Over the years, I’ve have amassed a reasonably large collection of camping gear. Some of it I’ve outgrown or had meet the end of its useful lifespan. Some of it I gave away to younger hikers who were just getting started and didn’t have the gear they needed. The rest is either still in use or sitting in a trunk dedicated to hiking. I have a lot of options when it comes to what I take on any given trip.
Because of this, one tool I picked up almost a decade ago has proven itself time and again. It exists only on my computer, but serves to make it very easy to pick and choose my gear quickly. That tool is the Backpacking Gear Weight Calculator. The system is pretty simple, so just about anyone can work with it.
For each item, you enter a category, the name of the item, the weight and any notes you might want to include. Everything in a given category will sit in a single area, so you don’t have to go hunting them down. Weights can be Metric or Standard/Imperial, so no fights about how the system it uses doesn’t make sense to you. (I have some opinions on that topic, but this isn’t really the place for a rant.)
Here’s where the tool really shines. You are able to check and uncheck the various items on the list and it will total the weight in real time for you. You can see very quickly how removing just a handful of items or replacing them with lighter versions can have a huge impact on your total weight. You can also see where there is some give that lets you accept a few extra ounces for some comfort item you’d really like to have.
There is something empowering about being able to see in absolute terms exactly what each comfort is costing you in weight. This is how I was able to get my weight down to 36 pounds (including food) for the start of the Appalachian Trail. I had several things that were really more comfort than necessity. I probably could have gotten it down under 30 if I’d wanted, but I am not a purely ultralight hiker. I like some camp comforts enough to accept their weights.
When I know there isn’t a lot of hiking, I might up the weight and add a few extra items. If I know an area will be short on water, I can see what the extra water containers are going to add to my total weight. If I know there are going to be a lot of hard hikes on the trip, I might decide to let go of some comfort items to get my weight down a little more. To me, being able to see the impact of my decisions makes a huge difference in what I pack. I have a bad habit of thinking just ‘one more thing’ isn’t going to hurt.
Give it a shot and see if you like it. You can find it on Backpacking.net along with its history, usage and tutorials. Download the Backpacking Gear Weight Calculator here. Let me know what you think if you end up using it. Hopefully it will make your trips out into Mother Nature a little more pleasant and remove the guesswork from packing.