How to go Ultralight Backpacking

An Introduction and a slightly novel slant on Lightweight Camping


There’s no doubt in my mind that going light weight enhances my camping trip and helps me get closer to the environment by doing away with the superfluous. By carrying less I can trek further. By stripping back my kit and only taking what I actually need I feel refreshed; making that first trip without all your usual clag feels great!

Obviously there are degrees with which you can take ultra light camping. Some people go so far as to chop off the handles from their tooth brushes and the corners off their maps. Personally I don’t go that far, but then I’m not an adventure racer where every gram really does matter. I guess the real key is to look at getting rid of all the stuff you don’t need but remember always ask yourself if I lost this item would it put me in danger. For example I might strip down my first aid kit, but I will always take one.

I vary my camping trips, from fishing, rafting or  sometimes  bushcraft trips, and as such take substantial kit that isn’t exactly light, such as my Gransfors Bruk forest axe. Other times I go light and make a conscious decision about what comes or stays.

If it’s your first time there are some major things you can do to help reduce your pack weight. Firstly it’s likely the heaviest thing you own is your tent. Do you really need it or could you survive in a bivvy or under a tarp? It’s an amazing experience waking up under a tarp or a shelter you have made yourself, you feel that much closer to your surroundings, but of course in bad weather it can be merciless!

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Next look at your sleeping bag. Investing in a slightly more expensive bag that’s made from down will save you shed loads of weight. Some manufacturers such as Rab produce sleeping bags that don’t have hoods and have very little insulation on the underside of the bag to save weight. They assume that you will use the bag with a good quality sleeping mat but there is no need to get a full sized one. Consider  buying a ¾ length one instead. Just use your rucksack under your feet and use your clothes to make a pillow.

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A waterproof backpack such as the Exped Cloudburst 25L day sack saves weight because you don’t need dry-bags


Cooking kit can be really heavy. On long expeditions I tend to share the load with friends and often take a multi fuel stove, however for short weekend trips a sit on top gas stove will be perfect. You can get some that weigh less than 100g such as the MSR Pocket Rocket.

To accompany this you can save weight on food by purchasing freeze dried stuff or dehydrated meals. You can also consider dehydrating meals yourself by buying a dehydrator. A cheapish one will set you back about £50 from Lakeland and you can use it to make meals, dry fruit and snacks. They pay for themselves after about 10 trips.

Your cooking equipment can weigh a fair bit so invest in titanium products, they’re light weight and strong, but they are very expensive. A cheap alternative is to just use an aluminium mess tin. You can cook all of your meals from this one pot and eat out of it too. You should also look at enamel products – might sound strange but I have a dirt cheap enamel mug and it is as light as many titanium cups on the market! Save your money and don’t bother with the expensive titanium cutlery, just get a spork (a cheap double ended implement that has a spoon on one end and a fork on the other).

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My problem when I go camping is I always want to take too many clothes. I like to have spares, but as long as you have a good layering system you should be fine with far less. I use merino wool base layers that have the bonus that odour doesn’t cling to them, they’re also perfect for extremely cold environment. We sent a filming team to the Yukon where the temperatures regularly dipped below -50C and they were all wearing icebreaker merino wool layers.

Think about buying microfleece mid layers. You always see them on sale in places like Ellis Brigham or Cotswold Outdoor.

Finally of course you may want to take a nip of whiskey. At one of our testing sites called Criers Cavern we store a bottle of single malt. A few of us know its exact location and are free to use it. The only rule is that when it’s near empty you bring another bottle so no man is ever left thirsty.

Of course if you are feeling really feisty you could always catch your own food. We wouldn't advocate relying on this as you might starve!


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