Ultralight Backpacking and How It's Done

Ultralight backpacking is a method of backpacking using lightweight backpacking gear. It strives to minimize the base pack weight (the weight of the pack and the gear inside excluding consumables such as food, water, and fuel) to as light as possible.

While there are no official standards for the practice, the term typically refers to a base pack weight of ten pounds or under. The following table will give you a better idea of the categories of backpacking:

Traditional Backpacking – 20 pounds and up
Lightweight Backpacking – 10 – 20 pounds
Ultralight Backpacking – 5 – 10 pounds
Super Ultralight Backpacking – 5 pounds or less

The above weights are our own standards. You might see slightly different standards from other people. Either way, compared to the “traditional” backpacking base pack weight of fifty to sixty pounds, backpacking light is a big difference.

There are many advantages to lightweight backpacking. There’s less strain on your joints and muscles, you have the ability to travel greater distances and simply to enjoy backpacking without the burden of a heavy load.

If you are someone who deals with back or joint issues or aren’t very physically fit, backpacking light might be the method for you to seriously consider. Scores of “retired” backpackers are able to take up the hobby again after utilizing ultralight techniques. For more information on the advantages of lightweight backpacking, visit our page on the subject.

Focus on cutting pounds, not ounces. Some get into this method of backpacking with the mindset of lessening weight through things like cutting off the handle of their tooth brush and trimming the corners of their food packages. But before you start coming up with ways to cut ounces, it is vital to look at how you can cut pounds.

However, as you consider gear to cut pounds, please remember to choose quality items that are light, not items that are light because they are low quality. The equipment you do bring is essential to your safety and comfort on the trip. For more information on lightweight backpacking gear, visit our page on ultralight backpacking equipment. (Coming Soon!)

First, look at reducing the weight of essentials. The “Three Heavies” or “Big 3” (backpack, sleeping bag and shelter) are the heaviest items a backpacker will have. Other heavies include your stove, sleeping pad, cooking utensil and water. Check out our ultralight backpack page for more information of finding a lightweight backpack or visit our page on ultralight sleeping bags to learn more about sleeping options.

When it comes to shelter, you essentially have two options: a tent and a tarp. If you’re not sure which option is best for you, don’t worry. Visit our ultralight tent page for more information on tents as an option or visit our backpacking tarps page for info on tarps as an option.

From there, look at what unnecessary items you are including. Too much clothing, the coffee maker, a camping chair, etc. can add needless pounds. Also, consider gear that serves multiple purposes. For example, a specially made poncho can serve as a rain coat or a tarp for shelter.

While you can backpack with all the comforts of home, remember those comforts can really weigh you down and make the trip miserable through the poundage they add. For help in determining what to bring, check out our printable backpacking checklist.

Watch that food. While your food isn’t included in the base pack weight, it is helpful to watch for food items that won’t significantly add poundage to your pack. Depending on how long your trip is, the weight of your food can add up quickly. If you’re interested in more information on food, visit our page on lightweight backpacking food.

If you’d like more helpful information on lightweight backpacking, visit our Top 10 Lightweight Backpacking Tips page!

Finally, if backpacking light sounds like a fun challenge and you want to take it a step further, visit our page on super ultralight backpacking.

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