Basic Tips For Ultralight Backpacking

Basic Tips For Ultralight Backpacking

Ultralight backpacking is a method used for arranging the contents of a backpack to significantly reduce the amount of needless weight. An excess load usually comes from packing too much gear. Ultralight backpacking focuses on measures that will minimize the weight of your gear. Selecting and categorizing the important item can be a challenge.

The following is the general classification of Base Weights (B.W);

  • Regular – 30 pounds B.W
  • Lightweight – 20 pounds B.W
  • Ultralight – 10 pounds B.W
  • Hyperlight – 5 pounds B.W

The Base Weight must first be calculated to be able to determine the acceptable amount of gear.

Choosing Ultralight For Key Items

Choosing Ultralight For Key Items

The easiest way to pack light is to focus on the heavy and bulky items e.g. backpacks, shelter, sleeping bags, and pads.


A conventional backpack weighs 3 or 4 pounds and can fit up to 65 liters, however, there are backpacks that weigh 1.5 – 2 pounds and fit 45 to 55 liters. Choose frameless backpacks and those with less padding. Also, you can choose one of theese solar backpacks.


Tents. The lightest unit weights one pound. Double-walled tents are much preferred because they keep out insects and excess moisture. They can be used during any season and are versatile provided that there is enough ground space.

Tarps. Ultralight tarps make for a great cover against the rain. The walls of these tarps enhance airflow because they are part solid and part mesh. Tarps usually require large campsites for set up and several poles or trees to attach the guy ropes.

Bivy Sacks. A high-quality bivy sack weighs no more than two pounds and provides the sleeping bags with full protection from the rain. The warmth provided by a bivy sack allows you to have a lighter sleeping bag and no groundsheet. Notwithstanding, in hot and humid weather, bivvies will leave you drenched in sweat.

Ultralight hammocks. Ultralight hammocks are just as tiny in your backpack as they are on a scale. They consist of both a rain fly (which can be attached to the trees above) and a bug net (which is slid over the hammock and tied off at each end). A hammock is a good alternative when there is not enough ground-level at campsites, and there is no need to worry about ground moisture.

Sleeping bags

The best option would be a down sleeping bag. Down sleeping bags have less weight and can be folded to make them smaller. Most models are leak-proof and add an insignificant one to two pounds to your load.

Here is what you can do to make your backpack as light as possible without making any compromise:

  • Go for a bag that accommodates the climate you will be in and not warmer.
  • Wear a scarf or beanie.
  • Decide whether it is more suitable for you to have a down trekking quilt in place of a sleeping bag.

Sleeping Pad

Air pads are now used instead of Self-inflating camping pads. Air pads weigh less than one pound, has more cushion is of full length. Never the less, end-to-end long-distance hikers choose a closed-cell foam pad because they are durable.

Opting for a torso length air pad or a closed cell foam pad will significantly reduce the amount of weight you will carry Your backpack can also be used to protect your feet from the cold. Ultimately, it all depends on your preferred level of comfort.

Tips for Food & Water

Tips for Food & Water for ultralight backpacking

After you would have covered the basics, food, fuel, and water are next in line. Here are some specific recommendations for each category.


A rule of thumb for how much food you will need, based on Military Physiology: Energy Expenditure is more or less 3500-4500 calories. The definite number of calories will depend on multiple factors: difficulty, distance, and speed.

Meal planning tips:

  • Go instant. Instant coffee and porridge, granola, powdered milk, and breakfast bars are quick and cost-efficient choices for the mornings. Also, consider jerky, dried fruit, instant rice, ramen noodles, and other similar options. Theese thermoses with a cup will help you with coffee. You can also use them to carry water.
  • Make use of calories. Take fatty and calorie-dense foods: nuts, seeds, protein bars, chocolate, powder supplements, and if you can, bring hard cheese and salami.
  • Prepare your own dehydrated food. By doing this you will be able to save money, you will have fewer packages, and meals of your choice.
  • Save fuel. Rehydrate some foods by using cold water and leaving it out for some time.

Light Stove Options

In keeping with the trend of reducing weight, your meals should only require adding hot water into a dehydrated mix. You will use less food and fuel compared to cooking from scratch.

As for the cookware, it should serve several purposes. Metal cups can be used as a pot for cooking or as a spork.

There are several options for cooking as follows:

  • Alcohol stove. Only one ounce of alcohol is needed for this stove to work. However, it is necessary to calculate the amount of alcohol that will be required to prepare meals. Alcohol should be kept in durable bottles. As an additional safety measure, place it in a zip-lock bag.
  • Canister Stove. Collapsible canister stoves are small and lightweight, however, their isobutane canisters are heavy. Only two ounces of fuel is needed to prepare meals per day.
  • The integrated canister stove system. Even though it weighs a little more than other options, it is useful for a company of two or more people. These stoves make use of very little fuel and can be used to heat water fast.
  • Tablet fuel stoves. Buy a simple aluminum stove– the lightest commonly available metal option. Take a fuel tablet for each day or meal according to your plan. You can build one by cutting and folding the base to make a dodecagon. Then you use the fiberglass insulation and put the fuel tablet in. Finally, put the top with a cut-out inner circle and poke the burner holes.


How to avoid carrying all the water you will need throughout the day.

Decide on a trail, determine the locations of water sources and how to filter it.


  • Be proactive. Increase the amount of water you drink each day leading up to your trip. During your journey, drink a lot of water from each source.
  • Take no more than two liters of water between water stops. However, consider taking more water when conditions are hot and dry.
  • A mini filter and water purification tablets/drops will come in handy. Purification tablets/drops bought in glass containers can be repackaged using plastic bags.
  • Collapsible water bottles are much preferred because they are significantly lighter than any other reusable water bottle.

List of Backpacking Necessities

List of Backpacking Necessities

Even though the main goal is to make your load lighter, safety measures and necessary gear should not be compromised. In addition to backpacks, tents, and meals, you must include the following items in your backpacking checklist:

  • Navigation system. Maps, compasses, and GPS make for great navigation tools. Choose between a personal locator beacon or a satellite messenger, to signal for help. They add to the weight you’re carrying but hold significant perks for your safety.
  • Storm survival whistle. Whistles are easy to carry. They can be attached to a cord and placed around your neck. A single blast from a whistle might mean, “Where are you?” or it might be a response to a code. Two blasts is a response which means “Come here.” Three blasts is an international distress call.
  • Sunscreen. The Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens Repackage recommends the use of chapstick rated UPF 30. Put the cream in a small container.
  • As a form of sun protection, bring a hat, sunglasses, and a bandana. You can maximize the use of a bandana in multiple ways: as a headband, sun cover under or over a cap, or cooling cloth for your face and neck. It can also be used as a dishcloth, a towel or as a compression band.
  • Sun gloves and a UPF 50+ clothing are great for sunny weather.
  • First-aid and repair kit. These kits include blister cushions, bandages, topical antibiotic, painkillers, and a razor blade (a lighter version of a knife or scissors). Wrap a few loops of duct tape, peel-and-stick and a length of weatherproof repair tape around some containers. Weatherproof repair tape works well to seal holes in the pack, sleeping bag, and air pad.
  • Lighting. Buy a budget-friendly, lightweight headlamp. The batteries for these lamps weigh approximately two to three ounces. To minimize the need for spare batteries, always replace the old with the new. Micro LED lights provide illumination in tents and weigh less than one ounce.
  • Waterproof gear. A standard waterproof set includes a waterproof coat, rain pants, a head cover, gloves and a backpack cover (they also come with pockets). Stack these items at the top of your backpack for easy access.
  • Shoes. There are a variety of shoes specially designed for ultralight hiking. Some say that non-waterproof shoes are a better option because they dry faster. However, before you toss your sturdy boots, toughen your feet and ankles on load-bearing day treks.
  • Trekking Poles. By choosing a carbon fiber version you are likely to save on weight. These are useful for stream crossings, snowy trails, steep downhills, upslopes, etc.
  • Extra items. You can allow yourself a treat to make the experience more pleasant. You can take a pair of binoculars, a kindle, a Frisbee, mini speakers, etc.

Insulation and Clothing

  • A puffy jacket or down jacket.
  • Inner layer: fitted long thermal underwear and a long-sleeve shirt.
  • Optionally, running shorts with built-in underwear.
  • Long pants to avoid scratches and insect bites.
  • Two pairs of wool or synthetic underwear (so that you have a spare when the other is washed).
  • Two or three pairs of wool or synthetic socks.

Hygiene and Staying Clean

Another point to consider is staying healthy and clean. You should not forget the following items:

  • Tiny container or chunk of eco-friendly soap (for use outside of the camp; do not contaminate the water source).
  • Purchase a Travel-size toothpaste or squeeze out a small portion into a small container.
  • Use a few squares of toilet paper per day. The Stop Global Warming College Tour recommends limiting your use to one square, so paper towels cut into 4-inch squares will suffice.
  • Pack a compact container of hand sanitizer gel to decrease infectious organisms.
  • Two wipes per day of trekking. Air-dry your wipes to make them lighter and store in a bag. Filtered water can be used to dampen them when necessary.
  • Pee cloth for women. Reusable antimicrobial pee rag or a bandana cut into four pieces are great options to consider.

How to Shed Weight and Stay Comfortable

How to Shed Weight and Stay Comfortable during ultralight backpacking

After selecting the essential items, there are other aspects of ultralight packing that will require your attention. The following are recommendations that will take your experience to another level.

Choose Smart Materials

You must ensure that your gears are made from both lightweight and durable materials. These gears may be expensive but are worth the investment.

Synthetic clothes weigh less than cotton and act as a better layering option when hiking. Synthetic clothing can be dried faster, so there is no need for a change of clothes when you sweat, this means less load.

Get Organized

The most crucial aspect of preparing for your trip is deciding on what to take.

  • Set out and scan the items you are going to pack; this will allow you to remember everything.
  • Determine how to organize the contents of your backpack. Use your backpack pockets for items that you will need to access quickly. Pack other items at the bottom of your backpack.

By employing this method, you will avoid filling your backpack with unnecessary weight.

Check the Weather

Make Healthy Choices

People get caught up with ruthless cutting of the load they will have to carry on their backs. However, they fail to take into account their actual body mass, which they have to carry on their feet.

Taking care of your health in advance will make the overall experience much better. Being fit will not only allow you to be able to carry more weight, but it will make you physically stronger and more capable of such activity.

Keep Learning

Set yourself little tasks every time you plan your next trip. Read new articles, seek professional advice and tips, communicate with other hikers, research the trail, look for better gear, etc. Remember, there is always room to learn even if you believe that you are well-versed in the subject.

Ultralight Backpacking FAQ

Ultralight Backpacking FAQ

Q1. How much should a full backpack weigh?

A full backpack should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 30 pounds. Total weight is determined by:

Base Weight (fixed gear) + Consumables (variable gear) = Total Pack Weight

Q2. What is the difference between B.W. and consumable items?

Consumable and wearable items are food, water, fuel for stove and gear used for hiking. All others are B.W.

Q3. Is it safe?

Ultralight backpacking is as safe as you make it. Obeying all the rules, keeping a sharp mind, knowing the area, acquiring basic wilderness survival skills and planning well, will allow you to have a safe trip.

Q4. Will I be comfortable?

Ultralight is all about compromise and trade-off. The best mindset is to trade camp comfort for trail comfort. You might not have a spacious tent, and your feast might be modest, but you will not be as worn out as the person who carried more weight. You can relax, munch on a power bar and look at the stars from the comfort of your hammock.

Q5. What are the cons of ultralight backpacking?

Ultralight backpackers highly prioritize the weight of their gear; however, the contents may be of poor quality. Ultralight backpacks are produced on a small scale by decentralized businesses, whereas, others are made by large purpose-built facilities in large quantities. As such, ultralight packs are often less sturdy.

Q6. Is it worth it to go ultralight?

The answer depends on the purpose of your trip. If you plan to relax and spend quality time at the campsite, you will benefit from taking extra items such as playing cards, a thick roll mat, a change of shoes, etc.

On the other hand, if you are going to be walking for long periods, it might be best to pack ultralight.


Ultralight Backpacking Conclusion

Carrying less weight will allow you comfort, it will help you to keep up your pace and cover more distance.

The checklist for ultralight packing is extensive but easy to follow. Start by choosing lightweight as an alternative and slowly go down the list of absolute necessities:

Once you get that out of the way, follow our tips on materials, organization, weather, and most importantly, how to be safe and comfortable. Overall, it’s a fun challenge with great benefits.