We encourage you to check for ultra-light gear lists online. You’ll quickly see that people are quite different in their gear choices. Do not follow anyone blindly. If you are a beginner, we recommend you to start with easy-to-use, cheap camping gear, which will be heavier. Also, always try any new gear before a big trip.
Here are some tips for all the categories starting from the top.
Use trekking poles – if you hike a lot, your knees will be grateful. There are a lot of poles on the market. The weight varies from around 200g to around 600g per pair. The lightest poles are usually designed for ultra-runners and the heaviest are sturdier and can be used for snowshoeing. If you have never used poles, we recommend borrowing or buying some cheap sturdy poles with adjustable length. The really light sticks are not adjustable, but this feature might not be important to you. Fast hikers and runners mostly use the poles on the uphill and hang them on the pack or hold them in the middle while on a downhill. Such hikers would want collapsible (or even one-piece) poles with fixed length – these are the lightest.
Still, most hikers use the poles mostly as support for those one-leg squats on the steep descends. In this case, sturdy, adjustable, telescopic poles are great, as you would want longer poles the steeper it gets.
Do not carry your everyday wallet – take only what you need. If you have to carry keys, you might want to make these lighter and less noisy.
First Aid and Repair
From what we have seen on trail, people can be divided in two groups – those who carry nothing to almost nothing (a few painkiller tablets or band aids) and those who carry huge first aid kits. We are no medical doctors, but here is some advice from our experience: Your medical kit is not only for your safety, but also for other people that might need your help. Carry some painkillers, inflammatory, something for fever and antihistamine. You should also be able to treat cuts. We recommend having jodasept in a small syringe with some medical tape and band aids. We also recommend a tick removal tool, a scalpel blade and a sterile needle. Don’t forget your specific medication, if you need something. We recommend attending a first aid course.
Have some sugar in the first aid kit – a running gel or jelly works great. Also carry an electrolyte tablet in case of dehydration.
For the repair of gear we have a tiny tube of superglue, some duct tape, a sewing needle and some thread.
You might consider having some matches and vegetable oil (to use as tinder, but also for emergency calories).
Such a kit will weigh around 100-150g. Well worth the weight if you can help someone in pain.
Do not carry sturdy metal or plastic bottles. These are very heavy. Most advanced hikers reuse some flimsy one way bottles. There are cheap options for very light collapsible bottles, having the advantage that you can compress the air out, making the load more stable. Our recommendation is to always have your water close at hand to keep you hydrated. You might want to consider runners’ bottles (water pockets on the backpack straps are gaining popularity) or a water bladder in the back. Get a water filter – it is the easy way to make your water safe. Make sure the filter fits the bottle you intend to use it for.
Hygiene, Health and Protection
Don’t bring your full size toothbrush. Many hikers cut off part of the handle or just “forget” the handle of a foldable toothbrush, if cutting a toothbrush feels awkward. Some even dry some toothpaste, so that the tube stays at home. Nowadays, there are toothpaste pills and powder – you can bring exactly as much as you need.
Don’t bring wet wipes or if you must, be sure to use biodegradable ones – most are not. You can use hand sanitizer as it will be much lighter.
Use your own packaging for sunscreen and bug repellent. Normally, the commercial packs are much bigger than you need.
Cooking and Cutlery
There are a lot of people who really like to cook. For them, making camp and preparing meals is an essential part of the hike. Some like to have warm re-hydrated food and hot chocolate in the evening or just a coffee in the morning. Other people don’t care much about these things.
For those of you who enjoy cooking and of course for winter hikers, we recommend a gas stove. Even though it has the heaviest hardware (mainly the weight of the canister), gas is the most effective if you use it a lot.
For rehydrating meals and making hot beverages, a lightweight alcohol stove might be enough. A DIY alcohol stove can easily weigh under 20g and you can carry the exact amount of fuel that you need in a light plastic bottle.
If you choose to bring a stove, we recommend having a lid for the pot and a windshield. You can even make them yourself – for example from an aluminum can.
Another way is to go completely stoveless. You should definitely do that if warm meals and beverages are not important to you. You can still use dried food – just close it in a container with some water and let it hydrate while you hike or sleep.
Having a spoon or a spork seems to work well for all hikers. Knives and tools are a different story. For most people, having a big reliable knife close at hand is a must in the wild. Many ultra-light hikers would only bring a classic range Victorinox™ (these are the smallest Swiss Army Knives) and use it mainly to trim their nails. Others only bring a tiny scalpel blade or nothing at all.
To choose lightning you must know how you are going to use it. Are you going to hike at night? Will you run? How many hours will the light be on and how often will you be able to resupply batteries or recharge it?
Here are some general tips.
If you make a long trip with no resupply points, non-chargeable batteries will last longer for the weight. Still, we recommend using a rechargeable light since usually wall sockets are easier to find than batteries.
The faster you move in the dark, the more light you’ll need. If you run, consider around 200 lumen maximum output. For biking or orienteering you need more, again depending on the terrain.
Most people would carry a head lamp, but you can also consider hand touches and lights attachable to your backpack or clothing. Having the light on your forehead has the obvious advantage to easily point it in the right direction and have your hands free. But it has a big disadvantage when there are many insects or in fog, rain, snow because you only see the beam of light and not the terrain.
Consider replacing the stock band of your headlamp with something lighter such as a bungee cord.
For navigation and communication we recommend using a phone. It is remarkable how much present-day smartphones can do. Get a proper app and download your map and track. Also, ensure your trip notes like time planning and contacts for accommodations are accessible offline. Save your emergency contacts and check if the local mountain rescue has a phone app. You can keep your phone off when not in use, or in airplane mode to only use navigation.
The choice of rain gear depends on your activity. For example, ponchos are great if you don’t expect bushwhacking, high winds or very technical terrain. A possible configuration in summer is using a hooded rain jacket and a kilt. You will get wet only below the knee, which is really almost impossible to avoid. Forget about breathability – your rain gear will not breathe well with 100% humidity on the outside anyway. Get rain protection made of a 100% waterproof fabric instead.
Check our tips about clothing, sleeping system and backpacks in part 3.