Everyone’s pack has a story to tell: the way it’s been packed, the contents or lack thereof and the way in which it’s carried. Rafters are known for packing a lot of beer, backpackers for their fun gadgets and gismos, runners for their vest pocket goos, and climbers for their emphasis on the fast and light. Nothing satisfies climbers more than completing an objective in good style, climbing efficiently and being home in time to enjoy pizza and a cold beer.
I spent last summer living in the little Bavarian hamlet of Leavenworth, Washington, and climbing in the mountains perched on the edge of town. Climbers living in this corner of the North Cascades are spoiled by quick drives and short approaches to access some of the best alpine rock in the country. Most “alpine” climbs can be done in a day from home, but it is also enjoyable—and strategic—to minimize hiking and maximize climbing over a few days by expanding a typical climbing kit with a few overnight essentials. Here’s a breakdown of what my pack looks like on this type of mission: pay attention not only to its contents but also to what it lacks.
On these fast and light climbing trips, there’s a lot that I live without, but a few things I couldn’t live without. Here are a few:
1. This plastic, reused water bottle is the only vessel I bring when I’m climbing fast and light, thus minimizing how many pounds of water I carry. I attach it with a carabiner to my backpack while I’m hiking so I can fill up whenever the trail crosses water, take a few sips, then cap it and clip it. While climbing, it’s attached to my harness. If I hydrate before and after really well, I can usually get by with just a half-liter on the climb.
2. My sleep set-up clocks in at a mere 1 lb 13 oz. (NeoAir XLite mattress is 12 oz. & sleeping bag is 1 lb. 1 oz.). I add the removable pad from my pack to place under my Therm-a-Rest mattress at my core level, both for extra warmth and to provide some extra protection for my pad. Open air or caves in boulder fields supplement for a tent, as I’m not climbing when rain is forecast anyways.
3. For evening entertainment, I bring a pencil and a page torn out from a crossword book. It’s far lighter than a book, and way more communal as well—I’ve been able to coax all of my climbing partners into solving puzzles with me. And the best part is you can’t cheat, because you left the answers at home at the back of the book!
4. When you’re going fast and light, there’s no room for a stove and pot. My simple solution to this has been to bring a homemade sandwich, or a few frozen burritos. By the end of the day, dinner is nice and thawed and ready to eat!
Regardless of whether or not you’re climbing, if you’re trying to move faster on the trail, ask yourself what you need, and what you need. Find your own groove—not everyone wants to eat thawed burritos or sleep without a tent—but chances are there are a few things that you can leave at home. Perhaps try carrying a smaller capacity bag on your next trip and pare down your supplies until everything you select fits well into the pack. Speed, agility, and most of all, enjoyment, will increase as your pack weight decreases, and you’ll likely arrive at your destination with more energy to climb, swim, or just settle in for a nice backcountry dinner with your friends.