Cutting Weight: Focusing on the Big 3

Hauling 50 lbs. of stuff up a mountain and back down again the next day for 20 miles does not sound that fun. Most people who love camping are scared to go backpacking because they NEED all of their stuff but it’s too much to carry.

There are different philosophies about how much stuff to carry and what should be your base weight (the weight of your pack without adding in the consumables like water and food). People have suggestions about dropping weight for ultra-light backpacking, maxing out their luxuries, and bring only what is necessary.

Since there is so much information, I am writing this post to give you a starting point.

My first suggestions is whatever gear that you get take it out in the backyard and learn how to use it. I would then take it on an easy hike or car camping to solidify your understanding of the piece of gear. You can have the best gear or the most expensive, but if you don’t know how to use it, your trip will suck.

The Big 3 refers to the 3 heaviest items that you will take. These are the items that also can make your trip super comfortable or suck for a number of different reasons. The Big 3 refer to your pack, your sleeping bag, and your shelter.

There are a million different types and sizes of packs with different features that you can get on a pack. There are different styles of hiking and specific packs for the different styles of hiking. Each person will have a handful of packs that will work perfectly for the trips they want to go on during their life. (see Choosing a Pack for info on choosing the right pack)

Your sleeping bag is usually the lighter item that is part of the Big 3. Just like with packs, sleeping bags have so many different fills, types and features that will be determined by the activities where you will use it. This is especially important if you ever plan to backpack somewhere cold.


Your shelter can be the lightest or the heaviest depending on what you are wanting to accomplish. I say that because I have slept in hammock which is super light, but I have also hauled a 8-person tent for 8 miles into camp when I was in high school. It depends on you. You shelter and your sleeping bag will change depending on what you choose for one or the other, so check out Choosing a Sleeping System for more information on how to choose the correct sleeping system for you.

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