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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Ultralight Done Right: Getting Started

Get started with these three simple tips.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

PAGE 1 2

Ditch your pack's top lid to shave 10 ounces.


Ultralight Done Right

PAGE 1 2

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Apr 03, 2011

Back in 03 my girlfriend and I went on a three month hiking trip along the south shore of the St Lawrence in Quebec. There aren't trails the whole way so sometimes we had to walk country roads. Sometimes we'd pass a few villages in a day. Sometimes we'd go a week in the bush.

We started May 1st and it would go down to 5c and it rained solid the first two weeks. The winds are constant off the seaway.

We went ultralight. A tarp and a ground sheet. Eventually added bug netting from an army surplus. I used a rain poncho (not the best idea, but it worked). We brought no stove but used the pie plate and three tent pegs trick, cooking over twigs. We brought not water filter. We used pantyhose and boiled it. Sometimes we drank it straight from streams. Having no tent (really), no stove and no filter saved us a ton of weight.

We also foraged about half of our food. The rest was peanut butter, dates, sunflower seeds, quinois, couscous, olive oil, chilies, nutritional yeast, salt, and a few others. We ate mustards, dandelion, berries, miner's lettuce, fiddle heads, mushrooms, jewel weed, nettle, lamb's quarters, etc etc etc.

Never felt healthier in my life. Stopped feeling hot or cold. Needed less food, less water. Could leap like Mario and Luigi.

Capt. Red Beard
Mar 31, 2011

For those concerned about the safety of going Ultralight:

It is not advised for your average person to head out with a tarp, bivy, alch. stove, etc. You need to be experienced and skilled to go UL. Start with regular backpacking, and slowly start lightening your load. Learn how to use double wall freestanding tent first, then progress to a single wall, after that try a floorless design. If you are still comfortable with that learn how to pitch a tarp. It is all about progressing. As your skills and experience increase, you can safely reduce the weight of your pack.

Some things are easier then others. I would recommend the big 3. Bag, pack, and shelter. Those will lighten your load the most.

Also use a high level of caution. Going UL does not mean going out unprepared.

Happy hiking!

Sep 17, 2009

Tom has a point. I had a similar experience in No. Carolina on the A.T. A freak nor'easter came in and dropped the temps down to 30 degrees on a June night. I shivered the night away. Canned foods are still good on an overnighter or a 2 day trip.

Sep 15, 2009

I was along Picture Rocks National Lakeshore with a friend boasting of going ultralight. Then a May storm rolled in off Lake Superior. Due to insufficient gear we had to hightail it out a day early and the friend got hypothermia. Ultralight is not always ultrasafe. Safety First!

Sep 14, 2009

For $35 you can get digital scale at Wally World, you would be surprised at the weights of cloting, and cooking gear.

Sep 13, 2009

Hide the beer in your buddy's backpack.

Sep 12, 2009

For light items I use a postage scale (the electronic one at work for tenth of an ounce accuracy, and the mechanical one at home for 'nearest' ounce or so). For large/heavy items (like the entire load!) weigh yourself without the pack on, and then with backpack on, weigh again. The difference is the total weight. As you take stuff out of the pack (like those canned beans, heh, heh) it's easy to see the effect. (Hey, and lots of stuff has the weight on the labels!)

Sep 11, 2009

After spending 7 days/6 nights in the Wyoming mts this summer I would strongly recommend Mtn House meals for 2: inexpensive, light and all the ones we had were tasty. I would also get a kitchen scale instead of the fish scale. I like to know ounces. For example, my summer bag plus liner is 1.5 lbs. All those ounces can add to several pounds. I would also say my trail runners were good enough up to 25lbs. even when we climbed the South Teton.

Sep 10, 2009

I recommend starting by replacing your heaviest gear first and working down to the lighter stuff. "Worst first."

Sep 10, 2009

What may be obvious to you is not obvious to everyone. There are beginners who have never been backpacking before and truly do not know anything.
For example, I know someone who took canned beans
and beef stew with them on a backpacking trip.

Sep 10, 2009

Gee, thanks for the obvious tips.

Aug 27, 2009

Thanks for the tip!!

Aug 16, 2009

You can get a fish scale that goes up to 50lbs at walmart for 5 bucks. It might not be accurate to the ounce but you can use the extra 60 bucks to buy lighter gear.


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