Ultralight Backpacking Tips

Ultralight Backpackin' Tips


Mike Clelland is the author and illustrator of Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, an excellent guide to changing the way you experience the outdoors. (Mike has a great blog too)

In the video above Celland touches on the philosophical and practical aspects of ultra lightweight backpacking, and this ought to get you started thinking about camping in general.

If I had to identify with a camping philosophy I’d say that my Scouts are hybrid campers, we backpack, car camp, canoe camp and cabin camp; it’s all good. Before things go off the rails, though, let’s accept that Scouts go camping in lots of different ways, none of which is, in and of itself, a bad way to go camping. Arguing over which  methods and gear are right or wrong or which philosophy of camping is more virtuous is not a very useful debate – let’s agree that camping is good, and there are simply different ways to do it.

There’s a lot to recommend ultra-lightweight backpacking. Travelling light involves reconciling weight, safety, comfort and cost and Clelland’s book is a good resource to get you thinking.  Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips is a list of 153 hints the author offers to help guide you towards a lighter pack and the methods that make this possible. Clelland illustrates the book with his own ultra-witty cartoons. The first ten tips are the ‘manifesto’ of utra-lightweight backpacking:

The intended goal of this book is to provide some clever insights on how to travel efficiently in the mountains with a very light backpack. The hush-hush secret to ultralight backpacking is that it’s actually pretty easy, especially solving all the gear issues. The bigger challenge is embracing a new mind-set, and (hopefully) this book will balance these essential factors …

1. Get a scale … If you are an aspiring ultralight camper, this is the one and only tool that is truly required to get your pack weight to plummet.

2. Comfortable and safe are vital! Anyone can go out into the mountains with a tiny amount of gear and suffer-it’s easy to be cold, hungry, and ill prepared. You need to be warm at night, dry in the rain, well fed, and ready to deal with safety issues. Ultralight camping should be delightful, not stressful.

3. Scrutinize everything! This entire book could get boiled down to those two words. Do NOT simply put stuff in your pack. Look at every single item, weigh it, document it, hold it in your hand, ponder it, brood on it, and meditate over it. Only after this mindful deliberation should you decide if this item comes along.

4. Make your own stuff, and making it out of trash is always best! It’s super fun to tinker with homemade designs and then put them to use in the backcountry. And quite often the lightest and simplest gear can be salvaged from the trash.

5. It’s okay to be nerdy I encourage you to dig deep and fully accept your inner nerd. It’s okay to obsess about half an ounce. I encourage that attitude! I enjoy using my finely crafted do-it-yourself gear in the mountains.

6. Try something new every time you go camping Don’t be content with achieving a homeostasis; you should unceasingly be evolving toward a goal of greater efficiency, comfort, and lighter weight.

7. Simply take less stuff! The easiest way to get an item’s weight down to zero is simply NOT to put it in the pack.

8. Know the difference between wants and needs You actually NEED very little.

9. Cut stuff off your gear The quintessential plastic soda bottle has a lid, and under that lid is a little plastic ring. That extra piece of plastic went on in the factory, and it serves no purpose after you first open the bottle. Use a tiny pair of wire cutters (or your fingernails) and get that thing off. The paltry weight is obviously insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But to me it’s more of a mind-set. If you dedicate yourself to these (seemingly) inconsequential items, you are setting yourself up with a heightened level of overall standards.

10. Document your gear… Yes, everything gets weighed on a scale, and all these numbers get written down. This may sound totally nerdy, but this deliberate act makes it very easy to take only what’s really needed.

I enjoy all kinds of camping but backpacking is my favorite. My troop is not a ‘backpacking’ troop, it’s a Scout troop that does go backpacking and it’s great fun.  Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips provides a lot of useful information on making this part of our camping program better and I think it can do the same for you.

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips available at Amazon

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