Advanced Backpacking - Go Ultralight

Go Ultralight and improve your backpacking experience!
Go Ultralight to leave your mind and spirit filled with, and fueled by the wilderness experience - long after you get off the trail.
We've been told backpacks should weigh 25-33% of our body weight. Too heavy! How about 5-10%, or even 3% of your body weight. And without sacrificing much comfort!
Ultralight is for those forging a new sport beyond conventional mainstream. My website will save you time and money to Go Ultralight: Time googling and researching; and Money in not buying heavy gear by shortcutting these tasks for you. It'll guide you to Ultralight techniques, products, community, and world leaders. This curated list gives you the highest priority information in Red.
My intent when I started this website is that the content will become a trusted reference for you.
Go Ultralight and have a Better Backpacking Experience!

Partial Class Information

Have Fun,
Paul

Ultralight Backpacking

Ultralight is a means to a much better backpacking experience! To not be exhausted! To have Fun! To be active and to backpack further and longer with fewer injuries! To explore, discover, and learn; To embark on small or grand adventures. To get the gear out of the way to engage more deeply in the experience!!!

We are inspired and passionate about UL Backpacking. Our classes and resources will focus on: How to drop the weight of a backpack; What gear to use; Pointers to leaders and experts in the Ultralight world; and in class we have hands-on examples of gear.

The lesson we learn from ultralight backpacking is that we shouldn't fear that a simpler life will be an impoverished life. Rather, simplicity leads to a richer and more satisfying way of backpacking --- and more importantly, living.

The most appropriate gear for your backpacking trip depends on the season, your personal experience and skills, and your preferences. A base pack weight under 10 to 15-pounds should be your goal. How light you decide to go will depend in part on your experience and skill -- and you're better safe than sorry, so don't cut it too close as you gain experience and skills.

Ryan Jordan (founder and owner of backpackinglight.com) summarizes 5 components to Lighten Your Pack!

  1. Weigh all your stuff - Use a postal or digital scale to weigh every item, then add it up on a spreadsheet. Seeing everything on paper is a critical reality check.
  2. Limit your contingencies with good planning -You don't have to be prepared for every disaster, especially the very low probability ones.
  3. Consider function first - Take the lightest possible item that will do the job.
  4. Simplify - Fewer items are easier to keep track of, and weigh less, than lots of items.
  5. Replace gear with skills - Skilled hikers pack less!
Andrew Skurka (circumnavigated Alaska) gives some practical reasons for going light:
  1. There may be passes, big climbs, scrambles, boulder fields, and exposure to thunderstorms. A lightweight pack will reduce the stress & strain on your body and improve your mobility, thus reducing your risk of injury and your long-term wear on important body parts like your knees.
  2. Often there are few convenient places to resupply so you’ll carry a lot of weight in food. Heavy pack + lots of food = slow, hard, and uncomfortable. Also, by reducing your base weight you can hike more miles per day and cover the distances between resupply points quicker, which will reduce the amount of food weight you must carry.
  3. Trails often go through remote country that is not well suited for search & rescues or easy self-extraction. Acute and overuse injuries are more likely with a heavy pack, which frankly makes them downright dangerous.
  4. Often backpacking demands a high level of mental engagement in order to navigate efficiently and to travel safely. A heavy pack increases mental fatigue and makes these tasks more difficult.

Backpacking Light(BPL) is a website community of lightweight hiking and backcountry travel lead by Ryan Jordan. There are very active forums, and occasional classes. A lot of information is free, however many of the detailed reviews are subscription only. The subscription costs $24.99 annually, or $109.99 for lifetime. FYI: If you only want to post on the Forums, the cost is $4.99 per year.

RyanJordan.com is Ryan’s other website where he focuses on his UL blog and various courses. His November 9, 2012 blog has a good summary of his fringe season clothing.

Ultralight Backpackin' Tips, by Mike Clelland 2011. (Falcon Guides; 144 pp. ISBN-10: 0762763841) This book presents everything hikers and backpackers need to be safe, comfortable, and well fed while carrying a very small and lightweight pack. The 153 examples will help you think of ways to lighten your pack. This is a BPL interview with Mike Clelland. Credit: The UL Cartoon in above animation is from the cover of this book.

Andrew Skurka (Boulder, CO) is a world leader in UL trip accomplishments with his famous 4,700 mile loop of Alaska-Yukon that was featured in National Geographic, March 2011. Andrew presents several clear UL ‘how-to’ articles. Several notable discussions include: "lightweight" is a Means to increase your apppreciation of your wilderness experience, the difference between backpacking and camping, and preparation for trail conditions.

Ryan Jordan's Ultralight Class provides a non-shareable spreadsheet (“Copyright © Ryan Jordan | ryanjordan.com | For personal use only, please do not distribute.”). Paul Randolph, PWV instructor, used this spreadsheet in Ryan’s UL class in the fall of 2011 and reduced his base pack weight to 7.25-pounds. It calculates sub-total weights for each system up to the maximum weight at the beginning of the trip; and it has a checklist for gear packing. The suggested item list is brief which leads to lighter weights. Paul also added a cost column to summarize costs for new purchases.
Paul's evaluation of Ryan Jordan's Ultralight Class:
"The Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp online course exceeded all of my objectives. I learned a lot more than I expected, and your mentoring was clear and thought-provoking. Your course took me levels beyond what I had hoped; and encouraged me to explore new activities." -- Paul

REI Co-op provides their overview of "Ultralight Backpacking Basics".

UL pioneer Ryan Jordan summarizes Ultralight Backpacking Gear and Techniques.

UL pioneer Ryan Jordan makes recommendations for yucky shoulder season weather, like daytime highs 20s-40s, nighttime lows 10s-30s, lots of wet / heavy rain and snow, and wind.

Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear presents articles and tips describing how to go lighter.

Backpacker Magazine presents a 10-step plan for 15-pound base pack weight .

Keith Drury describes his rational for each item in his 5-6 pound backpack, and he is cheap.

Wikipedia has a nice concise article on Ultralight backpacking.

Recently, look how far we’ve come from since 2003. This is a 2003 gear list for the Appalachian Trail and compare that to this 2011 gear list, and to another 2011 gear list.

Historically, look how from we've come since the 1898 Yukon Gold Rush, up Alaska's infamous Chilkoot Trail with this Supply List required by the Canadian Mounties to enter Canada.

Ultralight suggestions for Boy Scouts is a Backpacking Light forum with methods to teach UL to Boy Scouts.

Michael Ray posted his “Backpacking: Smart, Fun & Light” 38-page dissertation document, January 2012.

Dave Collins, "Clever Hiker" posted several UL videos. He got financial backing to produce these videos, so there is a charge for some of these.

Backpacking Light has a Gear Spreadsheet. It suggests the maximum weight for each item.

Andrew Skurka has a Gear Spreadsheet from his famous 4,700-mile Alaska circumnavigation trek. It provides space for before and after comments, and weight choices for different seasons.

Backpacking Light Contest Winners display there winning Gear Spreadsheets. You can download the winning spreadsheets from Backpacking Light.

Ultralight Gear

This is an exciting time to get into ultralight backpacking. UL is the “cutting edge” that was barely present 10-years ago. Today, you sacrifice very little comfort with much lighter gear. This list focuses on the ’BIG 3’ (backpack, tent, and sleeping), and there are examples of lower cost alternatives. The following references along with sample gear lists will help you make smarter purchases. Buying just the right gear is kind of exciting!

Tip: Buy your UL gear well before the season, because long lead-times during the season can make purchasing difficult.

Zpacks is Paul's favorite company. Many UL backpackers use their products! They create extremely light tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and accessories using high-tech Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) which is a very light and very tough durable fabric. Joe Valesko is a "triple-crowner" who started his ultralight cottage business 2005. It grew rapidly. This is a Setup Video of a Zpacks tent made of Dyneema Composite Fabric. My Zpacks tent, the Hexamid Solo, performed very well during thunder and hail storms. I think Zpacks products occupy the Sweet Spot; you can spend more for heavier gear, and you can spend less for heavier gear.

Dyneema Composite Fabric is the Best material currently available for the Lightest tents, as well as backpacks and other gear. Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) is a very light and very tough durable fabric. For tents, it is: -Lightest, -Waterproof, -does Not stretch across a wide temperature / moisture range or light snow load, and has -less condensation. These characteristics are in contrast to the commonly used fabric, Silnylon (silcone impregnated nylon). Zpacks is The leader with the lightest Dyneema Composite Fabric across their product line. Hyperlite Mountain Gear produces heavier Dyneema Composite Fabric in their product line. They have a great adventure blog!
Some other leading companies that have traditionally used Silnylon are beginning to use Dyneema Composite Fabric in some of their products are: Tarp Tent, Gossamer Gear, and CiloGear.

REI Co-op: A curated list of Lightweight gear from REI Co-op has been created by Backpacking Light.

Montbell is an ultralight business with their Flagship Store located at 1500 Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. They make ultralight clothing and other innovative gear like stretchable sleeping bags.

Enlightened Equipment may be my new favorite company for ultralight down, etc.. You can select from several options to customize your product; and on their website you can watch the weight get lighter and lighter.

Hennessy Hammock is an ultralight business that makes lightweight hammock tents. Hammocks can save time and are convenient where good tent sites are hard to find.

Mountain Laurel Designs is an ultralight cottage business that makes backpacks, tents, and other lightweight gear including gaiters and mittens that are popular with long distance thru-hikers.

Ultralight Adventure Equipment is an ultralight cottage business that makes backpacks that are popular with long distance thru-hikers.

Western Mountaineering is an ultralight business that makes down sleeping bags, and clothing that is popular with long distance thru-hikers.

Ultralight Backpackin’ Clothes is a Mike Clelland video introduction for reducing the weight of the clothes you wear.

simBLISSity Ultralight Designs is an ultralight cottage business that makes the great ultralight LevaGaiter – light weight, fast and easy to use. They are a source of information about hiking the long trails in Arizona.

Dirty Girl Gaiters is an ultralight cottage business that makes very colorful ultralight gaiters. Her gaiters are often worn by ultra-marathon racers and by backpackers. Have fun.

Bruce L. "Buck" Nelson or now "Colter" hiked and found his own route on the rarely used Desert Trail during 2012, and he has a good gear list for doing it..

Erik the Black lists 10 tried and true ‘lightweight’ backpacks used for long-distance backpacking, and in the comments section are some thoughts on women’s backpacks.

Jamie Shortt has a website to share his journey into lightweight backpacking. He includes his sequence of gear lists, a $350.00 gear list, his award winning spreadsheet, and MYOG examples.

"Adventure" Alan Dixon went from 55-pounds to 2.4-pounds! He shares several gear lists of base pack weights between 9 and 2.4 pounds.
He has a good analysis for using GPS and mappping apps on iPhones. You can read Apple's iPhone battery life tips also.

Lightweight Backpacking, Wal-Mart style is an article on buying the 'BIG 3' for less than $100.00

Prolite Gear sometimes has great sale prices if you have patience, and they don’t send bothersome Emails.

Postholer trail journal website has Lot’s of PCT gear lists.

Backpacking Light has a very active forum on Make Your Own Gear (MYOG).

Thru-hiker.com has patterns and fabrics to Make Your Own Gear, MYOG.

A Backpacking Light forum has a great discussion on where to buy fabrics and hardware to Make Your Own Gear, MYOG.

Mountain Ultra Light has some interesting MYOG examples, a well-written Ultralight manifesto on his "About" webpage; and a highly evolved "Gear List".

Mini bull designs has various parts for MYOG cooking including alcohol stoves for simmering and baking!

The AT hiker,"risk", has instructions for making a very cheap and light-weight substitute for a titanium mug.

Ultralight Skills

Develop your experience and skills to improve your Ultralight confidence and comfort. These references will support your existing knowledge base.

Decades of technological advances in outdoor gear design (including the abilities to withstand worse storms, shoulder heavier loads, and resist more abrasion) has now created generations of outdoorsmen that are more dependent on their gear than their own wilderness savvy. Most of these folks are carrying far too much weight on their back because they have placed their backcountry security in gear that is over-designed, overbuilt, and overweight. Develop a solid foundation in backcountry skills and you will lighten your load. Dealing with inclement weather, injuries, route finding challenges, and natural hazards depends as much on your backcountry skills and ability to improvise, than it does on any assembly of gear you bring with you.

Hike Your Own Hike, by Francis Tapon, 2006. (Sonic Trek Press; 352 pp. ISBN-10: 0976581205) While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail he learned seven lessons for backpacking and life (including retirement).

Mountaineering: Freedom Of The Hills - 9th Edition, 2017. (The Mountaineer Books, Seattle, WA; 624 pp. ISBN 978-1-68051-004-1) This is the encyclopedia of mountain travel; the knowledge contained in this book gives the freedom to go anywhere in the mountains.

The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka, 2012. (National Geographic; 224 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1426209208 ) Andrew’s 2012 how-to guide shares the gear, supplies and skills that will allow you to love hiking while still remaining safe and comfortable while camping. Andy will sign copies purchased through his website.

Learn how to hang your food bag in trees to avoid bears and critters. This is a video showing the PCT bear bag method. Backpacking Light posted a study of Police K-9 dogs that could quickly find odors emanating from OPSAK *odor-proof* bags (subscription required for this article) ; i.e. there is no science or proof to support OPSAK's odor-proof marketing claims; standard zip-locks performed equally.

Consider carrying a GPS messaging device to send for help. Be sure to see the outstanding review of the 2018 Garmin inReach Mini. Two other good choices are the Garmin inReach 2-Way Satellite Communicator or a SPOT Gen3.
Side Note: Using our senses for navigation versus relying on technology for navigation builds our brain's hippocampus to reduce the general loss of memory and a growing risk of dementia.

Paul's Nutrition Coach, Lauren Williams, customized the nutrition for his Colorado Trail thru-hike in 2014. It's funny how things happen. In 2015, Lauren delivered a presentation to Poudre Wilderness Volunteers titled "Roughing It; Eating for performance in endurance hikes". One interesting finding is the ratio of Fat/Carb/Protein is different for each body type: Ectomorph-thin (20/55/25-Fat/Carb/Protein), Mesomorph-medium (30/40/30-Fat/Carb/Protein), and Endomorph-large (40/25/35-Fat/Carb/Protein) because of varying levels of metabolic tolerance of carbohydrates.
My understanding is that protein needs vary by body type, activity level, weight, and elderly(muscle wasting). And there is a large difference between preventing a deficiency and thriving. Diabetes and extreme diets are two special cases where protein needs increase. Two interesting articles on protein needs: one from Precision Nutrition, Lauren's favorite site, and second, a Women's protein guide.
Yesterday my coach asked, "Name one thing that you are grateful for about your body."; My answer surprised me: "I am grateful my body thrives in response to activity and nutrition!"

Is Leave No Trace is out-of-date. Leave No Trace is past tense. What about present tense! What is our impact on others, on wildlife, on ourselves. What experience do we create.

Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) is a HYOH discussion by ‘spirit eagle’. Know what “YOUR” hike is, allow others to hike “their” hike, and walk your own walk, not somebody else’s. His thoughts may help you in discovering your own way.

I go Solo Hiking a lot. My main reason: It's hard to find a hiking partner for a trip, and I usually won't let Solo get in the way of a good trip. A clear example: I went Solo on my first thru-hike of the Colorado Trail (500-miles) because only about 350 people a year from all over the world thru-hike the CT. How could I find 1 person out of 350 to hike with? On the trail, I found a lot of like-minded people, that's where they are. On the trail.
My word of caution: when going Solo, take less risks---don't depend on your group to save you: Don't cross that snow bridge or that roaring stream, or climb those rocks, or dive into that lake, or get drenched in rain, or...
"Hiking Dude" has a good list of thoughts about Solo Hiking.

Animated Knots by Grog is the most popular website about knots. The knot tying is animated, and there is even an app that animates tying each knot which could be very useful.

One pre-requisite to using trail runner shoes instead of boots is ankle strengthening exercises; the second pre-requisite is a light backpack.

Wilderness Sports Conditioning presents exercise programs for a variety of outdoor activities including hiking and backpacking.

Backpacker Magazine condenses the best backpacking exercises into 1-page.

UL Fly Fishing uses the tradtional Japanese Tenkara fly rod.

Dr Brenda L. Bratten, a long distance hiker and Registered Dietitian, has written "Pack Light, East Right" for Proper Nutrition. Inside the chapter on 'Snacks', Brenda outlines "Proper Training" for thru hikers.

Sanitation courtesy of Andrew Skurka is an excellent "Backcountry Poo Clinic" on YouTube by NOLS instructors. How to Poo in the Woods demystefied, including what to look for in a good rock or pinecone. Happy viewing!

One Pan Wonders by Teresa "Dicentra" Black, 2008. (Black Mountain Publications; 96 pp. ISBN-10: 0615246761) Teresa even “sponsors” hikers on the PCT each year with delicious food :)

"No Cooking" herbivore meals are reviewed by Section Hiker for the products offered by Outdoor Herbivore. Typically they just require adding boiling water and waiting 10 minutes. In the comments section, he campares the packaging to Packit Gourmet meals which have a lot more packaging weight.

AT thru-hikers have written Trail Meals - What Works, What Doesn't.

Trail tested backpacking food is a brief guide to light backpacking food.

"Adventure" Alan Dixon discusses how much ultralight food to carry on short backpacking trips, and includes food lists.

Eric the Black proposes a five-day UL meal plan.

Arctic 1000km Food summarizes how 3 expert backpackers planned to carry all their food 600 miles across Alaska with no re-supply. The trip included creative ultralight solutions, like sleeping during days to reduce weight of their sleeping bag, and relying on body fat as part of their food supply.
You can even train to burn your own body fat.

Sports nutrition for older athletes summarizes increased nutrition needs for masters athletes.

Backpacking Light has a thought-provoking and long forum discussion on electolytes and nutrition..

We are still researching Fat / Carb / Protein ratios for longer endurance backpacking by older hikers because very little has been published; but this Fat/Carb/Protein 35/50/15 ratio is an intriguing starting point; which refers to Brenda Bratten's source article.

Safety on a long trail

Ultralight Inspiration

They say inspiration resonates from within. These people and grand trips inspire me . . . maybe you too. Enjoy!

The 'sizzle': Mary Emerick writes an enjoyable short piece about hiking in the wilderness.

Hiking and Life Metaphors: Keith Drury writes an poetic short piece about hiking the Colorado Trail, and life metaphors.

Brian "Gadget" Lewis writes on November 17, 2011 (Some Final Thoughts) in his 'Continental_Divide_Trail-2011' journal of what it's like to hike the 3100 mile Continental Divide Trail. The CDT goes through 800 miles of Colorado. The CDT completes Brian's Triple Crown. Subsequently he wrote a short kindle book, Make Your First Thru-Hike a Success.

Sharon "Cloudspotter" Allen's complete 2007 PCT journal is a good example of what it's like to hike the 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon and Washington.

Matthew "Iceaxe" Edwards' complete 2011 AT journal is a good example of what it's like to hike the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail which completes Matthew's Triple Crown.

Andy Skurka (Boulder, CO) writes about his 4700 mile circumnavigation of Alaska-Yukon which was featured in National Geographic, March 2011.

Laura "Truant" Fox summarizes her 2008 PCT thru-hike which she did while completing Yale Law School ... 2663 miles in 123 days averaging 20 miles per day; Laura's longest hiking day was 51 miles in Oregon on 8/3/2008 with 2 friends, "Hearsay" and "Sweetfish"--- she started at 7:00am and finished at 8:30pm (all daylight).

"Billy Goat" has hiked over 25,000 miles; and he gives a long interview.

Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell is one of the most revered gurus of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. She is a triple-crowner who hiked the 2658-mile PCT with no blisters. Yogi began backpacking in 1999 and by February 2012 has backpacked 14,500 miles at age 47. She writes the ‘must have’ Guide Books for the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Colorado Trail.

Colorado Trail Association represents the 500 mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. There is a short summary in Wikipedia. Paul "pmags" Magnanti has a concise CT guide. If you want to climb several 14ers along the CT, see Matt "sweeper" Kirk's journal. Wesley Trimble posted a short Colorado Is Forever video of his 2013 thru-hike. Clever Hiker is clear and concise in writing about the 170-mile Collegiate Peaks Loop which was done by our UL instructor, Karl in July 2016. Our UL instructor, Paul, solo thru-hiked the CT in 2012 with a base pack weight of 9.5 pounds; and he repeated thru-hike in 2014 with the same base pack weight with Karl.

Continental Divide Trail Society represents the 3100 mile Contential Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada including 800 miles through Colorado. There is a good summary inWikipedia. If you want to explore more, Paul Magnanti writes a great "Quick and Dirty CTD Guide". So what are the facts on CDT thru-hikers -- see 2017 Continental Divide Trail Thru-Hiker Survey.
You can extend your thru-hike of the CDT into Canada on the Great Divide Trail (GDT). It continues another 685-miles up the Continental Divide.

Pacific Crest Trail Association represents the 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. There is a good summary in Wikipedia.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy represents the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine through 14 states. There is a good summary in Wikipedia.

Double Triple Crown: Our UL instructor, Paul, met "Lint" on trail (June, 2012) while Lint was completing his Double Triple Crown (2 each of: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail). Lint was carrying an 8-pound backpack! That day, he was hiking 30-miles from Twin Lakes to Leadville, and only needed food for the day.

Hike length of South America Three young women, graduates of Fort Collins' Cheley Camp located along PWV's North Fork Trail and NOLS in Wyoming, used 12-pound backpacks to hike 11-months from Ushuaia, Argentina to Quito, Ecuador (2011-2012).

Completing a thru-hike will be one of the most profoundly rewarding acheivements of your life. It's a completely transformative experience. "Clever Hiker" gives 21 heartfelt and conscise Tips for First Time Thru-Hikers.

Thru-hiking is a different sport from backpacking as described in Backpacking versus Thru-hiking. He says the backpacking pattern is hike-rest-hike-rest. Thru-hiking's pattern is hike-hike-hike-rest-hike-hike-hike. Get prepared for thru hiking with your gear trimming, trail lore reading, physical and mental exercise, and food selection. Several of the last comments (beginning with Piper's "Bring in new readers") add an important dimension about immersion in the "trail culture" along with reverse culture shock. The thru hiker lifestyle is a big difference from backpacking. Maybe the biggest challenge of thru-hiking are the mental and emotional challenges described in several articles at "The Thruhiking Papers"; and the emotional challenges for the AT are well covered in the book, Appalachian Trials.

The Appalachian trail-culture is informative for this 'green tunnel' hike.

The Ultimate Trail Journal is being written by Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist funded by National Geographic. In January, 2013 he started a 21,000-mile 7-year trek retracing humanity's migration out of Africa's Garden of Eden through China, Siberia, Alaska, the Pacific coast and ending in south america's Tierra Del Fuego. His posts tend to be revelations, epiphanies, reflections instead of the 'trail was steep, rocky, and muddy'. If I were to write a trail journal, I would like to write like his style.

Fun stuff: about 1-minute of "flying Tents".

I get out as much as possible, not only for my own spiritual refreshment, but to help others see the backcountry through enlightened eyes, and hopefully, with a lightened pack!

Have Fun,

Paul