Thoughts by Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO, Mike St. Pierre
Making an effort to put together an ultralight backpacking kit will reap you immeasurable rewards. You’ll be able to travel more efficiently in greater comfort with less fatigue. With every extra pound of weight you carry, the effort required to move it increases.
IT'S SIMPLE PHYSICS
In the current mainstream outdoors marketplace, it’s pretty easy to overdo it with equipment for a trip. Plus, many consumers, “base what they bring on their fears.” (more on that here). Opportunities to create products that serve multiple purposes are missed, a lot of gear is unnecessarily overbuilt, or it ends up being way too heavy (For some great tips about looking at equipment through a double-duty lens, make sure to head here).
1. It’s not just about having lighter stuff; it’s about traveling simply.
2. Make sure you are sharing gear and/or that you’re using one item for multiple purposes.
3. Use the most minimal, lightest technology available.
THE NUMBERS GAME
The first step in putting together an ultralight kit is to start documenting the equipment and the weights of what you currently own. Putting your gear list in Excel or some other gear calculator is the only way I’ve been able to see where the bulk of the weight in my pack is coming from, and this helps me make decisions early in the trip planning process.
I recommend purchasing a small digital scale like the ones you can find in the kitchen section of your local big box store, or of course, on Amazon. Once you have the scale, make a list of all your equipment in Excel and add the weights in the next column. If you own multiple tents or packs, break the list into categories like shelters or sleep system, cooking, hydration, clothing, etc.
Once you have a running list of products and their weights, pretend you’re going on a trip and highlight the pieces you think you’d need or like to take. Look at the total weight of the kit, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly it adds up. If you’re unsatisfied with the result and want to start shedding mass, pay attention to the heaviest items on the list and either swap them out for lighter products you already own, or look to replace them.
This process should be ongoing, and you certainly don’t need to upgrade or purchase new items all at once. It should also be fun! Reflecting on the successes and failures of your endeavors and continual experimentation is what will eventually lead to the creation of a kit that works perfectly for you. Heads up though, once you get into exploring new solutions to shaving weight, you’ll see you might never really be “done.”
It’s taken years for me to dial in my current 9 - 10 lb base weight kit (base weight = all carried equipment minus consumables – food, fuel, water) for the trips I do now. I’m finding though that with that refined core, it’s totally functional regardless of the environment I’ll be traveling through.
No matter if I’ll be in the desert or in alpine terrain, this “core kit” always includes my pack, shelter, sleeping pad, hydration system, cooking system, rain gear, headlamp, and a few other tried and true items. The only thing that really changes for me is the temperature rating of my sleeping bag, my insulating clothing, and if I’ll need any terrain specific items like ice axes, crampons, length of rope, harness, or extra water capacity. When it comes to the sleeping bag and clothing, I’m usually watching the weather until the last minute before I leave to ensure I’m not carrying too much or too little insulation. It helps when you have multiple sleeping bags in your arsenal to choose from. (For another in-depth look at planning logic and process, check out Mike’s post, “Never Not Learning” here)
Even with a really light 10 lb base weight, your pack weight for a multi-day trip could still top out at 20-35 lb after you add in the consumables. For example, on a five-day backpacking trip in the summertime, I’ll usually carry roughly 1.25-1.5 lb of food for each day. A small fuel canister is roughly 8 oz, and if water is harder to come by throughout the day, I may need to carry 2L to start which would weigh 4.3 lb. Your total pack weight would be 22 lb and that’s before any kind of electronics like your phone or a camera. That’s where this dialed ultralight base weight really starts to pay off.
10 lb – Base Weight
7.5 lb – Food (5 Days @ 1.5 lbs per day)
0.5 lb – Fuel Canister
4 lb – Water
22 lb Total
(For some great tips reducing consumables weight, make sure to head here)
Once you’re done this exercise a few times, you’ll find it’s not as necessary once you get familiar with the gear you own and regularly carry on trips. Now that you have your ideal kit at a weight you’re comfortable with, it’s time to get out there. You’ll find all the pre-planning gives you more freedom and makes for a much more enjoyable trip. You’ll be able to move faster in the backcountry, so trips don’t need to take as long.
DOCUMENT AND COMPARE
Now depending on where you are in this ultralight investigation, you might be feeling skittish about getting right into the weeds chasing ounces and grams. Our goal, first and foremost with The Shakedown, is to get you thinking about your outdoor kit as a system, to use gear that serves more than one purpose, and to realize where you're just carrying "extras." We are walking, not running after all. But if you're feeling like it's time for the spreadsheets, we suggest good 'ol fashioned Microsoft Excel, or check out LighterPack.com or the new Bugaboo.io.
ULTRALIGHT DOESN’T EQUAL SACRIFICE AND SUFFERING
While accomplishing a trip more quickly may at times be advantageous, also consider what you may be able to add to the experience if you do decide to stay out as long as you initially planned. With a lighter core kit, I may choose to throw in a liter of wine, some Scotch, or a few tastier/more substantial meals. I’m learning that the older I get, it’s not all about speed in the backcountry. I’m now starting to learn to take my time and enjoy the terrain and beautiful places I’ve walked into. Take a Tenkara rod and do a little fishing in the afternoon or sip a margarita at camp. It can be perfect for the head!