The lightweight backpacking movement has been around, in different forms, for a long time. John Muir was one of the original practitioners of lightweight hiking in the United States often going out for days or weeks with little on his back or in his satchel. In the mountaineering world, the “fast and light” alpine ascents of Messner, Bonatti and Twight are well known. Early humans probably traveled light on their hunting and gathering forays into the wilderness.
On the contemporary hiking scene, probably the best-known proponent of the lightweight backpacking philosophy is Ray Jardine, especially in his classic text, Beyond Backpacking: Guide to Lightweight Hiking (now updated and revised as Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking). Even though Jardine’s book focuses primarily on long-distance “thru-hiking” and sometimes pushes lightweight techniques to their outer limits, the sympathetic reader will find challenges on many levels to conventional ways of thinking about backpacking.
The centerpiece article in this section of my website is appropriately titled The Challenge of the Lightweight Backpacking Movement. Besides historical information, this article details the principles, values and motivations of this movement. It gives significant space to the movement’s critics. At the end of the article I suggest adopting a situational approach to lightweight packing.
There are a whole slug of terms that refer directly or indirectly to this movement: “pack light,” “lightweight packing,” “ultralight,” “sub ultralight,” “super ultralight,” “extreme ultralight,” “mega-light,” “uberlight,” “gram-geek,” gram-weenie,” and “minimalist” name most of them. Click on this article for some working definitions: Definitions of Lightweight Packing.