Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

Ultralight Tip of the Week

Rotating feature with tips and illustrations from Mike Clelland!'s new book: Ultralight Backpackin' Tips

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Mike Clelland! | 2012-01-13 12:00:00-07

(Excerpted from Ultralight Backpackin' Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping by Mike Clelland!)

The first ten tips—The Manifesto—are a proclamation of intent. Everything else in this book can be derived from these very simple ingredients.

The intended goal of this book is to provide some clever insights on how to travel efficiently in the mountains with a very light backpack. The hush-hush secret to ultralight backpacking is that it’s actually pretty easy, especially solving all the gear issues. The bigger challenge is embracing a new mind-set, and (hopefully) this book will balance these essential factors.

Focus on these initial ten points, and everything else will fall into place.

1. Get a scale.

Ultralight Tip of the Week - 1

This is rule number one, and it’s absolutely essential. Do not proceed until this is solved. There is simply no way around it; weighing your gear is a prerequisite.

If you are an aspiring ultralight camper, this is the one and only tool that is truly required to get your pack weight to plummet. A simple digital postal scale has accuracy down to a tenth of an ounce, and knowing the weight of every single item is essential.

These are cheap and easy to find; a simple 5-pound digital postal scale from any office supply store is perfect. No need to pay more than 35 bucks, and if you shop around, there are good scales for as little as $19.95.

2. Comfortable and safe are vital!

Anyone can go out into the mountains with a tiny amount of gear and suffer - it’s easy to be cold, hungry, and ill prepared. You need to be warm at night, dry in the rain, well fed, and ready to deal with safety issues. Ultralight camping should be delightful, not stressful. The challenge is to succeed with only the gear that’s absolutely needed (see Tip 28).

The first-aid kit is a good metaphor for your lightweight camping mind-set. You would be foolish to travel without one, right? But what is truly required? What can you effectively improvise? There is a blurry line between TOO heavy and TOO light. You can still go out into the backcountry with a very light pack and be comfortable and safe (see Tip 55).

3. Scrutinize everything!

This entire book could get boiled down to those two words. Do NOT simply put stuff in your pack. Look at every single item, weigh it, document it, hold it in your hand, ponder it, brood on it, and meditate over it. Only after this mindful deliberation should you decide if this item comes along. This cautious thought process happens for every single item! Do this every time you prep for an outing.

Questions to ask: Will I be fine without this? Is there a lighter option? Can this item serve more than one purpose; is it multiuse? Can I use something else and get the same results? A tent stake can hold your shelter down in the wind and also makes a pretty good trowel for digging a cat-hole, making it a true a multiuse option.

Be extremely meticulous with every decision - and every item. Weigh it, trim it down, and weigh it again. You either need it or you don’t. If you don’t need it - it doesn’t go in the pack.

4. Makeyourownstuff, and making it out of trash is always best!

It’s super fun to tinker with homemade designs and then put them to use in the backcountry. And quite often the lightest and simplest gear can be salvaged from the trash. The humble plastic water bottle is as light as it gets, and it’s essentially free (see Tip 102). And an aluminum cat food can pulled out of the garbage makes a very efficient ultralight alcohol stove (see Tip 120).

There is a myth that ultralight camping is an expensive undertaking, but it just ain’t true (see Tip 30). Sure there are a few items where it’s nice to purchase a high-quality piece of gear - titanium cookware is wonderfully light, but it comes at a high price. Would an old beer can with the top cut off serve the same purpose?

5. It’s okay to be nerdy.

I am living proof of this credo. I delight in the quirky problem solving required when wrestling with all the minutia of my pack weight. I encourage you to dig deep and fully accept your inner nerd. It’s okay to obsess about half an ounce. I encourage that attitude! I enjoy using my finely crafted do-it-yourself gear in the mountains.

I fully recognize how dorky all this can be, and I acknowledge that I fit every stereotype of the weirdo zealot. But it’s fun, and fun counts for a lot. I take great pride wearing my homemade rain skirt with a team of burly men!

Ultralight Tip of the Week - 2

6. Try something new every time you go camping.

Don’t be content with achieving a homeostasis; you should unceasingly be evolving toward a goal of greater efficiency, comfort, and lighter weight. There will always be some new and interesting thing or technique you can test. Challenge yourself with every outing. If you try something and it doesn’t work quite as well as you hoped - so what! You learned something valuable by trying. Always try something new, ALWAYS!

7. Simply take less stuff!

The easiest way to get an item’s weight down to zero is simply NOT to put it in the pack. Yes, this means leaving stuff behind. This is harder than you think. There may be an item (or a bunch of them) that you have simply always carried with you, and it might be an ingrained routine to just toss that thing in your pack. Be very self-aware whenever this happens. Question your mind-set: Are you clinging to old habits?

Go through every item you might want to bring and truly ask yourself: Will I be okay without this thing?

This answer should be either YES or NO - never maybe.

8. Know the difference between wants and needs.

You actually NEED very little. Food, water, and oxygen are obvious. So are warmth, comfort, and peace of mind. But we are all too easily swayed by our WANTS, especially me!

Some things, like the backpack, are obviously required. But what about the tent? Is that something you WANT or NEED? These are decidedly different, and it can be a challenging human exercise to attempt to separate them from each other. Can you replace the thing you WANT with a something you truly NEED? Is there an option that’s lighter, cheaper, simpler, or multiuse? Can it be nixed entirely? It should be easy to ditch the tent and replace it with a tarp, but all too often this decision can be fraught with emotion.

Ultralight Tip of the Week - 3

I have a beautiful camping knife. I love this elegantly crafted tool. I feel a very real WANT associated with my well-designed (and expensive) toy. This is a good item to truly scrutinize with ultralight eyes.

Are you hypnotized into believing you NEED a knife when all you really do is WANT a knife? (See tip 53.)

Personally I’ve found that a 0.1-ounce single-edge razor blade, void of frills and charisma, solves my need for a sharp thing in the mountains. Thus the beautiful knife stays at home, and that liberation feels good!

9. Cut stuff off your gear.

The quintessential plastic soda bottle has a lid, and under that lid is a little plastic ring. That extra piece of plastic went on in the factory, and it serves no purpose after you first open the bottle. Use a tiny pair of wire cutters (or your fingernails) and get that thing off. The paltry weight is obviously insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But to me it’s more of a mind-set. If you dedicate yourself to these (seemingly) inconsequential items, you are setting yourself up with a heightened level of overall standards. This mind-set will trickle up and influence the big stuff too.

Get a pair of scissors and trim off anything you can, and then reweigh things. The act of shaving off small extraneous stuff will really reinforce your goal. Your backpack, no matter the make or model, can always use a little trimming (see Tip 62). Get a razor blade, and go to town on it!

10. Document your gear.

One system involves a three-ring binder and a pencil, and every piece of camping gear gets weighed and noted. The other involves a computerized spreadsheet (see Tip 20).

Yes, everything gets weighed on a scale, and all these numbers get written down. This may sound totally nerdy, but this deliberate act makes it very easy to take only what’s really needed. And while you’re at it, go ahead and write the weight right on each piece of gear with a Sharpie.

The simple act of weighing your gear creates a resolve and focus that’ll force you to really think about every piece of gear. Record the totals, and make sure to add a column titled “Why” for each item. If you can’t answer “why” you need something - don’t take it!

Ultralight Tip of the Week - 4


"Ultralight Tip of the Week," by Mike Clelland!. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2012-01-13 12:00:00-07.


Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Remember my login info.

Ultralight Tip of the Week
Display Avatars
Sort By:
John Coyle

Locale: NorCal
Fritos Corn Chips on 11/14/2011 09:54:20 MST Print View

I also want to commend Frito-Lay for offering a lower sodium version of Fritos. They have 80mg of salt per oz as opposed to 170 according to the Frito-Lay web site. I believe 1 oz of Fritos is equivalent to one of the smaller bags. I am on a sodium restricted diet due to a family history of high blood pressure and my doctor recommends no more than 1500mg per day. Some of the fancy freeze dried meals at REI have more than that in one serving which is the main reason I do freezer bag cooking. The lower price is another reason.

Some of my friends tell me not to worry about sodium while backpacking; that I will sweat it out. Maybe, but I'd rather not have a stroke while doing the Clouds Rest ridge line, for example. Rolling down 4000ft. over near vertical rough granite with one side or the other paralyzed does not appeal to me.

Lois Austin
(javlav10250) - F
Fritos tip on 11/14/2011 18:51:05 MST Print View

Nuts are densely nutritious,better fats, more protein,compact,and > 160 calories/ounce.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Fritos are NOT health food on 11/14/2011 20:30:46 MST Print View

Oh don't get me wrong, I love nuts, and the book sings their benefits! The recipes are full of nuts!

Fritos are NOT health food, but they are tasty on a break.

cashews = 156 calories / oz
dry roasted peanusts = 166 calories / oz
walnuts = 183 calories / oz
almonds = 163 calories / oz

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Fritos vs. nuts on 11/14/2011 20:45:26 MST Print View

Glad you agree! Personally, I'd rather eat nuts any day of the week. Fritos, IMHO, are disgusting! Of course, YMMV applies here!

The one thing that could be said about potato chips (unlike Fritos) is that they contain potassium. I still can't stand to eat them, though!

a b
Fritos = Corn, Corn Oil, Salt on 11/14/2011 20:54:00 MST Print View

The classic Fritos are three simple ingredients: Corn, Corn Oil, and Salt.
Since when is Corn unhealthy?

Original Corn Chips (Fritos)

Serving Size: 1 oz, Calories: 160, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 16g, Protein: 2g

They can be found for $3 per 12 ounce bag in gas stations and convenience stores near trail heads and at almost every single town resupply point.

Thats 1920 calories for 3 dollars.
They are high is carbohydrates which fuel working muscles and their oil content is super for skin and hair health.
The sodium replaces salts lost to perspiration during heavy activities.
They don't have much protein though.
Personally i find that using the Fritos for a Carbohydrate fuel source during the day and loading up on Protein rich foods like nuts and nut butters at night to rebuild muscle works magic for recovery times on multi thousand mile long distance hikes.
I suppose they could be said to be "Healthy" for people burning 5,000 calories a day such as those on a long hike.
For the pyromaniac crowd;
Fritos also make an excellant fire starter; they burn like a candle wick.
Hey, that makes them dual use!

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Fritos on 11/14/2011 21:51:59 MST Print View

As a bonus, they come in Chili flavor.

a b
Re: Fritos on 11/14/2011 21:53:15 MST Print View


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: RE: Clelland's Super Spackle - Freezer test on 11/18/2011 18:24:00 MST Print View

I'm trying to figure out a way from converting this into finger food. In other words, it needs to be firm and a bit dry. The basic flavor is good, but the consistency needs improvement.


Eli .
(Feileung) - F
re: Clelland's Super Spackle - Freezer test on 11/19/2011 00:30:28 MST Print View

Add flour, reduce oil, freeze, coat in chocolate or cocoa powder?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: Clelland's Super Spackle - Freezer test on 11/19/2011 01:53:53 MST Print View

Right now, my leading coatings are either sesame seeds or crushed pecan pieces.

I might need to add some cornstarch to the gooey mixture, then heat it.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Socks on 11/19/2011 11:37:18 MST Print View

I'm glad I now have Mike's permission to take more than 2 pair of socks on a long, potentially soggy trip! And even sleeping socks! There are some times/places, especially out here in the NW, in which you can't expect wet socks to get dry!

Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: Clelland's Super Spackle - Finger Food on 11/19/2011 15:23:11 MST Print View

Bob - Have you tried backing off on the almond oil? I found that the product's stickiness was heavily influenced by the oil amount added. Also, I like the idea of nut coated mini-cheese ball-like serving sizes. Another thought is the powdered peanut butter you can purchase in the organic sections of supermarkets. I also tried crushing up 1 to 2 Ritz crackers and coating a tablespoon of the mixture for a 100 cal snack bite. Worked well and tastes great.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: re: Clelland's Super Spackle - Freezer test on 11/19/2011 16:01:07 MST Print View

"I might need to add some cornstarch to the gooey mixture, then heat it."

A more nutritious alternative might be non fat powdered milk.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Super Spackle? on 11/19/2011 16:08:01 MST Print View

The super spackle isn't meant to be a finger food.

It is made of runny ingredients.

But - the GROOVY-RIFIC bars are a better alternative, and these can be eaten like a cookie!


Home-made no-bake groovy-rific bar recipe

A calorie dense alternative to purchasing expensive store bought bars. Easy to make and delicious.

2 cups spelt flakes (or rolled oats)
1 cup dates (finely chopped)
1 cup almonds
1 cup cashews
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon hazelnut (or almond) extract
1 teaspoon salt

Put almonds, cashews, walnuts and spelt flakes in a food processor. Pulse briefly, until the mix is granular, with minimal chunks. Place this mixture in a big mixing bowl. Add the raisins, cranberries.

In a small sauce pan, melt coconut oil over very low heat. Add brown rice syrup and almond butter. Stir until a smooth consistency, and add the chopped dates. Remove sauce pan from heat and add vanilla extract and hazelnut (or almond) extract into this mixture.

Add the oily mixture into the large mixing bowl and stir the contents with a wooden spoon until it’s completely mixed. Add the tapioca flour and salt and continue mixing with your hands.

Press this mixture into glass baking dishes or cake pans. Chill in refrigerator for 1 hour, until mixture hardens.

Remove from refrigerator, cut into bars into squares.

Put a small amount of tapioca flour in a large plastic bag. Put the squares in the bag with the flour and gently shake, this creates a dusty covering to keep the bars from being too oily or sticky.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: re: Clelland's Super Spackle - Freezer test on 11/19/2011 16:08:31 MST Print View

Hmmm. Powdered milk sounds good. I'll have to try that.

I had already deleted the almond oil. The natural almond butter that I purchased already had oil floating on it.

What I am trying to end up with is the peanut butter equivalent of a cheese ball.

Although peanut butter is very common here in the states, in some countries it is kind of weird to have nuts dug up from the ground.


Lois Austin
(javlav10250) - F
Super Spackle Cookie- Feet Problems on 11/20/2011 18:29:18 MST Print View

Delete the extra oil. Drop by spoonfuls on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes. It will be a cookie. Any nut butter will do. You can add spices and molasses for a ginger spice cookie or almond butter, almond flavoring and poppy seeds for a delicious almond poppy seed cookie. Use peanut butter for a peanut butter cookie.

Tend to your feet at the first sign of trouble or your hike is dead.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
GROOVY-RIFIC bars on 11/21/2011 05:40:54 MST Print View

Hello Mike!

Nice to see you brought up Tip 152. I sent you an E-mail about this tip last August but I'm sure you must have missed it (probably hiking somewhere) :)

I'll copy and paste same here, because some other people might have come across the same *problems* I encountered.


The reason for this e-mail is to ask about Tip nr 152 and, more specifically, the part about the “Homemade No-Bake Groovy-rific Bars”.

Where I live (in Spain) it’s not always possible to get all the items mentioned in recipes and this particular one wouldn’t be an exception. I’m fully aware of the fact that any recipe can be altered to meet the specific taste and needs of whoever is going to make the food (bars in this case), but I’d like to do the utmost to not change anything at all – at least the first time.

Having said so, “vanilla-”, “hazelnut-” and “almond-” extract is only available at an extremely high price-ticket (as much as € 14 for just a few mls.). For just doing an experiment once it might be feasible, but making these bars more often if these turn out to be palatable (and I have no doubt about this – with all these ingredients they’ll be more than delicious), there is no way I could afford this kind of money for “just” bars – no matter how energy-rich and delicious these are.

Another thing I’m having trouble with finding is the tapioca flour. Is there a certain reason tapioca flour is better (or at least more recommendable) than any other type of flour? Almond-butter is another problem, but peanut-butter and hazelnut-butter are both available (although the latter comes -again- at a rather high price: € 8,00 for 325 ml).

All the rest is readily available over the shelf – having said so, the “spelt flakes” here are called “copos de espelta” and, although it might seem pretty obvious (once you know), it took me quite a while before I found out (the only thing the Google Translator could come up with was a form of the verb “to spell”.

One last thing: I’m a bit puzzled about the fact you mention coconut oil. I’ve always understood olive oil was far better – correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe it’s because of the taste???

OK. Let’s get to the point.

Since I haven’t found the tapioca flour and almond-butter (yet??), and I wouldn’t like to part with the amount of money involved with the different extracts, I thought of doing the following:

1. Change the almond-butter (which I can’t find) for hazelnut-butter (which would give me the taste of hazelnut, instead of using hazelnut-extract) or maybe even peanut-butter, which is quite a bit cheaper, although I’d follow your advice about hazelnut- or peanut-butter.

2. Forget about the vanilla-extract (maybe there is something else that could be added to give a bit of a vanilla taste???). I believe the extracts are only in the recipe to give the taste required – or not??

3. Change the tapioca-flour for any other kind of flour (whichever you’d advise).

4. Change the coconut-oil for olive-oil (unless its taste would be too dominating, which I’m afraid of) and use dried or raw coconut flakes or chips (the small ones) to create the dusty covering for the finished bars (instead of the flour); this would give at least some kind of coconut taste to the bars, if the coconut-oil was meant to give a bit of a coconut taste.

All the rest would remain completely unaltered. What do you think about these changes?

Best regards,

Henk Smees aka TFD
(The Flying Dutchman)

BTW. I ordered your book thru’ BPL on April 26st. I’ve read it at least 4 times since. Great stuff - I learned a lot.

Pit Martin
(Pit5785455) - MLife
socks on 11/21/2011 09:44:51 MST Print View

I always carry two pair for hiking, and one pair for sleeping, no matter the length of the trip. Another great tip: Take boots and socks off the feet every 3 hours, and let the feet breathe for 5 minutes - it really helps fight off blisters, and rejuvenates the feet. Saved my feet on the Colorado Trail in 7 days of nonstop rain in 2010 (Thanks, Wolverine, and to Escalater and Hamster, for the advice). Socks dried quicker by hanging them up inside the tent or vestibule. Pit Martin, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Re: GROOVY-RIFIC bars on 11/21/2011 13:43:26 MST Print View


When experimenting with recipes like this, it's best to make no more than a quarter of the original recipe, or maybe less. Some of the alterations you suggest (and that I suggest below) will definitely alter the taste. Make up tiny batches and taste-test until you get the result you want.

I would want to use another oil than coconut anyway, because coconut oil is a saturated fat. Canola (rapeseed) or safflower oil would be less flavored than olive oil. My daughter in law makes cookies and pie crust with canola oil, and they taste just fine.

As I recall (it has been a while), in Europe most cooks use dried vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract. You'd need only a tiny piece of bean, pulverized. If you're using almonds and almond butter anyway, no real need for the almond extract. I suspect that leaving out the extracts will be no big deal, although the almond taste will be less strong.

You can grind almonds in a food processor to make almond butter, and I'm sure that's a lot cheaper than almond or hazelnut butter. You could do the same thing with cashews, walnuts or hazelnuts if you want the finished result to taste more like those nuts. Using peanut butter would be fine, too, except that the result will taste more like peanuts than almonds. With peanut butter, you might want to substitute peanuts for one of the other nuts. Again, experiment with tiny amounts until you get the taste you prefer.

I would think that wheat flour would be fine for the thickening instead of tapioca, and honey instead of brown rice syrup.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
REPLY TO - Henk: on 11/22/2011 09:33:26 MST Print View

REPLY TO - Henk:

1) Hazelnut butter sounds awesome. Go for it!

2) Ignore the vanilla extract, it's such a tiny amount it should impact anything,.

3) Any kind of flour should be fine. The reason I use tapioka flour is that is is sweet and it acts as a thickener.

4) DON'T USE OLIVE OIL! THe coconut oil gets stiff unless it's warm, so it acts as a binder. And olive oil is too strong of a taste. You could just NIX the oil altogether and add a little more brown rice syrup.

Just so you know, i am totally content to "wing it" in the kitchen. I love tweeking recipes like this, and encourage you to do the same!