10 Tips For Going Ultralight on the Trail

Follow these 10 weight-saving tips to go ultralight on your next backpacking adventure.

By Kraig Becker

10 Tips For Going Ultralight on the Trail
Photograph Courtesy of Osprey Packs, Inc.

One of the hottest trends in hiking and backpacking over the past few years has been the shift toward going ultralight on the trail. Typically, this involves hikers cutting as much weight from their packs as possible in an effort to travel faster and more comfortably in the backcountry.

This means getting your base pack weight down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 20 pounds, while packing smart to bring the items to keep you safe and comfortable at the same time.

But getting started with ultralight hiking can be a bit daunting, making it difficult to know what you should and shouldn’t bring with you on a backpacking excursion. If you’ve been looking for ways to dip your toe in the ultralight pond, we have 10 tips that can help you get started. 

1. Bring Everything You Need and Nothing You Don’t

Photograph by Kraig Becker
Laying everything out and then weighing items before you pack will allow you to eliminate all but the essential items.

One of the first things you should do when looking to cut excess weight from your pack is to evaluate everything that you’re bringing with you. Chances are there are some items that you don’t actually need that are just taking up space and adding ounces.

For instance, one set of clothes that function as a good layering system is all that you really need to stay comfortable on the trail. It may be nice to have something clean to put on every day, but if you want to travel faster and lighter, that is a luxury you’ll have to learn to do without. 

2. Weigh All of Your Gear

When selecting the gear that you want to take with you, break out the scale and check to see just how much everything weighs. You may discover that items you thought were lightweight are actually heavier than you imagined. You’ll also gain a better sense of what is contributing to your overall pack weight, too.

3. Replace Your Backpack

Photograph Courtesy of Hyperlite Mountain Gear
Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest Backpack weighs just under two pounds and offers 40 liters of carrying capacity.

A good backpack is essential to any hiking excursion, but if your pack is more than a couple of years old, or hasn’t been specifically designed to go ultralight, it probably weighs more than it should.

These days, a lightweight pack often tips the scales at less than two pounds, which is substantially lighter than most other bags on the market. For instance, Hyperlight Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest model weighs just 1.9 pounds and offers 40-liters of carrying capacity, making it a great choice for nearly any adventure.

Osprey’s Levity line (for men) and Lumina Line (for women) of ultralite packs is also an excellent option to consider.

Video Courtesy of Osprey Packs, Inc.

4. Ditch the Tent

Photograph Courtesy of ZPacks
A tarp weighs mere ounces and can serve as an ultralight shelter. Trekking poles can be used as tent supports to save additional weight.

Tents made of all mesh have replaced traditional shelters for many lightweight hikers, but there are several other options to consider as well. For instance, a lot of ultra-lighters prefer to use a simple tarp to keep wind and rain at bay, while others have taken to using hammocks instead.

With a weight of just 5.8 ounces, the ENO Sub6 is a popular option for hammock campers, while the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp is even lighter at 3.4 ounces. 

5. Sleeping Light

Rather than bringing a sleeping bag for the worst conditions that you could encounter, bring one that is designed for use in the conditions you are most likely to be camping in. That bag will naturally be smaller and lighter, but still comfortable. Should an unexpected cold snap hit, bundle up in some extra layers for added warmth.

Quick tip: Even though you’re going ultralight, bring an amenity or two with you on your trip, such as favorite snacks or a small journal to take notes. You’ll appreciate having a little luxury while out on the trail and it will make your entire experience that much more worthwhile.

 

6. Swap Out Your Shoes

Photograph Courtesy of Altra
Altra’s Lone Peak trail running shoes are a good alternative to boots.

Traditionally, hikers have worn rugged boots to keep their feet well protected on the trail, and while those shoes have gotten lighter over the years, they still tend to be heavier than what ultralight backpackers need.

Instead, consider switching to a pair of trail running shoes, which still offer plenty of protection and stability while also managing to cut a serious amount of weight. Altra’s Lone Peak 3.5 is a popular option that doesn’t compromise support while still weighing just 12.5 ounces.

7. Use a Disposable Water Bottle

While hydration reservoirs and Nalgene bottles are usually standard equipment on most hiking trips, they do add extra weight to your pack. A disposable 1-liter water bottle is inexpensive, refillable, weighs less than 6 ounces, and offers plenty of capacity to keep you hydrated on the trail. When you return home, simply recycle it.

8. Bring Items That Serve Double Duty

Gear that can serve more than one purpose can save weight and make you more efficient. For instance, trekking poles are not only good for maintaining balance on tricky trails, but they can also serve as poles for your shelter, too.

Similarly, a Buff can be used as a hat, headband, balaclava, or even a scarf, while a multitool, like Leatherman’s Signal, can serve numerous functions, too. The more versatile a piece of gear is the more likely you’ll want to carry it. 

Photograph by Kraig Becker
Leaving electronics that may require battery packs or solar panels to recharge is another way to save weight while allowing you to go off-grid in peace.

9. Modify Your Existing Gear

Buying new lightweight gear isn’t always an option, but you can modify your existing gear to save some weight. For example, remove excesses belts, straps, and buckles from your backpack to shave ounces or leave tent stakes at home in favor of a free-standing shelter instead.

Ultralight backpackers will go to great lengths to remove unnecessary weight, including cutting the handle off their toothbrush, crafting a stove from a cat food can, and taking a first aid kit with only the bare minimum of items. 

10. Leave The Tech Gadgets Behind

A smartphone can be incredibly useful on the trail, serving as a GPS device, camera, and entertainment center. But mobile phones and other electronic gadgets also require power to keep them working, otherwise they just become dead weight. That means you’ll also need to carry a battery pack, solar panel, or some other method for keeping the device charged in the backcountry. 

All of these items add extra weight to your pack that you don’t necessarily need. Besides, part of the reason we go into the wilderness is to escape those devices in the first place. 


About The Author: Kraig Becker is a freelance writer, journalist, and consultant who covers mountaineering expeditions, polar exploration, adventure travel, and other outdoor pursuits. He is the editor of The Adventure Blog, the founder of The Adventure Podcast, and a contributor to online and print outlets like National GeographicPopular MechanicsGear InstituteDigital TrendsOutdoorX4 Magazine and others. He serves as the Adventure and Outdoor Travel Expert for about.com and is currently working on his first book, Reaching Beyond Boundaries with co-author Don Mann. 

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