Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Meaning of Ultralight

Nowadays the word “ultralight” seems to be analogous with “religion”. Various individuals and institutions have a different interpretation of it, and promote their doctrine as the “true” one. Some are earnest and others are self-serving.

If you Google the words “ultralight backpacking” you will see what I mean.

Near the top of the list is REIs “Ultralight Backpacking Basics”, which comes through as “mainstream-light”. Backpacker Magazine has come on board too, and their idea of ultralight is based on what the big companies (their advertisers) have to offer. Again “mainstream-light”. You basically get the same response if you walk into an outdoor store and ask the clerk for her ultralight gear advice.

There are many people out there who don’t want to take the time and effort to research something before they act. They prefer to follow the advice from a credible source, such as the above. All I can say is these people are the target audience of the purveyors of the ultralight backpacking advice described above.

I have been accused of being “elitist” and “preachy” before, so I want to avoid that in this blog, if I can.

The best advice, I believe, is to do your homework first, and take your time. The internet is a vast resource, and there are several good books too. Research it until you find your comfort level on the ultralight to lightweight scale, and what kind of gear is needed for where you intend to backpack. Plan on investing some time if you want to get it right.

However, the “just do it” advice from others is hard for me to support. It’s simple, but you learn everything the hard way.

One big obstacle is the inability to try something before you buy it. Most people want to be confident about something before they buy it, but where do you get the information you need? Online gear reviews help a lot, especially from a creditable source. If you research something enough, a consensus does emerge.

That’s the reason I write gear reviews; I want to help people make an informed decision. But I follow that up by saying -- don’t just listen to my advice, read a range of opinions and make your own decision.

Want a quick way to do research on the internet? Google "ultralight backpacking" and then click on "images" at the top and peruse through the many images of ultralight gear. Click on whatever interests you to go to the source.

Your thoughts?


  1. I agree with most of what you have written here, but I think I'm a little more tolerant of the "just do it" advice. I suspect most of us learned to be lightweight backpackers by making a couple of mistakes. Besides, there is something about suffering that just leads us to "religion." ;-)

  2. Hi David. Good point. Seems like most of us have gone through an extended process to arrive where we are, sort of like growing up. I keep thinking we can help make it easier for others by providing information and facilitating the process, but most everyone is going to make mistakes anyway. Hopefully the mistakes will deepen commitment to get where they want to be. How can someone possibly do everything right the first time?

  3. I have been working on my pack for awhile now. Bought and read books… spent more than a few hours on-line looking at products. The baseweight still hovers somewhere round the teens. Part of the challenge of the lighter pack is deciding what should go in it for a specific trip. Part is my comfort and ability levels. Part has to do with having a combination of lighter items and less light items.. Deciding what the next purchase will be can lead to a lot of ho-humming/speculation/surfing to find an answer. Expanding that conversation to another source for feedback during the trip-prep process would be a very valuable tool IMO. For me it’s about making the best pack weight I can with what I have and knowing what the next most logical purchases are when I can afford them.

  4. BTW, meant to leave my name ^^^^^^^^ but used the wrong option.

  5. OK Will. I know you are wondering what is going on here. I left a three-paragraph comment and then replied to add the above comment and now that three-paragraph comment is gone.

  6. (retyped comments)

    Hi Will,

    Your point on helping others not make mistakes is well taken. I know I really appreciate that. But sometimes we all need to make a mistake. It’s part of the learning process (I don’t like it so much though!). My most recent “mistake” was purchasing a wind jacket and wind pants a year ago. They were purchased mostly for sleeping in to keep my bag clean but could also be used for their intended purpose among other things. Later I stumbled across some using a rain jacket in the same way. Then more recently I read about the Berghaus VapourLight Hyper Smock 2.0. At 2.65 oz for a size medium, it is significantly lighter than my wind jacket at 3.2 oz. With the purchase of the Berghaus VapourLight Hyper Smock 2.0 I could finally ditch my Dry Ducks rain jacket (5.4 oz.), which always is carried though it almost never rains!, plus the difference in weight between the rain jacket and the wind jacket that will also now stay at home. So it looks like I can save 6 oz or so and have the same functionality with just one garment. And it packs smaller than my wind jacket as well.

    PS – I hadn’t been able to find your blog for a while and just gave up. Glad you posted your coverage of the OR show on the Gossamer Gear blog. I found a link to your new website there. I hope many others will find their way here too.

    BTW – There are very few reviews of the Berghaus VapourLight Hyper Smock 2.0, but yours is by far the best.

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