The following is a guest post entry into our Survival & Preparedness Writing Contest.
(Ultra) Lighting Up Your BOB by Lou Levy
Today’s typicle BOBs can weigh between forty and seventy pounds. For many of us that’s just to much weight to haul. Happily, significant backpack weight reduction is possible without giving up the necessities, and even some of the comforts.
For our growing population of aging, and with our often sedimentary lifestyles, walking for days with a very heavy backpack is just impractical.
Many have given up on the very idea of trying to save themselves in a S.H.T.F. situation. Even young healthy folks can find it daunting to lug seventy pounds of supplies and equipment around for days, or weeks, over all sorts of terrain, in all kinds of weather.
Some who address the issue of lightening our load go about it by suggesting that the answer is to assemble smaller kits. Their answer is that BOBs should be the size of GHKs and that GHKs should be the size of EDCs. I maintain that this is a wrong approach. The capabilities and comforts that you will leave out may become very important to you as your bug out journey moves along. Happily there is another approach.
Traveling for days, even weeks, over roads, and back trails carrying a heavy backpack is exactly what long distance hikers do for a hobby. It’s not unusual for them to travel forty, fifty, even sixty miles on one of their multiple day treks, carrying a heavy backpack, and setting up several camps at points along the way. Why is it the Prepper Community so often ignores the wisdom that these folks offer from actual experience?
There is an interesting phenomena today in the Backpacking Community. It’s the idea of “ultra light” backpacking. It began with the notion that the lighter your kit, the farther, faster, and more enjoyable you can journey.
A rabid competition has developed in the Ultra Light Backpacker Community to see who can come up with the very lightest, workable kit. Some have developed kits for two, three, and four day excursions that weigh a mere four or five pounds (minus food).
Even though some of the equipment in the more extreme ultra light kits has proven flimsy and inadequate, there are still many ideas and innovations we can use to cut unnecessary weight from our own various classes of bug out kits.
The approach offered by the Ultra Lighters focuses on three fundamental principles:
The first principle is to reduce redundancies as much as possible. I’ve seen many Bug Out kits where there are five or more knives, three or four flashlights, and three separate medical kits. It’s nice that you love knives, or you have medical training, but one good knife – if taken care of – should be enough. One flashlight with extra batteries, and possibly an extra bulb should be enough. One medical kit should be enough. Yes, it makes us feel better if we have several Bic Lighters, a couple of fire steels, several containers of weatherproof matches, and God knows what else along, but realistically, how much redundancy do we really need? How often do we include things in our kits just because we have them around? Stay focused on the fact that non essential redundancies only add unneeded weight! Commit yourself to getting rid of most of the redundancies in your kits.
The second principle is that packaging adds weight. I must admit that I really admire the sophisticated organization skills of some in our community. I’m jealous of those folks, usually from the military and/or paramedic backgrounds who sub-kit everything by function, and sub-function into amazingly neat and organized professional looking assemblies. But, as much as we admire their organizational skills, we need to understand that all that packaging and sub-packaging add a surprising amount of weight. Ounces count! You’ll be amazed at how a couple of extra ounces here and there in your kit conspire to add pounds.
Loose as much packaging as possible. A plastic baggie weighs a heck of a lot less than a canvas pouch. Sure, it doesn’t look as professional but the bottom line it saves weight. Never underestimate the power of the zip-lock kitchen bag to save weight. Sometimes stuffing things in a pocket on, or in your BOB without the plastic bag works too. Go through your kit and remove and replace as much packaging as possible!
Then there’s our backpack itself. Almost all of out backpacks are made from sturdy damage resistant materials. If the fabric used is not canvas, it’s something that looks and feels like canvas. Those materials are used because they give you the impression of sturdiness. It’s largely about how you feel about the pack you’re about to purchase. We buy military packs, like Alice Packs, because they’re sturdy. I have an Alice Pack, and even empty it’s damn heavy! You can find backpacks made from Silnylon. This stuff is strong, and weather resistant, while being drastically lighter. Often we’re talking about pounds of difference for the same carry volume. Silnylon backpacks are available from specialty manufacturers who cater to the Ultra-Light Backpacking Community, and can be expensive. Interestingly, sometimes quite adequate Silnylon packs can also be found among the cheaper versions of backpacks made for School Kids. Loose and lighten the packaging!
The third principle is to loose as much weight as possible in the necessities that you’ll have to carry along.
We know that we need shelter. How much does you’re chosen shelter system weigh. Are there lighter versions or alternatives? A cottage industry has grown up around the Ultra Light Backpacking Community producing a wide range of much lighter substitutes for tents, sleeping bags, and air mattresses, etc. Many of us carry a tarp in our kits. Plastic tarps can be heavy. A SilNylon tarp, though much more expensive is amazingly lighter and can serve just as well.
How much does a military canteen weigh compared to a disposable water bottle of the same volume? What about the weight of the canvas canteen pouch? Loose the military canteen and pouch!
How about the weight of the containers that the disposables like sun block, soap, and food flavoring come in? Repackage them wherever possible into smaller, lighter containers.
What about the cloths you’ll be wearing? Nylon, and Lycra will be lighter. Do you really need those heavy military style boots? What about lighter hiking shoes?
Total weight should be based upon your total standing weight with all your equipment on. After all, isn’t that the weight you’ll be hauling around?
What about the knife you’ll carry along. Is there a lighter knife that’s serviceable and will do the same job, and hold up just as well?
Many of us like to bring a hatchet along. Hatchets are typically quite heavy. Perhaps a less heavy saw, or a Kukri will do.
Consider little things, like cutting down the handles of your tooth brush, and shaving razor. Even very small savings contribute to total bag weight.
There are much lighter versions of tent pegs made from stainless steel or aluminum rods. How heavy is the cordage you’ll be carrying. Will bank line do as well for some applications, as opposed to a heavier alternative?
Weight can usually be saved in your cook set and utensils. How many pots and pans do you really need? Is there a lighter alternative stove system? A canteen cup and lid is carried by many. They’re heavy. Would something like the can from a can of salmon serve as well? What about eating utensils? Can you think of much lighter substitutes?
How heavy is the source of fuel for whatever stove you’ve been packing? Are there lighter stove, fuel combinations?
Food is, and should always account for most of the weight you’ll be carrying. M.R.E.’s tend to be heavy. Are there lighter food items that will serve as well? Can repackaging food items reduce the carry weight? Food should always be organized by the day, and calculating the total number of calories for each day.
Many find a small digital scale very useful in calculating weight savings.
For so many of us who are not young and physically fit, less pack weight could be the difference between making it – or not, in a bug out situation. It could be life or death!
By employing many of the above principles I’ve reduced the carry weight of my own BOB and GHK by over six pounds. I’m working on getting it even lighter. Imagine the benefits of reducing your own pack weight by ten pounds or even more. Lighter pack weight usually translates into longer travel distance, fewer calories burned, with less fatigue. Lightening your bug out packs is something really worth doing.
I suggest that you visit the web sites and YouTube videos of our friends in the Ultra Light Backpacking Community for more ideas on lightening your load.