8.8 lb Ultralight Backpacking Gear List for 2020

Last Updated on November 25, 2020

Ensemble of ultralight backpacking gear laid out across a good floor

8.8 lb Ultralight Backpacking Gear List for 2020

 

I’ve spent years assembling the best ultralight backpacking gear setup for my multi-day hikes into the wilderness, and I’d love to share my 2020 list with you.

Because the gear you bring along backpacking will make or break your trip. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

On a 2014 attempted trek of the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland, a brutal storm put me and my inefficient gear to the test, and things went downhill fast. The humbling experience reinforced what I’d already known: it was time to overhaul my backpacking gear setup.

Since that fateful trip, it’s been my mission to assemble the best ultralight backpacking gear setup for my personal needs. I’ve counted ounces, scoured over reviews, and slowly pieced together my dream kit. The base weight of my 2020 ultralight backpacking gear list comes in at 8.8 pounds.

Nowadays, I feel light, mobile, and unstoppable on the trail.

So check out the gear I love, read a few reviews, and use the checklists as you get ready for your next adventure into the backcountry.

Because backpacking is just better with quality ultralight gear.

Backpack, Shelter & Sleep System

Backpack, tent, stakes, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and pillow case laid out across a wood floor

Backpack, Shelter & Sleep System

 

Backpack

Tent

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Pad

Pillow

Tent Stakes

Backpack: Zpacks Arc Blast 55L

The Arc Blast (I removed the hip belt) is my pack for now, but I’m considering a change. Though it’s lightweight, comfortable, and completely waterproof, its carbon fiber frame snapped during my Colorado Trail thru-hike, raising questions about its long-term durability.

Weight: 17.0 oz | 482 grams
Check Price on: Zpacks

Zpacks triplex tent

Tent: Zpacks Triplex

The ultra-roomy Triplex is one of the best pieces of ultralight backpacking gear I’ve ever owned, even if it’s too much tent for one person. Made from super lightweight DCF, it’s very well-engineered and has held up to heavy rain, howling winds, and everything in between.

Weight: 26.4 oz | 749 grams
Check Price on: Zpacks
My Next Tent: Zpacks Altaplex – 15.4 oz | 437 grams

Katabatic gear lightweight sleeping bag

Sleeping Bag: Katabatic Gear Alsek 22°

My Alsek 22° bag has never failed to keep me warm. Katabatic Gear’s quilt design saves weight by dropping the zipper and using less material than a mummy-style bag. The bag connects to the sides of the sleeping pad while locking in heat and allowing room to stretch out.

Weight: 23.0 oz | 653 grams
Check Price on: Katabatic Gear
My Next Sleeping Bag: E.E. Enigma 30° – 17.9 oz | 509 grams

A yellow Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite ultralight backpacking sleeping pad

Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

I used to sleep on the gigantic Thermarest Neoair Xtherm MAX, but I switched to the smaller three-season Xlite pad and trimmed 11 ounces off of my base weight. This pad is a commonplace among backpackers and has cemented itself as a staple in the ultralight community.

Weight: 12.2 oz | 346 grams
Check Price onREI | Amazon

Pillowcase/Stuff Sack: Therm-a-Rest Trekker

I’m a finicky stomach sleeper, so having a quality pillow when backpacking is really important. By day, I use this pillowcase to hold my clothing and, when bedtime rolls around, I stuff my Plasma 1000 down jacket inside to create a super-comfortable and warm pillow.

Weight: 2.0 oz | 57 grams
Check Price onAmazon | Therm-a-Rest

Zpacks titanium tent stake

Tent Stakes: Zpacks Titanium V

These lightweight ‘V’ shaped tent stakes stay anchored in the earth, even when conditions are less than ideal. They grip into the soil and don’t let go. These stakes are quite easy to bend, however, and should be used gently. Never forcefully hammer them into the ground.

Weight: 3.4 oz | 97 grams (8 stakes + DCF Sack)
Check Price on: Zpacks
My Next Stakes: AliExpress Carbon Fiber – 1.4 oz | 40 grams

Total Backpack and Sleeping System Weight: 84.0 oz | 5.25 lb | 2.38 kg

Carried Clothing

Down jacket, rain jacket, thermal top, wind breaker, and gloves laid out across a wood floor

Carried Clothing

 

Down Jacket

Wind Breaker

Rain Jacket

Rain Pants

Long Underwear

Gloves

Stuff Sack

Down Jacket: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka

In terms of warmth-to-weight, the Plasma 1000 down jacket is second-to-none. By utilizing insanely efficient 1000-fill down as an insulator, Montbell has raised the bar for all premium ultralight down jackets. Gear nerds, rejoice, as it simply doesn’t get better than this.

Weight: 8.8 oz | 250 grams
Check Price on: Montbell

Ultralight Zpacks windbreaker

Windbreaker: Zpacks Ventum Shell

This wind shell is extremely popular on ultralight backpacking gear lists worldwide. For weighing almost nothing, this windbreaker stifles gusts and holds in body heat with ease. When nights are especially cold, I wear it to bed instead of a thermal top.

Weight: 2.0 oz | 56 grams
Check Price on: Zpacks

Rain Jacket: Montbell Versalite

I recently switched to the Montbell Versalite from the ultra-popular and affordable Frogg Toggs ultralight rain jacket. While sporting a much higher price tag, the Versalite fits better, breathes better, and is far more durable.

Weight: 6.3 oz | 179 grams
Check Price on: Montbell

Black long underwear

Long Underwear: Patagonia Capilene Lightweight

I bought these mostly because they were so light, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their performance in cold temperatures. They’re reasonably warm and work well as a base layer for hiking in chilly mornings. (Patagonia no longer makes ‘Lightweight’ bottoms.)

Weight: 3.1 oz | 89 grams
Check Price on: REI | Patagonia

Gloves: SmartWool Touchscreen Liner

The warmth-to-weight ratio on these gloves is solid and, although they’re not waterproof, they’re a must-bring when I’m anticipating chilly weather. For winter journeys that get really cold, I’ll bring along my warmer SealSkinz gloves instead.

Weight: 2.0 oz | 57 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon

Black tubular Buff brand headwear with box pattern

Headwear: Buff Classic

My trusty Buff has loads of practical functions on the trail, and will forever be a part of my backpacking kit. I regularly use mine as a headband, neck gaiter, and face-covering during my hikes, though its versatile enough to be worn more than a dozen different ways.

Weight: 1.5 oz | 43 grams
Check Price on: REIAmazon

Total Carried Clothing Weight: 23.8 oz | 1.49 lb | 675 grams

Cooking System & Food Storage

Ultralight titanium pot, stove, and spoon laid out across a wood floor

Cooking System & Food Storage

 

Camping Stove

Cooking Pot

Spork

Food Storage Bag

Stove: BRS-3000T

I carried the Jetboil Flash for years before I decided to lighten my load and switch to the insanely light BRS-3000T. I’m glad I did. I shaved 9 ounces off my cooking setup weight and can boil water with ease. This little stove is a little erratic, but it gets the job done nonetheless.

Weight: .88 oz | 25 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Titanium 750 ml pot

Pot: TOAKS Titanium 750 ml

Because I moved on from the Jetboil to the BRS-3000T, I needed to pick a camping pot to for all my backpacking food endeavors. The TOAKS 750 ml titanium pot (I leave the lid behind) fits the bill and has been as useful and durable as advertised.

Weight: 2.9 oz | 83 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon

Titanium spork

Spork: TOAKS Titanium

What’s not to love? This premium TOAKS spork is feather-light, sturdy, and easy to locate in your bag (thanks to its bright orange carrying pouch). It goes everywhere with me when I travel, and has saved my ass when not a single fork or spoon was in sight.

Weight: .32 oz | 9 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon

Food Storage: Ultralitesacks DCF Bear/Food Bag Kit

This waterproof DCF bag (1.9 oz) can hold 7-8 days worth of food during multi-day backpacking trips. It helps masks odor from bears, rodents, and can be used with a rock sack and paracord (.5 oz) to suspend and hang my consumables when hungry creatures are a threat.

Weight: 2.4 oz | 63 grams
Check Price on: Etsy

Total Cooking System Weight: 6.5 oz | .41 lb | 185 grams

Water Filtration and Storage

Two water pouches and an ultralight water filter laid out across a wood floor

Water Filtration & Storage

 

Water Filter

Dirty Water Container

Clean Water Container

Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze

The Sawyer Squeeze has cemented itself on countless ultralight backpacking gear lists. Why? Because it’s simple, effective, and very lightweight. Word to the wise: Don’t try to save weight by purchasing the Sawyer MINI. It’s maddeningly slow.

Weight: 3.5 oz | 99 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon

Dirty Water Reservoir: Evernew 2000ml

I use my durable two-liter Evernew pouch to collect water from sources along the trail. After I’ve filled it up, I screw on my Sawyer Squeeze and push the untreated water through the filter and into my Smartwater bottle, where it becomes clean and ready to drink.

Weight: 1.5 oz | 43 grams
Check Price on: Amazon
My Next Water Reservoir: Cnoc Outdoors Vecto 2L – 2.6 oz | 74 grams

smartwater one liter water bottle

Clean Water Container: Smartwater 1L Bottle

Even though it’s twice the weight, I prefer the one-liter Smartwater bottle over the Sawyer Water Pouches that come with the Squeeze Filter. Why? Because the Smartwater bottle is more durable, easier to slide in an out of my pack, and doesn’t collapse when I’m filtering water.

Weight: 1.5 oz | 43 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Total Water Filtration and Storage Weight: 6.5 oz | .41 lbs | 184 grams

Electronics & Technology

Headphones, phone, wall charger, power bank, USB cords, and a headlamp laid out across a wood floor

Electronics & Technology

 

Cell Phone

Battery Bank

Charging Port

 Cables

Headphones

Headlamp

Cell Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite

A quality-made cell phone is a really good piece of gear to bring along on your backpacking trip. My Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite has a fast processor, good battery life, takes great photos, and has 128 GB of storage. My smartphone is my go-to navigation tool over physical maps on multi-day hikes.

Weight: 6.3 oz | 181 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Battery Bank: PowerAdd EnergyCell 5000mAh

Since I rely on my cell phone as my primary form of navigation, an external battery bank is essential for my multi-day trips. I’m able to fully charge my phone about 90% with the EnergyCell, essentially doubling my battery life in the backcountry.

Weight: 3.6 oz | 101 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Charging Port: Anker PowerPort Mini

Whenever I hit a town and stop into a restaurant or shop to quickly charge my cell phone and battery bank, the AnkerPowerPort Mini is perfect for the job. It’s equipped with fast charging 12-watt output and can charge my gadgets in just a couple of hours.

Weight: 1.3 oz | 38 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

USB Cables: Cable Creation 6″

To charge my smartphone and battery bank, I carry two tiny six-inch USB cables (one type C and one micro-USB). Their minuscule length doesn’t allow me to use my phone while it’s charging, but that minor inconvenience is worth the weight savings.

Weight: .70 oz | 20 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Headphones: Panasonic ErgoFit

Music, podcasts, movies, etc. are an immense morale boost while hiking or winding down in the tent, so I always backpack with these minimalist headphones. They weight next to nothing, put out above average sound, and are extremely affordable.

Weight: .42 oz | 12 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Headlamp: Nitecore NU25

The Nitecore NU25 is about as is lightweight and powerful as they come; it sets the standard for lightweight backpacking headlamps. It has wonderful battery life, recharges via USB, and has various brightness settings, as well as S.O.S. signals.

Weight: 1.1 oz | 32 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Total Electronics Weight: 13.4 oz | .84 lb | 384 grams

Miscellaneous Items

Paper, pen, paracord, thermometer, scissors, towel, and mini lighter laid out across a wood floor

Miscellaneous Items

 

Sit Pad

Compass/Thermometer

Pocket Knife/Scissors

Paracord

Emergency Towel

Lighter

Pen and Paper

Ditty Bag

Bright orange ultralight sit pad for hiking and backpacking

Sit Pad: Folding Foam Mat

My lightweight sit pad is a new addition to my gear list and will be a fixture of my setup for years to come. It works as a comfortable cushion when sitting on the ground, fits inside my pillowcase to add volume, and served as padding for my Arc Blast when its frame snapped mid-hike.

Weight: 1.0 oz | 28 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Compass/thermometer combo

Compass/Thermometer: Coghlan’s Four Function

A compass, thermometer, and whistle for under an ounce? That’s a no-brainer. I haven’t used the whistle or compass yet, but they’ll be there for me if I’m ever in a pinch. I hang this outside my tent so I can check the external temperature every morning.

Weight: .81 oz | 23 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Micro Scissors: Tacony Super Shears

I used to carry a mini Swiss army knife, but I never used any tools aside from the scissors. So, I swapped it out for this incredibly lightweight and compact pair of micro shears and shaved almost a a full ounce in the process. These scissors are sharp, durable, and minimalist.

Weight: .18 oz | 5 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Lightload microfiber towels

Mini-Towel: Lightload Microfiber

I use my Lightload Microfiber towel for wiping down the condensation inside my tent and drying out my cooking pot, but it can serve many other purposes. It can be used as an emergency fire-starter, mask, or medical gauze if the situation calls for it.

Weight: .56 oz | 16 grams
Check Price on: Amazon
My Next Mini-Towel: Packtowl Ultralight Face-Sized – .5 oz | 14 grams

Mini big lighter for trekking

Lighter: Bic Mini

The Bic Mini is a must-have for any backpacker’s ultralight gear list. Having the means to start a fire can be a life-saver during low-temperature emergency situations. I also use mine as a backup to ignite my stove and to burn off any frayed threads on my precious trekking gear.

Weight: .39 oz | 11 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Pen and paper

Pen & Paper

I love to take notes during my backpacking adventures, especially at nighttime inside my warm tent. Note-taking improves my memory and helps me recover important details when I’m writing my hiking guides weeks or even months after my initial experience.

Weight: .35 oz | 10 grams

Ditty Bag: Ultralitesacks DCF Ultralight Zip

Organization is key when backpacking, so I use this waterproof ditty bag (large size) to keep my electronics, accessories, toiletries, and first-aid items in order. It’s the perfect size for my needs, and I keep it at the top of my backpack for quick and easy access on the trail.

Weight: .67 oz | 19 grams
Check Price on: Etsy

Total Miscellaneous Weight: 4.0 oz | .25 lb | 113 grams

First-Aid Kit & Toiletries

Antiseptic, Band-Aids, blister pads, Tenacious Taps, Leukotape, contact case, and a toothbrush laid out across a wood floor

First-Aid Kit & Toiletries

 

Duct Tape

Sewing Kit

Toothbrush

Contact Case

Flossers

Total First Aid Kit & Toiletries Weight: 1.8 oz | .11 lb | 50 grams

Total Base Weight: 140 oz | 8.75 lb | 3.97 kg

Worn/Carried Items

Ultralight backpacking gear: trekking poles, sunglasses, watch, shoes, Buff, socks, pants, shirt, boxer briefs, and hat laid across a wood floor

Worn/Carried Items

 

Hiking Shoes

Shirt

Pants

Underwear

Hiking Socks

Trekking Poles

Hat

Sunglasses

Eyewear Retainer

Worn and carried items do not count towards total base weight.

Black and grey hiking, backpacking, and trail running shoe

Trail Running Shoes: Salomon XA Pro 3D V8

These shoes saved my Colorado Trail thru-hike. 120 miles in, I made a desperation switch from the La Sportiva Wildcats, which ran very small and had put blisters all over my feet. The XA Pros were comfortable from day one and made the rest of my hike enjoyable and pain-free.

Weight: 27.8 oz | 788 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon

Hoodie: Montbell Cool Hoodie

This Cool Hoodie became my favorite piece of backpacking apparel the moment I put it on and hit the trail. It’s breathable, blocks UV rays, wicks away moisture, and keeps odor at bay. It excels in warm weather and pairs well with my windbreaker to keep warm when it’s cold and gusty.

Weight: 6.6 oz | 186 grams
Check Price on: Montbell

Shorts: Patagonia Nine Trails

I used to always hike in pants but slowly realized that I’m happier wearing shorts. The Nine Trails are extremely comfortable, water-resistant, have built-in boxer briefs, and sport three separate zippered pockets. What more could you ask for in a pair of hiking shorts?

Weight: 6.4 oz | 181 grams
Check Price on: REI | Patagonia

GPS Watch: Garmin Instinct

Maybe it’s a bit of an ultralight backpacking luxury, but the Garmin Instinct’s usefulness on the trail makes it a no-brainer on my 2020 gear list. This sturdy watch helps navigate, records my heart rate, tracks altitude and distance traveled, syncs with my phone, and much more.

Weight: 1.8 oz | 52 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

A black and grey ultralight backpacking sock

Socks: Darn Tough Light Hiker

The Darn Tough Light Hikers are the perfect backpacking sock. They’re durable, comfortable, and extremely breathable — an unstoppable combination. I never realized how important a good pair of hiking socks was until I geeked out while wearing my first pair of these.

Weight: 2.1 oz | 58 grams
Check Price on: Darn Tough | REI

Trekking poles

Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Back

Trekking poles are an essential part of my gear list. They distribute weight away from my creaky knees as I hike up and down steep elevation changes and act as tent poles to keep my Zpacks Triplex standing strong and upright.

Weight: 21.4 oz | 607 grams
Check Price on: REI | Amazon
My Next Trekking Poles: Gossamer Gear LT5 – 9.8 oz | 278 grams

Hat: Carhartt Mesh Back Hat

I recently moved on from my Columbia Bora Bora II Booney to this breathable mesh back trucker hat from Carhartt. It’s far more comfortable and stylish than my old bucket hat, but it can’t be jammed or smushed into the tight confines of my pack. I’m happy with the tradeoff.

Weight: 2.9 oz | 83 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Sunglasses: Merry’s Vintage

I’m far too clumsy and forgetful with sunglasses to hold onto a pair for longer than a year, so I’ve recently switched to the budget-friendly Merry’s. They’re made from durable aluminum, have polarized lenses, and sport a wide range of vision. If I break them or lose them, I won’t lose any sleep.

Weight: .85 oz | 24 grams
Check Price on: Amazon

Total Worn Items Weight: 69.9 oz | 4.37 lb | 1.98 kg

Consumables

Sunscreen, soap, blister cream, pills, stove fuel, and tooth powder laid out across a wood floor

Consumables

 

Food

Water

Fuel Canister

Tooth Powder

Contact Solution

Sunscreen

Rubbing Alcohol

Hand Sanitizer

I’ve accumulated an array of tiny plastic containers over the years to carry my sunscreen, blister prevention cream, bug repellent, Advil, and multivitamins. I carry the bare minimum of what I think I’ll need on a given trip and stash my toiletries and first aid supplies in two separate Ziploc bags.

I use a Jetboil Mini fuel canister with my camping stove to boil water for my dehydrated meals. An empty canister weighs about 7 oz (200 grams) when full and 3.3 oz (94 grams) when empty.

Food for a day on the trail (about 3,000 calories) weighs about 24 oz (1.5 pounds | 680 grams), and I always bring an extra day’s rations in case of emergency. Check out my guide on backpacking food and meal planning if you want to see exactly how I pack food for a trip.

On average, I carry about a liter of water (35.25 oz | 1 kg) at a time during my backpacking adventures and filter water as I go. If the trail I’m hiking goes long stretches without any freshwater sources, I’ll carry two or more liters at a time. Water is heavy, so I try not to overload myself if opportunities to purify are abundant.

Consumables do not count towards total base weight.

Total Consumables Weight (Five Days of Food + One Liter of Water): 155.0 oz | 9.69 lb | 4.39 kg

Total Worn Items + Consumables Weight: 224.9 oz | 14.06 lb | 6.38 kg

Total Worn Items + Consumables + Base Weight: 364.9 oz | 22.81 lb | 10.34 kg

That’s it. You’ve now taken a peek at every single item on my 2020 ultralight backpacking gear list. I hope this post helps you in one way or another on your multi-day hiking endeavors.

And now, for those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with ultralight backpacking, I’d love to answer a few of your questions.

Ultralight Backpacking FAQs

An ultralight backpacker gazes at a foggy mountain range in the distance

Ultralight Backpacking FAQs

What is Ultralight Backpacking?

Ultralight backpacking is the minimalist practice of packing as light as possible while remaining safe and comfortable on the trail. The typical base weight limit for an ultralight setup is 10 pounds or less.

The ultralight mindset can be traced back over a hundred years but has only been widely practiced since the 1990s. Since then, technology has brought upon significantly lighter gear that is easier than ever to get your hands on.

What is Base Weight and What are Consumables?

Base weight is the total combined weight of your pack minus food, fuel, and consumables. Worn clothing and items that will be carried outside of your backpack (like watches, sunglasses, trekking poles, etc.) don’t count towards your base weight.

Think of your base weight items are the things that you’ll carry for the entirety of your hike (your backpack, tent, sleeping bag, extra clothing, etc.) The weight of these items should be more or less fixed for your entire trip.

Consumables are the items that fluctuate in weight during the duration of your trip (like food, water, stove fuel, Advil, sunscreen, etc.) The weight of your consumable items is not fixed and will vary from day to day.

Keeping track of your base weight and consumables separately will give make it easier to calculate how much you can expect to carry on a given trip.

There’s no cut-and-dry list of base weight items vs consumables in the ultralight backpacking community, so don’t fret much about how to classify everything you carry. Base weight is just a number in the end.

Does Backpacking Have a Weight Chart?

There’s no official weight chart for backpacking classifications, so defining them is completely objective. Based on my personal backpacking experiences, here’s my best stab at it:

  • Traditional Backpacking: 30+ lb base weight
  • Lightweight Backpacking: 20 lb base weight
  • Ultralight Backpacking: 10 lb base weight
  • Super Ultralight Backpacking: 5 lb base weight

Is Ultralight Backpacking Dangerous?

It can be, but only if you don’t prepare yourself properly.

Lightweight backpacking gear can perform just as well, if not better, than heavier traditional gear, so there’s no added risk if you pack for your trip appropriately. If anything, a proper ultralight setup is safer than a traditional setup because it will put less strain on your body.

Where ultralight backpackers can get in trouble is when they leave behind essential items (first-aid supplies, physical maps, weather-specific gear) for the sake of cutting weight. This practice of being “stupid light” is foolish and can put hikers in danger.

Is Ultralight Backpacking Gear Expensive?

For me, ultralight backpacking has been quite pricy, but it doesn’t have to be for you.

My current ultralight backpacking setup is worth around $2,500 brand new, which is no small price to pay. Cost aside, the quality gear in my pack will perform at a high level and likely won’t need to be replaced until many years in the future. That’s money well spent, in my eyes.

It’s possible to put together an ultralight backpacking for a fraction of what I spent, however. You just need to be willing to get a little creative. How, exactly? Seek out second-hand gear, research budget brands, and be willing to sacrifice a little bit of quality to save some money.

Benefits of Ultralight Backpacking

A hiker walks down a trail towards a Torres del Paine mountain range in the distance

Benefits of Ultralight Backpacking

 

Many backpackers hesitate at buying ultralight gear, believing that packing less will diminish their experience on the trail. Here are some benefits that suggest that quite the opposite is actually true.

Carrying Less Weight Means Fewer Injuries

The heavier your backpack, the more susceptible you become to slips, falls, twists, sprains, and breaks on the trail. Lightening your load will make you more sure-footed and lessen the chance of injuries that can derail your hike in an instant.

You Can Move Faster and More Efficiently with a Lighter Pack

A fine-tuned ultralight backpacking setup will allow you to hike faster and more effectively than if you were to carry a backpack full of heavy, inefficient gear. This faster pace will lead to more daily distance hiked and less energy expended per mile.

Ultralight Backpacking is More Comfortable than Traditional Backpacking

Anyone who has ever carried a heavy, overstuffed backpack knows how agonizing the experience can be. Straps dig into your shoulders, dull pain creeps up your back, and your knees begin to ache with every step.

Too much weight on your back distracts from your hiking experience, plain and simple.

A streamlined ultralight setup will ease the discomfort of traditional backpacking, lessen your aches and pains, and put your mind off of your body and back onto your surroundings.

A Lower Base Weight Means More Space for Consumables

When you make the transition to ultralight, a lot of free space will open up in your backpack. This newfound room will allow you to pack extra food, water, and fuel for the long stretches of trail where you’re unable to resupply for several days at a time.

Tips & Tricks for Ultralight Backpacking

A Zpacks Triplex tent is set up in front of the Cordillera del Paine Mountain Range

Tips & Tricks for Ultralight Backpacking

 

Over my years of backpacking and converting to an ultralight setup, I’ve learned quite a few valuable lessons along the way. Here are some of the best bits of ultralight backpacking wisdom I can offer you.

Buy a Scale

Every ounce counts in the world of ultralight backpacking, so get your hands on a precision scale and weigh every item that goes into your pack. Analyzing the weight of your existing gear will help guide the way for future changes to your setup.

Scrutinize Everything

To get your base weight as low as possible, you’ll need to take a close look at every single piece of gear on your packing list. Compare your current gear meticulously to other items on the market, and always ask yourself, “Can I go lighter?”

But lighter gear doesn’t always mean better gear, however, so be prepared to do thoughtful research and make decisions based on an item’s effectiveness as well as its weight.

Focus on the ‘Big Four’

In most backpacking gear lists, the heaviest items are as follows:

  • Backpack
  • Shelter
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad

By minimizing the weight on these four specific items, you can trim not only ounces but pounds off of your traditional backpacking setup.

Don’t Bring Duplicates

Packing double of an item when one will do is a no-no in the ultralight backpacking community. Why? Because the UL mantra is about carrying only what you need and nothing else. This means you can leave the extra socks, shirts, pants, underwear, and sandals at home.

Share Gear with Others

Communicate with your hiking partners, share your gear, and distribute the weight between your backpacks whenever possible. Pooling the weight of your tents, stoves, pots, water filters, knives, etc. is a great way to lower your base weight by sacrificing some comfort and convenience.

Research Your Hike Thoroughly Ahead of Time

The trail you hike and the weather you expect to encounter should dictate what gear you pack and what you leave behind. Study your hike’s terrain, check forecasts, determine the distance between water sources, and pack accordingly.

For example, backpacking alone for two days in the world’s driest desert will call for a vastly different gear list than hiking for a week through intense wind and rain in Patagonia.

Let the journey ahead decide what you pack and leave all your other unnecessary gear behind.

Stupid Light, Not Even Once

Ultralight backpacking isn’t a contest, so don’t leave essential items behind just to shave a few ounces off of your base weight. This practice is called being ‘stupid light’ and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Prepare yourself for worst-case scenario weather, bring a complete first aid kit, and pack physical and digital maps when navigating unfamiliar terrain. Cutting corners to trim weight is foolish and can be life-threatening if your hike goes sideways and you’re all alone in the backcountry.

Best Ultralight Backpacking Resources

Here are some helpful books, websites, and tools that have been invaluable along my journey as an ultralight backpacker. I hope you find them as useful as I do.

Ultralight Subreddit

Reddit.com/r/Ultralight is a helpful forum to discuss ultralight backpacking, gear lists, trip reports, and more. Redditors in this super-involved community are quick to answer questions, share wisdom, and offer advice.

LighterPack

LighterPack is a great place for backpackers to keep track of, analyze, and compare their gear lists. Users can assign weights to each piece of gear in their backpacking setup and the website calculates base weight, carried weight, and consumables in a helpful pie chart.

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips

Though Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips was published in 2011, it’s full of thoughtful information that is still 100% valid today. The author, Mike Clelland, packs over 150 incredibly useful pointers into the book, all drawn from his lifetime of hiking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors.

Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka has been an absolute legend in the ultralight backpacking community for years. Want some proof? Check out his 4,700-mile expedition around Alaska, where he hiked, pack rafted, and skied for seven straight months through some of the world’s most remote wilderness.

Ultralight Backpacking YouTube Channels

YouTube is full of great ultralight backpacking enthusiasts who are eager to share adventures, gear recommendations, and tips with the world. My personal favorites are Darwin onthetrail, John Zahorian, and Jupiter Hikes.

Should You Transition to Ultralight Backpacking Gear?

Silhouette of a minimalist backpacker against an imposing mountain range with snow capped peaks

Should You Transition to Ultralight Backpacking Gear?

 

In a word, definitely.

Going ultralight is an exercise in freedom and efficiency.

There’s simply no downside in drastically cutting your pack weight, as long as your new set up keeps you safe, happy, and comfortable on the trail.

Trimming weight and minimizing your packing list means that every item you pack should serve its purpose as efficiently as possible. Space and energy will no longer be needlessly wasted on hauling around a bunch of unnecessary stuff.

Less weight on your back means you’ll hike farther, longer, and more comfortably. There are simply no arguments against responsible ultralight backpacking that make sense, so my advice is to give it a try. Lighten your load, what’s there to lose?

More Hiking & Backpacking Resources

What are some of your favorite pieces of ultralight backpacking gear of 2020 that didn’t make my list? What’s your base weight? Do you have any ultralight packing tips or tricks? What is the lightest backpacking gear list you’ve ever seen? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

25 Comments

  1. Hi Noel, just starting to make my own plan for hiking the O. Your website is a great resource!
    How many cans of gas did you take with you for your stove? I don’t see that on the list above.

    Cheers

    1. Hey, Sal. So glad you’re going to hike the ‘O’ Circuit! I’m glad you found my article. Makes me so happy to know that it’s helping people like you. To answer your question, I used one regular sized canister of fuel for the entire hike. Had plenty of gas to spare.

  2. Hi Noel, I’m preparing for the O Circuit. Thank you for your blog, it’s an amazing help!

    What do you recommend for camp shoes? I saw some in one of your picture above.
    Cheers

    1. Thanks, Clement! I’m glad you’re finding my guide helpful. When I was preparing, I couldn’t find a good guide with all the information I needed in once place, so I decided to make one myself.

      To save weight, I don’t use camp shoes, but if I did, I’d probably use my Chaco Z1 sandals – https://amzn.to/2Kv6Af7 – (very comfortable with socks and can be hiked in if I get tired of my boots) or a really lightweight pair of Crocs water shoes – https://amzn.to/2GOPxUk. I really do LOVE the luxury of camp shoes, but in the spirit of hiking ultralight, I have to leave them behind. I don’t really mind walking around camp barefoot either. In my opinion, it’s a great way to let your feet breathe and feel the earth underneath you.

      Any more questions about the ‘O’ Circuit or any of the gear I bring along? I’m excited for you! It’s really a once in a lifetime type of hike. What month are you going?

  3. Hi Noel, thank you for your advices on camp shoes! I’m gonna try the Chaco Z1 at REI. I really need something like this, for the travel from the US to Chile, and then for the evening at the campground :).

    I’m going to do the O Circuit this November, it will be windy!
    2 more questions regarding your gear list:
    -> For the rain cover, do you recommend it for the O Circuit? I have an Osprey also, and use dry bags in it. I wasn’t planning on buying a rain cover, I’ve read that with the wind it’s not adapted..
    -> For the water filter (I use the MSR filter https://www.rei.com/product/114975/msr-trailshot-pocket-sized-water-filter), I was thinking about taking this off my list… I’ve read multiple time that you find drinking water everywhere on the O Circuit. Did you take yours?

    Thank you again!

    1. Great choice! I got mine at REI on clearance ($30!), so be sure to check the clearance section before you buy a new pair. You never know. They’re great sandals to hike in if the weather is nice and you want a break from your boots. The soles are beefy like a pair of hiking boots and they’re extremely comfortable once you break them in. The break-in period was a bit painful for me but completely worth it. Favorite pair of sandals I’ve ever owned.

      Yes, it will probably be windy! That’s what TDP is all about. It’s all part of the fun. I’m excited for you. How many days are you giving yourself to hike the trail?

      I definitely recommend a rain cover. There will be rain at some point along you trek and it’s imperative to cover your pack and keep your belongings dry. I would use double protection (cover + pack liner). The rain, like the wind, is no joke in Torres del Paine. Buy a rain cover with elastic bands that you can pull tight around your bag to prevent it from being removed by the wind. I used the Osprey Ultralight Rain Cover and it worked great.

      You definitely don’t need a water filter along the ‘O’ Circuit, but I brought mine along anyways. Almost all of the water on the trail doesn’t need to be filtered, purified, or treated in any way. I never actually ended up using my filter. That said, it’s nice to have a filter in case you want to clean standing/dirty water along your trek. Either way, you’ll be fine. The water is clean and delicious to drink. Your call.

      Keep the questions coming! I’m glad to help.

      1. Hi Noel,

        Thanks again for the advices!

        I’m doing the O Circuit on 8 days/7 nights. I could have done less days but wanted to give me some time to enjoy the trek…

        I just bought my rain cover from Osprey also, thanks!
        I’ve tried the Chaco Z1 at REI, they are heavy… I understand now your comment! Not suitable for this trek. I might just take my Allbirds shoes, lightweight, comfy, will be enough for the travel and as camping shoes..

        1. I think 7 nights/8 days is perfect. I felt a little rushed doing my hike in 5 nights/6 days. You’re going to have fun.

          Yes, the Chacos are a bit too heavy. Take something lighter like Allbirds. Report back to me after your hike! I’d love to hear how everything went.

          1. Hi Noel,

            I have more questions as I’m getting closer to my trip, please :).

            For the bus to go from Puerto Natales to Torres del paine, and then for the 2nd bus inside the park, do you recommend to book it ahead? I will arrive in Puerto Natales 2 days earlier, mid November, so I was thinking about doing it when I arrive in the city… I’ve booked everything else few months ago (permits + campsites).

            For the campsites on the O Circuit -> do they have like trashcans on some campsites? or did you bring trash bags with you?

            Thank you again!
            Clement

          2. Since you are hiking in the early season, you’ll probably be safe to book your buses when you arrive, but I still would book them beforehand if possible just to ensure that you get the exact bus you want.

            Yes, I believe I do remember occasional trash cans along the way. From what I remember, there are refugios and bathrooms with garbage bins that you should be able to dump some of your trash. I can’t give you many details as to where you can expect to find trash cans, as I kept all my trash with me for the entire trip.

            Sorry for the late reply! I’ve been away from the website for the last week or two.

            Let me know if you have any more questions!

  4. Thanks so much for this site! It’s really useful and I appreciate it. I live in Japan, so Montbell reigns supreme here. I have the Versalite rain jacket, & was thinking of buying their ultralight windbreaker as well, around 50g, but I was wondering if it’s really necessary to have both, since the Versalite blocks wind really well. In your opinion, can it serve as both a rain jacket & windbreaker, or is there a reason why it’s better to carry both of them? Thanks again!

    1. JJ,

      Thanks for the feedback! Montbell makes incredible gear and, in my opinion, they reign supreme in down jackets (Plasma 1000) and rain jackets (Versalite). They aren’t revered as much in the US, though they should be.

      As far as your question, I’ve gone over it in my head multiple frequently, and I still don’t have a straight answer! I’ll try my best, though.

      The Versalite is great at blocking wind and could serve you well as a windbreaker/rain jacket combo. So, buying a windbreaker isn’t completely necessary.

      However, I love bringing along my Zpacks windbreaker (2 oz) on backpacking trips because it’s specifically built to handle wind. It’s more breathable and comfortable than the Versalite and packs down into the palm of my hand. Because of this, I can stash it in my hip belt pocket for easy access. I wear it almost every day on the trail. (I love it).

      Because I bring my windbreaker, I put less wear and tear on my Versalite and only need to use it when it’s rainy. By bringing a windbreaker, I’m prolonging the life of my Versalite.

      I’m unfamiliar with Montbell’s 50-gram windbreaker, but I imagine it’s similar to my Zpacks jacket. I’m guessing it’s an incredible piece of gear.

      In my eyes, the windbreaker is well worth the extra two ounces because of comfort, accessibility, and minimizing the use of my Versalite. I think you’d be happy having a windbreaker in your pack, but if you’re really trying to get your base weight down, you can use the Versalite for both purposes.

      I hope this helped!

      1. Thanks a lot for the detailed answer! This is really helpful, and nudged me towards buying the wind jacket. I’m going up to the mountains in 2 weeks so I’ll pick it up before then.

        Their UL windbreakers are the EX Light Wind Jacket (45g) & EX Light Wind Parka (56g), the only real difference being “hood or no hood.” Sometimes there’s a difference in the products between Montbell Japan & what they sell in other countries (ex: sadly no pit zips on the Japanese Versalite Jacket, but oh well…) so I’m not sure if the EX Light Winds are available outside Japan. Also the price is usually cheaper here in Japan 😉

        Anyway, thanks again! You made a good case for buying the wind breaker. I hadn’t been able to find an answer like that on any other site, especially one specific to Montbell so I really appreciate it, as well as all the other great info I’ve been able to find on this site
        🙂

        1. You’re very welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, so I love giving my input on the subject to other passionate people.

          If I were you, I’d spring for the extra 10 grams and go for the wind parka with the hood. Wind protection from the neck up is important too!

          Bummer that you don’t have any pit zips on your Versalite, but for what it’s worth, I rarely use mine anyways.

          Cheaper prices on Montbell gear in Japan?! Just another reason I need to visit. Japan is near the top of my list for travel destinations because of its food, culture, and outdoor opportunities. In addition to backpacking, I love skiing and really want to check out some of the world-renowned slopes in over there. And sushi. I have to try the sushi in Japan.

          What brought you to Japan? Where do you live over there? I’m jealous!

          1. Thanks for the reply! Yeah, the hood option looks like the way to go. When I go up to the mountains in a few weeks, it’ll be around 3000m & exposed and I want to get some night shots, so definitely cold and windy.

            I couldn’t find the hooded version on the Montbell US site, but the non-hooded version is $89 in the US & $72 here. Montbell gear is usually about 10-15% cheaper here.

            If you’ve never been to Japan, I really recommend it! I live right at the base of the Northern Japanese Alps (Toyama Prefecture), and the view is unbelievable. In 45 minutes I can be in the mountains, and 20 minutes to the sea. Most of the peaks in this area top out at around 3000m. I can’t ski, but the skiing / snowboarding is world-class, especially in Nagano & Hokkaido. And yeah the sushi is so so so good! 😉 I post a lot of mountain/nature/culture pics on instagram, so if you want to take a look, it’s jonathan.jahnke

            I came over here originally 16 years ago to teach & after bouncing back & forth between America & Japan, got married to a woman from this area & moved back permanently 6 years ago. I didn’t really start going up to the mountains seriously until a few years ago, though, so I’m still figuring everything out. This area is similar to the Pacific Northwest in the US, really rainy & can be cold, so it takes a lot of planning.

            Thanks again for the info! If you ever make it over, let me know & I’ll recommend some places, things to do, etc

          2. Wow, you’ve really made the Toyama Prefecture sound incredible. It seems to be right up my alley! Once the dust settles and life starts getting back to normal, my girlfriend and I have plans to travel to Japan and will definitely visit your neck of the woods. If/when I’ll reach out to you for some advice.

            An English teacher! That was my guess. My girlfriend teaches English in China and currently lives in Chengdu. I was living with her in Chengdu but visited South America when covid hit and got stuck because China closed their borders as I was getting back to the US and planning my trip back. It’s going to be a while until we can see each other again.

            I’m really grateful you gave me all the great info about where you live in Japan. I’ve always wanted to visit but never known exactly where. I think I know now!

            I skimmed your IG… looks like you take some incredible pictures! Keep it up.

            Take care and thanks again!

  5. Just stumbled on your blog and think it’s great! I’m just getting into backpacking/camping, and I’m really enjoying all of the useful information! ^^

    1. I’m glad you’re finding my blog to be a good resource! Backpacking is my passion and my goal is to inspire others to fall in love with it. Feel free to ask my anything about my experience backpacking. I hope you have a great summer full of top-notch adventures! Take care.

  6. Noel: Excellent gear list, strategy, awareness and elucidation for newbies and experienced trekkers. Best to you…Tim Gnazale, owner/author, fastbackpack dot com.

  7. Thanks so much for the clearly laid out gear list! Very helpful. I’m trying to get my weight down and seem to be stuck on clothing. Interesting discussion above about having both the Versalite AND windbreaker. Here’s my question: What temperatures would you say your kit is good for – day to night? Thanks!

    1. Hey, Rob! Glad you’re finding my gear list helpful. I’m currently hiking the Colorado Trail (hotel day today!) so I’m really putting my gear to the test. My current setup for this trip, in my opinion, can handle overnight temperatures down to 15 degrees. The only difference between my Colorado Trail gear list and this gear list is that I packed the NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad instead of the Xlite. It is incredibly warm and gives me an extra 10 degrees of comfort at night.

      Thanks for the feedback and the question. Any big backpacking trips on the horizon?

  8. Hey Noel,

    Lots of research on base weight, but your site helped me the most. Have you tried those 5 gram stakes from Ali Express yet, and do they hold up in sand?

    1. Hey! Glad you’ve found my website useful so far. I haven’t yet tried the stakes from AliExpress, but I’m going to get them by next summer. I have zero experience using carbon fiber stakes, so I’m curious as to how they’ll work out. The design looks solid, and the stakes are about as light as they come, so I’m very intrigued. I imagine they’re going to be quite delicate and will need to be babied a bit when pushing them into the ground. As far as how they will grip in the sand? I have no idea. I wish I could give you better feedback, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reaching out.

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