May 27

Making Small Things Smaller to Save Weight and Space

lightweight backpacking
Reducing the weight and size of small items makes it easier when you have to carry 7 liters of water and tools for 3 days of dry camping and trail maintenance.

Inspired by my friend Trail Ambassador Rik Christiansen who unpacked all his hygiene and other random little items for me one night, I decided I would try to shave even more weight from my pack by going through everything and seeing if I could make it smaller. This kind of “gram weenie” behavior smacks of zealotry, but I actually shaved a noticeable amount of weight before my 2009 PCT hike to really make a difference. I went through everything I had and saved 9 pounds. This list doesn’t include every little thing I did to shave that 9 pounds, but it includes many of the tiny and sometimes overlooked things.

Tiny Hygiene Items

Hygiene Items
Tiny Hygiene Items: Bandaids, wet wash and alka-selzer, single-use packet of neosporin that I actually refill with a toothpick, small bag of vicodin and ibuprofen, gauze and tape, dental floss, large needle (because at my age, it’s hard to thread a small one) with a piece of foam to contain it, toothpaste, part of a toothbrush, part of a hairbrush, hair ties, stick-pick, tiny hand sanitizer, lip balm and knife, container with waterproof matches and trick birthday candles, mesh bag to put it in.

One tip Rik gave me was to save small containers from any kind of hygiene or medical products used in regular life. Then refill them. I also save up tiny zip-lock bags that come with extra buttons or craft supplies. Whenever you are lucky enough to find a sample size product that isn’t the full-size allowed on a plane, buy the product. Never mind what’s inside, you want the container! Sometimes I shop for the containers more than actual products contained within.

More Hygiene Items from Reusable Containers

While on the PCT, I made a Lady J out of a bottle of salad dressing and used a small squeeze bottle for a bidet.

small squeeze bottle
A Lady J made out of a bottle of salad dressing and a small squeeze bottle for a bidet

The Lady J literally saved my rear from mosquitoes. The mosquitoes in Oregon are horrendous!

Make Things Tinier

Small Hygiene Containers
Small Hygiene Containers

Top picture: I opened this tiny dental floss container and inside was an even tinier spool of floss. Not only can I just forget about the dispenser completely, I can refill this tiny dispenser with dental floss spools from full-size dental floss containers. Either way I save space as well as weight.

Bottom left: I saved this tiny bottle from medication my avian vet gave me. I used it on the PCT for shampoo. I carried shampoo so that when I got to town I could wash up regardless of access to a hotel or post office. I have very long hair and this container held enough soap to wash my hair twice and my body once. I would refill it with hand soap from the dispensers in the rest room. I found restroom hand soap to be gentle on my hair.

Bottom right: Sample size lotions are great. Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are even smaller. Some of these types of containers have a top that can be pried off so you can refill the container. If so, you can reuse it with your favorite sunscreen.

Tiny DEET Replacement Bottle
Tiny DEET Replacement Bottle

I found a small container of 100% DEET but then I found a smaller container to put it in. Since I usually wear long pants and sleeves, I only need a small amount of DEET. You can pry the top of a Visine bottle off to refill it.

Tiny Music

Strumstick and Penny Whistles
Strumstick and Penny Whistles

I like to save weight so that I can bring a few luxury items. I play this fun little stringed instrument called a Strumstick. It’s easy to play and sounds nice in the wilderness. It came with a canvas case that is pretty heavy, so I sewed up a much lighter case out of water resistant ripstop.

The Strumstick weighs about a pound. Even lighter than a Strumstick is a penny whistle. A penny whistle weighs about 1.25 ounces. The standard penny whistle is in the key of D. The black one pictured is a D. The smaller one is in the key of F. The weight difference between a D and an F is noticeable. A harmonica is also a good choice for a small instrument.

Re-make the Things You Have from Other Materials

Replacement Pot Lid
Replacement Pot Lid

The lid on my MSR Titanium Kettle is light, but this aluminum flashing lid I made is even lighter by more than half. This  ugly homemade pot lid made it through 1800 miles of the PCT and still works.

Keep Your Eye Out for Reusable Containers

Little Containers
Little Containers

There’s a store in my area that sells waste from local industries. We have a lot of medical device makers in my area. I found bins of tiny medical containers there. Probably the tiniest ones are too small for anything other than spices.

Hydration Tube Mouthpiece Cap
Hydration Tube Mouthpiece Cap

A flip-top container works well as a bite valve protector for my drinking tube. The connected top means I will never lose the top. I like to keep the bite valve protected from dirty floors when I set my pack down. The manufactured bite valve cover caused the valve to leak. This flip-top container is from the industrial cast-off store I mentioned earlier, but I have found similar flip-top containers on other products now and then.

Sometimes I feel like I’m an episode of hoarders waiting to happen with my habit of finding and saving tiny containers. I really owe these ideas to Rik who set me down the path to saving micro-weight and finding ways to solve problems with reused or unconventional items.

This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Diane “Piper” Soini