Backpacking Ultralight: What does that mean and how to get started

Posted by Gabby Tinner on

Working with light gear I am often asked what are the benefits of going lighter or 'ultralight'?

Many times I respond with, "Why carry more than you have to, when you can carry less and enjoy your trek more?" But feeling that my answer is a little vague and lacking substance, I did some research to learn what it truly means to be an ultralight backpacker. After researching, it is clear to say that I pack light, however am not a true ultralightist!  

Why go ultralight? 

Go ultralight for yourself! Going ultralight shouldn't be about sacrifice or discomfort, it should be about taking everything you need and nothing you don't.

Overall going lighter will help you enjoy the outdoors more, allow you to go further, and physically handle difficult terrain with more ease.  

Getting started

As a general rule of thumb here are weight classifications:

>20lbs= Heavyweight

12-20lbs= Lightweight

6-11lbs= Ultralight

<6lbs= Super Ultralight  

The best place to start when considering to cut weight is to take inventory of what you have and record it. This will help you see where you have the ability to cut weight. Personally, I keep all my gear weight listed in the back of a journal to reference when I am looking for new gear or replacements.


In addition to noting weight, it is valuable to assess the main function of your gear. This information will allow you to remove redundancies, ensure that you take the lightest item you have to get the job done, and creates a list of items to get rid of or replace with something lighter.

An example where all the information you have collected on your gear is helpful, would be hiking somewhere without bugs. If there are no bugs, then there is no need to take the nest of your tent. Do you have a shelter system that doesn't require a nest for setup? Are you already bringing the items needed to set it up?

Lastly, develop skills that allow you to be more comfortable in the wilderness or alpine with less stuff. For example, learn to build a fire without needing fire starter or preparing meals without a stove. If interested in developing ultralight skills, checkout Ryan Jordan's website, he offers an ultralight course and his blog is an amazing resource! 

In conclusion, cutting weight at first can be a little nerve-wracking so start slow and go as light as you feel comfortable with!

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