fellow hammock camper and my partner on GaHammockBros.com.

My journey to Gram Weenieism started when I started researching lightweight backpacking. I read books and watched YouTube videos, and read more books and started doing other research online that pointed out the Big Three. If you can get the Big Three down to under ten pounds total, you are getting close to ultralight backpacking. I explain the Big Three in Chapter Three, so keep reading.

This research, and learning new ways to do things, is how I was able to shave fifteen pounds from my original weight of forty pounds. I’m talking about pack weight here, which is everything I will need on a given trip. My base weight, for a three-nighter winter trip now, is under twenty pounds.

The journey to Gram Weenieism does not stop with the Big Three. It all starts with the phrase, Every Ounce Counts. I weigh and count the ounces of everything, trying to figure out what I can cull from my pack.

Think about it in smaller terms and not trying to shave all fifteen pounds at once. If you can pick four areas from your pack, and can shave four ounces from each area, you will have shaved sixteen ounces from your pack. As I pointed out above, there are sixteen ounces in one pound. Once you develop this type of thinking, you will be able to shave some weight from your pack.

If I haven’t said it already, I’ll say it now, I may be a Gram Weenie, but I am not an ultra-light backpacker. As you read, you will discover the difference. I have learned some tricks and tips over the years, and I will share those tips and some stories, and maybe it will help you to lighten up your pack a little bit. If you slip to the ultra-lightweight side, don’t blame me. You are the one who kept reading.

For any type of backpacking, knowing your limitations is crucial. Only you know the level of intensity of terrain you are willing to tackle. You know your friends a lot better than I do, so this is a judgment call where your backpacking partners are concerned.

Once you know your limitations, you will know where and how to cut weight from your pack and other gear to accomplish crossing over to the lighter side of backpacking.

The more time you spend on a task, be it your job or any hobby, the more efficient you will become at performing it. You strive to be better at your job. You want to get the job done in the best way you know how. You learn new travel routes to work to cut down on time in traffic. You learn new software at work, research methods of doing things related to your favorite hobby or projects at home.

The rocky path to Gram Weenieism is no different. If purchasing this book is your first step on that path, I want to take this time to commend you.

Okay, that’s enough time, now let’s get busy.

As you learn things like cutting your toothbrush in half or cutting the tags off of your clothes, you will also be able to figure out things on your own that you can do to lighten your pack a few ounces at a time—which will add up to a few pounds. The phrase you will hear me say from time to time is, “every ounce counts.” This phrase is quite popular to many backpackers trekking up and down the trails. Those backpackers who are true Gram Weenies go by “every ounce counts” with a fervor that would rival a champion hunter on the trail of a record twelve-point buck. He will do whatever it takes to bag the big buck.

More than likely, they probably weigh everything in their packs. They might keep up with the ounces or the grams of every item. They are called Gram Weenies, regardless of the measurement they track—ounces or grams.

The hunter’s goal is to bag the big buck, the golfer’s goal is to win The Masters, and the ultra-light backpacker’s goal is to have the lightest pack possible. I know I said this before, and I am saying it now, and I will say it again . . . they count every ounce of weight. I am not an ultra-light backpacker. I am considered a lightweight backpacker. A Gram Weenie may cut the straps of a backpack and yes, I have cut the straps on my pack to shorten them, and I have cut tags out of my hammocks, pants, and shirts. I don’t carry stuff sacks. Well, maybe one, but I keep my sleeping bag in it to protect it from dirt and from being ripped.

If an item does not serve at least one purpose, it is dead weight. I cull these items from my pack and leave them behind, and stuff sacks, in my opinion, are dead weight.

Many items in your pack need to serve at least two purposes, down to your shoe laces. I don’t have regular shoe laces. I use 550 paracord that, if needed, I can use to make a fire-bow so I can start a fire. Again, look at Chapter Eleven for suggestions on dual-purpose items.