Do you want to reduce your base pack weight or go ultralight…
…but you’re not sure where to start?
By spending just $100, in the past few months alone I’ve been able to slash my pack weight almost in half — all while being a complete lightweight backpacking newbie.
It wasn’t rocket science. It just took the right information.
Here are 5 awesome resources that helped me lighten my load without lightening my wallet (too much).
In my opinion, this is the most helpful online community for ultralight hikers out there.
Even if you aren’t a reddit user, the Ultralight subreddit is an amazing place to lurk around and find answers to every question you could possibly have regarding ultralight backpacking, from the general (where do I even start?) to the granular (how many panels of a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol do you use and why?).
Just pop your question into the search bar and chances are you’ll find someone who’s already asked it along with a number of helpful responses.
Ultralight newbies like me should read through the subreddit’s wiki which is a free, well-organized resource for those new to the ultralight community. It’s a great place to start if you don’t know what BPW or The Big 3 mean (no shame if not, even though I’d backpacked a handful of times before I had no idea what these things were).
There are also weekly discussion threads pinned at the top of the subreddit’s home feed where you can, among other things, discuss gear, share packing lists, and get quick answers to questions that you feel don’t warrant an entire post.
If you’re trying go ultralight on a budget, there are a lot of helpful suggestions on what gear you should get, plus simple DIY/MYOG alternatives. One user even put together an ultra-cheap and ultralight gear list. That list has helped me out a ton in putting together my personal “v1.0” ultralight gear list.
You can also ask for a “pack shakedown” which lets you crowdsource feedback from the community on how to lighten your pack — something I’ve never done myself but am excited to do in the future for longer trips.
I personally use r/Ultralight mostly as a way to find answers to gear-related questions. Generally I can find the answer to my question in the search bar. If not, I might ask it in the general discussion thread. A handful of answers are quick to follow.
A while back I read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits has always stuck with me:
“Begin with the end in mind.”
Whenever you’re trying to reach a goal — such as a BPW of <10 lbs — it’s important to know your destination. This allows you to create a road map to help you get where you want to go.
LighterPack, a free tool that lets you create gear lists and track your pack weight, is like the road map generator for reducing your pack weight when used correctly.
(I put together a LighterPack tutorial which shows you how to use it to calculate and reduce your pack weight.)
Here’s how I use it:
Using LighterPack (or any other similar tool such as a backpacking gear spreadsheet), create your target gear list. Include the SPECIFIC products you want in it, e.g. “Borah Gear Solo Tarp,” as opposed to generic names such as “tarp.” Use their listed weights, too, but make a note to weigh it yourself once you buy it.
Doing this forces you to research and identify the exact pieces of gear, from backpack to water bottles, you need to reduce your pack weight and/or go ultralight. This is the challenging part. To find the exact pieces of gear that are right for your needs, ask Google, your backpacker friends, and online communities like — you guessed it — r/Ultralight.
(One way I learn from r/Ultralight is by looking at everyone else’s gear lists. Many users will list a LighterPack link next to their username which you peruse for inspiration. Or just search the subreddit for the type of gear list you want to create: e.g. “JMT gear list”.)
Once you’ve populated LighterPack with your target gear list, you have your very own step-by-step road map for reducing your pack weight. You can glance at your list and see in an instant what gear you already have, what you need to modify, and what you need to make or purchase.
At that point, all you have to do is save up enough money to tick off all the items on your gear list and you will have reached your target pack weight.
3. Trail Life by Ray Jardine
This book (formerly titled Beyond Backpacking) is what inspired me to go backpacking more, and with a lighter pack.
And it seems I’m not alone. As one forum commenter put it:
“The book is probably more responsible for generating enthusiasm of the current lightweight movement than any other volume.”
While there are critics of “the Ray-Way”, the story that Jardine weaves in the book’s introductory chapters doubles as a powerfully persuasive argument for the joys and benefits of ultralight backpacking.
Pick up a copy if you need some inspiration or are wondering why you should bother with reducing your pack weight at all.
If you don’t like reddit, this is another great online community of lightweight hikers and backpackers. Whenever I search for something related to lightweight backpacking on Google, I usually end up on a Backpacking Light forum thread and leave with an answer to my question.
A lot of the site’s content is behind a paywall, and you need to subscribe to be able to post in the forums. But viewing the forums is free and you’ll learn a lot just from lurking around.
The site’s search function isn’t the best, so if I want to see what people on the site are saying about a topic I’ll usually head to Google and search something like “jmt gear list backpackinglight.” I can’t recall a time I haven’t found a relevant thread.
5. Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland
That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book.
It’s easy to read, full of goofy illustrations, and written in a lighthearted style. While Trail Life reads more like a textbook, Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips reads more like a listicle — in the best possible way.
This book isn’t a step-by-step guide to lightening your pack, nor does it try to be. It does offer some quick weight-shaving wins — this book is where I got the idea for my DIY aluminum foil windscreen — but that’s about it.
The main benefit I got from it is that the obvious joy Mike Clelland derives from ultralight backpacking rubbed off on me as I flipped through the pages. Hiking in the rain, sleeping under a tarp, and pooping in the woods never sounded as fun as they do in this book.
How to Use These Resources to Reduce Your Pack Weight
These resources will be useless to you unless you do something with them.
To make it easier for you to take action, based on what worked for me here’s how I recommend you use these resources to reduce your BPW without spending too much money:
- Read the r/Ultralight wiki. This free resource will introduce you to the philosophy of ultralight backpacking, along with basic gear strategies.
- Browse r/Ultralight or the Backpacking Light gear forums for a gear list to use as inspiration. Search one of these sites for the type of gear list you want to put together. Browse the results until you find a list that you like. Here is a good ultra-cheap and ultralight gear list to get you started.
- Create your own target gear list using LighterPack, TrailPack, or Trailpost. Use the list you found in Step #2 as inspiration for your own target gear list. Copy it if you want. Include the SPECIFIC pieces of gear, not generic names — e.g. “Borah Gear Solo Tarp” instead of “tarp”.
- Start working step-by-step towards acquiring all the gear in your target gear list. Whenever you have some extra cash, purchase the next piece of gear on your list that you don’t have yet. Or take an afternoon to research and make a simple DIY version. If you’re on a tight budget like me, this part that will take some time. It might be months before you have enough extra cash to purchase a new backpack or shelter. But keep at it until you’ve completed your target gear list.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention anything about buying and reading Trail Life or Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips. They are fun and inspiring books but they’re not required reading by any means. You can easily learn how to shave pounds off your BPW with just the free online resources on this list.
Best of luck lightening your pack.