Ultralight backpacking and hiking is about a virtuous circle. If your backpack weighs less, you can hike at a faster rate and closer to your day hike speed.  Additionally, you won’t be as tired and sore.  You can make 20 miles per day versus 10 miles per day if your pack is not killing you. If you can hike 20 miles per day, a 60-mile trip is a three-day trip, not a six-day trip.

If you do the trip in three days you only need three days food and fuel supply. The faster you hike the lighter your pack can be. Conversely, the slower you go, the more food and fuel you have to add to your pack – further bogging you down. 

The goal is to start that 60-mile 3-day hike with a 25-pound backpack, not a 45-pound, 6-day pack. At 25 pounds your pack is not much bigger than many hiker’s daypacks. You’ll find you need less rest stops and are peppier the next morning.

Ultralight backpacking and hiking is a great equalizer.  You don’t have to be an accomplished athlete or young. Any walker or hiker can cover great distances in the mountains with ultralight backpacking and hiking techniques.

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Thousand Island Lake, John Muir Trail – PCT.

Where it all Started

Ultralight hiking is indebted to pioneers like Ray Jardine that figured it all out when ultralight gear was not readily available. To learn where it all started read Ray’s book “Beyond Backpacking” . Pioneering ultralight hikers like Ray built and sewed their own gear to get the weight down and maintain functionality. Today, we have the good fortune of many inventive outdoor gear designers and manufacturers that are providing many options for lightweight and functional gear to meet every need.  New materials are enabling new lightweight and strong designs of clothing, gear and stoves.  It is much easier to find a wide variety of tasty prepared and bulk dehydrated foods.

Ultralight Backpacking Strategies

There are several key areas to learn about and focus on to perfect the ultralight backpacking style that fits and works for you:

  • Ultralight gear – Every item of gear is important to consider and work on to achieve the minimal weight and get the job done. Carving your gear down to the essentials you actually use and need is vital also.
  • Food – It will take experimentation to work out tasty foods that fit your palate, is dehydrated, easy to fix and not cooking intensive.
  • Nutrition – It’s important to have a balanced diet with the optimum amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein.
  • Hydration and water – With heat, dry air up high and heavy exertion you will go through a lot of water. Most food is 70% water, so you have to factor in another big batch of water to rehydrate food. You need safe and clean water to stay healthy.
  • Feet – Shoes, socks, blisters and more. Go light, breathable and learn what works for your feet by experimenting.
  • Speed and endurance – Hike at 2 to 2.5 MPH like a turtle, throw in hiking poles and you can cover 20-25 miles each day.
  • Planning the hike – Figure out where you are going to camp, get water and your miles per day. A plan will make your hike go smoothly.  You will deviate, but the scenario planning really helps.
  • Resupply – If you are going to do a big trail and cover more than 100 miles you will need a resupply plan and a shipment to meet you at each resupply point. Resupply ties into your hike plan.
  • Electronics – A cellphone, Kindle type reader and cool hiking apps will be very helpful.
  • First Aid – From blisters to sunburns and cuts – you need some preparation for things to go wrong, but you can’t go wild on the weight.
  • Training – You wouldn’t run a marathon or do a triatholon without training. You need a training program that prepares you for a big hike. You need to become a fat burner, not a sugar burner for optimal endurance.

Becoming an ultralight backpacker will turn you into an endurance hiker. You will surprise yourself on how far you can go day after day. Learning ultralight backpacking will be equally useful for day hikes and endurance sports.