Chapter 6: Hiking light – Pack Lighter by Reducing the Weight of Your Backpack

Ultralight backpacking is becoming more popular because it’s more fun. The feeling of freedom is exhilarating. Choosing the right lightweight backpack is a great way to lighten your load.

Many backpacks weigh around seven pounds. They hold everything you might want -- and that can be a big problem. If you buy a big pack, you’re likely to fill it. A smaller pack will make you become more disciplined in your packing.

Choosing a two-pound pack, or less, is a logical choice. Trimming your backpack from seven pounds to two is a huge weight savings. But when you reduce the volume and carrying capacity of the pack, you have to commit to a total system that’s compact as well as light. Here’s a little quick and simple math to give you plenty of incentive. In that new two-pound pack you’re going to place a 1 ½ pound sleeping bag, a two-pound tent, a one-pound sleeping pad, a ½ pound cook kit with stove, and rain gear that weighs one pound. That’s a total of eight pounds. You’ve packed all your heaviest items and you’re carrying only one pound more than your old pack weighed when it was empty!

Most ultralight packs have extension collars for carrying extra gear, or loading in supplies of food at the beginning of trips or at re-supply points. If there’s not an extension collar, you can tuck an ultralight stuff sack under the lid or under the compression straps. You can always find some gear that won’t be harmed by moisture if it’s strapped to the outside of the pack.

If you needed a new pack anyway, you’ll save by buying a smaller pack. The price tags of big packs can be huge, too.

The manufacturers of big backpacks have the nerve to give them names that sound positive, like “load monsters.” Big packs brag that their packs can comfortably carry heavy loads. There is no way to comfortably carry a heavy load. Your legs will judge comfort more on total weight than fancy, heavy padding.

If you really love external frame packs, you can still find some that are truly lightweight packs. But most ultralight packs are internal frame models. If you switch from an external frame pack, about the only negative you’ll notice is the heat and moisture against your back if you tend to perspire a lot. That’s not a bad tradeoff. You have immediate advantages other than weight savings over your frame pack. You’ll be better balanced. You’ll be able to bring the pack inside your tent more easily. And with a lighter load, you can cool your back and rotate using different muscle groups by hanging the pack on one shoulder at a time.

Packs are an item on which individual backpackers have a wide variety of needs and preferences. Since backpackers come in all shapes and sizes, getting the right fit is important. Some people want to have most of the pack weight on their hips. Others pack light enough that they want to save the entire weight of the hip belt by leaving it off. Try hiking without your hip belt. You might find it is much less restricting. Differences in shoulder shape and torso length make a difference in what pack you’ll like. Some backpackers need lots of adjustment points. Others aren’t as particular. Some people like sternum straps and some don’t need them. One thing ultralight backpackers agree on is that with a reasonable amount of care, backpacks can be made with very light materials.

Decide which features you need. But be open to change and leaving some of the bells and whistles behind. You’ll find the freedom of a simple, light pack is a great feature in itself.

Many ultralight packs use your sleeping pad as a frame. Z-rest pads work well, and there are many other options. Hydration ports are popular and are available on many lightweight backpacks. Most hikers want water bottle pockets on the outside of the pack. Many people want at least one outside pocket to keep things like snacks and maps handy. Most packs have plenty of attachment points for holding extra gear. Always look at the compression system to make sure the pack will carry well when it’s holding small loads.

Check to see if the pack uses waterproof material. If you does, you can save the two or three ounces a pack cover would weigh.

After you use your new pack for a while, you may be able to cut off some of the length of the straps and save a little weight. Just be sure to leave enough room for those times you’re wearing your full rain gear and any bulkier items.

There are packs that weigh from one to two pounds. For the lightest backpackers, you can even have a pack that’s less than a pound.

When you choose the best ultralight backpack for your needs, you’ll enjoy weight savings and comfort all day long.