ultralight
helping to reduce the weight of your clothing and equipment
few years ago an opportunity arose for me to explore, with two friends, a remote, glaciated region in Nepal. The physical risks associated with the endeavour meant that it would have been irresponsible to ask our porters to continue past Base Camp. As a result, we were forced to shoulder 25 kilo loads at altitudes up to 6500 metres. We had a hugely enjoyable time but the weight on our backs very nearly finished us off. Had we taken tough decisions before our departure from the UK and only packed essentials we would have saved ourselves a substantial amount of backache. And one or two lighter items of equipment would also have made a difference to the size of our rucksacks.

Whether you have your sights set on a long or short journey, reducing your load will allow you to cover the distance to be travelled more easily, and reduce the physical stress on your body. This leaflet will show you how, but for information on the latest ultralight kit, pop into a Cotswold store.
May your next adventure be fast and light!

Paul Deegan
Paul is the author of the award-winning ‘The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook’, published by the British Mountaineering Council and available from Cotswold.
tents
sleeping bags
The most versatile types of ultralight tent allow the outer and/or inner tent to be used independently of each other. This is by far the easiest and most dramatic way to lose weight when it comes to tentage. In hot and dry conditions, an inner tent used alone can provide a remarkably cool sleeping environment, especially if the model you own sports two doors in order to permit a throughflow of air. (That said, twin entrances by their very nature result in a heavier tent than a single door design.)

A tent that can be pitched without the inner tent will allow you to sleep under a featherweight waterproof flysheet in a variety of conditions, from summer downpours to winter conditions in the Arctic, where the fly can be used to augment a shovel-up, igloo or snowhole.

Off-the-shelf, high performance ultralight tents are notable for their high-grade, narrow diameter aluminium poles, and phenomenally lightweight fabrics. It’s worth looking closely at pegs: there is a vast difference in weight between steel, aluminium and plastic staves. Personally, I prefer to carry a mixture of short aluminium and long polypropylene pegs which between them can deal with sodden, dry and frozen ground.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the weight of your sleeping system is to acquire two bags. If you have some spare cash, then this could mean an ultralight summer bag and a beefier winter slug. But if – like me – you’re not flush with the folding stuff, then there’s a canny way to obtain two really useful bags for the price of one expensive model. How? Well, the first thing to do is to decide how warm your primary bag needs to be in order to deal with most of the temperatures you expect to face. For example, if you spend the majority of your time camping in the summer months in the UK, then a lightweight bag that remains efficient down to +5ºC or thereabouts will probably suffice.

Once you know what the working temperature range needs to be for your primary bag, calculate the lowest temperature you anticipate encountering on a semi-regular basis. If we stick with the same example as above, and surmise that you camp out once or twice a year at Easter and October in the UK, or go trekking in the Alps in the summer, then the minimum temperature you can expect to run into is likely to be in the region of -5ºC. With this mind, you will need to buy a secondary single-season bag that is either large enough to fit over your primary (two-season) bag, or alternatively inside it if there is sufficent room.

This twin bag tactic means that you will only need to carry one (light-ish) bag most of the time. And remember that when combined, two bags are usually warmer than one. This approach can be scaled up all the way through alpine mountaineering to polar and Himalayan expeditions if you so wish.

As for the theoretical minimum temperatures you could realistically encounter, remember that in this kind of ‘survival’ situation, wearing your spare dry clothing inside the bag(s) will help to trap extra body heat, although ironically this can lead to some cold spots in the sleeping system.

Only take a waterproof-breathable bivi bag when it is really needed, rather than always packing it ‘just in case’. This is especially true if you own one of the rapidly increasing number of sleeping bags which feature highly water-resistant integral shells. Also remember that a half-length sleeping mat is lighter and less bulky than a full-fat version. Put spare clothing or an empty rucksack under your legs to make up for the deficit in insulation. Finally, sleeping bag liners: if you must use one, then remember that silk is noticeably lighter than cotton and fleece.

boots
It’s oft said that, “A pound on the foot equals five in the pack”, and over the years, one of the biggest traps I have found people falling into is buying a beefier boot than they really need. A common decision is for summer walkers to buy a boot capable of taking a crampon just in case they ever venture out in icy conditions. This kind of thinking can result in the user wearing a boot which is twice as heavy as it needs to be for 99% of the days that it is worn on the hill. By accepting that no single piece of footwear can possibly be a master of all environments, and by buying a boot that has been designed to handle the sort of conditions that you normally tackle, a considerable weight saving can be made from day one.

The other product to think carefully about is the gaiter. I’ve often seen people wearing gaiters in fair conditions that patently do not require such a product. Perhaps it is best to regard a pair of gaiters as an optional rather than a standard item on your adventures.When it comes to purchasing a new pair, it’s worth considering how much you wear them and for how long. Is the extra weight of a waterproof-breatable fabric really justifiable if you rarely wear your gaiters for more than a few days each year? Also, how heavy does the fabric need to be? If you are winter mountaineering then a thick, texturised material will help to deter crampon spikes. But for trail walking a much lighter fabric is all that will be required.

stoves
clothing
The weight of your portable kitchen can be reduced in several ways. Firstly, there is the stove itself. Choosing a unit that uses the fuel bottle as the fuel tank, rather than one that comes supplied with an integral tank, will instantly shed dozens of needless grams. Also, try to find a stove that has a lightweight rather than heavy-duty windshield. When it comes to the amount of fuel required for your next venture, try to calculate precisely how much you need. By making a note on shorter trips as to how much fuel was consumed under what conditions, you will be able to accurately gauge how much fuel is required for your stove on extended journeys when the weight to be carried is even more critical.

Think carefully about the type of food you want to eat. Dried meals are fine for short excursions, but after a few days they can become somewhat repetitive. By contrast, many supermarkets now stock fast-cooking variants of staples such as rice and pasta, as well as powdered mashed potato and custard which require nothing more than boiling water. Add spices, dried fruit, vegetables and meat to make similar meals taste very different. Finally, try to reduce as much food packaging as possible before departure. This approach has the dual advantage of reducing weight and minimising the amount of rubbish which needs to be thoughtfully disposed of after leaving the wilderness area.

The good news for people wanting to travel fast and light is that clothing manufacturers have for the last few years been sinking considerable resources into producing ever lighter fabrics that will keep you as warm and comfortable as heavier materials.

The downside to this featherweight approach is that – with a few exceptions – ultralight fabrics usually have a shorter useful life than thicker materials.We’re still talking about the life expectancy of an ultralight jacket in years rather than months, but more often than not it is likely to be a few rather than several.

However, the weight savings of lightweight materials when compared to regular fabrics can be considerable. It wasn’t so very long ago when your average waterproof-breathable jacket weighed in at a hefty 900g or more (and many still do). Now weights of 400g for similar garments are not uncommon. Carry that sort of percentile saving across fleece, base layers and clothing accessories and you’ll find that the weight and bulk of your clothing can end up being significantly less than what would have been possible even five years ago. We’re not just talking about premium quality products here; clothing in all price brackets is now being made with lighter fabrics.

Another advantage of travelling fast and light is that because you are likely to move more quickly and stop less often (thanks in part to a lighter packed rucksack) you may find yourself needing fewer spare clothes. Of course, essential items must remain in your pack. But if, for example, you are moving quickly enough to only require a base layer and windproof top whilst active, you may find that you only need to carry one mid-layer in your rucksack (to pull on at rest stops) rather than two.

rucksacks
Whilst many outdoor users put a lot of effort into reducing the weight of their equipment, relatively few think about how heavy their rucksacks are when empty! However, once you start investigating this area, I believe that you’ll find that the potential savings can be startling.

I suggest that you calculate the approximate weight and volume of gear that you are likely to want to carry, and then aim to buy an appropriately sized rucksack that weighs around 10% (and certainly not more than 15%) of this total weight. No matter if the chosen rucksack does not have all the bells and whistles associated with more elaborate designs; you’ll soon be cursing these heavy features as you toil up a steep mountain path. All that should concern the ultralight aficionado is whether the back system is adequately comfortable and protects the spine, and whether the load can be stabilised in order to prevent the rucksack from swinging around.

reducing the weight of your gear
reducing hidden weight
Adopting an ultralight approach to adventure doesn’t start and end with new products. There are plenty of ways to strip weight from products that you already own. Sleeping bag liners can be ditched, waterproof trousers left behind on a sunny day, and gloves dumped in the boot of the car on unexpectedly sultry autumnal afternoons. If you need to use a large, internal framed backpacking rucksack for a weekend jaunt, see if you can remove the aluminium staves and detach the top pocket. What about wearing trail running shoes rather than semi-stiffened mountain boots on a walk along a well maintained footpath?

On a long expedition with several mates, you can make a game of reducing weight by asking a member of the team to remove items from your rucksack that he doesn’t think you need. You can then rifle through his gear and do the same. The number of people who travel together with their own toothpaste, suncream and penknife doesn’t bear thinking about. You may need to think laterally in order to get shot of yet more weight. Some fanatics cut the care labels off their clothing, but I prefer to sink my energy into finding out what supplies are available en route, in order to check that I really have to carry more than one day’s worth of food at any time. Buying a meal in an alpine hut may not be cheap, but is often preferable to toiling for thousands of feet up a mountainside with an extra two kilos of food in my rucksack.

So, where is the rest of the weight hiding? As uncomfortable as it might be to discuss, a lot of the unnecessary weight can be in us! Setting off on your next adventure at your optimum weight will help you to adhere to the maxim of fast and light.

The next thing to get your head around is the clothing and equipment you carry about your person, rather than in your rucksack. To do this, put on all the gear you normally wear whilst walking, biking or climbing (but not the spare clothing you keep in your rucksack) and then strip naked. Even though this gear is not in your pack, you are still carrying it! Weigh all of this clothing, and then work out whether you can substitute any items for lighter alternatives.

Also consider items, like trekking poles, that you might carry in your hands.Whilst poles have their place both from safety and weight distribution points-of-view, they still weigh a fair few grams. I have seen many people become completely reliant on trekking poles, to the extent that they end up using them even on straightforward ground. Again, it is worth asking yourself whether you really need them on every single trip.

A final point. SLR cameras, video cameras, binoculars, GPS devices, personal stereos, digital organisers, wallets filled with loose change… we’re all guilty of chucking some of these in our rucksacks from time to time without a second thought. Yet everything weighs something. Food for thought, I hope, during your next packing session.

All outdoor activities are potentially hazardous. The information provided on this site offers guidelines only, and is no substitute for personal instruction from a qualified person. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility can be accepted by the author or Cotswold Outdoor Ltd. for any errors or omissions. By choosing to follow any of the advice contained in this leaflet, the reader accepts personal responsibility for a) learning any techniques required, b) any risks involved, and c) any damages or injuries of any kind - including death - howsoever caused. Cover shot: Checking the way ahead on the Trekker's Haute Route, between Chamonix and Zermatt.
© Paul Deegan & Flirt Design under license to Cotswold Outdoor Ltd.