Starting your journey into ultralight backpacking doesn’t have to be difficult. Our ultralight backpacking gear checklist includes every basic item you’ll need (and everything you don’t) to hit the trail at feather-light speed.
With an increasing amount of hikers adopting ultralight backpacking beliefs, traditional backpacking gear lists are being abandoned in favour of streamlined alternatives that are lighter in weight, and more practical for a life on the trail.
We’ve already advised you on the basic tenets behind ultralight backpacking, so here’s our follow up describing the basic ultralight kit you’ll need to ditch the weight, giving you greater freedom to enjoy every moment that your outdoor adventure has to offer.
Your backpack is possibly the most important piece of kit you can choose when opting to become lightweight or ultralight.
Beware of bigger backpacks when venturing into ultralight travel. The larger the backpack the easier it is to stuff with unnecessary ‘just in case’ items. Anything over 50L is probably too large to be classed as carry-on luggage, the efficient backpackers number one concern. Bigger backpacks also carry more weight - an extra 5-8lbs here or there will really start to show.
A 30L backpack is the friend of many intermediate ultralight travellers, whilst hardcore ultralight backpackers often squeeze down to 20L.
One weight-saving solution is to opt for a frameless backpack. At first glance these packs may seem shockingly flimsy and light. However, if you pack your kit correctly you can create your own internal frame structure from items in your backpack.
When it comes to ultralight clothing, the layering system is your greatest ally. In its simplest form, the layering system consists of the following configuration: base layers, insulating layers, shell layers.
Make appropriate choices based upon environment, climate and trip length. The list below will fulfill the needs of anyone looking for a comprehensive three-season ultralight clothing checklist.
- Baselayer Pants
- Short Sleeve/Long Sleeve Baselayer Top - light merino or synthetic blends are great choices
- Down Jacket/Synthetic Insulated Jacket
- Walking Trousers - quick drying, water resistant trousers are best
- Wind Shell or Rain Jacket - there’s only room for one
- Waterproof Trousers - optional: recommended for colder excursions
- Underwear - quick-drying is your number one priority
- Hiking Socks - choose merino with its wicking, odour-resistant properties
- Sleep Socks - only to be worn at night
- Waterproof Socks
- Peaked Hat or Bandana - a hat offers dedicated protection, but a bandana is multi-purpose
- Gaiters - optional
- Trail Running Shoes - trail runners are multi-purpose and are suitable for most terrains. Only choose walking boots only if your route requires greater grip and structure
If you can put the word “spare” in front of any items you are packing, then strike it off your pack list - immediately
The ultralight approach to sleeping takes things back to simpler times, when one only needed a simple shelter to survive in comfort.
The ideal ultralight sleeping system can differ dramatically from person to person, however. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different solutions. The three basic items you’ll need are:
- Sleeping Pad - look out for brands like Thermarest and their lightweight self-inflating mattresses
- Sleeping Bag - 3-season sleeping bags will serve you well in most conditions
- Tent/Tarp Shelter
If you are ready to take a further leap into ultralight, then ditch the tent and pitch a tarp instead. Tarps offer great flexibility, and are no more difficult to set up than a regular tent. However, they are more suited to sheltered, forested areas with less wind - so bear that in mind.
We all suffer from having eyes bigger than our bellies. But this habit tips the scales and leaves many backpackers with a sore back full of regret. Whilst carrying emergency food can be tempting, emergency situations rarely call for more than the essentials: water and shelter.
When packing light, remember that food needs plenty of calorific value per gram (100 calories per ounce is often recommended). Cheese, trail mixes and chocolate are your friend.
Here’s all the cooking equipment you’ll need:
- Water Bottle
- Water Filter
- Mess Tin
The Essential Extras
There are some things every backpacker needs, regardless of weight:
- Navigation - maps and compass, or GPS
- Headlight and Flashlight
- First-aid Kit
- Emergency Shelter
- Firestarting supplies - waterproof matches, lighter, candles
And that’s it. Naturally, this list will adapt with every adventure you take and lessons you learn whilst out on the trail. Embrace these changes and learn about what works best for you.
Have you tried our ultralight backpacking gear list? Maybe there is something you simply cannot live without when hitting the trail? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages now.