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Ouch…Bad Advice

The packing game:

Slashing weight and bulk.

There is of course good and bad ways to go at it – I was a hardcore UL hiker for years (now I don’t have enough energy/free time to care that much when planning an outing! And to do it all on spreadsheets…..hoo, I had a lot of spare time before my last 2 kids!). I tried nearly every trick out there so I could carry a daypack on a 5-6 day trip. Some times it was great, others it worked, many times I had really uncomfortable trips all to save a pound weight total…sheesh. The best one was this trip below….where I ran out of food so I hiked a 19 mile day on say 300 or 400 calories. Kirk said it was scary that night after he picked me up, when he watched me eat an entire pizza by myself. No pillow? No extra clothing? Sure. Great! Half the food you really need? BAD.


But….one thing I have learned (painfully) is that slashing pack weight is not synonymous with getting rid of bulk. They are two separate games. Master one first, then bring in the next.

So can one condense slashing advice into a one page magazine article? No. But yeah, it was. (So where? January 2014 issue of “BM” on page 47.)

Coming from my experience (and take anything I say/write with a grain of salt….some of my ideas have been less than stellar), UL is something to take slowly. See what you can live without and still enjoy a trip, replace worn out items with lighter options, sell the heavy stuff and buy what you can afford. Or work out at the gym to carry weight comfortably (I thought I’d never say that one – but sadly it is true – something I found out with 2 kids who are in the 90+th percentile). Yeah, the workout method ended up being the best choice…lord!

So let us peruse a certain magazine’s “suggestions” – “Obsess Over The Little Things” is the title. I am sure I’ll be obsessing here….

Get a digital scale: OK, a scale WILL help you get an idea of how much you are carrying. But if you get to the point where you have FIVE spreadsheets, of potential gear choices you can take, with weights listed in tenths of an ounce, you need to toss it. I am serious. There was a point when I knew EXACTLY how much my pack weighed and I would toss things out in the truck at the trailhead just to save 10 ounces – and then be less comfy. All for 10 freaking ounces. One trip I tossed my pants and went with shorts only. Hoo, was I glad I had rain pants the next day when we got snowed on over Labor Day weekend in alpine. That cold will get you moving quickly.

Be Ruthless:

In this section the claim is one should ditch camp shoes. I quit wearing old school hiking boots years ago and rarely wear them (in winter only), but I still carry sandals on most trips. Why? It feels GOOD to let your feet air after a hard day – in fact it can be healthy for them (less chance of athletes foot/trench foot). It is safer if fording a river than going barefoot or worse going in your lightweight shoes. Is it worth the 6 ounces to a pound? For me, yes. I hiked in wet boots in October – my feet were numb for 90% of the day. It really sucked.

Skip the pillow: Maybe. I rarely carry one but I can tell you the “stuff your puffy jacket into its own hood to form a ball” is a load of horse poop. Oh please. Not only is a ball not comfortable, it isn’t natural for your neck. And oh yeah, so to save weight you also carried a 45* sleeping bag instead of a 15*? That puffy jacket maybe the only thing keeping you warm, draped over your torso. So ditch the pillow, but also don’t believe those claims a puffy jacket will make a pillow. Sleep on your backpack, with any extra junk you have stuffed in. Works pretty good 😉 Not that I’d know anything about freezing my ass off in a stupid 45* bag.

Gatorade 32-ounce bottles: Used them for years. Personally I liked Snapple bottles. But and a big but, while you will save weight, the bottles get skanky quickly and turn cloudy, especially when exposed to a lot of sun. I carry 2 32-ounce bottles and a 2-Liter bladder (no tubing, just a lid) for camp water. I went back to Nalgenes years ago. Why? Heavier, but they don’t get all nasty – or BREAK when they fall out of a pack pocket loaded (yes, it happened). It is a personal decision though. And that I hate Gatorade taste kind of helped 😉

Repack consumables:

Forget the advice of repacking things like sunscreen. This is where shopping at Minimus pays off. Just get a small tube and call it a day. Thankfully I don’t wear bug repellent or deodorant when hiking. See, saved weight!! (And I am sure keeps predators away too…hah)

Slim Your First Aid Kit: Yes, any premade kit does need slimming/slashing. It also needs a lot added. Again, visit Minimus or a local pharmacy and buy single use packets of pain killers, antacids, aspirin, ointments and more. I carry a sting kit (used to hike with one partner who attracted hornets to herself like crazy!), Benadryl and a well stocked but light blister kit – along with a number of other items. For example, I’ll never be truly UL again – with my youngest son’s severe allergies I have to carry a full (gag!) bottle of Benadryl and 2 Epi-pens. Yeah, there went those UL dreams 😉 My point is: carry enough so you are not a burden on others. You don’t have to carry a 4 pound kit. But…at least carry the basics.

But here is the root of my nit-picking:

Packing to save bulk? The advice is to prick holes in all prepackaged foods, then cover with tape, after squeezing out the air.

DO NOT DO THIS!!!! A few reasons really…

1) Commercial freeze-dried meals start gaining moisture as soon as the seal is broken. If you are eating something like Mountain House, this lets in oxygen. You are doing your $5 to $14 meal no favors. As soon as it is breached, moisture will start getting into your tasteless chunks of beef. Also, those foil bags don’t roll up well. They crease, they break, they have sharp edges.

2) Things like noodle and rice side dishes (Knorr/Lipton/etc) have lousy bags as well. They are sealed with air to protect the items inside and to stay upright on shelves. If you have had a bag of those pop/tear open, then you know how the dumb powder coats everything. Tape peels off. Especially when coated with POWDER. Then the hole just barfs out more powder. KnowwhatImean?

3) This advice will lead some over zealous chump to stick pins in things like tuna and salmon pouches. My eyes are twitching.


Pick your food to be small. Use a dense pasta, such as couscous or quinoa (precooked and dried) instead of instant rice. Dehydrated food is smaller than freeze-dried items, but weighs more, and takes longer to rehydrate. It is a trade-off. Think of packing a bear canister like playing Tetris.

If you are using meal solutions such as Knorr, re-bag them in sandwich or quart freezer bags. Yes, it is wasteful. But unless you are hiking professionally, you are not producing that much waste. Drinking a cup of coffee every morning at Dunkin’ Donuts and all those forks from take out are much worse in the big picture. Don’t over think it.

When you put items in freezer bags, roll it up like a cigar, then seal it. Keep it rolled. And unlike commercial packaging, the bag is flexible.

Commercial freeze-dried meals can be an issue. If you’ll be eating it within a day or two max, and you are not hiking in a humid area (mmmm….hard as a rock clump of sauce “powder” anyone?), you can package in a quart bag and do it at that way.

Avoid puncturing cookies, bread, crackers and so on – air helps keep it from crumbling and frankly, soggy & limp ain’t what makes a cookie….

And no, no, no….do not crack eggs to carry into camp in a container. The egg stays good inside the shell. Otherwise, you face the real risk of the hiker 5K “I don’t feel so good”. This is your non-article related warning.

And lest I forget this gem on page 49, ignore the advice to scramble up a carton of eggs and then dehydrate it. Can it be done? Oh yes. Is it recommended? Hell no. I have yet to see a gov’t or county extension recommend it. The issue is pasteurization and all the bad things that can go wrong with commercially grown eggs. Just buy a good brand of freeze-dried eggs, such as Ova Easy. They actually taste good – and work perfectly.

PS: And no, bulk bins are not always a good deal (page 49). Just because WinCo stores and similar have crazy bulk sections doesn’t mean you will always save money. Sometimes the stuff is stale, rancid, old and has come out of a couple of bags in the back. Or is all crumbs and powder. Know your per ounce prices. And if you have food allergies avoid bulk bins due to cross contamination. And avoid the bulk bins at Whole Foods unless you want to go broke. You can easily rack up $50-100 before you know it!

Mostly…just take whatever you read and let it sit. Think it out. Even some of my advice is dumb. It might work for me, but not you.

But most of all….I have got to quit reading magazines. Hehheh……

3 thoughts on “Ouch…Bad Advice

  1. Bottles for sparkling/carbonated drinks are stronger than Gatorade or Snapple bottles. There is extra pressure from the carbonation, so they have to use stronger bottles.

    I’ve had great luck with 1 liter Calistoga bottles.

    To keep the bottles clean, occasionally use Aqua Mira or another chemical for the water. When you put filtered water in a dirty bottle, you have dirty water. When put chemically-purified water in a dirty bottle, you have clean water and a clean bottle, because there is a little bit of excess purification stuff.

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