Backpacking Lite - Less is More

This site is dedicated to the art of backpacking with lighter loads. It is 100% UK-sourced original content.

This site will cover the basic philosophy behind Backpacking Lite, choosing kit, choosing places to go, planning for your trip, contingency planning and even making your own kit.

The focus of this site is for trips in the UK with typical mountain weather. This means that sometimes Tarps can be used and sometimes they cannot. Sometimes a traditional tent might be the best or most sensible option.

What's New?

Backpacking Lite - Philosophy

  • Why do it?
  • Weigh everything - how much are you actually carrying?
  • Take Only What You need
  • Take kit that is appropriate for the weather and the destination
  • Take lightweight versions of the kit that you need
  • Take alternative versions of the kit that you need - a bivi bag instead of a tent.
  • Avoid buying over-engineered kit

For a quick summary you can look at the Backpacking-Lite Weight-loss plan.

Backpacking Lite - Why do it?

If you are hiking a long distance path do you think you will enjoy it more carrying a 16Kg pack or carrying a 5Kg pack? If you want to tell everyone about your adventures on the Pennine way I am pretty sure that no-one really cares how big your pack was.

These days a number of the long distance routes in the UK are well-supported by porter services that will take your luggage between stops. I think it is 'cheating' but I can see why it is so popular.

Take for example The West Highland Way. It travels through some very beautiful and desolate terrain that in places is tough going. It also just so happens that at the end of each segment there is B&B accommodation available (and now heavily overbooked). So, if you so wish you can plan to carry only a light daysack during the walk and have your clothes and spare kit follow you in a bus. It would be therefore be easy to travel with a 2-5Kg daysack and still do the walk.

How much better would it be if you could do that same walk and still only carry 5Kg (plus food and water) but not need to book B&Bs because you had everything you needed. Would that make the trip more fun?

Backpacking Lite - Weigh Everything

Do you know how much your kit actually weighs? I was shocked to discover that my favourite 20L Berghaus Freeflow daysack weighed 1Kg. Sure, it was comfortable, but there was 1Kg before I even started. That was more than my 30L climbing sack (Karrimor Hot 30 @ 800g).

My traditional 60L Karrimor Jaguar backpack (which has served me well) weighs in at 1.8Kg empty!

What about that nice roomy tent or the luxury Thermarest - how much do they weigh?

What about your 3-layer Gore-Tex jacket with extra pockets and zips?

It soon adds up.

Backpacking Lite - Take only what you need

Now you are moving into an area where a little bit of wisdom can save you a lot of weight. Obviously you would not take an Ice axe on a summer walk around some lakes but how much of what you are carrying is 'just in case' or really designed for winter rather than summer or autumn use?

If I have a Map and a Compass with me then I could take a GPS (and I often do) but it is a luxury item.

In the summer there is no real need for my Gore-Tex jacket and I could just take a cheap 'breathable' nylon jacket or better still a light pertex jacket such as the Montane Featherlite. The difference in weight could easily be 300-500g.

In the summer I would not take any form of emergency shelter since I would carry sufficient clothing and waterproofs for the conditions that I expect to encounter. If the daytime temperatures are 30c then even if a storm does move in it is unlikely to drop below 20c so a heavy fleece is not required.

In the winter I will usually carry some form of emergency shelter. Nowadays that is in the form of a 1 or 2 man Bothy Bag. It weighs less than most bivi bags and is more practical for an emergency. Likewise, if I was planning to camp out and had a bivi bag with me then I wouldn't bother with a bothy bag as well.

In the summer for a night on the hills I would take a home-made pertex bivi bag that weighs 220g. In the winter or when a lot of rain was expected I might instead take a 600g Gore-Tex bag.

Backpacking Lite - Take kit that is appropriate

In the winter it would be normal for me to take a spare pair of walking trousers, a spare micro-fleece, full waterproofs, and maybe gloves and a hat. If I am walking near or on snow then I would also take a pair of high altitude sunglasses.

In the summer I wouldn't bother with most of the above. This would save me maybe 2Kg of weight for very little risk. To take kit that you are not likely to use just adds weight to your pack. It all soon adds up.

In winter Plastic rigid boots might be necessary. In summer (midges aside) then trainers or sandals might be viable.

Last Summer (2005) I experimented by walking up Helvellyn in just sandals. I found that whilst it was very comfortable for walking I did suffer a lot of midge bites to my feet. I also found that my footing was not very steady on some of the scrambling and so I was thankful that I had taken boots with me for this section. Overall it changed the footwear that I use.

Now, in the Summer, unless I am expecting either midges or scrambling then I will just wear sandals without socks. My feet thank me for it, they stay healthy and the walking is easy. If the ground is muddy or there are midges then I'll wear a pair of trail shoes. Even when backpacking I will tend to use something like an Merrell trail shoe if I think I can get away with it. If the terrain demands it then I'll take Brasher boots or a Zamberlan traditional leather boot - especially for peat bog.

The pack that I am carrying does not have any influence on my choice of footwear simply because my pack weights are now so small.

Backpacking Lite - Take lightweight versions of the kit that you need

I've talked a bit about choosing lighter versions of kit to save weight. This often costs a little money so I tend to work out a price-per-Kg basis for shaving weight. For example an Aluminium tent peg weighs maybe 13g and a Titanium one weighs 6g but that saving of 7g will cost me maybe £2 per peg. If I used 4 pegs instead of 6 then I might save the same amount of weight for no money.

If you are carrying less weight and carrying more compact kit then you can use a smaller pack and a lighter pack. My Berghaus Freeflow is great for a hot summer's day but it is a luxury. When I am doing an overnight bivi in the hills I will instead take the slightly large Kimmlite AR25L which is more than large enough for what I take and weighs around 520g.

In the summer I will take a Snugpak 650 1-season sleeping bag and wear extra clothes if required. In the Autumn or in colder weather I'll take a Snugpak Autumn bag which weighs 1.4g - roughly twice the weight. Even so, both are lighter than my 2Kg winter bag.

For a hot drink I have switched from a mini Trangia (330g) to a Vargo Triad Titanium stove (28g) and a MSR Titanium mug (50g). Most of the time I won't bother (0g). For Autumn/Winter use I will use an MSR Pocket Rocket (80g) that boils water very quickly.

Backpacking Lite - Take alternative versions of the kit that you need

This is one area where I am experimenting most. On my last overnight I had a cheap lightweight bivi bag (Khyam 340g) which I used mainly as a groundsheet and as a backup plan, a home-made micro tarp that was less than 2sqM of fabric but provided a small 'tent' for my head and shoulders at a cost of 140g. On that last trip the weather report was good so I slept on top of the bivi bag and the-micro tarp kept the draughts out. Because the weather was good it worked very well.

In bad weather I might take a larger tarp (300g or 500g) and either a bivi bag (250g) or a medium-weight ground sheet (100g). All of this (even with guy ropes and pegs) would still weigh less than the current range of high-quality sub-kilo tents. It also allows me to set up camp in a much wider variety of places than with just a tent.

I have recently moved over to using a hybrid tarp/tent which I have made which has a minimum weight of 707g which compares very well with the excellent Contrail Tarptent which weighs in at 696g

Backpacking Lite - Avoid buying over-engineered kit

A lot of kit is sold that is almost indestructible and will last for 20 years. There is no secret as to how it is done - they over-design it.

My current 'large' climbing sack is a Berghaus Arete 45. As a climbing sack it is just about perfect for me. It is tough, it has hoops for clipping biners and kit on and it has sufficient space for rope and nuts slings etc. It weighs 1.3Kg and is a good weight for a climbing sack. As a daysack it is far too heavy and too tough. Yes, I could drag it through a thorn bush or climb a chimney wearing it without damage but if I am not doing any of those things I could have used a much lighter pack - maybe by GoLite for the same volume.

Incidentally, the 45L sack is now big enough for two people's kit with room to spare. On a trip out to test kit I was carrying two sleeping bags, two bivi bags, a tarp, a silk mummy liner and some additional stuff and still had space left...

I own a very nice 3/4 season mountain tent which is great for windy weather. It is however no good in snow. Since I don't camp in snow this is not a problem.

Backpacking Lite - Keep Reviewing

A lot