Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

UL Beginners Guide: The Big Three

Starting out with UL - ultralight - backpacking is often a decision because one doesn't enjoy lugging around 20 or more kilograms of weight on ones back, or because its physically not possible anymore to carry that much in the outdoors. So where and how does one start? There are many different opinions on this, and this is my subjective take on it.

Because a weight scale which measures in grams isn't a common household item, such a scale might be a good first investment. Also the book "Lighten Up!" from Don Ladigin is a very good investment, and if its just for the fantastic illustrations from Mike Clelland! A subscription to backpackinglight.com is a smart choice if you're into MYOG and in-depth gear reports. Also otherwise its a superb website for finding information on all things UL.

But lets talk some gear. Going UL I would start with replacing the big three: backpack, shelter and sleeping system. These are the most heavy items of a normal backpacker, and give the UL novice a very good opportunity to slash unnecessary kilos left and right. For comparison I will list my own gear as I was a normal backpacker, so we can add up in the end and I can show you how much weight you can lose. So, I had a Gregory backpack which was 2,9 kg, a sleeping bag which weights 2 kg, a Therm-A-Rest mat which is 730 g and no tent, but lets say I would have had a tent of 2,5 kg. That makes a weight of 8,13 kg. So, lets start with the backpack!

Nowadays I have an ULA Ohm backpack which I can recommend without a doubt to anyone who is looking for a sturdy and functional UL backpack. However, while not expensive at 130$ you will pay postage and most likely customs which can make that number grow easily to 170€, and you can't try it on. A backpack which you very likely will find at your local outdoor shop for trying on is the GoLite Jam. Its 753 g which is usually a quarter of what a conventional backpack weights, and its cheap as well at 125$. It also comes in many different colours, of which I like the black one best. Ultralight Outdoor Gear, which have superfast delivery times and good prices, sells the GoLite Jam for 70£, which is 80€ at the moment.

Next is the shelter. I just read about a guy who is carrying a 5 kg tent with him, alone. I believe normal tents nowadays are around 2 - 3 kg, but also that can be substantially decreased, as there are just as functional and storm-prove UL tents out there. However, the first question you should ask yourself is if you want a tent or a tarp. I will go with a tent in this Guide, but a tarp is just as good, and they are ridiculously light, so decide for yourself. I have a Tarptent Scarp 1 which I again can recommend. However, today I would go for a Tarptent Moment. Its 810 g and sets up very quick, and the design is beautiful - a small Scarp 1, I would say =) The Moment costs 215$, which is not expensive in my opinion considering that it is made in the USA, and an added benefit is that you know to whom your money goes (Henry Shires that is, the owner of Tarptent - great guy). 215$ are around 150€, on top come shipping and customs.

That leaves us with the sleeping system. Lets start with the mat, an important part of your sleeping system, as it isolates you from beneath and ensures that you are lying comfortable. The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir is a real revolution on the market, but at 71£ (80€) for the small one its not really cheap. However, the Small NeoAir weights 260 g and packs very small; and I firmly believe in the principle of buying good quality once instead of crappy quality many times again. That leaves us with the sleeping bag. I guess a quilt is maybe to experimental for the UL novice, so you can pick up a RAB Quantum 250 Down Sleeping Bag. At 630 g you get a very light three season sleeping bag, filled with 250 g of goose down. It will set you back 152£ (173€).

So, your average weight for backpack, sleeping system and shelter would have been 8130 g, and after an investment of 483€ (plus shipping and customs) you would have decreased that weight to 2453 g - less than one third of what you've carried before! That's over 5,6 kg off your back, and you are now just as comfortable, warm and safe on the trail than previously, but most likely will be able to walk more kilometers, climb more mountains and take along a little extra weight which you wouldn't have taken before (like the DSLR camera).

Tomorrow I will continue my little UL Beginners Guide and look at some lightweight clothes and shoes, until then I am looking forward to your suggestions for decreasing the big three!