Can you fit all your backpacking gear into a five gallon bucket?

Most people who would benefit from lighter gear don’t have the time or patience to weigh everything and create a spreadsheet. This is a significant time commitment and the results may not be meaningful for everyone.

The Five Gallon Challenge demonstrates the advantages of backpacking less gear visually than a gear list. This method is especially effective when people are able to compare their backpack contents with others.

Step 1: Purchase a 5-gallon plastic bucket at your local hardware store

Step 2: Fill the bucket with any backpacking gear that you have in your backpack. Those items can be left out of the bucket.

We should be focusing on the volume of gear, not its weight

In the Five Gallon Challenge, the most important thing is not the weight of the gear in a bucket. It’s the size of the bucket that matters. A gear that is compressible and needs less volume is almost always lighter. If you have a smaller backpack, it will be easier to transport.

Many ultralight backpackers, as well as some lighter backpackers, will be able fit all their gear in a 5 gallon bucket.

  • Instead of using bulkier sleeping bags, use quilts
  • Instead of using synthetic insulation, use more compressible down insulation
  • Shelters can be pitched with trekking poles, not tent poles.
  • Instead of using double-wall tents, use single-wall tents or tarps.
  • Instead of using larger stoves and pots, use small ones
  • Stuff sacks with open ends compress better than roll-top dry bags.
  • They require less clothing

Traditional backpackers with heavier gear and more clothes will not be able get as much gear in the bucket. This allows them to sort through their bag and remove unnecessary items.

Relaxing the Five Gallon Challenge

If you are doing the Five Gallon Challenge together and you know that no one will be able fit all their gear in the bucket, it is possible to relax the rules by allowing participants to leave out items such as a tent or bulky items like a sleeping bag. Participants will be able to see the effects that extra clothes, bulky cooking equipment, and a large sleeping pad on their gear will have on it’s volume by going through the exercise.



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