How Minimalistic Should Your Pack Be: A Fine Line Between Comfort and Weight

Today, more people than ever have found creative ways to cut excess weight out of their packs and travel as minimally as possible.

Photo by Marc Rafanell Lopez
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Over the hiker and camper’s evolution, the gear has changed quite a lot. From metal external-frames on backpacks to frameless packs, the technology to make our gear useful and durable has flourished. Today, more people than ever have found creative ways to cut excess weight out of their packs and travel as minimally as possible. Ultralight hikers—though sometimes given a bad reputation—are seriously onto something. Why carry more than we need to? If we can carry less and reduce the weight, why wouldn’t we? Let’s explore this fine line between comfort and weight.

Going Ultralight: Pros and Cons

Going ultralight with your pack is great for a few reasons: you cut weight and you bring less gear to keep track of. Minimalism is a great lifestyle choice that helps you to declutter and keep hold of what is truly important to you, your safety, and your overall happiness. With an ultralight pack, you can move faster and farther without using as much energy and, of course, be far more comfortable. There will also be less wear and tear on all of your joints (I’m thinking knees specifically). A minimalistic backpack can look different for every hiker—and it should.

Ultralight gear is often far more expensive, because using a durable material that is light but reliable is expensive. Finding a lightweight sleeping bag, tent, and backpack that are good quality and do not break the bank is often a challenge. I use the Nemo Hornet tent that comes in both a one- and two-person size. It is costly, but thankfully I was able to find one at an REI garage sale for half the price and snagged it before anyone else could! Free-standing tents will be even lighter if you don’t mind putting a few extra minutes of time into setting up camp. If you are looking for other tips on camping on a budget, check out this article.

I use the RAB Women’s Ascent 700 sleeping bag. I was really lucky with this item—my friend was selling it and gave me the “friends and family” discount (thanks, Rachel). There are hundreds of lightweight sleeping bags and quilts on the market. The research can become overwhelming, so be sure to hit up an expert for help!

For my camp cookware on backpacking trips, I bring one spork, a small pot, and my stove. These weigh next to nothing, take up basically no space in my pack (if packed correctly), and have lasted for the past two years.

Pro tip: Leave your spork on your keychain for great conversation starters or weird stares from other people!

So, while you are investing more money into high-quality options, you are also saving money in the long run. Why buy a cheap tent that will last only one season when you can grab one that will last you the next ten years? Choosing what you buy carefully is a great way to save money and own gear that will be reliable. This also means you end up buying less and saving some space in that tiny New York City apartment closet of yours.

If you can cut weight with your sleep system and backpack—the hardest part is done. Another great option is to use a hammock instead of a tent and sleeping bag. If my dog wasn’t deathly afraid of hammocks, I would choose that option.

Three colorful hammocks hanging in a row from trees
Photo by Jake Ingle

Comfort and Comfort Items

When you cut weight and save space, this also leaves more room for comfort items—if you feel like adding the weight back that you just saved by investing in an ultralight sleep system and pack. For others, however, going light means cutting out comfort items instead.

Comfort items look different for everyone: camp shoes, extra clean clothes (read: more clean socks and underwear), a camp pillow, heavier food items (read: full jar of peanut butter), and more.

The camp pillow I use is the Exped UL Air Pillow. Many prefer to use a jacket or some clothes for a pillow, but I find that a real pillow helps me sleep better so I can thoroughly enjoy the day to come. More rest equals more fun on the trail.

Alcohol is another comfort item some people bring. If you need a swig of something every now and then, sure! Put some in an insulated flask and enjoy.

If you are a coffee drinker and find that you NEED your coffee before you start your day, check out this MSR WindBurner coffee press. It will add a little bit of weight, but the coffee will be worth it.

If you are a reader like me (one who prefers an actual book to an e-reader), you will want to bring a book with you. Many hikers will grab a kindle or e-reader of some kind to cut down on weight. I also like to bring a small journal with me to write about my experience. Backpacking can be a perfect opportunity to reflect on your year, your goals, or anything else you have going on in your mind. Journaling is an amazing way to get those thoughts out of your head and into the world.

It is up to you what you bring along and how much you want to carry!

A backpacker hiking with his dog on a trail in the mountains flanked by grass and flowers
Photo by Sasha Sashina

Final Thoughts

Ultralight can and should look different for everyone. While some are happy carrying seven pounds of just the necessities, others feel more comfortable and safe adding a few pounds and bringing an extra map or GPS or more water (or in my case—toys for my dog).

I love having an extra pair of socks and my full jar of peanut butter. I also don’t necessarily feel like spending my entire paycheck on one piece of gear. That being said, if I can shed weight off my pack, why wouldn’t I at least try?

So cut that toothbrush in half, leave the navigation tool at home (no, I’m kidding, don’t do that), and forget the camp shoes you love changing into when you take your hiking boots off. Or don’t. Practice, test it out on shorter trips, and see what works for you! And lastly, never judge another hiker on what they choose to bring or not bring on a backpacking trip.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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