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101 Ultralight Backpacking Tips
An ultralight backpack means more fun. Enjoy floating down the trail instead of hauling heavy gear. You can have an ultralight backpack if you mercilessly analyze every piece of gear in your pack. Here are 201 tips to consider for reducing the weight of your pack. Some are big, some are small. That’s part of the secret. Small things add up. The old and obvious are mentioned because they are some of the most important. Have fun being a fanatic. If your friends make negative comments, invite them to lift your pack and compare it to theirs. Think of these tips as a buffet, and take what you like:
1. Buy a digital scale. You can find a good one that measures down to 1/10 ounce for about $30. You’ll be surprised at the weights of some items. You can take your light, portable scale into stores and make wise decisions before you buy. Do not fear sales people with little or no knowledge of the backpacking gear they’re selling. You’re now in control. Let them fear you.
2. Remove the excess weight from your body. Losing those unwanted pounds is probably the best weight reduction you can make. It doesn’t involve leaving any of your favorite equipment home. You’ll feel better, and there’s a net gain in strength and endurance.
3. It needs to be mentioned at least once. If you don’t need it, leave it home.
4. Avoid last-minute packing. If you hurry and pack at the last minute, you’re more likely to throw in things like extra clothing you don’t need.
5. If you’re backpacking with a companion, plan ahead and share the weight of the gear such as the tent and cooking gear.
6. Develop your sewing skills. Be creative. Some of the best, and most inexpensive, ultralight backpacking gear is the kind you make yourself.
7. Purchase a light backpack. Your pack is one of the best places to lighten up. You’ll need to reduce the volume and weight of every piece of gear to use the lightest pack. Your final result can be a pack that weighs less than 2 pounds. That’s a savings of more than 5 pounds over the big “load monster” packs.
8. Don’t buy a pack with too much capacity. You’ll be too tempted to fill it, and it won’t handle as smoothly if it’s partially filled.
9. Try using your pack without the hip belt. You might like it better.
10. Remove your pack’s sternum strap if you don’t use it.
11. Remove any manufacturer tags from the bag. In fact, remove tags from all your gear, including clothing. Save the care instructions from the clothing if you can’t remember how they’re to be washed.
12. Cut some of the length from the waist belt and straps on the pack. Remember to leave them long enough for when you’re wearing your bulkiest clothing.
13. If the pack has aluminum stays, or some other reinforcing material that can be removed, try carrying the pack without it. The really light pack you end up with shouldn’t need reinforcing. Think positively from the outset.
14. If your pack has large buckles or cord locks, find a way to replace them with lighter ones.
15. Don’t worry too much about the lighter materials in ultralight packs. These materials are still very strong. You can make repairs that are lighter than tape by using McNett Seam Grip. It works for sleeping bags, tents, and other gear, too.
16. If you need a pack cover, use one that’s very light, like the ones that are made from 1.3 ounce silicone-coated nylon. Or, use a lightweight garbage bag. Or, spray your pack with a waterproof coating. Your pack may already be waterproof. Check the manufacturer’s specifications. You might be able to save the weight of a pack cover.
17. Ultralight compression stuff sacks can help you reduce the volume of your gear. You may be able to lower your overall weight by using compression bags because you end up with a smaller pack.
18. Buy a sleeping bag that isn’t “overkill.” It’s surprising how many people buy a sleeping bag for low temperatures and then use the bag for summer camping 95% of the time.
19. Use a down bag. Nothing is more efficient for the weight. Don’t worry too much about the down getting wet and losing its efficiency. High quality bags are made with shell fabrics that have a very tight weave and are very water repellent, so they tend to protect the down. The down itself has natural oils in it. It works for the geese. Use your skills to keep your bag dry. Keep it in a waterproof stuff sack.
20. Have a small towel handy to wipe any condensation from tent walls. That will help your ultralight sleeping bag perform to its maximum.
21. A piece of very light and thin painter’s tarp plastic or a light trash bag can be used to keep condensation off the foot of your sleeping bag. The plastic or trash bag can have multiple uses such as keeping gear dry.
22. With a lightweight bag you can always add layers of clothing for extra warmth.
23. You can also use a silk liner that adds warmth and weighs as little as 4 ounces.
24. Switch your stuff sack for an ultralight one that’s made of 1.3 oz. silicone-coated nylon. They weigh as little as .6 ounces.
25. Keep your sleeping bag clean. That will keep the efficiency high.
26. Keep your sleeping bag in a large storage bag when it’s at home so it will retain its full loft and maximum efficiency.
27. Air out your bag during lunch and as quickly as possible after you set up camp. Moisture can evaporate and the bag can fully loft.
28. Eat and drink before going to bed. That will help your body to efficiently heat your sleeping bag.
29. If your feet get a little cool, you can use things as light as plastic newspaper bags or grocery sacks to keep them warm. You can use the bags for dual purpose tasks, and they add hardly any weight. They can also be used for bringing wet gear and boots into the tent. The sleeping bag stuff sack can be used as a foot warmer.
30. Using an ultralight air mattress can reduce your pack weight and volume and increase your comfort. They can be as light as about 20 ounces for a full-length mattress.
31. You can have an air mattress with insulation in the tubes for only about 1 ounce more.
32. Leave any inflatable sleeping pad open as much as possible so the condensation inside will evaporate.
33. A closed-cell foam pad is light and easy to use. You can even cut away areas that you don’t need to save a few ounces.
34. The lightest air mattress available is called a balloon bed. No joke. The shell can be made from 1.3 oz. (or lighter) silicone-coated ripstop nylon. Sew 7 tubes (or more or less) into the 60″ long fabric. Leave the ends open for inserting and removing the balloons. Insert Qualatex 60″ balloons (model 260Q) because they’re the strongest. Use clear or white since they’re stronger than colored ones. The balloon bed can weigh less than 4 ounces. A pump can weigh 1.3 or 2.2 oz. Each night you’ll need to use new balloons, so figure 8 per night. Eight balloons weigh .4 ounces. This figures one for breakage. They don’t pop when you lay on them, but may pop when you tie them off. See more at balloonbed.com. Or make your own and get balloons and a pump at tmyers.com, larocksmagic.com, or others.
35. You can go crazy and use bubble wrap for your sleeping pad if you don’t need too much insulation or cushion. It’ll weigh about 4 ounces. There’s a variety that’s made with some nylon that is much stronger than the cheapest kind, but the bubbles still pop when you concentrate your knees or elbows directly on a small area.
36. Ultralight backpackers have come up with a lot of ideas for lightweight pillows. One of the most common is using your extra clothing for a pillow. One place to contain the clothing is in your sleeping bag stuff sack.
37. When you pack ultralight, you often don’t have much in the way of extra clothing. Some hikers use their pack for a pillow. It solves a second challenge of where to put your pack in the tent.
38. A small piece of foam with some of your gear underneath can serve as a pillow.
39. At .4 oz. you can get a pillow at Office Depot. It’s a 10 x 12″ air wrap plastic packing “bubble” that you can blow up and deflate with a straw.
40. You can save a lot of weight by choosing an ultralight tent that weighs two to three pounds for the two-person tent, or less than two pounds for a one-person tent.
41. If you usually backpack with a companion, consider buying a one-person tent for those times you go solo.
42. If you already use hiking poles, you can save the weight of tent poles on some tents.
43. If you have an old tent you’d like to keep, you can save weight by replacing the poles with lighter carbon fiber poles.
44. If you have an old tent that you like which has a fly, you can save weight by using the old fly as a pattern and sewing a new fly from 1.3 oz. silicone-coated nylon.
45. You can save weight by using titanium tent stakes. The 6″ titanium stakes are just .2 ounces each.
46. Save weight by leaving stuff sacks home. A few rubber bands around your tent are lighter than the stuff sack. Put rubber bands around the titanium stakes and band them to the poles to keep the stakes from poking holes in anything.
47. In some dry regions, you may be able to use a bivy sack or sleeping bag cover as your only shelter.
48. If you need bug protection only, the pop-up bug bivies weigh only 6.5 ounces.
49. For an even lighter solution to bugs, a square yard of no-see-um netting weighs less than an ounce.
50. Simple, lightweight tarps can reduce your shelter weight to a pound or less.
51. If you use a bivy, tarp, or poncho/bivy, you may want to have a mosquito head net to keep the bugs away. Of course, these can be used during the day, too. They weigh only .6 oz.
52. Some tarps serve a dual purpose by doubling as your poncho, too.
53. Creative cord tying from a tree or using an available stick with some tarps and tents can save the entire weight of poles.
54. The lightest ground cloth is the one you don’t take. Use caution when you set up your tent so you don’t need a ground cloth.
55. If you use a ground cloth, use one that’s a light as possible. An ultra-thin 99-cent plastic painter’s cloth is a light disposable option. Some people like Tyvek. Consider using 1.3 oz. silicone-coated nylon for your ground cloth.
56. If you use a ground cloth, be sure to trim it a couple of inches smaller than your tent. If it’s bigger than your tent, you can catch unwanted rain and funnel it under you.
57. Consider hammock camping. Hammocks can be as light as about 2 pounds, and there are some great advantages like being able to set up on uneven ground.
58. If you have a tent with a fly, you may be able to set it up with the poles and fly only, especially in late summer when there are fewer mosquitoes.
59. You can more effectively use tent options without netting if you repel insects by adding permethrin to your tent.
60. Shake the water from your tent before packing it on a damp morning. Let the moisture drain off while the tent is on a rock or tree.
61. Long-term weather reports from the internet can cut ounces from you pack. In dry weather you can leave some of the rain gear home. In warm weather you can leave some insulating layers home.
62. You can shave ounces by making some last-minute decisions about whether to carry things like rain pants. If the weather and conditions look good, you can leave items in the car.
63. If the weather is warm enough, some hikers like to leave the rain pants home anyway. Your legs will get wet, but they won’t be trapped inside sweaty rain pants.
64. Your rain pants can be lighter than 4 ounces if you use “chaps” that cover your legs but are open at the midsection.
65. Rain gear can weigh less than 10 ounces for top and bottom if you use the very lightest and most simple varieties. We’ve already mentioned combination poncho/tarps if you want a piece of gear that serves as shelter and rain gear.
66. One of the best lightweight clothing rules is “no multiples.” If you have one pair of pants, running shorts and/or rain gear are enough backup.
67. One very light short sleeve shirt and one long-sleeve shirt should be enough.
68. Avoid cotton. It doesn’t dry as quickly, so it could be dangerous. And even if it’s not dangerous, it’ll be heavier when it’s wet because the water weight won’t dry as quickly as other fabrics.
69. Very light synthetic materials and silk may allow you to leave heavier, bulkier fleece at home. A couple of silk layers under your rain gear may be enough for summer hikes. That’s a total of less than 6 ounces for 2 shirts.
70. Never wear jeans. They weigh about 1 ½ pounds and don’t dry well. Lightweight nylon outdoor pants can weigh as little as 8 ounces.
71. If you need more insulation, there are ultralight jackets made with down that weigh less than 8 ounces, about the weight of a T-shirt.
72. You can save a lot of weight by using running shorts that weigh around 3 ounces instead of heavier cargo shorts.
73. Leather belts can be quite heavy. Look for a light belt. A lightweight nylon accessory strap with a quick-release buckle works well.
74. Using silk can cut the weight and bulk of your underwear in half.
75. A lightweight watch cap (beanie or lightweight stocking cap) can weigh as little as an ounce. It’s great for extra warmth during the day or while you’re sleeping.
76. A full-brimmed hat for storm protection that’s made from silicone-coated nylon weighs as little as 1.2 ounces.
77. A baseball-type hat from lightweight ripstop nylon for sun protection can weigh less than an ounce.
78. A painter’s cap will give you cheap, light protection from the sun. They weigh about 1.3 ounces.
79. If a hat is too hot for you, use a visor to be cooler and lighter. Visors vary a lot in weight, so use a digital scale to find the lightest one.
80. Lightweight polypropylene gloves that weigh an ounce will give you some warmth.
81. You can use your extra socks as gloves, or for added warmth over light gloves.
82. Those plastic newspaper or grocery bags that we used for keeping your feet warm at night can be used to keep your hands dry.
83. Socks that are warm, comfortable, and help you avoid blisters are vital. Don’t try to go too thin and light if you tend to blister. But many popular styles come in various heights. So a shorter, lighter sock might give you the same function.
84. One of the best ways to save clothing weight is to use running shoes instead of hiking boots. The old saying of one pound on your feet being equal to five pounds in your pack is true. You lift your shoes with every step, so why not lift something light and comfortable?
85. Shoe laces that come with your running shoes are often too long. They catch on the little twigs along the trail. You might as well cut them off and save the weight. Burn the ends so they don’t unravel.
86. Keep your cooking gear light by using a kettle only. You can save more than half the weight of the cooking kit by leaving the plate and fry pan home. The ¾ quart kettle by itself weighs less than 5 ounces.
87. With titanium, your kettle can weigh under 4 ounces.
88. Stainless steel is heavy. Avoid it. Non-stick coatings make a kettle heavier than one without it. Decide whether the weight of the non-stick surface is worth it for you.
89. For your cup, use the plastic kind that have measuring marks inside. They’re four times lighter than a sierra cup.
90. Try using a lexan spoon only. You probably don’t need a fork. For cutting food you can use your pocket knife. File some of the excess weight from the handle of your spoon. Have some fun being a fanatic. Drill some holes in the handle.
91. Some hikers like a long Dairy Queen spoon because it can reach all the way into foil pouches and zip lock bags. Be ready to use some emergency chopsticks if the spoon breaks. Some people like chopsticks anyway.
92. Blacken the bottom of your kettle to cook faster and conserve fuel. If your kettle won’t do this naturally, use heat-resistant paint, the kind you use to paint barbeques and wood stoves.
93. Keep the lid for your kettle. You’ll save its weight by using less fuel.
94. Use a windscreen so you conserve and carry less fuel. You can probably use something that’s already in your pack so there’s no weight added. Or use something very light, like aluminum foil.
95. Use your digital scale to know the weight of a full and empty fuel canister if you use butane/propane. It’s surprising how far a small can will go. You can learn when to leave a full 7-ounce canister home.
96. For a scouring pad, keep it simple and cut it down to a very small size. Or, better yet, don’t take one at all. They tend to become bacteria magnets. Use goats beard — the stuff that’s attached to tree bark. Or use pine cones or sand.
97. You may need a towel to handle your hot kettle. Keep one small piece of a rayon camper’s towel for kitchen use and one for your body.
98. The lighter, thinner towels you can find in grocery stores are even lighter than a rayon camper’s towel. These work well on your body because they can rinse so easily for washing up.
99. There are two main types of ultralight stoves. Titanium stoves that burn butane/propane fuel can be as light as 2 ½ ounces. Their small fuel canisters are 7 ounces. Or you can choose a soda can style stove that burns denatured alcohol. These can be lighter than 2 ounces. Their fuel is readily available and can be carried in very light containers.
100. Fiberglass is often used as a wicking agent in the soda can stoves. The thin fiberglass within foil can be used to hold hot stoves or kettles and can be used to hold heat in your kettle.
101. The lightest water container is a plastic soda, water, or Gatorade bottle. Of course, you’ll want to remove that heavy label.
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