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Making the Case for Ultralight Backpacking


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 to you.

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 iffy situations.

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

How 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.

Lightweight Backpacking - How Much Should You Carry?" - Some suggestions for maximum pack weight depending on season and length of trip.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Case for Ultralight Backpacking