With backpacking, there are needs, and there are wants. Most of the wants speak to concerns about safety (“just in case” items) and comfort (“I’ll sleep better if” items). The difference between them adds to the load on your back. For a short trip – a week or less – this extra weight isn’t as much of an issue. For a long trip, extra ounces carried over hundreds of miles makes a big impact on your body, especially the knees.
We discovered that first-hand on the Appalachian Trail this year as our friends “Sheltowee” and “Waterfall” cleared out more than a dozen pounds of “wants” from our gear. With the resulting pack weights of 25 and 29 lbs (3 lbs of which was just the pack), that was about as light as we could manage while still feeling safe. Some of the things they took out of our packs included:
A “backup” alcohol stove and fuel
Several extra knives / multi-tools
Extra full set of clothing
Extra lengths of ropes and cords
Water bottle carrier cover sleeve
Pack towels (use bandanas instead!)
Water filter (we switched to chemical treatment, then got the filter back after iodine made me sick)
… and more
Creativity for multiple ways to use what you have is key to a pleasant backpacking trip. For instance, pillows. Yes, there are inflatable pillows and packable pillows you can carry, but that’s extra weight. Instead, stuff whatever dry clothes you don’t have on into a stuff sack and use it as a pillow. Some sleeping bags, ours included, have a built-in spot to stuff to create a pillow. You might use the same cord that you bear bag with at night to make a clothesline when setting up camp to air out damp clothes. Pack a needle in your first aid kit and you can use dental floss to fix broken shoes and backpacks. Use your imagination!
Most importantly, don’t sacrifice your own safety: determine what your comfort level is for a safe trip, and make your “carry or not” decisions with that as the bottom line.