> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Trimming Pack Weight



Trimming Pack Weight

I just finished reading an excellent book called the Mission, the Men and Me, written by former Delta Force officer Pete Blaber. Highly recommended to anyone, it largely focuses on key themes and lessons that Blaber learned during his time in the Unit. Great stories and great lessons.

One of Blaber's stories is about a training mission that he took his team on into the mountains of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He talks in-depth about how all of the guys became obsessed with their pack weight and hitting the goal of what they felt was the optimal maximum weight for a man to carry.

Now, these guys were from friggin' Delta Force and all tip-top athletes who had done a lot of time carrying heavy packs during the military careers leading up to that point. So how much do you think they wanted to carry up into the vast, snow-covered mountains? 70 pounds? 80 pounds? More?

Nope. 40 pounds.

Very fit, literal tier one guys, and they had the goal to not exceed 40 pounds, which they felt was the optimal max weight for a man to carry and still make good mileage.

They obsessed over hitting that weight as much as any backpacker, buying ultralight packs with carbon fiber frames, weighing every possible thing that they were going to carry and trimming out the excess.

When you're packing a bag, whether it's for everyday carry, travel, get home, patrol or bugging out, it pays to have a similar healthy obsession with weight.

Packing lighter and going faster is worth it. Gassing out and wrecking your back after a couple miles with a too heavy pack is lame.

Mi amigo Ryan over at Total Survivalist recently mentioned a desire to slim down what he calls his level 2.5 Get Home Bag, which he's shared here previously. Basically a patrol / hike / light overnight load.

I offered a few tidbits of advice, which I'll develop further and add to here:

The Snugpack Jungle bag is a pretty awesome little sleeping bag if you're looking to slim down in that department. Weighs in at 27 ounces, packs very small. Like its name suggests, it's a warm weather sleeping bag, but it does have a 36 degree "cold" rating - as in you'll be uncomfortable and cold but okay. You can use a fire, space blanket, debris bed, and various other options to make a night outdoors a bit warmer.

If you're in Montana during the winter, a little Jungle bag isn't going to cut, but it'll get you through in a lot of the more hospitable parts of the country.

Along similar lines, make sure to really consider your shelter needs. Depending on your location, plans and the scenario, there may be lots and lots of pre-existing shelter you can take advantage of. An unused building, a motel, the back of your car and so on generally beat sleeping under a tarp in bad weather. Not every pack will be a wilderness survival kit.

Food is another area where you can slim down on weight. Calorically dense food is the way to go. I aim for 100 calories per ounces of weight. MREs usually suck here, especially with all of the packaging, though some of the individual components are good. You can skimp on food, but starving generally tends to impair your physical and mental abilities pretty quickly.

There's a certain desire to pack a bunch of extra clothes in your kits. If it's for travel, that's one thing. But a bug out bag, day pack or patrol bag doesn't necessarily need a spare set of pants and shirt it in, which can quickly weigh in at several pounds of excess. If you can't count on being properly attired, store those earth-toned clothes with the kit, but don't tally them against your total weight, as you'll be donning them before setting out.

Anything big, heavy and/or metal is another area to check out for weight loss. A stainless steel water bottle or canteen weighs more than a Nalgene and a titanium cup. A big combat knife weighs more than a slimmer but still capable Mora. You get the idea.

It all really comes down to assessing the weight of your gear and having the knowledge and experience to assess your honest needs. We tend to pack heavy when there's more uncertainty, both in ourselves and what we might need the pack to contend with.

Opportunities to use your kit, refine and adjust should be something we all seek out, and will help build that experience. It'll help you identify what you really need and what you don't.

All that said, you need to be careful about letting an obsession with weight derail you from including essentials that you need to accomplish your mission - whatever that may be.

Back to the book: the night before leaving on the trip, Blaber packs some extra survival type gear, which puts his pack over the weight limit. To get it back down to 40 pounds, he decides to drop a pair of snow shoes before turning in for the night. An old local outdoorsman recommended that he pack those snow shoes, but Blaber unstraps them from his pack anyways, wanting to get back down to the 40 pounds.

Fortunately, he  realizes his mistake, wakes up in a panic and straps them back onto his pack. Yes, he may have ended up a bit over his self-imposed weight maximum, but the snow shoes ended up becoming critical to successfully completing his training hike through the mountains.

So--obsess over trimming weight, but don't screw yourself over by leaving essentials at home when you might need them.

Thoughts? Any other tips for trimming weight?


  1. Batteries - Keep them in the pack instead of bringing the solar charger. I leave it at home for the emergencies that I can bug in.

    Of course estimate the run times/night/deployment.

  2. One trap I found myself falling into was bags/cases for "kits" (a bag for FAK, a bag for fire, a bag for calories, etc) to keep everything separated and easy to find.
    Drop those bags, and use Ziplocs, and you can easily shave a half pound or more (depending on how many you are using and the type)
    I've found the 1 gallon Ziplocs can be used for damned near anything, and they also double as emergency water carrying, and water proofing once you use the contents.

    1. riverriderMarch 11, 2015

      ditto times two. all those molle pouches are heavy when added together. i shaved 3.5 pounds by using zips IN the pack instead of pouches hanging on the outside, and hanging in the vines.

  3. I'd hazard a guess that 99.9% of the folks who aren't in the top physical tier would get more benefit out of getting stronger or losing excess/ unnecessary fat (or both) rather than ditching that 5# piece of equipment for a 2.5# compromise. Ounces are pounds and all that, but if one is huffing and puffing going up the stairs, one best start working out instead of spending money on a new super hyper operator light pack in Kryptek Highlander to shave half a pound.

    1. Agree r.e. getting in better shape, but it is better to do both. Much of the weight cutting can be done by reducing unneeded / overly heavy stuff, not spending hundreds on titanium spectra sil nylon gear.

    2. Agreed. I forgot to mention that this would be more relevant in a "just slightly over the imposed weight limit" scenario. If one is closing in on the imposed limit (say 40#) and one is at 43.5# gear but can't hike a mile WITHOUT a pack, one shouldn't be going for lighter compromises; they should do some MetCons/ cardio/ [insert practical exercise here].

  4. Strongly agree with all the points above!

    BTW, I know it's a bit off topic but in regards to keeping weight I can't recommend enough is nature's Nalgene--the humble Powerade bottle.

    It is quite a bit lighter than a Nalgene and still holds roughly a quart of water--so certainly something to consider if you want to shave off a little bid of weight. I used to use Gatorade bottles but about a year ago they changed the plastic to a flimsier material so now I go with the indestructible 1 quart Powerade bottles. They can nest perfectly in a standard GSI metal cup or any Naglene carriers/pockets/sleeves. The mouth is just wide enough to drop in standard ice cubes, but narrow enough that you aren't spilling all over the place when you try to take a sip--which is very much the case with a typical Nalgene bottle, particularly when on foot or in a vehicle. And best of all they are super cheap! You can get a dozen for the price of a Nalgene--plus you get free Powerade to drink!!! Heck you could get a couple just for the price of one of those Nalgene splash guards. The cheap price also makes them disposable--if you ever feel the need you can throw one away, chuck it around, or trash it up you can do so without shedding any tears. But that being said they are BOMB PROOF! I have one I've been using heavily for over 2 years and it's still as good as new. And I'm as clumsy as a person can be and drop things constantly. Oh and speaking of that, they are textured in a way that makes them much easier to hold and less slippery than a Nalgene. This also makes them more accepting of lashings--unlike a smooth walled Nalgene there are quite a few places you can securely tie a cord around to either lash the bottle to a pack or attach a simple carrier strap. They are also made of PETE plastic--which means they are ideal for food storage. Pop in your food, an oxygen absorber and your set! You could probably even skip the oxygen absorber and squeeze out some air when you seal the cap. Again, I know it's a bit off topic but I can't recommend these enough as a light weight piece of kit!!!

  5. riverriderMarch 11, 2015

    well, first ditch the tent unless you're going to everest. use a tarp or bivy. on that note ditch the heavy army bivy and get or make your own ultralight silnylon bivy. same for tarps, much lighter. short trips, no cooking except maybe in your canteen cup. no need for stoves, fuel, etc. and just how much ammo can one guy expend before biting the dust without air, arty, dustoff, etc? not very much. be realistic.

  6. I also really liked that book. If you haven't read Charlie Beckwith's "Delta Force" you should.


  7. Having recently returned to backpacking there is indeed a huge difference. I have a crushed vertebrae so I have put a ton of effort into a lighter pack and a lighter me. I started out with a 45 pound pack and 200 pound me. I lost 25 pounds and got my pack down to 20 pounds(base weight ) for two / three days! Total of 50 pounds lighter on the trail! I cover much more ground much more comfortably now. In a get home scenario that equates to less time on the road which further results in less gear. The book "Ultralight Backpackin Tips" is a great place to start when examining your pack weight. It can be found here:


    It may not speak directly to get home bags but, there are a lot of great thoughts that do apply.

  8. Going ultralight is fine for a training mission or a weekend in the woods, but if I'm bugging out from my house and probably never returning...I'm gonna carry as much as humanly possible. Whether I have to drag the pack, put it on a wagon and pull it, or crawl on my hands and knees...I'm gonna make sure I have ALL my gear with me (and probably a couple of weapons slung over my shoulders and hanging off my belt).

  9. Good thoughts, but all of this is case-by-case. Don't sacrifice key gear and redundancies for weight reduction. If you saved 4 lbs by leaving proper cooking or sleeping gear, you can find yourself covering lots of ground but SOL. Couple ultralight guys ran into my friends group above the tree line on a hike. the UL guys were using a wood burning stove to save weight on fuel. Wound up using my friend's stove because they had nothing to burin in theirs. Don't carry an 80 lbs pack but don't let weight obsession blind you into doing something stupid or life-threatening (like leaving snow shoes behind on a winter mountain hike). Smarter, not harder!

    1. riverriderMarch 12, 2015

      served 29 years,much of that field duty. never once really needed a stove on a field op. wanted/ carried, but never needed. every other man can carry a fartsack and hot rod it as 50% should be on security anyway. same with mission essential equipment. short missions you can go mildly hungry if need be, rangers do it for months. eat a whole pizza when you get home. we want to be comfortable, we need very little. embrace the suck, this ain't camping.

    2. Embrace the suck...yup that sums it up.

  10. The way I cut weight is multi-purpose items. No tent - hammock and bug netting works fine, both compress well too.

    The killer in pack weight in my area - water. Very small amounts of natural water sources here, and hiking requires water, especially in summer. Water is heavy ( a bit over 8 lbs. a gallon) so you have a problem. The plus - very few really cold days, hardly ever even freezes and that only for overnight so bulky cold weather clothing / sleeping bag is not often needed. That snugpak jungle bag sounds right up our alley - thank you for the suggestion! The Power Aid bottle trick is already used for the reasons given above - it works well. Though I still prefer the 1 quart canteen cup over the round cups.