“What to pack for a trek?” Creating an Ultralight trekking gear list
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Program for pro trekkers.
Just walk into an outdoor shop and you’ll see the words ‘Ultra-light’ glued to everything on sale. It’s also the new buzzword among trekking and outdoor enthusiasts, but is it the best way to venture into the outdoors?
Does an ultralight trekking gear list include all essential items for trekking?
Is this style relevant when trekking in the Indian Himalayas?
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
What is ultralight backpacking?
Ultra-light backpacking cannot be simply defined by the weight of your backpack. It’s more of a philosophy which enables people to cover large distances in short periods of time. Some may say that traveling in this fashion leaves you with little options, but there is always a trade-off between comfort and a heavy backpack on a trek.
The need to pack ultralight:
If you travel a lot or wish to, what would you prefer, a heavy backpack or a light one that enables you to freely locomote? By cutting down on stuff, you are forced to use your own judgment and rely more on your own skills. By carrying less you’ll be able to cover more distance more comfortably.
Essentially, there are four things you need to keep in mind when packing for your next Himalayan trek.
Shelter is as basic as it gets. So the first thing that goes into your bag is your ‘shelter’ system. Depending on the nature of your trek there are four basic options.
Tent – We all know the benefits of a tent, but have you ever realized that it is also the heaviest equipment in your bag? If a tent is what you need then make sure that it’s not over 1.5 kg per person, when backpacking with multiple people, you can split the weight by dividing the tent, rain fly, and poles.
Tarp– If you still want to reduce weight but also need rain-protection then go for a tarp. Spacious and lightweight (weighs a little above 500 grams), it shelters you from rain and needs to be supported with a separate pole. Another way to reduce load is by replacing these poles with your walking sticks.
Hammock– Along with Pina Colada and Mojito, the Caribbean Islands have also given us Hammocks. Super lightweight and easy to set up. If you plan to do a lot of trekking in India, in the Trans-Himalayan region (below tree line) and want to do away with some weight, a hammock can be your go-to option in summers. Only add some extra insulation for emergencies.
Bivy Sack– Is essentially a light waterproof sack. Originally used by climbers on multi-day excursions, it is very small, lightweight and an alternative to a tent. Spending a night in these sacks is quite uncomfortable especially when shared. It is advisable to not invest in them unless you are super eager to cut on weight.
Permanent Shelter– Constructed by locals or shepherds, these shelters are the best way to save weight. The only downside is that they are often crammed up, but by relying on these permanent structures you can save up to five to three kilograms of load.
Clothing is paramount on a trek and depends on important factors like season, weather, trek’ s elevation profile, trail conditions, etc. Clothing is all about fabrics and layers. Always look for light, quick drying synthetics which can perform well under most conditions.
It is better to dress up in layers so that you can remove or add clothing suited to the sudden drops or rise in temperature.
When it comes to backpacks: There are backpacks which are designed to be ultra-light, but don’t buy them unless saving weight is your priority. They are designed to be light, not comfortable because they are mostly frameless without any extra padding. Your normal backpack will also work, but ensure that you follow the best way to pack your backpack.
The second heaviest item in your bag. Often it happens that we haven’t checked the specifications of our sleeping bag and are carrying a lot of weight without any reason. So be sure that your sleeping bag is designed for the conditions you are planning to trek in. It is also important to look up the features (temperature ratings, insulation, etc.) of your sleeping bag, as it may help you reduce weight further.
Tip: It is best to carry a personal sleeping bag since there are inherent risks associated with using shared or rented sleeping bags.
When going trekking it is also a must to carry a first aid kit designed for the type of trek and the number of people in your group. Here is an exhaustive list of important medicines, equipment and essential First Aid box contents for those heading out for trekking in the mountains. Everything that you’ll ever need, in case things go downhill.
Follow these seven steps to create your own DIY Ultralight Backpack:
Often an overlooked aspect but a crucial one. If you are not weighing all your stuff then it’s not ultra-light backpacking. Only after repeated weighing can one notice whether the backpack has been optimized in terms of weight or not. Getting it right the first time is hard, but with time one can hone this skill. Weigh everything and record it so you’ll have something to compare with whenever you pack next. Carry less. Omit unnecessary items such as electronic gadgets, multiple items of clothing, etc.
2-Reduce each item’s weight.
Replace all items manufactured using heavy materials with items made from lighter raw material eg. Take out all extra air from all packaged items, when planning meals and snacks, target foods that pack about 125 calories per ounce. Carry clothing which can be used in multiple ways. Choosing a lightweight and breathable fabric (like wool, polyester, or nylon) helps wick moisture and serves a dual purpose by protecting your arms and legs from the sun.
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3-Rethink, Reduce, and Repackage
Carry only what you’ll need for that trip like fuel, sunblock, string, batteries, etc. This often includes repackaging items.
Try to find items that can be put to multiple uses, Ex. a bandana, poncho + tent, hiking + tent poles, wool sock + mittens, etc.
5-Share gear with others
Ex. share one sleeping bag between two people, one stove and a single cooking pot between 2–4 people.
6-Lighten your feet
It is said that an ounce on the feet is a pound on the back. Shoes are a balancing act, too light and you risk injury, too heavy and they can feel unnatural and tire you out.
Tip: Light hikers usually feature mesh material that offers extra breathability and reduces foot odor.
7-Replace existing gear
Keep it as the last resort. Purchase/borrow lighter weight gear. Start with shelter, sleeping, and carrying systems (commonly called the Big Three) which might include a tent/tarp/bivy, sleeping bag/quilt, sleeping pad, and backpack.
Also, have you heard about dehydrated foods?
Dehydration is the process of removing water or moisture from a food product. Removing moisture from food reduces their size and weight. So, let’s say if you are doing a long trip, you’ll need 1kg of food per day. If you have a lot of dehydrated veggies and a little frozen dried meat, you can possibly cut your daily food weight to ½ kg per day or less.
Using dehydrated foods helps because even though you carry less weight -your food retains all minerals, vitamins and natural enzymes. Some dehydrated foods like grapes and plums have twice the amount of antioxidants as compared to freshly plucked ones.
Before finalizing your checklist address some basic questions like Identifying what is important to you. Do you want the lightest possible shelter or not? Will you be willing to sacrifice room and privacy? Would you want to share a double sleeping bag with your partner? Consider durability, the extra weight of miscellaneous items. Also, here is a list of essential trekking hacks that will make life easy while trekking in India.
In the end don’t be overly anal about all the weight you’ll be carrying, as we have said in the beginning that ultralight backpacking is different for everyone. For some a coffee maker is essential for others it’s a book, don’t punish yourself to save weight. After all, the main idea to go out is to enjoy.
If you feel we missed on some lightweight backpacking gear, let us know in the comments section below.
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Author: Aditya Pande
A climber hailing from a quaint hill town of Kumaon, Uttaranchal. Focused towards staying healthy and efficient, in the mountains and in the cities.