Written by Michael Hasson
Long gone are the days of beefy, external frame packs. Lightweight technology has improved on past designs to create materials and systems that allow for lightweight, minimalist foot travel in ways that had not been available in a mass production setting before the mid-2000s.
On a trip where you intend to cover any kind of serious ground (12-15 miles per day or more), you will most likely be spending more time with your pack on than off. Therefore, it’s important that you make yourself comfortable for what you’re going to be spending the bulk of your time doing—walking.
Since discovering the principles of ultralight hiking, I have made it a goal to go as light as is reasonably possible on my personal trips. Here are my seven major tips for going lighter and faster than you ever thought possible.
1. Buy a scale. I made a five dollar investment in a scale for my gear about a year and a half ago and haven’t looked back. Weigh your gear so that you have a quantifiable number for your base weight (everything but food and water, how most ultralight enthusiasts measure gear weights). Let the scale determine whether you take those luxury items or not.
2. Take less, do more. These wise words are UL Cottage Company Gossamer Gear’s slogan and I fully subscribe to them. Before going out and investing in an expensive new backpack and titanium cookset, start by picking the true essentials out of what you already own. For instance, do you really need that camp chair? The towel? Soap? Toilet paper?!
Many “essentials” like stoves, double walled tents, soap, pillows, camp shoes, etc. are not essential at all. Ridding yourself of them will minimize your weight and maximize your efficiency in the backcountry. Making your systems as simple as possible is key in the backcountry.
3. Count your calories. When I’m trying to go light, I don’t buy foods that have less than 120 calories/oz. Anything above this number is a great energy to weight ratio. My staples tend to include chocolate, greasy corn chips, olive oil, almond butter, nuts, sunflower seeds, banana chips, and PopTarts.
Food is fuel, and when you’re going light you want the most fuel for the least weight. Obviously, this food isn’t great for you but it will provide the energy you need to be making some serious ground without taking up too much weight or volume in your pack. Some sample calorie counts are below:
Corn chips: 160/oz
Pop tarts: 120/oz
Almond butter: 165/oz
Olive oil: 260/oz
4. Plan your water. Water is heavy. 2.2 pounds for every liter, in fact. Too many times have I have seen new hikers take 4 liters of water for two miles of hiking. That’s 8.8 pounds, the total weight of many ultralight hikers’ packs without food or water.
Figure out your water consumption rate (liters/mile) and take what you need plus an extra half liter if you’re worried. Trust your legs to get you to the next water source and don’t worry if you have to put in a mile or two dry – it might not be fun but you’ll be able to chug at the next source.
5. Plan for the worst you expect, not the worst you can imagine. If you plan for everything that could possibly go wrong you’re going to be towing a trailer of stuff behind you. Ditch the survival machete that you’ve always carried and never used and you’ll thank me later.
6. Make your gear work together. What I mean by this is that you want gear to be multifunctional. For example, I hiked a frameless backpack for over a month straight. In order to give it some structure, I stuck my sleeping pad along my back. Thus my backpack’s frame and sleeping pad are one in the same.
7. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. On personal trips, I take very few items with me. I don’t need a hot drink in the morning or hot meals at night. If I get cold, I’m alright with hiking for a few hours straight in order to stay warm. The only thing that’s helped me get to this point, however, is experience. My advice to you is to get out and find your own limits.