The Best Ultralight Hiking Gear (Plus Tips For Lightweight Packing) - Outdoors Magic

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The Best Ultralight Hiking Gear (Plus Tips For Lightweight Packing)

Want to lighten your load? This gear will help with that...

Every backpacker will at some point in their hiking life have set off for a long walk and immediately started wondering whether they had packed too much – for some people it’ll happen on every big trip they go on. It’s all part of the learning curve, because being comfortable with your pack weight comes with experience. The more hikes you go on, the more you’ll be able to refine your kit list and come to work out what you need, what you don’t, what’s working for you and what’s not.

Some people are so experienced with this that they’ve got their ultralight backpacking kit list down to something resembling fine art. For those without that experience, you can get off to a good start by knowing what kind of gear you should be looking for…

Ultralight Backpacking Tips

It’s important to know that an ultralight approach isn’t necessarily always a good idea. You shouldn’t try and go as light as you possibly can for every single trip you go on, but instead, pack appropriately for the conditions you can expect. For instance, if you’re heading up high and/or camping in winter, that sub 1000g tent probably isn’t going to cut it for you. The same goes for things like sleeping bags and warm layers. Pack with your safety in mind first and with convenience second.

“My advice is to think about the weight of your ‘big three’.”

Be too puritanical with your packing and you might be light footed on the trail, but you could be in for some rough nights. Conversely, if you go for luxurious comfort at night, you’ll probably have the weight to bear in the day. Good ultralight hikers know how to strike the perfect balance (for them) between comfort during the day and comfort during the night. 

The classic tips for ultralight backpacking that we often hear are to cut your labels off your clothing, and to snap your toothbrush in half. That kind of stuff might sound a little bit drastic, but it does encapsulate what an ultralight approach is all about – marginal gains. My advice, however, is to think about the weight of your ‘big three’ before you get into that kind of stuff. That’s your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. If those are all light and with small pack sizes, you’re off to a very good start.

There’s a lot of expensive kit for lightweight minimalist backpacking out there (a lot, admittedly, in this article) but don’t think that you can’t go light without spending cash. It’s actually all about improvisation. Do you really need to buy high-spec pots when the Tupperware container you have will do they job? Could you just bundle your clothes into your sleeping bag’s stuff sack to make for a pillow rather than buying a self-inflating velvet pillow? Would a bit of bubble wrap do for your sleeping mat instead of that £140 one you saw in the shops? That all does of course depend on how far you want to tip that day/night comfort scale!

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX
The Big Agnes Copper Spur
The Outdoor Research Intersetllar Bivy


Osprey Levity

I sometimes focus on getting my ‘big four’ down to a low weight, rather than just the classic ‘big three’, meaning I’ll carefully consider the backpack I choose alongside the sleeping bag, mat and tent. Some packs can be much heavier than others and this is still weight that you need to carry. I love the Fjällräven Kaipack 58 but it’s a super heavy pack at 2,100g, and compare that to this, the 850g Osprey Levity and you’ve got a huge difference there.

It’s still important for that lightweight pack to be reliable though – it needs to be able to handle its load, distribute the weight well, feel comfortable and perhaps most importantly, survive a potentially rough journey. This pack ticks those boxes.


Haglöfs L.I.M Mountain Proof Anorak

Your jacket is one of your most important bits of kit – it can quite literally be the difference between life or death. So don’t skimp too much here. Look for something that uses a 3-layer waterproof fabric for durable protection. The Haglofs L.I.M Mountain Proof pictured here is a good example of a tough three-layer jacket that is supremely lightweight at just 235g.


Therm-a-rest NeoAir Uberlite

The foam Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol has been the backpacker’s favourite in recent years, weighing just 410g and costing less than £50. The problem with that is that it’s a tricky one to fit inside your pack. As someone who has a rule that all of my kit needs to be inside my pack, I prefer to carry an inflatable mat – one that will roll up to a tiny loaf-sized package. This, the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Uberlite is a real game-changer I reckon. It weighs just 250g, puts 4 inches between you and the cold ground, and packs up to the size of a beer can.


Rab Xenon X

Down filled jackets tend to be lighter than synthetic filled ones, however when I’m taking a lightweight approach, I’ll often choose the latter fill-type. The reason for this is mainly because when I’m packing light my outer insulated layer will often be my only real source of proper warmth (other than my sleeping bag) and if this doesn’t work well enough for me I could be in trouble. So down, with its inefficiencies when it gets wet, is therefore the riskier option – unless it has a special hydrophobic treatment.

This, the Rab Xenon X actually feels a lot like down jacket, it’s not much heavier than one and it has that wet weather reliability. I wore it on a wet two week hike across Wales and it didn’t let me down.


Inov-8 Roclite 345

As with backpacks, the weight of your footwear is still weight you need to carry. Many lightweight hikers will opt for trail shoes over boots, but on some terrain that ankle support is useful to have. The Inov-8 Roclite 345 are an excellent pair that are lightweight (345g per shape) while also durable and protective thanks to their graphene-based soles.


Terra Nova Laser Compact

If you want to take a real minimalist approach, there are some incredibly light tents out there. Consider options like the Terra Nova Laser Comp or perhaps even a tarp tent or bivy bag.

Handily, there are plenty of two-person tents out there that are still incredibly light to carry, so to take a minimalist approach you don’t necessarily have to squeeze yourself into a cocoon- (or coffin-) sized shelter.

The Terra Nova Laser Compact 2 is a good example of a lightweight 2P tent. I do most of my hiking and camping in Wales where the weather can be testing, so this is the kind of one I’ll tend to favour. When you’ve faced a day of tough conditions, having something you shelter comfortably in can make a massive difference.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30F

Using a mummy-style sleeping bag, the insulation under your body is compressed by your weight, ruining its loft and rendering it almost pointless – so why not do away with the full-length zip and back altogether? That’s the justification many ultralight hikers have for choosing quilts over sleeping bags.

Related: Best Lightweight Quilts For Backpacking

Modern-day quilts are not only lighter than most sleeping bags, but they’re also sophisticated, efficient and versatile pieces of equipment. They often come with enclosed foot boxes up to knee level, while the upper two thirds of the quilt has a strap or clipping system enabling the user to tighten and seal the bag around their body and sleeping mat for increased warmth. This one by Enlightened Equipment is a great example.

For cold weather, backpacking quilts aren’t necessarily the best option, but come summer, get the right one and it can prove very useful.

Rab Xenon X Gloves

Gloves are an example of that marginal gains thing with lightweight packing. This pair, the Rab Xenon, weigh just 65g but are still great for insulation. Look for a pair with a good warmth-to-weight ratio – PrimaLoft filled ones tend to be good for that.


Petzl Bindi

The Petzl Bindi is, as far as I can tell, the lightest headtorch for hiking on the market – a meagre 35g. If there are lighter ones out there, I’m pretty sure they won’t have the performance this has. Again, when you’re considering marginal gains, that 35g headtorch is much more attractive than your average 100g one.


Katadyn BeFree

This, the Katadyn BeFree, comes with me on every hike I go on these days, even if it’s just a day trip. For me, this 59g filter is an obvious choice over carrying two litres of water weighing almost 2000g. Obviously, water filters aren’t your best bet if you’re treading through a place where water supplies are scarce, or where waterborne viruses are a risk (though some filters can protect against them), but for UK hiking they’re ideal.


Primus MicronTrail

Bar carrying a box of matches and relying on what mother earth provides you with, the lightest approach when it comes to camp cooking is probably to go for fuel tablets. That being said, the boil time with them is long, and it can be hard to find places that sell them when you need to resupply. That’s why I tend to prefer gas camping stoves when I’m backpacking.

All-in-one stove systems from the likes of Jetboil are efficient, but they’re quite heavy. I prefer to carry just a simple burner, like the Primus MicronTrail, which I’ll use with a cheap lightweight pot. If you want to increase the fuel efficiency, you can improvise a wind block using a bit of tinfoil or even just your backpack.


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