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?