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A Beginner’s Guide to Ultralight Backpacking

A Beginner’s Guide to Ultralight Backpacking

If you love backpacking but do not like having to endure body aches after lugging around a heavy pack on the trail, it is time to switch to ultralight backpacking.  Ultralight backpacking is a method on which your pack should have a base weight (everything in your bag that is not consumable or the clothing and footwear you are wearing, i.e., food, water, and fuel) of around 4-5 kilos. Packing light for the trail is a skill many people have developed with time, experience, and lots of back pain. Likewise, most ultralight backpackers have learned through years of trial and error how only to bring the essentials and get rid of the non-essential weight on the trail. Good thing we can teach you the loops and ways in ultralight backpacking so you will never have to spend days or even months trying to pack as light as possible.

Today, we are looking at some of the best ultralight hiking tips to get you on the right track and perfect the art of lightening your load and becoming an expert ultralight backpacker. In fact, all it takes is to have a different mindset, and a little research and planning before you trip, and you will be well on your way to ultralight hiking.


First, you should know how to determine your pack weight. Most traditional backpackers like to just count everything into their total pack weight, but as an ultralight backpacker, using base weight is a better way of comparing your pack weight for different trips. This can be due to the fact that one may need more food and fuel for longer trips, while the base weight stays the same. 

There are a few different ways of defining and splitting up your pack weight. These include: 

i. Base weight

As we have mentioned above, your base weight is basically everything in your pack that is not consumable such as food, water and fuel, or the clothing and footwear you are wearing. This includes everything from your tent to your sleeping packs. 


ii. Worn weight

This will be your clothing, anything you will wear during your hike, including a shirt, pants, socks, underwear, boots, and hats or sunglasses. Ultralight hikers do not usually bring any additional change of clothes along with them, so calculating the worn weight is more feasible for them. Make sure only to carry the essentials; that is why planning plays a vital role in ultralight backpacking to avoid a change of mind with the things you will be bringing, such as your clothes.


iii. Consumable weight

Here, we will be talking about the consumables we will bring with us along our journey, this includes food, water, and fuel. Ultralight hikers usually try to reduce their consumption by bringing dehydrated food or a more lightweight food source to minimize weight. This also helps to compare and know your pack’s base weight when you are going out on trips of varying days.


Part 1: The Preparation

Before packing up all your gear for your ultralight hiking trip, it is good to step back and prepare yourself for the journey. These are a few steps you can follow as a checklist to ensure you are ready for ultralight hiking, especially if you are new at it.


i. Weigh all your gear

This task will probably take up most of your time, but it will be well worth it in the end. By weighing your gear, you will realize that there are items and gear that you never even gave a second thought about being way over your intended weight. Assigning a weight to each item forces you to see how each piece of gear contributes to your pack weight. This lets you prioritize the items that you really need, as you will need to justify their place in your pack.


ii. Organize your data

In tandem with the first step, you should organize all the data you collected so that you can conclude. You can use a spreadsheet like Excel to group items into different categories like tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and clothes to help you reduce weight. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may need to look at the “Big Four” items, which we will explain in more detail below.


iii. Research, research, research

We always have room for extra knowledge, do not we? Learning new things, especially when going out, will help us take the worry out of our trip. The Internet is a great source of information, and you can easily access websites like ours (Hello!) that provide you with tons of information on ultralight backpacking. If you are a newcomer, these sources of information can go a long way to help you organize and start planning your ultralight trip with tons of tips and tricks you can utilize.


iv. Choose an easy location 

    For newbies, we do not recommend strenuous hikes that may lead to a miserable experience. When choosing a location to backpack, try to pick a place close to where you are. That way, you would not have to spend all day driving to the location and lose valuable daylight. Try to also go for a trail that is well-travelled. The last thing you need is to go into some deep unknown forest and lose track of where you are going. It is good to be able to interact with other hikers on the trail as well. 


    Part 2: The Essentials

    Since we now have an idea, it is time to go into the proper packing. The fastest way to save weight is to go ultralight with your essentials. These include your backpack, tent, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag. If you do not know how to pack only the essentials, this might bring unnecessary baggage and weight along your trip, and we want to avoid that at all costs!

    Sure, you can shave off a few kilos by removing relatively small items, but those are considered marginal. Instead, you should always consider the four major items you must bring on every hiking trip; the ‘Big Four’, your hiking backpacktent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat


    i. Backpack

    Ultralight backpacks are almost identical to traditional backpacks. However, their difference lies in the materials, simplicity, and the carry load. For instance, the typical bags are designed with a thick frame to support carrying heavy loads, whereas with the ultralight backpack, the frame is removed to save weight.

    Traditional backpacks tend to weigh around 3 kilos, which comes out to around the same as your base weight. But you can easily find an ultralight pack, like the 45L Lightweight Hiking Backpack which only weighs around 1.7 kilos, saving you a lot of weight. When looking for an ultralight backpack, you should also be looking at a carry load range of about 40-55 litres. While they may not be as durable as a traditional backpack, with proper care and handling, an ultralight backpack is still hardy and will last you for many hikes down the road.


    ii. Tents

    Choosing an ultralight tent is also a great idea since it will help you narrow down the weight of the things you will carry. Traditional tents can weigh from around 3 kilos or more, but one-person ultra-lightweight tents like the Illumina X Ultralight Hiking Tent usually come in at around 1.35 kilos or less. That is a big difference in weight, yet it is sturdy; some are even designed to withstand harsh weather conditions.

    A comfortable choice could be an ultralight 3-season double-walled tent for two persons like the Mongar Ultralight Hiking Tent Integrated Edition. It gives good protection against weather and it is easy to set up. You can also consider a one-person ultralight single-layer tent, like the Tagar 2 Ultralight Hiking Tent which can save a lot of weight compared to a double-walled one, but you may experience some condensation and ventilation issues on the inside of the tent.

    Generally, the more comfort you are willing to sacrifice, the lighter your shelter will be. 

    Read more on our selection of the best kinds of tents you should choose for your next hiking trip


    iii. Sleeping Bags

    Since we talk about research earlier, make sure to include what type of weather you will likely encounter during the day of your trip, this will help you identify the suitable sleeping bags to bring. Always choose a sleeping bag that is made for the type of climate you will be hiking in. For instance, if you are hiking in summer, bringing a sleeping bag that is too warm will add more weight and be unpleasant to sleep in. Choose a sleeping bag that is the right length for you to fit in. Having a bag that is too big will not provide you with much warmth, while having a sleeping bag that is too small is obviously not going to be comfortable for you.

    If you have a choice between down or synthetic sleeping bags, try to go for down bags, like the ULG Mummy Goose Sleeping Bag as it is the more lightweight sleeping bag option with a similar temperature rating as compared to the synthetic bags.

    iv. Sleeping Mats

    For most hikers, the sleeping mat is a must-have item, because sleeping mats will give you comfort at night and insulation from the cold ground. The thicker the mat, the more comfortable and insulated you will be, at the cost of a higher weight to carry. 

    There are two kinds of sleeping mats available, namely air pads and foam pads. Air pads are easier to pack and tend to weigh slightly less than foam pads. Foam pads have more functionality but are much bulkier to pack than the air pad. It really comes down to your preference for comfort, but if you are going for the most lightweight option, choose the air pad.


    Part 3: The Provisions

    Food and water are important for any hiking trip. We cannot go on our journey with an empty stomach. Unfortunately, these can occupy a lot of space and weight in our bags. On average, a single human must consume 1 kilogram of food and 8 liters of water daily while hiking. Imagine how many kilos of food and drinks you need to bring if you plan a 3-day hike. But do not worry; we found ways to help you pack food the ultralight way. So, you do not need to worry about extra kilos along your trip.


    i. Food             

    When it comes to ultralight hiking, we need to choose food with a focus on powering up our body and supplying us with our daily nutrition needs rather than savoring palatable dishes. That means you should consider factors like ease of preparation, total calories, and weight rather than just emphasizing the taste of your meals.

    To do this, you can always consider the calories to weight ratio. Food like nuts, dried fruits, chocolate and peanut butter have great calorie-to-weight ratio, while you should avoid canned food, as these are often low in calories, and heavy. 

    You can go for sandwiches loaded with fiber (peanut butter is an excellent choice for increased calories) or have some smoked tuna with salad for added nutrition. Snacks on the go, such as dried foods, including nuts and grains, are high-calorie fiber and great for consumption. With the camping cookware, you can also bring along food like dried potatoes, dried soups and pasta for a more complete meal with better calories. You can always add energy bars or something similar after your meal if you need more calories. 


    ii. Water

    It is most important to always keep hydrated on the hike, so water is one of the most important things to carry. But water can be heavy to lug around, which is why you should first scout out and know exactly where your water sources will be throughout your hike. You should always bring a little bit more water than you need because staying hydrated during your hike will make it much more pleasant and safer. For lightweight hikes, one good tip is to drink a lot of water at the water source. You can also use a foldable bucket to collect water when you set up camp. 


    Part 4: The Cooking

    A nice warm meal at the end of a grueling hike may be one of the best highlights of the entire trip. But of course, ultralight hikers have different requirements for the camping cookware they bring.

    Often, if you are going for an ultra-lightweight trip, all your cookware should be kept at a minimum weight. All you will need are these few items, which are lightweight enough to carry around but essential if you are planning to fire up some meals. Since you rehydrate food more or less, cookware should be kept to a minimum for weight saving. A lightweight stove, a foldable gas burner, camping pot, and some camping cutlery are all you need, really. 

    The best thing about camping cookware is that there are not too many details you will have to sweat over. 

    Check out some of our favorite great and easy camping recipes.


    Part 5: The Clothing

    For every ultralight trip, your hiking gear can contribute to a sizable weight for your pack. Most ultralight hikers usually just have the one set of clothes and gear they will wear for the entirety of the trip, which is reflected in the worn weight. However, as a beginner, you may not feel comfortable wearing the same set of clothes for a multiday hike. A properly planned set of clothes will be able to work very well for most conditions. Just remember to be aware of the surrounding conditions so you would not over or under pack.

    So, let’s look at what kind of gear you should ideally bring for the best comfort without leaving you overweight. 


    i. Base layer

      A base layer is good for regulating your body's warmth and can work well as sleeping clothes to keep warm at night. However, if you are hiking during summer, you may want to consider not bringing the base layer should you not need it.


      ii. Jacket

        Apart from layering purposes, a jacket is also a multifunctional tool. Ensure your jacket is made from thin waterproof material to protect you from the wind. 


        iii. Shirt

        You can choose between a short-sleeved or long-sleeved option, but make sure that it is made from a synthetic material for better absorption of sweat and movement. Plus, long sleeves can protect your skin against bugs and the sun. 


        iv. Pants

          You should bring a pair of lightweight hiking pants that do not restrict your movement and are comfortable for long hours of wearing. You can also consider bringing a pair of light training shorts for warmer weather. 


          v. Underwear

            Ideally, you should bring about three pairs of underwear on every trip. Make sure your underwear is made from synthetic materials rather than cotton because you can always wash it in a nearby stream, and synthetic underwear dries much faster than cotton.


            vi. Hiking shoes

              A pair of lightweight and durable trail shoes are sufficient for most hikes. Make sure to go for shoes with thick soles and good traction for better safety.


              Part 6: The Other Essential Items

              While it may seem like there are a lot of items you do not have to bring on an ultralight hike, there are some essential items that we definitely recommend you pack, regardless of the additional weight. 

              i. First aid kits

              Never go out without a First Aid Kit. Since you are out in the wild, you need to be prepared in case of unexpected emergencies. It is also ideal to be safe rather than sorry.

              ii. Navigation system

              You may know the trail well, but it is always good to have a proper navigation system; consisting of a map, a small folding directional compass, and a GPS device, which may help you in case you wander off track. 


              iii. Safety whistle

              Having the ability to alert people around you should you get into any accidents is essential for your own safety. 


              iv. Sunscreen

              The sunlight in Australia can get harsh at times, and you will often spend many hours in direct sunlight during a hike. Pack a small bottle of sunscreen to prevent getting burnt. 


              v. Lamps

              lightweight headlamp can get you out of a dark pinch. Remember to change your batteries before the trip so that you would not have to bring too many extra batteries.


              vi. Hygiene necessities

              Traveling light does not mean you should forget about your hygiene, especially out on the trail. You should remember to bring small travel-sized items like hand sanitizer, soap for washing, some toilet paper, a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. 


              vii. Trekking poles

              While these are not considered essential, trekking poles are very useful in helping you keep your balance on hikes and to navigate steep terrain. You can also use them to build your shelter if you are using a tarp. You should consider lightweight aluminium trekking poles, which weigh considerably less. 



              By following these tips, you should now have the wind in your sails and the weight out of your pack. We want you to experience the best things out of your trip, which is why we want you to have a breeze yet memorable journey. Prepare adequately for dangers ahead and you will be fine. In other words, with proper preparation, ultralight hiking is a breeze. It is time to take things into your own hands to start your ultralight hiking trip today!

              What did you think about our article? We had love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comment section below! Find out if your tent is suitable for the seasons at our detailed look. Check out our list of essential camping gear for 2023 to help you better plan out your next camping trip or check out our store for more camping gear!


              Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


              1. How is ultralight backpacking different from the normal kind of backpacking?

              • Ultralight backpacking differs from regular backpacking mostly in terms of pack weight. However, ultralight backpacking is not just about the amount of weight in one’s pack – it is a mentality. Most ultralight backpackers take the saying “less is more” to heart and will try their best to see how little they can carry while on a hike. While this may sometimes mean that you are giving up certain aspects of comfort on a trip, ultralight backpackers believe that this gets them more in tune with nature. 


              2. What are the benefits of going ultralight?

              Ultralight backpacking has many benefits aside from a very lightened load that does not hurt your back. These include: 

              • Enjoying nature even more
              • Hiking faster and further due to lightened load
              • Less tiring than carrying a normal backpack load
              • Reduced risk of injury


                  3. What are some things about ultralight backpacking I should remember? 

                  There are five main principles of ultralight backpacking to keep yourself safe and enjoy yourself while on the hike. These are: 

                  • Do not increase your risk with a lessened load
                  • Get rid of your non-essentials
                  • Downsize your pack
                  • Use multipurpose tools
                  • KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)


                      [Last updated on February 8, 2023]

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