Backpackers carry all the equipment and supplies they need for a night or more in the wilderness. Typically they will carry a tent, sleeping bag and suitable clothing to protect them from the elements, together with food and other consumables in a large backpack or rucksack. Unless they pay particular attention to the items they carry a traditional backpacker will generally venture out into the wilderness with a very heavy backpack. Groaning under the weight of an enormous load a traditional backpacker will often move slowly on the trail, a need to pause often to rest and recuperate. Hunkered under the weight of a large backpack they might have no resources left to appreciate the wonderful opportunities on offer to a backpacker on the trail. A backpacker who is able to journey far into the mountains or wilderness can often enjoy solitude, freedom and wonderful scenery. But a backpacker is limited by the amount of equipment and supplies they can transport on their backs. Lack of fitness is often another limiting factor for a traditional backpacker. Lacking sufficient fitness and stamina to venture far into the mountains or wilderness they may miss out on some excellent opportunities for hiking enjoyment.
In stark contrast, the ultralight backpacker will carry the absolute minimum equipment and supplies necessary to spend a safe period in the wild. The following points are fundamental for the aspiring ultralight backpacker:
- Only take with you items you will definitely need. For example, don't take multiple, similar items such as duplicate changes of clothing or spare footwear. Take only those items right for the season; there is no point in carrying a heavy winter jacket when cold conditions are unlikely and a lighter jacket would probably suffice.
- Carry only the lightest examples of each item of equipment. When purchasing and selecting equipment for your trip take the lightest suitable item in its class. For example, you don't need to take a tent that can accommodate three people if it is a solo trip.
- Take items that can replace several other items. Examples of these multi-use items includes using a single bandana as headwear, as a towel for drying things and as a pot grab to stop your hands getting burnt removing a pot from the stove. The simple bandana therefore replaces at least two other items.
While these principles are fairly straightforward, the devil is in the detail and a backpacker must take care in adopting them. For example, it is prudent when travelling in mountainous areas to consider extremes of weather and rapidly changing conditions. So being mindful of the safety implications of your decisions is important and the appropriateness of paring down the weight and number of items carried is dependent not only on your aspiration to carry less but also your skills and experience. But for the skilled backpacker, who is willing to pay much attention selecting the items comprising their load, can travel for huge distances and extended periods of time in relative comfort and safety. They can thereby increase their potential for enjoying their trip.