Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Packing the right equipment for an adventure is essential, so we've compiled the ultimate guide for all your ultralight kit needs.
Every item in your pack could be the difference between life and death. For this reason, you want to ensure that each item is as practical and lightweight as possible - that means non-essentials are not an option. Why does each item need to be as light as possible? Because every extra gram that an object weighs is an extra weight for you to carry around all day. Have a hundred items in your pack and you are really going to feel it.
THE BIG FOUR
These are the biggest and heaviest items in your backpack so they are worth researching well to ensure you get the lightest equipment for your budget. Save as much weight on these items as possible to keep the overall weight of your pack as light as possible.
Your backpack should be both lightweight and comfortable. There a lot of brands available and they are all different! Because you're going to be carrying everything around in this bag, it's going to be the piece of equipment you use the most. Make sure that you try a range on so that you can see how they fit and feel.
To fit a backpack you should put it on and clip up the hip belt. The hip belt needs to be tight enough to rest on your hips. The shoulder straps should loosely sit on your shoulders and shouldn’t take any of the weight - if you can get a finger under the straps without it being crushed, then you're good to go. Almost all the weight of the pack should be on your hips as this is the strongest part of your body.
Ultra light bags are made of the lightest and most durable fabrics so they can be pretty expensive. However because they are usually really well made, a high-quality bag could last you for many adventures to come. Fabric technology and backpack designs are always being improved so search for ‘ultralight backpacks’ online where you will find lots of information on the best new lightweight backpacks.
Some packs come with waterproof covers and others don’t. Make sure that you have a system for keeping your kit watertight. This could be by using a waterproof cover, stuff sacks, a bin bag to line your pack, or a combination of them all. Remember that water can get in from all directions (even from the bottom!) and can completely soak your gear. Wet gear will not keep you warm and can be very dangerous in some circumstances so make sure you make sure your waterproofing system is foolproof.
Even if you plan on mostly staying in hostels bedding can be uncomfortable or not 100% sanitary, so it’s always nice to know your (sort of) getting into your own bed.
When choosing a sleeping bag you need to consider what temperatures you are going to be facing at night. Most bags have a season rating that will tell you what temperatures it is suitable for.
Season One - Perfect for summer evenings above 5°C
Season Two - Ideal for late spring and late summer when things are a little cooler 0 to 5°C
Season Three - For colder nights with no frost 0 to -5°C
Season Four - For winter nights down to -10°C
Season Five - For the bold and wild amongst us, these bags will keep you toasty in temperatures as low as -40°C
DOWN OR SYNTHETIC?
Sleeping bags come in a choice of down or synthetic. Down tends to be more expensive but will keep you warmer and is generally lighter (if you get a higher fill power). Synthetic bags improve every year and have the advantage of being washable.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR BAG
Take as much care to ensure you don’t get your sleeping bags wet in any situation as they are difficult to dry out when you're traveling. Getting down wet will may also damage its ability to hold heat well.
If you want to ensure that your bag is as light as possible it's worth considering if you want it to have a hood, a long zipper or you may even opt for a quilt which means you’ll be sleeping directly on your sleeping mat rather than on the compressed insulation.
Tents come in all shapes and sizes and can be a little overwhelming to choose from. If you want to go Ultra Light you will want to choose something as small and lightweight as possible. Think practicality over comfort as you should only be spending your sleeping hours inside it.
Unless you feel you want a tent that will last you a lifetime then it’s reasonable to get something on the cheaper side, but make sure that it's durable enough not to fall apart on your first night in the wild. Remember when you're on the road this is your home.
LUXURY BUT LIGHT
If you don't might carrying a little extra weight to get the best night's sleep possible you might want to get something that feels a bit more comfortable. Double walls will give your tent extra insulation and protection from the rain and condensation but will also weigh more.
Just be sure to remember that you will be carrying everything you bring with you on your back. It might sound easy and it might even feel fairly easy to carry when you pick it up but you may need to carry it around all day.
1 Season Tent
Super thin summer tents.
Not particularly waterproof.
Pop-up and beach tents fall into this category.
Not suitable for wild camping.
2 Season Tent
Similar to season one
Summer tent with slightly more durability
3 Season Tent
Can withstand heavy rain and wind
Enough ventilation for spring, summer, and autumn condensation
Durable and perfect for wild camping
4 Season Tent
Tents made specifically for winter
Offer little ventilation needed in the summer months
Sturdy enough for snow and windstorms
5 Season Tents
Expedition quality tents
FREESTANDING OR ADD HIKING POLES?
Free-standing tents are those which have poles that come with the tent to hold them up however these can be heavy. Alternatively, some tents require you to use your own hiking poles and guy lines in order to keep them up. This means that you are only carrying the fabric of your tent and a few stakes rather than lots of extra weight from additional poles. These tents are more difficult to put up however they are worth learning how to use in order to shed that extra weight.
Choosing what size tent you want is a completely personal preference. You might not mind carrying a little extra weight in order to have a bit more space to keep your pack in and fidget around in the night. However, you might be content with the space a one-person tent has to offer. You can also gain extra space for keeping some of your equipment by getting a tent with an exterior vestibule.
Get into different tents and try them out. Think about if they feel like comfortable places to spend your evenings in. You may think that being inside a tent is going to be uncomfortable no matter what it is like inside. Just be happy in the knowledge that, at the end of a long day of adventuring when your muscles are all tired and achy that little tent will seem like the coziest most inviting place in the world.
Tarps are fairly similar to tents however they are not completely enclosed structures. They come in many shapes and forms and can be very useful ultra light shelters that still offer a good amount of comfort and shelter if you put them up properly. Most people find they have to pair a tarp with a bug net in order to keep the mosquitos out and a ground sheet in order to keep you off the wet ground. Tarps are also perfect if you are considering sleeping in a hammock.
Bivys are essentially human-sized bags that you can sleep in. They protect you from light weather and mosquitos. Bivys weigh around the same amount as a sleeping bag and are very convenient for those planning long days of hiking and little time spent chilling in a tent.
In environments where there are sturdy trees around hammocks could be a great alternative to a tent. You don’t need a groundsheet or a sleeping mat and some even come with mosquito nets attached. If you are in a dry climate you may not even need a shelter but tarps can be put up above hammocks to shelter you from the rain.
Getting a waterproof groundsheet is a really good idea. They are super cheap and will help ensure that any moisture doesn’t make its way onto the bottom of your tent or you can use it to lay out your bed if you're sleeping under a tarp. You will find ground sheets in lots of camping shops but if you are set on reducing the weight of your pack to its pure minimum then products such as Tyvek or ultra-light plastic sheets from specialist brands are a great way to keep the weight down.
Your sleeping mat will be your mattress when you are camping. It is essential that you try out these products to find one that is right for you. Go to the store and lie on them if you have to. There are so many different products available it's really hard to tell what's right for you without at least giving them a squeeze!
Some sleeping mats are probably suitable for your grandma to sleep on in the living room when she comes to stay… the one you are about to choose should not be that mat. This mat should be lightweight enough for you to be able to carry comfortably, which means it is going to be fairly thin.
You should make sure that when your lie on your mat it is comfortable enough for you to fall asleep on. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential. This might rule out foam mats that even though they are ultra-light do not supply you with a lot of room between yourself and the ground.
The ground temperature will drop in the night no matter where you are sleeping and ensuring that you have something insulating your precious heat from the cold ground is very important. There are lots of specialist mats that provide good insulation for a minimal weight however, be prepared to pay for it.
Other problems you may encounter when buying a sleeping mat is that some fabrics manufacturers use can be crinkly and can annoy light sleepers or can be slippery against your sleeping bag meaning you can easily slide off your mat during the night.
Most sleeping mats you come across will be inflatable. As long as you are careful with them and make sure there aren't any sharp objects or thorns hanging about near your tent then you should be fine. However, it is worth making sure you have a little repair kit just in case. Some mats come with their own others don’t so be sure to check.
Depending on where you are planning on staying each night you may want to bring a stove with you in order to provide yourself with a hot meal or cup of tea in the evenings. If you feel like you are happy to eat cold food that is absolutely fine and you have no need to bring a stove. However, after a long day of hiking a hot meal or warm cup of tea can really keep your morale high… and who really wants to miss out on their morning coffee!
When it comes to stoves there is a lot of variations depending on the fuel you want to use such as liquid fuel, alcohol, wood, gas canisters, and solid fuel. Some people even make super cheap stoves from metal objects such as cans and tin foil so if you want something cheap and are feeling creative you could always search around for how to make one.
When deciding what type of stove to buy it is a good idea to research what kind of fuel you can get when in the place you are traveling to as traveling on planes with fuels is a big no, no. These kinds of fuels can be found at gas stations, hardware stores, and camping shops. You don't want to spend good money on a lovely little stove only to find there is no fuel for it when you arrive.
Cheaper stoves are often just made for boiling water for rehydrating food and not simmering meals so make sure you are aware of what food you can cook easily with the stove you buy. Rehydrated meals often consist of dried veg, spices, and instant noodles, mash, pasta, rice, or freeze-dried packets. Some stoves allow you to control the temperature of your flame however these stoves will often cost you extra in weight or price.
A knife is an essential tool on any outdoor trip, not just in the kitchen and I would highly recommend including on in your kit list. Having a knife is essential for cooking, medical emergencies and can even be used for making other tools that you may require. There are lots of different kinds of knives on the market, but something lightweight is always going to be best.
Be sure to check that your check-in luggage when carrying a knife going through airports!
When it comes to utensils lightweight, multi-use items like a plastic spork are ideal for your trip. Most camping stores will stock something that is fairly strong but also light. You can also get wooden spoons, however, these can be difficult to clean and are less hygienic. You do not need to bring bringing multiple items or anything made from metal.
Look for something lightweight that you are able to pack other kitchen items into - plastic is usually the lightest and durable. Often you can find stoves that pack into bowls or bowls that fit your fuel perfectly.
WATER FILTERS AND BLADDERS
When you're out in the wild it's almost impossible for you to carry around all the water you need around with you. It's just too heavy. Water filters come in lots of shapes and sizes and the water that you filter can be stored in a bladder. Water bladders also come with straws so you can drink from them without taking your backpack off. The size of your filter will just increase the time it takes to filter water so don't worry about getting anything too big. You can also use water purification tablets or 2 drops of bleach per liter to make your water drinkable.
Leaving no trace of your time in the wild is very important. Leave the world in the way you found it, so others can appreciate it in the way you did. With that in mind remember to pack out what you pack in and always carry a lightweight rubbish bag to keep everything organised in your pack.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time outside a lightweight hiking umbrella is an amazing piece of kit. Think of this piece of equipment as your daytime shelter. It will shield you from both the rain and the sun. They are essentials if you’re exploring desert environments as they keep a huge area of your body in the shade and if there is a downpour it means you won't have to run for shelter. It’s useful to find a way of strapping your umbrella to your backpack so you’re not always holding them up.
A towel is an essential piece of equipment that can be used for drying you, drying your tent, soaking in water to keep you cool, and so on. However traditional towels are heavy and way too big to bring on your trip. You can substitute this with a silk scarf or a microfibre cloth. Silk scarves can also be used to filter silt from very dirty water if you find yourself in a bind.
Hiking poles are used to keep you sturdy on uneven terrain and can help to take some weight off your back when climbing hills. Walking with poles is a personal preference and not always necessary if you are just covering small distances. They come in different weights and at different price points depending on what it is you are after. They are also essential for putting up some lightweight tents so if you buy one of those tents for your trip don’t forget to bring a pole with you!
Bringing a head torch is essential. There are lots of variations that give of different strengths of light. You can get really lightweight head torches for cheap online so there's no need to compromise on this piece of equipment. If you are traveling alone it is also worth bringing a spare battery with you as getting stuck with our light when you get lost or are exploring a cave could be the difference between life and death.
Spot devices are worth a mention for those of you planning to go into remote places. People get into tough situations every year in the wilderness and can often need rescuing. Even if you are with someone else it may take them a day or longer to go get help and if you are in a life-threatening situation that could mean game over.
Spot devices send out your exact location to local services so that they are able to come and rescue you. This service is not available all over the world so make sure you check where you are heading to and if it’s worth getting one of these devices.
FIRST AID KIT
Minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, and blisters are a given when you are out and about adventuring, and having a small first aid kit is a really useful tool.
Painkillers and anti-inflammatories (for a wealth of problems)
Giardia pills (in case you find yourself drinking infected water)
Lambswool/ blister patches (lambswool can be wrapped around toes to stop rubbing)
Needle (for popping blisters when they get too big)
A small pot of antiseptic cream
Gaffa tape is so useful. If you have hiking poles you can wrap a couple of meters worth around one of them so you don’t have to bring the whole roll.
You can use gaffa for temporary fixes to equipment, tents, or clothing and also for your blisters. Like lambswool, you can wrap the areas being irritated by rubbing in gaffa tape to stop the friction.
Because you are outside most of your equipment will be subject to more abrasive materials in the environment and is more likely to need repairing. Of course, you should always be incredibly mindful of your equipment and treat everything with care to avoid damaging anything.
A needle (which is located in your first aid kit)
Thread (for clothing repairs)
Dental floss (to replace thread for more hardy repairs)
Puncture repairs kits for your sleeping matt
Stuff sacks are small bags that can be used to keep your pack super organised and waterproof. Each category of equipment that you have can be kept in a different sack and placed in your pack in a position that will ensure it's readily available when you need it.
Some stuff sacks are waterproof, some aren’t. It’s worth having your clothing in waterproof stuff sacks to ensure you never have a wet and cold night's sleep. For small items like toiletries, you may wish to replace the stuff sack with a ziplock bag to ensure everything is kept sealed in one place and if any leakages happen you won’t find yourself cleaning everything in your pack.
Any specialist activity will require specialist equipment to do it. Equipment may be provided by companies if you are paying to do a course or an excursion however always check this.
If you are going into a particularly extreme environment you should also check if you need specialist equipment such as crampons for snow. Though it's not recommended to use specialist equipment without proper training.
These products are usually made of liquid so get small versions or DIY them in small bottles or pots to make them as light as possible.
The only product you should bring with you is shampoo, conditioner is a luxury and not needed. However, it’s possible to ditch the shampoo and only use shampoo when you find it in places you stay.
You don’t need it. If you can’t bare to go without then bring something small. Alternatives to roll on and sprays are alum crystal deodorants or deodorant bars which can be cut down to the size you need. You can also get hold of treatments that stop sweating altogether from your local chemists.
You are going to be spending lots of time outside on this trip so sunscreen is essential. There are lots of options out there however it’s always good to check for both high UVA and UVB ratings.
Unless you have really dry skin (which unless a medical condition is probably just the effects of dehydration) you don’t need to bring moisturiser for your face. You can go without it for a small amount of time. However, I would bring a small pot of moisturiser or oil for emergencies. You may find that some of your skin gets chapped due to exposure to the sun, wind, or rain, and having something to soothe it can stop this from getting worse.
Being on your period whilst traveling isn’t exactly fun but a product that is useful is a menstrual cup. They are small silicone cup that you insert to collect menstrual blood. They’re super easy to use and surprisingly more comfortable than tampons. The best thing about them is that you just wash them out and use them again which means that there is no need to carry around lots of other sanitary products. Again this is a personal choice so go with what method you most prefer.
Packing is such an important skill to learn and it will evolve over your trip. Knowing where each item is in your pack is essential when you are traveling if you want to be efficient and safe, especially if you’re on a longer trip.
EVERYTHING HAS ITS PLACE
When packing your bag you must be aware of the perfect place for things to be so that you can access them quickly.
THE PACKING SYSTEM
Your tent and sleeping stuff should be packed at the bottom of your bag as it is very unlikely they will be needed until the end of the day.
Food should be quickly accessible but because of its weight you don't want this to the at the top of your pack, instead, it (and water) should sit in the center of your pack in a column.
Clothing can be placed on either side of the central column.
Money, identification, suncream, and your head torch should be placed in the pockets of your hip-belt.
STUFF SACKS ARE ESSENTIAL
Because everything should have a specific place it is important that your belongings are all nicely organised in stuff sacks. These small bags allow your to create compartments in your backpack which can be changed depending on your needs for a specific day.
BIN LINER HACK
Because you are spending time outdoors it is essential that you consider all weather conditions when you are packing. A rain shower could easily surprise you at any point in the day. Because it is unlikely you will be able to find immediate shelter it is essential that your backpack is water-tight. To ensure this, you should place a thick plastic bin liner directly into your bag to line it. Then you can start packing your possessions into the bag. Once your bag is full you should roll the plastic bag over the top, ensuring it is water tight before closing your backpack up.
So you are all packed and ready. You’ve spent time researching your kit making sure it’s as light as possible. Your bag is all packed up neatly… well done. Now tip everything out. It's time a shakedown. I would recommend doing this with a friend… a harsh one.
It’s absolutely guaranteed that there is stuff in that bag you don’t need. ‘Oh I’ll just take this, it might come in handy' is not acceptable. If it’s not essential get rid of it now. I guarantee that if it’s not you’ll get rid of it fairly quickly to save your back and it will probably end up in the bin.
Be brutal, you’ll thank yourself later.
If you think we missed something from The Ultra Light Kit List & Packing Guide please leave a comment and let us know!