Ultra-light backpacking tips
Get further with these ultra-light backpacking tips

Your next holiday is a 3-day hike into the Alps and, after hefting your bag onto your back for a trial run, you’re suddenly not sure if you really need that extra bag of trail mix after all. Ever heard: “Forget ultra light; take what you want!” Well sure, I’d love to — if you’re going to carry it for me. No? Okay, then; it’s time to figure out the ultra light plan of attack.
I learned it the hard way. Nobody told me I should keep my backpack light. Nobody said that carrying heavy loads can cause a lot of problems: exhaustion, sore back, blown knees, blistered feet. And I never dreamt that 9.5 kg (21 pounds) would ever be a problem. But when a herniated disk and your meniscus starts pulsing at night, you’ll be looking forward to a ride down the valley instead of trekking on.
Have any of you given up backpacking for these reasons? A lighter pack load could be your rescue.

Give your back a holiday!

There are different things that work for each individual, you have to find what works for you. Basically, my rule is: You carry, you decide. Ultra-light backpacking is a process; it doesn’t happen overnight. However, there are ways for everyone to pare it down.

  • Start thinking light

For example: Functional shirts made of synthetic or merino wool are lighter than a cotton tee. That pack of yours could have weighed one kg less, with the same durability. It’s okay to leave your toiletry bag at home (a zip-lock bag works the same if necessary). Use microfibre towels (often called “camp towels”) instead of cotton; they dry a lot faster and are lighter. Smaller digital cameras — even some phone cameras — take great photos and lighten your load. Can you go without your sleeping bag and use sleeping inlets (inserts) instead? While we’re asking: If it’s summer, do you really need a Thermos bottle? 

Some folks even go so far as to cut their toothbrush in half to reduce weight, and soaps can be halved as well — or take fluid soaps made to pull triple duty as body, hair and dish soap. Even using a “pee rag” (Google might be your friend here) takes up less space and weight than packs of tissue paper.  

You’ll find that as you start thinking in the “light” mindset, you will find all kinds of ways to shave extra weight.

  • What you wear counts

For example: Wear things that will easily switch as your needs do: Buff neck gaiters can convert to a hat (and several other configurations); some even have fleece in them to keep you warm. Lighten up what you have on. If suitable, replace heavy leather boots with approach shoes. When I did, walking became very light and I was able to double my speed. (A good rule of thumb: The lighter your pack, the lighter your shoes.) I left the fleece jacket at home and felt comfortable with a long Merino shirt instead. Sport sunglasses are lighter and difficult to break as compared to everyday sunglasses.

  • Keep what you won’t need at home

For example: You can leave your stack of books at home — the mountains are terrific entertainment on their own. You probably don’t need four pairs of shorts, three pairs of pants, and five shirts, either. For most, it’s okay to stink in the mountains, but it’s not okay to freeze in the wet shirt you got caught with in the rain, so make sure you bring enough to wear during the day, then have something dry to slip into at night. Oh, and leave your makeup at home — do you really “need” to look pretty for an ibex?

  • Filter your water

Check out where you can refill your water bottle or bladder on the way instead of packing it all in, if possible, then just pack a water filter/purifier instead of carrying of extra water weight. If you’re headed to the desert, take enough water with you and plan for worse case scenarios, but don’t go overboard. Somewhere between 1.6 and 3 litres per day, depending on your level of hiking intensity, should work.
  • Survive!
The one thing I never leave my backpack empty of is a survival kit. At the least, I have a reflective blanket, but on outings such as climbing trips, I’ll bring a first aid pack. I’ve seen too many accidents to skimp weight on this one.
  • Know yourself
These things worked well for me, but remember, each individual is different. It takes many hikes and trips to learn what your body intakes and habits are. Do not compensate on things which you really need, like water and insulation! Use common sense and good judgement in all situations.

Once you are comfortable with what you need, check to see if you can reduce weight gradually.

Pack List 

Wondering what I pack? Here’s what I brought for a hike to an alpine refuge: http://klimbingkorns.de/packing-up-light-to-the-alpine-refuge-my-backpack-pack-list/
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Got an ultra-light tip to share? Tell us in the comments!

AuthorChristina Lauterkorn is a self-proclaimed “mountain enthusiast” living in Germany. When she’s not roadtripping to Europe’s most secluded crags to climb, you can find her blogging, doing photography or cross-country skiing. 

Check out Christina’s site at: http://klimbingkorns.de/