The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

November 3, 2013

Light load is key to a good hike

The Commercial-News

A one-pound item doesn’t weigh much. “A pint’s a pound, the world around,” right?

But if you’re carrying that pound on your back, up and down mountains, it can feel like an anvil.

I’m getting ready to hike 95 miles on the Appalachian Trail, from Boiling Springs, Pa., to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. This time, I’m examining every item in my pack and eliminating every ounce I can.

A 45-pound load, which many backpackers carry, can make you feel like a sweating, panting beast of burden. It’s tiring, painful, and sometimes dangerous.

By cutting the pack weight to, say, 30 pounds, you can cover more miles and actually enjoy the experience. I carried a fairly heavy pack across 110 miles of Virginia mountains a year ago, so I have been focusing more on lightening up.

This time, before I put anything in the pack, I am hefting it, studying it, and deciding whether I can safely get by without it.

— The pack. I had been using an internal frame pack, with big, cushiony shoulder straps and a thick, soft waist belt. It was comfortable, but heavy. I have reverted to my circa-1970 Kelty pack, with an external frame made of thin, lightweight aluminum tubing. That shaves three pounds, at least.

—Water filter. It weighs more than a pound, so I’m leaving it. I plan to drink from springs and use iodine tablets to treat anything else. There are lots of springs in this section, so I should be fine. Drinking straight from a cold mountain spring is one of the sweetest parts of backpacking, anyway.

— Alcohol stove. I found a site online that showed how to make a simple alcohol stove from a Fancy Feast cat food can. I made one and it works. My new stove weighs less than 1/3 of an ounce. I also ditched part of my cook kit.

— Clothes. One pair of featherweight nylon hiking pants. Two pairs of hiking socks. One pair of sleeping socks. One wool shirt. One fleece jacket. One nylon windbreaker. One poncho. One change of underwear. That’s it. I’m not going out on a date, after all.

— Boots. I left my heavy leather hiking boots at home in May when I hiked in Kentucky, and wore lightweight, low-cut trail running shoes instead. That’s my plan this time, too.

— Food. Thanks to Carla Kinney, the creative wife of my hiking buddy, Cliff, I will be eating homemade dehydrated dinners. The rest of the food bag will contain oatmeal, tea bags, candy, crackers, cheese and summer sausage. That’s more than enough.

— Canteens. Plastic and aluminum canteens are heavy. More hikers are opting for the thin plastic bottles that soft drinks come in. I’m trying that this time.

— Sleeping bag. I have three, and I’m taking the lightest one. If I get cold, I’ll wear more clothes.

It should be a nice, pain-free hike. Stay tuned.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at