Reducing my base weight by 20lb*

by backpackingbongos

* 20lb sounds better than 9kg.

It got to the point over the winter when I was struggling to get up those hills.  My lungs were bursting and my knees complaining.  I just had to reduce the amount that I was carrying when backpacking.  The traditional route is to shave 12 grammes off your stove by spending £50 more, replacing a good shelter for one made out of Cuben fiber for £300 extra, or ordering a rucksack that is as comfortable as a Bargain Booze carrier bag.  Instead I went down the route of reducing the amount of food I was stuffing in my fat face.  Now four months later when I head out of the door on a backpacking trip my total all in weight has been reduced by 20lb.  I can get up the hills a bit quicker and my knees are only moderately unhappy rather than screaming at me to stop.  With this reduced weight my pack has remained the same, yet I have noticed the difference.  On a couple of occasions on the recent Monadhliath backpack I almost felt sprightly (this could have been sunstroke though).

With the TGO Challenge looming I have noticed all the gear spreadsheets appearing on the blogosphere.  Each one is trying to out do the next by having the lightest pack weight.  Did you know that by only carrying one pair of socks instead of two you can save yourself a whole 80 grammes**?  This is absolutely fine by the way.  The only problem is that a majority of the gramme weenies are middle-aged blokes with an expanding waistline*** (to be completely balanced and so not to be seen as a bit of a weight fascist I am also a male on the wrong side of 40 with an expanding waistline).  I therefore want to introduce a new rule.  If you spend time putting together a gear spreadsheet then you must at the bottom put down your BMPI.  This is your Body Mass Pack Index.  This is worked out in the same way as BMI but you stand on the scales wearing your pack.  Let the competition begin………..


** sorry I am only guessing at the weight here as I have never weighed my socks.

*** you can’t beat an unproven generalisation.

55 Comments to “Reducing my base weight by 20lb*”

  1. Love it.
    Speaking as one who has been fiddling with kit list spread sheets and who does know the weight of my socks *blush* I think you’re spot on, Sir!
    My normal BMI is 22.7 and my BMPI is 26.5
    That’ll do me.
    I dread to think what Mr Walker’s numbers are – the lad has been on a crash diet for two years and is now skeletal!

    • Good healthy figures Mr Sloman.

      I will work out my BMPI before setting off on my next backpack. My current BMI is 23.4, which is an improvement from when the nurse told me off about my cholesterol levels and imminent death etc.

      I had noticed that Mr Walker was looking rather slimline in the photos on your blog.

    • Have done both: spent loads on reducing the weight of my pack (now a modest 14lbs) and also shed 14lbs of unnecessary body fat so theoretically, it should feel like I’m carrying nothing but of course it doesn’t. It’s a whole lot easier on the knees, hips and stamina though (especially when you’re bus pass age) I’m back-packing WHW as an intro to Scotland but am inspired by the Bongo blogs and really love the photos. Heading off tomorrow to Milngavie, can’t wait.

      • Hi there, sorry for the late response I have been away for a while. I hope that you enjoy the WHW, it was my first long backpack, it certainly gave me the backpacking bug! It’s great to hear that the blog is inspiring, makes it worthwhile keeping it going 🙂

  2. Well James, I tend to agree. For me a recent bout of illness has had positive side affects, in that I lost two stone in weight. My pack varies in weight according to the season. Winter around 12 kilo, summer, roughly 10 kilo. That is inclusive of food and fuel for a week. Mind, at my age, I prefer a few camp comforts, maybe a wee bit more food, reading material in the form of a basic kindle. Again, way back in the mists of time, we ancients of the outdoors had to make do with kit that weighed a ton. Pack weights of 30 to 40 pounds where the norm. For me, I have gone from that to paring kit down to the bare bones and going ultra light to what is now a comfortable middle ground.

    • I have to say that I do like a bit of camp comfort these days too. I will have to weigh my pack one day, I know that it was about 12kg last time I did the TGO Challenge.

  3. Spot on sir.
    Ability to carry what you need lies in fitness, not gram counting.
    To me, base weight is what you carry.
    I lost 32lb of extra body in the last year.
    That is an entire rucksack full +.
    I was carrying that up every Hill.
    No wonder my knees are knackered, because I was beating them up running too.
    Now I am fitter, not fatter.
    I have put up kit list.
    I don’t count grams, but did look this year, because a 3rd pending knee op in 7 years tells me to carry less crap.
    Now I take what I need for comfort.
    Some of my kit this year is heavier, some lighter.
    But the real reduction has been me.

    See you soon up a hill I hope.

  4. Excellent! Geoff said it was like someone else was carrying his pack for him after he lost 2 stone 😊

  5. Missed opportunity for some classic ‘before and after’ photos James with your new waif like self holding up your old large waisted trousers 😉

  6. I found cycling has helped me lose weight, although still not attractive in lycra. Wait until airlines start charging for larger people. Pass the pie.

  7. Good stuff James, that is a good amount of weight off. I have reduced my base weight by 14lbs in the last ten weeks. Odd thing is I am getting fitter as I get older. My P.T. down at the gym reckons that I do stuff which blokes in their 30’s struggle with – I am now 52. I think it is regular and sustained exercise which helps.

    It is amazing how many books are written about losing weight. It is easy and can be summed up in one line – eat less, exercise more. With the amount of money I have spent with my P.T. I could have easily afforded that Cuben fibre tent and sat at home instead:)

    • That is good going Mark. I have ended up fasting to lose a bit of weight, two days a week I restrict my calories to 600 and on the others I eat what I like. I have thought about the gym but am far too lazy. I prefer to get out every couple of weeks for a 2 / 3 day backpack, much more fun.

      • James, I tried that diet several time after seeing it on Horizon on BBC2. I found it quite easy to do but I got bad constipation and was a real problem with it even when I drank a lot of water. On the upside the weight just drops off you. Going down the gym for me keeps me fit for those rare backpacks that I manage at the moment. I do find it something you have to work out, but I actually feel pretty good afterwards – the release of endorphins I guess – but I much rather do want you do 🙂 Once I finish doing my house up and other such things than I plan to do much more of. I wonder when that will be !

      • Mark, with a veggie diet there has been no such problems! If you do ever get to leave the house give me a shout if you fancy company in the hills.

  8. I agree with you there, also if your keeping your BMI down it must be by keeping fit which will also help you on the hill. I think there’s a fine line between ultra light and comfort at camp, cutting the handle of your toothbrush etc is negligible to pack weight loss, I’d rather hump a bit more weight and be a happy camper

    • I think for me the camping part is my favourite when backpacking. You are going to spend about half your time in camp so you may as well be comfortable. At the end of the day backpacking is about having fun.

  9. Well done James. I never found it hard to get up hills before – or one the last TGOC (as well as doing the 70mile CW in 52hrs). I also published a kit list. Then I also I can if needed walk 30 miles in a day, but hey ….some cant. But James put that fitness and lighter frame to use. Take less kit, extend your daily millage range as a result of less effort needed and when you get to Sarek you can see more, cover more ground. Thats the thing a person who gets into shape and takes the kit they only need for the average temperatures and conditions expected can do. As for kit lists they help to plan, to see what is, and what is not needed. Again each persons what is needed differs. I think outside of Midge season inners for Trailstars and SL3’s are not needed. Others seem to think they are essential.

    But getting that weight off is a good thing. Add in midweek fitness session and those regular walks will be even more easier to do (thin people can be unfit people you know). But back to fussing about pack weight – Lighter and smaller packs sit closer to your natural centre of gravity, so you walk more efficiently, they take less effort to carry, so you place less strain and effort on your body outdoors enjoying the hills. So summing up. Paying attention to what kit you need and take, as well as its weight matters to a backpacker if they were to see the advantages, as well as loosing weight and getting fitter matters, and stronger matters – but you did not mention that advantage to a backpacker (add press-ups and squats with dumbbells curls to your training) . Also those kit-lists for Challengers matter as first timers say they help, and those who have had it with carrying lots of kit say the same as it helped them plan. I don’t see it as out-doing each other, but sharing.

    Anyway well done and get the 2nd part of your last walk written up.

    • This was done tongue in cheek Martin……….

      Unfortunately I have always found it hard to get up hills and probably always will, health problems see to that (Asthma and Hypothyroidism). Fitness helps me to a certain degree but will never get rid of the feeling of utter exhaustion I often get. As per walking 30 miles per day, it is not really something that I aspire to. If people want to rack up the miles that is cool by me but just not my thing. I just want to get out there as much as possible and enjoy being there. The wilder the better.

      I’m not particularly fit but can still drag my carcass across the Scottish Highlands if needs be. Not really into the training lark, the trail sees to that. Sarek for me is not going to be about covering ground, more an immersive experience through the wildest part of Europe. My route only covers 100 miles in 10 days, although many of those miles will be very tough.

      Part 2 of the Moanies trip will hopefully be up mid week.

  10. Brilliant idea James! Made me chuckle anyway,
    I too decided to lose a little bit this year.,but for a different reason. I’m a keen cyclist and as I’d ordered a very expensive carbon bike to lose approx 2kg, I thought the least I could do was lose a similar amount.
    Not that easy when I only weighed 68kg, still down to 64kg now….mainly through healthier eating.
    So my BMPI is..24.2. for the TGOC
    The Moanie trip looked great, looking forward to the next instalment.

    • Cheers Al. Yep the Moanies trip was great, will you be passing through the area for the TGOC? Hope that the weather is kind for the two weeks.

      • I’m crossing via the Corrieyairack…not the most inspiring perhaps but a long wanted tick for me!
        Hoping for good weather…but prepared for the worst I suppose!

      • I went that way in 2013 as the weather was too bad on the day to do a high level route across the Monadhliath. It was a building site with the new power line construction, trucks going up and down etc. Hopefully finished now. A good sociable route with folks congregating around Melgarve bothy.

  11. james – you may not know this but i am a personal trainer – also a spin class instructor. if you get yourself to a good spin class that will work wonders – 3 times per week and some core strength work so that you carry your pack easily. Self powered travel requires that you look after the engine – which is you, and the more so as you get older. I think my BMI is 19. Best of luck pal.

  12. Fitness is the key. These days I train 4 times a week. It consists of two parts a 3.5km walk with a 20kg load at lunchtime – being sat at a desk for an hour surging the net doesn’t appeal. 🙂 Followed by a 10 minute workout when I get home. The difference that this has made to my hiking performance has been very noticeable.

    Although you mention food dieting, the amount of food that you take with you makes a huge difference. These days I try to limit it to 1kg a day tops. But I have been guilty in the past of taking way too much food.

    As for BMI – I went to a website to calculate mine and it’s 20.5 – whatever that means! 🙂

    • That sounds a pretty good fitness plan Rob, something enjoyable rather than sitting at your desk. If only I had time for a break during the working day 😦 I have also tried to reduce the amount of food taken when backpacking as always ended up bring stuff home. No point in lugging it around the hills and then bringing back all battered and crumpled.

  13. Great post, James. Scary, though, as my BMPI is so high it’s frightening. If I survive the Challenge I will need to keep off the weight I shall lose in the fortnight of walking.

    • You will be like a racing snake by the end David. Good luck and have loads of fun. I am very jealous as not going this year.

  14. Well done in losing the weight. I was overweight as a teenager, but since I was about 18 I have maintained my weight at around 78kg (I am 6ft 2″), so I’ll let you work out my BMI! I am careful what I eat and if I think I have had too much one day, I’ll cut down for the next few days.

    Losing weight obviously helps, but unfortunately getting older makes a difference too. I am now nearly 60 and have to work harder to keep the same level of fitness. Luckily I can easily get out on the bike several times a week and aim to do at least 200km per week. However, if I slack off I find my fitness drops much faster than when I was in my thirties and is harder to get back to the same level.

    One hill climbing tip that I learned on a Himalayan trip many years ago is to go at a pace that only slightly increases your heart rate. Most people can keep this up almost indefinitely without suffering. It’s surprising how much further you end up going in a given time than trying to rush up. Obviously the higher your base fitness the greater the pace you can manage while keeping your heart rate down.

    • I was the other way round. When I first met my wife 22 years ago I was 8.5 stone, all skin and bone and could race up the hills like a whippet. I could also stuff my face and never put on any weight. That has all gone downhill as I got older and my thyroid started playing up. When climbing I find small steps help rather than long strides, as you say it keeps the heart rate down.

  15. Er…no.
    You see, essentially I agree.
    I publish a Challenge kit list purely for information. As a relative novice, I found any information I read on blogs etc. really useful, so I’m just sharing for other novices to see what I find works for me. I’m not really fussed about getting my pack weight to a bare minimum, just managable comfort.
    My sorry carcase however is in a bad way and I know it. I do not want to know exactly how bad. Will I do anything about it? I’m always trying…so, no.
    But thank you for making a valuable point.

    • You get let off the hook Louise as you published a kit list rather than a spreadsheet, a world of difference!!

      I wish you all the best on the Challenge this year, I really hope that you get across. I’m sure our paths will cross in 2015 🙂

  16. I’m a bit on Louise’s track. I’ve published a kind of listing on my pages, basically for info purposes and for myself too as a diary. I am not in any way shape or form trying to beat somebody else. For one thing, to get the weight off the big 4 items, tent, sleeping bag, rucksack and camera, costs quite a bit and then i would have to sell what i had. I am not in that league of willy nilly splashing out.
    I find reading what other people take on trips quite interesting because i can often find items that i havn’t come across before or which will make my lot a bit comfier. And everybodies list changes every year.
    They also trigger the back of my mind for bits that i have forgotten. So i for one say keep the lists coming. Don’t worry too much about the weight and take enough food to enjoy the walking. A little too much is better than not enough. IMO.

    • Cheers for popping by and commenting Alan. All the best for this years Challenge. And remember this post was tongue in cheek 😉

  17. James interesting that your veggie diet helps. I have over the last 3 months cut back a lot on animal protein, still have some fish and a small amount of chicken but most protein I have are nuts and Quorn. I have cut out dairy and wheat – all of this seem to help with digestion. I certainly would like a trip out – I also promised Martin and Chrissie over the last year or so. Not doing a very good job of organising this 🙂

  18. Cracking! I remember when I had my last knee op and asked the consultant what else I could do to prolong their life. He gave me a wry look and told me in a polite-ish way to lose some weight. Never managed it, I like eating too much 🙂

    I have a packing list but primarily to make sure I don’t forget important stuff. Bring a vague and forgetful sod you wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve forgotten to pack. Backpacks are always heavy so I never check the weight or have any idea of its weight. I just take what I think I need and leave it at that. I always take plenty of food and decent stuff, nothing worse than finishing a long day and looking a bowl of dried slop for tea. Just been to Arran and took a full DSLR and tripod, extra weight but had great fun playing with night shots.

    Most important thing to me is finding a great wild site and just enjoying the surroundings. I never plan the days walking, just take things as they, sometimes big days, sometimes just a wander. Being out is the main thing and bearing the weight of stuff to make it as enjoyable as possible

  19. Wow! That’s generated some comments… Well done, JB, you must feel better in yourself and it is a good point you make about the obsession with lightweight backpacking while carrying a couple of tyres around your middle. After giving up smoking as well I’ll bet you’ll be taking up yoga or cage fighting or somesuch next. I’ve just lost a couple of kilos myself this week, out on the west coast of Jura – there really are a lot of ticks about this spring…

    • Aye, mention the word gear and people get a bit serious! Was the couple of kilos that you lost due to the ticks? I know that they suck blood, but that sounds horrendous. Did you take the hound to Jura?

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