So You Want to Get into Ultralight Backpacking?


A few years ago I stepped onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the very first time. My pack weighed 45 pounds as I walked up to the Southern Terminus Monument.

I’d spent 7 years working on trail crews, traveling the country and working in backcountry environments. I thought I was ready.... I wasn’t.

You would think, having lived and worked in the backcountry, that I would have a wealth of experience in backpacking. But the truth is, before I started working outdoors, I had never taken a true backpacking trip. And before hiking the PCT, I’d never hiked continuously for more than 5 days in my life. 

It is easy to get caught up in what other hikers say you should carry on a thru hike. Everyone has different goals, preferences and comfort levels. Below I’ll discuss several of my essentials, after that, it is all about personal preference. 

1) If you want to go Ultralight you have to set aside fear

It is easy to look at a 2600 mile long thruhike and think, "I need a trauma first aid kit for emergencies, rope in case I have to rappel down a mountain and extra fuel canisters to survive a winter storm." We have all been there, and it is not a bad idea to have safety plans in place. end up packing your pack with all this extra gear and realize you do not have room to put your essentials in such as your tent and sleeping bag. Take a deep breath, this will be tough... take only what you need

2) Lets talk essentials

The most important items can be debated furiously online, but it is generally accepted that you absolutely need: a well fitted pack, a sleeping bag/quilt, a sleeping pad and a shelter (unless you choose to go without one). You can survive without a stove for most long distance trails if you are ok eating cold meals. Some people choose not to filter their water (warning, giardia is no fun). Most of your weight will come from your food and water. If you can cut down the weight of your essentials, then you can carry more food and water. An ultralight mentality isn’t about extremes, its about basic needs...unless you are planning on bringing a chainsaw to cut down fallen trees …leave it at home ;) 

3) Remember its you hiking, not folks online

If you announce you are planning on hiking a long trail you’ll have people tell you that you’re doing things wrong and that your gear isn’t light enough. 

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, be careful to keep a level head when you enter the world of purchasing ultralight gear. Do your own research and test out products you are interested in. Every body’s body type is different so choose your gear wisely, what works for me may not work for others. 

4) Its an investment you have to be willing to make  

Ultralight gear is not cheap, the materials used are not easy to get, and yes the upfront costs can be steep. But its worth it. Ultralight company founders have hiked long trails and know where you stand, gear is put to the test. My advice, get to know them, tell them about your hike and develop a relationship with them, down the line they may be able to help you out. It took me a few years to finally get into ultralight hiking. It has helped me shed unnecessary weight, surprised me with how comfortable I can be with less and allowed me to reach my goals in the thruhiking world. 

5) Have fun, did I say that already? 

Ultralight hikers are kind of grumpy, a little full of themselves and yeah they are a little too cool for the hiking world...gosh I’m a hypocrite. But we’re all outdoors for different reasons right? Whether or not you are ultra light or want to get into ultra light hiking, remember why you’re out there. Enjoy the trail, respect others, and take opportunities to learn from each other. 

I chose to switch to ultralight backpacking because I wanted to get away from the “just in case” mentality. I needed to move faster for a hike I was on, so the weight savings made a significant difference. Finding the right balance between weight , fit and comfort will be the first big step you take into ultralight hiking. Go in with an open mind and you may surprise yourself, heck it may even be little a weight off your shoulders...probably not though if you get rid of your packs hip belt  :)

Post Written by : Tyler Lau 

Instagram: @hikingprodigy

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