Ultralight backpacking tips, straight from the trail to you. We tapped our local, national and international crew of collaborators for this collection of insights, tips, hacks and tricks that make going lighter—longer—easier. From Triple Crowning thru hikers to expert alpinists, ski mountaineers to packraft toting desert rats on fat bikes, they’re here to help you maximize your fun and mileage, ideally all at once.
Looking to lighten your load? Thinking of trading your tent for a tarp? Wondering where the line between “essential” and “excessive” actually lies? It’s always our goal to break ultralight backpacking down to its essence. It’s our hope that these tips help to cut out the background noise, so that anyone experiencing the outdoors with the help of our gear can focus on the task at hand. Simplicity can be complicated. While we may not have all of the answers ourselves, we have great faith that, with the swift current of expertise that runs through our community, together we can get where we need to go.
Over the past several years, we’ve been lucky enough to build a pretty substantial community around Hyperlite Mountain Gear as the business has grown. Making gear that people really connect with has translated to a lot of relationships and a lot of stories—a major side-benefit of doing what we do.
Bryan Carroll, a young guy with a serious bent for getting out and into it, was an early-adopter of our take on ultralight design. He bought a pack early on, and soon the pictures followed. He lives in an adventure-rich zone in the Cascades in Washington, but even people with incredible access out their backdoors don’t do as much as this guy in a given week.
At the same time, it’s been a pleasure to watch Bryan build a professional life for himself, sprouted from his passion for the outdoors. Somehow, in addition to basically living in the mountains, he’s also managed to rack up an assortment of degrees and certifications, plus seven years of experience in his field. At the end of some long hours off-trail and in school, he’s now a Physical Therapist with his own practice. He tailors his services toward holistic, full-body health, using his clinical skills to help active people mend existing injuries and prevent future ones with nutrition counseling and movement therapy. Read More
The essence of going lighter in the woods is not so much about gear, as it is about the adoption of a simpler, less cluttered approach to one’s time backpacking. Insofar as this philosophy relates to shelters, tarp camping fits the bill both tangibly and intangibly.
In the following article I’ll examine the benefits of tarp camping, as well as share some tips and techniques to minimize the perceived negatives. I’ll end the piece with an overview of environments in which the hiker is better off leaving the tarp at home, and going with a tent.
The Myth of Backpacking Ultralight: It Doesn’t Make You Less Safe, Colder, Wetter & Hungrier
Text & photos by Alan Dixon.
In fact, I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear. This is true for three reasons:
Good camping skills: Good camping skills rule! They are far more important than the weight of my gear for keeping me safe, warm and dry. And I don’t mean fancy skills—just the basic, garden-variety skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—like putting on rainwear or a warm jacket when needed, selecting a good campsite, and doing a decent job of pitching a tarp or pyramid shelter, etc.
Light gear appropriate for the conditions: I pick the lightest fully-functional gear appropriate for the actual conditions I backpack in. E.g. my light down sleeping bag/quilt, down jacket, and 6-8 oz rain jacket work as well as conventional (heavy) gear at 3 times the weight. I take gear that is appropriate for actual conditions for the time of year and location I am backpacking. E.g. I don’t take a 4-pound, 4-season dome tent, a +20F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm May trip on the Appalachian Trail with expected lows in the 60s—you’d be surprised how many people do!
Nutritious high-calorie food: Intelligent selection of my food, gives me 3,000 nutritious and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pounds/day. This is the same number of calories provided by 2 pounds of average backpacking food. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost twice the food weight.
In summary: It’s not the weight of your gear but poor camping skills, poor gear choices and uniformed food selection that will make any backpacker more prone to being cold, wet and hungry. This is just as true for conventional (heavy) backpackers, as it is for lightweight or ultralight backpackers.
Cam “Swami” Honan’s Tips for Hiking in the Rain (Cold, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Fog and Basically Anything Else Nature Can Throw At You)
Tasmania’s Arthur Range is arguably Australia’s most spectacular mountain chain. Unfortunately for hikers there’s a catch. It’s called the “weather.”
Backcountry trips in the Arthurs are a meteorological roll of the dice at any time of year. When it’s fine you’ll be treated to sublime views of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier carved lakes. If a big storm front rumbles through, all you will likely see is horizontal rain, thick fog and the brim of your baseball cap pulled all the way down over your forehead.
When coupled with the fact that much of the hiking is done on open rocky ridges exposed to the full brunt of the Roaring Forties (i.e. gale-force westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between between 40° and 50° latitude), the Arthurs is not a place you want to be without good backcountry skills and the right equipment.
If faced with these sort of extreme conditions, a hiker’s #1 priority should always be safety. Preset itineraries and/or mileage objectives should run a very distant second.
In such circumstances, I try to focus on core temperature management and sound choices. In regards to the latter, I find it helpful to put myself in the role of “objective observer” rather than “subjective participant.” In other words, take emotion out of the decision making process. Admittedly, this is sometimes easier in theory than it is in practice, however, in my opinion it represents one of the most important, as well as most overlooked, wilderness skills that a hiker can develop. Click here to learn about Cam Honan’s tips.
Chris Atwood On How to Patch Holes In Your Gear While On An Extreme Thru Hike
Text & photos by Chris Atwood
Editor’s note: Hyperlite Mountain Gear also sells Dyneema® Repair Kits (formerly Cuben Fiber Repair Kits) which we recommend for patching a hole in a Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpack or tarp/shelter. By using the Dyneema® tape, you maintain the strength of the pack because you are using the same lightweight, ripstop and waterproof fabric as the pack itself. To properly use one of these kits to repair a pack or shelter, follow the same instructions as below, but don’t complete the third step. The powerful adhesive on the back of the tape means that the Seam Grip is not necessary, saving you a step and a sticky mess. If you do not have a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Repair Kit, we recommend that you follow the steps outlined by Chris Atwood.
After 57 days in the Grand Canyon backcountry, my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 4400 still looks great. It saw the spectrum of conditions, literally every type of weather imaginable below the Canyon’s rim, yet never failed to protect my kit. It carried very well, proved elegantly functional with its minimalist design and came to Pearce Ferry in great structural condition.
However, the outback of Grand Canyon is tough on gear. Most routes, in addition to being choked with poking, clawing and slicing flora are themselves composed of carnivorous limestone, eager to nibble any exposed flesh or backpack side pocket that wanders into the kill zone. We sometimes willingly drag and scrape our packs along such routes, hauling precious drinking water from deep within slot canyons. With this type of abuse, a thru hiker is bound to get a few holes in her/his pack. Fortunately, repairs in the field can be easy if done right. Here’s how to repair a pack. Read More
Matt Jenkins and Elyssa Shalla, backcountry rangers at Grand Canyon National Park, have been exploring the deserts of the southwest together since they met in 2008. The couple’s next adventure will combine many of the backcountry routes near their home on the Coconino Plateau into one, extended, mostly trail-less adventure. Their plan, a winter thru hike of the Grand Canyon from the Grand Wash Cliffs to Lees Ferry, will take place over the 2015-16 El Nino season.
As rangers, Matt and Elyssa constantly seek ways to share their passion and enthusiasm for traveling lightly and efficiently through wild places. In this article, the pair explore ideas that have made ultralight winter backpacking more fun and comfortable for them in the vast wilderness that is their backyard.
Sleep System Strategies for Ultralight Winter Backpacking
Wherever you’re headed, planning a trip during the winter requires couples and teams to re-evaluate every piece of gear in their standard ultralight set up. That means considering a given piece of equipment’s purpose in relation to efficiency and weight with extra scrutiny. Sometimes this results in more questions than answers for people who are new to winter backcountry travel: What are you bringing, should I bring one too and who gets to schlep this heavy thing around!?
In this post, we will briefly discuss some key tweaks we’ve made to one system of the “Big Three”– our winter sleep system. Our approach is the result of an evolution over time and many trips, and we hope you’ll find it useful as you head outside this winter. Read more…
Ambassador Samuel Martin talks ultralight photography in the backcountry.
Samuel Martin maintains he’s an adventurer first, photographer second. His stunning landscapes and surreal trail photos bring the wilderness to life and show his love for the outdoors. However, ultralight photography is not something that truly meshes with lightweight philosophy. Heavy camera bodies and lenses only serves one purpose, so ultralight photographers often find themselves facing the choice between sacrificing the quality of their photos or bringing along extra pounds. Martin has found a sweet balance between going ultralight and bringing backpacking photography gear, producing photos while still being efficient and mobile. We caught him between adventures and asked him a few questions.
Do you leave other things behind so that you can bring more photo gear?
I definitely make sacrifices so that I can carry my camera gear. For example, on my recent thru hike of the John Muir Trail I ditched a second short sleeve shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of gloves, and many small miscellaneous items to make room for my gear. Personal preference and needs play a large part in what I leave behind. On some trips I don’t need a lot of warm clothes, so those get ditched. Other times I don’t need warm food, so the stove gets left behind. It’s important to evaluate the needs of each particular trip and go from there. Read the rest of the article.
Editors Note: NOLS instructor Andrew Altepeter regularly contributes educational articles to our blog on how to teach ultralight backpacking skills. We got the chance to chat with him about his personal transition to lightweight, techniques to lighten your pack weight, some of his favorite equipment and the inspiration he continues to find as a instructor. Read Altepeter’s other articles here.
Andrew Altepeter fell in love with the outdoors at a young age after a transformational hike up to Knapsack Col in the Wind River Range. Pushed past his limits by his father, incredible views of the northwestern Wind River Range awed him. He was hooked. This passion stayed with him through four years at Whitman College, where he regularly participated in the school’s outdoor program. Next came work in the energy industry as a drill-site geologist, but still he managed to find time to adventure when not at work. However he soon moved on, taking an instructor course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). There, he started to learn about lightweight hiking. “By summer of 2010 I had worked a few courses, and I was hooked,” he says. And five years later he shows no signs of slowing down. He says the the chance to be an instructor has “provided an avenue to support transformational experiences for others” and helps him appreciate the importance of the wilderness. Plus it has given him the opportunity to hone his ultralight hiking skills and how he teaches these skills to others.
What do you appreciate most about your transition to ultralight backpacking? My first experience with maximizing efficiency of all systems involved with backcountry travel was in 2009 on the instructor course that I took at NOLS Southwest. The instructor team that facilitated the course emphasized lightweight hiking principles to help us think critically about everything we put in our packs and on our bodies. What I love about going light is the mindset of thinking systemically about the group and personal gear that you bring. This practice of being hyper-aware of your abilities, yourself, the group, the environment, and what you have with you to make it all happen is very satisfying and translates into rich experiences. Read the rest of the article here.
A National Outdoor Leadership School Instructor (NOLS) for five years, Andrew Altepeter has taught hiking, lightweight hiking, climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering and skiing courses. Always looking to optimize his adventures, he modifies everything from his backpacks to his cooking kit and toiletries. He also carries the lightest gear he can find. As a NOLS instructor, he has the opportunity to share his knowledge of ultralight hiking with his students. Here are a few Lightweight Backpacking Tips ideal for students or any aspiring thru hiker or backpacker:
This is the second in a series of two articles on Don Carpenter’s August 2015 expedition to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles he and his team of three practiced while there. (Read the first article). At Hyperlite Mountain Gear, we feel that the Leave No Trace principles are absolutely in line with our philosophy of stripping down your load on outdoor adventures and in life. Minimize your impact on the environment just as you would dial in your gear and your systems in as minimalist a manner as possible!
Photo & text by Don Carpenter
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska is a special place. A large and diverse ecosystem of rivers and spruce forests exists on the south side of the Brooks Range, while glaciated peaks lie in the heart of the range, and the coastal plain expands to the north, with rivers draining into the Arctic Ocean.
Marshy, spongy muskeg tundra made walking more challenging than it appeared from afar. Although obscured by fog, cold drizzle and wind, I could feel the large glaciated peaks of the Brooks Range to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. My team of three people and I had encountered only small pods of two to six caribou. But I imagined this plain brimming with the huge caribou herds that visit the coastal plain to calve and feed early summer. Many of the birds had already migrated south, but we encountered large numbers of geese preparing to move out, as well as falcons and harriers every day. Fewer animals, cold weather, and the vivid red and gold of the tundra made it apparent that fall was well underway by mid-August.
Though we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, we took great measures to be prepared for possible encounters. In part I of the series, we discussed Planning Ahead and Preparing for your trip. In Part II, we’ll discuss how to deal with wildlife and fires in the backcountry. Read the rest of the article now!
This is the first in a series of two articles on Don Carpenter’s August 2015 expedition to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles he and his three teammates practiced while there. (Read the second article). At Hyperlite Mountain Gear, we feel that the Leave No Trace principles are absolutely in line with our philosophy of stripping down your load on outdoor adventures and in life. Minimize your impact on the environment just as you would dial in your gear and your systems in as minimalist a manner as possible!
Photo & text by Don Carpenter
On my first ski expedition to the high peaks of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in 2014, my eyes were constantly drawn north. In that direction, the glaciated peaks of the Brooks Range transition to the open coastal plain and the Arctic Ocean beyond. I knew I wanted to go there someday.
Just over a year later, I found myself walking across the Refuge’s coastal plain, en route from the south side of the Brooks Range to Beaufort Sea. My three partners and I were traveling by packraft and foot, linking four rivers over 12 days. Our goal was to explore a vast, pristine landscape, while minimizing our impact following strict Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.
We practiced all seven of the LNT principles on our trip. Here are some details on how several of the principles applied to our adventure.
Principle #1 Plan Ahead and Prepare…
You can’t take care of the environment around you if you aren’t prepared to take care of yourself. Expedition planning is an art form balancing safety, efficiency and pack weight. We wanted our packs to be light, but erred a bit heavier with a few items due to remoteness and anticipated weather. In an environment such as the Arctic in August, where winter conditions may not be far off, going light is a relative concept. Read the rest of the article now!
In this video, CEO Mike St. Pierre illustrates the A-Frame setup for Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 8.5′ X 8.5′ Square Flat Tarp.
Step 1: Start with the ridgeline tie outs of your Square Flat Tarp. Place your trekking pole with the back of the rubber handle down on the ground. Utilizing your guyline, attach the tarp tothe pointy end of your trekking poles. Use a clove hitch knot.
Step 2: Stake out the ridgeline; use a trucker’s hitch knot to attach the guyline to the stakes, roots or rocks.
Step 3: Tighten the ridgeline guylines so the tarp stands on its own.
Step 4: Stake out all the corners. Start with the four corners and adjust until your tarp set up forms an A-frame that is uniform and taut.
As an Outdoor Education teacher at a school in Australia I often get asked by parents as to what is the best pack to buy for their teenage son or daughter. My response is typically exactly the opposite of what they want to hear.
There are those who want me to name a particular brand and exact model (usually the one with the most bells and whistles on it that looks really fancy and goes by a cool name of an impressive Himalayan mountain); and then there are those who want me to reassure them that buying a cheap pack is totally okay and justifiable. Instead I explain what not to buy, and I often discourage parents from buying anything–that is until they can be sure that they are spending their money wisely and that it is a pack that is going to be of significant benefit to their teenager.
Simple Is Best
Lightweight backpacking for teenagers isn’t about buying bells and whistles; it’s about keeping it simple. The more compartments, pockets, zips, straps and accessories the item has, the less I endorse it. All these “extras” complicate packing and waterproofing of gear and add up to more things that can go wrong and obviously also add up to unnecessary additional weight. Likewise, only carrying the essentials makes life on the track much less complicated. Teens love living simply. Sometimes they do need to be reminded of this and it takes a little time, but ultimately it is less stressful for them and reminds them of the truly important things in life.
Go Light, But Go Durable
My primary goal when teaching youth and leading them on two-week expeditions is to have them develop a passion for the natural world. The easiest way to put teenagers off enjoying the outdoors is to strap ridiculously heavy packs on their back and march them off into the distance. I have certainly made this mistake during my career, but it is something I try really hard to avoid these days. Having a very specific equipment list can really help here as it helps avoid the situation of well-intentioned parents and nervous students throwing all the superfluous “just in case” items in that are actually not necessary. Read the rest of the article here.
Stripped Down With Guest Blogger Annie MacWilliams. This is the last in Annie’s blog series of thru-hiking tips & tricks for women.
Bring Your Brain: Really, most backpacking and thru hiking gear is gender neutral–tents, sleeping pads, cook gear, etc. But with each other these items, it’s important that you choose the right gear for you. Your brain is the best piece of gear you can bring, so know everything about your gear before you head out. Learn how to pitch your tent in different ways, in the worst conditions you can practice in. Anyone can pitch a tent in their grassy lawn on a sunny day, but a rocky hillside in sideways freezing rain? I failed that test on the Pacific Crest Trail and ended up getting a new tent shipped to me while on the trail. I needed my gear to work in the worst conditions, and user failure resulted in a very cold and wet night. Can you patch a leaky air mattress? Fix a zipper? Tweak a broken stove? If not, learn how. Read the rest of Annie’s final post!
This is the third of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams.
When you break it all down, there are some gear swaps you can make to lighten your load and some skills you can hone in on to better adjust to long-distance treks. But becoming a good thru hiker really comes down to your mental strength. I personally feel females make stronger long-distance hikers due to the ability of a woman’s body to delegate limited resources (think pregnancy). Plus, females tend to have a lower bar for the acceptable level of risk, and we have a higher bar for hygiene.
Having trouble keeping track of your super ultralight weight stakes in the wilderness? They’re easy to lose. Here are some tips & tricks to keep track of your stakes.
By Steve Graepel
Last summer I spent a chunk of time grinding my way from southern Idaho northbound to Canada. The rhythm of traveling through across varied ecosystems–rivers, deserts, mountains–was cathartic. It was also exhausting! We were going so light, that forgetting even the smallest item could yield punishment 10-fold. Simple tasks became burdensome and we chewed precious time double, triple checking our preflight list.
To cut weight, we chose to bring titanium shepherd hook stakes–nearly 1/2 the weight (and much stronger) than their aluminum counterparts. But we lost one breaking camp after the first night, leaving us to improvise every night thereafter. I’ve since found several options that help me keep track of my stakes. Read the rest of the article here!
This is the second of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the info applies equally well to aspiring male hikers.
As I mentioned in my first post, female solo hikers carry the same things, such as clothes and sleeping bags for backpacking, as their male counterparts. You need shelter, a pack, a cooking kit and stuff to keep you warm and dry. So this series of articles is useful for either gender getting after it in the woods. However, there are some things I recommend to aspiring female thru hikers. After all, women are smaller, they often sleep colder and they can wear dresses in the woods.Read the rest of the article here!
This is the first of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the information applies equally well to aspiring male thru hikers and backpackers.
Over the course of my colorful career in the woods, I have experienced the sick satisfaction of hefting a pack nearly half my body weight for a wilderness therapy job filled with med kits, wilderness survival tools, radios and 10 liters of water. The mileage was never high, mostly due to the disgruntled participants, but there was a small sense of pride in carrying so much weight. I can almost understand why some people want to prove something by carrying big packs. It makes you stronger, tougher and more eager to get to camp.
On the flip side, when I’m not recreating for a paycheck, I prefer to keep my pack considerably smaller. As a long-distance hiker, I have tallied almost 10,000 miles hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, along with countless other shorter trails. The lighter the pack, the easier the miles, the more food I can carry, and the less stress I put on my joints and muscles. This seems logical enough; yet every year I see prospective thru-hikers start long trails with behemoth packs towering over their heads, dangles and doodads hanging off every attachment point, and inadequate gear for the environment. Some hikers are resistant to change, as are some non-hikers, but many more are eager to learn about the new technology, skills and hacks to make life easier.
As a female solo hiker, you are essentially carrying the exact same gear as a male hiker, but are more likely to have a smaller frame and less mass to carry that weight. For me, the correct fit on a backpack is critical to carrying weight comfortably. If I have to take these hips hiking with me; I might as well use them for the long term. You must find a pack that rests comfortably on the hips, is the correct length on the spine and has straps that rest comfortably around the chest and shoulders. I know plenty of male hikers who hike without a hip belt because their hips barely flare out enough to be an advantage, but their shoulders, back and neck take a beating. Additionally I have seen many females use a male-specific pack (myself included) that is misaligned with the spine. They subsequently struggle to find a comfortable fit. Load a pack with the weight you expect to carry, and wear it around. Let the weight settle on your hips. We’ve all carried heavy backpacks on our shoulders for a short while and felt fine, but anything longer than a walk home from the school bus is too long. Read the rest of the article and get pack fitting tips here!
Stripped Down Backpacking Stuff Sacks for Redundancy & Organization
Most backpackers and thru hikers use stuff sacks. And more often than not, they aren’t as light as they could be or as water resistant as they should be. I always consider three key things when choosing my stuff sacks for thru hikes—Do they help me organize my pack? Do they protect my stuff? Are they lightening my load? If a stuff sack doesn’t answer all these questions, I won’t use it.
It’s easy to overuse stuff sacks. I’ve done it. All thru hikers have, especially when they’re just starting out. After all, most outdoor gear you purchase comes with a nice stuff sack. And it feels good to see all your stuff neatly lined up with its own little baggy. But is it necessary? Not likely. Read on…
A good campsite can make or break your wilderness experience. When traveling long distances or through remote areas, I break the campsite selection process into two steps. At the macro level I look at maps and identify–based on my average speed and the desired time I want to bed down for the night–a general area to sleep. Here, I look for an area that is: off trail, so you don’t interfere with other people’s wilderness experience; flat, where you’re most likely to find a level place to lay down; near resources such as water and firewood; not buggy, in a breezy area away from breeding grounds such as swamps and slow moving water; not in the bottom of a valley, where the air will be colder and the dew and frost will be greater; not near animal paths or their ideal habitat, which might lead to an unwelcome nighttime guest; and finally, away from natural hazards such as flash floods and avalanches.