Getting to an ultralight backpacking base weight

Getting to the Ultralight Threshold

Aspiring to be an ultralight backpacker gives you the opportunity to really look at everything you are carrying and decide what you can live without. For any outdoor traveler, the less weight you have, the less you have to carry! So today we’re going to talk about how you can get to an ultralight backpacking base weight.

While there is some debate over what exactly the ultralight threshold is, 10 pounds (4.5kg) is commonly cited. This excludes food, water, and fuel. Everything else, including your backpack, is included in this measurement. While it can seem extreme, you’d be surprised what you can do without on the trail to get to this measurement.

If ultralight seems a bit too extreme for you, you may want to aim for a lighter threshold of 15 lbs (6.8kg). Using a combination of getting ultralight gear and only packing what you absolutely need, getting to the ultralight threshold is far from impossible.

What You Actually Need

There are hundreds of lists available for a beginning backpacker that can really add to the weight of you pack. Here are the essentials that you absolutely must have.

  • Navigation: Wherever you are, you are going to need to get around. This can be a map and compass or a gps.
  • Sun protection: Whatever the temperature, the sun will always be around. Keep your skin from getting to hot or getting burned with a hat or sun screen.
  • Insulation: You never know what the weather is going to do. Bring along warm clothing, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad.
  • Illumination: It’s dark at night. Make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries and at least two kinds of fire starters.
  • First-Aid: Injuries happen! Be prepared with band aids, medication, feminine hygiene products and an ace bandage. Include a knife and duct tape in this and you’ll be prepared for pretty much anything.
  • Nutrition: Food! It doesn’t count towards your base weight, but you do need something to keep you alive. All you need to cook is a stove and a pot.
  • Hydration: The weight of the water doesn’t count, but your storage and filtration method do. Make sure you have a way to get clean water.
  • Shelter: Somewhere to sleep at night. Combined with your sleeping bag, this is probably the heaviest item you’ll be carrying. Be it a tent or hammock, keeping dry and safe at night is essential.

Aside from these items, you don’t really need anything else. Sure, there are some luxuries that might make your trip a little more comfortable, but going ultralight is all about minimalism. If it’s not going to keep you safe or alive, then it’s not a necessity.

One of the best ways to save weight on these items is to find things that pull double duty. Multitools are your best friend on the trail. Knives and duct tape are your best options for this because knives can be used for food and repair and duct tape can be used for pretty much anything, even a bandaid.

Shaving Ounces

In order to get to the 4.5kg threshold, you need to have ultralight items, but not absolutely everything needs to say ‘ultralight’ on it. The biggest way to shave off weight is to invest in an ultralight sleeping bag and an ultralight tent. Both of these can get really heavy really quickly. If you’re trying to save money, these are the only two things you really need to focus on getting lightweight, everything else can be a pretty standard weight. Here are some things that are easy to cut:

  • Clothing: You don’t really need anything other than what’s on your back and a change for pajamas. If you hate being dirty, wash your clothes in a stream every once and a while. Extra clothes are bulky and heavy, and not strictly necessary when you’re on the trail.
  • Fancy cooking equipment: While there are plenty of fancy pots and pans around, you really only need one pot and one spoon. Either eat out of the pot itself, or – if you’re making dehydrated meals – eat from their bags. You can have plenty of hearty, delicious meals with just these two things.
  • A pillow: A balled up sweater or jacket can work just as well as any camping pillow you find.
  • Chairs and other furniture: Although a lot of chairs are marketed as ultralight they’re not going to help you get to your goal.
  • Coffee maker: There are a lot of camping coffee makers out there, but none of them are as light weight as no coffee maker and a bag of instant coffee. This may seem like sacrilege to some people, but remember, coffee is coffee.
  • Solar chargers, power banks, etc: Being in the wilderness is about disconnecting, so this shouldn’t be too hard to do. For emergencies, make sure your phone is charged at the beginning of the trip and then turn it off.

When you’re shopping

Before you shop for new gear, get out all the gear you already have and weigh it. Add everything up and see how far from 4.5kgs you are. If there’s an item that’s not in your budget right now, consider whether you could borrow gear from someone for a few trips.

If you have an item that’s heavy and bulky, look into getting a new one. However, getting to the ultralight threshold doesn’t have to happen in one trip. If the gear you already have works, there’s no need to replace it right away. Keep your eyes out for a deal on an ultralight version, but focus on building a set of essentials before replacing something you already have.

Before you embark on a long journey, do a test run with a one night stay in a nearby campground. Bring only the essentials and see what kind of gear you feel you are missing.

Remember: Getting to the ultralight threshold may be your goal, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t quite reach it. Your bag is going to be a lot lighter just by you being conscious of what you put into it and even a 15lb (6.8kg) base weight is significantly lighter than the average of 30 lbs (13.6kg).

That’s all for this week, folks, hope you enjoyed this post. What changes have you made to your pack or plans in order to go ultralight? We’d love to hear about it in the comments! And don’t forget to stay tuned to our blog for more tips, tricks and gear reviews from the trail.

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