Ultralight Backpacking 20 Helpful Tips

What is ultralight backpacking?

Ultralight backpacking is a method of backpacking that focuses on keeping your base pack weight (all of your gear minus food/water) below 20 pounds (9.1 kg) or less. This is achieved by carrying lighter gear and gear that has multiple purposes while still being safely prepared.

Why ultralight backpacking?

Because ultralight backpacking is lighter. A lighter pack weight means hiking further, enjoying it more, and being less tired. It’s easier on your body and you’re less prone to injury. Anyone who’s hiked with a 50 pound pack over a weekend can appreciate ultralight.

Is ultralight backpacking expensive?

No it isn’t. A lot of ultralight gear is actually cheaper than their heavier counterparts. Homemade gear is even lighter. Pack gear that has multiple purposes and you’ll pack less stuff.

How Do I Start?

You should start by getting an idea of how much all your current gear weighs. Weigh individual items with a scale if possible. Otherwise try to weigh all your gear together for a total. You can also use the stated manufacturer’s specs (but sometimes that’s inaccurate). Put together a spreadsheet of all your gear weights.

Examine the “big three” specifically. That’s your pack, shelter, and sleeping gear. Most of the weight in your gear comes from these three items. But keep in mind that most ultralight packs are only designed to hold lightweight items. So your pack will probably be one of the last things you replace.

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Figure out which gear will save you the most weight for the least money. Find out how much an item costs and divide that by how much weight it will save you.

Be patient and replace your gear over time. Don’t try to put together an ultralight pack overnight. Replace items one by one.

Here are 20 tips that will help you get started with ultralight backpacking:

Ultralight Backpacking

  1. If you don’t need you shouldn’t pack it.
  2. If you didn’t pack it you better not need it.
  3. Plan ahead. Don’t pack for a trip at the last minute. You should never just throw extra stuff in your pack without thinking about it first.
  4. Use compression stuff sacks to reduce space. Many ultralighters only think about weight but space is important too.
  5. Split up gear between your companions like shelter, food, cooking set, etc…
  6. Pack a garbage bag for a variety of uses. They pack light and small.
  7. Consider camping in a hammock. Hammocks are lightweight, leave no trace, and can be hung anywhere there are two supports. It’s better than the ground.
  8. Use a down sleeping bag and keep it in a waterproof stuff sack. You won’t find a better weight to warmth ratio.
  9. Get a sleeping bag with an appropriate temperature rating. It doesn’t make any sense to get a zero degree sleeping bag for summer camping.
  10. A silk liner is perfect for adding warmth for little weight.
  11. Use your stuff sack as a foot warmer. You can also use your empty pack in the same way.
  12. Fill your stuff sack with clothes and use it as a pillow.
  13. Wear all your clothes to bed to stay warmer. A puffy jacket can really increase warmth.
  14. Do not wear cotton. Cotton holds moisture and gets heavier. Synthetics weigh less and will shed moisture fast.
  15. Use extra socks as gloves or shells for gloves.
  16. Use running shoes on easy trails. If you’re careful you can even wear running shoes on difficult terrain.
  17. Use titanium products. It’s lighter and stronger than other metals.
  18. Only pack a spoon, a pot (with a lid), and a cup.
  19. Build your own alcohol stove.
  20. Use a crank LED flashlight. Batteries are heavy.
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