Ultra Light Backpacking Gear

The ethos behind ultra-light backpacking is to carry less weight, pack fewer items, and travel further, faster. Followers of the ultra-light philosophy are hill walkers who believe in this minimalist approach, and delight in breaking down the barriers between themselves and the great outdoors. With the right kit, you can join them!

This page covers:

• The Benefits of Ultra-light Backpacking

• Reassessing Your Outdoor Gear

• Selecting New Equipment

• Backpacking Safety

The Benefits of Ultra-light Backpacking

Traditionally, multi-day hill walkers would carry a backpack anywhere between 60 and 85 litres in capacity, weighing up to a third of a persons body weight. For an average man, that could be as much as 25kg, for a woman, 20kg. Ultra-light backpackers on the other hand, would aim to reduce that weight at least by half. The benefits of this are as follows:

• Less weight means less strain on the lower joints and spine.

• Carrying less weight means you can move quicker, enabling you to cover more ground.

• Less time and effort worrying about equipment – more time to take in the scenery!

Reassessing Your Outdoor Gear

Cut right back on luxuries: you don’t need to take that portable radio and the kitchen sink. Think only of the ‘bare necessities’, and pack accordingly. Weed out any redundant items, there’s no need to duplicate items such as fuel bottles or carry a full complement of tent pegs. You could even swap out heavy steel pegs for lightweight alloy or carbon ones, which can weigh as little as 1 gram per peg. For inspiration, check out our great range of lightweight tent pegs.

Camping light with a companion? Share items between the two of you to avoid unnecessary duplication and excess weight. Weight can be saved here on knives, torches and cooking equipment.

Selecting New Equipment

If you are in the process of selecting new lightweight equipment, pay particular attention to the four main items that you carry – your backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. Selecting new appropriate lightweight equipment can save significant amounts of weight, even before you start leaving out the luxuries. It’s also important to consider your footwear options too:

Backpacks: Select a quality lightweight bag with a capacity of around 35-45 litres, depending on how extreme you want to go. This may sound too small for a multi-day hiking pack, but with experience and the careful selection of equipment this size will be more than adequate! Remember; a smaller bag is lighter, and, the bigger the bag, the more temptation you’ll have to pack those extra luxuries.

Tents: At the extreme end of the scale a bivvy bag may be acceptable to hardier hill-goers, but if comfort is a requirement then select a quality 1 or 2 person tent. These are the best option for most scenarios, and the lightest can weigh significantly less than 2 kilograms. Check out the Webtogs range of lightweight tents here.

Sleeping Bags: Though it is possible to select a highly compressible and lightweight synthetic bag at a very reasonable price, down sleeping bags are the better option for shaving off the extra grams, and for better compression and space saving. Remember though to select a sleeping bag with a sufficient temperature rating for your intended destination: too light a sleeping bag is no substitute for missing out on a good night’s sleep, and even risking hypothermia.

Sleeping Mat: An ultra-light, self-inflating or air-filled sleeping mat, will enhance your comfort without adding too much weight. Thermarest have the ideal solution in their ProLite and NeoAir lines, which also pack down to a much smaller size than a traditional foam mat – saving valuable pack space.

Footwear: A popular method of moving quickly across country is to replace heavy walking boots with either a lightweight mid-cut boot, or even a low-cut walking shoe; the amount of effort and weight saving on each foot can be quite considerable. Ultra-light backpackers, unless suffering from ankle weakness, require less support because they are carrying much lighter loads. Adversely, mixing a heavy load and lightweight shoes is not good practice, as it puts you at risk of ankle twists and tendon injuries.

Backpacking Safety

Your outdoor skills and fitness levels will need to be up to scratch to meet the increased challenges that ultra-light hiking brings. Your legs, ankles and feet will also require conditioning to cope with the lesser protection that lightweight trail shoes will afford. Ultra-light hikers also need to be savvy in their choice of campsite selection if using only a bivvy bag in adverse weather conditions. Finding a sheltered, downwind pitch, devoid of groundwater and flood risk is key.

Ensure you have the correct maps and a working compass, and ensure that you brush up on your map reading skills too. It is prudent to start ultra-light hiking with a friend if you’re new to multi-day hikes, and use familiar terrain initially before heading out into the wilderness. As always, before embarking upon a lightweight backpacking trip, be sure to check a detailed weather forecast, as the weather has an even greater impact on those relying on lightweight kit.