Index of Information
   
The basis for a lightweight pack
 

Introduction

I decided to do a bit of research for that quality sleeping bag I'd always promised myself. I knew it'd be expensive to get what I wanted, but my birthday was coming up and there was the possibility of a few subs. The sleeping bag had to be exceptionally light but also very warm - having been caught out in a snowstorm at 2,500 feet in late April, I didn't want to face that possibility again. So light, warm, functional, compact and light - in other words I was looking for the holy grail of bags.

But I was successful in my quest and, it was during my wanderings through the Internet, I found a hidden warren of sites dedicated to the lightweight backpacker and the even more extreme movement, the ultralight backpacker. This is my take on both the lightweight and the ultralightweight.

So What is it?

So what is "Lightweight" and "Ultralight" back packing? There are probably many takes on lightweight and ultralight backpacking, but this is my understanding of the thinking behind it.

It is the art of fine tuning the equipment you take on a trip based on specific needs, whilst keeping the weight of items as low as possibly and eliminating non-essential items.


Combine this with actively sourcing good quality, lightweight and small equipment and you have the bare bones of what this philosophy is all about. Obvious as it may sound, many of us carry far too much unnecessary weight when we head for the hills, myself included.

Packing Light - Why bother?

The idea of lightweight backpacking will not appeal to everyone. Some people have their own methods and techniques developed over the years and will be satisfied that these provide them with the best solution. Other people just like to carry everything so they are prepared for every eventuality.

However, the "Lightweights", as I like to call them, go light so they can move faster and for longer. Lighter, smaller loads mean you can then get away with lighter, smaller rucksacks and lighter footwear, increasing speed again and creating a kind of ever decreasing circle effect. This then, in turn, lessens the environmental impact that is particularly obvious when climbing some of the popular routes in Scotland. Also, another reason cited for going light is to reduce the impact that hiking with heavy packs has on your body. With your knees the first to feel the full force of a heavy pack after a long day’s walk, a reduction in back pack weight can help reduce injuries and the overall impact on your body,potentially prolonging your hiking life into old age.

However, it should be noted that as American led movement, it doesn’t take into account, for example, of the type of terrain encountered in Scotland which is generally not suitable for trail trainers or even lightweight boots. In the US, by contrast, a good percentage of the trails are less rugged as well as established and well maintained.

Basis for a Lightweight Pack

Rucksacks

Believe it or not (and I hadn’t thought about it) the weight of your rucksack can make an enormous difference. A conventional 50 to 60 litre rucksacks weigh in at between 2 and 2.5kg compared to the new breeds of rucksacks such as Crux, Golite and Gregory Packs which weigh between 0.6 kg and 1.4 kg - in some cases nearly a quarter of the weight of a regular pack.

This is achieved by using lighter materials, incorporating less features and reducing the amount of suspension and padding and based on numerous reviews, durability and comfort does not seem to have suffered. Although designed for lighter loads, the suspension can still hold up to about 15 kg. However, as a result of the modified design and lightweight materials the packs may feel flimsy and insubstantial to some walkers. Some of the larger brands have now rather belatedly started to produce lighter sacks, although the lightest of these are about 1.5kg.


Base Weight Explained

Base pack weight is used as the basis for weight comparison of packs.

Definition: Weight of the pack containing all your equipment excluding food, fuel and water, as these items vary with the season and trip length. This provides a level playing field for the accurate measurement of pack weights which fit within the following categories:

  • Ultralight under 5 kg
  • Lightweight 5-10 kg
  • Conventional 10-15 kg
  • Heavy over 15 kg

For a comparison of the categories go to: Backpackinglight.com (.pdf document that requires Adobe Acrobat)


Tents Versus Tarps

The differences in climate between Britain and the US has a marked effect on the type of shelter that is chosen for backpacking. As their weather tends to be more settled for longer periods, alot of the US Lightweights use tarps as shelter (and walking poles as supports) therefore minimising weight.

However, even during the summer in Scotland a solid sturdy tent that can handle any storm is preferable for our variable weather. Also, you would have to have a death wish to sleep out with only a tarp for cover in Scotland and be exposed to the dreaded Scottish midge. Click here for more information on tarps in the UK.

So reality must play a part here and a decent and light two man 3-4 season tent is essential and will weigh between 1.8 and 3 kg while quality solo tents will weigh somewhere between 1.1 kg and 1.8 kg. A tarp weighs well under a 1 kg.

Another option that bridges the gap between tents and tarps is the bivy bag which can weigh as little as 600g. These are becoming progressively more advanced, some even have a front hoop to help avoid feelings of claustrophobia However, they are not everyone’s cup of tea.


Sleeping Bags

Again the compromise here is between weight and warmth, not to mention cost. The lightest weight : warmth ratio is provided by a down filling but this is more expensive than synthetic materials and also less practical in some ways.

Pros for Down Sleeping Bags

  • Lightest weight : warmth ratio
  • Durability: Down bags, if stored properly, can last for much longer than synthetic bags, justifying their often higher initial cost and possibly being cheaper in the long run. Synthetic bags loose their insulating effectiveness over a shorter period of time, especially if they are heavily used.

Cons for Down Sleeping Bags

  • More expensive than synthetic bags
  • If a down sleeping bag gets wet, for example, it loses all it’s insulation properties whereas a wet synthetic bag only loses 50%. But keeping your bag dry shouldn’t be a problem for more experienced backpackers especially with the latest water repellant materials that are now available.
  • Down bags are also harder to clean than their synthetic cousins.

Sleeping bags come with many different designs and different features so it will be down to careful decision-making and personal preference when it comes to choosing one. Manufacturers provide temperature ratings but these can only really be used as a rough guide as everyone feels different levels of coldness. Work on the basis that this is a over-optimistic temperature range.


Sleeping Mats

Well, there is not a lot you can say about mats except that as usual it is a compromise. Personally, I won’t sacrifice weight over comfort here so I use a Therm-A-Rest self inflating mattress. These are considered heavy-ish among the lightweight community and can be prone to puncture but there is no way I would go back to the old style foam mats now.

Having said that the foam mats do have their merits as they provide excellent insulation, are extremely lightweight and are indestructible.

If you are looking for a Therma Rest mat that is lightweight, the reviews of the Therm-A-Rest Z-Rest mats read that they are light as well as effective.

Stoves

Buying a stove, several factors determine what kind of stove you should choose:

  • How many people will you be cooking for?
  • What seasons will you be out in?
  • Where will you use the stove?

There are three main types of stove – canister, liquid fuel burner and meths stoves. I am going to leave meths stoves out of this review because to my mind they are slow, messy and generally heavy when compared to the other types.

 
Canister stoves
Liquid fuel burners
Info
  • Burn compressed gasses such as butane
  • Propane sometimes added to improve performance
  • burn white gas, kerosene, petrol and paraffin
  • Use refillable fuel bottles
Pros
  • Light weight - under 100g (not including the actual gas canister)
  • unaffected by the cold
  • can burn wide variety of fuel sources
Cons
  • Less efficient at low temperatures (near freezing)
  • need priming and can be messy
  • fiddly compared to the “turn and light” canister stoves
  • weigh a good deal more
Best For:
  • Mainly 3 season backpacker
  • Winter walking
  • Part of a larger group


It is purely personal once again – until recently I had only used canister stoves but I have now mastered the priming of a multi fuel burner for colder weather.


Suggested Lightweight Kit

The list below is by no means comprehensive and is really a compilation of equipment that I own or would consider buying.

Rucksacks WEIGHT   Sleeping Bags
WEIGHT
RATING
Golite Gust 60 Litre 590g   Marmot Hydrogen
595g
-1 C rating
Golite Race 680g   Marmot Helium
822g
-9 C rating
Golite Trek 1130g   PHD Minim 600
980g
-13 C rating
Crux A50 45+10 Litre 1080g   M.E. Dewline
730g
-5 C rating
Gregory G Pack 50 Litre 1400g   M.E. Lightline
1230g
-12 C rating
Osprey Aether 60 Litre 1490g        

 

Tents        
One Man Tents WEIGHT   Two Man Tents
WEIGHT
MSR Micro Zoid 1.3kg   Terra Nova Laser 1.3kg
Mountain Hardwear PCT 1 1.6kg   Terra Nova Voyager 2.6kg
Sierra Designs Lightyear CD 1.7kg   Lightwave T1 Cylq 1.8kg
Terra Nova Laserlite 1.1kg   Lightwave G1 Cylq 1.9kg
Hilleberg Atko 1.5kg   Hilleberg Nallo 2 2.1kg
Lightwave ZR0 Cylq 1.3kg      
         
Bivi Bags WEIGHT      
Terra Nova Jupiter 0.9kg      
Outdoor Designs Solo Raid 1.2kg      

 

Mats WEIGHT   Pots
WEIGHT
Thermarest Ultra Lite 3/4 480g   Aluminium mess tins 300g
Z rest 312g   Trek 700i 128g
Foam Mat 145g   MSR Titanium kettle 118g

 

Stoves WEIGHT   Torches/headlights
WEIGHT
Primus Alpine Titanium 96g   Petzl Tikka 71g
Coleman F1 Lite 77g   Petzl Zipka 64g
MSR Pocket Rocket 86g   Black Diamond Ion 40g
MSR Whisperlite Int. 440g   Princeton Tec Aurora 80g
MSR XGK 480g      


Summary

"Becoming more lightweight" costs both time and money - it is as much your own personal preference as the weight and cost. You simply have to decide what is best for you.

There are so many products and options to choose from, it is often difficult to distinguish between the different manufacturers as well as different models or lines. Some products label themselves as lightweight or ultralight weight but this is clearly not the case. This can just make the decision-making process longer and more tortuous. But it is crucial to remember that lightweight products needn’t always be more expensive or less durable.

It is more likely you will replace items as they need replacing and the amount of walking you do and your budget relating to how much expense can be spared. With a gradual move into the lightweight world you can work out what combinations of equipment will suit you as an individual, as well as the type of backpacking you do and the typical weather you encounter.

It might not suit everyone but lightening up will certainly improve many people’s experience in the hills .....and, if like me, you embrace the lightweight philosophy – well, I might just bump into you at the local outdoor shop as I’m off to buy the lightest titanium pot I can find………

Links and Other Information

General information see: HikeLite.co.uk and Backpacking.net

See the below links for guidance and advice on sleeping bags.

Click here for more information on stoves:

For gear reviews go to: Outdoorsmagic.com

 

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