From the onset, backpacking was a simple undertaking. The father of backpacking as we know it today, one ‘John Muir’ as a matter of fact took only some bread and tea out into the wilderness. A century later, the backpackers were carrying 50-70 pounds of gears.
The trend started changing yet again in the 1990s though. It witnessed a return to lighter gears by adopting the slogan ‘less is more.’ This begs the question. What is ultralight backpacking?
For a start, ultralight backpacking (also called as lightweight backpacking) is a broad and subjecting term. As such, there exists no specific definition which can accurately describe it. This notwithstanding, it can simply mean carrying fewer gears which ensures your own safety, health, and overall comfort while on the hiking trail.
Great Ultralight Backpacking Gear Tips
You will find these tips quite great and handy if you are a starter in the field of lightweight backpacking:
Tip #1: Weigh your gear
Start off by weighing your gears appropriately. You may use the kitchen or luggage scales to do the job. Take note of the present B.W. This simply refers to every item on the backpack apart from the fuel, water, and food that are jointly called consumables.
Tip #2: Replace older gears with lighter ones
Next, replace the older gears with their lighter counterparts. As you do so, pay keen attention to the precise weights of each item. Your overall aim should be coming up with a total B.W. of no more than 10 pounds. This weight may, however, double if you choose to add some consumables.
Tip #3: Make gradual changes
Gears generally become more expensive whenever they get lighter. With regards to this, you have to lessen the load for an extended duration of time. To do so, you have to replace the ‘big ticket’ item one at a time. In their place, fix the lighter-weight and potentially costlier model.
Tip #4: Comprehend the trade-offs
Generally speaking, lighter backpacks are generally less durable. This means that you will, in fact, pay more to leverage their services in the long run as opposed to the heavier versions. You, therefore, have to come to terms with this reality and make the necessary expectations.
Going Ultralight with the Big Four
Perhaps the fastest and the most convenient way of lightening your load is to substitute all of the four largest loads which must be carried by all the backpackers. These are the tents, backpacks, pads, and sleeping bugs.
Traditional backpackers are generally larger and bulkier in size. Their capacities are 65 liters and have the ability to contain 3 to 4-pounds of weight. They are hence undesirable for use, especially in harsher terrains.
In their stead, you should use the ultralight versions which are generally frameless, minimally padded, possess limited 45- to 55-liter capacity, weigh a paltry 1.5 to 2 pounds, and are occasionally smaller in size.
Ultralight Backpack Suggestions:
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear SW 2400
- Osprey Exos 48 Pack
- Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
- Gregory Jade 28 Pack – Women’s
- Gregory Zulu 30 Pack – Men’s
- Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Pack – Men’s
Tents – If you prefer to use the tent as the shelter, use one that contains mesh all over. Such a tent definitely has to possess a rainfly to keep insects and other smaller critters out. A tent with a capacity to accommodate one person requires a trekking pole for added support. It goes for around £1 or £2.
Ultralight Tents & Gear Suggestions:
- Mountain Laurel Des. Solomid XL
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2
- REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent
- MLD Grace Duo Tarp Silnylon
- 8 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes
- MSR Reflective Utility Cord Kit
Tarps – Ultralight tarps allow you to create some decent rain shelters. They, however, require some guylines as well as a couple of trees, stakes, or trekking poles for added support.
Ultralight Tarp Suggestions:
- TarpTent ProTrail – 1 pers
- TarpTent MoTrail – 2 pers
- 2mm Painter’s Drop Cloth Tarp
- Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter
Bivy sacks – These sacks generally weigh 1-2 pounds. They have some waterproof shells and require some bare minimum bag which weighs around 6 ounces to carry.
Ultralight Bivy Sacks Suggestions: MLD Superlight Bivy
Ultralight Hammocks – To further guarantee your comfort, you may opt for an ultralight hammock. These may include some rainfly or a bug net.
Ultralight Hammocks Suggestions:
- Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip
- Dutchware 11 ft Netless Hammock
- Dutchware Hammock w bugnet 10
- Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt +30
- Hammock Gear Cuben Fiber Hex
- Kevlar tree straps
- Whoopie Hook Suspension
- 4 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes .5oz ea
- 3mm MSR Reflective Utility Cord
#3: Sleeping bag
Choose the down sleeping bag as it is lighter and more compressible than the synthetic fills. Moreover, most of them are water-resistant and weigh a paltry 1-2 pounds. Below are some tips you might wish to uphold to reduce the weight of your bag:
Select a bag whose warmth you are comfortable with. Extra warmth will normally bring in extra weight.
Go for a mummy bag which lacks a hood. Instead, wear a balaclava or the warm knit hat on the colder nights.
Think of a down trekking quilt especially if you are a thru-hiker rather than a sleeping bag.
Ultralight Sleeping Bag Suggestions:
- Western Mountaineering SummerLite Sleeping Bag
- Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30
- Magma 17 Sleeping Bag – Women’s
- Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium
- Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag – Women’s
#4: Sleeping Pad
The air pad sleeping pads have largely taken the place of self-inflating pads as the lightest comfort pads necessary for lightweight backpacking. With just £1, you are able to obtain a full-length pad which confers great cushioning and even slight insulation.
If you are a thru-hiker though, you should prefer a closed cell foam pad given their greater durability for the long haul travels. To spare you the extra weight, you have to select a pad that is the length of a torso.
Alternatively, you may also cut down the closed-cell foam pad. You may make use of your pack for insulation by placing it under your feet from the ground.
Ultralight Pad Suggestion:
Water, Fuel and Food
These three are the heaviest items after the aforementioned big four. With regards to this, you should only carry those that you need for the entire duration of time you will be out on the hiking trail.
Carry enough water for the entire day. Carry out some research to find out the lakes and streams that may be available along your route. This is to ensure that you filter and refill conveniently along your way. Below are some great water tips for your consideration:
‘Camel up’ prior to leaving the camp each morning. Do so by drinking sufficient amounts of water. The same should apply at all times you get to a source of water. This will see to it that you carry less water along the way.
Limit your water load to one liter or 2.2 pounds. This is not unless you intend to hike in a desert. It is only then that you will need more in between any two consecutive sources.
Carry along with you some mini filter. Some of these weigh only 2 ounces. On the same not, carry some backup purification tablets in the tiny plastic bags rather than the glass bottles in which they are sold.
Make use of the collapsible water bottles with capacities of between 1-2 liters. Such a bottle is 80% lighter than the hard plastic water bottles.
Ultralight Water Suggestions:
- Sawyer Squeezable Pouch: 16 oz – 32 oz – 64 oz
- Platypus Water Container
- BeFree Katadyn Water Filter
- Sawyer filter (3.0)
- Chlorine Dioxide tablets: In Amazon – In REI-CoOP
#2: Fuel, Stove, and Cookware
In order to stay as light as possible, you have to boil the water in order to dehydrate the food rather than cooking complete meals from scratch. This arrangement also saves great weight on both the fuel and the food.
As regards the cookware, consider the dual-purpose ones. The titanium mug may also play the role of a pot. While at it, make use of the Spork instead of buying the fork and the spoon separately. Listed below are some popular ultralight stove alternatives:
Tablet fuel stoves – These are stoves that use a tablet rather than liquid fuels. Find one that is made of Aluminum or buy one. Make use of one tablet fuel a day or a meal as per your unique needs.
Alcohol stove – The alcohol stove weighs only an ounce. You should, therefore, carry along a bottle that contains as many fluid ounces of alcohol as you might probably need for each meal per person per day. Be sure that the bottle is strong enough not to break apart inside the backpack. You may wish to safeguard it in a zip-top bag just in case.
Canister stove – Canister stoves are tiny folding stoves. They typically weigh 2-3 ounces. They perfectly screw onto the isobutane canisters which weigh a lot. The amount of meals each canister may make varies greatly. It is in your best interest to learn just how much a canister may make. In general, though, 2 ounces per day is sufficient for one person who consumes two meals daily.
Integrated canister stove system – Certain ultralight backpackers will often contain some integrated canister stove system. This is especially if it has to prepare meals for two or more persons at a time. It also boils water much faster than the ordinary canister stoves.
Ultralight Cooking Suggestions:
- Twin Neck Fuel Bottle
- MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit
- Jetboil MiniMo Cook System, Jetpower 100 Fuel Canister
- TOAKS 900 ml Ti Pot
- Snow Peak Ti Single 450 Cup
- MLD 475 Ti mug
- Ziplock 16 fl-oz bowl
- TOAKS Ti long-handled spoon
- MSR MugMate Coffee Filter
- Bic Mini Lighter
Plan to carry along enough food to generate 3,000 to 4,000 calories or around 2 pounds each day. This should be determined by the number of miles you intend to cover and how fast you intend to do so. You should also consider how strenuous the elevation gain or loss is likely to be. Below are some ultralight food tips:
Go instant – For breakfast, you should think instant coffee and oatmeal. They are quick and fuel-efficient sources of food. On the mornings that are too cold, you should eat some protein bar to get you up and moving. Make some stops along your way for some added oatmeal.
Be calorie-conscious – Bring along some fat and calorie-rich snacks for your lunch. These include the powder supplements, dried fruits, chocolates, seeds, nuts, and protein bars. You may wish to carry along also some salami and hard cheese.
Dehydrate the food at home – Doing this saves a great deal of money and packaging effort. You also get to generate and season the meals in the manner you prefer.
Do your own packaging – Other than dehydrating your own food, you also ought to package them on your own. Store the dried dinner inside a zip-top freezer bag. Add the hot water directly into it. The bag has the ability to withstand near-boiling water.
Rehydrate some of the foods using cold water and letting them sit for some hour or two to save fuel.
Make use of what you find first and foremost – In case you serve your foods on mugs or pots, you need to clean them beyond mere rinsing. Use leaves, grass or sand to wipe out the vessels first. Thereafter, make use of some water and scrub them if need be. Use a sponge that measures one-by-two-inches typically derived from larger ones at home.
Don’t compromise your safety – In your weight loss venture, do not at all overlook your own safety. Always keen the ten essentials with you as they will definitely come in to enhance your safety if and when you need it.
Navigation system – Carry along with you a map. GPS watch or other navigational devices. Get to know the benefits and downsides of the personal locator beacons especially with satellite imagery. They are heavy but play a crucial, role in alerting the peers of your whereabouts at any given time.
- Suunto M-3D Compass
- Printed Wateproof Coated Map(s)
- GAIA GPS maps on iPhone
- Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh batt 6.0
- Anker PowerCore 10000 batt 6.5
- inReach SE+
- SPOT Gen3
- Iridium 9555 SatPhone
- Iridium GO!
- MINOX BV II 8×25 binoc’s
Safety whistle – You mat wear a whistle that is light in weight yet loud enough around your neck. This is to be ready for use in times of emergencies. Remember, three blasts are what is necessary for international distress calls for help.
Whistle Suggestion: Tri-Power Whistle
Sun protection – Carry some ounces of sunscreen in some small bottles as well as a tube of lip balm oil that is preferably rated UPF 30. You should also put on a good sun-shading hat as the first line of defense against direct sunlight. While in the desert, you should also put on the sun gloves and a long-sleeve shirt with a UPF rating of 50+. Sunglasses are absolutely vital for the good health of the eyes.
Ultralight Sun Protection Suggestions:
- Badger Sport SPF 35 Clear Zinc Unscented Sunscreen Cream
- Thinksport Safe SPF 50+ Sunscreen
- Outdoor Research Option Balaclava
- Smartwool NTS Merino 150 Beanie
- Outdoor Research Sun Runner Hat
- Tifosi Crit Fototec Photochromic Sunglasses
- CeraVe SunStick
Illumination – Fill the no-frills, low-weight kids or the adult headlamp which weighs 2-3 ounces with the inclusion of the batteries. Fix the fresh batteries right before you depart from the room to prevent the need to carry some extra amounts. You may even illuminate your camp using a small LED lantern which weighs only 2.5 ounces and powered by one AA battery. Prefer only the tiny LED microlights which weigh 0.5 ounces.
Insulation and clothing – Always carry synthetic or lightweight puffy jackets. For the base layers, you will want to make use of a long underwear bottom and a preferably long-sleeve top.
Most long-distance backpackers prefer to put on running shots which are complemented by built-in underwear. Bring in some long pants if you anticipate scrambling on your route. Carry some two pairs of wool or any other synthetic underwear to wash and wear alternately.
Two or three pairs of wool or synthetic socks may also work well for most of the ultralight backpacking needs.
- Leggings (read the detailed post)
- Gloves (read the detailed post)
- TNF TKA 100 1/4 Zip Pullover
- Patagonia R1 Pullover
- Patagonia Houdini Jacket
- Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket
- Montbell Superior Down Pants
- Patagonia long sleeve Cap
- Patagonia Capilene LW
- Terramar Thermasilk top & bot
- Starter Athletic Briefs Underwear
Rain/storm gear – These include the rain pants, gloves, warm hats, pack cover, and rain jackets. They also incorporate some optional waterproof rain mitts. Keep these gears at the top of your pack for the sake of easy access when needed.
Rain Wear Suggestions:
- Outdoor Research Helium II
- REI Co-op, Mens
- REI Co-op Rain Jacket, Womens
- Patagonia Storm Racer
- Outdoor Research Helium
- Rain chaps or rain kilt
- DuraGlove ET Charcoal Wool
- Glacier Glove fingerless fleece
- ZPacks Challenger Rain Mitts
- MLD eVENT Rain Mitts
- Outdoor Research Revel
Bandana – This clothing item is highly versatile and is therefore worthy of special mention. Put it on as a headband, sun cape under a cap or as a damp clothing round about your neck. You may also wish to use it as a towel for your dishes or to dry your body. Some other added uses are pot holders, tourniquet or bandages in times of emergencies. If you happen to be a woman, bring in a dedicated one to serve the role of a pee rag.
Footwear – In most instances, trail-running shoes are the best for ultralight backpackers. Before making a switch from the sturdy boots, do consider strengthening the feet on the load-bearing day hikes. Some instances may, however, require the non-waterproof footwear given that it takes shorter to dry completely.
Shoes & shoes gear suggestions:
- Altra Lone Peaks
- Altra Superior Trail-Running
- Inov-8 ROCLITE 295
- Brooks Cascadia
- Darn Tough 1/4 Sock Light
- DeFeet Wolleators
- SmartWool PhD Light Mini
- Dirty Girl gaiters
Scaled-down first-aid and repair kit – Do carry some antibiotic ointment, bandages, gauze pads, blister pads, razor blades, and pain-relief pills, in some tiny packets. You should also bring a few inches of duct tapes that are preferably wrapped around the lighter or water bottle. Pieces of gear-repair tape are also necessary in case you sustain a hole in the pack, air pad, or sleeping bag.
Cleanliness and hygiene – Below are some small amounts of things which you need to bring so as to be able to stay healthy while on the trail:
- Small bottle of hand sanitizer for disinfecting your hands after visiting the toilet but before preparing foods.
- Travel-size tube of toothpaste (squeeze out half of it to use at home) or some baking soda in a baggie which you may moisten with some water.
- A toothbrush that is cut in half or child-size toothbrush.
- Small bottle or piece of the biodegradable soap. This is necessary to clean your hands and body outside the camp but not in a water source.
- Two pre-moistened wipes per day. One of these wipes is for your hands, neck, and face; one of them for your nether regions. While at home, get hold of your allotted wipes and leave them out at night to dry a little bit. This reduces their weight significantly. Store them in a zip-top bag. Re-moisten if necessary using a bit of filtered water on your trail. The wipes require to be packed out, rather than buried, as most may contain some plastic.
- 2 squares of toilet paper each day. Use some heavy-duty paper towels that are cut into 4-inch squares in the place of ordinary toilet paper. Alternatively, measure out the wads of regular toilet paper and leave out the rest of it on the cardboard at home. Lastly, put the paper in some zip-top bag. On the same breath, carry a zip-top waste bag with you for the sake of packing out.
- Pee rag (if you are a woman): ¼ of a full-size bandana works fine. Tie onto the outside of the pack for drying.
- Lightweight Backpacking trowel: Contemplate bringing in some ultralight trowel for digging the cat hole. Wipe it first and foremost using some soft leaves, smooth stones or sticks. Thereafter use some square or two of the paper.
Trekking poles – Opt for carbon fiber to arrive at the lightest weight possible. These poles are great for the maintenance of balance, especially on the rocky terrains. They alleviate knee strains on the uphill and the downhill terrains besides serving as shelter poles.
Luxury items – Each ultralight hiker brings in at least one thing which contributes to the excitement of the trip. This could be a small set of binoculars if you are a bird watching enthusiast, a journal to jot down notes, and so on. Make room for some treat or two for the trails.
- Camera (read our post)
- MP3 Player
- Yurbuds headphones
- Granite Gear 16L stuff sack(s)
- 100% DEET Mini Bug Spray
Lightweight Backpacking FAQ’s
Q1. What exactly is “ultralight backpacking”?
This is basically a form of packing the backpacks in such a manner as to greatly minimize the excessive weights that are often brought about by the gears. Among others, it entails carrying only those gears that are absolutely essential for the trips. It also sees to it that the gears are as light as is realistically possible given the prevailing circumstances.
Q2. How different is ultralight backpacking from the “regular backpacking”?
It is mainly preoccupied with then shaving off of excess luggage and weight, as has already been stated and explained. The backpackers place a significant priority on the weights of their gears rather than the contents carried. Ultralight backpacks are often manufactured by cottage industries whereas the regular backpacks by well-established firms. As such, they are less durable than the ordinary backpacks.
Q3. Which weight is generally regarded as the ultralight?
Making a distinct demarcation is a bit tricky given that the concept is largely subjective in nature. On the whole, though, the following are some of the general base weights (B.W.) for these kinds of backpacks:
- Regular = 30 pounds B.W.
- Lightweight = 20 pounds B.W.
- Ultralight = 10 pounds B.W.
- Hyperlight = 5 pounds B.W.
Q4. How is the B.W. calculated with regards to the “total pack weight”?
The formula is:
Base Weight (fixed gears) + Consumables (variable gears) = Total Pack Weight
Calculating such a B.W. is necessary for assessing the standard amounts of gears.
Q5. Which items are deemed B.W. (fixed) while which ones are deemed consumables?
Food, water, gears that are worn while hiking, and stove fuels are generally considered consumables and wearables. Everything else apart from these is considered B.W.
Q6. Is going ultralight right for you?
This is yet another subjective question. It all depends on what you intend to get out of a trip. If you prefer spending more of your time at the campsite rather than hiking, you have to carry along some playing cards, thick air mats, coffee makers, and an extra pair of comfortable camp shoes.
If you, however, plan to hike a long distance for a prolonged duration of time, you will prioritize those items which take up less space and weigh less.
This post helps you to hike easier, safer and with less “baggage”. Kindly share it around with your friends.