Heavy backpacks are a nightmare to travel with.
They’re uncomfortable, painful to carry, and make transporting your stuff downright unpleasant.
They can do actual damage too. There were almost 5,500 backpack-related injuries treated in emergency rooms a few years ago in the United States.
Enter the rise of ultralight backpacking.
Now, most travellers already know not to over-pack. But ultralight packing takes it one step further. It’s the difference between a 30lb and a 9lb backpack. The name of the game is to shred every ounce of excess weight possible.
But it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re not used to doing it.
It’s definitely still a work in progress for me! So, in an effort to learn, I’ve put together a list of ultralight items to benefit any budding thru-hikers, or intrepid travellers, hoping to move with as little weight as possible on their back.
Read on for the best ultralight backpacking gear list I could come up with.
The Best Ultralight Backpacking Gear List
Ultralight backpacking takes some getting used to.
But keep in mind that an ultralight traveller needs a slightly different set of items to an ultralight hiker. Both are backpacking, just with different overall goals. Hence, the gear they require varies.
I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible with the following list. All told, it should cater to anyone’s ultralight requirements. However, be sure to pick and choose from the items to match your personal needs.
And finally, just a heads up that this post contains affiliate links. Let’s crack on…
Every backpacker needs a backpack. I mean, does it still count as backpacking without one? Hmmm.
Anyway, avoid all the bells and whistles (fancy straps, buckles, add-ons etc). They add weight and usually go unused anyway. The simpler the better. Likewise, rain covers are overrated. Use a pack liner instead for a cheaper and more effective way of doing the same thing.
Top pick: Osprey Exos 48L
At 43oz (1.2kg), the Osprey Exos is highly recommended. It packs a 5* rating online.
It’s a simple yet practical backpack that’ll suit the needs and requirements of any hiker or traveller. 48L means there’s plenty of room for all your stuff, while stopping you going overboard.
The ventilated frame means its comfortable to carry, and the front stretch mesh pocket is ideal for wet gear or anything you need to access easily. There’s also an internal hydration reservoir pocket and a trekking pole attachment.
The Osprey brand is known around the world for its quality materials, reasonable prices, and awesome warranty. I’ve used Osprey packs on numerous occasions and never been disappointed.
For a smaller, portable and fold up ultralight carry on, try the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack. This versatile little pack boasts high-quality materials, a bunch of great features and all for a reasonable price. It’s also incredible popular and well-rated online. Click here to check the price.
Top Ultralight Backpacking Gear Tip:
To go as light as possible try getting a pack without a frame. That probably goes against all the advice you’ve ever had about backpack buying. After, no frame means less structural support.
But, in reality, that’s less of an issue when the overall packed weight (with food, water, fuel and so on) is unlikely to exceed 20lbs (9kgs).
Top Frameless Pack: G4Free Lightweight Backpack 40L
At 40L, this pack might not be big enough for some.
But it’s a great bet for anyone wanting something genuinely ultralight (it weighs in at 12oz/0.3kg), while maintaining a high level of quality and functioning.
It’s also an Amazon favourite and scores an impressive 4.4/5 rating. Oh, and it’s cheap as chips.
Click here to view more backpacks under 100 bucks.
Tents are a useful inclusion for all manner of reasons.
They offer ultimate flexibility: sleep wherever you want, and save on accommodation costs at the same time. For thru-hikers they’re essential. For travellers, they’re handy inclusions.
But tents are typically heavy. However, modern tech has brought the weight down massively. You can now find tents under 1lb all up (0.45kg). However, be prepared to pay high price for low weight.
Top Pick: Naturehike Cloud-Up Ultralight Tent
The Naturehike is well reviewed and rated online at 4.3/5 stars.
It’s a good all-rounder: inexpensive, small, lightweight (3.75lbs/1.7kgs), and easy to use. For two people it gets even lighter as you can split the items between you.
The tent is made of strong and durable materials that are suitable for most weather conditions. You will struggle to find an ultralight tent of better quality at a price point this low.
Lightest Option: Paria Outdoor Breeze Mesh Tent
The Paria mesh tent is incredibly lightweight. It’s 24oz (0.68kg)!
If weight loss is your primary objective, then go for this one. However, it keeps the weight down by requiring your trekking poles to assemble it.
Instead of typical tent poles you’d carry with you, your walking poles get put to work. However, they do provide lines that mean you can put it up between trees. No poles and no trees? You’re a little ‘stumped’.
You also need a tarp (see below) to protect it from the elements. In warm, dry climates it’ll be fine as is though. Don’t like it? No worries. There’s a lifetime warranty.
Another Option: Featherstone Outdoor Ultralight 2 Person Tent
This Featherstone tent, pictured to the left (or above, depending how you’re reading this!) is also well-worth a mention.
It weighs 6lbs all up (so not the lightest option), but comes with everything you need. And, with a 4.5/5 star rating, is the highest rated tent on this list.
Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bags are another vital inclusion for anyone considering long hikes.
Again, general travellers don’t necessarily need them (unless you’ll be camping all the time). Indeed, I don’t travel with one myself. That said, there have been many occasions when I’ve needed one!
Overall, I’d say sleeping bags are actually more important to a traveller than a tent. You can share someone else’s tent, but you might not be able to share their sleeping bag. In good weather, in safe countries, you can take your bag and simply sleep under the stars.
Top Pick: Kelty Tuck 22F Mummy Sleeping Bag
At just over 30oz (0.85kg) it’s one of the smallest and lightest on the market.
It’s also pretty cheap (at under $100), comes in two difference sizes, and packs a nice 4.3/5 star rating.
You don’t get the luxury of a down sleeping bag for that price, but the synthetic material is of a superior quality and packs down small. All in all it seems ideal as a backpacking sleeping bag.
There’s a thermal comfort hood, natural fit foot-box and it designed to allow all warm-sleepers to easily let out their feet in the night. Its anti-snag zipper, internal pocket and anti-draft zipper tube are further note-worthy features.
Ultralight Sleeping Pad/Roll Mat
A sleeping pad can make all the difference to getting a good night’s sleep.
If you’ve got a bag, and plan to sleep in a tent or on the ground, then definitely get a pad/mat to go with it. It’s crucial for heat-loss prevention during the night. And, frankly, to add a bit of comfort to an otherwise uncomfortable setup.
Try the: Sleepingo Ultralight Sleeping Pad
This is one of the highest rated and most popular sleeping pads online (4.8/5 stars).
It’s rare to find a product that’s been purchased so many times with such a high rating. You could understand why though. At under $40 this pad is a steal.
It weighs just 14.5oz (0.4kg) and folds up to the size of a small water bottle, with the stuff sack included in your purchase.
You simply can’t go wrong!
Ultralight Cooking Equipment
Campers need cooking equipment (unless you’re in a swanky camp site with a kitchen on site).
Hunger is my kryptonite. I get hangry incredibly easily! That’s why having cooking equipment on the road comes in helpful. There’s nothing like warm food in the belly to improve your mood.
FYI, anyone planning to sleep in hostels needn’t worry about including this sort of stuff.
Top Cooker: Jetboil MicroMo Camping Stove
Jetboils are awesome.
I can absolutely vouch for their superiority in the backpacking cookware department!
At 12oz (0.3kg), the MicroMo stove will be everything an ultralight backpacker needs.
With its own igniter switch, it boils water in around 2 minutes at half the fuel consumption of normal stoves. That saves valuable weight from the additional gas cannisters you’d have to carry otherwise.
It also comes with a handy stabiliser to keep things upright on rough ground, and a bottom cup that doubles as a bowl/measuring cup.
It’s rated well at 4.3/5 stars.
Again, having something to eat and drink out of isn’t always essential to backpackers, unless you’re doing a fair amount of hiking or camping.
Equally, if you decide to buy the Jetboil above, then you don’t need any additional bowl or mug. It’s an all-in-one deal. You cook and eat out of the same thing.
However, if you want a good mug to travel with, then try the TOAKS Titanium Camping Cup.
The mug’s well-priced, made from a durable material and well-recommended online. At 450ml you can easily use it as a bowl as well. The optional lid is a cool, practical addition too.
Oh and the TOAKS Titanium Spoon will mean you can eat what’s in there!
Ultralight Water Bottle
Travellers and hikers alike need to drink enough fluid.
Beer doesn’t count. You need water. And having something to carry it in will be helpful at all times (buying plastic bottles is impractical and awful for the environment).
Top Pick: The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
As a number 1 best seller on Amazon, you can guarantee that this product is highly effective and worth the price. Indeed, it’s 4.6/5 stars and has almost 5,000 reviews! And it’s only $20.
Carrying the filtration system means you can drink water as and when you find it, regardless of where you are. The nifty device weighs a miniscule 3oz (0.09kg) and means you aren’t transporting water-weight when not required. It clears out all the bugs and bacteria from the water sources you find.
Another Top Option: GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle
For a more traditional-style lightweight water bottle try the GRAYL purifier.
It’s the same deal, just a different style and design.
Remove essentially 100% of bacteria from water with one push of a button. Carry water as you would normally, and/or refill from any water source you find.
Ultralight Clothing (To Be Packed)
These clothes items won’t be required all the time, but they’re absolutely necessary to have in the pack.
Remember, layering up is key to success.
1. Waterproof Jacket
Every travellers needs a waterproof. There’s always the chance of being caught in a shower. Long distance hikers will vouch for that!
Top Pick: Marmot PreCip Men’s Waterproof
It comes with a 4.5/5 star rating, and lots of satisfied customers to boot.
The PreCip is 100% nylon, fully waterproof, 100% seam-taped, breathable, comes with an adjustable (stowaway) hood, chin guard, and (amazingly-named) ‘pit-zips’. It’s everything you need in a waterproof and weighs only 11oz (0.3kg).
Mid-layers are a warmer top for colder situations. They make all the difference in cooler climates and during the night. There are obviously masses of mid-layers to choose from.
Ideal options include:
Both are versatile, warm, multipurpose, and incredibly popular.
3. Down Jacket
Down jackets provide an added layer of warmth, with a degree of waterproofing.
They’re epic insulators that are lightweight and fold up small. It’s the ideal pack addition for any backpacker.
Top Pick: 32 Degrees Ultralight Packable jacket
Pictured to the left, this 32 degrees jacket even comes with its own stuff sack. That means you can cram it down with ease to fit into your backpack.
4. Base Layer
As you’d expect, a base layer is worn against the skin as a first line of defence against the elements.
In reality, you’ll probably want a couple of pairs (one to wear and another to pack). Merino wool is a fantastic material to go for. It’s soft, breathable, naturally heating AND cooling (depending on the weather), odor resistant, quick drying, non-itchy, and offer natural sun protection.
How about that for versatility?!
Ultralight Clothing (To Be Worn)
Knowing which clothes to pack is often the hardest part of preparing for a trip- regardless of how you’re spending time on the road.
I could write an entire piece on the subject.
But the golden rule is “less is more.”
Keep that in mind and you won’t go far wrong. It’s especially apt for ultralight backpacking. Anyone doing it properly will take the absolute bare minimum.
Think a spare set of everything and that’s about it. Wear one, wash one, rinse (literally) and repeat.
For everyone else, think a few pairs of practical underwear, 3 to 4 all-purpose t-shirts, 1 (possibly 2) pairs of trousers (those are pants, if you’re American) and a sweater. Oh, and for shoes, try hiking shoes, flip-flops and (possibly) a pair for smarter occasions. Just make sure they’re all small and lightweight…
To get you started, here’s a popular traveller’s shoes that’s a great all-rounder:
They’re practical, great for the outdoors, exploring cities, lightweight, and relatively smart too.
Ultralight First-Aid Kit
All backpackers will benefit from a first-aid kit.
Sometimes just having the basics can make all the difference in a bad situation. Wounds, aches, pains, stomach upsets and colds are all common while travelling. It’s helpful to have something to patch yourself up with.
Check out this handy guide on what to include.
Miscellaneous Ultralight Items
These items won’t be necessary for everyone. But they may be essential for others. Check them out and decide if you need them.
Ultralight Trekking Poles
Hiking? You want and need trekking poles- especially for longer distances.
The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber poles (pictured to the left) are some of the best on the market.
They’re inexpensive, immensely well-rated for their popularity (4.6/5 star), strong, small and lightweight (7.8oz/0.22kg).
I need a computer when I travel (this blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t…).
But you might not. Think hard about whether to include one. Frankly, they’re a hassle.
Expensive electronic equipment is rarely fun to travel with. You worry about losing or breaking it. And there’s always the chance of them getting stolen. That said, they also come in handy- especially when you’re working on the road.
You can’t go wrong with an Apple Macbook Air.
They’re sleek, powerful and lightweight (2.8lbs/1.2kg). However, they’re not cheap. They come in at an ultra-expensive $1,000 or more.
Not got that kind of cash? Here’s a great list of the best computers for backpacking. Be sure to check that out for further options.
I never travel without a knife.
And not for protection either! They’re just incredibly helpful.
You’d be surprised how often a knife is called for on the road. Unless you want a big ass machete they won’t take up much weight either.
You can’t go wrong with a classic multi-tool Swiss army knife (to the left). They’re great value for money, will last a lifetime, and help for far more than cutting things too!
You always need a torch on your travels.
Especially when you’re spending nights outdoors and in unfamiliar places.
A head torch is the best bet thanks to its practical function. It frees up your hands to get on with whatever you’re doing. Thankfully, most of them are pretty lightweight anyway.
This one (pictured to the left) will do the trick: the waterproof Cobiz 6000 LED Lumen.
Alternative Ultralight Sleeping Choices
Want to cut weight even further?
These alternative sleeping options can make all the difference. They may be of particular interest to travellers (as opposed to hikers, though hikers might also find value in them).
These sleeping solutions are all versatile and multipurpose. Perhaps that makes it more justifiable to include them in your pack.
I love having a hammock on my travels.
The idea of swinging gently in the breeze next to a beach persuades me to pack one every time.
They’re also handy places to spend the night. They aren’t as comfortable as a tent, for sure. But they’re lightweight and take up less space. Definitely get one with a mosquito/insect net attached though.
Here’s one that’ll do the job perfectly: the Everest Double Camping Hammock.
Don’t want a sleeping bag? Then a quilt is the next best thing.
You can use it as a rug to sit on, a blanket to keep warm, and a duvet to sleep in. Quilts are ideal for hammocks too.
This is the best I can find: The Outdoor Vitals Down TopQuilt.
Pictured to the left, it seems lovely and snug, weighs an impressive 30oz/0.85kg, and is pretty well-rated online.
A hammock is great for lots of things.
But not for keeping you dry.
That’s where a waterproof tarpaulin comes into play. Set up your hammock below it to ensure protection from the elements.
This supercheap option will more than suffice: Lightweight Waterproof RipStop Tarp.
Time to Get Packing
There you have it: the best ultralight backpacking gear list I can come up with.
Backpacking is always more enjoyable with a lighter pack on your back. That’s where ultralight backpacking comes into its own. But travelling light is a cross between an art and a science. It isn’t easy to get a bag down to a decent weight.
Hopefully, this post has given you some ideas on how to make it happen. The list above should keep your pack down to around 10-15lbs, max.
However, that still might be more than a true ultralight backpacker is willing to carry. Remember to pick and choose according to need. A 5-7lb backpack is definitely possible with the options above!
All that’s left is to get packing.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Did I miss anything out? Got any questions or ideas? Let me know in the comments!
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Please note: this post contains affiliate links :)