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If you are planning a long hiking trip then you probably would like to save some weight and decide to buy ultralight gear either in your local camping store or a dedicated ultralight gear shop. If you have ever done an extensive hike – especially in an environment where weather is not predictable i.e. cold and wet for several days – relying solely on ultralight gear might not be the best option if you are not willing to sacrifice on comfort.
Less weight equals more comfort?
Obviously, if you have to carry less weight you will enjoy your hike more. However, from my point of view weight is only one factor which adds up to ‘fun’ in backpacking. Once I went hiking to the Swedish mountains where I tested the principles of ultralight hiking to some point by having some ultralight gear with me and here are my thoughts with gear I carried with me.
We had a 2 person Hilleberg Anjan tent with us which is considered as a lightweight tent in the Hilleberg tent family. Now there are even lighter Hilleberg tents out like the 1-person Hilleberg Enan tent. Those tents work during the warmer months of the year and if there is not a long period of rain.
However, since those tents are designed to minimise weight (the same goes for bivies) you may end up on the tent wall with your down sleeping bag and won’t be able to dry it the following days if the weather is bad (or add some additional weight with a synthetic sleeping bag instead of a down sleeping bag). That’s why a bigger tent (we are 180 and 190 cm tall) should work better if you want to stay dry and warm over a longer period (or a tent which is shaped that you don’t touch the tent walls that easily).
Alternatively, you could also try to protect your down sleeping bag with waterproof clothes but then you have to make sure that those waterproof clothes are not wet as well after a long hike in the rain.
Anyway, we exchanged our Anjan 2 with an Anjan 3 after this trip which we found a better solution for a 2-person trip (currently we are testing the MSR Hubba Hubba NX – another 2-person 3-season tent like the Hilleberg Anjan 2 – review will be available in a couple of weeks here on our blog).
Trail runners or boots?
Trail runners are cool if you hike in the summer when there is not wet grass and bushes or swamps or when you go for a short hike. My trail runners are not waterproof so they get immediately wet in wet situations.
However, if you have sun and the temperatures are fine then they dry quite fast. Unfortunately, in the Swedish mountains this was not the case. The merino socks helped a bit to keep my foot somewhat warm. Also the sealskinz socks which I was wearing initially didn’t help much since they were worn our quite fast.
Would I go on such a hike again with trail runners? Most likely not if I am planning to hike several days again in unpredictable weather conditions. I am most likely going to take my Hanwag Banks GTX with me.
With rain jackets and pants you can probably save some weight if you chose them carefully. Ultralight versions may not be that durable but they pack small and I can replace them after some trips (even if it costs me some money). I made quite good experience with the Montane Minimus gear on our trip – super light and packs small.
With backpacks you can save a lot of weight. I have the HMG Porter which is also somewhat waterproof. I also use the HMG Porter for packrafting. It’s weight is around 1 kg which means that you can save around 2 kg compared to standard backpacks.
Camera & other electronic stuff
Here you can save weight as well. Take the latest smartphone from e.g. Apple or Sony or a GoPro with you. For higher image quality the Sony A7s, A7r II, A6000 / A7000 or Fujifilm X-T1 / X100T should be a good choice (the Fujifilm X-T1 is weather sealed). And if you have only a heavy DSLR? Well, take it as well. If you enjoy the trip and have great pictures afterwards it’s worth to take the additional weight. You might also considering taking a USB battery pack with you in order to be able to charge your camera and other electronic devices.
I don’t take any plates or big knifes with me. I have a Titanium spoon or a spork and I take dehydrated food with me where you just have to pour water – which I heat up with my Jetboil Sol Ti – into the package (I have not tried to heat up water in stormy and wet weather on an Esbit stove yet to save even more weight…maybe leave a comment below if you have experience with an Esbit stove). I use my tea cup also to prepare porridge for breakfast. Dried nuts / fruits and small chocolate bars also worked well. A stove which can boil water quickly can also reduce the amount of gas you have to carry with you. A plastic bottle / water filter combination worked as well for me. So should you take a frying pan with you? Well if you can prepare your food only with a frying pan then take it with you. Of course you have to carry more weight but you might also enjoy your trip more.
Since we also take in most cases our packrafts with us – which adds on additional weight (around 3.5 kg if we leave our dry suits at home) – talking about ultralight backpacking may become a matter of definition.
For us, backpacking is a combination of relaxation, sports and having fun. Carrying ultralight gear is great but we don’t apply the ultralight principle to 100%. Why? Because we evaluate if saving weight minimizes our comfort / fun factor. Can we still talk about ultralight backpacking if we add additional gear to our backpack (like a packraft or a camera) which is not really needed to do the hike?
To sum up, you have to define yourself if it’s worth carrying additional weight. After some hikes you will definitely find out what belongs into your backpack and what stays at home.