Explorer's Guide

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle for Backpacking

Go further, live bigger adventures, and carry home the stories to prove it.


You’re packing for a trip and feel a mild panic that you’re probably forgetting something. Your pile of gear sitting on the garage floor grows like the contents of a petri dish. “If I try to carry this much stuff,” you reason, “Ill wind up with scoliosis.” But the idea of shivering through the next six nights is also scary.

Whether you’re backpacking through the wilderness or catching a train into a metropolis, packing light allows you to go further, see more, and spend less time fiddling with stuff. The hard part is taking the pile of stuff you’d like to bring and paring it down to a 26L Inca-sized package. How do you do it? How do you pack light and smart?

You already know the phrase: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. One way to lighten your load is to apply that enviro mantra to packing. Trust me, it works. Here are a few examples of how to make it happen.


Reduce: Bring less

  • Don’t bring duplicate stuff. Whether you’re going for an overnighter or a month-long trip, all you need is one short-sleeve shirt, one long-sleeve shirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of pants. Socks and undies excluded.
  • If it has pockets inside of its pockets, it’s probably over-engineered. Ditch it.
  • There’s a lightweight version of everything these days, and it’s often worth the extra cost.
  • Pack bulk foods rather than individually wrapped bars.
  • Exception: Bring more sunscreen than you think you’ll need.


Reuse: Multipurpose > Single purpose

  • Can your water bottle double as a coffee mug? Do it.
  • Soap = shampoo = laundry detergent = dish soap
  • Bring a Leatherman-style multi-tool. Leave the “that’s-not-a-knife-this-is-a-knife” one at home.
  • Keep one pair of socks clean and dry for nighttime. The daytime pair is good to go until they’re standing up on their own.
  • Camp pillow = whatever you’re not wearing to bed, stuffed into a stuff sack.
  • Backpack = camp chair
  • Trekking poles = tarp poles
  • Exception: Inflatable mattresses that fold into chairs are bad news, unless you enjoy hide-n-seek with pinhole leaks

Recycle: Sharing is Caring

  • A group needs only one tube of toothpaste and soap
  • Share shelters, cook gear, and water filtering equipment
  • Bring one repair kit and one medical kit for the group
  • Pack group meals rather than individual ones
  • Exception: Toothbrushes

So, sterilize the petri dish by reducing your sprawling gear pile, reusing multi-purpose gear, and recycling things you can share with your friends. You might wind up wearing the same t-shirt for three weeks, but you’ll go further, live bigger adventures, and carry home the stories to prove it.


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