I’d wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear. How is that possible? I’ll get into it in more detail throughout this guide to ultralight backpack, but let’s get things started with the three biggest reasons:
- Good camping skills: Good camping skills rule! They are far more important than the weight of my gear for keeping me safe, warm and dry. And I don’t mean fancy skills—just the basic, garden-variety skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—like putting on rainwear or a warm jacket when needed, selecting a good campsite, and doing a decent job of pitching a tarp or pyramid shelter, etc.
- Light gear appropriate for the conditions: I pick the lightest fully-functional gear appropriate for the actual conditions I backpack in. E.g. my light down sleeping bag/quilt, down jacket, and 6-8 oz rain jacket work as well as conventional (heavy) gear at 3 times the weight. I take gear that is appropriate for actual conditions for the time of year and location I am backpacking. E.g. I don’t take a 4-pound, 4-season dome tent, a +20F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm May trip on the Appalachian Trail with expected lows in the 60s—you’d be surprised how many people do!
- Nutritious high-calorie food: Intelligent selection of my food, gives me 3,000 nutritious and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pounds/day. This is the same number of calories provided by 2 pounds of average backpacking food. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost twice the food weight.
My Guide to Ultralight Backpacking For Beginners: How to Stay Safe, Warm, Well-Fed & Happy
Good camping skills:
Good camping skills are the key to staying warm, dry and happy while backpacking ultralight. Having confidence in your camping skills, means that you won’t compensate by packing a bunch of heavy over-kill gear and backup gear. As an example, a surprising number of AT solo hikers, who sleep 95% of the time in shelters, still insist on carrying a 4-6lb., two-person, four-season dome tent instead of bringing a ½-pound tarp for the occasional times they might sleep outside of a shelter—even in June. By camping skills, I mean the common skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—not the questionable survival “skills” of reality TV. Here are some of what I believe are the most important skills: