How To Execute an Ultralight Hiking Trip

Launch a fast-and-light overnight adventure with these tips for planning, packing and pulling off an ultralight hike.

Ultralight adventures are more of an art than a science. After all, getting the ultralight game just right is about mastering the delicate balance of bringing exactly what you need and nothing more (and sometimes a little less). The experts among the fast-and-light crowd scrutinize function, look carefully at what’s going into their bags, and dig into warmth-to-weight ratios (often, the warmer something is, the heavier it gets). You’ve already done your research on the best ultralight packs, sleeping bags, and tents and now you’re ready to put it all together and hit the trail.

Learn here how to best approach ultralight hiking, plus other on-trail tips so you can have a safe, successful, and fun day (or few days) out. 

Ways To Save Weight

Once you start looking at your kit with weight saving in mind, you’ll start to find endless ways to do so. If you’re looking to make gear upgrades to get your pack weight lighter, you’ll get the most impact by starting with the biggest weight offenders: your sleeping bag, backpack, tent, and sleeping pad. From there, you can only get more discerning. On trips where the weather and terrain abides, you might forgo a tent altogether or bring a bivy sack or lightweight tarp for shelter. Constantly evaluate what’s going into your pack, ditch duplicate clothing items, and ask yourself whether you need something or if you can reduce its weight. Are you using a big, bulky headlamp when a smaller, lighter one would suffice? Can your carbon fiber trekking poles double as your tent pole? Portion out toilet paper and swap out a waterproof backpack cover with a trash-compactor bag. Instead of carrying a travel tube of toothpaste, bring only the amounts you need in a lighter container or try minimalist toothpaste tablets. Are there tons of straps hanging off your pack? Cut off the excess! 

On-Trail Tips

Once you’re out there’s not much you can do about your pack weight (other than eating your food), but what you can control is water weight. On the trail that will be one of the heavier items you’ll carry. A good rule of thumb is to carry one liter of water at a time—that’s 2.4 pounds! Before refilling your bottle, drink as much of it as you can so you’re well hydrated, and ditch the hard plastic bottle for a soft, collapsible one to save both space and weight. Use your puffer jacket as a pillow at night and consider wearing lightweight trail runners instead of bulky hiking boots (after a few miles your feet will notice the difference).

Focus on Food

The rule of thumb is to aim for 100 calories per ounce, that way you know you’re getting calorie-rich food without weighing down your pack. Overpacking food is a common issue, and while you always want to have extra in case of emergency, you also don’t want to get back to your car with tons left over. To start, work on making smart swaps to save weight. Fresh fruit, for example, is way heavier than dried fruit, and things like dehydrated mashed potatoes are super light to carry. Plan to bring meals that don’t need to be cooked and only require adding boiling water. Or, to save even more weight, ditch the stove and eat snacks or easy-to-put-together meals like tuna and tortillas, or food that can be soaked in cold water (like oats). Finally, bring versatile cookware. Can your mug also double as a pot and a bowl?

Find Your Sweet Spot

There’s no specific pack weight requirement for ultralight hiking or backpacking. Instead, ask yourself what pack weight allows you to move fast and light in a given environment; then try and hit, or best, that number every time you hit the trail. When you return from a trip, take note of any items that you didn’t use and consider leaving it behind next time.

Keep It Safe

It’s important to mention that some items should stay in your pack even if you don’t use them, and that’s your first-aid kit and 10 essentials. And while you can get creative with these items and how to save weight (like an ultralight first-aid kit), you don’t want a light pack to be a risk to your personal safety. The ultimate thing to bring along for a safe and successful ultralight hiking trip when you’re only bringing the bare minimum is your fitness, your wilderness first aid skills, and navigational know-how. Do you know what to do if something goes wrong? The best part about this last type of knowledge: It’s weightless. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.