- 1 The Basics of Backpacking Types
- 2 Why Choose Ultralight Backpacking?
- 3 What to Consider Before Switching to an Ultralight Packing Lifestyle
- 4 How to Pack Ultralight Using the Big Three
- 5 Ultralight Packing in Style
Traveling through the backcountry on foot is an unforgettable adventure for most men. However, depending on certain trips, you’ll need to pack accordingly. Ultralight backpacking during long hikes and treks is most beneficial, while plush/deluxe packing is necessary for camping trips.
As a fellow hiker and adventurer, I’ve designed this guide to help you understand specifically how to pack for an extended backcountry adventure. First, we will get into the weight differences when packing. This will help you establish goals and criteria for how you should pack for each outdoor exploration.
The Basics of Backpacking Types
Backpacking can be broken up into four separate categories, varying in overall weight. Take each of these into consideration, so you can learn packing methods that work for your specific trip.
- Plush (Deluxe) Backpacking – 30 + lbs.
Back in the day (20+ years ago,) backpacking was almost exclusively deluxe. This was mainly because backpackers didn’t have the accessibility to smarter, smaller technology. Most items were excessively bulky and heavy, so even the minimalist was carrying a lot of weight.
Today, carrying over 30 pounds of weight is considered a deluxe backpacking experience. Since the market for small, low weight and durable outdoor gear has expanded drastically, you are either using outdated equipment or packing an excessive amount of “luxury” gear within this weight-class.
If you’re looking for an ultralight backpacking experience, you won’t be interested in packing for a deluxe packing experience. I’ve only packed weight like this when I’ve traveled shorter distances or camped out a few nights somewhere.
- Lightweight Backpacking – 20-to-29 lbs.
If you’re looking for a lightweight backpacking experience, you’ll want to stick between the 20 to 29-pound range after packing. Unlike a deluxe packing experience, you’ll have significantly fewer items in your pack. Plus, you want to make sure you’re investing in newer gear that weighs less so you can have more room for other items.
Lightweight packing contains all the essentials for survivals, along with a few luxury items while on trekking through the backcountry. I always recommend lightweight backpacking for beginners who want to work their way to ultralight backpacking. As you get adjusted to outdoor hiking, you’ll be able to remove items or replace them with smaller alternatives for more space.
- Ultralight Backpacking – 15-to-20 lbs.
Exploring the backcountry with a combination of efficiency and mobility requires an ultralight backpacking experience. Packing between 15 to 20 pounds of gear is an ideal target range for your trip. Most hikers consider this to be an “expert” class for hiking since you have the natural survival skills to improvise as needed.
To pack correctly, you’ll want to condense all your gear. Pack only the essentials, making sure you’re covered for most emergency situations. However, you will only have room for a few luxury items, so make sure you strategically choose what you’re bringing.
- Minimalist Backpacking – 14 lbs. and Less
After a few trips of ultralight backpacking, you may even be interested in minimalistic packing for your trip. Traveling with under 14 pounds of weight is the true hikers’ goal. During that 500-mile trek, this could really help give you maximum mobility.
Trekking through cliffs and mountains? You’ll probably love how quick you can get through certain terrain when your pack is low weight. However, this does require previous experience with hiking before attempting. You’ll be depending on nature for a lot of your supplies, so you’ll need to have a savvy mind for the outdoors to truly enjoy a minimalist backpacking adventure.
Why Choose Ultralight Backpacking?
Ultralight packing is one of my favorites when I’m trekking. As you get more accustomed to the outdoors and learn more survival tips, you’ll find your pack to be filled with clutter. This is where featherweight packing comes in handy for improving your overall hike.
Carrying under 20 pounds gives you guaranteed increased mobility. You’ll be able to get through obstacles much quicker. So, if you intend to tackle over 100 miles in a hiking trip, you’ll cover more ground every day. The lighter you pack, the less strain you have on your body to hold you back from moving at a fast pace.
Hiking can strain the body, especially if you have larger packs to carry. Since ultralight packing is both comfier and easier on your body than lightweight and deluxe packing, you’ll find yourself less exhausted at the end of each day of your hike. Trust me, this is important because you’ll feel even more restored in the morning. It’s a great way to keep your hiking experience positive and your mindset prepared to cover some serious ground every day.
Choosing this hiking lifestyle does require some skillset, though. There are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration before switching to featherweight gear.
What to Consider Before Switching to an Ultralight Packing Lifestyle
It’s always recommended that beginners start with a lightweight backpacking experience first. Most times, your pack will be filled with novice gear and luxury items that can pack on a few extra pounds. There is another guide that will be launched soon for lightweight backpacking.
Judge your experience level accordingly before switching to an ultralight packing lifestyle. Most hikers, including myself, ditch most of the luxury items and keep only the essentials while packing. Getting lost in the wilderness without the right equipment or experience to improvise can leave you in a life-threatening situation on your backcountry travel.
Skill Set for Specific Terrain
Hiking and trekking skills for a forest terrain have little use in a rocky terrain. It’s important to know the terrain you’re hiking in beforehand so you can prepare yourself. Are you prepared for an ultralight backpacking trip for the terrain you’re hiking on? Do you have the skills to use your surroundings in that terrain to survive off bare minimum supplies?
Keep yourself honest so you don’t put your life in danger. It’s never worth it. If you’re hiking in new terrain, try a lightweight backpacking trip first. This way you can accurately gauge what items you’ll need for that specific terrain/area and which ones you can leave behind.
Comfortability is Key
Beyond having the experience and skills for the area, it’s important to be comfortable with ultralight packing. Since it does strip away most of the luxury items, it doesn’t appeal to all hikers and travelers. Do you truly feel comfortable without having most of those items with you on your trip?
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of ultralight packing, or don’t have the right equipment yet, stick to lightweight backpacking. Your comfortability is imperative during a hike.
Safety Precautions Matter
I’ve found that certain areas and terrains require more packing for me to feel safe against certain potential threats. It’s important to know what you could encounter during your outdoors trip, so you can prepare yourself adequately.
For example, areas prone to bears may not be suitable for an ultralight packing trip. Having bearproof containers for food and miscellaneous items, bear deterrent spray, bug spray, hiking boots and heavier clothing in bear terrain are of the few items needed for the hike.
Most of these aren’t required during most hikes, so it’s added weight to your pack. This could easily push a 15-pound pack to 20 pounds or more. Safety is important and shouldn’t be neglected for a weight reduction on your pack during hikes.
Since ultralight backpacking has only recently gotten popular, companies have begun creating a larger market to promote it. Check to see if your gear can be upgraded, replacing older models with newer, lighter models. The more diverse and lighter your equipment is in your pack, the easier it is to fit more items in it while keeping it ultralight.
Let’s look at how you can easily enhance and update your equipment for an ultralight hike.
How to Pack Ultralight Using the Big Three
When you’re packing for a hike, it’s important to keep in mind the “Big Three”, which consists of a shelter, backpack and sleeping bag + pad. Sometimes, hikers consider the sleeping bag and pad to be separate and consider it to be the “Big Four” instead. Since I believe the pad is optional (varying on terrain, comfortability and sleeping bag), I include it as one.
Regardless, they are known as the essentials of hiking. When you’re packing for an ultralight trip, the combined gear weight should be 8 pounds or less. This gives you enough room to pack the remaining essentials without overweighing your pack. Every ounce matters when you’re packing ultralight.
Your shelter selection usually remains consistent as either a tent or a tarp (depending on terrain and sleeping bag). Unless you’re considering a minimalist packing experience, it’s best to stick with a tent for the most support and weather resistance.
If you’re looking to invest in a one-man tent, it’s important to find one that weighs under 40 ounces. Anything over, you could find your pack weighing more than 20 pounds. This switches the ultralight adventure to a lightweight trip, taking away from your experience.
If you’re trekking with a mate, a two-person tent is even more ideal. It might weigh more, but if you disperse the weight of your items evenly, you could save a few pounds since it’s lighter than two 1-person tents.
Most importantly, your shelter needs to be appropriate for the season. Most tents are created as 3-season (summer, fall and spring), so it’s an easy accommodation. Though, tarps do come in handy during late spring to summer, when the shelter requirements are lowest.
Best Tents for Ultralight Backpacking
Packing properly for an ultralight hike starts with the pack itself. Certain backpacks work for certain hiking trips. Mainly, they are customized more toward weight-class, so you want one that fits the ultralight packing style.
If the pack weighs over 3 pounds (48 oz.), it’s not a suitable choice. You won’t need an abundance of space since you’ll be hiking or trekking with bare minimum tools. The smaller and more consolidated your gear, the smaller the bag you’ll need to invest in.
Backpacks should also meet certain criteria, such as comfort and fit. Though, I’ll explain further in a backpacking guide.
Best Ultralight Backpacks for Men
Sleeping Bag + Pad
As I explained earlier, I’m impartial to a sleeping pad. Depending on the weather and terrain, you may find that having a heavier duty sleeping bag could compromise for both. This is dependent on personal preference and on the overall design of the sleeping bag as well.
Regardless of your choice to do only a sleeping bag or a duo with a sleeping pad, the overall weight shouldn’t exceed 3 pounds. For an ultralight trek, it’s important to keep yourself fixed on this weight. Since there is such an abundance of great, lightweight sleeping bags, you can easily find an affordable and durable one.
Consider a sleeping bag that resists weather as low as 20-degrees Fahrenheit and is considered a “3-season” sleeping bag. Other features will vary per the brand, so be mindful of that as well. If you want to learn more, I’ll have a Sleeping Bag and Pad Guide released soon.
Best Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Pads
- Big Agnes Cabin Creek Double Sleeping Bag
- Skeeter Beeter Pro Hammock
- Evrgreen Crash Sack
- REI Igneo Sleeping Bag
- Therm-a-Rest Z Light Sol Sleeping Pad
- Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad
Additional Ultralight Packing Essentials
After you’ve picked out the big three, it’s times to consider the remaining options for your bag. Depending on your needs, you will find that you can skip out on certain supplies for others. Here’s a list of some the most durable, weightless options available for your packing experience.
- First-Aid Kit
- Running Shoes
- Light Hiking Shoes
- Water Filters
- Water bottles
- Carbon-fiber Trekking Poles
- Survival Knife
- Dehydrated Food
- GPS Watches
- Pocket Showers
- Survival Tools
- Fire Starters
Ultralight Packing in Style
With the advancement in technology, even hikers and backpackers can easily manage an ultralight packing lifestyle under 20 pounds. Use these tools to help build the ultimate ultralight trekking experience.
Check out the gifts for hikers for even more ideas on hiking gear!