Hyperlight: Taking Ultralight Backpacking to the Next Level

May 12, 2014
Hyperlight Taking Ultralight Backpacking to the Next Level
Ryan SmithAn alcohol stove is a lightweight option for those looking to shave ounces off their pack weight.

There’s ultralight backpacking, and then there’s hyperlight. It’s possible for all your backpacking gear to weigh less than 10 pounds (excluding food, water, and the clothes you’re wearing) but accomplishing it requires some notable sacrifices and expense. Here’s what it takes to experience the lightest, rightest, fastest backpacking experience of your life.

Shelter: 0 to 16 ounce
To go hyperlight, you’ll need to utilize a floorless, single-wall shelter. A silnylon or cuben fiber tarp offers the lightest-weight option, though it does require some skill and knowledge to pitch effectively, especially in rainy or windy weather. A range of sizes and shapes are available; as a general rule, an 8-by-10-foot tarp can accommodate two people, while a solo hyperlighter can make do with a tarp in the 6-by-8-foot range. Other floorless single-wall shelters, including pyramid and tunnel designs, provide a more enclosed structure with better weather protection, but add ounces.
All of these hyperlight options offer limited bug protection (you’ll need a headnet or other defense for a bite-free night). They shouldn’t be pitched in depressions where water can collect in rainy conditions. And most require one or two trekking poles for set-up, multiple guylines, and a minimum of four to eight stakes (ultralight titanium stakes weigh as little as 0.2 ounce a piece).
Alternatively, you can go with the zero-ounce, no-shelter option, especially if the forecast is clear or you can sleep beneath a roof at a trailside lean-to or shelter.

Examples: Etowah Outfitters 8-by-10-foot silnylon tarp (13 ounces, $84); Zpacks 8 1/2-by-10-foot cuben fiber tarp (6.7 ounces, $255); Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid (silnylon version, 15.5 ounces, $185; cuben fiber, 10.5 ounces, $355)

Sleeping Bag: 14 to 18 ounces
The hyperlight benchmark for a sleeping bag is roughly 1 pound. In this weight range, you’re looking at high-end down bags with a high fill-power (a measure of warmth per ounce of down) and relatively warm temperature ratings (32 to 50 degrees). In cooler conditions (or if you’re a cold sleeper), you’ll need to layer up at night or carry a few more ounces of sleeping bag for extra warmth.

Mummy bags in this weight range generally forgo full-length zippers (or zippers entirely) and feature minimalist hood designs. Alternatively, you can go with a quilt approach—think of a tapered down comforter with minimal coverage underneath (your sleeping pad provides the insulation).

Examples: Western Mountaineering HighLite (15 to 17 ounces, depending on length; $330 to $350), Nunatak Arc Specialist Sleeping Quilt (15 to 17 ounces, depending on length; $399 to $479)

Sleeping Pad: 8 to 10 ounces
Forget full-length coverage and shave the ounces with a three-quarter length pad, which provides cushion from your shoulders to your knees for adequate sleeping comfort. A simple foam pad is inexpensive, lightweight, and convenient to use, and can be further trimmed along the corners and edges to shed an extra ounce or two. A high-end ultralight inflatable pad offers significantly more cushion, but also adds cost, puncture potential, and the inconvenience of regular inflation and deflation.

Note that three-quarter-length pads require the use of a separate protective layer beneath the tail of your sleeping bag (pack, rain jacket, garbage bag, etc.) to keep it out of the dirt or moisture.

Examples: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite (size small; 10 ounces, $35); Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (size small, 8 ounces, $130)

Pack: 14 to 24 ounces
One of the advantages of carrying hyperlight gear is that you can get away with a hyperlight pack. Such packs represent the ultimate in no-frills haulage and are designed to carry only minimal loads. Most feature only one large compartment with a roll-top closure, plus a large mesh pocket or two on the outside.

Some hyperlight packs feature no internal structure whatsoever; others provide options for utilizing a foam pad as back support or inserting aluminum stays for heavier loads. The shoulder straps are typically sewn in place and not adjustable, making it essential to select the right size for a good fit. The lightweight fabrics used on such packs are often vulnerable to abuse and abrasion—a concern for bushwhacking or other high-abrasion environments—though durability has improved significantly in recent years.

Examples: ZPacksExo (14 ounces, $259); Gossamer Gear Mariposa (16 to 26 ounces, depending on configuration; $235)

Cooking/Eating System: 6 to 10 ounces
For a backpacking trip of less than 5 to 7 days, an alcohol stove is the lightest option. (For trips longer than that, a lightweight canister stove actually wins out because the heat content per ounce of alcohol is less than canister blends). You can make a sub-1 ounce alcohol stove using a soda can, or purchase a variety of fabricated models in the 2- to 4-ounce range. Alcohol stoves do require some sacrifices, notably longer boil times and sensitivity to wind (an ultralight windscreen is an invaluable accessory).

For cooking, carry a titanium pot no bigger than your cooking needs. Some serious ounce-counters choose pots as small as 700ml, though the limited capacity restricts cooking options; a 900 to 1300ml pot provides more versatility for a minimal increase in weight. Uncoated pots save about an ounce of weight at the expense of cleaning hassles (food easily sticks to uncoated titanium).

For utensils, a plastic spork weighs a fraction of an ounce. For drinking, use a simple plastic cup. For igniting the stove, matches or a mini-lighter weigh less than half an ounce. In terms of fuel, plan on one to two ounces of alcohol per person per day; unlike white gas, alcohol can be safely carried in a lightweight plastic drink bottle.

Examples: Evernew Titanium 1300ml Ultralight Pot 3 (4.6 ounces, $65) or 900ml Non-Stick Pot 2 (4.9 ounces, $65); Soda Can Stove (less than 1 ounce, DIY); Liberty Mountain Westwind Stove Set (3.8 ounces, $34); Evernew Ti DX Stove Set (3 ounces, $100); Light My Fire Spork (0.3 ounce, $3); Open Country Plastic Measuring Cup (0.8 ounce, $1)

Clothing: 26 to 46 ounces
To prepare for rainy weather and cool to moderately cold temperatures, hyperlighters generally carry the following items. These are the garments that add weight to your pack, unlike the clothing and footwear you’re wearing while you hike (which are not considered here).

To stay adequately warm in near-freezing temperatures, at a bare minimum pack a long underwear top (4 to 6 ounces) and bottom (4 to 6 ounces), down vest or light weight down jacket (5 to 9 ounces), warm beanie (2 to 3 ounces), and a liner balaclava, which adds significant warmth for marginal weight (1 to 2 ounces).

For protection from wind and rain (and extra warmth), stow an ultralight waterproof rain jacket (5 to 7 ounces) and pants (5 to 6 ounces). An increasing number of ultralight waterproof-breathable materials are available, though you’ll definitely sacrifice abrasion resistance and durability for the weight savings. It’s possible to shave a few extra ounces with an ultralight water-resistant wind shell or poncho, though neither will keep you dry in prolonged rain.

A few extra items of clothing are often worth the extra ounces, including a pair of dry socks (2 to 3 ounces), underwear (2 ounces), and liner gloves (2 to 3 ounces). Though all of these can be left behind, the sacrifices of doing so are apparent, especially on longer, colder, and wetter journeys.

Examples: Patagonia Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew Top (5 ounces, $49) and Bottoms (5 ounces, $49); MontBell U.L Down Vest (5 ounces, $119), Alpine Light Down Vest (8.5 ounces, $135), or U.L. Down Parka (9 ounces, $175); Marmot Mica Jacket (7 ounces, $150)

Accessories: 28 to 38 ounces
Now for the myriad other essentials and accessories that collectively contribute to the final weight of your pack. For a headlamp, use a micro style powered by a single AAA or other small battery (2 to 3 ounces), which saves ounces but often sacrifices brightness in exchange. A miniature pocket knife features a short sub-2 inch blade but is adequate for basic needs (1 to 2 ounces).

To treat water, forget a filter and use iodine or chlorine tablets instead (1 ounce or less). To carry water, ditch the 1-liter Nalgene bottle (6 ounces empty) for a 1-liter soda bottle (1.5 ounces). For sun, lip, and insect protection, carry a small tube of high SPF sunscreen (1 ounce), lip balm of choice (less than an ounce), a minimal amount of repellent (1 ounce or less), and a basic head net if necessary (1 to 2 ounces).

For survival gear, pack storm-proof matches and Vaseline-coated cotton balls in waterproof containers (2 to 3 ounces) for emergency warmth, and a whistle to alert others if needed (1 to 2 ounces). For a first aid kit, the bare essentials include an ACE bandage, ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain medication, antibiotic ointment, moleskin or other blister treatment, and a few band-aids, packed in a ziplock bag (3 to 4 ounces).

To keep your clothing and gear sorted and protected from moisture, use garbage bags or ziplocks (‘freezer’ varieties are the most durable), or invest in a few ultralight silnylon or cuben fiber stuff sacks (0.5 to 2 ounces) For trekking poles, ultralight styles hover in the 1-pound range (14 to 18 ounces). Definitely look for adjustable-length styles—you’ll need them to effectively pitch your ultralight tarp or shelter.

TOTAL WEIGHT: 104 to 160 ounces


  • Shelter  |  0 to 16 ounces
  • Sleeping Bag or Quilt  |  14 to 18 ounces
  • Sleeping Pad  |  8 to 10 ounces
  • Backpack  |  14 to 24 ounces
  • Stove  |  1-4 ounces*
  • Pot  |  4 to 5 ounces
  • Spork  |  0.3 ounce
  • Cup  |  0.8 ounce
  • Lighter  |  0.5 ounce
  • Long Underwear Top  |  4 to 6 ounces
  • Long Underwear Bottom  |  4 to 6 ounces
  • Down Vest or Jacket  |  5 to 9 ounces
  • Beanie  |  2 to 3 ounces
  • Liner Balaclava  |  1 to 2 ounces
  • Rain Jacket  |  5 to 7 ounces
  • Rain Pants  |  5 to 6 ounces
  • Extra Socks  |  2 to 3 ounces
  • Extra Underwear  |  2 ounces
  • Liner Gloves  |  2 to 3 ounces
  • Headlamp  |  2 to 3 ounces
  • Knife  |  1 to 2 ounces
  • Iodine or Chlorine Tablets  |  1 ounce
  • 1-liter Soda Bottle  |  1.5 ounces
  • Garbage Bags, Zip-locks, and/or Ultralight Stuff Sacks  |  0.5 to 2 ounces
  • Storm-proof Matches and Vaseline-coated Cotton Balls  |  2 to 3 ounces
  • Whistle  |  1 to 2 ounces
  • First-Aid Kit  |  3 to 4 ounces
  • Trekking Poles  |  14 to 18 ounces
  • Total Weight: 100.6 to 162.1 ounces

* Does not include fuel. Plan on 1-2 ounces of alcohol per person per day.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.

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