Backpacking is one of the most rewarding and intimate ways to experience the outdoors and all that nature has to offer. While navigating your way through the wild on foot seems simple enough, the fact is that the actual weight of the gear you are carrying tends to be rather burdensome, both figuratively and literally.
It’s no lie: backpacks are usually pretty dang heavy. Yes, your backpacking gear and backpack itself are all strategically designed to weigh as little as possible, but you can still easily top the 50 lb mark on an average trip. That weight can really wear on you, even with the most properly packed backpack.
The result of all this weight can sometimes make a backpacking trip feel more like a hauling trip. You can lose your mobility, comfort, and overall energy, all of which can hinder the very experience you are seeking in the first place.
Ultralight backpacking offers an alternative that emphasizes not only using gear that weighs as little as possible ,but using less gear in general. It’s equal parts gear and strategy. You carry less, and use less, while using items that weigh less.
Why Go Ultralight
As we just mentioned, an excess load of gear can make backpacking feel more like a chore. You are literally weighed down, which can have a drastic effect on not just the routes you can take, but your speed and efficiency as well. In a perfect world, we would all be able to roam around in the woods for days carrying absolutely nothing. Ultralight backpacking is the next best thing.
When Is Ultralight Backpacking Best
Many will argue that ultralight backpacking can be done any time of year, and nearly anywhere, but that may not always be true. Colder conditions and areas that have inclement weather often require more clothing, thicker sleeping bags, and more backup gear in general.
Warmer climates and seasons are much more favorable for ultralight backpacking. You can often get by using just a tarp for shelter, and a few extra clothing items, a lighter sleeping set up, and lighter food options.
Below is a suggested ultralight backpacking gear checklist that can help guide you on the bare essentials you’ll need to bring along.
While it may be tempting to go harcore and try to leave behind as much as possible, don’t do it at the risk of your safety. These items should always be included.
- Map & Compass - It’s always good to know where you are going, after all. Maps can keep you on track in case you need to switch route for whatever reason, and of course a compass always keeps you in the right direction.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen - Sunburns may not seem like a big worry, but they are. Prolonged exposure over several days can give you problems, even in increments. Sunglasses protect your eyes while also giving you better vision during the day.
- Extra clothing - Wearing the same thing every day probably isn’t a good idea. Extra clothing can be used as insulation, or in a pillowcase if needed as well. Always ask yourself; “What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”
- Headlamp/flashlight - Unless you have night vision, you’ll always need to have at least a flashlight on hand. A Headlamp is needed if you plan on traversing at night.
- First-aid supplies - Don’t skimp on this, you never know what can happen. Backpacking without a quality first-aid kit is asking for trouble.
- Fire Materials - A small amount of lighter fluid is always needed just in case. Matches should be included, and lighters are a good idea as well, just in case something happens to your matches. A zip-lock full of lint, pre-soaked wood chips, or other kindling is a great idea, and weighs almost nothing.
- Knife - The best multi-tool you can bring along. Hundreds of different uses. Don’t leave without one. An actual multi-tool that includes a solid knife blade is even better.
- Extra food - Yes you are trying to keep things light, but an extra day’s worth of food should always be included as a precaution. There are numerous lightweight choices you can consider.
- Water/Filters - Water is as the top of the list of important items to bring along. Yes, water is heavy, which is why you should always bring some sort of purifier filter device as well. This gives you backup, while also helping you lighten the load.
- Emergency Shelter - You always need to have a backup plan. Emergency shelters can be anything from a small pop out tent, to a huge heavy duty garbage back. Whatever works.
These items aren’t exactly a necessity, but they are pretty close Bring them if you can spare the space/weight.
- Bug Spray - Nobody likes dealing with bugs, especially when you are in the wild. If you can accommodate some bug spray or lotion, definitely include it.
- Communication Device - This can be anything from a cellphone, to a two-way radio or personal location beacon (PLB.) You never know when you’ll need it.
- Whistle - If you find yourself stranded or immobile, a whistle can be a much more effective and less-straining way to signal rescuers than using your voice.
Other Items to Consider in Regards to Weight
While essentials must always be included, there are several other items that are either optional, or give you the option to carry them in a lighter way. Here they are, in no order of importance:
- Footwear - Boots are usually recommended for backpacking, but using trail shoes or even running shoes can be a bold way to lighten your load a bit.
- Trekking Poles - Crossing rough terrain is much easier with trekking poles for stability. Opt for carbon fiber instead of metal.
- Tent Stakes - Rather than bringing a load of stakes, trim them down to just 4.
- Pots - Only carry a single pot, with collapsible handle. You don’t need a kitchen.
- Utensils - A single spork should suffice. Nothing more.
- Water Bottle - Using a soft-bladder water carrying system can not only be more comfortable (and wearable,) it weighs less than a bottle.
Again, don’t set yourself up for failure down the path. Lighter weight is obviously the goal here, but safety and preparedness are always first. When assembling your gear, weigh each item as you go, and document any changes you can make that can lighten your load.
This can mean leaving the item behind, or purchasing a lighter and more efficient version of it. Good luck!