“I’m not overweight, I’m just 9 inches too short” (Shelly Winters)

I bought some new gear last year that I’ve been testing out and this included a new hammock/tarp/net system which has reduced my shelter-system weight from 1800 grams (my old ENO system) to 980 grams… a significant weight saving.

Does this mean the ENO system I originally bought was a bad choice?  Is lightweight always the best option?

For me the answer to both these questions is ‘not necessarily’.  Most lightweight camping products are less sturdy than their heavier and more rugged counterparts and, as a result, need to be treated a little more carefully in the field.  As is often the case, choice of camping gear involves an element of compromise and the best choice will depend on the trip you have in mind and your own personal preferences.

For example, if I’m going for a one night trip into the jungle I can afford to carry heavier equipment if I so wish.  Why?  Simply because I don’t need to carry so much food with me and therefore my pack is lighter anyway.  However, if you are going into the jungle for a week then it’s a different story and you will need to take in lots of food and will therefore want to reduce the weight of your equipment as much as possible.

I was listening to a talk Lofty Wiseman (SAS Survival Guide) gave where he explained that one of the factors that sparked his interest in survival and living from the land came during his army days (here in Malaysia, if I remember correctly): because they had to carry so much weight of equipment (guns, radio, ammo etc), the only way to reduce the pack weight was to cut back on the amount of food they took in…and therefore they either had to find food from the jungle, or go hungry.

Despite the fact that lightweight equipment may not be so durable as more sturdily built options, I would still go the lightweight way myself and just accept that I need to be a little more careful with the equipment.

The other point about ultralight gear is that you will save yourself a fortune if you make your own and, for this, you will need a sewing machine.  Once you’ve got a sewing machine all sorts of products can be made to your own specifications: tarps, hammocks, sleeping bags, pillows.  Not only that but you can adapt existing equipment: sew tabs onto hammocks to hang things from, extend tarps to protect the ropes from the rain etc and, of course, repair any rips.

The under-quilt for a hammock is a great idea that was developed for hammock use in colder climates but can be used here in a cut-down form.  It is astonishing how much difference this small quilt can make and, if you haven’t tried one before then you are in for a pleasant surprise when you do.

Some people use foam mats instead of under-quilts but this is not such a good option as these can act as sweat traps whereas the quilt system is more breathable.