Backpacking is more fun when you carry less weight, you can go further whilst feeling fresher.
Going 'Ultralight' can seem expensive but you can achieve significant weight savings by following a few simple steps and without breaking the bank. Obviously, if you simply want the lightest and best gear out there it will cost a lot but you can pick and choose what to save weight on and spend your money on one piece at a time.
1. Weigh everything
Get yourself some scales and weigh every item you might consider taking and make a list. Spreadsheets are a great tool for this, or you can use websites like lighterpack.com, where you can enter your kit list and calculate your carry weight. It can be an eye opener, all those items that you packed because 'it’s only light' or 'it may come in handy' all add up to something and this can end up being rather heavy.
2. Focus on the Big Four – Shelter, rucksack, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.
These are the 4 largest (and most important) items you will carry and where most of your weight can be saved. The fastest way to reduce your carry weight is to replace one or all of these key items with lightweight alternatives.
a) Shelter – choose the lightest tent or shelter that is suitable for the conditions that you are likely to encounter. To save extra weight consider a trekking pole tent like the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo so you don’t need to carry the weight of extra tent poles.
b) Sleeping bag or quilt – down is the best, it’s more compressible and lighter than synthetic insulation. Don’t get a sleeping bag warmer than you really need for the majority of your trips, you can always wear more clothing on colder nights. Something like the Sea to Summit Spark SP II has a lower limit of -2°C so it should comfortably cover normal 3 season use.
c) Sleeping mat – inflatable air mats offer the perfect combination of light weight, small pack size and comfort. Again, think about temperatures because this mat will insulate you from the cold ground so Therm-a-rest's NeoAir XLite will keep you comfortable for most conditions outside of winter.
d) Rucksack – this is probably the last item to upgrade. Once you have a lighter shelter and sleep system you will not need such a large pack. If your carry weight is sufficiently light you don’t need a pack with a frame, saving even more weight. A versatile and lightweight option such as the Sierra Designs Flux Capacitor 40-60L is ideal for a wide range of adventures.
3. How much comfort will you sacrifice?
How much importance do you place on camp comfort? Fewer home comforts in camp mean a lighter pack weight. Walk slower and stop later so you only eat and sleep in camp. For example, a simple sit mat like the Therm-a-rest Z Seat may be enough but if you must take a chair for comfort, then the Helinox Chair Zero weighs just 488g.
4. Embrace the stink
Body odour really isn’t worth worrying about so forget carrying changes of clothes. A pair of spare socks and underwear plus something to sleep in is all you need. You can only wear a baselayer, mid-layer and insulation at once so only take them. Merino wool, like that used in most of Icebreaker's range, has the best anti-odour properties and works really well when wet but take longer to dry out, man-made fabrics with anti-odour treatments are good alternatives and usually dry faster. Blended merino/polyester fabrics like in Rab’s Forge range offer the benefits of both, so reduced smell and quick drying time.
5. Forget 'Just in Case'
Don’t plan for every eventuality, plan for the likely worst conditions on that specific trip. This is easier for shorter trips where you can check the forecast before packing. Be safe though.
6. Carry less water
In most Scottish locations water is rarely hard to find (apart from on the munro tops). Drink at the water source and just carry enough to get to the next refill. Filters like the Sawyer Mini Filter, Katadyn Befree and MSR Trailshot keep you safe from bugs whilst weighing very little.
7. Avoid leather boots
Old school leather boots are heavy and unforgiving. The old rule that a pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back, was proven in US military tests which showed it takes 5 times more energy to carry a weight on your shoe compared to your torso. Trail running shoes and mid boots are lighter and softer on your feet which also means fewer blisters. Inov8 Roclite or Hoka Speedgoat Mid boots will save around 600-1000g compared to a pair of traditional full leather boots. That’s like saving over 3kg from your pack for the day!
8. Dry kit weighs less
Wet gear weighs more so try to let your tent dry before setting off. Wipe tents down early with a microfibre cloth or towel like the Sea to Summit Airlite towels to help them to dry more quickly. If you stop for lunch, lay kit out in the sun to dry. You’d be surprised how much weight a sleeping bag can gain through absorbing perspiration during the night.
9. Only carry the food you need
Everyone is scared of running out of food so end up taking more than needed - how often do you feel like you need an extra meal in your day? Plan your meals and carefully think through what you actually need, it's more than likely you’ll still end up not eating it all. Freeze dried meals help to plan calorie intake and food weight much more accurately and this is an area you will learn from and adapt for every trip.
10. Review your kit after every trek
There will be items you take that never get used. This happens more often than you'd think, especially with extra items of clothing and luxury items. Make a note of them and leave them behind next time.