When it comes to ultralight backpacking, I’m pretty by the book. I don’t bring camp shoes or a pillow, and an obscene amount of Dyneema forms an almost orb-like presence around me.
But, I’ve got to level with y’all. I do cheat. In my weakest moments — which is usually right about 10 pm the night before I leave for a trip — I sidle up to my ‘nearly full, but with just a little bit of space left’ pack and find myself dropping in the following items.
Once you make it through my list, share yours in the comment section!
Rawlogy Lightweight Cork Massage Ball
Self-care can seem frivolous until it’s not. I’ve just never regretted having a Rawlogy massage ball in my pack after a day pounding out miles. While lots of people bring tennis balls or lacrosse balls, cork provides a perfect level of firmness for whatever spot needs to get rolled out!
Pen + Paper
My brain is constantly in motion, and while backpacking, I've got lots of time to think! Tucked away in my fanny pack during the day, I'll whip it out to scribble down a reflection, an inspiration, an idea, or drawing. A little 3x5 memo pad (or nanobook) does the trick!
Ursack + OpSak + Bear Hang
Not as heavy as a bear bin, but not as light as a plain food bag (there's a Goldie Locks reference in there somewhere...)
Chalk it up to spending the near entirety of my adult life living in Alaska and the Tetons, but I don’t mess around when it comes to bears. I rig up a three-part system: 1) Put food in odor-proof Opsak, 2) Put Opsack in bear-resistant Ursack, 3) Rig proper bear hang.
I’m the first to admit that I have embarrassingly high standards when it comes to coffee. But what can I say?!? That one little morning ritual makes me a very happy human, so I put a disproportionate level of devotion into it. For me, this means ditching the instant stuff, no matter how premium it may be, in favor of the bonafide pour over experience. For me, it's all about the Kuju Coffee!
A Stove. Any Stove.
When backpacking, I generally aim to keep the scales tipped toward something along the lines of fun. While cold-soaking food might be the UL rage... it's not always the most fun! But the real spirit stabber is cold coffee (please reference above ↑).
True story: one time in an off-the-beaten path part of the Wind Rivers a couple intentionally went out of their way to befriend us, later admitting that their ulterior motive was to get hot water for coffee, as their stove had conked out.
(Check out GGG's stove offerings here.)
Sometimes you just want a comfortable surface to sit on, a little extra warmth while sleeping, or a bit more structure to your pack. GGG friend Pie on the Trail nicely sums up the reasons why a sit pad is phenomenal, its magic is in its versatility!
Let’s leave it at this … drip dry be damned! (Check out Kula here)
An Actually Good Trowel
While we’re on the subject of elimination … at 0.6 ounces it’s hard to justify NOT carrying an ultralight trowel. Because, let’s be real, sticks break, rocks can be hard to find, and sometimes you gotta go now!!! (And, I’ll just say it ... especially when backpacking.) Nothing but love for the Duece of Spades #2.
Mini Playing Cards
I’ll caveat mini playing cards and say that they don’t always make the cut. On trips where we’re on the move from dawn to dusk, I’ve found that people don’t tend to have much enthusiasm for cards, especially when the alternative is their sleeping bag or quilt. But on more leisurely trips, playing cards is simply one of the best ways to relax at night or pass a warm afternoon next to an alpine lake.
Jello No Bake Cheesecake
You think I’m joking, but I’m not. My friend started the tradition of bringing this for Night 3, and it just sort of caught on. For all you weight weenies out there, don’t worry, in addition to the powdered cheesecake mix, all you need to bring is a full stick of butter. Pro tip: if you don't have a pot, I can confirm that it does sort of work to make it in an ultralight dog food bowl lined with a Ziplock bag (as pictured). Pro Tip #2: "refrigerate" by letting the mixture sit in a cold lake or river.
Packraft + Paddle + PFD + Helmet
While obviously not applicable for all trips, the ability to link river and lake travel with backpacking is pretty incredible. Packrafts make that possible!
While ultralight packrafts do exist, adding an entirely new sport to a backcountry trip does nothing to lighten one’s load. But when it comes to packrafting, the payoff can be pretty darn worth it!