Less is More
Lugging around 35-40+ pounds of gear while hiking can be a pain in the...back. Do you really need all that stuff? You might think you’re all big and strong when you start out but as you rack up the miles, you’ll likely hit a wall and start scrambling and scrounging for your next break. Lighten up! Use these tips for ultralight backpacking so you can spend more time enjoying the trails and less time resting up at camp.
Backpackers and hikers typically start with no more than a 5lb base weight (the backpack itself) when they begin packing for their trips. After all said and done, a pack weighing around 20 pounds is considered to be ultralight, while a pack weighing no more than 12 pounds is considered minimalist; which one is for you?
When your pack is light it not only makes you more comfortable, but it allows you to cover more miles during the day, which gives you more time to spend exploring the trails. Ultimately you’re going to choose what’s best for you, but make sure to always keep an eye on your pack weight, (since you will be carrying it yourself). In other words, make sure it’s not too much to handle or carry. Being overtired, or pushing yourself to carry a heavier pack than you need to can lead to exhaustion and injury. Remember you’re out there to enjoy nature, not dread it.
Begin With What You Have, Then Bring Less
First, don't start off buying all new gear just because you don't think you have the best stuff. Instead, start with what you do have and try to bring even less. Of course, if you have a hole or tear in your tent, backpack, or sleeping bag, you can invest in a new one, or check out How to Repair Your Backcountry Gear. But if your gear works just fine (and isn’t too heavy), don't go spending a fortune (after all, we're talking about ultralight backpacking here).
Pro Tip: If you’ve backpacked and camped before, think about items you packed and didn’t end up using. Cut them from your packing list right away.
Backpacks, Tents, Platforms and Sleeping Bags
If you are going to buy something new, we suggest in investing in these items. They tend to be the heaviest and most used items on a backpacking trip (no surprise here), so you’ll want them to be durable, space-saving, and fairly lightweight.
Multipurpose items are an ultralight or minimalist backpacker’s best friend. They cut down on gear and pack weight, and they actually get used on your trip (not to mention it’s also cheaper).
- You can bring a rain jacket to protect you from rain, but also to protect you from wind, and you can even use it for extra warmth at night, making it a fine, lightweight, multipurpose item.
- Instead of lugging around a pillow you can fill your compression sack (from your sleeping bag) with air and make yourself a pillow - more space and less to carry!
- Instead of using lanterns at night, use your headlamp.
As you pack you should be considering which items can (and should) be used as multipurpose to not only save room but also cut down on your pack weight. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with.
Pro Tip: Bring ONLY what you need and nothing more. Depending on when, where, and the duration of your hike, you might not need so much food or water, especially if you’ll be hiking somewhere where water sources are plentiful. So don’t lug around all that extra weight, (but don’t starve or dehydrate yourself either). Just remember, less is more. Pack only what you will need and what you will use.
Essentials vs. Luxuries
When ultralight backpacking it’s important to understand the difference between essentials and luxuries. Essential camping gear are the things that serve a purpose (the things you actually need), like shelter, fire starters, food and water, tools and utensils, and a first aid kit.
Camping gear luxuries would include things like ambiance luxuries (rope lights, speakers, or a rug), hygiene luxuries (camp shower, portable toilet, extra underwear), or extra gadgets like laptops (why do you need that when you’re camping?), a collapsible table, pillows, camp shoes, hammocks, camp kitchens, etc.
With any gear, you're going to have to make some sacrifices. Do you really NEED that rug or that collapsible table? How about all those extra clothes? Are you sure there won’t be any water sources along the route so you don’t have to carry all that water? Do you want to spend more on an ultralight tent or will yours do you just fine? These are all things you should consider before setting out for any backpacking trip (ultralight backpacking or not).
For further tips and guidance, check out How to Pack a Backpack: 6 Tips for Your Next Camping or Hiking Trip.