Intro to Lightweight Backpacking

You’ve likely heard backpackers boast about their packs weighing 50 to 60 pounds. These days are gone. Anyone can reduce their pack weight to between 25 and 30 lbs with a little knowledge. You can still pack some luxury items. You’ll be able hike further, see more, have more fun, and take less ibuprofen.

Ultralight backpacking is a style I tried to get into lightweight backpacking. Ultralight backpackers aim to reduce their packs to between 15 and 10 lbs. or lower. This is possible, but it takes very specific gear, expert technique, and favorable weather. This can be quite costly: you will need to spend about $20 to trim one ounce of your pack weight to get it down to 15lbs.

Below I will describe a three-phase process to reduce your pack weight to 25 lbs.

Phase 1: Eliminate, Substitute

The first phase will help you determine how heavy your gear is and to eliminate any items you won’t be using on your trips. Then, we will look at your backpack, shelter, and sleeping bag, and replace them with lighter alternatives. each.

  1. You can buy a digital scale from ebay for up to 8 lbs. It comes in ounce, gram and pound sizes. They are about $20.
  2. Take all the clothes and equipment you use for backpacking and camping trips, including food, water, fuel, and other necessities, and weigh them. Add all the weights. This is your base weight.
  3. Take a backpacking trip, and track all the clothing or gear you don’t use. Add this to your gear total and you’ll be amazed at how much weight can be saved by removing it. You will be amazed.
  4. Next, limit the total weight of your tent, sleeping bag and backpack to 9 lbs. You can find many affordable backpacks, bags and tents that will reduce this weight quickly. You can read some gear reviews and follow the links to find out about other options.
  5. Try to replace any items that are no longer needed with lighter-weight alternatives. You don’t need to bring an entire container of insect repellent if you can only bring one ounce. You can replace 8 oz. with enough to last you through your trip. A tiny LED flashlight that weighs only 0.5 oz.

Phase 2: Multipurpose Equipment

A single item can be used for multiple purposes to reduce the weight of your pack. My sleeping gear includes a tent and poles, a pad and sleeping bag, long underwear and a balaclava.

  • To erect my tent, I use hiking poles. I can do without tent poles and save 8 oz.
  • A frameless backpack is what I use (see Starlite review). My sleeping pad is stored in a pocket inside my pack. This acts as an internal frame to stiffen the pack and transfer its weight to my hip belt. I can use a pack weighing between 8-16 oz. Backpacks with an internal frame are lighter than those that come without one.
  • My sleeping pad measures 3/4 in length, meaning it ends below my knees. My feet and legs require less insulation than my core so I place my pack and any remaining gear below my lower legs. You can save up to 2 ounces. Up to 8 oz. Based on the length of the full-length pad.
  • To sleep, I wear long underwear, down vest and balaclava. This helps reduce the insulation and weight of my sleeping bag. If it gets very cold, this layer doubles up as an additional layer of clothing. Additional weight is saved around 8-16 oz

You can pack less clothing when you hike because you produce a lot more heat. It is important to know what type of clothing you need, how many layers to use and how to adjust your safety for different terrain and weather conditions. It takes lots of practice, trial-and-error experimentation, and careful observation to reduce the weight of your gear.

This process of reducing your backpack weight can take a whole season. The most important thing you can do, even if it’s only for a few nights, is to go on as many backpacking trips and hikes as possible. It is important to experiment and observe carefully. Get out there and go hiking!