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What is Ultralight Backpacking?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 16 June 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Ultralight backpacking is an approach to backpacking where people carry as little weight as possible. Keeping weights light allows people to cover more ground, is more comfortable, and reduces the risk of injuries associated with heavy packs. Many camping supply stores carry equipment suitable for ultralight backpacking and some people make their own equipment and repurpose items for use while backpacking.

There is not a hard and fast definition on how light a pack has to be for a hiker to consider it “ultralight,” but generally speaking, ultralight backpackers carry less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) on their backs. They accomplish this using a number of different techniques.

The most obvious measure taken for ultralight backpacking is cutting down on the number of objects being carried. Anything not strictly necessary for survival is removed and backpackers avoid redundancies like multiple bandage sizes in individual wrappers in a first aid kit when a single roll of bandaging material would suffice. Another tactic is to focus on packing multipurpose items, such as ponchos that can double as rain sheets and lean-to shelters.

Gear designed specifically for backpacking tends to be light and there are some products aimed at people interested in ultralight backpacking in particular. This gear is made from lightweight materials, often synthetics, and it is designed in a way that cuts down on weight. This ensures that people are not carrying excess weight in the form of equipment that is heavier than it needs to be.

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People can engage in ultralight backpacking for anything from a day hike to an extended trip. One of the biggest concerns is food, as people need to pack enough to meet their caloric needs, but food is heavy, and calories will be expended carrying it. In areas where hikers can access food along the way, food loads can be cut down significantly under the assumption that they can hunt, forage, fish, or purchase food.

There are a number of guides to ultralight backpacking available, including websites maintained by people who backpack regularly. These provide tips for packing and include product recommendations and reviews for people who are trying to find the most appropriate camping equipment for their needs. People who have not gone hiking or backpacking before may want to consider attending an organized event to get an opportunity to backpack with someone who has experience before they strike out on their own. Hiking with a buddy, no matter how much experience one has, is strongly recommended.

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