Ultra-light packing is defined as the technique of taking less to enjoy the back country more. For our purposes let's define ultra light backpacking to be carrying a maximum of 15 lbs for a weekend, 25 lbs for a week! The rewards of light-packing include the ability to move quickly over all types of terrain and to do so more comfortably. Going light expands the envelope of possibility and is a different game altogether. Paring your load to the essentials can allow a fit person to "run" a bi-section of the Los Padres in a day; to cross the Sierras in a weekend, or for the mountaineer an opportunity to bag a remote summit (bivouac & all) in less than 24 hours! For those of us who are simply adverse to spending the weekend playing pack mule here are some tricks to lighten your load.

1. "Leave it at home" - take only the essentials for safety and minimal equipment. This is as much an attitude as anything. No camera (unless it's cardboard), no harmonica, walk-man, hair brush, and other "comfort" items.

2. Limit your capacity - take a small pack or one that you can scrunch down the capacity - make it small before you start packing. Define your mobility & objectives from the very start. Weigh everything on a small cooking or postage scale (this is an education!) and record the weight on a list or spread sheet - this will show you where the weight is and start you thinking about where to "loose it".

3. Think multi-purpose. Each piece of gear and clothing should be able to be combined with other items depending on need and conditions. When you are preparing for the coldest night of the trip - you should be wearing everything you brought. Pairing down to the bare minimum can alter your comfort - enhanced for hiking and climbing and maybe somewhat compromised for the bivouac. Everything is a trade-off. The benefit is a new found freedom & mobility, the confidence that you can get buy with the bare minimum. Remember - this ain't car camping!

4. Timing is important - consider this as part of your overall strategy! Do you sleep at the car (trail head) and then blast in and out without sleeping bag, pad, stove, etc.? Do the approach at night (full moon?), bivy on the trail and head for the summit at dawn? A warm nap in an alpine meadow the next afternoon is a wonderful reward for a mid-night start. If you are fast packing a trail route you will certainly be covering more ground in a day - having this greater "range" will allow you to "skip" camps and reduce the number of nights out. Get to know how far is reasonable with your new low-cal set up and pair down your supplies accordingly. avalanche necessitate their use.

PACK - define what's possible! You must carry a small pack to be free! Check out our Jet Stream Pack for 1-2 nights of ultra light! You don't need much to carry half the weight as before. A Bash or Tamale Ultra for week long trips or "legs" of a longer journey. You can't go light with your old frame-pack!

CLOTHING - Versatility is the key - long white polyester underwear can double as sun protectionor or keep you warm. Polartec 100S is lighter in weight as most long underwear and is stretchy comfortable plus is 2-3x as warm. Lightweight nylon-cordura hiking pants are an option for warm and buggy climates. Trade off with running shorts, T-shirt & a sun cap when you're moving fast or its hot. Carry light poly pro gloves, balacava, poly-wool socks (extra pair for bivy), ultra light rain /wind wear and maybe a down vest. No change of underwear needed. FOOTWEAR - Try some trail running shoes, structured low top hiking shoes or lightweight hybrid cordura-leather trail boots. You're not carrying much so scale your footwear accordingly. Any efficiency gained for repetitive motions will pay you dividends. If you may get your feet wet (dew, rain, etc.) carry a couple of bread sacks (or Vapor Barrier Socks) to wear over your socks. Neoprene Socks are nice for early season alpine treks, crossing snow fields or icy streams.

EQUIPMENT - You'll add pounds if any technical gear is needed. Better to keep it simple and plan routes that are 2nd and 3rd class. Good judgment is important - be careful in assessing route difficulty (up & down) to save time and trouble. BIVY GEAR- Ultra light sleeping bag (36 degree, 1 lb bags are available), ultra light bivy sack (or trash bags or tarp). Carry a thin pad (Z-Rest) or cut down your standard foam pad plus use your pack!

COOKING/FOOD - No cook snacks are best (take a sandwich!) Energy bars, candies, gorp etc. are all good. Start weighing your food - you'll be amazed at what you find. Discard all packaging and use light plastic bags knotted at the top. 1-1.5 lbs per day is very comfortable, a day or two of eating less won't hurt you and will sharpen your senses. Food is the heaviest weight component of your pack and the largest variable (# of days) so watch carefully. Have some fun and try packing Chinese take out (light, easily packed, tastes good cold and containers can be burned), sushi or fried vegetables. Snack often to keep your energy up and avoid getting hungry (and craving a meal). Essentials for minimalist cooking would include: waterproof matches & fire starter, tea, oatmeal, powdered soups, drinks & beans, dehydrated meals (can be rehydrated on-the-move and eaten cold), foil packets (wind break) and Sierra Cup. Stove, pot and spoon are a luxury and normally not part of the plan.... but if you must a good warm meal can be the highlight of a night out in the open.

ESSENTIALS - Map & compass, basic first-aid kit (mole foam), signal mirror, whistle, head lamp or pen light (extra battery), sunscreen, sun glasses, pocket knife, large plastic garbage bags, water purification (iodine crystals or Aqua Mira), hard candy.

Interpretive wt lb Optional Items (and weight penalty) wt lb
Pack .75 Jet; Bash; Tamale Ultra 2.25
Bivy Sack 1.25 Space Bag, Garbage Bags .125
Sleeping Bag 1.75 20 degree down bag 2.15
Lite Pad .15 40 degree down bag 1.0
Balacava/Gloves .36 Ultra light 3/4 air mattress 1.2
W/B Anorak .70 Down Vest, Down Sweater .75
PS 100 tops/bots 1.10 Camera .60
W/B Pants .55    
First Aid Kit .25 Trekking Poles 1.12
Penlight .10 Headlamp .25
Essentials .75 Cook Kit/Stove/Fuel 2.00
Platy w/ 1L H20 1.50    
TOTAL 9.6 lbs    
Clothing (worn) 1.75 (trail pants, shorts, synthetic T-Shirt)  
Trail Running Shoes 1.80    
  3.5 lbs    
Food (dried) 1.0/day    
Energy Bars (2) .35/day    
  1.35 lbs/day    

OTHER SKILLS - Wilderness first aid training (emphasis on cold injuries), self rescue, back country skiing, snow shoeing, snow cave construction.