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Tips for Ultralight Backpacking - The Ultimate Guide in 2022
We had already given you some first insights into the world of ultralight hiking. This article was mainly about how you can best save weight on large items of equipment, the so-called big four, i.e. backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Although I will also briefly discuss this again here - in the case of the sleeping bag, we had already referred to a quilt as a significantly lighter alternative - I am mainly interested in giving you some tips on how you can also optimize the weight of the smaller items in your luggage. And that goes far beyond the cliché of the sawed-off toothbrush - although you can actually do that easily too.
BASICS - THE TOUR PREPARATION
Let's start with something that sounds quite mundane - tour planning. The fact is that "ultralight" means something different on a winter tour than it does on a multi-day hike in the summer. First of all, it is necessary to do some reasonable research on conditions and terrain to be expected on a tour. It doesn't do you any good if your ultralight, one-person tent collapses in the first snowstorm. So put your equipment together according to the weather and terrain conditions you expect. This way you will avoid unpleasant surprises or even the necessity to cancel a tour because you simply don't have the adequate equipment with you.
The following considerations refer to undertakings in the classic three-season range, where there may well be sub-zero temperatures and snowfall, but no permanent winter conditions are to be expected.
REDUCTION - WHAT DO I REALLY NEED?
Another basic consideration when it comes to saving precious grams is to limit yourself to essentials. When you make your packing list and lay out all the gear in front of you, ask yourself this question: what do I really need? As a rule, there will be things that you can do without.
It doesn't matter if you will be on the road for one week or three months, because you will have to wash your clothes on tour anyway. You therefore only need clothing that serves four purposes: a layer that is as comfortable as possible for hiking, one that keeps you dry, one that keeps you warm, and a merino layer for evenings in camp and on cold days. For the insulation layer, down will always have the better weight and pack size than synthetic fiber, and there are plenty of options for rain gear to be very light on the trail as well. A maximum of three pairs of merino socks, two pairs of underpants and for the ladies a sports bra rounds it all off.
A separate word here still applies to the shoes. Here, too, you should pay attention to the weight. The rule of thumb is that 100 grams less on the foot means one kilogram less on the back. Here you can consider how much weight you can save if instead of a 1700 gram mountain boot you are on the move with a stable trail running or approach shoe, which are sufficient for very many tours in not too demanding terrain without problems. It has also been proven that lighter footwear significantly reduces your body's energy requirements, which in turn means that you need fewer calories. You will also need to take less food with you, which will keep your weight down.
Then your sleeping pad does not necessarily have to be as long as you are. You can put your feet on the backpack without any problems, and if you do that, you'll be 100-150 grams lighter again.
In terms of electronics, a smartphone and an external battery plus appropriate maps are now sufficient for most areas. Only rarely is an additional GPS device necessary. In remote regions, a so-called in-reach can be useful, but this is lighter than a normal GPS device.
You can also save a lot of weight on personal hygiene. Since in most open waters the use of any soaps or shampoos is prohibited anyway, you can confidently leave it at home, the sawed-off toothbrush is enough ;-) You will start to smell on longer tours with or without deodorant and the like, so leave the bathroom at home.
I will include a sample ultralight packing list at the end to give you a better idea of the constraints.
MAGIC WORD "MULTIFUNCTIONALITY"
One of the best ways to reduce weight is to use gear that performs as many functions as possible or can be repurposed that way.
A magic word in ultralight hiking is multifunctionality.
Pack as much gear as possible that can be used multifunctionally.
Here we can start with trekking poles that double as poles for a tarp or trekking pole tent. For really extreme gram hunters, there is the option of using a poncho tarp, which serves as both shelter and rain protection for people and backpacks. However, I would only recommend this in moderate, not too wet and windy regions. But then this can be a really ultralight option if you have a little experience setting up tarps and know how to use their versatility.
Another example: down not only has excellent insulating properties, but is also wonderfully soft. Therefore, you can very nicely abuse your down jacket as a pillow and thus cross another "luxury item", namely the inflatable pillow, off your packing list.
However, one of the most important multifunctional items is actually the smartphone. It can serve as a navigation aid through very good apps, replaces the camera, can serve as an emergency lamp and much more.
A WORD ON THE SUBJECT OF FOOD
The topic of food should also be mentioned here. When it comes to the food itself, you should firstly eat things that give you a lot of energy in the form of calories without taking up too much space. Nuts in general, dried fruits, so the classic trail mix is always a good choice here. On the other hand, it is advisable to take as many freeze-dried dishes as possible instead of fresh food. There are now really tasty alternatives here and these will always be lighter than a can of ravioli. It's also a good idea to plan your food rations in advance if you're going on a longer trip, and roughly figure out how many meals and snacks will be needed. Important: Your calorie needs will increase over time.
Another option for real thrifty eaters: Humans need food to survive, but they don't need hot food to do so. I mean: you can do without the stove completely. There are enough things like Mie noodles or couscous that can be rehydrated cold without any problems. It takes a little longer, but it still tastes good. As with many things, it's a trade-off between convenience and weight savings, and everyone has to decide for themselves how much sacrifice is possible without turning the outdoor experience into a fun-free event.
AN UL PACKING LIST
This packing list refers to a trekking tour of at least seven days, rather longer. Take your time to research and compare your equipment.
THE BIG FOUR
- sleeping bag
- sleeping mat
On the body
- Functional shirt
- Trekking pants
- Trail running shoes
As a substitute
- One pair of socks
- Hardshell jacket
- Hardshell pants
- Down jacket
Camp layer and add-on for cold days
- Merino long sleeve
- Long merino pants
- A pair of emergency socks
- Mosquito net
- Running shorts for hot days
- External battery
- an in-reach
Hygiene & First Aid
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Nail clippers
- Duct Tape
- Water Filter
- First Aid Kit & Painkillers
- Trekking poles
- Hydration system
- Ultralight pack sacks and freezer bags for food and gear storage
- Tyvek as tent pad
With my personal big four I come to a base weight, so without food and water, of 5.5 kilograms for a multi-week or even month-long tour. With some of the above tips, you could reduce that by another 500-800 grams. So you see, being lighter and therefore more comfortable and faster on the road is not that hard!
Do you have any other ultralight tips in store or questions about individual areas? Then fire away in the comments, we look forward!