Barely there: the ultralight camping gear that helps you go further faster

Don't let that bulky backpack ruin your camping trip. Packs, sleeping gear and other kit are lighter than ever. Here's your guide to shopping - and packing - wisely. Just don't buy it all.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 2:48pm

Spending time in the great outdoors is all about getting back to nature, destressing and taking the load off your mind. However, many people take so much gear with them on overnight camping trips, hikes and walks that the physical bulk of their backpack can ruin the moment. Under the strain of bulging backpacks, super-sized sleeping bags and complicated cooking equipment, bodies become weary, and both limbs and feet can become sore; adventure is curtailed.

So embrace ultralight backpacking, which is focused on freedom and mobility. The lighter you travel, the more you can explore, and though it requires some discipline, there is a new generation of ultralight gear that can help you get further, faster.

The first step is to develop a streamlined list of the real essentials. Do you need that extra layer, that heavy book, or those headphones? Probably not. Scrutinise everything until you are left only with the things you will definitely need and none of the things you think you may want.

Begin with your backpack. Avoid a 90-litre monster and go for one that’s no more than 50 litres in capacity. The Gregory Z55 (HK$1,930, overlander.com.hk) weighs only 1.39kg when empty, and the Osprey Kestrel 48 (HK$1,490, wellmount.hk) is 1.64kg.

Where you like to lay your head is a personal choice. Some will make do with a compact hammock like the Hennessy Hammock Explorer Ultralite (HK$1,860, hennessyhammock.com), which weighs 1,020g, while others will prefer a simple bivvy bag such as the Hunka (HK$425, alpkit.com) at just 376g.

However, ultralight tents with a two-pole design are now becoming just as practical, with the Ordos 3 three-person tent (HK$2,732, alpkit.com) and MSR Hubba Hubba NX (HK$3,355, overlander.com.hk) two-person tent both weighing just 1.5kg, while the Luxe Speedup (HK$867, outdoormart.com.hk), for one person, is only 1.39kg.

With your choice of shelter packed, the sleeping bag you choose will depend on where you’re going, and when, but the trick here is warmth-to-weight ratio. The Camp Mark (HK$258, wellmount.hk) is reasonably light at 750g, but the pricey Sea To Summit Spark SP1 (HK$2,325, rei.com) takes that down to a mere 348g.

Less is always more in ultralight backpacking, but despite the often high-priced gear, expect to improvise. If it’s a particularly cold night, be prepared to wear all of your clothes in that sleeping bag because by day, lightweight and quick-drying clothes are everything. Start with a base layer made from natural merino wool, which is both warm in cool temperatures and superb at wicking away moisture from skin in humidity.

The Icebreaker Tech T (HK$580, rei.com) and Smartwool NTS Micro 150 Crew (HK$620, racingtheplanet.com) both use merino, so they dry in a couple of hours, as does the polyester-made Patagonia Capilene (HK$465, Patagonia, Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2506 0677). Instead of packing lots of underwear, take two ultra-light and breathable pairs to wash and wear alternately each day, such as the super-soft Icebreaker Women’s Everyday Boy Shorts (HK$233, amazon.com) or for men the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh boxer briefs (HK$217, exofficio.com). Serious hikers will love the Compressport Trail Underwear Shorts (HK$553, escapade.com.hk).

Avoid taking along too many changes of clothes by wearing convertible trousers like the Columbia Silver Ridge II (HK$325, racingtheplanet.com) or ExOfficio Nomad (HK$365, racingtheplanet.com).

Ditto a jacket; the Patagonia Houdini (HK$770, Patagonia, Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2506 0677) packs up small, and while best used as a windcheater, also protects well against light rain showers. A small luxury it may be, but the HUS Umbrella (HK$350, wellmount.hk) could prevent your enthusiasm draining away during a prolonged rainstorm.

You can dry off with an ultralight towel like the Sea To Summit Dry Lite 30x60cm (HK$69, outdoormart.com.hk). Another great way of saving space is by packing sample-sized cosmetics and mini containers for suncream and shampoo from Sasa (sasa.com).

What about when it's time to eat? At 60g, the Kovea Supalite Titanium Stove KB-0707 (HK$315, outdoormart.com.hk) is about as lightweight as it gets, while you can even replace an awkward cup in your backpack with the collapsible Ultraspire UA Cup 6 oz (HK$46, escapade.com.hk), which clips to a backpack. Just as easy to stow is a Sea To Summit Titanium Spork (HK$90, racingtheplanet.com), a 12g ultralight version of the spoon-meets-fork utensil.

There are other essentials that you need to take on a multiday trip, some of which can be replaced with lighter gear. You can’t skimp on a compass, a fire-starter, insect spray, first-aid kit, a water bottle or hydration bladder, or food. But you can do without a bulky flashlight.

Easily clipped onto a backpack by day, the LuminAID solar mobile light  (HK$248, lifeplus.hk) is currently changing lives in off-grid locations round the world. It perfectly illuminates a tent for more than 10 hours, and weighs only 92g, though some will prefer the hands-free Gentos LED head light (HK$175, overlander.com.hk) at just 72g.

Something else to bear in mind is that most ultralight gear is delicate, so take it out of circulation at home. Those expensive base-layers, silky smooth underwear and stow-able raincoats may be irresistibly comfortable and practical for your daily urban life, but if you use them every day, they will quickly degrade.

With less weight to carry, your poor feet can take it easier, but once you’ve prepared for capsule camping, don’t undo your good work by needlessly adding extra clothes before you set off; ultralight hiking is as much as state of mind as a stash of expensive gear.