Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

UL Weight Watchers

What defines lightweight, ultralight and superultralight? These questions pop up time and again on forums and on blogs, so I thought it might be interesting to delve a bit deeper into this subject. Its going to be highly subjective, full of crazy weight calculations and definitions, so if you could care less about how heavy the stuff is which you carry through the outdoors you better don't read on. For all others, I am looking forward to a lively discussion!

There's a lot of different interpretations of what is UL, SUL and lightweight, and what I found a good definition is

Lightweight = 12-20 pounds
Ultralight = 6-11 pounds
Superultralight = 5 pounds or less

as posted by the Jolly Green Giant. I live in the metric system, which, with its logical steps of tens, hundreds and thousands is a lot more appealing to me than ounces, pounds and whatnot. In that system the above would translate to the following:

Lightweight = 5,44 - 9,07 kg
Ultralight = 2,72 - 4,99 kg
Superultralight = 2,27 kg or less

For the sake of simplicity, and my love for even numbers, I'd round them up/ down to

Lightweight = 5,0 - 10,0 kg
Ultralight = 3,0 - 5,0 kg
Superultralight = anything under 3 kg

That's completely my own suggestion, and you will see many varied discussions and definitions on this topic. But I have more to say than rounding some number up and down, so bear with me. On the last trip, which was in the sign of UL, of course at some point the discussion turned to weights, and how the whole definition is a bit dodgy and open to interpretation. What we discussed about is that I with my Size S in clothing have it a lot easier to reach a UL weight of someone who's 195 cm tall and wears XXL. My small size is a benefit in every piece of gear, because I can sleep under a smaller tarp, use a smaller backpack and quilt, a shorter pad, I don't need to eat as much and the list continues. So I think someone should start to make a clear definition on those weights, and also on deviations of it.

Before I dive into deviations, lets shortly discuss the different ways of defining the weight. You got the base weight, which includes everything in the backpack minus consumables like food, water, fuel and toiletries. This leaves out the stuff you wear on your body - the clothes you wear, your hat, sunglasses, watch, camera, GPS, shoes, trekking poles, etc. To include them and the consumables, one could use the Skin Out Weight. Everything is in there when using the skin out weight; food, water, the clothes you wear and everything else. I believe the new definition of base weight should be the sum of base weight (everything you carry in the backpack minus consumables) and the stuff you wear on your body. Why? Because everything else is a sham in my opinion. You carry what you wear, and thus it should be included from the start and not as a separate point in gear lists. The other weight I would calculate and list is consumables, the food, water, and toiletries. Those two weights will be what I personally will be using from now on, with mentioning of what is worn in the backpack and on the body but with including both as one point when calculating the base weight.

Back to weight and deviations then. My suggestion would be that size Medium (M) is set as the middle standard, to which the above weights (the UL/ SUL/ Lightweight definitions) apply. You could even go a step further and define it so that someone of a certain size (height) is linked to that, but maybe its better to keep it simple. So if a Size M wants to go UL, he should aim for a three to five kilogram weight. And here the deviation to the current system could come in:

- Size S => subtract 5% from M for weight limit
- Size M => Standard
- Size L => add 5% from M for weight limit
- Size XL => add 10% from M for weight limit
- Size XXL => add 15% from M for weight limit

This might sound all hugely complicated, but in truth I think it would simplify, make the weight more personal and most importantly it would make the discussion more fair. Lets assume someone of Size S would like to go UL, then the maximum (new definition) base weight should be 5 kg * 0,95 (because he needs to subtract 5% from the M weight limit) so his max weight would be 4,75 kg. If on the other hand some who's a Size XL wants to go UL he should aim for a (5 kg * 1,1) 5,5 kg max base weight. This allows for the extra weight his larger clothes, shoes, tent, pad, etc. are likely to incur in comparison to someone who's a size S or M. I chose 5% as the value, not because I have done a scientific research on the differences in weights (not yet, at least ;) but because I feel that 250 g are likely a good number to accommodate the differences in the same piece of clothing if taken a number bigger or smaller.

Well, these were my thoughts on the weight debate. To conclude, this was a nice play with numbers, and hopefully helps to clarify maybe the whole weight discussion a bit. I think using the new definition of base weight would be an improvement to the current system, as you include also what you wear and carry on your body, and so close some loopholes. The deviation system on the other hand would make the weights comparable among people of different sizes, and would not put the larger folks at a disadvantage when it comes to staying under a certain weight limit. Finally, these are just ideas and guidelines, and not the be all and end all of the weight debate. If you're aim is to go UL and you're happy with 5,6 kg even if that would be 600 g over the limit of what is considered UL, as long as you feel good and happy with it, don't bother further about it. Its only numbers, after all, and if you decided to lighten up that's the right step you've taken!

Now I'm done and am looking forward to your questions, comments, and observations =)


I feel it is about time that I change the URL of my blog to something easier, and with Google's great offer of less than 10€ for a custom domain I decided to switch to a dot com domain. So, I'd like to suggest that you update your bookmark to http://www.hikinginfinland.com/ instead of the old http://www.hikinginfinland.blogspot.com/ - although the old URL will forward you to the new one, so you're not missing out on anything if you read the blog from a browser, but some functions (like the Followers box on the right) might not work properly. It seems the RSS reader works just fine, but if you don't get updates there, you might want to update it to the new domain as well.

From the last trip, a VauDe Scutum aka Power Lizard UL in the background, and a LAUFBURSCHE Cuben Tanzpalast in the foreground.

Book Corner: Trekking Ultraleicht by Stefan Dapprich

I do read a lot, and not only online. I really enjoy reading a book over breakfast or the afternoon coffee, and also when I go hiking it can be great to have a book with you for those long evenings at the campfire in winter. In this series I will introduce you to some books which I have read and found useful, so if you're a book rat like me, read on!

Part of my collection of backpacking, bushcraft and outdoor related books.

The first book I'd like to introduce you to is Trekking Ultraleicht from Stefan Dapprich. I won this book in a raffle, and its in German. Its weight of 129 g and the small size mean that it fits easily into my backpack for a trip, in case I want to brush up on something or just read it again.

Trekking Ultraleicht by Stefan Dapprich

The book is clearly aimed at people who are new to ultralight backpacking, and it is a good introduction to the philosophy of UL backpacking, with tips on gear and useful skills to know. The gear recommendations in the book are a bit outdated and odd in my opinion, but that is for a print medium negligible I think - especially since the book is connected to the German trekking-ultraleicht.de forum where readers can discuss their questions and get more up-to-date suggestions on gear.

Trekking Ultraleicht goes over the big three, kitchen, water, food, clothing and various other items, and has MYOG plans in it as well. A definite highlight of the book is the food section, and the author's recipe for pemmican is absolutely delicious, as I was able to taste for myself on the last tour. I will attempt to make some of this myself for future trips, and shall share my recipe in a how-to post.

The author writes in an easy to understand way, and one clearly sees that he know what he writes about. He has been UL on tour in various different parts of the world, from the Australian Outback to Greenland, and thus his recommendations are based on his own experience and not only (internet) research. I really like that he recommends a lot of basic household items, for example Ziploc bags and small containers for the storage of food and other items which need to stay dry - this not only saves money, but is often overlooked in favour of more expensive drysacks and whatnot.

To conclude, the 140 pages of content are a excellent first step for anyone interested in ultralight backpacking, with useful tips for how to make the change from heavy to light, plenty of photos, pack lists for summer and autumn/ spring trips and a good overview of UL gear choices - maybe slightly outdated by now, but on the other hand some of them are already classics. I believe that spending the 9,90€ for the book helps to save money in the long term, because you will know what to look for and don't need to spend money on a variety of other gear that you might not need.

Disclosure: I have an Amazon Affiliate account, and if you click on the link and buy the book I even might earn a few euros - for more books!