Free time is in short supply these days. Go light and make the most of yours in the backcountry.by Josh Rhea
The most basic concept behind the ultralight philosophy is painfully simple: you can travel greater distances with a lighter pack because you expend less energy. You don’t burn as many calories hauling a 20-pound pack versus a 70-pound pack on a multi-day excursion. Subsequently, you don’t have to bring as much food, which means your pack gets even lighter, and so on. By sacrificing a little comfort and a few amenities, a backpacker can gain immensely in energy, distance covered, and simple enjoyment of the outdoors.
Ultralight Backpacking Gear
Before committing to a 12-pound packweight (everything minus food and water), it’s important to know that ultralight is one of those practices that offers excellent ‘trickle-down’ benefits to the average backpacker. There are a variety of ways to reduce pack weight without jumping the gun to full minimalist ideologies, allowing you to evaluate just how light you want to go.
First and foremost: DO NOT buy an ultralight backpack first! Because of the
light loads these packs are designed to carry, they offer little reinforcement,
support, or padding. Loading an ultralight pack with traditional gear will ruin
the pack as well as your body. If you’re like most of us,
start with basic gear that can significantly reduce your pack weight, like a
bag and tent.
Lose your old synthetic bag and grab a compressible 1.5-pound down
mummy like the Marmot
Hydrogen. Leave the hefty 2-man tent at home and bring a lightweight, single-wall tent (these require guylines for support), or go all-out in milder climates
and only bring an ultralight
tarp and ground cover for shelter.
The MSR Missing Link non-freestanding tent (L) is easily set up with a pair of trekking poles and tie-downs. The MSR Trekker Wing (R) requires only one trekking pole and a few tie-downs and weighs under 2 pounds.
Ultralight isn’t only about lightweight gear; it’s a shift in the
way you think, behave, and pack. Cutting off toothbrush handles is one weight-shaving
method that often garners disproportionate attention. While such measures may
seem extreme, they serve as a great illustration of the basic philosophy: take
ONLY what you need. If your hiking
pants have an elastic waistband and a drawstring, remove the drawstring.
Leave your full toothpaste tube at home; bring small canisters to contain just
enough toothpaste and sunscreen for your trip. Don’t bring a change of
clothes or a towel.
The Marmot Hydrogen 30-degree down sleeping bag.
Another shift in mind-set will come when you find ways to eliminate bulk by making your existing gear serve multiple purposes. For example, only bring one pot and one lightweight ‘spork’ for meals. You can use the pot to cook your dinner and to sip tea from afterwards. Small stuff sacks can double as camp shoes, and trekking poles can add support to a tarp shelter. All this niggling over ounces quickly adds up to pounds saved. And that equals one wonderful thing: flying past heavyweight backpackers on your way to a campsite twice as far as theirs. Backcountry travel is about escaping the burdens of daily life; going ultralight allows you to escape the burdens of your pack trip, too.