Whether you’re a hiker looking to do longer distances per day, a through hiker taking on a once in a lifetime challenge or you want to keep up with your grandkids on the trail, ultralight hiking packs offer some attractive benefits on improving your hiking performance and enjoyment on the trail. In this blog I'll share some of my experience from the past 3000 km of hiking across Australia in all weather conditions.
(Three Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs on Mt Feathertop, VIC)
Although the bright lights of futuristic materials and sub 1kg weights (such as those in the BPL guide here) can be an attractive proposition, there’s some substantial trade-offs associated with the ultralight life. Through this blog post we’ll explore some of the trade-offs associated with ultralight backpacks and whether the style should be in the running for your next hiking pack. Below are some things I recommend considering when choosing your perfect ultralight pack.
We all know someone or, if you're lucky, you’re someone who's had a legendary hiking pack passed down to you. For those who own these bags or have passed them down it's a point of pride, almost like a family heirloom. Although the next generation of ultralight hiking packs are made with some pretty high tech materials like DCF or Ultra, they don’t stand the test of time to the same degree as your grandparents old and faithful. If you're willing to make the compromise of a possible lower life expectancy and are willing to pay closer attention to gear care then in my opinion, the tradeoff is worth it (my Hyperlite has been going strong for 2500+km of hiking with many more thousands to come!
(Hyperlite on the Larapinta Trail, NT)
Although Gossamer Gear's mantra is “take less. do more” this sometimes isn’t an option for hikers. Whether you're needing a couple weeks of food or you're in some hostile environments and need to carry extra gear, ultralight packs might not be the right fit. With the limited carrying capacity of most ultralight packs (especially frameless packs), if you haven’t got a full ultralight setup then you might have a nightmarishly uncomfortable pack on your hands.
(Going Ultralight for North to South Australian Alpine Walking Track)
Most don't consider spending nights in the wilderness a particularly comfortable endeavour, however this doesn't mean comfort on the trail can be neglected. Ask anyone who’s hiked with a pack that rubs on their hips, neck or back, there's nothing worse than knowing it's only going to get worse with every step you take. Cushioning is a must around areas of weight transfer like your hips and shoulders with some of those weight savings of ultralight packs coming from these comfort creating areas. Although some are content without much cushioning or mitigate the negative through packing in a smart way (yes, this does make a big difference), this might not be the case for everyone. Online reviews can give a general idea of how comfortable a product can be however the only way to know is try it yourself!
(A poorly packed Osprey Aether Pro 70L on the Great Ocean Walk, VIC)
Fit (Not adjustable with general sizing)
Due to the general sizing and lack of adjustability, it’s best to test before you buy an ultralight pack, especially if you haven’t had experience with the ultralight life before. Traditional hiking packs have adjustments galore with load adjustment, back height adjustment, hip belt customisation and many other features that you can fine tune perfectly to your body. Ultralight packs on the other hand, are usually a rather basic fitting affair. You can have the best pack in the world but if it doesn’t suit your body and isn’t fitted correctly, it will cause nothing but misery - the ideal pack will always be the one that fits your body best. At Backpacking Light, we offer a complementary pack fitting service instore and online for our customers. We also simulate a hiking load by weighing up your pack before you buy it to take some of the mystery out of the rudimentary fitting of ultralight packs. In addition we supply fitting guides online to give a general idea to customers looking at taking the plunge.
(Backpacking Light offers fitting services for all their packs)
Conditions and pack materials
When buying any pack, you need to have an idea of what conditions you'll be using it in. This is especially true with some ultralight options. For example, bags constructed out of 100 denier Robic nylon, a rather thin material and not very abrasion resistant compared to heavier fabrics. Some ultralight options do have thicker and more durable materials however if your aim is to hike through dense scrub or areas where rocks or branches are unavoidable then a more traditional pack might be a safer option.
(Gossamer Gear Murmur on the Great Southern Rail Trail, VIC)
Lack of features
One of the exciting things about a new pack is the almost tetris-like experience of how to best fit your gear inside using the least space possible. This process can be made more convenient and easier through additional zips giving side access to the bag or an abundance of attachment points. These features however, aren't usually present on ultralight bags. Packing these bags consists of essentially filling a cylinder with little to no customisation and features that most hikers know and love. If you're a fan of organisation, Backpacking Light does offer dry and compression bags to keep your pack a little more tidy.
(Grampians Peaks Trail, VIC)
Gear care and maintenance
The final consideration when buying an ultralight pack is gear care and maintenance. Getting a hole or tear in your ultralight pack can cause a lot of issues on trail. While this can be mitigated by taking a repair kit with you to stop gear falling out or the damage getting worse, TLC (tender love and care) is almost a requirement for ultralight packs if you want to get the best life out of your gear. If the pack is made out of DCF it doesn't go astray to check the seam sealing to prevent harsh weather conditions from wreaking havoc inside the pack.
(Mount Bogong, VIC)
The team at Backpacking Light is here to help you make this difficult choice of whether an ultralight pack is right for you. Myself and the team have the know-how and the gear to get you out on trail with the set up that's right for you. With personalised pack fitting, loading packs to give an indication of comfort and all the gear to go with it, Backpacking Light is a one stop shop for enjoying the outdoors to it the fullest. If you have any questions or queries feel free to shoot the team an email, give them a call, or drop by to get a hands on look at the options.
Phone Number: 03 9670 5144