Backpacking is about enjoying yourself in the wilderness.
Challenges may add to the experience, but does suffering? Why
suffer more than is necessary? Let's look at traditional backpacking
and the case for ultralight backpacking (and be sure to watch
the video at the bottom of this page as well).
Disadvantages of the Traditional Way
Look at the disadvantages of backpacking with too much weight
on your back:
Lack of Freedom: You can't easily take a side trip
up that hill, just to see what is there. If you do it without
your pack, you have to go back the same way to get your pack.
It's a Hassle: Putting on and taking off your heavy
pack quickly becomes a chore. You start leaving it on even during
rest stops, just so you don't have to deal with it.
It's Tiring: Backpacking is clearly more tiring with
a heavy pack, and you probably won't enjoy yourself as much when
you are tired.
More Injuries: Sprained ankles, blistered feet, sore
muscles, and back and knee problems are just some of the common
consequences of too much weight on your back.
Slowness: More weight equals slower progress, which
means less access to wild places (you can't go as far on your
four-day trip), or it means less time to for enjoyable activities,
like a swim in a mountain lake, or a relaxing evening in camp.
More Dangerous: More injuries, and the inability to
move quickly when a storm is coming or an emergency requires
you to get to a road, means that backpacking can actually be
more dangerous with a heavy load. Add to that the possibility
of bad decisions due to tiredness.
The Ultralight Alternative
Done the right way, ultralight backpacking gives you more
freedom, more comfort, more safety, more enjoyment and less suffering
than traditional backpacking. It allows you to move faster, but
notice that I say "allows." It doesn't require it.
It just gives you the option. That's more freedom.
I have yet to meet or hear about a person who has tried lightweight
backpacking for a while, and then gone back to a heavy load.
I'm not saying it is for everyone. Bad ankles may require heavy
hiking boots, and bad habits may require a big pack to satisfy
them. But even a backpacker who needs a pillow and big rectangular
sleeping bag, can find these in lighter forms.
You just can't understand the sense of liberation felt by
a convert to ultralight backpacking, until you try it yourself.
Read the stories here and on other sites. When I walk, with my
eleven-pound pack, past poor overloaded backpackers struggling
up steep hills, I remember being in their place, and I know I
am enjoying myself more now.
Misconceptions about Ultralight Backpacking
Lightweight Backpacking Means Sacrifice. Not so. Bring
your favorite camera! A lighter load means you can stop to use
it more easily. If you leave behind the things you don't need,
and bring a lighter backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, you can
more easily bring that telephoto lens or whatever is really important
Lightweight Backpacking Is Less Safe. The opposite!
Bring all the safety items; a sleeping bag, first aid kit, shelter,
water purification, etc. Just bring lighter versions. A light
load makes you less likely to lose your balance and fall, or
to otherwise injure yourself. It also means faster response to
A note about safety: It is largely a matter of knowledge and
experience. A trained survivalist will always be safer backpacking
with no shelter than a neophyte with the best tent. Learn a little
about how to use you equipment properly, or to read the sky for
coming storms; then you can go lighter and safer.
Lightweight Backpacking Is Less Comfortable. Is it
less comfortable to have 18 pounds on your back than 50? Is it
less comfortable to have an ultralight sleeping bag if it keeps
you just as warm? I stopped getting blisters (totally) when I
started using running shoes instead of hiking boots. Bring a
heavier coat if you want. When you cut the weight on your back
by twenty-five pounds, you can add back what you need
to be comfortable.
Lightweight Backpacking Is Expensive. Ultralight sleeping
bags are expensive. Almost everything else needed for ultralight
backpacking can be found for the same price or cheaper than traditional
gear. A 20-ounce GoLite Gust backpack, for example, is less than
a hundred dollars. You can always find closeouts on running shoes,
and pay less than you will for any good hiking boots. Throughout
the pages and gear and clothing, I suggest inexpensive alternatives.
Where to Begin
to Become an Ultralight Backpacker - This is a good place
to start if you aren't already practicing ultralight backpacking.
Along with some good suggestions, there is a discussion of the
limitations of ultralight backpacking.