The Ultralight Backpacking Checklist: How To Balance Comfort, Weight and Joy

If you want to cut the weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, we’ve compiled in this article the ultimate ultralight backpacking checklist that doesn’t skimp on gear or on comfort. 

Andrew Skurka, a well respected adventure athlete and speaker hit it on the nail when he said, “I’m defined by why I “go,” not by my “lite” pack”. Weight doesn’t define why you go. But, it may determine if you go back. How so?

I’ve over packed, haven’t you?

Over packing is usually a result of packing for our fears not for the experience we wish to have. It’s practically impossible to enjoy the experience if you are tired, have zero energy and can’t cover as much of the trail as you would like.

One of the main culprits is the trap to carry a pack that is too heavy. The more you pack means you have to wear heavier gear (i.e. heavy hiking boots and a large frame in your pack) to support that extra weight.

However, a slim backpacking checklist means lighter gear.

Lighter gear and less weight means more energy, stamina and a keener focus on why you are out hiking anyway. [alert_box style=”success” close=”no”]Want to to find the balance between weight and comfort? Download our tailored ultralight backpacking checklist HERE [/alert_box]

Now here are a few questions that you might have:

Aren’t hiking poles suppose to help with the weight?

Well, hiking poles do help to keep you balanced and take the weight off your knees. But, imagine, the less you weigh, the easier it is to propel yourself forward with your trekking poles.

If you are passing through some rough terrain where you can’t use your sticks, you’ll be grateful that you stuck to a reasonably ultralight backpacking checklist. 

How can you pack light?

First, use a travel scale to weigh your current pack. Determine what your personal weight limit will be. Ditch heavy items for lighter ones.

In general, your first areas to cut back on  will be on the big three: shelter, your choice of backpack and your sleeping bag.

You should only include multipurpose items on your backpacking checklist.

Avoid packing two of the same items. Also pack your pack smartly. Keep heavier items towards the bottom and near your back.

What is the difference between ultralight and light backpacking?

Simply put, the difference is just in the base weight of your pack.

Ultralight packs are generally 10 lbs and less while lightweight packs are around 20 lbs.  These weights do not factor in food, fuel and water.
[alert_box style=”info” close=”no”] Reminder: This ultralight backpacking checklist is a skeleton. Feel free to personalize it to your needs while staying within your determined weight restrictions. What you choose to put in your pack is for you. I feel that packing light, while packing safe,  is the route to hiking smart and focusing on what’s most important: your time spent in the outdoors.   [/alert_box]

The Ultimate Ultralight Backpacking Checklist


Now let’s get on to your lightweight backpacking gear list starting with the essentials.

The 10 Essentials For Your Ultralight Backpacking Gear List

  • Dry bag or a Black trash bag– Protect your items from rain and river crossings by lining your pack with a trash bag or a dry bag. 
  • Small lightweight backpack with a small frame- Before choosing a pack be sure to measure your torso length and hip belt size. This will assure that you find the right size for your body. Then be sure to adjust it properly to your body.
  • Non freestanding single wall tent -At night your trekking poles can double to keep your tent up. Don’t forget your guylines and stakes. Tarps and bivys and hammocks are good alternatives, though they provide less protection from the elements.
  • Sleeping bag– Choose a warm weather, slim fit sleeping bag that you fit comfortably in. These warm up faster and are lighter since they cut out unnecessary fluff. Remember you can always add on a warm layer for extra warmth.
  • Foam pads– Choose a short pad to cushion your hips and back from tree roots and rocks. If you need padding for your feet, you can use clothes. Also, a foam pad can double as a seat. Go for a short one that will protect your hips and back. Use extra clothing to cushion your feet.
  • Pillow- You can use your pack as a pillow. Note: If you choose to use an inflatable pillow be mindful that you may need to bring a repair kit in case of holes.
  • Hydration bladder, Water bottle– Water will be one of the heaviest things you bring along with you. But, without it your trip will end very quickly. Be smart and bring sufficient water with you.
    • Tip: Pack some water flavor packets to jazz up your water.
  • Gravity Filters, hand Pumps  and chlorine dioxide– Hand pumps are great for instant drinking water. Gravity filters require no physical work. The lightest option,chlorine dioxide, is preferred over bleach and iodine because it is effective over two of the largest bugs found in water, while the latter only protect against one.
    • Tip: When you get to a water source drink up that way you carry less with you.
  • Bandana- Keep one handy to strain water into your bottle from a dirty stream. It can also double for sun protection.  

Beyond the 10 Essentials


Ultralight Backpacking Checklist: Clothing

  • Thin waterproof rain jacket
  • Down layer coat – These can weigh as little as 6 ounces. And they can double as a way to keep you warm in your sleeping bag.
  • Rain pants
  • Wool fleece hat
  • Mittens
  • Zip off hiking pants
  • Pair of running shorts, skirt, skort, leggings (one of your choice)
  • Hiking shirt
  • Long sleeve shirt– This will double for sun protection and against mosquitoes and bugs.
  • Short sleeve shirt (optional)
  • Small synthetic socks- Bring about three pairs of socks with good padding on the soles
  • Running shoes-  Choose a pair of durable and lightweight running shoes.
    • Tip: Choose a half size larger to account for feet swelling. Do not buy shoes you have to break in. They should already feel good on your feet.
  • Gaiters– These are perfect to keep rocks and other debri from getting in your running shoes.
  • Synthetic Underwear – We’ll let you decide how many.
  • Long John pants and top
  • Hat– You might want to choose one that has a wide brim for better sun protection
  • For backpacking in any type of weather, check out this simple layer system.

[alert_box style=”danger” close=”no”]Tip: Clothing- Rule of thumb: Don’t bring two items that serve the same purpose ( We make an exception here for socks). For your backpacking  gear list choose synthetic fibers that dry quickly over cotton. [/alert_box]


Ultralight Backpacking Checklist - Cooking

  • Titanium Pot
  • Wood or Alcohol Stove– Wood stoves work well for drier conditions and you can find timber along the way. While alcohol stoves are light,easy to use and inexpensive.
  • Storm-proof matches
  • Lighter
  • Knife
  • Spork– Bringing plastic eating utensils is also an option
  • Food- Refuel every hour or two with bars, dried fruit, leather strips, chips, trail mix dried fruit and candy. Bagels or tortillas work great for a sandwich at lunch along with hard meats or cheeses. For dinner, try dry soups, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, couscous  pasta. Add chicken or tuna for a little protein. Small spice packets or a mix of your favorite blend can spice your meals up. A little hot cocoa is always a nice evening treat.

[alert_box style=”danger” close=”no”]Tip: Cooking and Food: Avoid canned foods and foods that are low in nutritional value. Don’t be afraid to pack an extra meal (or two). Repack bagged items in Ziploc bags to save room.[/alert_box] Reminder: What you pack in, pack out.

Toiletries and Hygiene

  • Toilet paper/pee rag (for women)
  • Pee funnel (optional for women)
  • Microfiber towel (optional)
  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste

Essential Gear

  • V800 Plus Headlamp– Comes equipped with lockout button to preserve battery life. Also it has a dimming and boost function. Find out why it should be your headlamp of choice here.
  • Trekking poles– Increase your balance, support for your shelter and ease the weight on your knees. These double as poles for your UL tent.To find out the benefits and how to choose them, click here.
  • Apps – Store maps, information for national parks, first aid instructions, check weather and a GPS all in one device with the right apps.
  • Portable Solar Charger
  • Whistle- In case you get lost, you a whistle to get found.
  • Map and compass



  • Sunscreen (travel size)
  • Lip balm(travel size)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand sanitizer (travel size)
  • Sport lotion(travel size)
  • Moleskin
  • Pain reliever(travel size)
  • Antihistamines(travel size)
  • Anti diarrhea medicine(travel size)
  • Small band-aids – consider bringing butterfly band aids for larger cuts (travel size)
  • Triple antibiotic ointment (travel size)
  • Gauze pads
  • Tape and Duct Tape
  • Latex gloves
  • Safety pins
  • Notepad and Pen– in case you need to leave notes along the trail
  • Small tweezers – great for removing  ticks
  • Personal medicine – consider putting them in a pill box if possible
  • Bug repellentBug repellant bracelets are lightweight and natural option for keeping mosquitoes at bay.

[alert_box style=”danger” close=”no”]First Aid Kit Tip: The first step to a healthy hike is to prevent illness. So be mindful to wash your hands frequently. Also bring travel size amounts and fill them up before your next trip.[/alert_box] As you can see, lightweight backpacking is not a private club. With an adventurous and creative spirit, every new trip will hone your skills and foolproof your ultralight backpacking checklist. This Ultralight Backpacking Checklist:

  • Does what it needs to do without fuss or bother
  • Doesn’t sacrifice comfort
  • Will keep you warm and dry
  • In many cases I have included less expensive alternate gear.
  • Any backpacker will recognize the gear and know how to use it
  • And you don’t need to modify your regular backpacking style, except to get used to a much lighter pack and have more fun!

Just one word of caution before you go out crafting your ultralight backpacking checklist: while going light help you hike faster and farther, don’t forget safety.

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