Chapter 8: Hiking light – Pack Lighter by Reducing the Weight of Your Shelter

Ultralight backpacking is becoming more and more popular. With less weight on your back you have more fun. You feel free, unburdened, and close to nature. Choosing a lightweight shelter is a great way to lighten your backpack.

There have been some good lightweight shelter options for many years, especially if you backpack with a partner. You could split the weight of the tent by letting one person carry the fly and poles while the other carried the tent body. But the options have increased in recent years and a two-person tent that weighs four pounds isn’t even considered ultralight.

Many tent manufacturers are still producing tents that are overkill for lightweight backpackers. Tent makers don’t want to ever see their tents returned for any reason, so it’s easier for them to use heavier, cheaper materials. With normal, common sense care of your tent, you can be using an ultralight shelter that lasts for many years. Tents are one area of lightweight backpacking where the specialty tent makers are far outperforming the mainstream manufacturers.

With the introduction of ultralight silicone-impregnated nylon, two-person tents are now in the two to three pound range. One-person tents are less than two pounds. Fabrics aren’t the only thing that’s gotten lighter. Poles went from aluminum to ultralight carbon fiber. A 45” tent pole can now weigh less than two ounces. Many new tents are designed to use a hiking pole as the tent pole. So if you’re already using hiking poles, your tent pole weight is zero. Stakes have gone from aluminum to titanium. A 6” titanium stake is just .2 ounces.

For the really ultralight, and those who aren’t expecting many mosquitoes or much rain, a simple tarp can weigh around one pound. It’s enough to keep the dew from settling on you, and it’s a great way to feel closer to nature. Some tarps are even designed to do double duty as your rain gear. It’s always great to save the total weight of a piece of gear. If you like sleeping under a tarp, but want some extra rain protection, a lightweight bivy or sleeping bag cover can be as light as six to seven ounces. A ground cloth underneath you can be in the three ounce range. Ground cloths can be made from silicone-impregnated nylon or Tyvek.

If you need more mosquito protection than a coating of your favorite repellent gives you, you can wear a mosquito head net that weighs just .6 ounces. If the head net is too confining, a square yard of no-see-um netting is only about an ounce, and you can configure it in a number of ways to stay away from your face.

In dry climates where you’re only concerned with insects, you can use a bug bivy that’s in the four to seven ounce range.

Most really light tents aren’t freestanding like your old dome tent. But they are easy to set up. The really light tents don’t have a separate fly, so that’s one less thing to set up. Instead the tents rely on well-designed ventilation on all sides.

If you sometimes hike solo, consider the advantages of having a separate ultralight one-person shelter for those times you go alone. When you aren’t sharing the weight with anyone, you want your tent to be as light as possible. If you want one tent to cover all bases, the lightest of the two-person shelters provides a way to pack lighter whether you’re going alone or with a partner.

Look closely at all the new options for ultralight shelters. See which ones have the features to fit your needs. Check forums and gear reviews. Ask other backpackers, and remember not to give too much credibility to those who pack heavier than you. And give extra credit to those who are packing lighter than you.

One of the great benefits of a lighter shelter is the reduced volume that comes with it. This allows you to use a smaller, lighter backpack.

When you purchase the right ultralight shelter, you’ll enjoy comfortable nights and a lighter backpack all day long.