Going Lightweight: How To Shave Weight off Your Pack for Safer and Easier Hiking

Switching to Lightweight Hiking: How to Shave Weight off Your Pack for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! GO LIGHT!

Why would I feel the need to “go light”?

Switching to lightweight hiking is not a silly caprice or lack of ideas on how to spend the millions of $ I have hidden in my sock. Carrying a heavy bag is not only tiring, but it can also be dangerous. It’s hard on the joints and requires much more energy. We can’t go as far or as fast as we would with a lighter pack. We are not as nimble and can’t react as fast when something happens. Crossing streams or climbing difficult rocky hills is also much more difficult with a heavy rucksack.
 
How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
That’s definitely not a “lightweight hiking”… 😉

But what exactly is “lightweight” hiking?

 
The general division I see around goes like this:
Traditional weight hiking: base weight above 11 kg (that’s me now)
Lightweight hiking: base weight below 9 kg
Ultralight hiking: base weight below 4,5 kg
 
“Base weight” means all your gear and clothes without consumables: food, water and fuel.
 How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
All above are the ingredients of my base weight (except for the boxes with solid fuel) – you can see the big sleeping mat, tent and a backpack. Some of it won’t get into backpack – like boots or daily clothing, but most will. 

What I already have

When I was collecting all the gear I needed last year I had to buy a lot of things at once. I tried to buy the best I could afford, but I had to make a lot of compromises. I cut the expenses by buying some clothing second-hand and some gear heavier than ideal.

Never compromise safety: good hiking boots and supportive backpack

 
What I didn’t even try to “save” on were my boots – I bought the ones that fit me well, no matter the price. I am glad I did – they are best hiking boots ever (for me).
 
How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
I seriously lucked out with those boots!
 
I also got a very good backpack by Deuter, although from the heavier ones. By the advice of an expert I got a sturdier pack with a very good support system – necessary when carrying heavier loads. You can never go ultra-light starting with your backpack!

Cheaper but heavier/bulkier sleeping system

 
I also compromised on my sleeping bag and mat. I got a synthetic one, heavy, but affordable (Deuter Orbit 5). Down sleeping bags for the same temperatures were generally twice the price. My mat was a regular inflatable one, heavy and bulky.
 
I recently got a better sleeping bag. The synthetic one was not only heavy, but I felt cold many times. After a long exhausting hike our body perceives the temperature differently. This is why we should never get a sleeping bag with the exact temperature indicator as what we expect on a hike. Women sleep colder, so we should check the indicator for women or choose warmer sleeping bag than advertised as “regular”. Always get one with a safe buffer.
 How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
That’s my baby 🙂

First upgrades towards the lightweight hiking

The sleeping bag I have now – a custom made down beauty is in theory for very cold conditions: down to -10C at least. I was using it when hiking in Catalonia in February. Most of the nights were cold with big difference between day and night. One morning I woke up to frost on my tent! Even so, I was never cold and rarely too warm.
 How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
Snug as a bug!
 
My bag is packed with 800g of pure and best Polish geese down of 850 cuin. It was expensive (about $450) for me, but I know I have the best sleeping bag I can have and it will serve me well for many years.

Gradually lightening the load toward lightweight hiking

 
I want to exchange the heavier parts of my gear for lighter and smaller, so I can get a smaller and lighter backpack. I use 55 L+10 now and it weighs 2,5 kg… yeah. A 45-50L-sized rucksack should force me not only to pack less but will weigh less by itself. I hope I will be able to cut my base weight (no food or water) to about 6-7 kg. 
 
How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
 

The Big Four of Going Lightweight Hiking

Shelter for lightweight hiking

This is the big one and most expensive. At the moment I’m using Vango Blade 200 which is a nice budget option for backpackers. It’s only 2 kg which is great for the cheaper tents. It is also pretty big and I can fit in it with all my gear and also can seat with no problems.
How to do lightweight hiking - lighten your load & speed up your hiking! awomanafoot.com
My Vango Blade 200 – definitely not ultra-light, but a very good option for budget-minded backpackers, at 2 kg weight.

What are your lightweight hiking shelter options?

 
Tarps. Generally the ultra-light shelter options tend to be tarps. It’s basically a rectangle of water-proof fabric that you spread above your sleeping bag and stuff using guy-lines, trees and your trekking poles. Some tarps are A-shape, some are simple rectangular (more flexibility in set-up, but also require more experience). But even the A-shaped tarps might be really difficult to set up, opposed to the most common two-pole dome tents, which can be pitched by a kid.
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
An excellent example of a high-quality tarp, made of cuben fibre by TrekkerTent. As you can imagine, they hardly give you much of a protection from the elements or random creepy crawly stuff.
 
I admire all who use it, but I know I won’t be able to do that. I need the illusion of security around me. Even if it’s made mostly of see-trough net, I want something that looks like a tent. Maybe it’s because of hiking in Scotland but I have visions of my stuff (and myself) completely flooded by sudden rain in the night 😉. No tarp can protect me if the rain is falling horizontally because of heavy winds! And I won’t even mention the idea of all the creepy crawly beasties… At my last wild camping spot I had night visitors – wild boars. I was glad for my flimsy protection that night!
The other issue is that tarps don’t protect well from winds. If you plan on hiking in exposed, windy and cold conditions – go with a tent. 
 
Hammocks. Some folks are hiking with trekking hammocks (you can’t just take your regular garden hammock!), but I can’t convince myself to ever using it. First of all – they work only in appropriate area. No trees – no hammock. 
Also, I can’t see myself being comfortable on it. I have visions of myself flipping with the whole thing when trying to change position or getting in. And don’t your knees bend the wrong way on this thing? I would also worry about my gear staying dry and safe lying under the hammock.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
As you can see, a backpacking hammock is not your typical garden variety. It has protection from elements and is often equipped with mosquito net. It need extra protection from cold wind from the bottom. This one is made by DD Hammocks.  Good hiking hammocks weigh in around 1kg, so about the same as ultra-light tents.
 
Hammocks are better in areas with a lot of trees but poor ground. To sleep on the ground you  need somewhat flat surface… clearing it from stones and branches can also prove only partially successful. In such a situation hammock might be the better option – if you enjoy sleeping in it.
 
What is also important – hammocks have much poorer (or rather close to none) isolation. You can’t just use your sleeping bag, unless it’s a very warm summer night. There are various systems – some people use under blanket, some designated sleeping mat (regular one won’t do). 
You also still need protection from bugs and rain. People sometimes use the combination of hammock with a tarp. 
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
This “Jungle” hammock from DDHammocks looks almost like a reversed one-person tent. With all needed equipment it weighs 1,5kg.
 
Bivvies. Another option is basically a sleeping bag on steroids. Bivvies protect from rain and insects but nothing more. Some use them under tarps. Absolutely not my thing. But who knows? It might be just the thing for you!
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
As you can see in the example of Outdoor Research bivvy sack – it is basically a big bag for you and your sleeping bag, to give you the most basic protection from the elements. Most have some kind of tent-like structure over your head so you don’t sleep with the cover on your face. Hardly any room for hiding other things, although some managed to fit small backpack in (in the feet area, I guess). 
 
All the options above miss a very important to me quality: privacy. Even if it’s just an illusion – I would like to close the fly and feel sheltered from the world. I do sleep at campsites often and can’t imagine sleeping under a tarp – everyone could see me! Which is exactly the worst thing for a person with severe anxiety and social phobias 😉
 
So what else is left? Well, tents of course. But in this category we will find different kids of light tents: tarp-tents, single-wall tents, ultra-light tents, modular tents or tarps on steroids… 
 
Ultra-light regular tents. I have seen many fancy tents that promise to cut some 300 – 500g from my current weight, but for a scary price. They tend to be delicate and some need special care with poles. The good side is, that they are typically two-walled self-standing structures, which is more convenient. On the other hand you do have to carry extra poles instead of using the ones you have already. Some use extremely expensive materials – I don’t think I will have the chance to check them out any time soon. But they are not the only option.
 
If you want to take a look, you might want to check out Big Agnes – Copper Spur UL 2 Person Tent [US] or MSR Hubba Hubba NX [UK], both tents have generally very good reviews. 
 
 
 
Then I started to see articles on a bit different approach to ultra-light tents:
Modular tents (tarp tents). In those shelters you can decide if only to use the fly by itself (in dry, bug-free conditions), net-tent only (dry conditions with no risk of any kind of precipitation or human spying eyes) and finally both together to make something of a typical tent. Most of the time the construction utilizes your own trekking poles to shave even more weight. From more popular sellers we have for example this two person A-frame Big Agnes – Scout UL Tent weighing about 1kg.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
 
But there are also lesser known producers worth our attention: 
I found British TrekkerTent company after someone on tweeter mentioned using their tent (out of mercy after seeing me carrying around the “mammoth of a pack”). Later, I found also an American company Tarptent, also with great light-weight modular tents. 
 
 
Both producers’ tents have both the options of tarp only and tarp with a light net tent to put under it. You use your own trekking poles cutting the weight even more. I like TrekkerTent’s Stealth 1.5, as it has not only room for my sleeping mat but also for backpack and gear.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
Simple, with plenty of room and very spacious front porch. No problem getting stuck there during heavy rains! via
 
The heaviest version is… 800g. What? Amazing, isn’t it? The smaller version for one person is less than 600g! With its big front porch you would have enough room to store all your gear there. That’s an upgrade I would be willing to pay for! Why should I pay $300 to cut mere 300g? But if I could cut more than one kilogram? Now that’s an investment I would be willing to make. The tents cost about £200.
 
At the Tarptent side a few tents also caught my eye: 1kg StratoSpire (around $300) or ProTrail weighing only 740g! ($225) I have no affiliation with neither of both companies.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
I love how much room there is in the porches! more than enough for backpacks, gear or dirty boots. During heavy rains you can also vent the tent without flooding the inner tent. via
 
There are also single-wall tents which have the mosquito netting connected with the fly. It’s good only in desert hiking otherwise the condensation will probably wet your cloths.  

Sleeping mat for lightweight hiking

 
I am not switching to the lightest options: foam mats. No way. I am old and need some basic comforts ;-). Especially when I can get inflatable (I keep writing inflammable which is not exactly what we want when camping) pad which is light and small.
 Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
 
I have my eyes on this NeoAir XLite Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress [US] Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Mattress [UK], as it has very good reviews and weighs only 340 g. It is also good for 3-season camping with R-value of 3,9. When packed its size is only about 25 cm x 10 cm which is tiny! I’ve heard it is pretty squeaky but there is a new version out that’s supposed to have better fabric to curb the weird sounds a bit. It is also a bit more delicate than more hefty mats, but as I always camp inside a tent I think this won’t be much of an issue. 
 

Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com

Backpack for lightweight hiking

 
As I wrote earlier, you switch to light backpack only when you cut down the weight of the other gear first. I want to cut both weight and size, which will be possible if I get a tarp tent and the sleeping pad above. There is also some stuff I don’t need to pack with me. The more you hike the more you learn what works and what is useless and can be left behind.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
Osprey Aura 50. via

Lightweight or ultra-light?

 
There are many options of great, high-quality lighter backpacks. There are also some ultra-light packs that look like they were made of shopping bags and some cord. To be honest, that’s not for me. Some of the ultra-light backpacks tend to have no frame and very thin strips. I’m fine with a few grams more if it means more comfort. 
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
Osprey viva 50.via
 
If I can hike pretty comfortably with this big and heavy (sometimes close to 20kg!) backpack, I would fly the mountains with 10 kg pack! I prefer to have some kind of support and structure in my bag instead. I also need hip belt with pockets. I want secure and safe piece of gear and don’t have the need to go below 1kg on it.
 

Different hiking needs – different backpacks

 
It is quite natural that we need more gear during cold hikes. Extra layers, bigger and heavier sleeping bag add bulk and weight. I also pack a lot of food when I go for longer hikes. This is the heaviest part! Which means that in a perfect world I would have a few different packs for different kind of hikes… and who knows? I might get there over years.
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
Gorilla Gossamer Gear . via 
 
 
Now I want to get a light 45 – 50 L pack weighing around 1 – 1,5 kg. I already know what features I need and which are a waste on me. Separate sleeping bag/wet clothes compartment? Never used it. Front zippers to reach for clothes? Never used it. Those add bulk and weight (additional fabric, zippers etc.). I need a simple one-compartment pack, with some cords on the outside, good support and ventilation.
 
I don’t have a favorite right now, but I am looking around. I gather opinions and reviews for later. At the moment I like those three the most:
 

Sleeping bag for lightweight hiking

 
Wait, what? I just wrote I have an amazing down sleeping bag! Yeah, but it’s big and heavy still. It performs best in cold conditions with the 800g of down. But when hiking during summer or hopping between shelters and mountain refugees what would I need such a big and warm sleeping bag for?
 

One size does not fit all (hiking situations)

 
For such times a much smaller one would suffice. Hence, I would like to get a down or synthetic sleeping bag for warm summer (summer in Scotland doesn’t count as “warm” btw) and shelter hiking. Why would I want synthetic? The lower you go with your temperature needs the more down matters. But in warm conditions the difference in weight between down and synthetic becomes less noticeable. Quite opposite to their price. Besides, synthetic sleeping bags perform better in wet conditions.
If I get some extra cash (dreaming) I could go custom again with Robert’s. But only if I first get the other stuff (tent, sleeping pad). I could get a 300g or 400g down fill ultra light bag that will weigh less than 700g. 
 

The route to lightweight hiking: conclusion 

 
And that’s it. What about the rest of my gear? Well, those items above are the most important. I already have an ultra-light mug and spoon, I take very few items of clothing and toiletries. But with a backpack weighing 2,5 kg those don’t matter all that much.
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com
That’s me after putting my heavy backpack down 😉
 
Note: Some links in this post contain affiliate links, meaning if you purchase an item, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
 
Tell me about your journey to lightweight hiking – are you there yet? What did you get to lighten the load?
I will be happy to hear any tips and advice!

 
 
 
 
 
Going Lightweight: How to Shave Weight for Safer and Easier Hiking. Full guide for an easy transition! awomanafoot.com

3 Comment

  1. […] and padding you pay a hefty price: it weighs about 2, 5 kg! That’s a lot. But I still love it. I might go lower when I upgrade my gear to much lighter. But for the time being, for the sake of my back – I choose the support over weight. The very […]

  2. […] benefits. Poles can substitute tent poles in the ultra-light shelter system. As I am trying to go lightweight, I plan on buying a light tarp-tent and use my poles in the construction. I can further reduce the […]

  3. […] much as I wish, I can’t go ultra-light just yet. My backpack – although great, is pretty heavy. I plan on slowly exchanging my gear to lighter versions. What I can do is to take the absolute minimum in terms of clothing – just one short-sleeve […]

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