Cut your pack to save pounds

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Backpacker magazine just popped up on my Facebook feed and asked if I was ready to try ultralight backpacking. Huh, I thought, as a matter of fact I am! 

When I clicked the link, it sent me to watch the short video below, which explains how to cut up a heavy backpack to reduce weight. You can imagine my disappointment when I started watching. They asked if I was ready to learn about ultralight backpacking, and when I said yes, they told me to take a pair of scissors and chop up my backpack. Bummer. If I wasn’t already an UL backpacker, I wonder if I’d ever give it a second chance. 

True, ultralight backpackers are resourceful by nature. Trimming (excuse the pun) unnecessary weight is part of the game. But after all the time I’ve spent backpacking with UL hikers, I’ve never seen one of them using an old bag that they’ve cut up. Even if the idea is that you should be creative about cutting weight (man I’m puntastic), that’s certainly not the first video I’d use to teach a newbie how to lighten up. Ultralight backpacking is about a whole lot more than just chopping up your gear to save weight. UL is about choosing very minimal yet effective gear that will increase your comfort on the trail, without decreasing your comfort in camp. That’s a much more important concept. 

Also, cutting up gear is one of the most common stereotypes that I hear about ultralight backpackers. “So you’re one of those guys who cuts off his clothing tags off to save weight, right?” Ultralight backpackers. We’re the map trimmers. The toothbrush choppers. The tag rippers. But in actuality, the majority UL weight savings comes from simply choosing lighter, more efficient gear. Like choosing an ultralight backpack in the first place. 

There are significant downsides to cutting your backpack. First of all, you are essentially reducing your pack’s value to zero. Instead, you could sell your old pack on Craigslist or the BPL Gear Swap page and put the earnings towards a new ultralight backpack. UL packs often cost less than traditional packs, have the features you want, and will weigh significantly less than a traditional pack, even one that has been trimmed down. In our gear recommendations ebook (shameless plug) we suggest five popular lightweight packs with great prices. Even the heaviest pack in our ebook is still about a pound lighter than the fully gutted pack at the end of the video below.

Also, cutting your pack will reduce it’s functionality. At the end of the video, this backpacker is left with a pack that has almost no redeemable features. It has no mesh compartment on the outside for drying wet gear (a handy UL staple) and it has no hip pockets (an absolute must). True, there are a lot of unnecessary extras on traditional packs, but cutting off those extras isn’t going to leave you with a more functional piece of equipment. Also, I’ve seen people who have snipped a drawstring or cinch strap on their pack too short. That simple mistake will have lasting negative effects on your gear, so make sure you’re not cutting off necessary components. 

Lastly, cutting your backpack may lead to rips and tears down the line. If you’re not very careful, trimming your pack can lead to reduced structural integrity. Packs get beaten up on the trail, it’s inevitable. When you cut off parts that manufacturers designed to help cary the load, you’re inevitably going to be influencing your packs durability. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with modifying gear and I’ve done my fair share of it. If you already own a heavy, beat-up bag that has little value and you feel like doing mean things to it, this isn’t the worst idea in the world. Or, if you have the experience and you know what you’re doing, feel free to chop away. But when I think back to a time before I was backpacking light, if you had told me to cut up my pack to save a little weight, I would have said you were a nut. 

I’d love to hear your feedback on the subject. Have you ever chopped up a pack? Is that something you’d be willing to do to save weight? How did it work out? 

I’m still working on adding a comments section to my blog but I would really love to hear what you think. For now, if you have a response you’d like to add, just email me at [email protected] and I’ll post it below. Thanks!



Barrett Hartman: 

When I first got back into backpacking , I had all of my heavy gear from years before. Why I stopped is a long story and irrelevant.

So looking into ideas of what new gear to get. I was reading articles of PCT and AT hikers cutting up there packs to lighten them up. I decided to try the same while out on one of my hikes during my first year back into it.Ummm Big mistake.Cut 2 of the compression straps too short. So every time I had to get into my pack. They would run out of the buckle. Which meant I had to rethread them.And hold them together so they would not runout as I buckled everything back up. Also I cut some padding out and a couple of pockets off. The lack of padding made it hurt my back and the cuts at the pockets ended up ripping further thus making the bag useless.

Come forward a few years. I have A sub 2lbs 50L pack. W/o cutting anything. Lighter tent, lighter sleep system , lighter cooking system, lighter everything systems with many multi use items And carefully planned out gear. I am much more comfortable and my gear works the way it should. Buying lighter gear little by little and carefully thinking through my gear made bigger weight losses and more enjoyable packing trips than that inexperienced cutting did for me.

The one benefit the cutting did do for me was making it necessary to get a new backpack. Of which dropped 2.5 lbs off my base weight right there.

Thanks for your site, blog, and videos. They’re very informative.


Chad Poindexter (stick’s blog):

I will be the first to admit, I have cut my toothbrush handle, and drilled holes in the remaining stub, I have removed tags and cinch cords from clothing, however, I can’t say that I have ever cut much up on my backpacks. If anything, I have bought the very minimalist packs and them modded them with DIY extras that has suited my personal needs. I can see how this would get out of control though, so I do agree that I wouldn’t recommend ever cutting anything off of something to a newbie, and as far as anyone else, I would still suggest to use it a few times before making any irreversible modifications.

Brian Green (Brian’s Backpacking Blog):

Use it a few times to see how it works for you and then snip away! I have no fears of hacking whole sections off of a pack. It’s just gear, make it work how you want 🙂