Packing Light

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Lake Tahoe Recreation

Going Light:
7 Days and 35 Pounds

This article first appeared in the Nordic Voice in 1990

Are you tired of packing 50 or 60 pounds on a seven day ski tour? Here are some tips on going light. Sure you have to make a few sacrifices, but consider how much more you will enjoy the skiing and the beauty of the mountains in winter.

Let me preface this article by stating that I'm 5-foot 8-inches and the weights are based on my gear, which is not necessarily the lightest nor the heaviest. Most important, remember that going light does not mean going without. You must always be prepared for the unexpected (accidents, bad weather, and maybe even an extra night or two out).

Although everything I say applies to fall, winter, and spring, the sacrifices required by going light are less noticeable in the spring when the days are longer (less time in tents), the weather is generally milder (don't have to crawl into the bag so early), and there's often sun for drying things.

The Basics

Your pack and sleeping bag will probably be the two heaviest items you carry other than food. There is also a great variation in their weights from one to another depending on the material, buckles, zippers, straps, and other features. Remember that cordura material is heavy and it is so course that in my opinion it can never be truly waterproof. Lighter packcloth is better, but keep in mind that all the stitching, zippers, and flaps on a pack make them susceptible to leaking too.

The weight of sleeping bags also vary a great deal. Some of my friends do spring tours in the Sierra with a North Face Gold Kazoo (it's light!). I'm the other extreme using a Western Mountaineering Goretex Middle Bag with extra down (it's warm!).

Keeping your sleeping bag dry is critical to survival when you are traveling light in the winter. Goretex on the outside and/or a vapor barrier (a thin coated nylon sack) on the inside are excellent ways to accomplish this.

Nearly everyone I see carries way too much in the form of a sleeping pad. Thermarests are nice and comfortable, but they are heavy. I carry 3/8-inch thick blue foam which is hip length. I empty my pack at night and place it under my legs, and I place my extra clothes under my sleeping bag.

Sleeping Gear
 Pack with side pockets  72 oz
 Garbage bag (cover for pack)  1 oz
 Sleeping bag  56 oz
 Pad  8 oz



The rule with clothes is "if you can't layer it, don't take it." Before you leave home try putting on all the clothes you plan to take. If you can't get it on, then leave it at home. One exception to this rule is spare socks and gloves.

The philosophy of no extra clothes requires that you be very careful to keep everything dry. Using this method you quickly realize that the only difference between the clothes you would take on a spring trip in the Sierra and a winter trip in the Rockies is the weight of the clothes, not the quantity. Remember, if worse comes to worst, holding up in a tent in a warm sleeping bag until the sun shines is always an alternative.

In the list that follows no weight is given for items which are worn while skiing. Obviously this will vary depending on the weather and your exercise level.

Polypro hat(stuff it in the Goretex (jacket pocket)  
Head band (stuff it in the Goretex(jacket pocket)  
Baseball cap  
Underwear (1 spare pair ... a luxury?) 1 oz
Thermal underwear (light weight) 4 oz
Goretex pants 15 oz
Liner socks (2 spare pairs) 4 oz 
Knicker socks (1 spare pair) 4 oz
Ski boots  
Down booties (a luxury I can't live without) 7 oz
Polypro turtleneck zip-front shirt  
Thermal undershirt (light weight) 4 oz
Pile jacket 20 oz
Down vest (a jacket weighs 9 oz more) 13 oz
Goretex jacket  
Gloves (2 pairs and overmitts; one pair in pack) 4 oz


Community Equipment

The following list of community equipment is based on three people per tent and two tents; that's a total of six people. The weight per person changes depending on the ratio of people to tents and whether a second stove is carried when there is only one tent (normally it's one stove per tent).

An easy way to save weight is to leave your conventional tent at home and take a Black Diamond Pyramid. This tent is simply a tee-pee with no floor. It is supposed to sleep three, however, four can fit in it if you dig a pit and place the Pyramid on top. The reason this technique works is that the sloping walls on the tent are replaced with the vertical walls of the pit.

There are lots of tricks associated with digging a good pit for a Black Diamond Pyramid. Stacking blocks of snow, which are removed from the pit, around the edge of the pit make it only necessary to dig half the depth. Sloping the walls can add lots more room. Sloping the tops of the snow blocks can be critical in preventing snow buildup on the tent. Practice before setting out on a trip.

Don't take the pole that comes with the Pyramid. It is useless when you use the pit method described above. The pole is replaced with telescoping avalanche probe ski poles. Also, four tent stakes are enough because you can use skis for the other pull-outs.

In general my friends and I take one stove per tent. If there is only one tent we often take a second stove as a precaution. One pint of fuel per person seems to be enough provided you (1) melt snow and boil water only (requires using "add boiling water only" foods), (2) are very careful not to waste fuel, and (3) find some running water (in spring this seems to be possible).


Community Gear
Tent (2 x 24 oz /6)  8 oz
Tent stakes (8 x 2 oz /6)  3 oz
Stove (MSR w/o fuel bottle) (2 x 16 oz /6)  5 oz
Fuel (1 pint per person for 7 days plus bottle)  18 oz
Pot (1 per stove) (2 x 14 oz /6)  5 oz
Collapsible water bottle (1 quart) (4 x 1.5 oz /6)  1 oz
Group fist aid kit (24 oz /6)  4 oz
Altimeter (4 oz /6)  1 oz
Maps (6 x 1 oz /6)  1 oz
Repair kit (inc. spare ski tip) (48 oz /6)  8 oz
Shovels (4 x 24 oz /6)  16 oz
Snow saw (6 oz /6)  1 oz



In the simplest terms, I eat "add boiling water only" foods for breakfast and dinner, and heavier foods containing fats at lunch. Sticking to this I know 1-1/2 pounds of food per day is more than I can ever eat and 1 pound per day is adequate.

After getting all my food together I weigh it. Even allowing for an 8th day, I know that 10 pounds is enough. Many people have trouble paring down their food. One suggestion is to not bundle several meals together. Set out each meal separately. On some mornings you might eat two oatmeals or two granola bars or some dried fruit or .... But are you really going to eat that much of each item each day? Taking a bag of candy can be deceptive; if you're going to eat two pieces per day you only need 14.

Don't just eyeball a piece of cheese or salami; figure out how much you need. If you eat 1 ounce of salami and 2 ounces of cheese per day then you need a total of 21 ounces for a week. I even go so far as figuring that the first day and in some case the last day are not full days so I don't need as much food.

However, keep in mind that I'm not advocating short rations. I even believe in taking some spare food. Keep in mind that one full day of extra food can keep you comfortable for more than one day if you are holding up in a tent and not exercising. For me the key to drinking enough water is adding flavoring to the otherwise yucky melted snow in plastic bottles. Carrying sugared drink mixes can easily add a pound or more, and it's a poor way to get calories. Alternatives are to use artificially sweetened drinks or add a small amount of ascorbic acid which can be carried in powder dorm.

The number one thing I have learned is not to take any food which I know I do not like. If you don't eat something because you don't like it, then it's just extra weight. If you are having trouble find breakfast foods which you find appetizing, take lunch or dinner foods for breakfast. Total food 160 oz


Miscellaneous Items
Compass (carry around neck)  
Headlamp  7 oz
Knife  3 oz
Spoon  1 oz
Cup (2 cup measuring cup)  3 oz
Water bottle (1 quart with water)  37 oz
Glacier glasses (only case in pack)  2 oz
Sun Screen  3 oz
Lip cream  1 oz
Personal first aid kit  9 oz
Toilet paper  5 oz
Stuff sacks for odds and ends  8 oz
Camera (can vary a great deal)  16 oz
Film  6 oz
Ski Equipment
Skins  8 oz
Wax (share)  10 oz
Avalanche beacon (wear around neck)  

Difficult Trips

Many trans-Sierra type ski tours cross difficult passes and unknown country. Sometimes an ice ax is a good piece of equipment to have. Other times you may want to carry crampons or even a rope.

Grand Total = 35 pounds 3 ounces

Hopefully this article gave you ideas on how to limit the weight of your pack. It is not meant to be an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of equipment.

by Marcus Libkind

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