Pros & Cons of Lightweight Backpacking

What is Lightweight Backpacking?

First of all, what is lightweight backpacking?  For that matter, what is ultra lightweight backpacking?

The general consensus on what lightweight means in the backpacking world is a base weight of 10-20lbs, whereas ultra lightweight would be 0-10lbs.

Now, you might ask what does base weight mean?  Well let’s define that too shall we.  As I understand it, your base weight is everything you’re carrying, minus consumables. Consumables being things like food, water and fuel.  Some people get confused in the details when it comes to this though.  Does the packaging for these consumables count towards your base weight or is it considered part of the consumable weight?  How I see is it, is like this.  If you have to carry it and it can’t be eaten, drank or burned, then yes it does count towards your base weight.  So you would include the weight of the fuel canister, but not the fuel, towards your base weight.  You’d count the weight of your water bottle towards your base weight, but not the water.  Same goes for food packaging, but not the food.

Where things start to get tricky is in things that you might throw away, such as the packaging for your energy bars.  If you repackage your food into Ziploc bags then the weight of the bags goes towards your base weight as you’ll likely not be throwing them away, but rather reusing them for future meals.  But if it’s a one time use packaging, then I would consider that part of the consumable weight.  Just remember to pack out what you pack in.  Never throw away trash unless it’s into a trash bin.

This concept can also apply to things like toothpaste and toilet paper, etc. ie. the toothpaste would be considered consumable, but the package the toothpaste comes in would not, especially if it’s refillable.

Ultra Lightweight

Some people will become obsessed with getting their pack weight as low as humanly possible.  These people are usually referred to as ultra lightweight backpackers.  They’ll cut their toothbrush handles down just to save a few grams.  I’ve heard of some people going so far as to count how many squares of toilet paper they bring, being sure not to exceed 2 squares per day.  The super hardcore people will go so far as to not even bring toilet paper, but instead use leaves, rocks or dirt to wipe themselves.

While these practices are not my preferred way of doing things, I certainly understand why they would want to do so.  Just remember that in the end you have to Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH).  So long as you’re enjoying yourself, you’re doing it right.

  • A lowered risk of injury due to not carrying as much weight, therefore putting less stress on your muscles and joints.
  • The ability to travel further & faster using the same amount of energy as someone who is not a lightweight backpacker, or travel the same distance using less energy to get there.
  • A simpler set-up and tear down of your campsite because you have fewer items.
  • Less comfort oriented gear, such as a camp chair, a book to read, etc.
  • The cost of lightweight gear is generally much higher than heavier items.
  • Lightweight gear is usually more prone to damage as well.



Helpful Tools is a free website that I use to keep track of all my gear, how much each item weighs and if it’s consumable or not.  It allows you to put everything into categories which helps you to keep track of all your gear and their properties.  You can also have a master list of everything you own and only add the items you want to your pack list. It provides you with a pretty good break down pie graph of what’s in your pack.

ozeri-pronto-digital-scaleI suggest purchasing a gram scale in order to help you determine where you can best cut weight if you desire to do so.  The one I recommend is the Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale.

You can see what’s currently in my pack here.