Monday, Jan 22, 2018
HomePreparationUltra-light BikePacking

Meet Skinny Steve, Your BikePacking Tour GuideBy “Skinny” Steve Smith

First off, congratulations on potentially participating in your upcoming adventure!  Hopefully you are reading this in preparation for a trip you have already decided to take, but if you are still on the fence hopefully some of the tips here will sway you in the right direction, which is to get on your bike and ride and/or go hike!

So you are setting out on an adventure of bike packing or hiking and you have all your gear set out ready to go, now your problem is you can’t fit it in your car let alone in your pack, bike trailer, or paniers…

Well you are like most of us who love to be comfortable even when setting out on the road or a trail.  You don’t want to give up all the things that are part of your normal routine, hell you have agreed to go on this crazy adventure, why shouldn’t you bring everything you want to!?

A few of the main reasons people give when asked why they brought something is that they wanted the added comfort, or the added security.  The problem with this logic (in my opinion) is that you sacrifice comfort and security by bringing excess, defeating the purpose in the first place.

You bring your favorite stuffed animal to snuggle with after a long day or you want your pillow and plenty of clean clothes.  We should bring enough food for everyday plus some extra just in case we get stuck in the middle of nowhere right??

By bringing to much you risk being uncomfortable throughout your journey.  Think about it, if I asked you to walk up and down your stair case 20 times with two 25 lbs dumb bells in your hands, or to do the same thing with two 10 lbs dumb bells, which would you choose?  The 10 lbs weights would be easier and way more comfortable right?  But the whole reason we tend to carry 50 lbs back packs or bike packs is because we want to be comfortable.  The more weight you carry the more uncomfortable your daily task of hiking or biking is going to be, it will seem harder, longer, and farther.

You may be thinking, but I want all these extras that I love so much!  After you carry them around with you for a few days, you might be surprised what you will find your self looking to ditch.  I offer a few tips below that I use and will hopefully help you from weighing your self down.

Gear Weight.  Ultra light gear is a great way to get your pack weight down, and I am a huge fan of light gear.  Often times this gear is more expensive, but with a little online research you may find ways to get the lightest gear for minimal pricing.  A great example of this is a beer can or penny stove, you can find simple instructions online for making one or buying one, and it is one of the lightest stoves you can get.  Other ways of getting your gear lighter is removing the “excess” that is with some of your gear.  You may have read of hikers/bikers who have cut their tooth brushes in half or filed down the ends of plastic bottles to save a little more weight and believe me every little bit counts, but the most productive way I have found on getting my pack weight down is not by cutting my tooth brush or by getting all of the lightest gear ever made, it’s much simpler than that.  Don’t bring it.  Think hard about each item you are bringing and really think about if it is needed for this trip, I am certainly not suggesting that you ever leave home essential gear that is needed for the weather or the terrain that you are about to encounter, but instead just a friendly reminder that many of things that find their way into our packs is often not needed or just over kill.  Again, the best advice to keep your pack weight down is: Don’t bring it, leave it home.

2.When we go on vacation we often take clothing for each day, but we usually have a car, plane, train, or boat to carry all this clothing for us, now the only thing carrying the weight is you.  Clothes are not heavy though…  Clothing can be bulky and take up valuable pack space, and believe it or not, the weight does add up.  My stance on clothing might seem a bit “yucky” to some, but the reality is that everyday that you hike or bike you will be getting sweaty and dirty, so do you really need to stink up more then one pair of clothes?  Nope!  Wear the same clothes to hike and bike in, you may think this sounds really stinky, but simply airing out your “day time” clothes and keeping yourself as clean as possible with a little soap and deodorant will go a long ways in keeping you smelling fresh!  Or at least having those around you not gagging when you walk by…   At the end of the day you will want to freshen up a bit, this is your second set of clothing, your “night time” clothing.  Every night you can wear the same clothing around the camp fire and then to bed.  You won’t be sweating or working hard in these so they will stay mostly clean.  That’s really all you need for clothing, but if I have the space I may bring an extra item of clothing or two, but certainly not one for each day.  Another great little tip for clothing is buying some cheapo plain white tshirts, they come already packaged tightly and since they are nothing fancy, you could throw them away after a couple of days, lessening your pack weight as you go.

3.If you are taking a five day trip and you eat three times a day you need to carry 15 meals?  Consider that where you start your Journey is either at your car or in a town, so you can have food for your first meal at your car, you can also leave some food in your car for your return, now we are down to 13 meals!  That’s still a lot of food to carry…  When biking you can cover much more distance in a day then when hiking, this means that you will likely come to many towns where you can buy food.  On most biking trips I may have a little over 24 hours worth of food, it is important to know your re-supply points and then you can carry only what you need to the next stop.  I know the “The I shouldn’t be alive” episode where someone runs out of food and has to some how survive days on end with no food was probably just on TV while you’re reading this, but let’s face it, are we really going to be 100 miles from food, cell service, or other people to help us if it becomes an emergency?  Most of the time the answer is no, if it is yes, then by all means pack as much as you need, the main principal in food is proper planning so that you don’t over or under carry.

4.If you are heading out doors in the colder months a stove can be very important for getting a little bit of warmth while out in the cold.  Keep in mind that you will have to carry the stove, the fuel, cooking utensils, and possibly the water if you are not near a river or a lake.  If you can stand eating cold food for a few days, and don’t need coffee or tea in the morning, then ditch the stove.  Cut’s the weight and makes meals that much simpler.  You also have the option of using your camp fire to cook with!

6.You want a pillow?  Most likely you have some kind of small bag that you can stuff some clothing or other soft items that you are carrying into and than you have yourself the comfort of a pillow without the additional bulk!

7.Use space wisely.  Many of the things that we bring with us have space inside them, a cooking pot for instance, don’t simply throw a pot and lid in your pack, open the pot and stuff as much as possible inside of it, then close it and throw it in the pack.

8.Buddy System.  If you are traveling with someone you can spread the load by having “community gear” things that you will both use but only need one of such as a tent, stove, or water purifier.  This can be difficult if you are not going to be around each other 100% of the time.

9.This is important!  Limit the amount of space you have to carry things.  You looking at that real big backpack that you can fit a mini fridge in??  Or maybe a nice big bike trailer so that space will never ever be an issue??  By doing this you will certainly never have a problem getting all of your gear into a trailer, on your bike, or in a backpack, but you are also giving yourself reason to say “I’ve got room, mine as well take this too”!!  Buy the smaller size backpack.  Go with panniers instead of a trailer.  When your space is limited, it forces you to look at your gear and make better decisions about what is really needed for this trip.

10.If the above tips don’t work for you, then the next best thing to do is find and pay a Sherpa to carry all your gear!!

11.Most of this article is about leaving stuff home, but I also want to remind you to never ditch important items.  Something like a first aid kit should be in everyones gear list, you should never have to rely on someone else in this department.  If you end up alone, and need to help yourself, you should have the means to do so!

These are just a couple of tips that mat help you decide how much you do or don’t need.  The most important thing is to know what type of environment you are going to be in, cold, hot, wet, or dry, town or no towns and to plan accordingly.  The tips above are more to help you not be ultra heavy but can also be the basis of being ultralight.

Less is more, the lighter your load, the more comfortable you will be while hiking/biking and at the end of the day you will have more energy left over instead of passing out on the first rock you see.

I hope to see you out on the trail, path, or road!