How do I shave the grams from my pack?

Martin Chester chooses 10 commonly packed bits of hut-to-hut touring kit and demonstrates how to save an almighty 4kg for a light pack while ski touring – simply by clever shopping

As a mountain guide, I spend so much time carrying the weighty group kit (the rope, group shelter and first aid, etc) that it becomes more important than ever to shave the weight of every other item – in order to keep the overall pack down to a feasible size and weight.

Clients are always astounded at the modest size of our packs and keen to know how to shave the weight off their own packing lists. Keeping the weight down really does mean you will enjoy a hut-to-hut trip (and especially the skiing) all the more.

Of course, the real secret lies in taking just enough and no more. It is the items you leave out completely that make the real difference. But given that some items are mandatory, you will be amazed how much we can shave the total weight by choosing wisely.

Preparing for a lecture at a recent ‘Backcountry Day’ run by Ellis Brigham at Tamworth Snowdome, I decided to get the scales out and work out where the weight actually goes.

We deliberately avoided anything contentious (like first aid kits or the essential safety items of shovel, probe and transceiver) but discovered you can save 4kg over just 10 items.

We thought you might like to see the astounding results…

how to get a light pack for ski touring - the packing list shot

1. Hard Shell Layers

Save your burly three-layer mountain shells for the piste – or for Scotland. Once you’ve tried a well-fitting lightweight hard shell, there is no going back. You pay a price and they won’t last forever, but given that we carry them for the majority of the time, it is all you need.

By going from a full-weight set to a lightweight set (I use Rab Downpour pants and an Arc’teryx Beta LT shell – but the Dynafit Speed 3L jacket or similar would be just as good) you can save 890g and we’ve only just started.

2. Glacier Ropes

I used to carry a 30m length of 8mm static rope – and I used to think that was lightweight! Now that Petzl have produced the excellent RAD (rescue and descent) line, you can save 700g and a ton of space in your bag. Reluctant to carry two ropes among the team? Not any more… it’s 30m long and only 6mm thick, so you’ll just need to make sure you have the right crevasse rescue kit to be able to grip and haul it.

3. Crampons

When I first saw the Petzl Leopard crampons I was cynical to say the least. But no more, now that I’ve tested both these and the Irvis combo (for a steel front and alloy rear). The cord system really does work. The crampons pack down and fit within my harscheisen – saving space. And they weigh in at just 318g, saving 560g over my steel 12-point mountaineering pair.

4. Bothy bags (Group Shelters)

This is a must-have safety item in the team, but is another of these things we all carry and (hopefully) seldom use. When the guys at Summit Gear brought out the Supalite Bothy, I just had to have one. It is tiny to carry (albeit densely packaged) but still saves 186g over my previous version.

5. Skins

This is one you may not wish to change or compromise on – as weight is just one factor in skin selection. But I have been using Colltex skins with a race-fix on my Scott Speedguides for the last couple of seasons. At first I was nervous about the lack of a tail-fix, but after repeated pro-use (and multiple ascents – on/off – on some wet days) I am now confident in the glue. Hence I am able to save 281g over my other pair for these skins. You decide…

6. Harnesses

These are one of those items that are both heavy and bulky, if you simply bring a mountaineering harness on a ski tour. Now we are spoilt for choice with a range of lightweight harnesses available from Blue Ice, Black Diamond and Edelrid, to name a few. Personally, I love the simplicity of the Petzl Altitude harness, which saves me 495g (and a ton of bulk) over my summer Alpine harness.

7. Ice Screws

Now these are not the heaviest items, but percentage-wise, we can make a quick saving here. Gone are the days of carrying weighty screws machined all from stainless steel. Again, Petzl led the charge, introducing the Laser Speed Light a few years ago. Black Diamond followed suit and stripped even more weight out of the alloy/steel mix. At just 187g, one of each will save you 165g over your old climbing screws.

weighing ski touring kit for a light pack

8. Headtorches

There has been a veritable revolution in wearable lighting over recent years (see my article in FL165, How to Light Your Way). As well as increased performance, we can now select lamps with decreased weight as well. Face it – you mostly use it for finding the hut loo in the dark anyway. But for a light that will cope with a late-night or pre-dawn start without weighing a ton, I now pack the Petzl Bindi. Weighing just 35g, it can save 78g over my previous model and takes up so little space.

9. Helmets

Again, you might decide this is one area where you do not wish to compromise, but companies like Dynafit and Petzl have been making helmets for skimo racing for years. Last year, Petzl ensured the new Meteor now meets the standard for both skiing and alpinism – so if you want to take a lid but don’t want to lug the weight, this could be the answer. Weighing just 240g, it could save me 324g off my resort helmet. But honestly, this would be an addition of weight for me – as I don’t tour with a helmet at all. Ssshhh!

10. Ice Axes

Last, but not least, we come to the trusty ice-axe. You can go silly light here – and end up with a toffee hammer that is good for nothing. But a recent fleet of steel-headed axes with lightweight shafts have made it feasible to carry something light yet functional. The Petzl Ride weighs only 240g and saves me 200g over my trusty Grivel Air-Tech axe.

To sum up…

All this soon adds up.

You can do the maths to see we have saved 3685g over the first nine items, and can save almost 4kg in ten items if we pack a light axe.

But this is just the start! If you pack light on suncream, toothpaste and so on you will be amazed how much you can lower the total if you shave the grams on each item.

Finally, it is not just about the weight. Check out the packed size! I packed two identical packs with each set of kit, and the light pack was only two-thirds full. Go and try it – and enjoy your skiing all the more as a result.

Happy packing!