Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking
In this feature we will look at:
- What Is Ultralight Hiking And Backpacking?
- Reassessing Your Outdoor Gear
- Selecting New Equipment
- A Word On Safety
The ethos behind Lightweight Hiking and Backpacking is to carry less weight, pack fewer items, travel further and quicker, and to get closer to nature.
What is Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking?
Followers of the Ultralight Hiking philosophy are essentially hill walkers who believe in the minimalist approach to breaking down the barriers between themselves and the great outdoors.
Traditionally, distance hill walkers would carry a rucksack anywhere between 60 and 85 litres in capacity, and weigh up to a third of a persons body weight, for an average man that could be approximately 50 – 60 pounds without food and water.
Ultralight hill walkers and Backpackers may well aim for getting the weight down (without food and water) to 30 pounds or in extreme cases, 20 pounds or less; now there's food for thought!
A few benefits:
- Less weight means easier going on lower joints and less stress on the spine.
- Move quicker, enabling you to cover more ground.
- Less worries over your equipment – more time to take in the surrounding hills.
Reassessing Your Outdoor Gear
Cut right back on your luxuries – do you need that DAB radio and kitchen sink? Think only of the bare necessities' - I feel a song coming on!
Weed out redundant items, no need to duplicate items such as fuel bottles or carry a full complement of tent pegs – better still swap those heavy steel pegs for lightweight alloy ones.
Camping with another Lightweight? Share items between you to avoid unnecessary duplication and excess weight, i.e. knives, torches and cooking equipment can be cut back on here.
Selecting New Equipment
If you are in the process of selecting new lightweight equipment, pay particular attention to the three main items that you carry: your rucksack, tent and sleeping bag. Selecting new appropriate lightweight equipment can save you anywhere up to 10 pounds in weight before you start leaving the luxuries out. Consider your footwear options too.
Rucksacks: Select a quality lightweight bag with a capacity of around 35-45 litres, depending how extreme you want to go. This may sound small for a multi-day hiking pack, but with experience and careful selection of equipment this size will become simply cavernous! Remember - A smaller bag is lighter, and, the bigger the bag – the more tempted you will be to add those unnecessary items – don't do it!
Tents: At the extreme end of the scale a lean-to or bivvy-bag may be acceptable to the hardiest of hill goers, but if comfort is still a requirement then select a quality one or two man tent, these are easily the best option and weigh no more than 2-3 pounds. Check out the great range by Vaude.
Sleeping Bags: It is possible nowadays to select a highly compressible and lightweight synthetic sleeping bag at a very reasonable price, but to shave those extra ounces and for greater space saving, a Down filled sleeping bag may be a better option. Remember - too light a sleeping bag is no substitute for missing out on a good nights sleep through being cold though. A half or three quarter length Ultralight self-inflating mat will also enhance your comfort without adding too much weight.
Footwear: A popular method of moving quickly across country is to replace those heavy walking boots with either a lightweight mid-boot or even a low-cut trail shoe; the amount of effort and weight saving on each foot can be quite considerable. Ultralight walkers may require less support because they are carrying much lighter loads, but adversely, mixing a heavy load and lightweight shoes would not be good practice.
- Your outdoor skills and fitness levels will need to be up to scratch to meet the increased challenges that Ultralight Hiking brings. Your legs, ankles and feet will also require conditioning to cope with the lesser protection that lightweight trail shoes afford.
- Ultralight Hikers will certainly need to be savvy in their choice of campsite selection if using only a lean-to or bivvy-bag in adverse weather conditions.
- Ensure you have the correct maps and a working compass, and ensure you brush up on your map reading skills too.
- It may be prudent to start Ultralight Hiking with a friend at first and use familiar terrain initially before heading out to the wilderness.