Pacific Crest Trail, Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.
Ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers are famous (or perhaps infamous) for the seemingly crazy lengths they go to lighten their backpack. If you’re looking to drop a couple pounds from your base weight, try utilizing these four ultralight backpacking tips. (See our story from June for more ideas.)
- Replace your tent stakes
When you’re talking ounces, replacing the tent manufacturer’s stakes with an ultralight version can save you up to two, three, maybe even four ounces. We like Gossamer Gear’s ultralight titanium stakes, which weigh roughly .2oz each. Or, you can go sans stakes and use rocks to stretch out your tent.
- Carry fewer electronics
GPS. Phone. Camera. Portable battery chargers. Solar panels. And then all the cables that go with them. Experience nature with fewer screens. If you have a good smartphone, you can download a GPS app – like GAIA – and use the built-camera. That automatically eliminates two devices in your backpack.
- Make a DIY pillow
Why carry a pillow (11 oz.) when you can make one yourself when you get to camp? Fill a stuff – like the one you carry your sleeping bag in – with your extra layers: rain gear, insulating jacket, extra pair of socks.
- Pack for the weather
Check the highs and lows, chance for precipitation, or other weather events. If it’s not going to be too cold, there’s no need to pack a winter weight jacket. Are you hiking in the desert with 0% chance of rain? Try swapping out your normal rain gear for an ultralight and compressible water-resistant running smock. Of course, it should go without saying, you should always have your basic layers to keep you warm and dry in case of an emergency.
We’ve all seen the price tag on fancy, ultralight backpacking gear. (And if you haven’t, you might want to take a seat first.) Dropping some serious ounces – and even pounds – from your load doesn’t have to break the bank. Try out these three cheap and easy tricks, because remember, it all adds up!
Swap out the footprint that came with your tent for Gossamer Gear’s Polycryo
This is probably the quickest and easiest way to drop at least 7 ounces. Gossamer Gear’s Polycryo groundsheets don’t look like much – something akin to folded cellophane – but this ultralight and surprisingly durable material is a thru-hiker’s favorite. To test its strength, we stretched a sheet of Polycryo over a layer of sharp rocks… then drove a truck over it. The result? Only minimal puncture wounds. One Polycryo package ($9.95) includes two sheets, which can then be trimmed to fit your tent. Each sheet weighs 1.6 oz.
Use small travel containers for sunscreen and other toiletries
Who said you had to carry the whole bottle? Grab a few of Nalgene’s 2 oz. containers to only carry what you need. Because, really, when was the last time you used an entire tube of sunscreen on an overnight hike? A 2 oz. bottle retails for only $1.55. You can also use a travel-size tube of toothpaste instead of the big one you keep at home.
Become a bag lady
Who says you need a fancy, waterproof stuff sack to keep your sleeping bag dry? Put your sleeping bag in a trash bag before stuffing it into its normal compression sack. Be sure to twist the trash bag closed before sealing it all up. This will help keep your bag dry in the event of a sudden rainstorm or slip into the river. You can also use Zip-lock baggies to keep your extra socks and underwear dry. There is no shame in this.
Practice layering at home
One of the heaviest things in an inexperienced backpacker’s kit is too many clothes. Most people worry about getting cold, but a good layering system should keep you comfortable in a variety of temperatures. Take all your puffies, fleeces, rain shells, and base layers outside and spend a few hours in your backyard after dark. A good layering system is comprised of a base layer, an insulating layer, and a rain shell. Depending on the weather, I'll sometimes carry a fleece as well as a light puffy. Did you know that you can also wear your rain jacket to keep you warm? It will help trap your body warmth as well as block the wind. Figure out what you need at home, before heading into the field. You’ll be surprised at how many layers you don’t need!