32 Ways to Make Your Hiking Backpack Lighter

Backpacker hiking through green scenery.

Hiking with a lighter backpack will ensure you a more comfortable trip and an expert in packing.

Hiking around with a heavy bag may linger some pessimism on your next hiking adventure. In the past decade, hiking with a lighter backpack has become a popular trend that makes a hiking trip more comfortable and enjoyable. 

Knocking off a few ounces of each item really adds up and can potentially lighten your load by several pounds. An ultralight backpack filled with gear usually weighs around 12 to 28 pounds, depending on how many days you plan to camp. It takes time and experience to become skilled at knowing what gear and items you find yourself needing throughout your trip. No worries though, here are some starter tips to make your hiking backpack lighter: 

  • Get a scale. 
    • Invest in a digital scale to make note of how much each item may weigh. It will allow you to pack more strategically and make note of your current base weight of your bag excluding food, water, and fuel (consumables). 
  • Buy lighter gear. 
    • When you start to replace old gear with new gear pay attention to the weight of each item. Keep in mind the base weight you are aiming for. The consumables may add up to double the weight of the base. 
  • Hiking with a partner? Great! Distribute the items you plan to bring. 
  • Choose a lighter backpack.
    • If possible, exchange an average 3 to 4 pound 65-liter pack backpack to a lighter one. The lighter packs weigh around 1.5 to 2 pounds but are on average smaller at 45 to 55-liter. 
An ultralight backpacks weigh around 1.6 pounds.
Ultralight hiking backpack that weighs about 1.6 pounds.
  • For a backpack liner use a trash compactor bag. 
    • In place of a pack cover which are usually heavy and ineffective, line the inside of your pack with a trash compactor bag. Then, you can pack all of your gear inside of this waterproof and replaceable bag. 
  • Cut off backpack straps you won’t use. 
    • To lighten your load, you can cut off your packs hip belt straps, sternum straps, shoulder straps, or anything else that you are able to cut off. These few ounces of product can add up in the grand scheme of packing. 
  • Opt for a lighter shelter.
    • Aim for around a shelter or tent that weighs around 2 lbs or less. Also, keep in mind to look for a tent that has an accessory to keep out insects and is waterproof. 
    • There are also lightweight tarps that make good shelter. If you choose to use a tarp, many people have used trees, stakes, or even trekking poles for the support. These tend to be the lightest option. 
    • Some have even chosen ultralight hammocks that have a bug net or rainfly. 
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: tarp shelters can be supported by 2 trekking poles.
Tarp shelter that is being supported by 2 trekking poles.
  • Use a down sleeping bag. 
    • Down material is more easily compactable and lighter verses synthetic material. If you have the option choose a water-resistant down bag, but if not use a dry pack liner to pack it. They typically weigh around 1 to 2 lbs. Also, an option is a down trekking quilt. 
    • Check out how to wash your sleeping bag here: How to machine wash your sleeping bag
  • Use an air sleeping pad or cut your foam pad in half. 
    • Air sleeping pads can weigh under 1 pound and also provides cushioning and a little insulation. However, if you have a foam pad, you can cut it in half and use it to solely cover your torso area. To go the extra mile, you can place your pack underneath your legs and feet for the other half of pad that’s missing. 
  • Pack a plastic bag with clothes and stuff sacks for a pillow. 
  • Leave extra compression sacks and bags at home. 
    • It is unnecessary to bring your sleeping bag sack and tent bags, because you are still able to fold and pack them neatly in your bag. Again, these few ounces of extra bags add up with everything else you are leaving out of your pack. 
  • Drink as much water as possible at water sources. 
    • Don’t carry around the amount of water you will need for an entire day. Plan ahead and figure out where potential water sources will be on your hike to refill your supply there. Once you are at the water source drink as much as possible. 
  • Carry one-liter of water and a mini filter. 
    • Choose a collapsible soft water bottle that carries around 1-liter of water. A soft water bottle is much lighter than a hard-plastic bottle. Some mini filters weigh as little as 2-ounces, and you can also pack purification tablets in a plastic bag if you choose to. 
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: drink as much as possible at water sources.
Drink as much as possible at water sources and refill your water supply.
  • Plan to eat meals that don’t require cooking, but if you do:  
    • There are many meal plans for hiking that require no stovetop. 
    • Plan to boil water to add to food which reduces the weight of food and having to pack fuel. You can use a titanium mug that can be used as a pot and bring a spork. 
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: Titanium mugs can be an all-in-one for your meals and drinks.
Titanium mugs can be an all-in-one for your meals and coffee!
  • Package your own food.
    • Repackage any food and snacks you plan to bring in plastic bags instead of their original packages. Taking out air in prepackaged food can save more space than you think to make your hiking backpack lighter. Also, be sure to pack food that is high in fat and calories and accordingly to how strenuous your trek may be. 
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: plastic bags can hold almost anything in your bag.
Plastic bags hold many things for many purposes. Find out more ways to use them below.
  • Choose light synthetic clothing. 
    • Synthetic clothing weighs less and is more water resistant than other material such as cotton and denim. Pack accordingly to your activities, and do not replicate anything more than you need to. One thing to duplicate is socks and underwear, and wool and synthetic types are the best material for these two items.  
  • Don’t bring a puffy jacket if weather permits. 
    • For the duration of your trek, you will most likely be sweating due to being active and carrying a load. If you find yourself cold at stops, you can wrap up in your sleeping bag. Otherwise, if you do need a jacket, find a down filled or synthetic jacket. 
  • Know the predicted weather for the trail. 
    • Be realistic with yourself and realize you do not need to prepare for every type of weather situation. If you know it is supposed to rain, then you know you should bring your rain equipment and if not don’t bring it. If it is supposed to be cold, then think through what you actually need to bring to be prepared. This can save you multiple pounds. 
  • Switch to trail runner boots. 
    • Your boots may not be packed directly in your bag, but it is the same concept as carrying a heavy item. Trail runners weigh significantly lighter than regular hiking boots and dry quicker. They tend to actually be more comfortable. 
Trail Runners allow a lighter overall load that you walk around with.
Trail runners are great lightweight alternative to hiking boots.
  • Wear light weight gaiters. 
    • There are many gaiter products that are much lighter than regular ones. These options are still just as protective for your shoes and ankles. This isn’t specifically to make your hiking backpack lighter, but it ensures a lighter weight you are walking around with.
  • Mini and travel size everything. 
    • Put all of your toiletry’s items in travel size bottles, the smallest you can find, and only put in as much as you will need. There are many travel size options for other items such as your toothbrush and lighters.
  • Don’t bring deodorant.
    • You may be against smelling your body odor, but actually the scent of deodorant attracts insects and animals. Also, the great smell of the outdoors will be able to mask your odor. 
  • Limit to 2 squares of toilet paper and moistened wipes per day. 
    • Prior to leaving for your trip, dry out the moistened wipes to lower their weight. Put these items in their own Ziplock bag at the top for easy access. 
  • Multipurpose bandana. 
    • Bring one bandana to use for wearing, tying items to your pack, a coffee filter, rag for cleaning, and to hold your hot pot. Once used, put on the outside of your pack to dry while hiking or at night while you’re sleeping. Women can also bring as an alternative for toilet paper.
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: handkerchiefs have a variety of uses for a hiker.
These handkerchiefs offer a lot more uses than you could imagine.
  • Don’t bring extra batteries. 
    • Right before your trip put in fresh batteries, so you don’t have to bring extras. This depends on the length of your trip. If you are going on a longer trip, opt for lithium batteries, because they are lighter and last longer. 
  • Use cotton balls as a fire starter.
    • This is the ultimate lightweight fire starter and will burn slowly. It can be used simultaneously with Vaseline, another great multi-use item. 
  • Choose a razor blade over a knife and scissors 
    • Another item that can save you ounces and is an alternative to both knives and scissors. 
  •  Wrap duct tape around your water bottle. 
    • Instead of bringing a roll of duct tape, wrap it around your water bottle instead of having to carry around the cardboard. 
  • Bring dental floss. 
    • A great multipurpose item which can be used to line dry items at camp, stitching clothes or gear, and trying items to your pack.
  • Only pack a few first aid items. 
    • Don’t bring an entire first aid kit, instead just pack a few gauze pads and bandages. Additionally, Vaseline can be used as ointment for cuts and duct tape could be used in place of blister pads.
  • Lightweight trekking poles. 
    • A carbon fiber trekking pole is a lighter option and has multiple uses. As pictured above, these can be used as support for your shelter. 
  • Finally, lay out all of your items. 
    • Put all of the items you plan on brining and analyze each item. Be realistic with yourself if it is worth the weight or use. After each of your trips, always take note of what items you didn’t use and what you brought too much of. 
Light Hiking Backpack Tip: lay out all of your items you plan to pack.

After following these tips, you will become a pro in no time that allows you to pack your hiking backpack lighter!

Also, check out our fellow friend’s blog to get additional tips on how to optimize your next camping and hiking trip here.


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