Ultralight is not just one piece of gear, it’s an entire system. For instance, my “go to” pack is the (now discontinued) Gossamer Gear Whisper (replaced by the Murmur). It weighs about 4.5 oz, which is about the same weight as a pair of heavy wool socks. It’s basically a high-tech Sobey’s bag with shoulder straps. It has no internal bracing, no sternum strap, no hip belt and very little volume. At home I keep it stored in a ziplock sandwich bag. It sounds crazy but once you get your pack under 15 pounds (including food and water) you don’t need hip belts and suspension. So there are “feedback” loops with ultralight where lightening one thing allows you to lighten other things. And to have the lightest backpack possible (like a 4.5 oz pack) you need everything else to be as light as possible as well.
Also it’s not about “weight at any cost”. For instance if you try to cut weight by sleeping on a 3 foot long 1/4″ foam pad but can’t get a good nights sleep, you’re not doing yourself any favours. You’re better off bringing a heavier pad and getting a good nights sleep. The weight advantage you gain with the lighter pad is completely negated by having no energy the next day. So it’s not just about weight at all costs. Sometimes the heavier item can actually make you a more efficient hiker. So I prefer to think of it as ultra-efficient backpacking not ultra-light backpacking.
- Pack: GG Whisper (4.5 oz)
- Shelter: Six Moons Skyscape X (17 oz)
- Bag: Montbell Down Hugger #3 (22 oz)
That’s about 3 pounds for my three main essentials of pack, bag, shelter. If you go to MEC and buy a backpack it alone will likely weight more than 3 pounds completely empty. And I may some day upgrade to a 900 Powerfill Down Hugger #5 (I don’t do winter trips). That would cut my bag (my heaviest piece of gear by far) down to 1 pound.
The thing is, ultralight gear is more delicate than mainstream gear. Most mainstream companies want to sell gear that is “bomb proof” because… I guess they think people are going out there defusing bombs… rather than just walking on established trails. Of course Ultralight would not be suitable for heavy bushwhacking. But it’s perfect for on-trail backpacking.
- My food is usually as follows:
- Breakfast: Cold Cereal / Energy Bars / Etc.
- Lunch: Cold Sandwich / Bagel / Wraps / Etc.
- Dinner: Freeze Dried Hot Meal
- I also take a lot of real food like actual whole apples, plums, carrots, potatos, actual hummus and peanut butter (not powdered) etc. They are heavy but since they are consumable, the weight goes down very fast. And there’s nothing like having a piece of real food out there. I feel like the mental and physical boost you get from real food offsets the weight disadvantage. This goes back to my philosophy of ultra-efficient, not ultra-light. If it was all about weight you could survive on just ramen for a week, but you’ll have no energy and have no fun.
- For cooking I use Esbit fuel tabs + beer can or titanium cup. Hot. Foolproof. Ultralight. I find gas / propane stoves weigh a TON and too many parts that you can lose or break. I find it funny that people brag about the weight of an MSR Whisperlight but that’s just the burner. Once you add in the weight of the bottle, fuel, hoses, etc… it’s FAR from light. At my most extreme I had my entire cooking setup (including pot) down to 55 grams: https://uniondesign.ca/stove/index.html
- One key element of ultralight of course is the idea of multiuse. So I don’t carry a separate water collector, mug, pot, bowl, etc. I carry ONE titanum cup (previously a beer can) that I use for collecting water, boiling water, drinking hot beverages, eating cereal out of, etc. So I don’t bring an entire kitchen with me, just one cup.
I would never ever in a million years carry a filter pump with me. To me those things are absolutely ridiculous and overkill. They tend to be big, bulky, heavy and a pain to use. It’s not hard to find nice clear water in Nova Scotia (not silty or stagnant). In fact on just about any trail, you’ll be crossing nice clear water every few hours. So all I use is Pristine water treatment chemicals (there is no taste at all) and depending on the trail I may carry as little as 1 litre at a time… certainly no more than 2 (Chignecto is a good example… there’s a creek every couple of hours). One neat tip I came up with is to mix the chemicals in contact lens cases. This allows me to make up a dose that I can slip into my shirt pocket and keep hiking if I want.
Once you get your “big three” down in weight the rest is pretty easy to lighten up. For instance:
- I only bring minimal clothes (1 hiking shirt / shorts + sleeping clothes, hat, mitts, etc)
- If you buy wool clothes you can wear them forever and they don’t stink
- I use a Thermarest Prolite short. This tech allows an air-only pad that can keep you warm
- The rest is basically just your toiletry / first aid stuff. The only lesson here is to repackage EVERYTHING. Don’t throw an entire half pound bottle of sunscreen in your pack. Buy containers at MEC and take only what you need for however many days until re-supply or the end of the trip.
- Same with toilet paper. I don’t just throw a whole roll in my pack. I cut up shop towels or paper towels (because they’re stronger) and put them in a ziplock. Enough for however long. I also will use natural materials (leaves, etc.)
- One of my carry items is a pair of Gossamer Gear hiking poles. Following the idea of multi-use, these hiking poles are also used as my tent poles. So I don’t carry both tent poles AND hiking poles.
Although it seems very extreme, doing a gear audit is a good exercise to start out. I bought a postal scale and I weighed everything I put in my pack. Every. Single. Thing. This gives you a better idea of where the weight is coming from. I don’t bother with this anymore but it was very helpful for the first few years. I’m also not quite as extreme as I used to be. For instance I bring an actual toothbrush now as opposed to “Brush Ups” dental wipe thingies. But it’s a freebie hotel toothbrush (extremely light) not an Oral B.
Some notes about the gear list:
- Pack Weight = all gear INCLUDING food and water
- Base Weight = all gear MINUS food and water
- Skin Out Weight = all gear including what you’re wearing (because some things you wear / carry might also be in your pack as points… like rain gear, hiking poles etc.)
So in my spreadsheet I have a column with a “p” and a “w” that stands for “pack” vs “wear”. Then I have formulas that calculate all that so I get grand totals for pack weight, base weight and skin out weight. I also use both grams and ounces… just because.
- http://gossamergear.com – Amazing packs (the best I think) and the incredible “The One” shelter
- https://www.sixmoondesigns.com – Awesome shelters (their packs are much heavier / not really ultralight)
- https://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com – Lots of interesting tarp shelters / pyramids and interesting packs
- https://www.tarptent.com – Shelters that are much more robust / heavy than ultralight but very nice
Website: https://backpackinglight.com Learn everything there is to know about Ultralight
Book: Beyond Backpacking Ray Jardine pretty much started the whole ultralight thing years ago with a thru-hike of the AC. He hand made all his gear because ultra light gear didn’t exist. His books is a MUST READ. I actually have a copy you can have if you want. I’m moving to a new apartment right now and cleaning out my bookshelf… and this book is in the “donate” pile. I decided to donate anything I’ve already read.