Ultralight Hiking Tips
By Steve Gillman
The following collection of ultralight hiking tips is meant
for day trips, but many of the ideas and techniques here can
be applied to shorter backpacking trips as well. The goal is
simply cutting the weight you carry so you can enjoy the hike
more. Of course it feels better to have less weight on your back,
but it is more than just a matter of preventing sore shoulders.
When you reduce the weight sufficiently, you can easily travel
with walking or running shoes rather than heavy hiking boots.
This really makes a difference in how far you can go in a day
and in how much you enjoy the hike. With that in mind, here are
some weight-reducing suggestions, in no particular order...
You can use almost any daypack if you are just out for a few
hours. I use a pack that weighs just 13 ounces, and I have used
it for day hikes or trips lasting up to a week. In fact, it is
substantially lighter than the daypack I use for most short hikes.
The heavier one is tough, though, so I like to use it when I
will be bushwhacking or scrambling in rocky areas. In general,
you should aim for a pack that weighs no more than 20 ounces
or so, because there are many in this weight range that are very
comfortable (some lighter models even have a waist belt for stability,
in case you'll be crossing streams on logs or climbing cliffs).
If you are going to be out all day in a hot and dry environment,
you will be drinking a lot of water. If you want to carry less
water weight, bring three or four water purification tablets
and plan to refill your water bottle(s) at every stream or spring.
Keep in mind that it can take up to thirty minutes for the tablets
to work, and plan accordingly. You might want to drink your last
few ounces of water just as you arrive at a stream, for example,
so you'll your thirst will be quenched until the new batch of
water is ready. That kind of careful planning brings us to our
next ultralight hiking tip...
If you plan well you can safely travel further into the wilderness
with less weight, and without sacrificing safety. For example,
if you are taking a route where there will be trees or rock ledges
to shelter you from any surprise storms, you might get by without
bringing rain gear. If you are familiar with a few wild berries,
you might plan a lunch of wild currants in a high meadow you'll
be passing through, and so leave some food behind. Some long
day hikes might also take you close enough to a store at some
point that you can plan to resupply on snacks and fluids.
Use Group Efficiencies
If there are two or more of you going on a hike you can leave
some duplicate items behind. Only one first aid kit is necessary
if you are sure you'll be staying together. One emergency flashlight
is enough as well. In fact, one small backpack can suffice for
two or three people hiking in good weather, and you can each
take a turn carrying it.
Have Key Clothing
There are certain items of clothing that are worth more in
terms of warmth than others. A hat that covers past your ears
will likely provide more warmth than an extra short, for example,
and at a fraction of the weight. A breathable rain jacket can
replace a windbreaker instead of bringing both. I have a pair
of gloves that weight an ounce total, and a hat/face mask that
weighs the same. When I wear these and pull up the hood on my
seven-ounce rain jacket I can stay warm with just a shirt underneath--even
in summer snow squalls in the mountains.
Eat and Drink Before Leaving
You can drink your fill and eat a lot before hitting the trail,
in order to carry less water and food. Yes, you are still carrying
the weight inside instead of in the pack, but it isn't the same.
In a matter of minutes fluids are being distributed in your body,
and food is carried at a low center-of-gravity, so it is more
comfortable than carrying the same weight in a pack. Just don't
overeat and you'll be fine. It is always good to be fully hydrated
when you start a hike anyhow, in case you lose or break your
water bottle or a planned refill location is dry.
This is perhaps one of the most fun of these ultralight hiking
tips. It is to systematically start replacing most of your gear
with lighter alternatives. It will involve shopping online or
in stores, and perhaps drooling over some equipment you just
can't afford. But piece-by-piece you can replace things and save
weight. Get a lighter pack first to save the most weight. List
the rest of the things you regularly carry and look for lighter
options or--in some cases--ways to get by without them.