Ultralight Backpacking

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Introduction | Disclaimer

Ultralight backpacking is a philosophy and method of backpacking. While you can simply exchange heavier items for lighter ones that will only take you so far. It is not enough to simply replace all your heavy gear with light gear. You need to seriously consider the worth of each item of gear and whether you can safely enjoy a trip by changing your style of backpacking. You will find that the process is on-going. The more you re-evaluate your gear and style of backpacking the more likely you are to find ways to reduce the weight you must carry without sacrificing safety and comfort.

The best reason to go ultralight backpacking is the obvious one: you carry less weight on your back. Going ultralight does not have to mean going minimalist. In fact, you may find that going ultalight opens up options you would not have considered before. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Why would I want to go ultralight especially if I have already invested considerable time, money, and effort in purchasing the stuff I already have? There are many advantages to lightening your load. Here are some of them:

I said before that lightening your load can open up options. You may find yourself willing to carry that extra camera lens or two, the fishing gear, a book, or more elaborate means to record a journal, if your backpack tips the scales at well under 20 pounds instead of around 30 pounds even before you add food, water, and fuel. I certainly left things like my Newton and its keyboard home when my backpack weighed considerably more. This does not mean that I take luxury items with me. I don't carry a camp chair because it is something I can do without (did without pre-Ultalight too). However, in general, going ultralight (or even just light) does mean you think long and hard about taking "luxury" items along.

Just what does going ultalight mean? Most people will tell you it means carrying a backpack that has a base weight, the weight of the stuff excluding consumables, is around 12 pounds. That number varies from person to person. The number is also dependent on the type of backpacking environment you are in. You can carry less gear if you are hiking in the summer than you would if hiking in the winter. The main environmental factors that affect the amount and weight of the gear you will carry are temperature and expected amounts of precipitation. If I am going to be hiking in warm weather with no real chance of rain my gear will likely be a little different than if I am going to be hiking in warm weather with a high chance of storms each day. Generally people, including myself, don't count the clothing we are wearing in that 12 pound figure I noted earlier. But, you shouldn't ignore the weight of the clothes you are wearing especially if you expect to be changing often. One of the things that makes a heavy pack heavy is the over-abundance of items and clothing is among the worst offenders.

Going ultalight backpacking will mean changing gear. Sometimes lightweight gear is less durable than its heavier counterparts, but that isn't always true. Sometimes lightweight gear is more expensive than heavier gear, but again that need not be the case. While my gear list is fairly expensive it is entirely possible to kit yourself out with lightweight gear for fairly little money. As I said before replacing heavy gear with lighter gear is only part of the answer. You will find yourself asking yourself if an item of gear can serve more than one purpose or whether you can have a good trip without that piece of gear altogether. You will find that as your experience as a backpacker increases that you can leave items at home. In fact I would argue that carrying everything for every contingency is actually a mistake. The "be prepared" philosophy leads to heavier packs and can lead to a sense of complacency and prevent you from improving your skills. After all, you have everything you need says your sub-conscious so what could go wrong? Plenty could go wrong. I would rather have the experience and wisdom instead of carrying everything but the kitchen sink. As you gain experience you will learn which things you really can do without and how you can best use what you do take. If you then decide to plan for eventualities that fall off the main hump of the bell curve at least you will be carrying less weight as you make those decisions about what to take.

The other pages in this section of the web site focus on how I moved from heavy backpacking to a more ultralight style. I hope you find the material there useful. I have included gear lists from some past trips along with discussions of why I selected certain items. There are also links to other web pages containing information I think is useful. I also spend some more time examining more of what I consider the philosophy behind ultralight backpacking.

You will find several links that will appear in bold, italic text, but without an underline (if your browser is reasonably modern like Netscape 4.x or Internet Explorer 5.x; they look like every other link if your browser does not support cascading style sheet). These links will open up small windows containing information that goes into extra detail on a given topic.

The ideas presented here are just as valid if you are just getting into backpacking and want to start out ultralight. But, going ultralight does require you have some additional experience and be comfortable with the gear you are taking. I will share what I have learned and hope that my ideas can help you enjoy your travels to the fullest. But, remember, these are only opinions. You may find that what works for me does not work for you.

There are several pictures at the top of the page. If you visit this page frequently you will notice that the images change. They're selected at random from several of the pictures on the web site that I have taken over the years on various trips. Some of the pictures are from backpacking trips and others are from trips that combined extensive day hiking with visits to other places. You can click a picture to go to that trip's diary. For a full list of trips you can go to the Travel web page.


Introduction | Disclaimer

Backpacking, like other outdoor sports, has risks. Readers take full responsibility for their own actions when backpacking. The material in this website is not exhaustive and represents just one opinion.

Last update: August 18, 2002
First Written: March 12, 2001

Copyright © 2001-2002 Kenneth Knight Home | Resumé | Travel | Web Design mail Ken (ken@wanderingknight.org)