Light is the New Black

by Amber Carbo on April 12, 2018

When it comes to your pack, every ounce really does matter. After mile five, mile ten, mile 15, those extra shoes you packed “just-in-case” are an enormous burden.

As Spring is here, and Summer is not far behind, I wanted to share some tips for packing super-light and a few other backpacking essentials that will help you on your adventures!

On my last 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip through Yosemite, I had the good fortune of traveling with 3 other people. What this means is that the heavy items- like cookware and tents- can be divvied up, making everyones load a little lighter. This is just another reason to say “the more the merrier!”


Although individually they don’t seem too heavy individually, clothes are by far the heaviest and bulkiest items in your pack. Challenge yourself to bring as little as possible. Think ultra-light, as in two outfits.

Quick List:
  • Two pair of socks — one hiking, one sleeping
  • One beanie
  • One light hiking layer
  • One heavier hiking layer
  • One set of sleep clothes- which can double as extra layers


If you are an avid hiker, invest in a lighter (but more expensive) micro stove and titanium mug. Titanium is great because it is relatively light and can be placed directly over a flame. These two items plus an all-in-one Spoon-Fork-Knife set is all you need to make food/coffee/water.

Photo by Niklas Hamann


Kiss everything that is nonessential goodbye! I opt to bring a small, plastic squeeze tube (I bought mine at Target for $3.99) filled with this amazing soap: Dr. Bronner’s. This can be used as all purpose soap for:

  • Clothes
  • Dishes
  • Face/Body
  • Shampoo
  • Shaving
  • Toothpaste (yes, it’s true)
  • Bug Repellent (dilute and spray, according to them)

Another pro tip? Don’t bring a whole roll of toilet-paper, rather fold up the amount you will actually need.

First Aid

Save yourself the expense of a pre-made First Aid Kit and just grab a ziplock and hit up your home kit. Pack whatever you need in a small quantity such as gauze, band-aids, Neosporin, ibuprofen, medical tape, etc.

Additionally, bring extra ziplocks for your other items, such as ID and hiking permit. This protects them from water and is much less bulky than a wallet.


Be light on your feet — literally! If your trip is less than 5 days, rather than bulky hiking boots, try lighter trail runners. With a much lighter pack, you may find these more comfortable and easy to hike in.

I opt for Brooks trail runners, which can be found at pretty much any outdoor store with a decent selection of trial shoes.

Packing your Backpack

Below are a few tips you should keep in mind when packing for your next trip. Although I’ve done my fair share of backpacking, I am not an expert and every situation is different. For example, the way you pack a bag with an external frame differs from how you would pack an internal frame. Read up on your pack’s guide or online manual for more specific tips.

Bottom of the Pack:
  • Sleeping Bag,
  • Foam Pad
  • Shoes

According to REI Experts, putting these soft items at the bottom acts as shock absorption and protects your low-back.

Middle of the Pack:
  • Food
  • Cooking Gear
Top of the Pack:
  • Items you use frequently
  • Clothing

If you are packing lighter, chances are you are using a pack with an internal frame, such as the Osprey 46L or REI Tarn 40L.

With these bags, packing can be tricky. There is less space for your items, but you do not want any heavy items to drift to the top or too far from your back. When in doubt, there’s no harm in taking your bag to an outdoor expert for advice. As someone who has experienced chronic back problems from heavy packs, every ounce makes a difference.

Without the extra weight, you can easily travel up and down tricky slopes, move to safety more quickly, and spare your back the abuse of a bogged down pack. That said though, your pack must still be organized correctly to help with balance and minimize your risk for injury.

In the end, it’s all about getting outside and having fun. I hope these tricks will help make your time out on the trails even more enjoyable with a lighter, leaner pack.

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