There are a lot of skills that come with backpacking, and don’t ever think for a second that packing isn’t one of them. Being able to pack ultralight is not just another ordinary task, but a skill. If you want to be able to hit the trail without worrying about weight, then you’re going to want to do your research on how to pack lightweight. Follow these steps, and enjoy your hike without being weighed down by heavy items.
Buy the Ultralight Version of Necessary Gear
Pretty much everything you need for the trail, a sleeping bag, a tent, your clothes, and your actual backpack, are widely available in lightweight versions. While a lightweight version of something might not be ideal depending on the weather conditions you’ll be hiking in, usually you can swap out the heavier gear for something lighter without even noticing the difference (except for the weight, of course!).
Just a few examples, instead of a sleeping bag, you can use an ultralight quilt or a hooded sleeping bag, and ditch the tent if it’s a short trip outdoors. If this isn’t an option for you, there are plenty of ultralight sleeping bags and tents to choose from, that together can weigh less than 5 lbs. Additionally, there are so many lightweight backpacks you can buy, that although might come with less features, will save you a ton on your back.
Find Alternatives for Things
If you’re an experienced backpacker, then you know what it is you need to bring on you hike in order to have a safe and comfortable experience in the backcountry. However, keep in mind that most of the lists you read are general, and they are exceptions that can be made for the sake of saving weight.
Think…instead of bringing a heavy lantern, maybe you can bring a lightweight flashlight instead. Instead of bringing a complex cooking stove, bring a integrated canister stove or just cook over a fire. Do some research or go to your local outdoor store where you can ask about alternatives for common hiking items.
Make a List and Cut It in Half
This might have been the best advice I’ve ever gotten when it came to packing with limited space. Before you do anything, make a list of what you’ll need to bring in. In order to pack lightweight, see if you can a. combine items or b. find substitutes for others (see above). If the weather is good, then you’ll be surprised how much a strategy like this can shorten your packing list. That being said, don’t leave anything behind that you’re going to need or want. However, maybe you can swap that heavy camera and just use your phone instead.
Use Compression Sacks or Packing Cubes
Though it may be more common to see people use compression sacks when traveling abroad, there are plenty of hikers that use them so that they are able to pack lightweight. A compression sack is made out of a material like nylon which allows you to pack a lot more as it takes out the air. Though a compression sack is typically used for a sleeping bag, there’s no reason you can’t use one to pack your clothing and other gear, especially if you’ve already saved weight on your sleeping bag.
Find Ways to Eliminate Unnecessary Items
You need food. You need a first-aid kit. You might need a couple of layers to keep you warm outside. But, you’re going to be dirty anyway, right? Who cares if you need to wear the same pair of pants three times? And turn that underwear inside out, no bother! Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but packing for a backpacking trip is more or less trying to pack for a five day trip with just a carry-on. If it can’t fit on the plane, it’s too much stuff. If it’s too heavy for your back, then take some things out.
Take out Bulkiness
This might be a given, but don’t have anything in your bag that takes up space for no reason. If your instant oatmeal comes in a box, take it out and put it in a Ziploc bag. If you need to bring sunscreen, get rid of that giant bottle and put it in a travel-sized one. All these techniques will help you pack lightweight.
Split Up Gear With a Friend
If you really want to pack lightweight, then hike with a friend. This is a great way to save weight on your back, as you and your friend can split up the gear. Of course, more people means more gear, but theoretically, you can pack for 1.5 people instead of two. Share the weight, and pack like a pro.
Re-Stock for Longer Trips
If you’re going on a longer trek, definitely re-stock along the way instead of bringing everything you need with you. You can stop in small towns along longer trails to get what you need, or you can have things shipped to you at different points. In the meantime, bring only items that you can get rid of along the way, to reduce the weight as you go.