– words by Ben Moran
Have you ever just wanted to get away from it all, spend a night in the bush, alone, with no fire and eat dehydrated meals you’ve added water to. No, just me?
Welcome to the world of “Backpacking” or “Ultralight camping”, it’s about being self-sufficient while keeping your overall weight down to allow you to hike, climb and scramble into some of the more remote and beautiful spots this planet has to offer.
Backpacking can be broken up into a few core areas, known as “The Big Four”. These are your main areas to reduce weight and can be the difference between enjoying the hike in or cursing every kilometre along the way.
The Big Four
Shelter – can be as simple as a custom ultralight tarp, all the way to a self-supporting tent with dedicated poles.
Food – food for me includes anything you will be cooking/eating or drinking. If you can have an item with a second function, do that. It’s one less thing on your back. As an example, I don’t take a cup as I can use the top ½ of my cooking system for drinking.
Sleep – this includes your sleeping bag and any kind of mat or insulation you use.
Backpack – you can’t go anywhere without this, and it’s a straightforward way to reduce weight and add functionality to your kit. Try to stay away from anything military-looking; it’s going to be at least double the weight you need.
After the big four, water, clothing and extras (such as fire lighting, water filtration, rope and other misc items) take up the rest of what will be on your back. You’ll want to make things as light as possible while still maintaining a level of comfort you’re ok with; there’s no use going out and being miserable.
Water, first aid kit and light source – NEVER leave these items at home. Aim to reduce, never remove.
Backpacking vs traditional items
There can be a HUGE difference in both weight and costs for lighter gear. Backpacking gear is designed to be lightweight and take up less room than traditional gear in your pack, allowing you to pack more efficiently. The real downside of these items is the cost.
An entry-level ultralight sleeping bag can be down-filled, weigh about 700g and compress down to the size of a small loaf of bread, starting at around $200. A traditional sleeping bag will be synthetic, weigh about 1.6kg+ and be double the size, for approximately $50.
A recent trip to Lake Wyarlaong saw me take two friends on a 7.5km hike into the Ngumbi CampSite, a very well maintained site on the edges of Wyarlaong Dam used frequently by Scout groups and people just looking to get away from it all. A quick look at what we carried in.
My pack, including 2L of water, had a total weight of 14kg. In essence, I overpacked and brought a few too many luxury items like a DJI Mavic Mini drone, ultralight camping chair and my AeroPress coffee maker. I could have easily saved 2.5kg on those three items alone and more if I tried.
Friend one had a pack that weighed more than 22kg, including 4L of water—using an army style backpack with no real hip belt which placed all of that weight on his shoulders.
We all got to site, set up, had a relaxing (albeit hot) beer and discussed our setups, where to save weight, what worked and what didn’t work.
Long story short, Mr 22kg has already purchased a hiking backpack and is in the process of stripping down his essentials to make the trip in and out a lot more comfortable.
If you’re looking for a satisfying weekend mini-adventure that is fun, healthy to do and as local as you’d like it to be, I can’t recommend ultralight camping enough.
There are a plethora of resources on the internet from forum groups to Youtube videos showing you the basics.
Get out there and practice good “leave no trace” principles.