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A Complete Guide To Ultralight Backpacking

January 01, 2020

A Complete Guide To Ultralight Backpacking

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Backpacking is about trekking or hiking for days at a time. It’s about carrying your sleeping gears, shelter, suppliers, and cooking items, which as you already know can quickly add-up to heavy loads. As a rule of thumb, the heavier the load, the harder it is to walk (especially up a mountain), the more often you will need to get the load off your back to catch a breath, and the more you will need to stop and pitch your tent. Even worse, heavy loads cause shoulder pain, knee damage, and sore hips. 

So, how do you pack just enough to enable you to trek through the wilderness for days, without having to leave your adventure to resupply? The answer is ultralight backpacking. Ultralight backpacking allows you to have fun in the wilderness with less load on your back. It’s about finding ways to pack the minimum possible load to help you stay healthy, comfortable, and safe on the trail. 

Related: Top 10 Tips For Backpacking With Kids

Stick to the rules set out in this guide, and you will be good to cover long distances without hurting your back. 

1) Reduce the weight of your meal

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Tasty and nutritious food is as vital on the road, maybe more vital than when eating at home. Think about how you will prepare your meals on the trail. Do you want to prepare your entire meal on the trail or prepare as little as possible? For ultralight backpacking, you can do both with a little creativity and re-education. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Visit your local grocery shop and check out for those foods that require only to be boiled. Maybe you do not eat them at home because they aren’t all that yummy-but they can really provide the nutrients as well as other minerals that you require when you are in the jungle. 
  • Consider drying your own food – It is not only cheaper but quite easy.
  • Alternatively, use pre-packed dried food – There are a lot of brands available in your local store and online ranging from organic to vegetarian and anything in between. 
  • Find out about “freezer bag cooking” – It will eliminate the need of taking additional cooking pans and pots and reduce your weight load. 

Regardless of what you carry to cook and consumer, remember to re-package. Dispose of all additional packaging. Place like and similar items in one zip and put all your meals for the first day in one zip. Remember that packaging doesn’t add value other than unnecessary weight to your bag.

Check out this “Backpacking Food: Meal Planning Guide” blog post if you want to gain insight into backpacking meal planning.

2) Upgrade the Big Three 

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Provided your bank can handle it, you will make a huge difference by upgrading one or all the big 3. Materials and fabrics continue to develop in both weight and quality. These pieces of gear are your backpack, sleeping bag, and tent. 

Depending on the weight and age of your current gear, you can expect to reduce the weight as follows:

3) Go for multifunction gear

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This is a perfect way to decrease weight. Take a good look at all your equipment and clothing. What can you use for different functions as opposed to just one? For instance, if you usually take both a wind jacket and a rain jacket, consider leaving the wind jacket behind, the rain jacket is waterproof too. 

You will have a few stuff sacks and one or two will be empty after setting up your camp, use the empty sack with any additional clothing for a smooth pillow instead of carrying one. 

Leave the shovels behind and use a stick or your hiking poles to dig “holes” when needed. Remember that creativity is a priced asset in an ultralight backpacker!

4) Swap Things 

This idea is the most fun. Take a keen look at your gear and see if you can buy or take a lighter/smaller version. For example, do you need to carry that huge, heavy kitchen knife? Swap it with a smaller and lighter one. You can even carry a knife with a few gadgets. 

Do you really need those heavy camp shoes you wear? Instead, wear lightweight sneakers – possibly you will shed another 2 or 3 pounds. Look for other items that you can swap for a lighter one. Weight your original items and the alternatives and see exactly how much pounds you have reduces. You will be amazed!

5) Choose the Right Clothing

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This is an area that can easily become quite personal. We all have our favorite attires but most of the time these favorites aren’t really what we need when out in the jungle. Well, they are often hard to let go – but let us try! Take cotton, for example, it is fantastic on a hot day when you are relaxing in your backyard since it can make you feel cool and nice. There is a good reason for this: cotton fabric absorbs moisture from our body while it wicks away the heat. 

Now, think about backpacking – sweating a lot doing “ups”, walking through hills, stopping to rest or take lunch. If you put on cotton, you will easily become chilled or cool. Even if you put on attire on top, it will not be as useful as you might think because cotton will take a very long time to dry. This means that it will continue to take away your body heat at a faster rate than you can replace it. So, say no to cotton!

Things to keep in mind:

  • Consider different uses for all your attires. Use your buff as a hat, a rain jacket as a wind jacket, etc.
  • Take none of the “just in case” clothing – It might be hard to do without these clothes until you have enough experience but you shouldn’t carry them.
  • Review your attire with both the function and weight in mind – choose the right attire for the right season but do away with those clothes that have additional “whistles and bells” (for instance, decorative zippers simply add weight). Swap that leather belt for a lighter fabric belt.   
  • Laying is the answer – Develop a habit of laying your attire for maximum weight savings and efficiency. 
  • Don’t forget your footwear. The old adage that a pound on the foot equals 5 pounds on the back is true. Just think of the number of times you will need to lift your foot up and down during your hike – lifting the weight each time. Buy the lightest camping boot that still provides the comfort and support that you require to cruise the season and terrain. 

6) Practice sharing

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This is the best idea to reduce weight as well as increase the pleasure of backpacking – take a pal. You get the benefits of being together, having fun, and you can share the weight of carrying heavier items. Some of these items include:

  • Shared fuel
  • Stove
  • Tent
  • Sunscreen
  • Bear rope 
  • Water filter 

7) Use your past camping or hiking experiences

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After each ultralight backpacking trip, make a record of what you found useful, and what you didn’t use or eat. Note that you should not put safety items such as gloves, first aid kit, or your rain gear in the list of things you didn’t use, but it should include those clothes you always carry but never use or that food you always bring home uneaten. Refer to these notes every time you’re about to go out on a ultralight backpacking trip and make your load lighter. 

8) Lose that hidden weight 

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Go through your items as you look for that hidden weight – items that often go unnoticed. It’s true, pounds are made of ounces! Those tags in your attires and the handles on a toothbrush do add weight. So does the packaging on food, extra buckles, and cords on backpacks, those small medicine bottles, the center paper of your tissue paper, etc. Just weigh your items before you eliminate the hidden weight and then weigh them afterward. You will be surprised!

9) Have a proper mindset

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Going ultralight is a mindset, a conscious decision. Accept that life in the jungle is going to be somewhat or entirely different than sleeping in your bed. In fact, it’s this difference that hikers and campers find thrilling. Ideally, take all the things you think you will need to carry. In snapshot, ultralight backpacking involves getting rid of everything but pile a. 

10) Ten essentials 

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This is not a weight-saving tip but a life-saving one. Be creative when reducing the weight of the ten essentials. Here is a list of the top ten “must-have” (for survival safety, and basic comfort) when going out in the wilderness:

– Navigation


Map (with protective case)

GPS (optional)

– Fire 
  • Lighter or matches
  • Firestarter 
  • Waterproof container
– Sun protection 
  • Sunglasses
  • Lip balm and sunscreen
– Repair tools and kit
  • Duct tape strips
  • Multitool or knife
– Insulation 
  • Hat, gloves, vest, jacket, pants
– Nutrition 

Additional day’s supply of food

– Illumination 
  • Extra batteries
  • Flashlight or headlamp
– Hydration 
  • Water filter 
  • Water bottles
  • Hydration and treatment system
– Emergency shelter 
  • Reflective blanket, tarp, bivy, tent
– First-aid supplies
  • First aid kit 

Note: The above checklist is quite extensive. Not all ultralight adventurers will carry all these items on every trip. 

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