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How to Pack Ultralight Backpack – Backpacking Guide 2021!

Regardless if you want to make your backpacking experience really comfortable or you want to lessen the load of your back and shoulder, we always want to carry an ultralight backpack. There’s no prime way of stuffing the pack for backpacking and hiking. So, the best solution for this is to have an idea on how to pack ultralight backpack.

If you are just new to backpacking, well, we’ve got you covered. In this blog post, we unravel the essential information that you must have to know about ultralight backpacking. Moreover, we also have here the procedural steps on packing things up into a backpack in an ultralight manner. Helpful tips and strategies are provided here for your reference.

How to Pack Ultralight Backpack: Know the Basics

Well, if you want to have a successful and safe backpacking experience, the first thing that you can do is to pack your things in an ultralight manner of backpacking. However, when you tend to engage yourself in this kind of outdoor activity, you may usually hear the terms base weight and pack weight. These two words are highly essential to learn primarily as they will lead you to come up with your desired backpacking load.  

Base Weight vs. Pack Weight

Let us try to see the difference between these two terms in backpacking:


Generally, this is referred to as the calculation of the gear weight by most hikers. This is the load of the backpack plus all of its content that doesn’t shift during hiking. However, this excludes the count of water, food, fuel, and other items like sunscreens and toiletries.

The standard base weight that is basically in a lightweight category lies between 10 and 20 pounds. Well, it is important to know the base weight before the hiking activity. This is most likely true for long-distance hikers who need to replenish their consumables on a regular basis during their trip progression.


On the other hand, pack weight is the total load of the entire backpack with the water, food, and everything in it. The only exclusion is the worn clothing of the hiker or backpacker. Most likely, having a long trip means carrying a heavier pack weight during the start of the trail.

Consumables to Pack On

In terms of item weight, the food and water tend to be some of the heaviest ones to be inside the backpack. Knowing that it is generally essential to be mindful of your packing strategy over these things.


Hiking and backpacking usually involve planning ahead and this includes establishing a concrete plan in bringing a sufficient amount of water. This applies true in terms of having a reliable water source. Moreover, try to be a little conservative here and only take a small amount of additional water.

Yet, don’t forget that fluids are the heaviest things inside the backpack. The water generally incorporates considerable strain on the backpack and the body of the hikers. That’s why it is very important to begin your trip well-hydrated. Also, have an idea of the amount of water that you will need to get it to the next source on the map.


Basically, when it comes to food, ultralight backpacking requires hikers and backpackers plenty of foods that are easily prepared, nutritious, and durable enough. Make sure that the food you will bring to your trip won’t spoil out or crumble. Usually, backpackers opt to use dehydrated or freeze-dried meals and food such as bars and nuts or other packaged snacks. These food items generally save weight inside the backpack instead of those fresh foods.

However, dried foods also tend to be dense. Perhaps, in order for the hikers to keep satisfied on the trail, they basically need around 1 to 2 pounds of food per individual on one complete day. Consider repacking the foods into Ziploc bags prior to the trip in order to lessen the weight of the backpack as much as possible. Initially, the food bag begins to be quite heavy and bulky, but eventually, it will get lighter and smaller.

Pros & Cons of Ultralight Backpacking

  • Highly comfortable as it leads to a straight back and heads up for easier breathing
  • Gives more energy for side trails
  • Provides greater agility
  • Easy to deal with more challenging routes
  • Lesser injuries
  • Reduces long-term wear and tear within the body of the backpacker
  • A quicker and easier method of packing things
  • Offers additional room for luxury things and specialized gears
  • Utilizes innovation
  • Made from premium quality materials
  • Quite costly
  • Less durable
  • Takes too much time to master it

How to Pack Ultralight Backpack: Where to Start

Packing an ultralight backpack is actually a challenge. However, knowing where to begin will basically give a successful and effective ultralight backpacking. Initially, these steps are very essential to proceed on how to pack ultralight backpack the right way.

Step 1: Go for ultralight items

Well, to pack an ultralight backpack the key is to have all items in their lightweight version as much as possible. This means that if you have heavy things inside your pack, it is actually better to replace those with ultralight ones. Usually, the big three items of backpacking are the backpack, shelter, and sleeping system.

Generally, ultralight means packing items inside in which the biggest should weigh not greater than 1 to 3 pounds per item. And, to think of, lightweight and sturdy items generally cost a thing. Yet, the cost will basically worth it all as it will end up having the pleasure of using it for the coming years.

Step 2: Only bring enough

how to pack ultralight backpack

Feeling safe, comfortable, and confident as you travel is actually one of the main goals in packing an ultralight backpack. And, knowing how to eliminate things that are not needed in your travel is highly important. Most of the time, travelers and backpackers usually pack things to compliment their fears. This comes with being afraid to feel hungry, anxious about sleeping in the cold, or fear to acquire injury.

With that, you will keep on bringing plenty of food, a number of clothing items, or additional sleeping gear. Create a checklist of the necessary items that you need to bring during your travel. That is a good way on how to pack ultralight backpack as you weigh things down.

Step 3: Weigh each item that you will bring

Since we generally aim to pack ultralight backpacks consider weighing ultralight contents. With a digital scale, measure each item that you plan to bring in your travel. It will give you a probable yet accurate vision of the backpack’s weight. Please note that some travel gear manufacturers usually understate their product weight to make it attractive. That’s why it is really ideal to weigh them yourself.

You can use markers and indicate the actual weight of each item. Or, you may also have an option to record those values in a notebook. Another useful method is creating and printing out a spreadsheet in the computer containing the weight of the backpack contents. By doing so, you can easily calculate the pack weight. As you add or subtract an item, the spreadsheet will help you analyze the entire backpack based on each item.

Step 4: Pack those multiple purposes items

For instance, a snow stake has a variety of uses which include being a spade in digging cat holes or anchoring the shelter. With that, you do not need to bring on a trowel that only gives a single-use. Use your creativity and imagination as you unravel the purpose of each and every item. Let’s take a simple bandana in which it can also be converted as a potholder, hanky, washcloth, or neck protection for the sun.

Step 5: Make use of smallest items that generally suits your needs

Keep in mind to trim down things as much as possible because every hit of grams can add up to its weight. This does not necessarily mean that you must have to break the handle of your toothbrush or detach the hardcover of the novel book that you are reading. But, always remember this saying regarding ultralight backpacking:

Each ounce of items leads to pounds, and pounds result in pain.

Heather Eldridge, author, and accomplished backpacker

Step 7: Dress up in an efficient way

Generally, for hikers, their clothing actually has something to say. And, most of them usually expect a lot from it. Clothing for traveling or hiking must have the ability to protect us from cold. It should also be breathable and has the feature of drying up quickly.

It quite seems a challenging demand making us fall into the most common mistake of overpacking unnecessary and heavy clothes. Well, don’t procrastinate in investing time and money in buying travel or hiking clothes. That way, it will generally make an ideal working system to adjust in meeting your needs.

Moreover, keep in mind that appropriate clothing for hiking and backpacking is highly essential to achieve safety. Make the clothing as comfortable, simple, and lightweight as possible. For sure, the outdoor experience will be enjoyed a lot more.

Ways of Packing Ultralight Backpack: A Basic Guide

How to pack ultralight backpack actually necessitates knowing the different zones or divisions of the ultralight backpack. In general, it has three main zones and external storage.

Bottom zone: This is the zone in the ultralight backpack wherein the sleeping bag and other bulky yet lightweight items that are not necessarily needed in the trail should go into.

Middle zone: The middle zone is typically in alignment with the spine. So, with that, it is better to store food or bear canister and other heavier items in the center part.

Top zone: Pack those things that are needed during the daytime in the topmost part. One example of this is the jacket.

External storage: This is the section of the ultralight backpack where basic essentials that you have to reach most frequently should be here. These are the maps and compass, sunscreens, insect repellents, or lip balms.

Now that you already have an idea about the parts of the backpack, here is a guide on how to pack ultralight backpack:

 Step 1: Set up a frame

Generally, lots of ultralight backpack in the market comes in minimal or totally no frames at all. However, the initial step in packing an ultralight backpack is to set up a frame. With this, you can use the sleeping pad and let it serve to provide shape and support.

Below is the proper way on packing the sleeping pad inside the ultralight backpack.

  1. Initially, fold the sleeping pad and put it inside the backpack. Remember that the position of the sleeping bag inside the backpack should be against your back. That way, it will provide a padded frame and an additional layer separating the backpack contents and your back.
  2. Create a tube by rolling out a closed-cell foam pad.
  3. Insert the formed tube inside the backpack vertically so that it will provide structure inside. It will also give space for the stuffing of contents inside the backpack.

Step 2: Place the bulky and lightweight items within the bottom zone

Aside from the sleeping bag, there are other items that are not yet necessary until you come into the time that you need to set up the camp. These are usually the other bulky yet light items. It is actually advisable to compress the bag to a stuff sack or blow up the stuff sack and let the sleeping bag remain uncompressed. That way it will fill up the bottom zone of the backpack.

how to pack ultralight backpack

Afterward, you can fill the nooks and crannies of the bottom zone with other bulky but soft items like a bivy, tarp, or clothing. These are also things that you plan to sleep into. While packing, consider positioning things that generally offer comfort and lumbar support. Additionally, the bottom zone will also act as a shock-absorption system of the inner backpack for items that are heavy enough to be placed on the top portion.

Step 3: Stuff heaviest items in the middle part

Since the middle zone is the core part of the ultralight backpack that is also closest to your back, it is better to put heavy items here such as food bags and bear canister. Actually, the purpose of this is to make a comfortable center of gravity as you maintain denser items into the center near to the spine. Moreover, when you are carrying up a stove or fuel pot, consider putting them at the front side of the backpack. Aside from that, remember to store the food items away from the fuel source in case it leaks.

For those using a bear-resistant canister, place it in the middle of the pack also near to your back and shoulders. The usual and ideal position to put the canister is through a horizontal position in order to maintain the balance inside the backpack. However, the problem arises when you have a smaller backpack. In a case like this, place the canister in a vertical position.

As much as possible, store the canister at the core of the backpack and surround it with clothes and other things. Doing that will generally give padding into the back. Moreover, stuff things around it in a vertical position like tents. In case hard case items do not fit appropriately with the bear can consider stuffing them inside the canister instead.

Step 4: Put handy and reachable items on the top portion

During the day, you will basically need essential items that should be reachable anytime. Place these items over the topmost area of the pack. For instance, a lightweight jacket and warm layers must be on that backpack part. Additionally, this is also where the rain jacket, first aid kit, and water filter should be packed.

Step 5: Store frequently needed items on the external pockets

Generally, to travel efficiently means traveling quickly and light. Stops or breaks must not be constant to pack off the entire or half content of the backpack. That’s why as part of effective packing for an ultralight backpack, store items that often need in the external pockets of a backpack for easy accessibility.

For example, place some snacks, maps, utility tools, a camera, sunscreen, and lip balm in the pocket in the shoulder strap or hip belt. The exterior side pockets are the best area to put on the water bottles or tent poles. If your backpack includes a mesh pocket, insert those trowel, toilet paper, and rain jackets there. It is one best idea on how to pack ultralight backpack.

Tips and Strategies on Ultralight Backpacking

Actually, packing an ultralight backpack is considered a skill by many. Oftentimes, this skill tends to improve with time, hiker’s experience, and even mistakes. Yet, always keep in mind that through trial and error, most ultralight backpackers have learned to shed off the non-essential weights from their packs. The key here is generally experience.

To help you master up the art of load lightening, check the following tips and techniques on how to pack ultralight backpack.

Tip #1 – Use trash compactor bag as backpack liner

Usually, backpack covers are available in the bulky and heavy form. So, rather than covering the outer portion of the backpack, use a trash compactor bag in lining the inside part of it. With a trash compactor bag, you will generally have a highly waterproof, budget-friendly, and replaceable pack liner.

Tip #2 – Consider drinking at the water source

Like what we’ve mentioned above, your water supply or water bottle tends to be one of the heaviest items inside your backpack. Knowing that it is actually better to drink as much water as you can at the water source. That’s why it is advisable to plan and locate the next water source so that you can only bring what you need when going there.

Tip #3 – One liter plastic water bottle is enough

In backpacking and hiking, there are lots of ways on how you can carry water with you. One of these is the use of water bladders with chords. However, this product features too much excess parts. With that, a plastic water bottle is more practicable to use as it is lightweight, durable, and cheap.

Tip #4 – Choose to be primitive

So, when you decide to go hiking or backpacking, prepare yourself to go back into the primitive days. This means that you must have to forget those gadgets, cellphones, tablets, iPods, and chargers in the meantime. You are going into a trail and engage yourself in nature, so enjoy that moment.

However, if safety is your concern here, let someone know your plan of going on a trip. Tell them the exact location of your trail and the date when they will expect you to come back.

Tip #5 – Use tarp rather than tent

Basically, the weight of the tent is twice as that of the tarp shelter. Yes, a tent is better as it provides two was. The outer one is for the shelter and the inner part is for the enclosure of bugs and insects. The inner part is usually made of mesh material.

In general, you only need the outer portion for the shelter which tends to be a tarp. If you are worried about bugs and insect infestation, just use a mosquito net to protect your face. And the rest will be covered up by the sleeping bag.

how to pack ultralight backpack

Tip #6 – Know the weather

Knowing if you actually need additional gear or not comes with your planning ahead strategy. As you pack your things for ultralight backpacking depending on the weather condition, you will highly prevent bringing unnecessary items.

Tip #7 – Opt for stoveless

There are actually numbers of meals that are presented in a non-cook yet nutritious feature. So, you can decide to leave the stove at home. Along with this, if you will be bringing non-cook meals, chances are fuel, cups, and sporks will also be left at home. That way, you can save pounds in packing for your backpack.

Tip #8 – Trim down your sleeping bag in half

The best sleeping bag is one of the most essential things in backpacking and hiking. Aside from giving you a comfortable sleep outdoor, it also helps in insulating your body from the cold weather and the ground. But, a full-length sleeping pad may not be required. So, try to cut that in half. Covering your torso is actually enough.

Tip #9 – Fit in the fluffy things manually

Sleeping bag compression sacks and tent bags may generally take up space inside your backpack. So, it is better to consider leaving them at home. What you will do with those sleeping bags and tent is to mash them inside the backpack by hand.

 Tip #10 – Bring just enough battery

The battery for the headlamp is the only battery required during hiking or backpacking. Just ensure that they are fresh prior to you make your way out of the trail. Moreover, it is actually advisable to hike during the day to lessen the use of the battery. Generally, the majority of headlamps feature a red light setting which also uses a small amount of energy.

Final Thoughts

Packing up your ultralight backpack basically works in reducing your load as you go on the trail. Trying to nail everything down will generally make you more interested in backpacking. Aside from that, you will feel free, safe, and highly comfortable as you walk across the trail if you will just have to properly pack things lightly.

So, are you ready to pack your things up and walk out there in the woods comfortably? Is this your first time doing this or do you already master the backpacking activity? Is there some technique that you used in which we’ve missed here? Please share your thoughts with us!