Going Ultralight

In the aerospace industry there is an old adage that says:

Pick any two.

I think the same is true of Backpacking, but I would say in place of speed you can substitute durability. So, the limit of your ultralighting is often limited by your funds, except in the cases where durability does not matter.

Your existing Kit

To lighten up, let's look at your existing kit. Examine each item you usually bring. It helps to have a list to help keep track of everything. Is there anything that can be removed or reduced? Do you really need 8 finger bandages in your First Aid Kit. One might think that it doesn't matter, those things are very light. However, when you look at each piece of gear make sure it serves a purpose to you in the backcountry, or it is just an extra burden. Do you really need a 6 inch knife with a folding spoon, a magnifying glass, and a fork?

Buy a scale!

Reasonably accurate scales sell on ebay for less than 20 USD. If you weigh every item you usually bring, you will be better able to make decisions on which items you should bring when two seem to be of equal value in terms of usablity and durability.


Examine carefully what you pack for food, and how you pack it. Are you bringing high density food or things that make your pack needlessly large? I highly recommend purchasing a dehydrator. Not only will you save weight on your back, but you will also save money over the expensive store-bought offerings. Again, weigh your food and you will turn out lighter in the long run. If you can figure out how many oz. of a particular food item you need per person per day you can more accurately decide how much NOT to bring.

Inexpensive Alternatives

Some things on the market are reasonably inexpensive and go a long way to reduce weight. When I purchase gear I try to find things that are dual purpose. For example, in the winter I bring an MSR titanium spoon. It also serves as a wrench in case my snowshoes or crampons loosen while I am hiking. My friend was amazed when I pulled out my spoon and fixed his snowshoe while we were heading up to Mount Washington.

Just because something is lightweight does not mean that it has to be expensive. These days there are many alcohol stoves on the market that are both inexpensive and efficient. Because they lack some durability, you will find one stored inside my pot when it is traveling. Alcohol fuel is also more efficient at heating water per oz than the typical white gas or propane canister. As an added benefit, denatured alcohol can be used to disinfect. Some people even bring grain alcohol which has other medicinal properties! Typically these stoves work well down to 40 degrees, but after that you loose the ability to warm water in a short amount of time which is important in the colder months. My alcohol stoves usually stay home from September thru April.

Large Gear Purchases

Now a days companies are making lighter and lighter gear with little reduction in durability. The problem is expense, but since you are already purchasing something anyway here is my take on the problem. What are the 3 most weighty things in your pack? The pack itself, your sleeping bag, and your tent.

Sleeping Bag

For me, down is the only way to go. It is lightweight, very breathable when you sleep in it, and does not clump. As an added benefit, it is significantly more compressible than synthetic. It is a huge investment in your comfort as well so use care when picking one out. Choose one that is within your temperature range, fits comfortably, and is lightweight. Half length zippers save some weight, but make sure that there is a zipper at the bottom of the bag to vent some heat.


Since you now have a considerably more compressible sleeping bag you can get a lighter pack. I don't recommend getting a pack with a ton of pockets on the outside since they just add to the weight of the pack, and are easily filled with those things you removed from your kit to save weight. I would be careful when choosing a pack to make sure it is durable, especially in where the shoulder straps connect to the main sack. Consider finding a pack that has an integrated reinforcing sheet as opposed to metal stays.


It is popular these days to use a tarp or a bivy. Personally, I try to plan my trips so that I can stay at available shelters and forego a tent altogether. I will sometimes bring some "wedding veil" material so that I can reduce the amount of insects in the shelter. It is lightweight, inexpensive, and does a reasonable job keeping out the biting black flies. If you have ever camped out in Baxter in June you know the value of a bug free domicile. If I do bring a tent, I try to bring one I can sit up in and even cook out of. For this I like free-standing tents, and my although my solo tent is not freestanding, it has a bar that goes over the top bringing the tent high enough to sit up in.