Ultralight Makeover: Redux Pt. 1

PLEASE NOTE: Revised and regularly updated versions of these posts are accessible from the top menu bar under "Ultralight Makeover". What follows is the original post - to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the Ultralight Backpacking world, check out the updated articles.


Recent issues of popular US backpacking magazine


 have shown an increased awareness of ultralight hiking techniques and gear. While this awareness certainly hasn't challenged the predominance of heavy equipment and traditional methods, the presence of a Hyperlight Mountain Gear tarp and a FlyWeight packraft earlier this year was pleasantly surprising.

Imagine my joy, then, at this month's cover:

Have I crossed over into an alternative dimension? Has Hell frozen over? There, right on the front page, for heaven's sake: 

Ultralight Comfort: 12 Easy Ways to Shed Weight and Camp in Style.

I was naturally interested in what


's idea of ultralight was. It often seems that the magazine is crippled by corporate sponsorship as the gear suggestions nearly always come from the big names: Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, REI, the North Face, Arcteryx. Not that there's anything wrong with that: those companies make some great gear (albeit at the cost of brand-inflated prices – I'm looking at you, Arcteryx!). How would they fare at making an ultralight packing list from such brands? Could they get through the article ignore the entire ultralight cottage industry that has pretty much defined and established the niche market? I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to examine their recommendations and compare them to my own, and those of UL blogs, and hopefully generate some commentary from other bloggers also.

As offering a more in-depth look at  


's 12 steps would make this the post to end all posts, I'm splitting each step into a separate post, transforming it into an Ultralight Makeover Guide which will be presented over the coming months.

So without further ado, let's take a look at step one in their programme for going ultralight, and see what we can improve upon.

1. Admit you have a problem.


says: Load up your pack for a summer weekend trip. If it weighs more than 15lbs (7kg), you have a problem.

Backpacking North

says: Well, this is a fair start. Not really a tip, but it's fair to say that if your


weight is over 15lb, you probably fall into the heavyweight category. I think it's more than likely that most of the magazine's readership would be hiking with packs 


 in excess of 15lb – probably at least 30lb (14kg).

A 15lb/7kg load (assuming it includes food, fuel and water) is not particularly heavy. It falls into the category of lightweight packing:

> 20lb / 10kg = Heavyweight

12-20lb / 5-10kg = Lightweight

6-11lb / 3-5kg = Ultralight

< 6lb / 3kg = Super Ultralight

But beyond the figures, what does this all mean? In my opinion, not much. It doesn't really matter which category you fall into. Whether you end up lightweight or ultralight, it really doesn't matter. The ultimate goal is simply to lighten your load. It should be said that "super ultralighters" are extremely dedicated to the cause. To get that light takes a level of sacrifice in gear durability and comfort which you might not want to leap straight into. Better to take things one step at a time. As we'll see over the coming weeks, any attempt to lighten up requires a willingness to reconsider one's needs when backpacking. It necessitates cutting out luxury items (which are rarely, if ever, used), modifying techniques and the expectations you have of your gear. What it


 mean is putting yourself through an endurance test. There's no reason not to indulge yourself in something that you like to take along with you. Lightening you load means taking that platy full of whisky all that much easier.

So why go ultralight? As mentioned above, the basic point it to make your load lighter. With a lighter load you can hike faster, further and put less of a burden on your body. Not that you


 to hike faster or further - the most important benefit in my opinion is the lessened burden on your body. A lighter load will make you less tired. You'll be more willing to pick up your pack again. You'll ache less. Perhaps most importantly, it'll be better for you in the long run. A light load facilitates hiking to a ripe old age.

A heavyweight hiker in Northern Minnesota. Note the additional side packs.

This was a two-night trip.

For me, the question is better put as why


 you go lighter? Why would anyone


 to haul a ton around on their back? Being in the wild shouldn't be an endurance test. I'd like to see a shift in people's mentality from boasting about how heavy their packs are, to how


 they are. Backpacking shouldn't be about

suffering –

it should be about


. With a light pack, you'll soon find you don't even notice the weight on your back, and consequently you are able to give your full attention to the wonders that surround you. It's quite a transformation.

Yours truly on the same trip.

But to get back to the issue of weight.


's 15lb/7kg cut off point is a fair enough value to set as a starting point for reducing your pack weight. For a summer weekender, where weather and conditions fall within a fairly predictable range, you should easily be able to get your load under 15lb. And if you can get it down to 10lb (5kg) that's even better.

But how?

The first thing you need to do is address the core weight of heavy loads: your "big three" – sleeping, shelter, and pack. And as this has been covered far better by others, let's turn to them and see what they have to say on the matter.


say: There are a ton of websites and books covering ultralight backpacking, each with its own variation on a theme regarding the right approach. One of the clearest and simplest I've seen was by Jörgen Johansson at


. He espouses simple principle of 3 for 3 (or 343) that succinctly deals with reducing the weight of your "big three." Put simply, if you can get the total weight of your sleeping system, your shelter, and your pack down to 3kg (6.5lb) or less, you are well on your way to ultralight. 3 items for 3 kg. It's that simple.

Some sleeping bags alone weigh more than 2kg. Heavy, inefficient synthetic materials easily add up to a lot of weight. Tags, zips, hoods, and other bizzarre additions add even more. Before you know it, you're hauling around something enormous, about the same size, shape, and weight as

one of these


Many traditional hikers rely on the venerable tent for shelter. But add up the weight of those heavy materials, the numerous poles used to create the sculpted geodesic work of art, and the additional footprint/groundsheet (to


 those heavy materials) and soon you're looking at three or four kilos.

My Haglöfs Genius 21 dome tent. Great shelter. Weighs a ton. It's actually quite complicated to put up.

Although I have a smaller solo Hileberg tent, I used to often take this anyway for the "extra space".

When I look back at those times, I think

"Was I mad?"

Then you dig out your pack – made of even more heavy-duty materials, with a floating suspension system, 24 pockets, and a bunch of plastic things that don't really seem to have a purpose – which itself weighs 2kg before you've even put anything inside it.

And then you realise; you have three items weighing around 7kg (15lb). And you haven't even packed your food and bottle of wine yet! Let along your stove and fuel. And your clothes. And all the gadgets.

But consider this: What if your sleeping system were to weigh 850g? Your shelter 700g? Your pack 450g? The total for your big three would be 2kg (4.5lb). A saving of 5kg (10.5lb). This is my typical summer 343 weight – and I am by no means a hardcore ultralighter. If I can do it, you can too.

My current "medium" light weight setup, as outlined above, weighs approx. 2kg for the big three.

I still have plenty of extra space. 

Ultralight backpacking is all about cutting back to the basics, refining your equipment, and asking what you really need – and that is what we'll be looking at in the weeks ahead.

Part 2 – Downsize your pack >>

Links and resources (general info on lightening your load):

Fjäderlätt 343

Backpacking Light

 – Probably the best online community resource for reviews, information, and tips.

Nordic Lightpacking

– Nordic lightweight mafiosi, with plenty of tips and trip reports.

Ryan Jordan

- Do a ultralight course! Like the site says "Explore your wild side (without having to drink your pee.)"

Plus many, many, many blogs. Check the blogroll on the right to get starterd.


UK -

Ultralight Outdoor Gear


Prolite Gear

Manufacturers of ultralight gear – where often the best equipment is to be found – will be linked as relevant in the upcoming Ultralight Makeover posts.

Used Gear


Nordic Lightpacking Gear Swap


Backpacking Light Gear Swap


Ultralight A-Z


Hiking in Finland

– Tired of reading? Hendrik Morkel has a project underway to make the first ever video A-Z of ultralight backpacking.


Backpacker Magazine


I honestly don't recommend the website; it has one of the most godawful navigation systems ever devised. Content is hidden on pages which have no links apart from those printed in the magazine. I challenge you to find information on the current issue, for example – something you would expect a website for a magazine would emphasize. The magazine is okay, but tends to repeat itself each year. But hey, print is dead, right? Talking of which:


Smarter Backpacking by Jörgen Johansson

Lighten Up!: A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking by Don Ladigin and Mike clelland

Ultralight Backpackin' Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping by Mike Clelland

Trail Life: Ray Jardine's Lightweight Backpacking

Check out the rest of Ultralight Makeover Redux:

Part 1: Admit you have a problem

Part 2: Downsize your pack

Part 3: Ditch your dome

Part 4: Change your bedding

Part 5: Start cooking light

Part 6: Pay attention to the menu

Part 7: Carry less water

Part 8: Dress down

Part 9: Stay fresh with less

Part 10: Pack knowledge

Part 11: Go smart-tech

Part 12: Give your feet a break