A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts on how to lighten your backpack, that outlined the basic principles of lightweight ad ultralight backpacking: weighing your gear, cutting the weight of your big three, selecting gear that can serve multiple functions, and eliminating everything you really don’t need.
- Lighten Up your Backpack: Weighing your Gear
- Lighten Up Your Backpack: The Big Three
- Lighten Up your Backpack with Multi-function Gear
- Lighten Up your Backpack: Eliminating Non-Essentials
Shrinking your Gear
Since then, my thinking about going lightweight has evolved and I’d like to add a fifth principle, called compactness.
When your base gear weight starts to approach the 10 lb threshold that signifies the transition from lightweight to ultralight backpacking, the volume of your gear shrinks noticeably.
The prospect of carrying a smaller backpack is surprisingly catalytic and the key milestone in this phase of gear weight reduction.
For example, as soon as you substitute a tent or hammock for a tarp, you begin to realize that you can switch to a lower-volume backpack. When this occurs, you’ll find yourself miniaturizing your kit, replacing a big pot for a little one, a sleeping bag with a quilt, using a stove that doesn’t require a gas canister, and so on.
When I went through this fifth stage, I was preparing to backpack across Scotland for the first time. Before that trip, I switched to a much smaller and lighter-weight backpack made out of Dyneema DCF that was half the weight of my previous backpack. This led to much tighter packing discipline and the need to reduce the overall volume of my gear and food.
I ended up replacing a tent with a lighter, smaller pyramid tarp, a bigger pot with a smaller one, a full-size sleeping pad with a shorter one, a water filter with chlorine dioxide tablets, cutting more weight off my gear list and the volume that I needed to hold it at the same time. Despite these changes, I remained remarkably comfortable and in the end, probably ended up carrying more items of gear than previously! That was totally unexpected.
What do you think the sixth stage of lightweight backpacking is?
Written 2010. Updated Dec 2022.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.