One of the main topics of this blog is ultralight backpacking, so I thought I’d take a stab at writing up a quick intro to the concept. I’d say I’m at most an advanced beginner when it comes to backpacking, so well, you know, this is all, just, like, my opinion, man.
Ok caveats and disclaimers out of the way. Here goes:
The big idea
The goal of ultralight backpacking is to hike more comfortably and more efficiently by bringing less gear, bringing lighter gear, and taking advantage of multi-use gear.
Typically “Ultralight” is defined as a base pack weight (BPW) of less than 10 lbs, where BPW is the weight of all the gear in your pack, not including food, water and fuel. The weight including food water and fuel is total pack weight (TPW), and is also a useful number. Like everything, the 10 lb benchmark is a tool to help you enjoy your time in the outdoors more. You can use it however serves you best.
How to get started
If you’re keen on going ultralight, the most critical step to lightening your pack is to get a scale. You want something that is good for weighing things in the 0-5 lb range. A kitchen scale is great. A bathroom scale is not super helpful. Trying to guess how much things weigh by hefting them in one hand and saying “Hmmmmm” totally doesn’t work.
The first pass at lightening your pack can typically be accomplished by releasing your preconceived notions of what you need to bring to go backpacking, doing a bunch of research, and thinking critically and carefully about the gear you choose to take with you.
After that, the pursuit of traveling more efficiently and more comfortably usually requires making trade offs of various sorts. This is a moment where your preconceived notions can really get in your way. Step back and consider the trade offs with a bit of emotional distance. You want to make the tradeoffs such that the thing you are getting adds more to your experience than the thing you are giving up. Don’t be afraid to give things up!
The gear that you bring should always be adequate to keep you safe and should be designed to increase the joy that backpacking brings you. Both of these factors are highly personal and subjective, and that’s where the fun of thinking about your gear really begins!
I’ve found that lightening my pack over a series of low-risk overnight trips is a very effective way to experiment and figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.
On the bunch of research note, here are some books and websites that I go to for research:
- Mike Clelland’s “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips”
- Ray Jardine’s “Trail Life”
- Liz Thomas’s “Long Trails”
- Andrew Skurka’s Core 13 clothing articles
And here are some places to find used gear:
And when overwhelmed by the options for ultralight backpacking gear, you can never go too far wrong with Mountain Laurel Designs for new gear and the Ray-way kits for getting started with MYOG if you want a little more guidance than just buying some raw materials and having a go at it (maybe pass on the blood cleaner kit and focus on the backpacking stuff though).