November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
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:
Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
Already tried the recipe on 11/22/2011 12:12:49 MST Print View

Hi Mary & Mike,

Many thanks for your advice.

Last August I made a spreadsheet with all the ingredients (changed some because -as said before- I couldn’t find everything here in Spain) and their specs regarding nutritional info (calories, proteins, carbs and fat), cost and quantity (according to the information on the store-bought item); then it calculated the nutritional info per used amount and, last, the same information for 2 bars of 50 grams each. Liked the result, because the proportions of Proteins (12.56%), Carbs (55.09%) and Fat (32.35%) were very close (if not exact) to the recommended amounts. So, I was really pleased.

Then I did do a sort of first intend to make my own Groovy-rific bars. I didn’t use any of the extracts and changed the tapioca for wheat flour (like you said Mary); I also used hazelnut butter instead of almond butter (as Mike just said), but the rest was as Mike recommended in his book. BTW. I did find brown rice syrup (melaza de arroz) and coconut oil (although the one I found is not stiff when cold). See next picture of all the ingredients (+ the spreadsheet and the book):

Bars 1

I followed all Mike’s instructions (although, since I don’t have a food processor, I chopped the walnuts, almonds and cashews separately):

Bars 2

Then I mixed the different chopped nuts with the spelt flakes, raisins and cranberries:

Bars 3

After heating the coconut oil, I added the brown rice syrup, hazelnut butter and chopped dates, mixed everything in the same large bowl I used for the first *operation* and then pressed the whole bunch in two glass baking dishes, put these in the fridge and after an hour, this was the result:

Bars 4

Well...... it didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. When I tried to cut the bars, the whole mixture resulted to be too crumbly:

Bars 5

What went wrong? After a lot of thinking, I realized I made several mistakes when converting imperial measurements to the metric system. I went by weight instead of volume, so I didn’t use enough rice syrup and hazelnut butter. I could’ve “killed” myself. (After Mike’s last recommendation: >The coconut oil gets stiff unless it's warm, so it acts as a binder<; this might be another reason, “my” coconut oil isn’t stiff at all). Anyhow, although the end result wasn’t satisfying (because the bars don’t stick together – nothing to do with the recipe) the taste of same is really delicious, so I’ll definitely try again (making sure I’ll use the correct amounts) and maybe changing the coconut oil for canola (rapeseed) or safflower oil, like Mary suggested. I won’t use olive oil.

With regards to tweaking the recipes, don’t worry; I’ll surely do so (once I’ve got my first batch figured out according to the instructions). Thinking of adding coconut flakes as a dusting, for instance.

Can't wait to try again.

Many thanks again.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
dedication to documenting visually! on 11/22/2011 12:34:52 MST Print View

Wow! That was some dedication to documenting it visually!

Y'know what also might help, bump up the finely chopped dates a little more. The date "paste" is sticky and makes a good "binder"

The other option is to add a few eggs and then bake it for a little while. That'll turn em into bars.

Keep me posted as to yer progress!

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
I’ll do so on 11/22/2011 13:24:47 MST Print View

Hi Mike.

I’ll sure keep you informed about progress. Thanks for the advice regarding chopping the dates a little more or adding eggs and baking. I never asked my wife (my culinary knowledge is almost nonexistent), but I’m sure she’ll be able to come up with ways of thickening the mixture as well. I suppose the old saying: “there are many roads that lead to Rome” will be applicable here (with regards to binding the bars).

Are there any natural thickeners (I suppose they’re called starch or pectin) that could be used as well? If so, which are more calorie-dense? If I’m going to add other ingredients, apart from being healthy, they might as well serve other purposes.

BTW, I just realized you said the coconut oil is stiff (unless it’s warm), does that mean you can’t pour it? If so, I suppose it isn’t sold in bottles and if that’s true, how is it presented? As a block, like some fats? Maybe I could try to look for coconut fat? Or am I completely lost?

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
recipe on 11/22/2011 14:25:08 MST Print View

Coconut oil in the USA comes in a jar, and it's hard like cold butter at room temperature. It is white and foggy looking on the shelf at the store.

It will turn to liquid if it gets warmed up. Low heat in a pan will make it a clear liquid.

I would NIX any oil, the natural oil in the hazlenut butter will be plenty. And - Adding more dates finely chopped and added to the warm hazelnut butter during the creation should be enough.

bon apetiit!
Mike C!

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Coconut oil on 11/22/2011 14:28:11 MST Print View

Henk: In the States, coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, similar to (though firmer than) butter or vegetable shortening, though sold in jars that you just scoop out of. Seems to me you'll want a fat that is a solid at room temp for the binding you're looking for.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
Re: Coconut oil on 11/22/2011 14:45:11 MST Print View


Merci beaucoup! Once again!

Same to you Addie.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Socks on 11/23/2011 11:15:54 MST Print View

Make sure your shorty socks are at least ankle high. The really low cut ones let dirt and pebbles get in under the sock (there is an opening between the ankle bones and Achilles tendon). That hurts and slows you down while taking the junk out.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Re: Socks on 11/23/2011 11:56:55 MST Print View

Another issue that I discovered the summer I switched from boots to trail runners: Unlike boot tops, sock tops are not mosquito proof! It's worse when you are sitting because the pants bottoms ride up. I discovered this after a trip in Wyoming's Wind Rivers, discovering that itchy ankles are a bit of a distraction while driving back to the Pacific NW!

Alternatives: use repellent (especially in camp), spray sock tops with permethrin or wear shorty gaiters. The last works best for the bugs and also for keeping junk out of the shoes.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Socks on 11/23/2011 12:19:07 MST Print View


That made me hungry. Good documentation. I also rely upon my wife for all things culinery. She did give a thumbs up to Mike's treats in his book when I showed them to her.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Socks on 11/23/2011 12:25:19 MST Print View

Mike, thanks for the sock tip. I read it in your fantastic book a while back, but was glad to feel that it was OK to wear more than one pair. Been wearing a thin liner (that I used to wear by itself) with a slightly thicker light sock. That combo makes a significant difference low 30ish F temps for me.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: I’ll do so @ Henk on 11/23/2011 18:01:16 MST Print View

"Are there any natural thickeners (I suppose they’re called starch or pectin) that could be used as well? If so, which are more calorie-dense?"

You might try powdered full fat milk, like Nido. It's calorie dense and when added as a powder makes a good thickener. The fat in it will also help bind the other ingredients.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
@ Tom & George on 11/24/2011 03:16:29 MST Print View

Hi Tom. Good idea. Sure gonna try that.

Hi George. Wife asked what I was up to when she saw all those bowls&dishes coming out of the kitchen cupboards. I explained and she laughed (didn’t believe I was able to do something that *difficult*. When I finished she didn’t laugh anymore (kitchen looked like a battleground), but she sure liked (LOVED) the taste of the bars; well, the crumbs. (Be assured I, obviously, did all the cleaning up).

OFF TOPIC: Every time I use the Huaraches I get a bit more accustomed to them but they’re definitely NOT comfy.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Fritos vs. nuts on 11/28/2011 08:08:10 MST Print View

I think it's a mistake to compare Fritos to nuts based only on calories per ounce. The calories in nuts are mostly fat, while Fritos are a nice mix of complex carbs and fat. Fritos are superior to nuts for steady energy.

If you can't find the reduced sodium Fritos at the store, another option is the Fritos "Big Scoops". For some reason these have less sodium per serving (110mg vs. 170mg) and are available in big family size bags at Wal Mart for cheap.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Cowboy Coffee on 11/28/2011 17:59:56 MST Print View

Excelent tip. Note that chewing a few beans allows the flavor to keep for quite a while. Since I grew up in an old italian family, I was pretty much weaned on hot, right from the roster, coffee beans. A bean or two in your cheek will hold flavour for about an hour while hiking.

Jeff McWilliams
(jjmcwill) - M

Locale: Midwest
Philosophical questions about picking a spot to camp on 11/29/2011 13:19:44 MST Print View

I own Mike's new book and recently read it cover to cover. I really enjoyed it. I'm not a UL backpacker yet. We're hoping to adopt many of the techniques described in Mike's book this coming season.

One of the tips I found intriguing was the recommendation to choose a camp spot somewhere other than established tent pads.

I certainly see the advantages as described in the book: There is added flexibility in being able to hike longer and picking a site at the last minute, you can find a softer spot, a more secluded spot, a spot with better drainage, or better protection from the elements, etc.

However, this advice seems to go against traditional "Leave No Trace" philosophies. I belong to a outdoor club in Southeast Michigan, and I'm not sure how I would defend such a practice to staunch supporters of traditional LNT camping.

It's also unclear to me how various park services view this practice. Is it frowned upon or completely banned outright in some areas? How does one find out? I did some Google searching for National Parks policy on camping but didn't find anything conclusive.

Can others help shed light on this topic, or point me to some previous discussion threads that may enlighten me?



Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Reply to Jeff: on 11/29/2011 14:34:17 MST Print View

Reply to Jeff:

1 - The idea and ethics behind STEALTH camping mean you will ONLY sleep at your camp. Both cooking and eating will be done along the trail. So you will have a minimum impact on the site where you will sleep.

2 - This is a technique for wilderness environments without the prescribed rules one might find in a busy national park.

3 - Some places (like Yellowstone National Park) require that you camp in a designated campsite. These rules were made for "traditional" campers. Other places (like Grand Canyon National Park) will issue the user a special bivy permit if folks are choosing a route in terrain without established sites.

4 - An impacted site that one might find along a trail in a well used environment is set up for BIG tents and lots of people. These usually have trash, used toilet paper and habituated animals around. I avoid these sites.

5 - I feel strongly that a skilled camper (ore a small team) can camp for one night in a hidden spot in the woods, and they should have almost zero impact. They can carefully pick a small spot to sleep, and if they need to set up a UL shelter (like a tarp) they can do it with almost ZERO impact. The stealth technique requires that the campers leave their site in a way where nobody would know they camped there. This is an excellent LEAVE NO TRACE technique, and I advocate it strongly.

6 - Wilderness areas (like the Wind River Range in Wyoming) allow camping with pretty much no rules. They ask that you camp a certain distance from lakes and rivers, and that you don't make campfires during certain seasons. This is the environment where STEALTH CAMPING can be done without worrying about permits or federal rules.

Edited by mikeclelland on 11/29/2011 14:37:58 MST.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Real Reason to Stealth Camp on 11/29/2011 16:14:41 MST Print View

The Real Reason to Stealth Camp, especially in the National Parks is that all of the camping sites in said NP's are all stuffed in copses of trees where there aren't views. True, the NP's in the SW you WANT the shade, but everywhere else, you want the SUN and the Views. Nearly everyone in NP's are in tiny corridors. Get outside of the corridor and you won't see a soul.

Yea yea, I know said NP's 'thinking' is that no one wants to see your tent. The fact of the matter generally is that it is all of you and maybe 2 other folks and "seeing" your tent is not a problem at all. In the National Forest its far more likely to be you, and ONLY you unless in a VERY popular spot like Image Lake or name your favorite spot... << HERE >>

If folks would eat/wash at lakes and then camp on ridges, not only are the views better, the sun rises sets earlier/later making it more enjoyable, the bugs fewer, but humanity is non existent as well.

The true fact of the matter for the predominant vast majority of the places anyone goes backpacking, walk a 200 feet off the trail and you can leave as many traces as you want and NO ONE will EVER see it. Just to put leave no trace in perspective. Its 99.99999% Wilderness and a TINY TINY TINY portion where everyone goes. No, its not OK to destroy, but most folks get to their "destination" and plop down literally and figuratively speaking in the same spot that EVERYONE else does and that is why the environment gets "ruined" around said spots.

stephan q
(khumbukat) - F
RE:Stealth Camping on 11/29/2011 20:30:22 MST Print View

Most parks maintain designated camp sites to reduce impact of the hordes. Yosemite rules require your campsite to be a proper distance from roads, trail, water and use only existing fire rings below 9600 ft. Beyond that, you are free to camp as you please.
"Stealth" only applies to camping in an off limits area. Many persons feel "safer" camping in designated sites with bear boxes. Places like Yoho or Jasper, with very short seasons, would be hashed were it not for the quota system and designated sites. stephan

Edited by khumbukat on 11/29/2011 20:33:15 MST.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
"STEALTH" on 11/29/2011 20:55:45 MST Print View

"STEALTH" is used to define a *hidden* campsite.

If you hide your camp you won't impact other hikers who would want to have a wilderness experiences. It's NOT to break rules or be sneaky.

If you have a small low-impact site away from a view corridor and well away from the trails, then other visitors will be able to hike along and enjoy the feeling of solitude.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Stealth campsite on 11/29/2011 23:01:06 MST Print View

BTW, when we camp in a previously unimpacted spot, we make sure to replace any stones or pinecones we may have moved to make a sleeping pad. That way the next guy who comes along won't be able to tell we camped there...and can have the same experience we did.