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Ultralight Backpacking & Hiking


Whether ultralight backpacking, ultralite hiking, backpacking ultralight, backpacking lightweight, fastpacking ultralight or whatever -- one thing is clear and common -- find ways to Reduce Backpack Weight !

This page features ultralight hiking and backpacking types of information and dialogue, particularly related to long-distance and multi-day travel in the backcountry.

Although there are other places at this website for publishing innovative backpack weight-reducing ideas, some will find their way to this page -- those successfully used and submitted by long distance packers may very well end up here.

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Ultralight Hiking Equipment (in the Gear Store)

NOTE FYI: This page was one of the first pages created on the internet in support of ultralight backpacking - ultralight hiking. It was published between 1995 and 1996 and was maintained thereafter for several years. That is why you will not see more recent ultralight backpacking contributions posted on the page. The Backpacking Lightweight website is large and ultralight hiking techniques, tips, and practical experiences of many folks are now presented in a myriad of places throughout the website. Much of the ultralight backpacking content is now contained in the Lightweight Backpacking Discussion Forums (which by the way, are not limited to lightweight hiking but include an entire spectrum of Backcountry topics - hence the forum's new title "The Backcountry Forum"). Also, we just want to remind you that the Lightweight Gear Store, over the years, has developed into a very good source for lightweight and ultralight hiking and backpacking gear.


Ultralight Hiking Philosophy

Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine's Guide to Lightweight Hiking, by Ray Jardine, July, 1999.

Beyond Backpacking is a major upgrade to The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook (see book below). The PCT specific details have been removed, and a great deal of general info has been added, making it universally applicable to all trails, long or short. Most importantly, this new book is for all hikers at all levels of experience, from beginners to the most advanced.

The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook--Innovative Techniques and Trail Tested Instruction for the Long Distance Hiker, by Ray Jardine, Second Edition, 1996.

NOTE: This book is currently out of print, but you can order it as such through the Backpacker's Bookstore, and Amazon.com will try to find a copy for you.

I exchanged email with Ray Jardine several times during 5/97 and he indicated that "The PCT Handbook" has been revised for 1997, with about 50 pages changed.

The following review, however, is of the Second Edition, 1996.

This book is a thought provoking reference for long-distance ultralight hiking.

Some folks who have approached this book as if it was a general-backpacking field guide have questioned some of Ray's techniques as unsafe or impractical. Keep in mind the title and focus of this book. Its sub-title is "Innovative Techniques and Trail Tested Instruction for the Long-Distance Hiker".

Although much of the instruction in the book is applicable to many, if not all, backcountry activities -- and especially ultralight backpacking -- it is not intended to be a general guide to backpacking. It is specifically focused on innovative ways to achieve success in long-distance travel -- and the Pacific Crest Trail, in particular. If you purchase this book, please keep that in mind.

This book is a good resource for long-distance ultralight backpacking and useful for backpackers and day hikers, as well. Although you may get the sensation that you are being preached at, about why you shouldn't buy freeze-dried food, leather boots, gear with manufacturer's labels attached, and so on, the book, nevertheless, provides considerable insight into the philosophy and activity of ultralight backpacking in the backcountry.

The book covers a myriad of subjects critical for backcountry travelers--with special focus on long-distance travel--related to planning & preparation (e.g., goals, training, first aid, equipment, pack weight, itineries, resupply, etc.); and the journey itself (e.g., enjoyment, security, hiking pace, stealth camping, bugs, animals, the elements, etc.). In my opinion, there's enough substance in the book to justify its price tag.

Regarding The PCT Hiker's Handbook

Although you may not agree with everything Ray Jardine says--and even if you do, techniques that work for him may not work for you--he has successfully conveyed his experiences which contribute greatly to the body of "ultralight hiking knowledge".

However, I maintain that, although Ray's techniques are good and useful for some of us, they are not necessarily appropriate for all of us, especially, if our backcountry adventure is just getting started. In that vein of thought, here are some mitigating comments.

Regardless of your equipment inventory and hiking techniques, the important thing is to explore the backcountry and have fun. Don't stay home because you don't think you can measure up to someone else's standards (standards which evolved over time thru many experiences). Get out and build your own experience knowledge-base and, as needed, incorporate the knowledge and practices discovered by others.

As you have learned, or will learn, from exploring this website, I believe that you should get out and explore the backcountry, with the appropriate gear that gives you perceived and actual security. If you are just starting out and are apprehensive, you may, indeed, take the proverbial kitchen sink. As you become more experienced and knowledgable, you should require less and less gear to maintain that level of security. Eventually, you may (or may not) subscribe to the model that Ray Jardine prescribes. Don't be stupid, stay within the limits of your physical ability, experience, and knowledge, but slowly and continually move toward "Lightweight Nirvana".

Determine the gear that YOU NEED to maintain your personal level of security and then seek out the smallest, lightest, highest-quality manifestation of that gear. My personal belief is that the quality and functionality of a good portion of today's technical, commercial gear, is excellent. Manufacturer's labels do not offend me--although I routinely remove them, in honor of my own weight-saving philosophy.

Read the book with objectivity, take what you can use now, and leave the rest--perhaps, for a later time. REMEMBER: If five-pound, clod-hopper, waffle-stomper boots make you feel safe in the backcountry, then just do it !

NOTE: You can purchase here, Beyond Backpacking : Ray Jardine's Guide to Ultralight Hiking

Ultralight Tips for Weight-Reduction & Long-Distance Travel (from you):



Chris Townsend

Subject: Ultralight Backpacking Shoes (a.k.a. Trail Running Shoes)

I've just read the stuff on Ray Jardine's PCT Hiker's Handbook and thought I'd like to comment on the question of footwear.

I did the PCT in 1982 in traditional style over 5.5 months. My pack weighed in the 50-70lb range. However I did most of the walk in running and trail shoes. I set off in stiff welt-sewn, three-quarter shank leather backpacking boots that weighed 5lbs. After a few days my feet were swollen, sore and blistered so I changed to my New Balance running shoes, carried for camp and layover day wear.

I carried the boots through most of the first 500 miles, only donning them in snow at the highest elevations. I then wore them through the snowbound Sierras but sent them home in northern California. By then the running shoes were trashed so I bought a pair of Asolo approach shoes and did the last 1000 miles in these.

I've been convinced of the value of ultralight hiking footwear ever since, regardless of the weight of the pack.


Editor's Note:

In addition to being an excellent author of outdoor books (one of which "The Backpacker's Handbook" can be purchased in The Backpacker's Bookstore"), Chris has a very impressive long-distance resume':

1978 Land's End to John O'Groats
1250 miles end-to-end cross country through Britain.

1982 The Pacific Crest Trail
2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Mohave Desert and the mountains of the Transverse Ranges, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades.

1985 The Continental Divide
3000 miles from Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains, the watershed of the USA.

1988 Canadian Rockies End-to-End
The first ever walk along the whole length of the Canadian Rockies from Waterton Lakes to the Liard River, a distance of 1600 miles.

1990 Yukon Wilderness Walk
1000 miles from the Chilkoot Trail in SE Alaska to the Richardson Mountains north of the Arctic Circle, the first time such a walk has been done.

1992 Scandinavian Mountains Walk.
1300 miles from the North Sea to the Arctic Ocean through the mountains of Norway & Sweden.

1996 The Munros & Tops.
1700 miles and 575,000 feet of ascent over the 517 3000' Scottish summits listed in Munro's Tables, the first time these have been climbed on a continuous walk.

1996 and thereafter - check out Chris' website (link is above)


Craig Miwa

Subject: Trail Running Shoes

You don't mention the use of running shoes-especially trail running shoes- instead of boots. I have used them extensively outdoors and off trail and, as long as there is not alot of snow, I have found them to be superb. The Adidas Trailrunner (not the Lite version--although that could be an option--it is not as sturdy) is excellent, lasts for ages, and can be waterproofed.

It especially excels in wet, canyoneering situations (i.e., Southern Utah) where swimming with a pack is an issue because runners are all synthetic and dry MUCH more quickly than leather boots. I have found that, in about 90% of hiking situations, running shoes are supportive enough, LIGHTWEIGHT enough, sturdy enough and comfortable enough to outperform most boots any day of the week.

It's just a suggestion for an excellent homepage-your info is interesting and I agree with almost all of it. Try runners out for a while-with a light pack, you won't need the support of boots in most situations, and, if you hike alot, your ankles will be strong enough to withstand alot of bashing (see Ray Jardine's PCT book on hiking ultralight-he did the PCT with an average packweight of 12 pounds.) I have done a week's trip with 18 lbs. plus food-using high end gear.

Also, how about lumbar packs like the ones Mountainsmith (and now Gregory) make ? They are great for long dayhikes, ride well, and are lighter than backpacks.

Incidently, "Boots vs. Shoes" is a long-standing, on-going debate with no answer. Like many of the techniques in Jardine's book, they work for some, but probably not for all of us. My advice is to know yourself, find out what works and what does not. Don't blindly follow the biases of other people. Some really good discussion on the subject of SHOES versus BOOTS can be found here:


Mike "Mucho Gusto" Buoy

Subject: Trail Running Shoes

This summer while thru hiking the AT, I choose to hike in trail running shoes. One Sport TRS comps. I have found that with these shoes as well as other light weight boots you can increase the amount of mileage you can get out of them by coating all the threads found on the seams of the shoe with super glue. It protects the threads and stops any fraying from spreading if it does start.

On my thru hike this past summer I never once blew out a seam much less had any of the threads even fray.

Thanks for the great page,
Ga-->Me 96'



Richard Brunberg

Charles, I would be more than happy to include some of the hard- learned lessons of the bush. The first one that comes to mind is the first-aid kit. This is improperly named and, therefore, improperly stocked. It should be called the "Last-Aid" Kit ! This is it folks. When you are miles away from medical attention, you are it ! Take your standard purchased kit and remove 60% of it. Keep a few items of each that are included: bandaids, anti-biotic ointment, etc. etc. Then, go see your local physician and explain what you are setting up and trying to accomplish with your kit.

1). at least two sets of sutures, needles and thread
2). at least two 4x4, and one 8x8 dressings
3). one large roll of wide-cling gause
4). Some type of strong pain pill
5). one tube of triple anti-biotic cream
6). one tube of burn cream
7). some packets of anti-septic wipes
8). one wide roll of cloth tape

Remember, the object of the exercise is to control the situation until you can get to proper medical attention.

These items are from personal experience. My partner and myself have both stitched ourselves up, in the field and attended-to some pretty serious injuries. I know we like to keep it light, but there is no help or supplies in the field. REMEMBER, If you didn't bring it, you don't have it.

Richard has over 30+ years long-duration/distance experience. I think this is pretty significant input. Thanks, Richard.




Go tentless ! I use an Army issue poncho. It can be used as rain gear and makes a strong emergency litter when it is wrapped around two poles and snapped shut directly under the injured person. Only weighs one pound.




......there may be a lighter alternative to all those filters. Have you had a chance to try Aqua Pure? It's a little glass bottle that's filled with iodine crystals. The bottle is filled with water which creates an iodine solution. The solution is added to "dirty" water at a prescribed rate (capfulls per liter), then you wait 30 minutes and drink. This system is virtualy infallible and it's a whole lot lighter that a filter. It doesn't clog, it's inexpensive ($12), lasts up to 2000 liters. Also, it tastes better than tablets, 1/3 the size of a small filter, quicker to use than a filter, and it is difficult to break (unlike most filters).

My girlfriend and dog (Pete) used it for three months on the PCT last summer and it was awesome. It has limitations as to the temperature of water, etc... so it is probably more a warm weather solution to filters. Definitely a lightweight, lowtech approach to fastpacking!



David Miles

I enjoyed your page. I am also attempting to carry a lighter pack. Just thought I would share something that has worked well for me. I live a stones throw from Mt. Whitney and Death Valley and always have a water bottle with me (4-5 in each vehicle, etc.). I have tried every kind that I could get/buy. Over the past 20 years I have found nothing that beats the weight(~1.9 oz.) or durability or price($0.89) of a 1 quart Gatorade bottle. I routinely freeze the same bottle solid every day for months in the summer. I have never cracked a bottle or lid (unlike Nalgene).


Steve & Lisa Weinzapfel

Subject: Water Bottles
As mentioned in your site, a quart Gatoraid bottle is light and works well. Something that is lighter (1.5 oz) and seems to work as well, if not better, is a 1-liter bottle of Sam's Choice Free & Clear (flavored water) from Wall-Mart. Though I have used it very few times, it has a slimmer shape and is durable.

I dropped both bottles (filled with water) from a height of 25 ft. After three drops the Free & Clear bottle developed a pencil lead size hole. After one drop of the Gatoraid bottle, the bottom exploded and the cap split.


Mike "Mucho Gusto" Buoy

Subject: Big Slams Rule!
This summer while thru hiking the AT, I sent my Nalgene bottles home and started to use the 1 liter "Big Slam" soda bottles. The bottles fit nicely into the bottom side pockets of my pack. They were always available and the best part was that the cap just happened to be equal to 3 capfuls of "Polar Pure". This is the typical amount of iodine solution used when treating water. Also, I kept the polar pure stashed away in a small fanny pack that I attached to the front of my waist belt. This way, I could reach to the side grab my bottle and treat the water with the polar pure and be on my way without taking my pack off! By the time most people are finished pumping out their filter and packing it away, I am a mile down the trail with water that is ready to drink. Fantastic!

Thanks for the great page,
Ga-->Me 96'

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