The ultralight hiker is a concept that refers to a traveler who strives to minimize the weight of the bag he is carrying as much as possible.. The ultralight theme has become very popular in recent years and there are lots of websites that specialize in this topic and as many outfitting companies that specialize in ultralight gear.
The idea was born and developed in the USA, where there are very long hiking trips across challenging routes. In the US, as opposed to Europe, Nepal or New Zealand, there are no mountain huts or teahouses and the trips are hardcore, carrying everything on your back including tent, sleeping bag, sleep mat, cooking gear, food, and in some places, bear canisters.
The additional gear significantly increases the weight of the backpack, weighs heavily on the hiker, and uses up a lot more energy and mental effort.
The ultralight movement aspires to reduce the entire weight of the backpack to the bare minimum in order to improve the quality of the trip.
From the personal experience of those who have made the transition from standard backpacking gear to ultralight, it is highly worthwhile to adopt these principles which will dramatically influence enjoyment of the trip.
The Ultralight Principles
- The most important rule is to change the way in which you think such that the top priority when packing a bag goes from comfortable and secure to light. The best way to do this is to start thinking in grams rather than kilograms or pounds.
We often say that we see the world through whichever glasses we put on, so put on the glasses that see in grams. When the focus on the small unit of measurement becomes the criterion by which you choose which and how much gear to bring with you, your backpack will wind up much lighter.
- Do not take more than 1 (maximum 2 for the indulgent among you) extra accessory. An extra accessory is anything that is not necessary for your survival, reasonable comfort, or basic emergency supplies (medication, bandages).
- The big three – backpack, tent, sleep kit – these three things are the heaviest out of all your equipment so making the right choices regarding these items will significantly reduce the weight that you will have to bear.
Examples of weight differences between ultralight gear VS backpacking gear for ‘the big three’ :
- Backpack: ultralight backpacks range in weight from around 550 grams – 1,100 grams as compared to backpacking backpacks which weigh between 1,700g – 2,500g
- Tent: a complete ultralight 2-person tent including bag protection weighs between 600g – 1,000g and even less if you can make do with a tarp. Compare this to backpacking tents which weigh between 2,000g – 2,500g.
Sleep kit consisting of a sleeping bag and a sleep mat :
- Sleeping bag: in order to save weight, it is normal to replace your sleeping bag with a ‘quilt’ which is essentially a sleeping bag without the hood that fits onto your sleep mat. It is more comfortable for sleeping since it allows greater freedom of movement and actually more closely approximates a homey sleep with a blanket over you.
The weights for a quilt from 6.7 °C (20 °F) – 4.4 °C (40 °F) range between 550g to 800g.
Backpacking sleeping bags of the same temperature range will weigh between 800g – 1,800g.
- Ultralight sleep mat: weighs between 350g – 450g.
A quick calculation will show that the ultralight gear can easily add up to 3,000g (6.7 lb.) for all three items, compared to the equivalent backpacking gear which will weigh in at around 6,000g (13.3 lb.).
A difference of 3 kg is very significant to the quality of your trip, to the burden on your joints, and your consumption of calories. For illustrative purposes, 3 kg is equivalent to 2 1.5 liter bottles of water that you will not have to carry for the entire duration of your trek. Without that and without additional unnecessary equipment you will move faster and more easily.
-This is a rough calculation of course, and is based on the averages of the most popular gear from the leading companies.
-Not everything has to be taken to its extreme, and except for the most hardcore among us, it is appropriate to exercise discretion: not every trek is the 4,279 km of the Pacific Crest Trail and each of us has their small guilty pleasures or items that are not strictly necessary that we find hard to do without.
-Ultralight gear is typically more expensive and not everyone can allow themselves to upgrade all their gear in one go.
Ultimately these decisions can be consideredin terms of the spectrum:
lightness <————–> comfort
Each of us must find his own point of balance, while considering his desires and the hike on which he is about to embark.