7 Tips for Ultralight Backpacking

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  • Post last modified:June 13, 2021
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Ultralight backpacks are lightweight but strong. These light backpacks are designed to hold many items without hassle, making them perfect for hiking, but only if they’re packed right! 

Packing the wrong way, or choosing the wrong backpack, can result in discomfort, fatigue, broken belongings, and a lousy time. While packing for a hike might seem simple, it’s not as intuitive as some would think.

What is Ultralight Backpacking? 

Ultralight backpacking is a backpacking style that centers on traveling light. Ultralight backpackers use specialized hiking equipment and only pack the bare necessities, which allows them to travel freely without the weight of heavy baggage.

These backpackers’ have developed different tips and tricks to packing light, like using a tarp as a tent rather than lugging around a heavy tent. Hikers develop a fondness for specific tools, like their ultralight backpacks that help them travel light while also bringing all the necessary supplies. 

Tips for Ultralight Backpacking

Here are my 7 top tips for ultralight backpacking:

1. Pick the right backpack

I can’t stress how important it is to choose the right brand of ultralight backpacks! A wrong choice in backpacks can result in neck pain, back pain, and a possible loss of supplies. The right backpack will be both sturdy and light, with a frame that disperses the pack’s weight not to hurt the wearer. Lastly, and most importantly, the right ultralight backpack will have enough space to pack all essential supplies without hassle. 

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that i always rave about the Osprey Farpoint 40 as my favourite backpack for all occasions. However, when it comes to ultralight backpacking a front-loading backpack like this isn’t suitable. Instead, I recommend the Kelty Redwing 44, this is comfortable to wear and has plenty of storage compartments so you don’t need the extra weight of packing cubes.

It’s a top-loading backpack which is recommended for hiking, however, the panel opening comes down quite far so you can easily access items that are deep in the pack without too much hassle.

2. Only bring the essentials

When it comes to ultralight packing, it’s all about the essentials. Unnecessary or double items do nothing but take up valuable space, so it’s important to differentiate what is essential and what isn’t. The easiest way to cut down on the non-essentials is to make a list of all the items that are absolutely needed. This means that hikers should only bring what’s needed to survive the hike and nothing more. 

Examples of essential hiking items are food, water, shelter, navigation tools, sun protection, bear canisters, weather protection, camp clothing, firestarters, multi-tools/knives, a first aid kit, and a lightweight camping stove. 

Some people need a little help when they’re hiking, so they may bring one or two comfort items along with them. Non-essential items that hikers can take on the trails include a book or journal (preferably small and paperback), a music player, GoPro camera and accessories, or a small trinket to remind them of home.

Sometimes a comfort items maybe something like a hiking shower kit, dry shampoo, or mouthwash. I do not recommend that hikers take more than two comfort items! 

The only electronics that should be brought along are a GPS, camera, and satellite cell phone. Regular cell phones typically don’t work when out in the wilderness anyway, so they’re relatively useless.

While it can be tempting to bring a tablet or phone to the hike to provide entertainment during resting hours, they have no purpose, take up valuable space, and serve as a distraction from the wonder of nature. Besides, hiking can be rough, and it would be quite a disappointment to break such expensive items. 

3. Think about where you’re placing things

The trick to ultralight backpacking is packing things properly. All items must be secured in the correct position to avoid shifting. Shifting may not sound serious, but it can cause severe discomfort to a hiker’s spine. Improperly stored items can shift and jostle around, causing the gear to bulge out and press against the wearer’s body. Hikers can avoid unnecessary exhaustion and discomfort by following a basic set of backpack packing instructions listed below. 

  • Put all bulky items on the bottom.

It’s crucial to put all bulky, lightweight items on the bottom of the pack. Bulky items include tents, tarps, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, extra clothing, and anything “squishy.” The bottom items must be flat and evenly dispersed to keep gear from shifting during the hike. Do not place heavy items on the bottom section. Otherwise, the weight will press against the lower back and cause fatigue. 

  • Heavy items go in the middle. 

Ultralight backpacks are designed to carry heavy items in the center of the spine, which relieves pressure on the neck and shoulders, and keeps gear from jostling around. Heavy items that belong in the middle section of the backpack are food cans, toiletries, cooking utensils, camp shoes, travel stoves, and fuel. The whole weight of the pack will rest on the middle section, so do not put breakable items in this area. 

  • Highly used items go on the top section.

Nothing will ruin a hike like searching through your ultralight backpack for a snack or drink of water. More importantly, items like gloves, raincoats, and first aid kits must be easily accessible, just in case! All items needed during the hike are placed at the top of the pack for easy access. These items are snacks, first aid kits, rain gear, water canisters and filters, cellphones, sunscreen, bug spray, GoPro accessories, and bathroom supplies. 

  • Quick access items are strapped to the outside.

All ultralight backpacks come with straps and pockets on the outside of the pack. This is perfect storage for essential items that don’t need to be stored away. Strapped to the outside of the pack should be headlamps, navigation tools, multi-tools, and weatherproof cameras like a GoPro. Hang your water canister off your pack, and always make sure your map is nearby. 

4. Weigh your items

When packing for a long hiking trip, it’s easy to overlook how much weight that’s being added to the pack. That’s why it’s crucial to weigh all items before packing. I recommend using a printable camping checklist and writing the weights next to each item, then you can keep an eye on how much you’re loading in.

While there is no specific weight requirement for ultralight backpacking, it’s best to keep the total weight under 10 pounds (cooking equipment and lightweight stove not included). Weigh every single item with a digital scale and add them up to find the total. If the total weight of items is over 10 pounds, it’s best to reconsider what is necessary. 

5. Stay away from doubles

It can be tempting to bring duplicate items, like multiple knives, fire starters, cooking utensils, blankets, or pairs of clothing. The general rule of lightweight packing is to stay far away from doubles.

However, there are a few exceptions to the double rule. For example, this rule doesn’t apply to socks because I recommend bringing multiple pairs of socks for both health and comfort. It’s also important to bring an extra pair of shoes for camp. 

Extra, unnecessary, or double items will only weigh hikers down and take up space where proper supplies or extra food can go. Ultralight packing is simple – if the item doesn’t help you survive, don’t bring it. 

6. Only bring lightweight gear

As I explained above, it’s important to weigh every item that goes in your pack. Since the goal weight of ultralight packing is under 10 pounds, that doesn’t leave much room for error. The best way to bring all of the essentials is to use all lightweight gear. Specialized hiking gear and cooking equipment are designed to be light and compact, which takes out some of the stress of packing ultralight. 

Cut down on unnecessary weight by using the right backpack. Hiking backpacks with a light frame are the best choice when it comes to cutting down on weight. I recommend a proper ultralight backpack like the Kelty Redwing 44 mentioned above, which weighs just under 3lbs.

A good way to cut down on gear is to consider using a camping hammock instead of a tent. Switching to a hammock is no mean feat as you’ll need to invest in all the appropriate gear such as underquilts and top quilts, but it’s well worth considering.

7. Pay attention to the weather

Avid hikers always pay attention to the weather for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is so they know exactly what they should pack. Some hiking excursions will require a heavy coat, while others require cool clothing.

Nothing takes up unnecessary space like a raincoat on a sunny day, so I recommend looking at the weather before packing. There are a ton of useful hiking apps that also provide weather forecast for the route so I recommend you download one of these.

Ultralight backpacking is a phenomenal way to enjoy the wilderness without lugging around a heavy backpack. To get the whole experience of a hiking adventure that is both neck-and-back-pain-free, always make sure to follow the seven ultralight backpack tips listed above. 


Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.