by Samarth Vasisht
Ultralight backpacking is a branch of backpacking that has grown tremendously over the past 5 years, especially with the advent of new, lighter and stronger materials. Ultralight means a lot of different things to different people; but it’s important to keep in mind that staying “ultralight” is more of a thought process than a number. Focusing too much on the numbers is an easy way to get away from the intrinsic importance of trying to stay light.
That being said, the acceptable backpacking weight ranges are:
Luxury: (>30 lbs.*)
This tends to be where a majority of beginners start out; lugging around a large sleeping pad, a heavy tent, and a hefty sleeping bag. For people with larger frames and strength, this is a very reasonable option for traveling into the backcountry. For anyone else though, carrying a pack of this size can be considerably fatiguing and will start to take a toll over the period of a day. The upsides to having a pack of this size are additional comforts while sleeping as well as the ability to carry things that may not be extremely useful during the day but are great at the end of a day, such as a lantern, camp chair, camp shoes, or a larger, more comfortable shelter. This is a great way to start out with backpacking and a place to start understanding what you can leave behind.
Lightweight: (20-30 lbs.*)
This weight range is relatively reasonable for experienced backpackers. By starting to remove things from you pack that are not used that often, you can quickly reduce your weight to a much more reasonable range. An easy method to think about packing is to envision how often you will use an item. If the item is not going to be used more than once or twice in a day, it is probably best to leave it behind. But given that, remember not to skimp on essentials such as a first aid kid or other emergency kits. Purchasing relatively lightweight, reliable brands of a sleeping bag, pad, shelter, and backpack will help you fit well within this range.
Ultralight: (6-20 lbs. *)
Getting into this weight range requires much more thought into the gear that you purchase. Ensuring that your gear is lightweight and can still keep you reasonably comfortable is essential to maintaining a low pack weight. With the new advent of materials such as sil-nylon and especially cuben fiber, backpackers are able to drastically reduce the weight of their shelter in order to decrease the base weight of their pack. Keeping the weight of your shelter under 2 lbs/person makes falling within this weight range much more reasonable. A great shelter system is the ENO Pronest with a Sil Nylon Rain Tarp, which weighs in at a scant 1.625 pounds. A few more tips for cutting down on overall weight are packing smarter fabrics such as Smartwool and down insulating layers, getting a down or treated down sleeping bag and purchasing tools that can be used in multiple ways.
Minimalist: (<6 lbs. *)
Minimalists are considered the most pure of naturalists. They travel without shelters or sleeping bags and either depend on their natural surroundings to find places to sleep or make their own shelters as they travel. In my opinion, these expectations are usually unreasonable; and comfort is completely forgone when traveling in this manner. But many purists feel that this is the most effective way to connect with nature in its entirety. Usually people with pack weights around this level are considered survivalists and have considerable experience surviving the challenges of the backcountry.
Going ultralight backpacking is a great way to keep the weight off your back, enjoy the beauty of nature and worry less about fatigue and weight. By keeping your pack lighter, you can travel farther in the same time as well as reduce significant wear and tear on your joints and muscles. Although most backpackers will not fall within the lower limits of the “ultralight” scale, working towards a lighter and more efficient load is a great way to reduce the stress on your body and have a more fun and rewarding experience in nature.
*Represents your packs base weight (i.e. everything in the pack that doesn’t include anything that will be consumed during the trip, such as food, water, and fuel)