8 Easy Ways to Go Lighter

Bell Magic solo canoe on Brule Lake in the BWCA.

Lightening the load in your kayak or canoe saves you energy, makes your load easier to portage, and ends up making camp life easier. These 8 easy tips are a few ways that you can reduce your load.

A lightweight canoe and a small bag can be all you need if you travel light enough.
A lightweight canoe and a small bag can be all you need if you travel light enough.
  1. Store your composite kayak or canoe upside with the hatches open. As composite materials age, they can absorb water, which makes your canoe or kayak heavier. If as little as a quart of water absorption, you’re craft will gain 2 pounds. Not only does this matter on the portages and for car topping, but a heavier boat performs worse on the water.
  2. New dry bags are now lighter and just as waterproof, consider trading in your old heavier dry bags for lighter versions. You could save as much as 1 pound per bag. If you use 6 dry bags, your savings could be close to 6 pounds. Try a few Outdoor Research Helium Dry Sacks. These OR bags are light and work like a charm.
  3. Consider your choice of stoves: do you really need a white gas stove when you’d save weight and ease of use with a 3 ounce canister stove, or with an even lighter pop can stove. Try the MSR 3 ounce PocketRocket. Since, I switched to this stove, there has been no going back. It’s light and easy to use.
  4. Leave the tent at home or upgrade. Many new lightweight tents are available now. Don’t buy a new two person tent unless it weighs less than 4 pounds. Or, even better, consider using just a tarp. Tarps combined with a bug bivy and result in total shelter weight of less than 2 pounds. Some of the lightest bug bivys weigh under 5 ounces. Sierra Designs’ Lightning XT 2 two person three season tent is one of the best sub-4-pound tents on the market. If you’re going solo, try NEMO Equipment Inc.’s Gogo Solo Tent. This cross between a tent and a bivy is a nice way to go if you’re going solo light and fast. My 8×10′ Integral Designs Siltarp has never let me down.
  5. The weight of packaging adds up, so repackage all your food items. It’s really surprising how much packaging gets hauled into the woods and much of it doesn’t burn well, so it’s best to repackage your food into light plastic bags and leave the heavy store bought packaging at home.
  6. Eat big breakfasts and snack during the day. Breakfast fuels your body in the morning to get ready for a big day and eating snacks during your day, allows you to feed a constant stream of fuel to your body. Big lunches tend to weigh more and if you’re cooking, they tend to take more time.
  7. Change maps. A more detailed scale maps requires more paper to cover the same area and often a bigger scale will work just fine. If a 1:250,000 will work for your paddling trip, don’t bring 1:60,000. Use the more detailed maps to locate interesting areas and transcribe those markings to notes on the 1:250,000. A waterproof map may weigh slightly more than a paper map, but paper maps easily get wet and require a map case.
  8. The easiest is leave stuff at home. Why do you need it anyway?

Do you know a few easy ways to reduce the weight of your load? Feel free to post them below.

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  • I agree with the notion of lightening your load when paddling and simplifying you gear, but the statement “but a heavier boat perform worse on the water” is simply not true. In a loaded sea kayak, the boat handles better. Now, there are limitations. A sea kayak with 150 lbs of gear will not paddle very well, but an empty sea kayak will not paddle as well as one that has 50 lbs. of gear in it. Those are the facts.

    A boat may even be faster once it has been loaded with gear. Sea kayaks are designed to be loaded down. If you paddle the boat empty, it will ride higher in the water than what the designer intended.

    With that being said, I agree with all of the gear suggestions that you made. I love my OR Helium dry bags, I have used MSR’s PocketRocket numerous times, and I repackage food relentlessly. However, people lose sight of the fact that the reason you lighten your load is for the portage.

  • In my experience, a heavier boat does perform worse, and that experience is reflected in the numbers and by kayak designers. In a recent remark kayak designer Rob Mack, he said, “Every racer knows the lightest boat takes the least energy to paddle and maneuver.” The context he used this remark in was in a discussion on why he tries to build his boats as light as he can. To me, that pretty much sums it up.

    A couple of years ago, after a long online discussion about this topic, I went out, ran a few tests with my kayak loaded, unloaded, keeping my cadence the same for some of the tests, and heart rate the same for others, I found that an unloaded boat is by far faster.

    My subjective opinion is that in lumpy conditions, I make better ground in a lighter kayak, because I can correct for the waves easier.

    At some point, directionally stability may effect efficiency, but since most sea kayaks draft only 1/8″ to 1/4″ different for each 25 pounds, and the loss in efficiency from the loss of directional stability is so much lower than the loss of efficiency from extra displacement the trade off isn’t worth it. John Winters in the Shape of the Canoe writes a bit on this topic.

    The reason that I lighten my boat is for better performance on the water and if I’m canoeing, which I haven’t done much of in the last few years, it’s nice on the portage also. I don’t consider that lost sight. :)

  • Racing is a different ball game. Those designers build the boat to be paddled empty. The aspect of handling is where I feel a loaded boat excels. I don’t like the way an empty boat gets tossed about the waves. A loaded boat feels more predictable. However, I will say that I am a light guy (150lbs, 6′) so that may be why I like a loaded boat better.

    Glad to have some paddling debate :-)

  • I agree, racing can be a different ball game, but Rob Mack was relating that to building touring kayaks.

    Really, it’s about paddling your own paddle.

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