Ultralight backpacking

Ultralight backpacking is the geeky lovechild of hiking and minimalism

The term backpacking covers a spectrum of activity from a day hike with an overnight stay at a campsite to a multi-month, long-distance walk with many nights spent alone in the wilderness. Hiking with camping equipment offers great flexibility. The route can be tailored to the terrain and how fit you are feeling on any given day. A backpacker can access beautiful wilderness areas which are out of the reach of an ordinary day hiker. For those seeking a closer connection with the great outdoors then backpacking is a wonderful way to experience the wild places of our planet.

By definition backpackers have to carry everything with them. The items carried need to protect backpackers from the elements, keeping them warm and dry and ensure that they stay well-fed and rested. In mountainous or wilderness areas a backpacker typically would need to carry a tent, stove and fuel, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad together with clothes, food and any other kit and consumables needed for a comfortable — or at least — bearable night away from civilisation. The amount of stuff a backpacker ends up carrying can be quite intimidating. For most people hiking enjoyment is much diminished by having to carry such heavy loads.

Recognising that carrying a heavy and bulky load over difficult terrain can be unpleasant, tiring and possibly even dangerous, an ultralight backpacker seeks to minimise the weight and size of the load that they carry. The result is that ultralight backpackers will typically travel further and faster each day than a traditional backpacker lugging a heavy pack. If you get kicks from bagging peaks or pushing daily mileage as high as possible then minimising the weight of your load should be a top priority.

Ultralight backpackers seek out equipment that offers the most functionality for the least weight. The lightest item is one that is left behind! Items that perform more than one important task are preferred. Appropriate equipment choice means that considerations such as weight, functionality, durability and safety must be balanced carefully. The aim is to select equipment which offers the lightest combined weight whilst providing the necessary functionality but without compromising safety. If you have the appropriate skills and knowledge an ultralight item may be just as useful and durable as a heavyweight item.

Following simple principles such as these ultralight backpackers have undertaken continent-spanning hikes swiftly and safely carrying just a few kilograms of equipment (which is less than many day hikers carry). Transitioning to ultralight backpacking from a more traditional form can greatly increase hiking enjoyment. Such a minimalist approach may mean sacrificing a little bit of comfort in camp but the trade off is that a day of hiking with an ultralight pack is a breeze — groaning under the weight of an enormous pack is a thing of the past.