First of all, there isn’t really a definition of what is a light or an ultra-light backpack. There isn’t really a separation such as less than 10kg is light and less than 5kg – ultra-light. It is more about the approach towards the gear – keeping the weight low not just by buying expensive equipment but also by carefully assessing what is important for us out on the trail. This is not just about taking the weight off the shoulders and knees. It is also about taking less of our city life into our adventures. This is not just shaving grams of our gear but also a striving for simplicity, for minimalism.
It is amazing though how different people can be when it comes to needs and expectations on the trail. For some, a tent is an absolute must, for some it is a coffee maker, a big knife, toe socks or a sleeping pillow. Essentially, we must be healthy and happy on the trail and choose our gear according to that. So there is nothing wrong with carrying “luxury items” and you owe no explanations if you decide to carry that huge vario lens or your favorite steel mug.
In our experience, once started, the journey of making your hiking kit lighter goes on and on, because for us the less you carry the more you take from the trail. That being said, we have to stay safe and we need some comfort. Here are our tips on how to make your gear lighter.
Measure it, write it down!
You need a gear list. You can use online gear lists or any software for editing tables. Organize your gear in categories. Try to categorize by activity or usage.
Get a scale (a kitchen scale is good enough). Measure every item, get in detail. If your sleeping bag has a compression bag, measure them separately. List everything that you own and consider outdoor gear.
This is our approach for categorization:
In this category we would list the backpacks, but also accessories like pack covers, liners, extra pockets or holders. We also list running belts or vests here.
Most people divide this gear in three main categories: shelters, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. Some refer to all these items as a “sleeping system” because exactly these three are not always required. Here you can list tarps, tents, bivis, hammocks, sleeping bags or quilts and all the associated accessories like pillows, pegs, guy lines.
Clothes and footwear
Here you just can skip the rain protection; we find it better to put it in a separate category. You can list it in layers and head to toe. List your footwear here or under a new category.
There are quite a few possibilities. We consider all the following items a legitimate choice: poncho, rain pants and jacket, rain kilt, mittens, umbrella, rain hat, gaiters. Every rain protection kit would offer benefits; it all depends on the conditions and what you do. An umbrella or a poncho don’t feel like a smart choice for a climber or a trail runner, but an umbrella attached to the backpack strap seems like a pretty good idea for a photographer.
These are basically lighting, navigation, communication. All your headlamps, torches and everything else that you may use for lighting while hiking or camping. Your GPS devices, phones, watches and all the chargers, cables or batteries are in this category.
Cooking and Cutlery
This is the category for all the items for food storage and preparation, eating and trash management. Knives or multi-tools can also be listed here. If you carry fuel, list only the weight of the containers. The fuel will vary, so you can make a different category for consumables.
Hygiene, Health and Protection
Even in the great outdoors, we need to keep our teeth clean and our nails trimmed. Don’t forget about sun and bug protection too.
Here are all the water containers and items for water purification.
First Aid and Repair
All items that we hope we don’t need.
We must all carry some ID, money, cards, maybe keys or a permit for the area.
Some prefer a staff, old school but still cool.
We encourage you to make more separations, splitting categories in subcategories. Here, don’t list any winter gear, which most hikers tend to have as a different category.
Once you have categorized all of your gear, you can decide what to put in the backpack and what you want to wear. The backpack is your base weight and all that you carry and wear people call “out of skin base weight”.