In his twice-monthly ultralight column, Chris Meehan covers the people, gear, and trends of the lightweight backpacking world.
You can do everything right: buy the correct gear, dehydrate your food, pare down your kit to exactly what you need. And yet, that ideal pack weight might still elude you in your quest for ultralight perfection. Thankfully, gone are the days of painstakingly recording your gear in a notebook or a spreadsheet program in an effort to shave weight. There are now a host of free, online tools that any ultralighter can use to achieve their goal.
One of the best parts about these tools is how much number-crunching they can save you. It’s common for an ultralighter putting her kit together to have a manufacturer’s claimed weight for a sleeping bag in pounds and ounces, a fuel canister in grams, and a backpack in kilograms. All of the programs below can take those dissimilar measures, tally them, and give you an idea of what they weigh altogether.
Perhaps the best-known of these tools is LighterPack. It allows utralighters to enter their gear and gear they’re considering buying into an easy-to-read interface. LighterPack then calculates both the weight of an item (either as provided by the manufacturer or measured by you; we recommend the latter option for accuracy, no matter what tool you use). It can also calculate other data, including cost (helpful if you’re on a budget). Categories of gear—like shelter, sleep system, and accessories—are color-coded and shown as a pie chart, making it easy to visualize which parts of your carry are the heaviest.
LighterPack adds all of the gear you input to a master list, and also allows you to create curated lists, like “Summer Backpacking Kit,” “Winter Mountaineering,” or perhaps “Vermont Long Trail.” Users can then add gear from the master list to each of these specific kits, like choosing a heavier midlayer for a winter mountaineering kit than the Long Trail, to see how it will impact the base weight.
Trail Post offers similar features to LighterPack, organizing items into Lockers (a user’s overall gear closet) and Packs (lists users assemble for different adventures).
Unlike LighterPack, however, Trail Post provides a search feature that allows you to check out how other hikers have packed for trips, giving you their pack and gear weights as well. This is helpful if you’re still looking for the gear you want to purchase for a trip. The site is also optimized for mobile devices, whereas LighterPack isn’t, making it much easier to input the info on your phone. While it doesn’t seem to allow you to download a CSV file, it does connect with social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
WeighMyGear is different from its competitors in that it allows users to add gear in one of many templates, like “Backpacking and Trekking” or “Hiking,” and then add in suggested equipment. As users input the name of a product, the site starts autocompleting from gear already listed in its larger database.
Hikers who dabble in other pursuits will find a lot to appreciate here: WeighMyGear adds gear to a personal list, and users can draw on that to create up to 10 different customized packs. Integrated templates give users a suggested list for each adventure type. For instance, if you’re planning a mountaineering trip, the template has places to enter info for the user’s mountaineering axe, skis, snowshoes and more. There are some downsides, however. If you’re adding gear that’s not in the database, you have to add the weight in grams, not in pounds and ounces, which makes it a little less intuitive than some other options.
If you’re the kind of hiker who likes to ‘gram their gear before a trip, you’ll want to check out Packfire, which adds a social element to the gear-tracking game. Like WeighMyGear, it has a good gear database that can auto-populate information about what you’re packing, as well as a built-in weight converter to tally your pounds and ounces.. In addition, users can input info about the trails they’re hiking and see what other users of the site have packed for those trips. You can also upvote and recommend other users’ lists, or download them as CSV or PDF files. Packfire worked well on the desktop and tablet but we found it a little more difficult to access all of the features on a smartphone.
Whichever one of these tools you choose, you’ll find seeing all of your gear laid out on a screen in front of you makes you more aware of what you’re carrying on the trail. Best of all: Unlike Excel, they’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Though if you want to show off the final result to your buddies and pretend you did it all by hand, we won’t tell.