50 Ultralight Backpacking Tips

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In this post, I’m giving you a sneak peek into my FREE Ultralight Backpacking Tips Book by sharing the first ten tips. At any time you can simply enter your email address to sign up for my newsletter and you’ll get the full book, absolutely free!

The days of carrying around a 50lb backpack on the trail are fortunately long behind us. The last twenty years have seen a shift in mindset towards lighter gear and more efficient hiking. I’m here to help you in your transition to a lighter pack and more efficient, comfortable hiking.

If you have specific questions, drop them in the comments below.


1 – Take Less Stuff

Of all the Ultralight Backpacking tips you’ll find in this book, none will have such an impact as this one. Simply bringing less stuff on your next hike is the surest way to reduce the weight of your pack. I recommend doing this by laying out all the items you currently take backpacking neatly on the floor.

Then make a pile of things you absolutely have to bring, starting with obvious items like your sleeping bag. Once this is done then you’ll have two piles. The second pile will be things that aren’t absolutely necessary. It contains things like extra clothing, a camera and a book. This second pile is where you want to focus your energy. These are the things that you can leave at home. Only you can decide whether you want or need to carry their weight.

2 – Do Your Research

It takes years of experience and research to dial in an Ultralight Backpacking setup. All the hikers I know are periodically tweaking their gear lists. Trying to lighten up but also figure out what works for them. You never “arrive” when aiming for a light pack, it’s all about the journey maaaaan.

I recommend people consume as much content as possible on UL Backpacking. Broaden your horizons and learn from the wealth of knowledge out there. Delve through the archives at pieonthetrail.com where you’ll find over fifty articles focused on backpacking.

3 – Focus on the “Big Three”

The Big Three is your backpack, sleeping bag (or quilt) and your shelter. These three items are usually the heaviest items in a pack. They then deserve the most consideration when trying to cut weight. More details are below but you’re looking for the lightest options that meet your requirements.

4 – Look at Single Wall Tents or Even Better Switch to A Tarp

Our shelter system is one of the heaviest things we carry so it’s a great place to save some weight. Single wall UL tents differ from more traditional backpacking tents in many ways.

As the name suggests they are single walled and have no inner or outer tent, it is all one piece. They usually incorporate some kind of bug mesh to keep critters away and have built in bathtub floors. Single wall tents are available from many companies to fit all budgets. Using them can cut the weight of more traditional shelters in half. For years I used these types of shelters before recently moving to a tarp system. This cuts even more weight from my pack and adapts to whatever scenario I find myself in.

Check out some of my favorite shelters from Gossamer Gear

Yours truly in the High Sierra

5 – Sleeping Bags and Quilts

Using a sleeping bag or quilt with temperature ratings to match your trip is a slick way to save weight. It would be nice to own one sleeping bag that worked on all your hiking trips but this is not realistic. A winter sleeping bag will be far too heavy and overkill for most three season backpacking trips. You’d be dangerously cold on a deep winter trip with a 30F/-1C quilt. Match the temperature rating of your sleeping bag to the temperatures you’ll be hiking in. You’ll carry only the weight of insulation you need and not more.

For most of my three-season hikes I take a quilt or sleeping bag rated for 10F/-12C or 20F/-6C. This covers most scenarios and I can use my clothing system to help keep me warm on the coldest of nights.

6 – Sleeping Pads

Choosing a sleeping pad is as important as picking your sleeping bag or quilt. It can be the difference between a good nights’ sleep and shivering the whole night long. Most hikers opt for an ultralight inflatable air mattress such as the Thermarest Neoair X lite.

Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are enough for some hikers. Although they are light and simple I prefer the comfort of an air mattress. Be aware that sleeping pads have temperature ratings known as “R-Value”. The R Value of the Neoair Xlite mentioned above is 3.2 which is perfect for three season backpacking. I’ve used sleeping pads with lower r ratings and have found myself cold when the temperatures drop.

7 – Share Gear With a Friend

One of my favorite ultralight backpacking tips is to capitalize on hiking with a friend and make them carry half your stuff! (If only it were that simple).

Backpacking with a friend does give you opportunities to share gear that will reduce the weight of both your packs. Many ultralight backpacking shelters come in a “one person” and a “two-person” configuration. The two person version weighing less per person than the one person version. As an example, my current go-to one man tent is the Gossamer Gear “The One” that weighs in at 22.4 Oz/635g. Gossamer Gear also makes a two man version called “The Two” it only weighs 29 Oz/822g. Divide that by two and you get 14.5 Oz/411g. That’s a huge 7.9 Oz/223g weight saving. Although “The Two” is a single piece and cannot be split, one person can carry the tent and the other can carry both sleeping pads to even out the weight.

Other examples of sharing gear could be a stove, camera, and GPS.

8 –  Don’t Carry Something Just Because You Always Bring It 

“Oh but I always carry that!” Is not a valid reason to carry something on an Ultralight Backpacking trip. Just because you’ve always carried a heavy survival knife on all your camping trips doesn’t make it necessary to put in your pack. When car camping or spending one night in the woods it’s no big deal to bring heavier extras. But, if you’re seriously trying to lighten up then ditch all the gear that isn’t absolutely necessary.

9 – Weigh Everything

This may be one of the next most important ultralight backpacking tips I have to give you.

I promise you, you will be shocked how much of a difference it makes when you start weighing your gear. It will make you question everything. I accept no responsibility if you start frantically weighing all your gear and entering weights into a spreadsheet. Welcome to the nerdy world of ultralight backpacking. Joking aside, the scale never lies and puts into numbers how much your gear weighs. You’ll question your gear decisions and possibly reach for the lighter item on your next trip.

10 – Cut Unnecessary Parts Off Of Your Gear

So you’ve purchased a shiny new backpack and it’s time to get out the scissors and start snipping right?!

Maybe. But wait.

Many people know about cutting off the handle from your toothbrush to make it lighter. There are a lot of other things you can cut and trim to save weight. I recommend people cut off unnecessary webbing and accessories from their gear but please put some thought into it. I’ve cut off compression straps in the past only to regret it further down the trail. You can save weight doing this but once it’s done it’s done. Trim your sit pad to make it smaller and shorten that webbing. You can even cut an extra few inches from the inseam of your hiking shorts.

There is no such thing as too much thigh.

So that’s the first 10 nuggets of wisdom from my free Ultralight Backpacking Tips Book.

To get the full ebook and 40 more tips to lighten your load, simply enter your email address below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.

This site is full of free information and gear guides so dive in!

If you have questions for me then I’d love to hear from you, drop me a comment below right now

This site contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links it helps to support my work here at Pie on the Trail and doesn’t cost you anything extra. Cheers

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