Ultralight backpacking

Ultralight backpacking

Ultralight backpacking is an advancedcitation|title=Lightweight Backpacking and Camping|author1=George Cole|author2=Ryan Jordan|author3=Alan Dixon|isbn=0974818828|date=2006] Please see the legal disclaimer in Jordan, "Lightweight Backpacking and Camping", page v: "not intended for beginning backpackers"] style of backpacking that emphasizes packing (carrying) the lightest weight safely possible for a given hike and the techniques necessary when using ultralight gear. To reach this goal, "base pack weight" (the weight of a backpack plus the gear inside— excluding consumables such as food, water, and fuel, which vary depending on the duration and style of trip) is reduced as much as safely possible.

Although no technical standards exist, the terms light and ultralight commonly refer to "base pack weights" below convert|20|lb|kg and convert|10|lb|kg respectively. "Traditional backpacking" often results in base pack weights above convert|30|lb|kg, and sometimes up to convert|60|lb|kg or more. Extreme enthusiasts of ultralight backpacking sometimes attempt "super-ultralight backpacking" in which the "base pack weight" is below convert|5|lb|kg.


Ultralight backpacking was popularized by rock climber Ray Jardine, whose 1992 book "PCT Hiker's Handbook" [citation|title=The PCT Hiker's Handbook|author=Ray Jardine|isbn=0963235907|date=1992] , later retitled as "Beyond Backpacking" in 1999citation|title=Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardines Guide to Lightweight Hiking | author=Ray Jardine | isbn=0963235931 | date=1999] , laid the foundations for many techniques that ultralight backpackers use today. Jardine claimed his first PCT thru-hike was with a base pack weight of convert|25|lb|kg, and by his third PCT thru-hike it was below convert|9|lb|kg.

Yet the concept of ultralight camping gear is certainly not new. The outdoors writer Horace Kephart, in his 1917 book Camping and Woodcraft, listed in detail several camping kits manufactured in England that weighed convert|6-7|lb|kg, and included silk tent, rubber sleeping mat, down sleeping bag or quilt, alcohol stove and cooking equipment: it was Kephart's view that these kits were insufficiently durable. His own base pack weight for light trips was convert|18|lb|kg, including the convert|2.75|lb|kg of his preferred Duluth-style backpack.Fact|date=May 2008

Another early pioneer was Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1955 with only a duffel bag containing an army blanket, a plastic sheet, and other very simple gear much lighter than the heavy equipment common among "thru-hikers" in those days. [citation | last=Freeling | first=Elisa | title=When Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail | periodical=Sierra | date=Nov-Dec, 2002 | url=http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200211/good.asp]

A parallel exists between traditional army or hunting style backpacking versus ultralight backpacking compared to "Expedition style" mountaineering pioneered by the British using Sherpas and pack animals versus "Alpine style" pioneered by the Swiss.

In early 2001 Backpacking Light Magazine was introduced with a primary focus on lightweight wilderness travel. [ [http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/about.html About Backpacking Light] ]


By carrying lighter and more multi-purpose equipment, ultralight backpackers are frequently able to cover longer distances per day with less wear and tear on the body. This is particularly useful when thru-hiking a long-distance trail. For example, the first person to complete a roundtrip ("yo-yo") of the PCT was Scot Williamson who did it in 2004 with a base pack weight of about convert|8.5|lb|kg. [cite news|title = Hiker Completes First Round-Trip of Pacific Crest Trail| work = Outside Magazine| publisher = | date = 2004-11-18| url = http://outside.away.com/outside/news/20041118_1.html| accessdate = 2006-09-16]

The first way to reduce weight is by leaving items that are unnecessary at home. This often includes camping luxuries such as camp chairs, coffee makers, electronic gadgets, multiple items of clothing, etc.Fact|date=June 2008 This is the initial step taken by any backpacker seeking less weight on their back.

The next method is reducing item weight. Modifying items to reduce superflous weight, such as removing the handle from a toothbrush or cutting tags off of clothing is one example of reducing an item's weight. Replacing heavy items all together is another means by which to reduce an item's weight. Replacing items manufactured using heavy materials with items made from lighter ones will help as well. For instance, Ripstop nylon can make a much lighter pack than canvas material. The fabrics Silnylon, spinnaker sailcloths and spectra-woven Cuben Fiber (UHMWPE) are regularly used in ultralight applications for their low ratio of weight to surface area [ [http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/fabric.php Fabric Mojo - Descriptions of common lightweight fabric materials.] ] . Exchanging fully-featured items for minimalist (and therefore lighter) items will save weight as well. For instance an inflatable sleeping pad is more feature-rich and weighs more than a closed-cell foam pad, yet both serve the same intrinsic purpose. There are many options, so reducing item weight has innumerable choices.

The final method is to utilize multi-purpose gear - one piece of gear which serves the purpose of two, thereby theoretically cutting the weight of the item in half. For example, a plastic rain poncho which is modified with tie-outs (or tied out with sheet bends) also serves as a tarp shelter. According to Jordan"Lightweight Backpacking and Camping", page 135] : "The poncho-tarp is probably the lightest possible combination of shelter and raingear..." Another example is an insulated sweater or jacket used in conjunction with a lightweight sleeping bag which boosts the efficiency of the lightweight sleeping bag as well as remaining a useful clothing item. By using an insulated sweater in conjunction with a lightweight sleeping bag a warmer rated sleeping bag may be made appropriate for the current weather. Warmer weather sleeping bags tend to be lighter and more compressable than colder weather sleeping bags.

Base Pack

The "Three Heavies" or "Big Three"

The rain shelter, sleeping system, and backpack are considered to be the three major items carried by backpackers. Consequently, reducing the weight of these will reduce overall pack weight [ [http://www.ultralightbackpacker.com/where-to-start.html Where To Start] ] . Using the methods described above the weight of the big three will be reduced.

The most common rain shelter in use is the tent, but these are relatively heavy due to a number of reasons. They are often designed from two layers of fabric (to address the internal condensation problem), often require the use of metal poles, stakes, and sometimes include a separate ground cloth to protect the tent bottom. Replacing a double-wall tent with a simple tarp and bivy combination will reduce not only weight but also volume carried in a backpack. Other methods to reduce shelter weight include single layer tarp-tent hybrids, hammocks, poncho-tarps, or the use of a bivy sack ("Alpine style") as the sole-shelter.citation | author1=Colin Fletcher | author2=Chip Rawlins | title=The Complete Walker IV | date=2002 | isbn= 0375703233]

Reduction in weight of the second of the big three, the sleeping system, is achieved through reduction of the quantity of fabric used in its manufacture or through use of lighterweight materials in its construciton. The use of down as an insulation material which is lighter by volume than currently available synthetic fibers will decrease bag weight but alternately suffer from its susceptibility to loft loss caused by moisture. Reducing the overall weight of a sleeping bag by eliminating superfluous material will reduce its weight. An example of this is the use of a sleeping quilt or top bag. A sleeping quilt is a bottom-less insulated blanket which has no insulation on its bottom side, relying on the user's sleeping pad to guard against conductive heat loss into the ground. A top bag is more like a conventional sleeping bag in that it wraps around the user's entire body but the bottom fabric contains no insulation. The philosophy behind these two alternatives is that insulation crushed under a person's weight is devoid of air and therefore useless). Some modern down sleeping bags are "through-baffled" and "under-filled" such that the user can shift all the insulation to the top of their body thereby maximizing its potential to retain heat. Ultralight hikers also tend to carry bags rated for warmer temperatures than traditional-weight backpackers - making up the difference on cold nights by wearing insulated clothing to bed such as a balaclava) or insulated jacket. Proper camping site selection that avoids colder "hollows" (low points where cold air tends to collect) or that makes use of natural wind barriers such as thick vegetation or cliffs makes up the difference in heat lost by lighter gear.

With a lighter shelter and sleeping system, the backpack can consist of lighter material and a less bulky frame or no frame at all. The common ultralight alternative to an internal frame pack is a frameless pack made of ripstop nylon, silnylon, or Dyneema, with a carrying limit of convert|20-25|lb|kg. An internal-frame pack can weigh upwards of convert|6|lb|kg with features such as hip belt stabilizers, lifter straps, sternum straps, and compression straps; ultralight frameless packs are commercially available in weights ranging from eight to fourteen ounces (200-400 g) and can consist of not much more than a sack with shoulder straps, a return to the simplicity of the rucksack. Jardine's book includes directions to make your own "ultralight pack", GoLite sells manufactured versions of Jardine's design (which uses a rolled up sleeping pad to provide stiffness or frame) with the harder to work with yet stronger "Dyneema". Grandma Gatewood used a lightweight duffel bag slung across her shoulder and stated that "Most people are pantywaists".

Some backpackers make their own gear. Possible advantages include individually customizing the items, as well as potential cost savings. An added advantage is that if a homemade item were to break down, the hiker would be in a better position to repair it. Materials used to make commercially available gear are normally not as lightweight as they could be; one reason is in order to minimize returns of damaged gear. Homemade lightweight gear can last as long as needed if cared for properly.

Referenced examples

*Backpack: homemade "ultralight pack" (convert|13.5|oz|g)
*Sleeping system: homemade polarguard convert|2|in|cm|adj=on thick quilt (convert|33|oz|g); stowbag (convert|1.75|oz|g); trimmed convert|3/8|in|mm|sigfig=2|adj=on thick, convert|36|in|cm|adj=on long, closed cell polyethylene pad (convert|4.8|oz|g); space blanket ground sheet (convert|1.25|oz|g)
*Rain shelter: homemade convert|9|ft|m|adj=on by convert|7|ft|m|adj=on silnylon tarp (convert|12|oz|g); 8 aluminum tent stakes and stowbag (convert|2.6|oz|g); guyline cord (convert|0.5|oz|g)
*Total: convert|69.4|oz|kg lb

*Backpack: Bozeman Mountain Works G6 Whisper (convert|3.7|oz|g)
*Sleeping system: Pertex Quantum convert|2.25|in|cm|adj=on loft down sleeping bag (convert|15.2|oz|g); SpinSack spinnaker cloth stuff sack (convert|.5|oz|g); torso sized, convert|3/8|in|mm|sigfig=2|adj=on thick, sleeping pad (convert|1.9|oz|g);
*Rain shelter: SpinPoncho spinnaker cloth convert|5|ft|m|adj=on by convert|8|ft|m|adj=on Poncho-Tarp (convert|6.3|oz|g); Vapr Quantum Silnylon bivy sack (convert|6.2|oz|g); 6 Lazr titanium tent stakes (convert|1.3|oz|g); convert|24|ft|m AirCore1 Spectra guyline (convert|0.2|oz|g)
*Total: convert|35.3|oz|kg lb

Other Gear

The remaining gear (see ten essentials and survival kit for some of the other items) carried by an ultralight backpacker follows a similar philosophy of replacing traditional backpacking gear with lighter options. Below is a short list of replacements that some Ultralight hikers choose instead of traditional backpacking gear:
*Light weight alcohol or solid fuel stoves instead of heavier gas stoves and a single cook pot with a single spoon instead of a traditional mess kit (some ultralight hikers opt to not carry a stove and its associated paraphernalia at all, relying on no-cook meals for food, see also Raw foodism).
* Trail running or running shoes (Grandma Gatewood used Keds sneakers) instead of hiking boots and lightweight nylon socks instead of heavy wool socks.
*The minimal amount of extra clothing safely possible. At convert|40|°F|°C, half of body heat is lost by an uncovered head, making a balaclava particularly vital.
*An ultralight hiker's first-aid kit and repair kit are often stored in plastic or silnylon bags instead of the conventional (and heavier) packaging that a traditional backpacker might carry. The contents can also be optimized, for example Jordan proposes a convert|5|oz|g|adj=on kit.
*A convert|1|oz|g mini pocket knife instead of a heavier Leatherman style multi-tool or Bowie knife or machete.
*Chemical disinfectant water treatment (iodine tablets, aquamira) instead of heavier water filters.
*Plastic Soft drink bottles instead of heavier nalgene or lexan bottles or Hydration packs.
*A convert|0.25|oz|g|adj=on LED light instead of a heavy flashlight or headlamp.
*A toothbrush adapted for the ultralight philosophy -- an infant's toothbrush with holes drilled through the handle will clean teeth as effectively as a full-sized toothbrush weighing an ounce or two more. Another option is the "finger toothbrush". A mixture of salt and baking soda makes a good toothpaste, with sterile water it makes saline solution, with sugar and water it makes Oral rehydration solution.


In addition to carrying equipment, hikers must also carry consumables such as water and food and in some cases fuel. Some ultralight backpackers save weight by resupplying these items more frequently. On long-distance trails with multiple access points, some ultralight hikers choose to place food caches or stop at stores to resupply consumables at frequent intervals, allowing just two or three days worth of food to be carried in place of a larger load.


convert|1|L|USqt of water weighs convert|1|kg|lb, thus it is a significant contributor to pack weight.

Moderate activity in a moderate climate requires convert|2|L|USqt of drinking water per day , and in many regions hikers must carry their water from oasis to oasis. When traveling through an area with many springs and streams, some ultralight hikers can carry as little as convert|350|mL|USfloz of water— or none at all, provided the hiker is confident on how far away the next reliable water source is and the expected weather conditions (or is smart enough to double back before becoming dehydrated).

Water from many sources should be purified to prevent Waterborne diseases such as Giardiasis, Cryptosporidiosis and Dysentery. Some ultralight hikers reduce the weight of water purifying devices by carrying lighter disinfectants as opposed to heavier filters. Some ultralight hikers even forego treatment in regions where water purification may not be essential or are particularly careful about choosing sources, see also Potability of backcountry water. Neither boiling, disinfectants or ordinary filters are effective against chemical pollution.


Once the "Big 3" (see above) and water are resolved, food becomes the biggest contributor to pack weight and an area where substantial gains over "traditional backpacking" can be gained.

The Basal metabolic rate requirement of food calories (one "food calorie" is 1000 heat calories, thus sometimes labelled kcal) is approximately 1000 per day per 100 pounds of body weight] . However exertion in the form of hiking consumes additional calories; for example the standard US Army field ration is 4500 calories per day for strenuous work. Thus depending upon type of food an average hiker carries, a hiker requires approximately convert|2|kg|lb of food per day.Fact|date=May 2008 Ultralight techniques can substantially reduce this weight, Jardine suggests convert|2.5|lb|kg per day for thru-hiking, Jordan suggests convert|1.25|lb|kg per day (at 125 calories per ounce, 4.4 calories per gram) for a 3-season 3-day backpack.

Many foods can be dried or dehydrated to reduce weight. Dehydrated meals can be purchased or dehydrated at home. On the trail, rehydration can typically be performed by cooking in hot water. Some ultralight hikers reduce weight by not carrying a stove and rehydrating food in a container with water (although this method requires more time to rehydrate than the traditional cooking method). For example Ramen noodles, dehydrated refried beans (in powdered form), or dehydrated hummus can be put in a ziploc bag or lightweight microwave disposable plastic container with water to rehydrate. Gaba rice (or GBR, "germinated brown rice") can be made with brown rice, body heat and water and eaten uncooked.Fact|date=June 2008 Oats (groats or rolled, granola or muesli) and barley also become soft enough with soaking to eat uncooked.Fact|date=June 2008 Traditionally pemican or hardtack was used, whereas today many military units use MRE's for field work.

Weight in the form of food can also be reduced by choosing foods that have the highest ratio of calories per weight. Proteins and carbohydrates have approximately 4 food calories per gram whereas fat has 9 food calories per gram [ [http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch152/ch152b.html Online Merck Manual: Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats] ] , thus carrying foods high in fat content can reduce weight, such as the following examples:
*Peanut Butter (5.89 cals/gram)
*Nuts (Pecans are 6.87 cals/gram, toasted coconut is 5.92 cals/gram [ [http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ USDA food database: Nuts, coconut meat, dried (desiccated), toasted] ] )
*Pemican (5.7 cals/gram [ [http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0562e/T0562E04.htm FAO: Methods of meat preservation without refrigeration] ] )
*Dried whole egg (5.92 cals/gram)

Clarified butter (anhydrous), which stores well unrefrigerated, is almost pure fat (8.76 cals/gram [ [http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ USDA food database: Butter oil, anhydrous] ] ), thus about 4,000 food calories per pound, however it is also a potent bear attractant.

Alternatively, so-called "energy bars" on average contain more protein and carbohydrates than fat, similar to a fig newton (3.68 cals/gram), lowering their calorie to weight ratio relative to other choices citation|url=http://www.healthcentral.com/fitorfat/408/34334.html|name="Fueling up with Energy Bars"|date=2001]

Food protection

In many areas, unprotected food has the potential of being eaten by wild animals. One common method is to hang the food in areas where the technique is still legal. Traditionally, food was hung in trees to keep it away from ground animals, but this is ineffective with animals that have become accustomed to humans; in the U.S.A.'s Yosemite National Park where there are black bears (see "bear danger"), hanging food is now illegal, and an approved bear-resistant food storage container is required citation | url=http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/bears.htm | title=Food Storage in Yosemite National Park| date=2008] . The conflict with the ultralight hiker philosophy is that currently approved containers typically weigh several pounds empty.



External links

* [http://www.ultralightbackpacker.com Joe's Ultralight Backpacking] -- introductory page including an example gear list
* [http://groups.msn.com/Troop73Alameda/troop73alcoholstoveproject.msnw Troop 73 Alcohol Stove Project]

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