I have a lot of readers on this blog, some for recipes, others for my posts on minimalism and still a bit more for photography. But the the majority of my readers are here because they enjoy (hopefully) my articles on ultralight backpacking. While my packing for some people will seem ridiculously light, for others they may think I’m a bit hyperbolic calling myself ultralight as they run around with a plastic bag tarp and a fanny pack. I will be honest with you here, my blog should have been called ”comfortable in the wild”. My packing is somewhere between ultralight and lightweight if there is a pounds grading system that I don’t know about somewhere.
The truth is that while I am convinced lightweight packing will work for everybody regardless of needs, ultralight backpacking is probably not for everyone. I have experienced a few nights while the cold mountain winds blew down from treeless mountain tops right underneath my tarp and into my bones, where trying to find a ”dry” patch up land to put my ground floor on, and when mice have creeped into my sleeping quilt looking for food, that I truly thought to myself ”maybe a little more weight would be worth it.”
In most climates I truly believe that a simple tarp, sleeping pad and lightweight quilt is all that is needed along with a lightweight pair of pants and a thin t-shirt. And that’s one of the tricks of ultralight backpacking, or perhaps downfalls of using the word ”ultralight”. We get so focused on ultralight that sometimes it’s easy to forget about what might actually be best for the planned route or trek. I think most ultralight backpackers have had similar thoughts, ”maybe this just isn’t for me”. But then when we are bouncing up a steep mountain after a 10 day hike feeling fresher than when we started, that we forget about those bad moments.
I want to propose that sometimes it’s o.k. to give up the title ultralight if it means added warmth, security and comfort. It’s one thing to hike a summer hike along a well travelled trail and quite another to do backpacking along desolate wild regions in the far corners of the planet where the closest help is 500 miles away. It’s o.k. in these conditions to bring a proper freestanding tent that will give you a piece of mind. It’s o.k. to bring an extra gas canister, layer of clothing or even warmer sleeping bag than what the forecasts are predicting.
Just remember that the most important factor when backpacking an especially ultralight backpacking is knowledge. Knowing whats in your bag, knowing how to survive even the shittiest of situations, knowing how to make a fire 10 different ways, to keep warm with minimal gear, were to find water and so on.
While ultralight might not be for everyone, certainly everyone would be just fine with lightweight gear. There is simply no reason to carry a 4 kilo / 8 lbs backpack with todays technology. There is simply no reason for a lone backpacker to bring a 5 kilo /12 lbs freestanding tent when even Hilleberg are now making freestanding tents at around 1.5 kilos / 3 lbs. There is no reason to carry a 3 kilo / 6 lbs sleeping bag or a stove that weighs 1 kilo / 2.2 lbs.
|Traditional||weight grams||lbs.||Lightweight||weight kilo||lbs.||Ultralight||weight grams||lbs.|
|Fjällräven Kajka||3,6||7||HMG Sidewinder 4400||0,98||1,8||Zpacks arc-blast||0,6||1,3|
|Hilleberg Keron||5,5||12||Hileberg Enan||1,2||3||MLD Solomid Cuben||0,34||0,75|
|sleeping bag||sleeping bag||sleeping bag|
|Fjällräven Sarek 3 season||1,3||2,8||WM Summerlite||0,61||1,3||WM Summerlite||0,61||1,3|
|Sleeping mat||Sleeping mat||Sleeping mat|
|Exped down 9||1,2||2,6||Thermarest xTherm||0,58||1,2||Small Thermarest xLite||0,2||0,44|
|Total big three:||11,6||24,4||3,37||7,3||1,75||3,79|
As you can see – for most three season and even four season hiking, the traditional backpacker is looking more and more pointless. I would suggest that with the lightweight setup and would be just as comfortable in camp, but with the added benefit of getting to camp fairly comfortably. There is of course always an exception: Ignorance means you need more and heavier gear. As a weekend warrior who is not interested in more than just cooking hotdogs over a stove then who cares. Polar adventures in the middle of winter are probably also another exception. Winter camping is a different beast altogether as survival is more important than weight. Though, I can personally attest that with a few extra layers of clothing in your bag and a proper sleeping mat, it’s not very difficult to sleep comfortably even in the coldest of situations.
I fall somewhere between ultralight and lightweight. My main focus is on being comfortable and safe, than comes ultralight after that. But I will always have weight as a determining factor in the gear I buy and if I have to choose between a backpack that holds 65 liters and weighs 3.6 kilos / 8 lbs or a backpack that holds 65 liters and weighs .980 grams / 2 lbs, I will always take the lighter backpack. I also find that I prefer I little more ”rugged” pants than ultralight windproof pants. Simply because it’s not unusual for me to go off trail and in those situations I almost always get holes in my ultralight wind clothes. In fact most of my clothing has silver tape all over then… not by choice. In the winter I prefer proper winter boots with knee high gators, in late fall in Sweden when the landscape is filled with shin high water, I prefer running shoes with knee high overboots.
Backpacking for me is about having fun and enjoying every minute of being outdoors. Even on long hikes I can bring a trangia kitchen set to do proper backpack cooking. Nothing beats a freshly caught trout over a fire, or a trout casserole with freshly picked berries. I’m not trying to beat any records, I’m not trying to impress anybody, I’m just a wondering soul who loves being in the outdoors and I want to make my time out as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.
If you are looking at doing the Pacific coast trail I would suggest gravitating towards the Ultralight packing. If you are taking a weeklong trip to the wilds of Alaska, personally I would prefer the lightweight setup. Though certainly it could be done with an ultralight kit as Andrew Skurka has proven. If your just going out to drink a few beers with your friends over a campfire and camp not more than a few miles from your car.. who cares. Bring the Kajka and Keron – they both look pretty damn impressive.