The Essential Ultralight Backpacking Gear List
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There are many good reasons to slim down your pack and look to intelligence, quality, and innovation to replace extensive backpacking inventory. In that sense, ultralight backpacking is not about carrying less as much as carefully choosing what you will be bringing with you and looking for better ways to accomplish the same goals.
It’s not an ascetic lifestyle. Comfort and convenience are some of the advantages of packing light. The ultimate goal of ultralight backpacking is to apply, enhance, and take full advantage of the many benefits of carrying lighter loads and taking greater care in planning your adventures.
Sounds simple? It is. In the following list, we have gone ahead and narrowed down everything you could need down to the most essential ultralight backpacking gear list. We also provide copious information on the various options and how to choose the best values based on the type of backpacking adventure you are on.
Even more importantly, we will provide some important insights on choosing ultralight backpacking gear so you can skip the learning curve and get right to the good stuff.
Why Ultralight Backpacking
So, let’s start with the good stuff! Here are the advantages of ultralight backpacking that can be emphasized to any degree, depending on your needs and the needs of your clan.
Greater Comfort — lighter weight means no pressure on your upright posture. This is better for breathing, enjoying the view, and arriving home renewed and refreshed.
Travel Efficiently – less weight means that you can cover more ground in less time with less effort: the definition of efficient travel.
Greater agility — rough trails? Not a problem! With less weight, you can easily leap across rivers, clear fallen trees, and vault over chasms and precipices — no sweat!
Fewer injuries — heavy loads place greater strain on your ligaments, muscles, and joints. Eventually, the strain could lead to injury —not a good thing many miles from the nearest traumatologist.
Preserve the Health – maybe you will escape injury, but the strain placed on the body from carrying +25kgs over hill and dale will affect the joints of your back, knees, and hips.
Packing up is quicker and easier — nothing beats being able to pack up camp and hit the trail in 5-minutes flat.
Makes room for special gear – one great reason to go as light as possible is to make room for something else. Perhaps you will be bringing a massive telescope to observe the moons of Neptune from a secluded hillside?
Physical limitations — those who can’t, won’t, or would rather not carry especially heavy packs, will find there are many ways to reduce weight to a manageable figure.
Ability to wear lighter footwear – light footwear is not only more comfortable; it can increase efficiency by allowing you to cover more distance comfortably.
But, of course, with every advantage comes a counter-consideration that mustn’t be ignored. Here are some of the major obstacles to perfect ultralight backpacking.
Costly — As you may imagine, most of the ultra-lightweight gear you will need to reach minimum weight features sophisticated design and designer materials. Which are not exactly cheap. Nevertheless, with our handy list of ultralight backpacking gear, you can find options that suit your need without busting the budget.
Durability – lightweight gear is not generally as durable as heavy-duty gear meant for rough and tumble backpacking. This can’t be underestimated. With good care, your gear will last thousands of miles, with little mistreatment they will need replacing fast.
Experience — ultralight backpacking must be based on intelligent planning and careful consideration. This always gets better and more effective with more time.
Ultralight Backpacking Gear List — and How To Make Things Lighter!
The best way to begin is by considering the heaviest or largest items and replacing them with something lighter. For most backpackers, the largest or heaviest items they will bring with them include the sleeping bag, tent, backpack, and pad.
Tents — If you choose the cozy feel of sleeping in a tent, choose only what you will need. If you will be camping in dry weather, only a mesh tent is needed to keep insects away. Ultralight one-person tents can weigh as little as a pound or two.
Tarps — tarps are very light and can be strung between trees to make a fairly effective tent. You may need some practice for this small miracle.
Bivy sacks — nothing more than a waterproof shell, but some can withstand bad weather. Expect a pound or two, but the lightest is just a few ounces.
Ultralight hammocks — a very popular option that keeps campers safe from bugs on the ground, bugs in the air, and bad weather. These can be found in all weights and sizes for all needs.
Down Bags — down is more compressible and lighter than synthetic fillings. Most of the down options you will find today are treated to be water-resistant. You can find a lightweight down bag at about one or two pounds.
The weight of your sleeping bag can be reduced even more:
Only choose the insulation you need. Extra warmth is extra weight.
Choose the simplest design possible, a warm hoodie, and replace the bag’s hood.
Consider a camping quilt, which can be lighter than the sleeping bag and works especially well with a hammock.
Air pads — offer the lightest comfort available on the trail. Weighing in at under a pound, these full-length cushions can offer considerable padding and insulation. Of course, these lack the durability you can expect from a closed-cell foam pad.
You can save some ounces here as well by choosing to go with a torso-only closed-cell pad. Then lay your pack at your feet to keep them off the ground. If you can get comfortable like this, you are on your way to being a masterful ultralight backpacker.
Finally, there is the backpack that can be slimmed down to under a pound or two of weight. This will mean veering from the traditional 66lt. backpack and trying something between 5lt. and 45lt. Many DIY enthusiasts have found that sewing bespoke backpacks from lightweight materials are the best way to create exactly what they need.
These four larger items make up the bulk of what is referred to as your ‘base weight’. Now it’s time to look at how your ‘pack weight’ will be affected by the items that will be consumed along the way.
Water, Fuel, and Food
Without water, you will not last long under the exertion of the trail and in the hot sun. Luckily, we have adaptable human bodies and innovative thinking that can increase our capacity to store and carry water while backpacking in the summer heat.
But exercise caution, you may last days without eating, but the effects of dehydration can strike in a matter of hours if coupled with sunstroke. It can be very unfortunate to be lost in the wilderness with 500ml of water — as the vultures circle overhead.
ALWAYS PACK MORE WATER THAN YOU EXPECT TO USE!!!
Refill Stations — carry only what you need to make it from point A to Point B. There are lakes, rivers, wells, and waystations if you plan properly.
Camel up — You don’t have to carry all your water in canteens, the best place to store water is in the body. When you wake up, drink as much water as you can. Each time you reach a watering hole, tank up again. You may find this is the most comfortable way to carry water around.
Carry a mini-filter — if you will be looking for natural sources of water, it may be a good idea to bring a mini-filter, that crystal clear elixir you remember may have become tainted since your last trip.
Use collapsible water bottles —you can get a 1lt. – 2lt. collapsible water container that stows away easily and is 80% lighter than a conventional canteen.
Fuel, Stove, and Cookware
Lightweight eating will mean either hunting, gathering, or carrying a lightweight food source — and dehydrated food wins hands down on both efficiency and convenience. Plan on boiling water on the way and using this to prepare dehydrated foods. This eliminates the need to bring a lot of fuel if any at all.
Don’t forget that some foods can be completely rehydrated by allowing them to soak in purified water, meaning they don’t need any fuel to prepare. Make sure everything you have is dual-purpose. A metal mug can also be a boiling pot, sporks and camping knives featuring cutlery are all smart ideas.
Light-weight folding camping stoves — These can be purchased online or constructed from sheet metal or large cans. All types of fuels can be used here, including those in tablet form. Just bring as many as you need and a couple more.
Alcohol stove — at a mere ounce, this may be the lightest stove on the market. You need to bring alcohol fuel in a sturdy container that will not leak on the way. There are tablets for this purpose.
Canister stove — not the lightest option, but very convenient. These lightweight portable stoves may only weigh a couple of ounces, but they screw into isobutane canisters that can be a little heavy to carry. This may not be a good choice for long trips as several canisters will be needed.
Integrated canister stove system — all you need in a single convenient presentation, but also a little heavy. Many ultralight backpackers choose these because they can heat water quickly and this means less fuel is needed.
You will need to eat between 3,000 and 4,000 calories in a day. This can be about 2lbs of food per person per day. But there are some good ways to keep the weight even lower.
Go instant — instant coffee, instant oatmeal, and instant soups can be a life- and weight-saver. On a cold morning, eat some warm oatmeal with a protein bar for a well-rounded meal to sustain you on the trail.
Be calorie conscious — you need to eat well on the trip, and this may mean carrying a little extra weight. So, bring things that are high in fats and calories for the most energy per gram. Nuts, dried fruits, jerky, chocolates, and even hard cheese and salami.
Dehydrate your food — you will find that foods can be a considerable cost in themselves. So, learning the fine art of preparing dried food at home can save you weight and money. Furthermore, you get to enjoy your favorite foods and flavors.
Navigation system — make sure you have a reliable form of navigation. This could be GPS, compass, map, or all the above. Personal locators are heavy, but can you put a price on peace of mind, for you and your loved ones?
Safety whistle — essential for sounding an alarm. Three short blasts in succession are the internationally recognized distress signal.
Sun protection — preserve the water you drink, by keeping your skin moisturized and protected from solar radiation. Solar lip balm and a sunscreen lotion should be UPF 30 or greater. Sun hats are a must, but if you will be under the bright sun, bring gloves and sunscreen with a stronger UPF.
Illumination — a lightweight headlamp with no bells and whistles can be purchased for a bargain price. These will only weigh a couple of ounces with their batteries. For illuminating your camp, a small LED lantern only weighs about 2.5 ounces.
Insulation and Clothing
Clothing — the art of minimizing the clothing you will need on your ultralight backpacking adventures is something you will come to finetune as you practice more. Simply put, choose the clothing you will need for your location. A lightweight down jacket is perfect for just about any location. Running shorts with built-in underwear is a smart option. Thermal underwear for colder locations. Bring two pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear, wear one wash. This is one point that can be fine-tuned extensively and the only limitations are your imagination and comfort.
Rain/storm gear — the weather is going to be unpredictable so be sure you are prepared with suitable countermeasures. Rain pants, raincoats, and suitable hats are small and light, and a plastic bag is all you need to cover your pack.
Bandana — is an indispensable item for all backpackers. The bandana can double as a tourniquet, sunhat, sun cape, towel, and much more.
Footwear — carrying less weight means you can opt for trail-running shoes and light hikers. This lightweight waterproof footwear dries fast making it perfect for unpredictable locations.
Scaled-down first-aid kit and repair kit — in addition to a decent amount of duct tape rolled around a plastic bottle, a first aid kit is essential for addressing any injuries that are sure to happen. You can find a variety of small lightweight options online, but can also create your own by including the following items:
Antibiotic ointment small packets
Razor blade — which could be used in place of a camping knife if necessary.
Cleaning and hygiene
Here are the most basic accessories you will need on the trails:
Biodegradable Soap — you only need a thimbleful of biodegradable dish soap for a day so the smallest container is more than enough. That bandana can double as a dishrag if you use sand, mud, or leaves to clean it first.
A small bottle of hand sanitizer
Travel-size tube of toothpaste — or one that is almost empty and has been rolled up nice and tight.
Toothbrush — cut off half the handle or use a child-size toothbrush. Small bottles or pieces of biodegradable soap — do not use soap near a source of water.
Pre-moistened wipes — only two a day per person per day. Rinse, dry, and place in your zip-up garbage bag.
Toilet paper — two squares per person per day. Use heavy-duty towels and cut them into four sections. Discard in the zip-top waste bag. Camping trowel — there are ultralight aluminum options available. Trekking poles — poles allow you to maintain balance and decent weight distribution on all types of terrain. When combined with an ultralight tarp, they can also be used as an effective tent.
Luxury items — Once all these items have been accounted for, you can begin adding any luxury items you would like to bring along. This could be your journal, your binoculars, your espresso maker and a sachet of coffee, or whatever else would bring you joy on your hike.
Tips For Mastering Ultralight Backpacking Gear
If you are ready to begin your adventures in ultralight backpacking, here are some important foundational concepts to understand. By applying these pointers in choosing and pacing your gear, you will find many ways to shed some crucial pounds and ounces from your load.
BASE WEIGHT VS. PACK WEIGHT
You may have already heard about base weight and pack weight if you have been taking notice of how much weight you carry on the trail. These two types of weight will allow you to streamline the weight you will carry and plan your ultralight backpacking precisely. They will also play a key role in refining your capacity for ultralight backpacking.
Base weight – this is the weight of all your combined gear that must be taken with you no matter what. This includes things like the backpack, tent, sleeping accommodations, stove, and other essential gear. It is very possible to reduce the amount of base weight to a mere 10lbs with careful gear selection and planning, but even 15lbs is a good number to shoot for. Knowing your base weight of gear will allow you to plan long-distance hikes with better accuracy if consumables will be replenished along the way.
Pack weight – pack weight is the total weight of your gear, consumables, and everything else you will be carrying with you —except the clothes on your back. It is important to note that this weight will decrease significantly toward the end of your trip when your supply of consumables has diminished.
Using your bathroom scale, weigh yourself with no additional weight. Then carry your pack loaded with all your base weight items, i.e. your gear, tent, sleeping bags, etc. Subtract your natural weight from the weight when carrying base gear. Do the same to find your pack weight, you will see that your pack weight will be almost double your base weight at the start of your trip.
Replace older gear with lighter gear — as you begin swapping out older items for newer items, make records of the fluctuations of your base weight. This number should drop steadily until you reach around 10 pounds.
Don’t skimp on safety — as you see how far this intelligent approach to backpacking can be taken, you may get tempted to take things to an extreme. While it is good to pack light, never leave anything behind that you will need for safety and survival.
Make gradual changes — rather than plan an ultralight backpacking adventure and try to hit every item in one shot, take the time to go slow and consider each adjustment you make. Quality is just as important as being lightweight and that is not the easiest combination to make well.
Final Notes on Our Ultralight Backpacking Gear List
In the end, ultralight backpacking is all about understanding the tradeoffs that you will have to make to travel light, safely, and comfortably. There may be many ways to save money, but without skills in sewing fabrics for durability, this may be a poor course of action. Furthermore, the ultralight gear may not be as comfortable as conventional gear and this is more important than many people fully understand.
Safety is your number one priority, then comfort, and finally efficiency and lightweight traveling. If you can master these three essential ingredients of a successful backpacking trip, you are on your way to being an ultralight backpacker.