Backpacking Base Weight is a measurement of the total clothing and gear stowed inside or on the outside of your backpack, excluding certain items worn or carried, and consumables such as food, water, and fuel.
Typically hikers segment backpacking base weight into four main categories organized around the base weight metric. Having a target base weight in mind when creating your backpacking gear list helps to keep you on track for the type of backpacking experience you desire.
Shared among the "lightweight" backpacking variations below are a core set of skills, practices, and mindset (the philosophy of "lightweight"):
- Choosing clothing and gear which is lightweight and "multiuse"
- An emphasis on hiking vs. camping both in time and importance
- Carrying more between your ears in the form of knowledge, experience, and wisdom
As our friend Paul "Beeman" Cronshaw says: "When the weight goes down, the fun goes up!"
Sub-5 lb Base Weight
Super Ultralight Backpacking SUL
Hikers with a Backpacking Base Weight of less than five pounds (2.27 kg) are known as Super Ultralight Backpackers a.k.a. SUL.
In order to achieve a super ultralight base weight, you must diligently follow the lightweight philosophy above. For example:
- A poncho tarp which functions as a rain jacket and tarp shelter
- Cutting off the handle of your toothbrush
- A frameless backpack constructed of the thinnest fabrics available such as Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)
Sub-10 lb Base Weight
Ultralight Backpacking UL
Hikers with a Backpacking Base Weight of less than ten pounds (4.54 kg) are known as Ultralight Backpackers a.k.a. UL.
In order to achieve an ultralight base weight, you must continue to practice the lightweight philosophy above, however with an additional five pounds of clothing and gear weight, you can select some single-use items. For example:
- A separate rain jacket and shelter
- A full-size travel toothbrush
- A lightweight internal-frame backpack
Sub-15 lb Base Weight
Lightweight Backpacking LW
Hikers with a Backpacking Base Weight of less than fifteen pounds (6.80 kg) are known as Lightweight Backpackers a.k.a. LW.
In order to achieve an lightweight base weight, you must continue to practice the lightweight philosophy above, however with an additional ten pounds of clothing and gear weight, you can increase the convenience factor, and comfort levels. For example:
- An insulated inflatable sleeping pad
- A zippered sleeping bag
- A more robust framed backpack
Hikers with a Backpacking Base Weight greater than the Lightweight style are known as Traditional Backpackers.
Traditional backpacking clothing and gear are typically available off-the-shelf at major outdoor retailers and are the most budget friendly, while also the heaviest options.
Choosing a Backpacking Style
When setting out to "gear-up" for a backpacking adventure or updating your gear list it can help to pick a base weight goal at the outset. Doing this helps prevent scope creep and guides you during the challenging clothing and gear selection process.
While nobody can choose a style for you, it can help to study other backpackers' gear lists and trip reports to see which style of backpacking resonates most with you. Our 9 lb Ultralight Backpacking Gear List is a great place to start.
While our focus is on the ultralight style, the most important factor is that we as a community enjoy the great outdoors more often. When more people participate in human-powered recreation - like backpacking - it increases conservation awareness (helping to protect our trails), and benefits society with healthier people. So if you're finding it hard to commit to a particular style, we'd suggest choosing which ever category gets you on the trail sooner than later!